He Came, He Recited and He ConQuered
Spoken word poetry has taken Zambia by storm and the recognition of poetry as a talent has seen a number of artists to take it up as a full-time occupation. Poetry is important to a nation as it not only entertains but also promotes critical thinking, reduces illiteracy, cultivates the culture of reading and writing, is a good platform for self-expression, produces good orators and public speakers and the like. The growth of this art in Zambia has seen an increase of competitions both written word and spoken word (Slam) competitions. In a poetry slam, poets battle each other using their own poems and unique word play in the midst of an audience.
One of these competitions is the Ultimate Poetry Slam hosted by BitterSweet Poetry Zambia which was held on the 23rd of December 2017, in this competition 8 contestants are picked to battle it out for the top spot. The 8 poets are divided up into pairs and the entire competition goes for 3 rounds; each round has a specific theme the poets have to use for their themed poems against each other. Each theme/round has two poets going against each other and the winner is picked by a cheering crowd, which ever poet gets the loudest cheers qualifies to the next round. Musenga ‘MessenJah’ L. Katongo (ConQuest) was among the 8 contestants who battled, and ultimately came out as number 1.
The first round was themed ‘Colour.’ MessenJah was drawn against TarliQue (Peter). MessenJah went first and delivered an interesting and witty piece on color. He describes the piece as an allegory about black pride and neocolonialism. The piece captured the audience’s attention with a catchy refrain: “she added color to my life.” The poem became nothing short of dramatic when MessenJah said “but notice that my poem has been in the past tense. That’s because her dark skin transformed into darkness. It became the root of her oppression and she was nailed with a stereotypical jargon.” MessenJah established a connection with his audience and left the stage in style. MessenJah’s competition, Peter, recited only a few lines from his poem on color; Peter found it difficult to recite his poem and had some pauses on stage. Peter was allowed another chance on stage. However, he energetically recited a completely different poem after failing to deliver his initial slam piece. MessenJah won by having a higher crowd cheer than Peter. Before MessenJah and TarliQue left the stage, it was then revealed to the audience that Peter was disqualified by the judges the moment he decided to recite a completely different poem. MessenJah qualified for round 2.
In round 2, MessenJah competed against Augustine Lungu. The theme of the second round was ‘Angels and Demons.’ MessenJah went first and recited a personal and emotional piece that made many in the audience introspective. The piece is what he calls “a personal account in which I tell of how ‘angels’ and ‘demons’ influence how I handle the passing of my dad.” MessenJah’s competitor, Augustine, was equally confident on stage. Augustine had excellent delivery and delivered a conscious piece that can be said to be social commentary, but it was MessenJah who was the fan favorite yet again. Augustine was knocked out while MessenJah proceeded to the third and final round.
The third and final round had the two finalists go head-to-head: Zodo (Malaizyo) and MessenJah. This was the anticipated final match-up with the theme ‘Civil War.’ Zodo was first, and delivered his poem which the audience appreciated. MessenJah once again managed to connect with the audience using another catchy refrain; “this means war!” MessenJah’s civil war piece was a commentary on the popular trend ‘Men Are Trash’ and a call to men to be chivalrous. The piece was delivered brilliantly and with confidence. The impact of the poem was so great that it left the audience chanting “this means war!” MessenJah had a higher crowd cheering than Zodo and beat Zodo. There was excitement and joy in the air as the audience was happy to see their fan favorite receive what they believe he rightly deserved; the first position.
All in all, the other 7 poets made a really tough and entertaining competition. What set apart MessenJah from the other poets was his composure, confidence and delivery. MessenJah showed us that the poems he delivered were really his; he owned them.
Congratulations to MessenJah for being the winner of the 2017 BitterSweet Poetry Slam . This is not the last time we will hear from him