Rooftop Rhythms: Where poets come together in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is home to a rapidly expanding group of poets who strive to find common ground as they cast aside geographical differences and language barriers.
As Friday evenings roll around, some people in the city gear up for a night of club-hopping while others choose to make their way to their favourite restaurants for dinner. Poets in Abu Dhabi aren’t happy dancing to these run-of-the-mill tunes. Enter Rooftop Rhythms.
Artistes in Abu Dhabi are mixing verse with music as they enjoy the flavours of performance poetry with a global touch at the monthly meetings of Rooftop Rhythms, the only active open microphone poetry forum in Abu Dhabi.
Rooftop Rhythms- Abu Dhabi, founded by Dorian Rogers under the aegis of Black on Black Rhyme, a USA-based group of poets who believe in sharing poetry for love, healing, enlightenment and education, celebrates the spoken word. Though all kinds of verse are welcome, many of the poets practice performance poetry which highlights aspects such as voice modulation and speaking skills. Amateur poets and published ones are encouraged to read and perform their poetry.
“I never expected Rooftop Rhythms to be as well accepted as it is,” comments Rogers. Started in March 2012, the group has grown in more ways than one. Over 400 people attended the meeting held in September. The hotel had to limit the audience due to a conference at the venue, but 225 people still managed to make their way to the meet held on October 25. Many poets are also publishing their work. What has made Rooftop Rhythms so popular so soon?
The group seems to be filling a void believes Rogers. “The poetry scene in Abu Dhabi has changed overnight. For a long time I wrote poems hoping someday somebody would read it. Rooftop Rhythms gave me a platform to perform,” confesses Natasha Nair, a landscape architect and published poetess based out of Abu Dhabi, who has been attending sessions since January.
“I have lived in the UAE since 2011 but such events were almost obsolete before Rooftop Rhythms started. Earlier, I would read more than one poem but now it’s difficult to get on the list of performers,” says Charlie, a teacher in Abu Dhabi, who is originally from Michigan.
Rogers believes that social media has contributed greatly to creating awareness about the group’s presence. “I created a page on Facebook and word spread like wild fire as poets in Abu Dhabi did not have such an outlet for their creativity,” explains Rogers.
Mohammad Hussain, an architect in Dubai, who hails from Khartoum, organised poetry sessions in his home country. “In Sudan, these sessions are intimate whereas here they are well advertised. It is refreshing to see that poetry is exposed to a global community. Similar events are taking place in Dubai now,” he said.
The poets respect each speaker and help artists develop stage confidence. Poets have performed in Arabic and German and themes vary as people speak about spirituality, self discovery, motherhood, disability and life’s experiences among other subjects. “I find the experience creatively liberating,” claims Charlie. “Sometimes my performance is very urban, almost like rap, and at other times it is traditional. I’ve been trying to include singing in my performance. I get nervous and my voice shakes but I challenge myself to do something I am afraid of,” she adds.
The global audience, chic ambience and poetic atmosphere seem to be crowd-pullers. The 15th session of Rooftop Rhythms at Hilton Capital Grand in Abu Dhabi saw a multicultural audience tune it up for the cause of poetry. Poets from Chicago, Palestine, Jordan, Florida, Africa, India and other places came together to celebrate the art of the spoken word.
Rooftop Rhythms has helped artistes in various ways. For Hussain, Rooftop Rhythms is an opportunity to learn techniques about the English language and understand the mindset of the poet. Nair hails from Pune and did not know performance poetry existed before she attended the meeting. “Though I write traditional verse, I am slowly learning how to perform,” says Nair.
“There is something uniquely familiar among poets. When I listen to a poem in Arabic I can feel the words. Earlier, I wrote about my own experiences but now I think of how my words can affect my friends from different parts of the world,” explains Sunnei Dais, a teacher from Al Ain.
Charlie, Dais, Nair and Hussain are all of the view that the only thing missing is the lack of more events focusing on poetry.
Going by the buzz of activity at the meeting held last Friday and keeping in mind the speed at which Rooftop Rhythms has gained popularity, the talented poets are creating a niche in the city.
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