Uhuru Presente! at Venezuelan International Poetry Festival

Spanning one week and crossing global borders, Caracas set the main stage for Venezuela's 13th Annual International Poetry Festival.

By Jeanette Charles - Venezuela Analysis

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"Poetry for Emancipation", event at Simon Rodriguez's restored home in downtown Caracas. The event included presentations from members of the Colectivo Bajo el Abrigo del Baobab (Venezuela),  Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Winston Farrell (Barbados) and Melville Cooke (Jamaica).  (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)
"Poetry for Emancipation", event at Simon Rodriguez's restored home in downtown Caracas. The event included presentations from members of the Colectivo Bajo el Abrigo del Baobab (Venezuela), Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Winston Farrell (Barbados) and Melville Cooke (Jamaica). (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)

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Solcire Perez read some of her own original poetry with deep influences from Yoruba culture and spirituality. "Their maroon society prays over and over again and rallies to Shango and Olodumare / for whom and where must there be a sacrifice / they ask, where is this place? / where is my Eleggua," read part of her poem "Inheritance".  (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)
Solcire Perez read some of her own original poetry with deep influences from Yoruba culture and spirituality. "Their maroon society prays over and over again and rallies to Shango and Olodumare / for whom and where must there be a sacrifice / they ask, where is this place? / where is my Eleggua," read part of her poem "Inheritance". (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)

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Winston Ferrell (Barbados) recited several poems and sang to Caribbean music toward the end of his performance. He described the range of his presented work as depicting the struggles of the working class to declarations of praise. 

One of his poems reads,“hunger came to my door today, battered my brains, sucked out the sockets of my eyeballs, leaving me dry, mother gone, father gone, no friend, no brother, frustration, hunger came to my door today and today, jobless, penniless, pain gutted, reached for my pen and paper of hope and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote…” (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)
Winston Ferrell (Barbados) recited several poems and sang to Caribbean music toward the end of his performance. He described the range of his presented work as depicting the struggles of the working class to declarations of praise. One of his poems reads,“hunger came to my door today, battered my brains, sucked out the sockets of my eyeballs, leaving me dry, mother gone, father gone, no friend, no brother, frustration, hunger came to my door today and today, jobless, penniless, pain gutted, reached for my pen and paper of hope and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote…” (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)

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Beatriz Aiffil (Venezuela) spoke to her own roots and her country's direct ties to Africa. "Black and of African descent, blood of Africa...Blacks are not silent," she affirms. 

"I will beat you with the pride of being the origin of humanity. I will shout Uhuru Africa, Uhuru Africa, Uhuru Freedom, Uhuru Freedom, raise your head, do not lower your sight, do not deny yourself, Uhuru Freedom," she chanted. (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)
Beatriz Aiffil (Venezuela) spoke to her own roots and her country's direct ties to Africa. "Black and of African descent, blood of Africa...Blacks are not silent," she affirms. "I will beat you with the pride of being the origin of humanity. I will shout Uhuru Africa, Uhuru Africa, Uhuru Freedom, Uhuru Freedom, raise your head, do not lower your sight, do not deny yourself, Uhuru Freedom," she chanted. (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)

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Melvin Cooke  (Jamaica) delivered three poems which challenged notions of race, gender and terror.  Cooke told VA, "One [of my poems] 'Definition' speaks about how we define who is a terrorist and who is not."

He continued, "I also read one called 'Banana State' which is about complexion which is about the differences in the complexion of my mother and father and how that came to me as a child because I didn’t see them as different from each other until I saw someone react to them which took place in a market. [Which is] an experience that comes with a commercial transaction, which comes with food." 

Cooke finished his performance with the poem "Man with a Handbag" which reflected on his own experience carrying my wife’s handbag. The poem questions "gender roles and how a handbag is often a defining accessory for a woman but when a man carries it it is an undefined accessory for a man." (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)
Melvin Cooke (Jamaica) delivered three poems which challenged notions of race, gender and terror. Cooke told VA, "One [of my poems] 'Definition' speaks about how we define who is a terrorist and who is not." He continued, "I also read one called 'Banana State' which is about complexion which is about the differences in the complexion of my mother and father and how that came to me as a child because I didn’t see them as different from each other until I saw someone react to them which took place in a market. [Which is] an experience that comes with a commercial transaction, which comes with food." Cooke finished his performance with the poem "Man with a Handbag" which reflected on his own experience carrying my wife’s handbag. The poem questions "gender roles and how a handbag is often a defining accessory for a woman but when a man carries it it is an undefined accessory for a man." (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)

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"Education, Art and Culture in Africa" held at the Center of African, Caribbean and American Wisdom in downtown Caracas was a panel with participation from Venezuela and Chad.  Kousley Lamko (Chad) and director of a Mexican Center focusing on the African Diaspora as well as Vice Minister for Africa and the Director of Venezuela's African Wisdom Center Reinaldo Bolivar spoke. Both shared cases of economic sustainability and collective practices across the African continent to shed light on innovative approaches to inspire change during these challenging times in Venezuela. (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)
"Education, Art and Culture in Africa" held at the Center of African, Caribbean and American Wisdom in downtown Caracas was a panel with participation from Venezuela and Chad. Kousley Lamko (Chad) and director of a Mexican Center focusing on the African Diaspora as well as Vice Minister for Africa and the Director of Venezuela's African Wisdom Center Reinaldo Bolivar spoke. Both shared cases of economic sustainability and collective practices across the African continent to shed light on innovative approaches to inspire change during these challenging times in Venezuela. (Jeanette Charles/Venezuela Analysis)

"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." 

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