Zanzibar’s Greatest Poet

Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein at Poetry Magazine:

While Zanzibar’s political landscape has shifted over the decades, Swahili coastal culture and tradition have remained central to island life. Haji Gora traces his love of language to ngoma, a hypnotic and exuberant drumming that hails from Congo. It’s a Bantu tradition that spread to Zanzibar via a harrowing history of slavery and trade between inland Africa and the Swahili coast, as well as the Arab Peninsula. There are various forms of ngoma, each with its own rhythms and sounds, but Haji Gora was drawn to Ngoma ya Kibati, which features quick, improvised dialogue set to drums while singers and dancers punctuate the rhythms with choral lines.

In his late teens, Haji Gora joined Zige and Ngambwa, two Tumbatu-based competitive drumming crews. The drumbeat triggered extemporized verse intended to set the record straight or to publicly call out those who had somehow crossed the line.

more here.