Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Badilisha Poetry X-change: An Online Archive of Poetry from Africa and the Diaspora, Including Audio

Badilisha Poetry X-Change is a website dedicated to archiving poems by African poets, collecting audio clips of them reading their work with all the intended emotions in place. These poems are then also published in text format with translations where necessary.

Visitors to the site can explore poets in six different categories: A-Z, Country, Language, Theme, Emotion or Top 10. The last category changes each month, with a different Badilisha poet curating their top 10.

In January, London-based Capetonian poet Toni Stuart curated the list. She included a deliciously diverse group of mostly local voices:

Antjie Krog | D’Bi Youg | Diana Ferrus | Gabeba Baderoon
Jacob Sam-la Rose | Jethro Louw | Kwame Dawes
Lwanda | Pieter Odendaal | Tania van Schalkwyk


For a taste of Stuart’s top 10 collection, read a featured poem from Jacob Sam-la Rose:


Forget what you know.
How many different angles do you speak?
There’s always some other place to be,
and you don’t know what it’s called,
or what time it closes. Can you ever say
you’ve seen a city’s best side?
Do you speak front and refurbished facade?
Watch your back, hood up, eyes front.
Know your way home.
Nothing will ever truly belong to you.
What you have, you borrow, and everything
on a short term lease. Believe, nonetheless.
Call you city, rock and hard, never let a thing
get past you. Guard your softer parts.
Do you speak locked doors and always
over the shoulder? Do you speak a hemmed in sky?
Or do you smile at strangers like one-sided telephone calls,
like a torch beam pointed at the night?
Sirens will ring in your ears like the calls
of common birds. Bury your fears.
Play your hand close.
Closer still.

Research has shown that in Africa web users rely on mobile devices much more than anywhere else in the world. This led to a relaunch of the Badilisha Poetry X-Change website with great mobile accessibility, opening up opportunities to spread African poetry on the continent that birthed it.

David Smith from The Guardian recently spoke to project manager Linda Kaoma to find out more about the site, the decision to focus on mobile browsing and project in general. “Badilisha’s poets include 169 from South Africa, 33 from Kenya, 27 from Nigeria, 26 from Zimbabwe, three from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one from Somalia. Among the 16 African poets in the UK is Lemn Sissay, of Ethiopian descent, who was commissioned to write for the 2012 London Olympics. He can be heard reading his work ‘The Queen’s Speech’,” Smith Writes.

Read the article to find out everything you would want to know about Badilisha Poetry X-Change:

“These days, the language of death
is a dialect of betrayals; the bodies
broken, placid as saints, hobble
along the tiled corridors, from room
to room. Below the dormitories
is a white squat bungalow, a chapel
from which the handclaps and choruses
rise and reach us like the scent
of a more innocent time.”

These are the opening lines of Hope’s Hospice, written by Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes. He is among nearly 400 African poets from 24 countries in 14 languages who can now be heard reading their work via mobile phones – a first for Africa and the world.

The mobile site, accessible on smart and feature phones, has been launched by the Badilisha Poetry X-Change, the biggest archive of audio recordings by African poets in the world. It is a significant step on this “mobile first” continent where, with limited landline infrastructure, most people access the internet through their phones rather than on computers.

Fodor’s Travel, an international travel organisation, asked their editors what they were reading and the editor of their “Cities and Cultural Destinations” section, Kristan Schiller, explained why she is excited about the Badilisha Poetry X-Change:

I’m excited about a new mobile site launched by the Cape Town-based Badilisha Poetry X-Change, the biggest archive of audio recordings by African poets in the world.Spawned in 2008 as an annual festival in Cape Town featuring poets from across the continent, Badilisha eventually morphed into a website which was recently relaunched with mobile access. Each poet has a page with photograph, biography, and poems in text and audio. It’s a fantastic way to preserve Africa’s oral tradition and give exposure to emerging artists who otherwise might not be heard.

Some books by poets mentioned featured on Badilisha or anthologies including their work:

In the Heat of ShadowsDance with SuitcaseSynapseNuwe Stemme 5Breaking SilenceRide the TortoiseGroundworkTaller than BuildingsPitika Ntuli: The poetryTime Like StoneHomemaking for the Down-at-Heart Vyf-en-veertig skemeraandsange uit die eenbeendanser se werkruimteBeyond the Delivery RoomI've Come to Take You Home

Book details

Images courtesy of Badilisha Poetry X-change


Please register or log in to comment