THE venue consisted of thick walls made of coral stone going back centuries, and it lulled our ascent via steep steps, leading to a big terrace overlooking the port of Old Stone Town in Zanzibar.
As the sunset hovered inside the DCMA-Zanzibar Dhow Music Academy residence, the rays of the sun gave the place a lush ambience, which soon pulled a humble crowd in the adjoining room which was open to the public.
On this evening of the 15th of February 2020, we were there to witness the launch of Zine (a small circulation work published independently), the first of its kind from SAWTI, a project supported by the ‘British Council’s East Africa Arts’ Program since last year. The Zine was launched in London last week, and this week it will be launched in Sudan.
“This is bigger than I expected” enthused one of my colleagues in the project from the British Council when he saw a copy of the Zine.
Sumia Jaama, the project founder and director of SAWTI, shared her excitement at the launch of the Zine titled ‘I come from returning’ ‘Natoka Kurudi’ with another title in Arabic meaning the same thing.
Her eyes became animated and glowed when she spoke of her art, which indicated a sense of commitment to her craft. “I felt pleased to be shortlisted in this competition, I submitted three topics in poetry, where in the first topic I delved into old Taarab music, the second poem covered the scene of ‘barazani’ in Zanzibar, and the last poem looks at our values.
In it I reminisce of the holy month of Ramadhan, how in our customs we used to easily invite passerby’s to the veranda to have break-fast with us, instead of letting them walk all the way home for the same.”
Sabra Ali Amran 56, is also participating in SAWTI.
SAWTI last year held a poetry competition and invited entries in Kiswahili, Arabic and English from applicants all over East Africa, including East Africans living in the Diaspora.
Sabra was among the top three winners in the Kiswahili poetry category. She is a self published author of two books, Tabasamu la Huba and Sikitiko. She is also an actress who has appeared in several films, including Kisasi cha Utata, Eda, Ramadhani Kareem and Boxera na Kaundime.
On this night, Sabra was among the guests of honor, and she was given an opportunity to recite some of her poems, witnessed by her whole family who were there to support her.
Another guest of honor for the evening was Ngollo Mlengeya, 30, who in the SAWTI 2019 she emerged the winner in Kiswahili and walked away with a prize of 500 pounds. A quiet soul and mother of two, Mlengenya is an administrator by day with a Bachelor degree in Business Administration.
Her passion for poetry was nurtured when she met a group of likeminded poets in Dar es Salaam at the Soma Book Café; The group is called WAKA poets TZ.
She also got an opportunity to recite some of her poems, and she took the audience by storm in one of her poems, which in part read.. “Neno kiganjani likatulizwa, mashushu wakalidaka na kunasa| Neno kwenye gazeti likatwaa na likauza balaa | Neno tulia tuli humtoa nyoka pangoni | Si kwa nguvu wala shwari, mwenyewe hukongwa moyoni…’Mbwa we’| Ka we mama, si umempata mwenyewe | Neno kali kumtamkia badala ya tabia kumfunzia |Nini kumtabiria mtoto shela jeusi kumfunikia.”.
SAWTI shares works of several talented poets, animators, photographers and writers from East Africa.
The famous poem from the legendary poet, the late Haji Gora ‘Moto wa Dunia’ can be found in this event, where organisers said that they took into great consideration the major languages spoken widely in East Africa, that is why publications are in three languages with no translation of individual works.