I arrived a little after the start time and saw that the place was still warming up. Many among Kuwait’s young, artistic crowd were walking in along with me, taking their seats and mingling with their neighbors as MC Hussain Al-Shammary or Slash as he’s better known, surveyed the proceedings. Kuz Store had their booth set up in one corner, welcoming the attendees with smiles, jokes and customized handwritten nametags. DJ Boiskout was in charge of the music for the night, and he kept up a steady set of music playing for the crowd. It was easy to spot the dancers for the night – they were the ones who couldn’t keep still, breaking into impromptu jigs early on. It seemed like this gathering was going to be a mellow one, at best. “I may have nothing to write about,” I told a friend at one point, but I should have known better.
We broke off a little while later for a quick food break to munch on food from Rockhouse Sliders, and once we came back, the place was suddenly different. More crowded and now crackling with anticipation, Slash began the evening by introducing five members from the Kuwait Poets’ Society.
First up was Joumana, who presented a piece she had written to cope with her identity struggle. In strong, rhythmic bursts, she spoke of feelings that reflected her inner conflict and the one she faces while trying to justify her duality to others. “Explain, Joumana, explain” was a line that she repeated throughout the poem, each time with more intensity. Mohmamed Hasnain then stepped up, bringing with him a poem that beautifully explored the territory of finding light when you’re lost. “Moonlight” was fluidly written, stirringly performed and ended on a note that was both melancholic and hopeful at the same time.
Then came Tasneem, who presented a powerful rendering of the mindset of one who sees that she’s been a puppet and is now able to cut those strings off. She rhymed about the awakening, the hypocrisy, the anxiety and the empowerment that encapsulates the feeling of breaking free from a cage that society has boxed a person into – it resonated strongly with me. With Fares Al-Shammari’s turn, the poetry session became romantic and woeful. His was a poem about the moments and thoughts that follow a breakup – the resentment, the guilt, the regret and the resolve. “I wish I was better,” he began. “I wish I wasn’t who I am,” he continued. With every cadence, he took the room on an emotional journey; exploring with us the pain that is felt on both sides, the flaws that make our relationships so volatile, the acceptance that even when love fails, both people remain fundamentally the same. “I wish we were better,” he ended with, to a beat of silence followed by loud applause and cheering.
Finally, it was Mohammed Al-Ajmi who ended the rhyming session with his existential piece on the process of being a poet. To me, the tone of his poetry rung almost modernly biblical, with his comparison of a poet to a prophet. Through his perspective, the poet is bestowed with great power (and great responsibility). He who takes it upon himself the task of proclaiming, affecting and bringing about change. Evocative and smooth, he managed to convey the message that poets were essentially “the prophets of hope and misery” – a loud message for someone with a soft voice.
A session as emotionally heavy as this one deserved another break, which we gladly took, and then returned for an evening of music, dance and singing. By then, Slash had gathered all the B-Boys and breakers from the room onto the stage, and together they engaged the crowd in what was probably the most fun part of the night. With DJ Boiskout at the helm, this turned into a session of free styling, with every dancer playing off the other’s moves. The room had turned into one that was suddenly lively, energetic and happy, with every move being welcomed with loud cheers and whistles.
By the time the open-mic session with such talented people as Nadine, Ashab, Traffik and Grizzly had begun, you could sense how dramatically the mood had shifted. What started as a slow formal gathering had quickly escalated into the coolest party on the block. DJ Boiskout and Kabbani’s showcase at the end of the night then seemed like the perfect way to end this party – at its peak, with everyone having a whale of a time.
Photography by Salman Moghaddam.