The Star (Nairobi)

27 February 2013

Kenya: An Evening With Jamaican Poet Staceyann Chin

There are few instances in life when you have a chance to meet a person of real passion; someone who has such a strong, unique take on the world that it encourages you to demand a larger understanding of the world in which you are living. Someone who reminds you of what it means to be alive.

Hosted by the Nest, featuring the renowned performing artist, spoken-word poet and an LGBT rights political activist, this poetry/book reading took place at the Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel in Nairobi last week and attracted a large number of local aspiring artists as well as a few, eager tourists.

Stepping out in a simple, yellow t-shirt and beginning with a true statement about women, especially in our society, declaring that "the only thing missing for us is presence," nothing about Staceyann Chin is invisible.

There was not a moment when she allowed you to sink into your comfort zone. A woman with a voice the size of an ocean, her unapologetic nature captured the audiences' attention from the start and refused to let it go.

Her weapon: humour. Light, adept strokes infiltrating her often brutal take on life come at precisely the right moment and make Chin a master in sneaking into peoples' fears and tickling their desires to break away from the norm.

Reading from her memoir, 'The Other Side of Paradise,' she paints a picture of a colourful, albeit terrifying, Jamaica, where poverty blooms at every corner; a world in which safety and respect are privileges reserved for the very few, namely men.

Poignant and important, the story follows a young girls search for identity, her discovering it in the beauty and strength of words, and ultimately lifting herself from the most dire of circumstances to become someone who matters.

With a staunch grandmother as big as her narrative, a brother who, for a while, is a welcome contrast to the abuse she has suffered, and a mother whose absence is heavier than anything she had to endure, Chin is not one to shy away from the hard truth and produces a tale that has nothing to do with whether you are a lesbian or a Jamaican and everything to do with being human.

And then came the poetry. Rageful. Unashamed. Essential. Beautiful because of the way she carried the words, held them out in her palm and gave them over to the audience.

She never spoke down, only to the people listening, and she opened up a world of thought that few ever dare to dip their conservative toes into.

A place where, if you can imagine it, you can be it; where politicians speak the truth in straight lines and women are able to take full, unrepentant possession of their bodies.

Yes, after all of it, one wonders whether her sordid past has any influence on her subject matter, her often dogmatic point of view, and indeed it probably does.

But that doesn't make her performance any less powerful, the truth with which she spoke, which radiated from the way she stood to the way she interacted with the audience during and after the performance, any less potent. A natural,exuberant performing artist with a voice to be reckoned with, Chin delivers a performance that is not to be missed or taken lightly.

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