Amee: an Ivorian slam poet
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” - Paulo Coelho, author of “The Alchemist”
This quote is like a guiding light that shows Amee the way. Amee is a 33 year-old slam poet from Côte d’Ivoire whose words slice and shear the realities of our society. I’ve known her for a few years now, and I’m always impressed by this calm force that drives her. Yet she was a quiet child, albeit a very inquisitive one with a definite fondness for adventure. “I was fidgety and can say that I had a happy childhood with its anecdotes, joys, tears and lessons”, she says with a smile.
Amee defines slam as a poetic performance or, more simply, spoken poetry. “There’s also a French-language definition that isn’t mine but I totally agree with it because it’s self evident: Scène Libre Aux Mots [open mic for words]”, she says. Slam poetry was born in the United States, and it is undoubtedly that country that has the most female slammers because there are recurrent open mic events there.
Her love of slam poetry comes from her fondness for writing and for performing on stage. Indeed, she’s been writing since she was fourteen and has always wanted to be on stage. The combination of both of these inevitably led her to slam poetry.
Amee’s professional career as an artist truly began when she took part in a lyric-writing competition in 2009, which she won in the RnB category. Her first slam experience came the following year thanks to a writing project at the Goethe Institute. After this writing workshop, she was encouraged by the advice she received from various people suggesting that slam poetry would be the best way to highlight the compositions she was already writing. In 2013, she was chosen for another project: a public speaking competition called The Spokenword Project initiated by the Goethe Institute. In 2014, with other Ivorian slammers, she formed a legally constituted association: the Collectif Au Nom du Slam, or Slam Collective. “Since 2015, I’ve taken part in festivals in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Ghana, Chad, the Netherlands and Senegal”, she confirms.
Amee has a genuine symbiotic relationship with her art that entirely engulfs her. When she’s on stage, she becomes the subject, the character of her text, and the emotions that run through her are those inspired by the words she delivers. “All my texts move me in accordance with the emotion they convey, because these words are all part of my very being”. Amee’s compositions talk about everything that makes up a life (life, death, love, women, beauty, everyday occurrences, joy, pain, demands, etc.) because, for her, existence itself is a gigantic poem from which artists extract a little poetry to narrate it. One could think that Amee, as a woman in the slam poetry world, is an exception and could have suffered from prejudice, but her response to that assumption is clear: “Prejudice lies firstly in the way society looks at artists in general, and female artists in particular, and that’s the kind of prejudice I have to cope with, even though it isn’t very visible, and it also lies in the perception people have of slammers in general: “Committed artists”. A slammer is not systematically an activist. Having said all that, I don’t think I’ve particularly suffered from prejudice associated with my status as a woman who does slam poetry. On the contrary, I receive regular encouragement from my friends and relations, from strangers and even from people beyond this country’s borders”.
Amee is therefore blossoming as a slam poet living in Côte d’Ivoire, even though this art form is still somewhat at the underground stage in this country. “But slam poetry is growing fast thanks to the efforts undertaken by key players such as the Collectif Au Nom du Slam to make it better known. The general public aren’t familiar with slam poetry because there are few opportunities to show it off, but every day it is attracting a growing number of admirers from a broad range of backgrounds”, she explains.
Indeed slam poetry – according to Amee – is accessible to all those who show the desire, because the notion of good and bad doesn’t really exist in slam because of its free (not to say freestyle) aspect. “What counts is the emotion generated by the performance, and that depends on individual feelings. But, in a less abstract manner, of course you need to have experience or at least have a passion for writing. Other essential assets include a good sense of observation and the ability to analyse your environment, good diction / enunciation and the ability to manage stress – and a good memory doesn’t do any harm either”.
But can you make a living from slam poetry in this country? Amee is a fulltime slammer, but as yet doesn’t live from that alone. Indeed, she has a fulltime job that enables her to finance her personal expenses and her many artistic projects. Among her many collaborations, she has been able to work with other women slam poets including Lydol (Cameroon), Harmonie (Benin), Nanda (Gabon-France) on the initiative of Malika the slammer (Burkina Faso). She is also working with the artist Shadochris on an upcoming project. “All of these collaborations have gone very well in perfect harmony”, she says. “Actually, slam poetry has given me self-fulfilment, numerous opportunities and, above all, it has made my dream a reality. As yet, I haven’t experienced any disappointments, it’s all been wonderful, even the bad experiences”, she says with a smile.
But Amee doesn’t just live and breathe Slam poetry! Although she doesn’t really have a favourite musical genre apart from this one, she does nevertheless enjoy quite a few other genres: “I can be sensitive to a traditional Ivorian or Mandinka song, a Celtic or Gregorian chant or soul or rock music”.
Although Amee isn’t a big fan of predicting the future, she nevertheless hopes that in a decade she will be able to live exclusively from her passion for the arts.
Her projects include, in the short term, the completion of her musical project and, in the medium term, a tour. So, GO GIRL!