The kinesic poetry of ebony bodies
What happens in the Palenque neighborhood, located in commune 4 of Quibdó, abruptly ends the romantic scene of monotony and routine Sunday: three teenagers dance synchronized to the rhythm of break dance and hip hop of the nineties. For each masterfully performed movement, euphoria smoothes the sweat on the foreheads of the spectators. Shouts and applause in unison. Suddenly, a man steps into the human circle and begins to imitate the choreography.
The tallest teenager of all perfectly executes the mythical moon walk, a step immortalized by Michael Jackson, but originally created by Bob Fosse for the choreography of the movie The Little Prince (1974). Two children in the crowd try to imitate him without success.
Determined not to be overshadowed by his partner, the stockier teenager shows off with a choreography reminiscent of the freestyle of the New York ghettos in the 1980s, fused with contemporary urban music. As his trunk becomes lithe and his legs robotic, the women don't blink.
The third teenager, shy and somewhat insecure, is forced to dance masterfully, to shine on his own and not be beneath the two talented dancers. He remains immobile, the soles of his feet have become bound to the cement. Willing to save him, his friends perform an improvised choreography.
Then, when no one expects it, the scrawny young man's body is possessed by James Brown himself and his feet are dressed in a mixture of fire, cadence and mesmerizing movements.
The racket is heard in every corner of Quibdó.
What no one imagines about this scene, worthy of a Spike Lee or Barry Jenkins film, is that the three ebony bodies write kinesthetic poetry that goes beyond the stereotypes associated with the idea that black people have a gift for movement. When ebony men and women dance to urban music, they write poems with the language of the body. Whether in Quibdó or Africa, the verses born with movement have the same value as the written ones.
If we could learn to read the poems that are written daily in the streets and corners of Chocó, Ghana or Zimbabwe, we would fulfill the will of Noemia de Sousa:
Throw it all away, but leave the music.
Fortunately, cinema exists to save us from rationality. In that intimate dialogue with the big screen, what for the primary eye is a choreography, for the contemplative eye is sublime poetry that must be preserved. There is nothing more beautiful than to understand the dance as an architecture of rhythmic words that write rhymes and prose of joy, life, ancestry, identity and heritage.
To understand the above, one must return to the Palenque neighborhood and feel on the skin the humidity that bathes the bodies of the three adolescents. That same humidity that dresses the temples of those who form the circle and shout excitedly.
After a first apotheosis show, the three poets of the movement decide to perform a second creation of kinesic verses. Attracted by the hustle and bustle, inhabitants of neighboring neighborhoods join the crowd thirsty for Sunday fruition.
Inseparable, the euphoria smoothes the sweat on the foreheads of the spectators. Heat, suffocating and sticky heat of the Chocó. It is appropriate to quote a fragment of O mejor, a poem by Amalia Lú Posso Figueroa from Quibdo:
It is the heat, suffocating and sticky heat of Chocó, of Saigon, of Cholén.
It is the heat.
The heat where the wind stops in front of density
and breaks into a thousand pieces, minuscule pieces
that become tears of downpour;
it hits the thatched roofs, or better, it slides down them,
stings like pins, the bodies exultant of sweat, of cadence, of hunger at the
of sweat, of cadence, of hunger at the touch; it rolls electrifying on the skin that
expels the smell of pacó flower.
The humidity expands and rises;
or better, it descends and penetrates;
or better, it floats, it rolls in zigzag;
or better yet, in a straight line, producing the
need to be rubbed with tenderness;
or better, with violence to appease;
or better, to precipitate prolonging
the death-like death rattle;
or better, to the life that springs forth enveloping;
or better, releasing the desire to go out;
or better, to enter with love or without it,
disrupting the sensation of downpour, of heat,
of salt, of repressed gale, of turning around oneself;
or better, around the other, who releases the discomfort and reduces;
or better, it expands to a single meaning: that of lover.
Now, a Missy Elliot song is playing. The trio dances with exact synchrony. The bodies write exact beats. After witnessing this, it is not difficult to imagine the reason why Kita Bauchet decides to enter the universe of the contemporary dance company of Senegal and read the kinesic poems of its members to film Saint-Louis on the Move (2022), a journey into the genius of two dancers on the urban scene.
Mention should also be made of Italian director Giulia Rosco, who chooses as her audiovisual theme the urban music scene of Senegal in the documentary Feneen (2022) to get to know the body poetry of local musicians who have found in these sonorities a discourse of recognition and construction of their cultural identity in African society.
Everything becomes magical when the shy teenager, owner of his own rhythm when he shakes his pelvis, seems to look at himself in the glass of a window and enter into an intimate trance with his purest self, personified in his hair.
It is obligatory to mention a poem by the Mozambican Lorna Telma Zita:
The crown that will never be taken from me
My hair is hard and curly
It is the legacy left by my ancestors.
It is thick as the blood that runs through my veins.
My hair is the crown that will never be taken from me
It is the root that sprouted in the coffee and cotton plantations.
That for a long time remained attached to a white cloth.
Today it broke free.
It broke the chains of slavery
Don't tell me it's bad
Don't make me feel ashamed for having you
It's my crown
It's my endurance
And no one will take me away
You can compare me to sheets and chimps
It's no use. I'll take it
I won't let you erase that legacy
That over time denied me
To be who I am
To take my roots
That is my resistance
And no one will take me away.
In a few years, with discipline and perseverance, the boy could become a renowned choreographer like Florent Mahoukou, who declaims his body poems in front of the mirror and by the sea of his native country, to give life to Face to Face (2021), a conversation full of questions for art and existence.
Fortunately for those who are interested in not seeing their bodies and the bodies of others as mere carnal frames, the 4th edition of the Quibdó Africa Film Festival is just around the corner. Surely, after watching the selection of documentaries, someone will dare to translate one of the kinesic poems written in Barrio Palenque.
If luck is with him, he will convert into understandable words the moon walk step of the tallest teenager or the New York urban freestyle choreography and contemporary urban sounds of the stockiest one. It will go something like this:
Let the feet speak,
let the blood tremble,
Chocó dwells in my skin,
I'll dance until the evening falls.
It will always be a challenge, in Quibdó and in Africa, to read with logic the kinesic poetry of ebony bodies.