Spoken word is an oral tradition that stretches far back into our history. Throughout the years, Africans used it to tell stories that educate and inspire their people. People used to sit around a fire and listen to the sound of the beating drum, the clapping of hands and the enigmatic sound of the spoken word.
So what has changed over the years?
On any given Saturday afternoon, downtown Johannesburg is filled with poets chanting! The spoken word has become a medium were a literary head has the creative freedom to take words and turn them into a concoction of urban sounds and influences. Their influences are poets like Don Mattera who set the bench mark for contemporary performance poetry in Johannesburg.
On stage, the poet is an artist and the stage their canvas, image is everything and audience has to feel what you’re saying.
One of the best exponents of this movement is none other than Saul Williams.
Saul Williams’ image matches his words, an abstract and conscious-looking brother who would dresses up in colourful jackets, grows his beard wild and speaks with authority.
When you listen to his music, you’re overwhelmed by his many influences. From a hip hop beat box sound to drums to a heavy guitar, Saul Williams is without a question the most creative commercial poet out there.
I was fortunate to see him perform at the Bassline a few years ago. I sat right in front of the stage and literally looked up at him. What I saw and felt that evening can only be described as twenty minutes of pure vocal power. His stage presents was massive! And with every spoken verse I could feel it right in my bones. It was as if he could channel his voice through the air under your skin into your sub-conscious –wow! He looked as if he was possessed – a literary demon and we were his subjects.
Many of our local poets often reference his hand movements, voice projection and performance technique. And it’s hard to see why not. Saul Williams makes it cool to be yourself, to be conscious and carry a poetry book in your back pocket.
I always feel that I’d rather see him on stage rather than read his work because somehow I just don’t get that extra lift when reading as I get when I see him in performance.