POET really digs FRESHLYGROUND

ABENA Koomsoon, the American-Ghanaian poet and singer who jetted into South Africa this week from her US base to perform here, is impressed with Freshlyground.

ABENA Koomsoon, the American-Ghanaian poet and singer who jetted into South Africa this week from her US base to perform here, is impressed with Freshlyground.

She says she saw them perform at the Mandela Day concert in Brooklyn on Saturday.

"I opened the festival, and for me it was such a big honour to be performing at this annual festival in the US, the am of which is to encourage unity and an appreciation of our diversity," Koomsoon says.

"Nelson Mandela has always represented these ideals. And when Freshlyground took to the stage it was such a lovely experience. I love their music and I will buy some of it before I leave."

Koomsoon was born in the US 34 years ago. Her parents are Ghanaians. She studied literature, after which she sang and read poetry, alongside teaching.

"While I was at school I kept a diary about everything that happened to me every day," she recalls. "I was encouraged by my teacher. Most of that writing, because of its intimate circumstances, was poetic.

"My mentor was a teacher named Hugh Ogden, who is no longer alive. He was helpful in teaching me to write. I have always been rumbustious and I was talkative in class. I used to distract the other children because I talked so much."

Koomsoon says she learnt to play the clarinet before she started to write songs.

"For me there is always a natural message between lyrics and poetry. My poetry has always been about discovering myself and looking for an identity as an African who was born and grew up in the US.

"When I was young it was quite difficult to reconcile my African side with my American part.

"I always resisted exposing my African side, choosing to hold it back. But as I grew up, gaining confidence about myself, I became more and more confident about exposing my African heritage. I am actually proud of my African roots, proud of my identity."

Koomsoon says she will join Staceyann Chin and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, fellow American poets, at the Bassline in Johannesburg on Saturday. She will be at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town on Sunday and at the Bat Centre in Durban on Tuesday, as part of the Urban Voices International Arts festival.

"This is my first time in South Africa. I have been to Mali and Senegal, though. I have discovered that hip-hop is one of the most important American cultural exports," Joseph says.

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