"... and the laureate for the solo category in the 8th edition of the danse l'afrique danse is - Qudus ..."
I can't remember hearing my surname and probably the title of the winning work before I blanked out, none of the claps found their way into my ears, I turned my face down and muttered few words to thank my God. Could that be it? In one word, SUCCESS. I think I already had a feel of it and I know its temporality, I had learnt to clamp down on my pulse. I sensed the excited juice just about to start flowing and immediately I froze it back to normality. Keep still. Be still as water and hang on to your centre I told me. I rose my head up to realise the array of eyes directed towards me, as if something was badly expected of me. Those who didn't know who I was, thought I wasn't present, because all these took me about 3 minutes before Selim my Tunisian friend dragged my bag from me and poked me to go unto the podium.
The clapping and the screaming of my name were gradually taking form in my ears. Walking to the podium that was just 10 meters away, seemed like the longest walk I ever made. As I walked towards the podium, I felt a burden of responsibility on my shoulders and saw myself taking each step closer to the middle of a "disagreement" I have been rigorously engaging through my blog, my small talks in conversations and whenever the opportunity comes for me to air my opinion on certain logic of existence that appears to me illogical.
The decision - whether or not to partake in this biennial choreographic encounter - had lingered for more than three years before I eventually decided to participate. The decision came slowly along with a thought pattern that was gradually taking form with my understanding of the role of an artist, in his community and within a larger (global) context. My trouble with this phenomenon has been very much linked to my trouble with the term "Contemporary African dance" and my impatience with patterned, predictable reasoning and my refusal to ply the well trodden path.
This biennial has largely added to the systematized manner of thinking for most African choreographers, who systematically arranges themselves within this arrogantly defined box especially in place for them. This aggressive Africanist sentiment have informed the way "we" treat, analyse or consume works coming from Africa, it has succeeded in narrowing perspectives and producing rigidities in place of a creative openness to discovery and knowledge. I personally think that the moral purpose of this festival must be either restored or redefined for it to meet up with the practices and the artistic preoccupation of a new generation of artists who are presently freeing themselves from past attachments and rejecting the notion of a single identity or a single awareness, but rather a composite of cultures, identities and affiliations which marks the advent of new forms, beauties and new interests totally deracinated and dislocated from one place and one time.
As Kettly Noel (the festival director) handed me the microphone, followed by a “please be very brief” the microphone in my hand became a weapon, a tool to distinguish my voice from the voiceless, to gracefully place my words where they belong. I turned my face out into the audience, and suddenly words fail me in the sight of the numerous eyes, looking either down or up upon me. For the first time in my life i felt the intricacy of addressing an ambiguous crowd, where I have to speak and speak well, give hope to some and send a clear message to others. I was overwhelmed by emotion, i could feel myself exercising a deep breath control to stop the down flow of tears from my eyes, and finally I summoned my sinews and my nerves to my rescue.
I spoke “... I don’t know what to say... hmm, initially i didn’t wanted to partake in this competition, the only reason i decided to be here at this time, is to be able to inspire. The African youth has been over-traumatized with questions of political injustice, economic imbalance and societal pressure that they stopped dreaming, my dreams are what got me here today, I urge all you young, brilliant creative artists here today, to continue to dream, you are good enough and I know that very soon change is gonna come."
I recognize that I have moved long beyond compromise and it strikes me more and more that my experience as an artiste, is unique among the one billion Africans spread across the globe. As i walked back to my seat, the numerous congratulations that escorted me didn't help in containing the tear drops; I could hold it back no more. So why did i cry? It remained a question I ask myself till now. Here I am, me, who had to choose between dance and home at some point, me, who had to fight not for recognition but for a mere space of expression. Me, who refused to be "the good boy" because I had a dream, now, I am assuming a place of authority and becoming an example for an entire generation of artists. I can feel the burden of this responsibility already.