It was a stroke of genius to put Sitawa Namwalie and Atieno Oduor together on last Wednesday night’s Artistic Encounters, the monthly programme normally hosted by Zukiswa Wanner.
What the two produced was delicious. It meant blending the poet and the pianist together on the Goethe Institute stage. It didn’t hurt that both women are multitalented, Sitawa being not only a poet, but a playwright and wonderful actor as well. And Athieno is also a lyricist who’s got a magical singing voice.
In fact, both women have smooth yet strong voices that are clear, impassioned and empowered with words that paint pictures in their audience’s minds.
For instance, when Sitawa shared the amazing poem about women’s body parts that can ‘fall off’ at any time, she made us believe that those same parts could be ‘reattached’ if the woman was as wise as her grandmother.
My mind went straight to my friend’s exhaust pipe which had recently fallen off his car and which he’d got ‘reattached’ by some anonymous auto mechanic. Was that literally what she was suggesting? Not exactly.
But when her poem went on to detail how one could reattach arms and hands, or lips and eyes, or even how to reattach a woman’s head to her neck and body, then you knew she couldn’t have been speaking literally. Or could she?
By the time, her poem had ended, one had experienced vicariously what it might have felt like to squeeze one’s eyes back into their sockets or to screw one’s head back onto one’s neck. Perhaps she was only referring to how a woman can feel when, for instance, she gets so overwhelmed by the challenges she is forced to face in life that she can go ‘out of her mind’.
But Sitawa’s grandmother’s wisdom was all about how women have the resilience and infinite capacity and strength to put themselves back together again no matter how rugged and wretched the experiences are that they face.
I felt the same way about Athieno’s song, “Malaria” which like Sitawa’s poetry, had an apparently light, ironic touch to it but actually its deeper meaning rang true.
Both women wrote, sang and spoke from personal experience and Athieno referred to attractive ‘hot young guys’ as having the same effect on her as malaria. It was a witty, wonderful song but one having deeper, more profound implications to it.