Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book 68, Comoros: "Moroni Blues" by Soeuf Elbadawi

I'm afraid I won't be reading very much African drama during this project. Pretty much every African nation with famous playwrights has even more famous novelists and poets (e.g. Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee > Athol Fugard; and honestly Wole Soyinka's poetry is way more convincing than his clownish Brother Jero Trilogy.

Still, I managed to pick up this book - €11.80 via French Ebay, based on a recommendation from the PEN Online World Atlas. Terribly convenient, as our National Library doesn't stock a wealth of Comorian lit.

It's not bad - took me a while to read though, ploughing through it with my iPhone translation app. The best bit is the poetry: Elbadawi's incorporated monologues and choruses as imagistic concrete poetry, plumbing the mythological roots of the city of Moroni: the city's founding by a mother named Mwazema and her oracular cockerel. Different segments are set to music, in darkness or "au rhythme d'un spoken word" (that's right, it seems Comorian French easily incorporates English words like "man" and "peace", while also allowing for meanderings into Shikomor, the most common native language).

Unfortunately (and this is quite unfortunate, considering that I've written a brief British Council review of the book as one of my "inspirations"), I can't say it's going to be terribly influential on me as a dramatist. You see, it basically involves four "personnages" who hang around and grumble about how everything's gone to hell in their city; how it used to be a better, more inclusive space where any alien became absorbed as a native within three days, where if you laid your prayer mat on the street everyone would start following suit. Now it's a place of distrust, where there's some paranoia between the races, each one labelling the other a foreigner - though it's hard to figure out what the races are: one guy's been ostracised for being the descendant of slaves, and another's family fled from another island, but no races are actually named and Wikipedia does not help very much, thanks for nothing.

And amidst the grumbling, not very much happens. In a late scene the guys come in suddenly revealing that Personnage 3 has been punched for flirting with a girl, and he's been called an "étranger"; and in a later scene Personnage 4 reveals that the parents of the girl he wants to marry forbid the union based on race. But none of this is followed through.

This may have been terribly moving and stirring and impressive when performed in Comoros and Paris and on the Indian Ocean tour of Réunion, Madagascar and Mauritius. But I pulled shit like that in Singapore, I'd be labelled as a whiny bastard. (Mind you, I'm just reading a script: there was probably loads of stage action that combined with the music and poetry and all to breed a success.)

Ah, but this was a bit of a revelation: Comoros is a multi-ethnic nation of just 660,000 people, also terribly conflicted about their identity. A reminder that Singapore really isn't so unique after all, with all our soul-searching and complaints about a lack of a genuine culture. And if a small nation like this can make great art to be welcomed by the world, why can't we?

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Next book: Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo's "24 Poems", from Madagascar.

Representative text:


Moroni ma princesse
aux pieds pauvres
s'enrhume et s'enivre à grande eau
par jour de mauvais temps

mais que voulez-vous qu'on lui dise?
la vérité d'une inquiétude
ou le mensonge d'une nuit
d'orgie hors de prix?

le blues de Moroni.
cette ville si petite mais si unique

nous l'invoquons ce soir
pour panser les plaies
d'un peuple qui se déchire
au rythme d'un soap

notre rêve. s'il en est
est que cette ville devienne un jour
un amour d'utopie

et que l'apprentissage de la solitude
laisse place

à l'invention
d'une nouvelle fratrie
à qui l'irritation du monde
ne fera plus peur.

que Moroni devienne
une ville de tous les possibles

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