“Let us go back to Africa, like Marcus Garvey said,” opened Sibusiso Nkundlane (South African resident in Venezuela) at the 13th Annual International Poetry Festival at an event specific to Afro-Venezuelan culture and by extension, Africa and its Diaspora. This year’s festival hosted 48 international poets from across five continents and 39 countries along with 130 Venezuelan artists.
The festival served as a platform for participating poets to share not only their carefully crafted words but also express their international solidarity with the South American nation during these critical economic and political times. Poets recited in dozens of institutional and community spaces across Caracas and in some cases, other states.
While the festival itself did not focus entirely on the African continent and its Diaspora, several events commemorated African poetry, history and politics. Poets from Africa and the African Diaspora travelled from Barbados, Jamaica, Chad, Argelia and Gambia among others.
Alhaji Papa Susso of Gambia sang in his native language during his recital at Simon Rodriguez’s restored home in downtown Caracas. Softspokenly, he shared with VA how unexpectedly strong he found the connections between African and Venezuela. “I was surprised that people were talking so much about Africa. They have showed me that they love the continent, it proved to me that we are all one people,” he said.
Susso, a poet and oral historian, further explained, “When I received the invitation to come here, some of my friends approached me and said don’t go to Venezuela, don’t go. When I came, I found it different. Every country has its own problems…I want to express my profound gratitud to the people of this country.”
Keorapetse William Kgositsile, South African poet and political activist, participated as well reading several of his poems conveying revolutionary principles as well as profound emotional reflections. Among the poems Kgositsile recited were “Letter from Havana” and “Mandela’s Sermon”.
The latter resonated with the Venezuelan public receiving a thundering applause from a packed house at Teatro Bolivar across the capital’s main square. The poem reads,”Blessed are the dehumanized for they have nothing to lose / but their patience / False gods killed the poet in me. Now / I dig graves / with artistic precision.”
In addition, several poets represented Afro-Venezuelan rhythms, spirituality and historical references as well. Cacao en la Casa (Cacao in the House), an Afro-Venezuela youth poet and rapper part of the Colectivo Bajo el Abrigo del Baobab (Under the Refuge of the Baobab Tree) read Afro-Costa Rican Shirley Campbell Barr’s poem “Absolutely Black” along with her own original verses. Carrying a hip hop rhythm she recited,”Enough with slavery, enough with the lies, enough with racial discrimination, it is the time to defend our natural resources and vindicate black as a color and Afro as an identity.”