Tune in to the Badilisha Poetry X-Change

Archiving African poetry in text and audio

One reason that there’s been so much interest in the challenges and prospects of several new African presses is that books in Africa are often luxury goods. In my own home country Zimbabwe, which has one of the highest literacy rates on the continent, a recent regulation placed a 40% duty tax on all imported books. And African readers often cite their frustration at the limited circulation of their work by local authors – as in a recent Facebook exchange between Kenyans eager to discuss the work of award-winning Kenyan poet, Clifton Gachagua.

 So it is indeed good news when initiatives like the Badilisha Poetry X-change find a way to archive both text and audio versions of African poems in a freely accessible format (provided one has access to the internet).

Each week, two new poets are featured on the site, and in podcasts hosted by South African radio personality and poetry educator Malika Ndlovu. Based at the Africa Centre in Cape Town, Badilisha’s mission is to ensure that Africans have an opportunity to be “inspired and influenced by their own writers” and to provide alternative modes for writers to share their work, given that, according to their site, only 2% of all books published worldwide are by African authors. Badilisha was founded in 2008, and grew out of an international poetry festival that evolved into the online archive in 2012. The site now boasts work by 350 poets from 22 countries.

By far, the most widely represented African nation on the site is South Africa. The voices included span multiple generations and a full gamut of cultural backgrounds. You’ll find veteran poets, keepers of the jazz poetry tradition like Ari Sitas’s From Jazz, Bass and Land alongside the work of multi-genre artists like Gcina Mhlophe bringing praise poetry into new contexts. Many of the younger writers come from a performance poetry tradition, often reading with music – listen to Natalia Molebatsi reading with a live band  or G.O.’s haunting track Suicidal Blues (http://badilishapoetry.com/g-o/). Spoken word is increasingly popular in other countries as well. For example,  TJ Dema, one of Botswana's best known poets, has built up the poetry community in Gabarone around her venue and arts management company, SAUTI. But Badilisha also showcases how primarily page-poetry is enriched by audio versions as in Abdoulaye Guissé’s Peuple Guisé. While the site primarily features English language poetry, the audio versions are especially effective for poems in other languages, and these include either a full translation or a précis.

The Badilisha collection continues to grow, and submissions are considered from poets from Africa and from the diaspora.