SORETI KADIR ON LIVING IN THE AFRICAN DIASPORA

Oromo spoken word poet, recording artist and organiser Soreti Kadir performs and writes to encourage conversation about power, identity, living in the African diaspora, freedom and what it means to live in true service of achieving a more just, inclusive society.

By Mia Abrahams


“I will teach my daughter, my kin, my creation, that she too carries this burning hope and that she cannot fail. She cannot fail to love herself wholly, she cannot pick cotton to clothe her, she must never stand stationary still, she must force these symmetrical lines to make room for her black body… She will never beg, she will never learn the language of the slave, her tongue will never repeat these sounds and she will never, and I mean never, apologise for the hips that her mother’s mother’s mother destined for her to dance with.”

Those powerful words form part of “Sugar Canes,” a spoken word poem by Melbourne-based, Ethiopian-born writer and organiser Soreti Kadir, who identifies primarily as Oromo.

The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia at just over one-third of the population, but they’ve faced a long fight for self-determination; not only for their land, but for their culture and identity. Part of her struggle as an artist, Soreti says, is using her “platform to identity as Oromo, bringing awareness to who these people are.”

One way she does this: Through In Our Own Words (IOOW,) a grassroots nonprofit she cofounded in 2014 with Aysha Tufa after beginning her professional career in the aid and development sector. IOOW encourages the development of young people in the African diaspora, with a focus on self-awareness, de-colonial thinking and community empowerment.

Soreti’s experiences of living in the the African diaspora, as well as themes of power, loss, and identity, have heavily influenced her own writing. “Sugar Canes” celebrates black women, but also acknowledges the burdens they have to bear.

Watch Soreti perform “Sugar Canes”:

Soreti also reflects on how, as an Australian community, we can better combat the recent rise in global anti-immigrant sentiment and work to combat prejudice in Australia.

“These are issues we can’t really address without looking within our own borders. Australia needs to acknowledge its own history of perpetuating violence, particularly to indigenous Australians, and we all still feel the brunt of that,” she tells me on a phone call from Melbourne, the gentle “ding” of trams audible in the background.

“As immigrants in this country, we still do have a little bit of privilege. Our freedom is inherently tied into our power to be vocal, and our ability to bring light to some of these issues affecting other immigrants,” she says. “We should be building a safe space. It might not necessarily get better structurally, and there will always be a ‘next group’ feeling the heat. But what we can grow and what can remain permanent is the spaces we create in those times that act as havens and as strength bases.”

Follow Soreti on Twitter, and buy her book of poetry, Siyaanne (2015, self-published) here.

Image: Soreti Kadir with artwork by Nina Abrahams

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