Ahead of Words & Strings' sec­ond an­niver­sary, we drop in at one of their events and dis­cover the se­cret to their pop­u­lar­ity.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THE ISSUE - By Ayswarya Murthy Pic­tures Cour­tesy: Tariq Al­fatih

Ahead of Words & Strings’ sec­ond an­niver­sary, we drop in at one of their events and dis­cover the se­cret to their suc­cess.

Started by a group of young po­ets and mu­si­cians, Words & Strings will have been around for two years come March. At their reg­u­lar gath­er­ings, hosted quite con­sis­tently, any­one with a verse or a tune to share is in­vited to do so. Some of their best po­etry is also shared on their web­site and re­cently the group has started con­duct­ing work­shops for those who want to get their cre­ative juices flow­ing. All this I al­ready knew be­fore that week­end when I fi­nally shook off the blan­ket of lethargy (lit­er­ally as well) and headed down to what was to be the last W&S event of 2016. But what I didn't know was how pow­er­ful and reaf­firm­ing the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was go­ing to be.

Be­fore D-day, some­one tweeted that they were go­ing to fly into Doha and head straight to the event from the air­port; an in­di­ca­tion of the kind of loy­alty and ex­cite­ment Words & Strings in­spires that is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine un­less you have been there. As I make my way through the wind­ing cor­ri­dors of the QF rec cen­tre, I spot a cou­ple prac­tic­ing their bit al­most in­audi­bly on a gui­tar; they look fraz­zled. Or am I pro­ject­ing? Surely, it's nervewrack­ing to go up in front of about 150 peo­ple and sub­mit your­self and your work for judg­ment. I am ner­vous for them. But I was equally thrilled. Re­mem­ber the OCD poem that went vi­ral three years ago? How the au­di­ence gasped and ap­plauded at Neil Hil­born's gut-wrench­ingly in­tense per­for­mance of his poem about love and OCD? I al­ways won­dered how it would have felt to sit there and get the full force and mean­ing of the thing live.

Ca­sual yet well or­gan­ised, W&S is every­thing an ini­tia­tive like this ought to

be. I could see right away I was wor­ried for no rea­son. The en­ergy around ev­ery­one there was so pos­i­tive and wel­com­ing. There was no good or bad, or right or wrong. When some­one stum­bled, you cheered them on harder. When some­one spoke the truth, you snapped your fin­gers ( be­cause clap­ping is so main­stream!) And when some­thing moved you, you let it. Be­cause how can you stay jaded and sar­cas­tic for long where ev­ery­one around you (whose av­er­age age is surely not more than 21) is sound­ing off so pas­sion­ately about every­thing from iden­tity to love? It's dif­fi­cult to be neu­tral be­cause po­etry it­self sel­dom is.

Out of those who per­formed, many were reg­u­lars who re­vis­ited some of their favourites; some were par­tic­i­pat­ing for the first time, of­ten solo, some­times as part of a duo. The com­mu­nity is close-knit yet in­clu­sive and soon the lines be­tween the new­bies and vet­er­ans blur, as does those be­tween vis­i­tor and per­former. Be­tween friendly ban­ter, the MC lays down some ground rules, and there are very few of them. Snap your fin­gers in­stead of clap­ping; it al­lows you to ex­press your ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the mid­dle of the per­for­mance with­out dis­tract­ing the speaker. And never ever let some­one give up in the mid­dle of their bit, what­ever the rea­son may be. This is sound ad­vice be­cause, no mat­ter how much you mess up your lines, you'd still feel bet­ter if you see it all the way through.

That night there were a dozen per­form­ers lined up. They are teenagers and young adults, mostly Arab and full of brash cer­tainty that is en­dear­ing among the young. The ses­sion breaks for fif­teen min­utes and the last leg of the evening is re­served for im­promptu acts. I didn't ex­pect there to be too many tak­ers for this but was proved wrong. I reckon there were many like me, who came there not know­ing what to ex­pect but even­tu­ally were buoyed by the at­mos­phere of sup­port, were en­cour­aged to pick up the mi­cro­phone.

The night kicks off with Dana whose emo­tional ren­di­tion of “Blood Weeps a Song” lays bare the hor­rors of Aleppo and the cul­ture of ‘click­tivism'. Her voice cracks and she of­ten sounds close to tears. But she speaks ev­ery word with con­vic­tion. Fol­low­ing her is Kholoud (who, the MC in­forms us, likes pre­tend­ing to host a culi­nary show when­ever she is cook­ing, of­ten putting on an ac­cent to match the cui­sine) who speaks about re­claim­ing the phrase “Al­lahu Ak­bar” from those who have mis­ap­pro­pri­ated it. Abir per­forms two of her Ara­bic po­ems; “Those of you who can't un­der­stand the words, I hope you can feel them,” she says. And as the evening wears on, you be­gin to re­alise what is so spe­cial about events like W&S. Be­cause the peo­ple there are not just shar­ing some words they put down on pa­per. They are of­ten bar­ing their soul. They are naked in the head­lights. And you re­alise how rare it is to al­low your­self to be vul­ner­a­ble in a pub­lic space. This very act cre­ates a spe­cial bond be­tween the speaker and the lis­tener. And in that ca­ma­raderie you dis­cover just how re­lat­able they are; we are go­ing through many of the same ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether. It's a pretty pre­cious feel­ing.

So ul­ti­mately it doesn't mat­ter if one poem is bet­ter than the other or if some­one's words take the form of a freestyle rap or if one per­son's jour­ney of set­tling into his iden­tity is messy and un­com­fort­able; it is their truth. And it is uni­formly cel­e­brated

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