BLOG Nathan Munday

NWR Issue 109

Clicking Fingers – Knowmadic Ali visits the Bay

The poem on the Millennium Centre is huge but big songs were sung behind its letters on Tuesday night. I got off the train. I walked under HORIZONS before sitting in front of the Glanfa Stage. The sound check evolved into an impressive beginning. The usual ‘testing, testing’ was injected with what sounded like a mix of beatboxing Serengeti crickets, Welsh groans, Dark side of the Moon with a boom, boom, from the microphones. The café even contributed by providing the distant sound of a baby and some clattering wine glasses – a sonic masterpiece was forming! By the end of the sound check, I was comfortably transported from numbness to this feeling that something good was about to happen.

Ahmed ‘Knowmadic’ Ali arrived in a green coat. He reminded me of Mo Farah….

Martin Daws began with a ‘Dummies Guide’ to Slam. This proved useful. Slam is a form of spoken word poetry used in competitions where audiences judge. Instead of judging, we played our part by clapping, clicking our fingers, shooting our finger-formed-laser-guns, groaning, laughing, or just following the poets’ words with our eyes in order to fill the space with responses. Daws even provided the Cymry with a deep ‘Ooooh’ sound to mark our approval. Unfortunately, the orthodox clap seemed to dominate. Now and again, the odd click or groan indicated that Welsh amens were reappearing as a result of this new preaching. Daws pulled out a little metronome-like instrument which accompanied his sentences. His words began to fuse with the notes and then the ding-a-ling thing seemed to take over.

Rufus Mufasa got up. Her bilingual songs/poems remained with me as I travelled back home especially on the single carriage train between the Bay and Queen Street stations. The inclusion of Welsh words like crio (crying) and heno (tonight) really moved me. Although Slam originated in 1980s Chicago, Mufasa proved how fusing Welsh and English was key in developing an ever metamorphosing art form in Wales. It must have been fascinating for the non-Welsh speakers as well because there were times when words no longer seemed necessary. The sounds were enough.

Once Mufasa finished, Knowmadic took off his green coat and jumped on stage….

My eyes were fixed throughout. In another context, I might have closed my eyes in order to visualise his stories. But I did not want to miss anything. Knowmadic had previously been working with disadvantaged youths in the Grassroots Centre and his burden for communities, knowledge and art migrated from his poetry into practice. As he spoke, I saw his own journey forming. Knowmadic seems to set up his poetic tent somewhere in his memory. He takes you there. I looked down the same AK-47 barrel that a young boy pointed at him in Somalia. I saw those ‘soulless bodies’ seen from ‘spirit perspectives’ and I imagined the earth ‘like a honeycomb’ before he zoomed in on Africa, hiraeth-like:

Where I am from, wisdom drips

from the beards of the elders

and knowledge rests between their lips….

‘I am Africa’

An elder stood before me. The poet stood down and a girl got up to perform a song. It moved a lot of people. I do not know her story but her eyes said it all. Knowmadic and Daws were constantly clicking as she sang.

Knowmadic, Daws and Mufasa provided fresh material for Cardiff’s Furnace of Inspiration. The words were amazing but there were points in the performances where language seemed to surrender to the forces of sound and beauty. Like Friel says, it was as if ‘language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary.’ Perhaps that is why these slam poets are always clicking their fingers.

Originally from Carmarthensire, Nathan Llywelyn Munday has just begun a PhD in English Literature at Cardiff University.

Somali-born Canadian poet Ahmed 'Knowmadic' Ali performed with Welsh poets Rufus Mufasa and Martin Daws at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, on 6 October in an event organised by Literature Wales & Spread the Word, with the support of the British Council's ILS Legacy Fund.


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