Writing for Culture Ebene in 2012, Tatla Mbetbo’s piece “Le slam camer est stone” (Cameroonian spoken word is Stone) reads more like a “revenge narrative” rather than a journalistic piece. The piece, which humbly acknowledges Stone Karim’s contribution to the evolution of spoken word in Cameroon, gradually turns around to point an accusing finger at Stone, blaming him for the sick nature and bleak future of spoken word in Cameroon. The piece further plays with the image of Stone Karim as the godfather of Cameroonian spoken word; a godfather, who through his leniency lets everything pass in the name of spoken word and now the spoken word scene is wayward with no rules.
It is obvious from the piece that the person has no idea about what spoken word really is, and the fact that he compares it to rap says a lot, and probably his only compass in the spoken word scene is Grand Corps Malade. In fact, the fact that his history of spoken word starts with Stone shows that the author’s research was sloppy. Where do people like Koppo, Sadrak, Ayriq Akam and Boudor fit into his history of spoken word in Cameroon?
Before a dismantling of his piece, a brief apercu of Stone Karim would be helpful. La Phraz Slam, started by Stone Karim Mohamed (Brice Romuald Mbasse) and Ebene in 2007 remains seminal in the development of spoken word. Stone later moved on and started Ali Bavard (a workshop which gave spoken word artists the opportunity to develop and share their talents) and he also organized spoken word workshops in various countries.
The culmination of the Ali Bavard workshop, which lasted for about 9 months, was the organization of a show entitled La Caserne d’Ali Bavard et les 40 Slameurs, in 2011, which was a mix between stage performance (with mime scenes evocative of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves) and spoken word poetry recounting a thousand and one lives of ordinary citizens with memorable performances such as “La pluie” by Aub1, “Black Attitude” by Clair Obscure , and “Bienvenu a Mvogada” by Mara among others.
Stone Karim’s involvement in the Cameroonian spoken word scene around 2007 remains a watershed moment. Stone is a multidisciplinary artist who has participated in photography and spoken word events in Haiti, Senegal, France and Germany, and was artist in residence at Petit Pierre, Dakar in 2011. He experiments with words, sound, and pictures, and performs in French, English and Pidgin. He is a member of KHaL!SHRINE, an artist-run alternative hub. Stone refers to his art as poetography because he uses words to explain pictures in his mind and he uses pictures to describe things that words are not able to describe.
First of all, the author accuses Stone of misleading younger spoken word artists, by saying that the blind cannot lead the blind, then he adds that these groups of younger spoken word artists are in fact a single collective which keeps changing names, and he ends that point by saying that they are a hermetically sealed group who “beatifically congratulate themselves in order to convince themselves that they exist.”
By referring to various spoken word collectives as a single group, it is clear that the author doesn’t know any collective apart from 237 Paroles which organizes workshops at the French institute. It is true that the group has changed its name before, but it is far from being the only spoken word collective in Yaoundé. In fact, such a statement is an insult to the efforts of spoken word collectives which brave all odds and thrive in a landscape where they are given little attention. I am here referring to groups such as Pa2Nem, NdaSlam and Khalishrine just to name a few groups in Yaounde. By the time one includes collectives based in Douala, Buea, Bamenda and other towns, the list would be endless.
When the author says that the collective “beatifically congratulate themselves in order to convince themselves that they exist.” He fails to understand that he is talking about a collective which has mentored some of Cameroon’s finest spoken word artists, some of whom have won several awards and the collective continually mentors younger artists. In fact, it is probably the most constant venue where spoken word activities take place every Saturday from 2pm to 6pm.
Again, the author is wrong when he talks about the sick state of spoken word in Cameroon because he fails to see the influence of spoken word in Cameroon on other African countries notably Senegal and Madagascar. Sadrak’s involvement with the spoken word scene in Senegal is the stuff that legends are made up of, and Benson, the Malagasy winner of the Spoken Word Project, organized by the Goethe institute opened up to a new experience and approach to spoken word after his sojourn in Yaoundé.
Furthermore, the author says that spoken word in Cameroon is in bad shape because there are just about a hand full of albums out which nobody is enthusiastic about. This sentence bears some resemblance with the futility of arguing that the literature of a country does not exist if there are no published books, as if literature exists only within the pages of a book. With regards to the fact that nobody is enthusiastic about the handful of spoken word albums released, my counter argument comes from nowhere else than the same website Culture Ebene, wherein the piece in question was published.
In a 2012 piece entitled “Ebene: ton slam était mieux avant” from Culture Ebene, Joseph Ngoué says:
C’est dans une chaine étrangère que j’ai vu pour la première fois un slammeur camerounais faire autant de buzz, et se sentir si à l’aise dans son art. J’ai kiffé le vidéogramme, et je profite pour passer un slammalekum à William Nsai pour le boulot. Je suis surtout tomber sous le charme de la diction d’Ebène, la manière avec laquelle il alignait avec une facilité artistique les vers, les rythmes, les sonorités, les images, les figures de styles alléchantes et souvent des mesures hermétiques demandant plusieurs écoutes pour appréhender ou cerner le sens profond de sa pensée. C’était du grand art, il a vraiment défrayé la chronique, puisque c’était du jamais vu au Cameroun. Avec lui on n’a pas hésité à qualifier son art de slam, comme ça été le cas avec le gars du “si tu vois ma go”.
Thus, Tatla Mbetbo’s piece “Le slam camer est stone” , from Culture Ebene, far from being an objective piece rather reads like the product of some feud because it eschews research in favor of a “revenge narrative” which does a great disservice to Stone Karim and the image of spoken word in Cameroon.