With over 500 African poets from 24 countries, in 14 languages, the Badilisha Poetry X-change is the largest online archive of African poetry in the world – and is now accessible from a mobile phone. A digital continuation of the continent’s oral storytelling of generations past, the site articulates a powerful and new collective voice.
First launched in 2012 by the Africa Centre, an arts and culture organisation in Cape Town, South Africa, the site was relaunched for mobiles in 2014. The move has paid off and the archive is growing, with a rich and multilayered collection and two new poets featured on the website and via podcast each week. Poets record their poems and submit them, all using just a mobile phone.
“Africa has a very rich storytelling history but because the delivery of these stories was mostly oral we lost a lot of our stories due to the lack of documentation. The same is true of our poetry,” explains Badilisha Project Administrator Wanjiru Koinange. “For instance, of all published works in the world, the work of African authors comprises only two percent. Badilisha was born out of the realisation that we have limited access to the vast poetic work of both contemporary and master poets, the project aims to showcase the myriad of poetic voices on the continent.”
With the help of new technologies Poetry X-change is highlighting new artists’ work and letting Africans explore and discover their own poets. In the latest project the team undertook a series of ‘poetic road trips’ to record poets in different cities and catalogue them on the site – from Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg in South Africa, to Gaborone and Maun in Botswana and to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Underlining the importance of the spoken word in African history and culture, the catalogue begins a new page for its future generations.
Linda Kaoma, Project Manager
South Africa (Cape Town)