In a quiet corner of the city of Bukavu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a group of eight artists improvises poetry: they are slammers, young people who found in their verses a way to share their opinions, think about future different or require changes.
“I’ve always said that slam is not just a way to express yourself, but also a liberating tool,” says 20-year-old slameuse Patricia Kamoso, the only woman in this group. “In slam I have found freedom to think in a different way than I was taught since I was little.”
In the courtyard of the cultural center where the gang has gathered, there is hardly any constant noise from the streets of Bukavu – the roar of motorcycle engines, car horns – a city of low, often modest houses. , which continues to spread endlessly over the hills surrounding Lake Kivu .
Bukavu is also a city of colors: graffiti adorns passenger transit vans; the facades of houses or shops, stacked like shoeboxes on the round hills; the gleams of the sun on the metal roofs. But the shadow of war – attacks by numerous armed groups have hit the citizens of eastern DRC for more than two decades – darkens this city inhabited by thousands of people who fled their villages in search of a safer refuge.
Slameur Achille Argus acknowledges these problems, but instead of dwelling on them, his poems often speak to the enormous cultural diversity of this region, its lush nature, the beauty of its landscapes, and the brimming energy of Bukavu’s streets. For Argus, choosing these themes is not only a way to combat stereotypes about his country, but also a way to fight racism. “Racism, xenophobia or any rejection of another person is based on ignorance. We hate snakes because we have been told bad things about them. But there is nothing wrong with snakes. The same happens with humans”, says Argus. “I think there is another dimension to Bukavu that we never talk about,” he insists.
Poetry, an instrument of denunciation
“Sometimes I write texts just to have fun,” Argus tells Efe. “In art, in the world of creativity, there must also be that dose of madness. We don’t have to go on giving lessons all the time. Of course, I want social changes to happen, but I also write simply for the beauty of this art.”
However, these young people feel the responsibility of not ignoring the problems they see in their day-to-day life or those that hit their fellow citizens. “I live in the east of the DRC”, highlights another slameur nicknamed Mérou Mégaphone –his real name is Hervé Mushagalusa–, 24 years old. “I can see what is happening in this country. That is why I talk about the war, but also about the unemployment rates, the few opportunities for children to study… There are many things that I try to make clear”.
“Everywhere there are obstacles that limit freedom of expression,” adds Argus. “But I think that as much as we have the ability to speak out, we also have a duty to speak out and not be afraid of all those restrictions.”
The Congolese ask for the floor
The slammers are about to recite the poems they now hurriedly write on the notepads of their mobile phones. It is an exercise to improve your ability to improvise, to be able to write faster. To better concentrate, Patricia Kamoso has turned her chair around, so that she now turns her back to the rest of her classmates and has her feet propped up on a wall.
Growing up in Bukavu, this young woman explains, she heard on numerous occasions that there were many things that women like her could not do. That was what her friends, her family, and her teachers repeated. But writing taught her to think for herself, to find her own opinions, her own aspirations, without repeating what others expected of her. And reciting her poems taught him to defend those choices loudly, firmly.
Kamoso, now, does not recognize himself as that shy girl who five years ago went on stage for the first time. The microphones have transformed it. Often, to make visible the obstacles that Congolese women resist, Kamoso’s texts speak about her metamorphosis. But not always. For her, the ability of slam to achieve social change goes beyond the theme of the verses that are recited.
“The simple fact that other women observe a girl on a stage doing something that they thought was difficult or impossible. It is a way to put an end to the lack of confidence in ourselves, to tell them that we can also throw ourselves on stage, to achieve something different”, she says.