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'Great art can be nurtured by collaboration'

Friday, December 28, 2018

Roshan Abbas tells Menka Shivdasani that appreciation for the arts must be backed by your wallet

One of the first events in the 2019 literary calendar will be   SPOKEN  2.0. by Kommune. Presented by Black and White Gettogethers, the two-day festival takes place at JioGarden on January 12 and 13.

The event brings together poets and storytellers, thespians and musicians, with a lineup of artists that includes varying genres of poetry, spoken word, fusion music bands, hip-hop musical vocalists and more. With over 65 performers ranging from Jim Sarbh to Indian Ocean, Prateek Kuhad to Button Poetry to Rahat Indori, traditional storytelling to modern voices, the event is a “celebration of all things spoken”, in the words of Festival Director and Co-Founder of Kommune, Roshan Abbas.

In the last year Kommune has helped build the spoken word space with Kommunity weekends in nine cities, workshops ranging in poetry to writing, and giving artistes unique interactions like the Road trip and Beatmap.

We asked Roshan Abbas to tell us more about the festival, about the changing literary landscape in Mumbai and how the spoken word is building a ‘Kommuneity’.

When did Kommune come into being, and how it has grown?

Kommune began in 2015 as an informal group of artistes who believed that great art can be nurtured by collaboration and putting our collective strengths together. The symbol of Kommune has the sharing and connecting sign as part of it. We believed we could connect creators, consumers and capital (sponsors) and help nurture new performance art. Storytelling became our first venture and that has grown into multiple verticals over the last three years. We now do story and poetry slams, present singer songwriters and represent a thriving Kommuneity across multiple cities.

As someone who co-founded the Poetry Circle in 1986, I'm interested to see this sudden explosion of spoken word poetry. To what do you attribute this increase in the number of people creating poetry today? What makes it popular even as people still continue to say something that we have heard for decades—that nobody is interested in poetry; that poetry books don't sell? Has  the increase in cafes/ bars contributed to this in any way, since they offer new spaces?

Every point in history has a constant stream of culture and subculture. Poetry has remained a sub-culture but while people have always been writing, the idea of performance poetry has exploded with the Internet. Firstly it’s short form content, told in highly relatable voices. Most of the younger poets (Rabia, Hussain Haidry) are using the Net as a platform to showcase their talent and reaping benefits from the real world in terms of assignments that could include writing special pieces for channels, albums on Itunes, lyrics for films, scripts for shows and so on.

Cafés and bars have become the de facto places for entertainment. And with just a mike as a requirement, comedy and storytelling, along with poetry, are the easiest to put up. These are the new-age mushairas and kavi sammelans powered by the Internet, with tickets sold online and live spaces earning revenue in the form of F&B.

What is the target audience of spoken word poetry? Is it primarily a forum for youth?

Our target group (TG) ranges from 15 to 45. The younger lot consume more on themes of love and loneliness, depression and dating, the elder audience is open to all kinds of themes. But there is a definite skew to a younger TG consuming this.

What is the relationship of spoken word poetry to conventional 'printed page' poems? Do spoken word poets want to make that transition to the printed page or are these separate genres?

So we have trained and made a few written poets into spoken word poets. Megha Rao is one example. Kausar Munir is another who even today reads off her phone but is comfortable performing with us over time. These are people who are more comfortable writing. Performance is a whole new addition of a skill. Everything from the performance metre, an understanding of tonality, use of live music, stage presence, body language matters. This is an audience that sees first and reads later. So they consume a lot more of these performance poets on YouTube and Facebook. Instagram allows for more printed poets. Even Akhil Katiyal is finding a great audience due to a regular column in the newspaper now. Publications need to support the arts with a page dedicated to them. This doesn’t happen and so the artiste needs to find new-age platforms.

What are the issues that spoken word poetry tends to address, vis-a-vis poems on the page? Would you say there are similarities?

I think they all talk a lot of their times, and the issues surrounding them. So as I mentioned above, the themes of love, loneliness, religious identity, body shaming, gender and depression come up often. Millennials are very lonely and they resonate with these themes a lot. 

Traditionally, poetry events in India (at least in English) have not been ticketed. Do you think we are ready now, to be willing to pay to enter poetry events, as happens abroad?

We have always ticketed them because we believe we need to develop an appreciation for the arts backed by your wallet. We do not believe in the ‘starving artiste’ philosophy. As a collective we work with brands and venues to make it sustainable. In fact, I often encourage part-time poets to leave day jobs and work fully on their art.

What's your own definition of a good poem?

Metaphors that hold truths untold. I yearn to hear something that wakes up my imagination, that grabs me by the hand and takes me into a world I haven’t seen. When even after hearing it many times you want to savour it again and again. Images that light up the theatre of the mind.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit:

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