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reimagining, reviving, storytelling: reclaiming

This is a post in which I gush about stories and storytelling. Reading my about page you know one of the things I am about is narratives so buckle up.

What’s your favourite story, podcaster Lilly Bekele-Piper asked me in an interview a couple of days before the Reimagined Storytelling Festival. I went with a poem. One of my all time favourite poems, and one I like to perform: “Where are those songs?“, first heard performed by Mshai Mwangola. Favourite because it reminds me that we are constantly making life, and we can make life sing with stories and songs. And also because I believe that it is in the continual improvisation and making anew, that we reconnect to that line of old and bring those songs and stories to today, reimagined, alive, generating life.

International storytellers and kora player and griot Sanjally Jobarteh post-concert.

And that is what we were about on Saturday – reimagining stories, reimagining Africa, recovering a storytelling tradition by telling old and new stories, in old and new ways. With storytellers from Australia, South Africa, Sierra Leone (by way of UK), Morocco and many from Kenya. We sang, laughed, danced, nodded sagely and learnt many things. Like how long does it take you to get to Kenya? (Answer, “walk” – yeah Alim). Like, what are the qualities of a good leader, like Mirrabooka, the Southern Cross is? (Answer, “listens” – yeah Lilly, with storytelling permission from local Aboriginal elders). Like, how should we pray? (Answer, “in the way that we feel including through music” – yeah Adil). Like, what will they cook at the funeral of the woman who set the trap in the garden that no-one would help remove? (Answer, “everyone” – yeah Usifu). Like, where is the third of the amulets that protected Shela in her search for her family? (Answer, “inside of us as stories, because to know your past is to own your future” – yeah Maïmouna).

“Shela, Shela, Shela, Shelaaaa”….reminds me that Saturday was also the launch of the anthology “Story Story, Story Come” with 12 folktales reimagined including “When the moon learnt to be kind”, “Why chickens don’t fly”, “The Greedy Merchant”, “Shela’s Journey”…and yes, “The Giraffes of the Desert“.

So happy to be holding a copy of the book – a journey of 2 years and finally here. Photo cred Maimouna Jallow, editor of Story, Story and curator of Reimagined Storytelling Festival

Published in EA by Paivapo Publishers, Zukiswa Wanner’s gift to the world, and beautifully beautifully illustrated by Olusayo Ajetunmobi. Olusayo distilled and translated the essence of the stories into amazing art, including this awesome print that I am to bits in love with. Indeed may the giraffes teach us to walk and help us see far. Get your copy of the book here, and audiobooks are available through Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music, etc.

“May the far-seeing Spirit Guides help you find your way in the world” Check out more of Olusayo’s fab art on Instagram

My mum said my feet were just crisscrossing crisscrossing that day. And crisscross to different parts of this continent and beyond they surely did. They also crisscrossed a lot on stage as I told the dancestory of the great escape of the Ewe from the mud walled city of Notsie and cruel King Agokoli. So here’s another question, how do we achieve our freedom? (Answer – collectively, through preparation, song, drum, dance, and drawing strength from the guides and helpers all around us – yeah the Ewe who escaped and remembered and passed their story down down down until I heard it, it moved me, and I moved it. May it move you too, to find your freedom, tell your stories and own your future).

Survived that ride?

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