Kagayi’s production was more dark than light and this is not about the one or two times UMEME made their presence known.
“There’s a lot of darkness in your poetry, are we in such darkness?” George Okot asks Peter Kagayi during the conversation session of his show “The Audience Must Say Amen.”
At this point we have been through 90 minutes of a tense show. It was many times haunting. Many times condemning. Many times pleading. Many times weeping. All the time powerful.
The darkness starts with humour and a tint of derision. “Today you shall enjoy poetry, while seated comfortably”. The poem makes fun of poetry audiences and their apparent comfort and aloofness of the political condition. How long with the current “peace” last and we’re still slouched in the comfort of apathy?
I feel it is also a tribute to artists from the past like Byron Kawaddwa whose death is attributed to the consciousness in his work. It’s as if Peter is saying, poetry is not safe.
He dabbles in hope once in a while with smooth lines like “Music stitched together by the fragments of hope” but for one line of hope, we have 20 others of questioning, and doubting, and regretting and mourning and daring!
The darkness is very much intertwined with the history of the country, Uganda. It’s clear when he starts “My country is a badly taken selfie.” One must see that Kagayi is the most troubled amongst those in the theatre. He seems to be wrestling with the idea that his country is a series of betrayals. In the poem about Ben Kiwanuka, he sobs as he says “Ben Kiwanuka, please do not go to work today”. He time travels and pleads with the would have been first leader of the country to stay home for his safety.
As he addresses the issues of foreign aid, he calls out names – “Henry Morton”. It is an accusing poetry that throws the blame of social evils like HIV/AIDS onto the white man. Onto his actions such as of partitioning the country. It gets very real as a letter supposedly to missionaries is read, emphasising how the niggers must be made to obey the white man. Chilling.
He’s not a smooth talker. Smooth means comfort. His lines pierce. They nudge, they nag, they taunt, they challenge. “Like traffic lights gamble suggestion on directions” “Have we answered the Asian question? The land question, the Luwero triangle question? He speaks and says “ There is no time to rise up against those who worship wounds of war” ,“writing must be written as if the writer is already dead”, “The beautiful ones are the dead”.
Kagayi is clearly angry about the apathy in the country, about the forgetfulness in the country. In conversation with Okot, he hits out at the politics, the tribalism, the corruption. The silence of the masses affects him. He notes “Machiavellianism gave us our independence” and demands that the country have heroes like Ben Kiwanuka remembered.
The highlight of the night however comes in two places. “The Audience Must Say Amen”, and “2065”. Both poems are crowd favourites, perhaps because they speak the minds of many. The latter is a prophetic poem that was written 8 years ago and on this day seems to predict correctly the direction of the country – Makerere’s chaos, the President being the same, URA increasing taxes, teachers demanding for more pay. It’s uncanny. The former, invokes the participation of the audience. It is spoken on the premise that the lover of poetry, the reader of poetry, the listener of poetry must themselves feel affronted when those writing poetry are confronted by the authorities.
Peter’s performance did not lack passion. It did not lack heart. It is a performance that must be watched again and again even while his collection is read, again and again. The question is, are we in such darkness, and are we being apathetic to the things he is saying?