She is a poetry slam queen and calls herself African Bombshell. Tessy Aura talks about her gradual ascent in the poetry scene and what keeps her nailing it, writes Cynthia Mukanzi
When on stage, your rhyme skills make people think you’ve been a poet for ages.
I have been writing poetry since I was 11. I’ve never been good at verbally expressing my emotions, so whenever I felt anything really intense or frivolous that I couldn’t communicate, I would write about it.
My mom also wrote poetry and so I grew up reading her compositions. I picked up the skill naturally and my affinity grew more as I learned about different poets and their structure choice.
Most of your poems are intimate. Do you ever feel hesitant performing them?
Indeed. It causes a bit of an internal struggle. My pieces have always been part of my diary. Performing them is a bit eerie and scary but, in a way, it feels like a mini revolution. I’m finally saying out loud things I have always been afraid to.
What has changed since you started doing live performances?
It is one way to measure my personal growth in terms of how I can share with complete strangers. Something special happens when you share your struggles or victories.
Guys come up to you and say you encourage them to do the same or to face a part of their life they had been avoiding or otherwise wouldn’t have felt comfortable to do if you hadn’t shown them that you or others are a safe space.
Do you stick to particular genres?
One common thread in all of them is that I always throw in a little or a lot of sass, even with a sad piece. My poems paint a picture of my experiences. However, I am selective about the pieces I choose to perform because I am still not comfortable with exposing my whole diary on stage.
Is it hard to come up with a piece?
Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. I have already put in my 10,000 hours in writing. It comes pretty easy, especially maintaining flow, playing around with rhyme schemes and story telling.
However, it takes a bit longer to make it something I can perform. Usually, I write two or three pieces a week and spend another week or two making them performance-ready.
What would you want guys to understand about you through your pieces?
That I am a complex young individual. It is easy for people to have assumptions about creatives, based on what they portray in their art and tend to put them in a box.
Your poems are powerful. My goal is to connect with people from all walks of life. Art is a great tool to do that. It reaffirms that human connection we all intrinsically have.
People say you have a strong stage presence. Care to share the secret?
(Laughs). Contrary to their observation, I’m always nervous before I get on stage. However, as soon as I break the ice, I relax.
Having spent substantial amount of time in America, do you think it played part in shaping your artistry and the person you are?
Definitely. A slam judge once told me that I had an air of arrogance in my performances. Granted, if I was a man, I am sure he would just say I was confident.
But I think there is a kind of confidence that is unique to Americans. Stereotypes hold that they are usually the loudest in the room, not afraid to be show boaty, be wrong or to speak their minds.
I can think of numerous Africans who are like this, but generally these qualities in our culture are not usually encouraged in women. I was raised by a strong African woman who instilled in me the same qualities. You were the poetry slam queen June last year, and a runner-up in the December edition.
What do you think made you miss the mark?
My piece in round three was about my father and super emotional. I couldn’t get through it at the time.
What is your biggest fear as a creative?
Being misunderstood. Poetry is subjective and often interpreted differently according to people’s perspectives. I am always afraid of someone walking away with the wrong message. But also, I understand that people are complex so I completely encourage the different interpretations even if it comes at the expense of being misunderstood.