An Open Mic and Poetry Jam kicks off summer-long celebration
To celebrate its years of service to the African immigrant community in Minnesota, Mshale Newspaper kicked off its 15th anniversary celebration with a poetry open mic on July 15.
More than 125 Mshale supporters and poetry enthusiasts gathered in the dimly-lit Loft Literary Center for the event, which featured a broad spectrum of talent—ranging from spoken word artists, to singers and musicians.
Mshale Publisher and Founder Tom Gitaa said the event was an appropriate start to the summer-long celebration.
In Africa, the sound of drums, or a town crier would draw attention to a significant occasion, he said, calling the event “as close as possible” to that tradition.
He also said poetry serves the same purpose as griots, or West African storytellers, in modern society.
“It was definitely a great success,” Gitaa, who acted as the emcee for the event, said. “We have never done anything like that before.”
For Gitaa and guests it was an evening full of surprises.
Power of Our Voices, a youth performing arts program through Pillsbury House Theatre, contributed the first few performers of the evening.
The young poets set the tone their conviction and social consciousness. Though unregistered to perform, they were drawn to the open mic by “word-of-mouth,” like most attendees.
“They really stuck in my head,” Gitaa said. “They were kind of the encouragement.”
Performer after performer stepped to the mic, each with his or her unique style and perspective.
Inspired by the intimate setting—where poets stood feet from the audience and some avoided the use of the microphone—performers whole-heartedly tackled issues including music, religion, motherhood and romance.
Featured artist (i am) isis said the vibe inspired her, and praised the talented group for its words and wisdom.
The singer and poet is one of this summer’s Soul Train featured new artists, who specialized in her own brand of what she calls “spoken soul.” She returned to Minneapolis—her home town—from New York just for the event.
The other featured artist, Hersi, used his poetry to describe his personal experiences as a Somali-American.
“Let them know their words move you,” (i am) isis said at the event, encouraging audience participation.
As prompted, attendees shared plenty of feedback about the evening with Mshale, Gitaa said.
Throughout the affair, audience members clapped and sang along with musical acts, such as (i am)isis, and laughed along with others such as one particularly suggestive poet, who many called “refreshing.”
But in the end, Gitaa said most left with a common concern—when the next Mshale Open Mic and Poetry Jam would occur.
“It looks like there is a want out there for something like this,” he said, explaining that the idea for a similar annual event is in the works. “We’re thinking if we do it, will be more along the lines of an actual poetry slam…a competitive thing.”
The occasion was co-presented by the Loft Literacy Center, which donated its space free-of-charge.
Friends of Mshale, Paschal Nwokocha Law Offices, sponsored the open mic by contributing funding for refreshments and featured artists.
The 15th anniversary celebration continues on Aug. 27 when Mshale will host “Africa in Your Backyard,” an evening of local African musical entertainment and cuisine hosted at the Cedar in Minneapolis.
The event will begin at 7 p.m.
In addition, to round-out the summer-long celebration, Mshale will also host a soccer tournament next month.
For more information about the history of Mshale Newspaper or the anniversary celebration, visit www.mshale15years.com.
“Mshale is all about community,” Gitaa said. “We always keep our ear to the ground to see what people want and we try to be responsive to it.”