Conciencia Afro may be a festival that celebrates African identity, but its core purpose is to confront the harsh reality of racism that Madrid’s African community faces on a daily basis.
This weekend, it invited affiliates of Asociación Sin Papeles, an organisation which represents both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ migrants in Spain, to perform a play which goes straight to the heart of the matter in the sun-drenched plaza of Madrid’s former slaughterhouse and current arts venue, Matadero.
The no-frills show, La Poesía Es Mi Manta (Poetry Is My Blanket) opened with a poignant scene of a young African man in his home country, lamenting the poor farming conditions and the death of his family’s livestock. His grandmother chastises him for moaning, adamant that that’s the way of the world, before telling him to head on down to the main square where humanitarian aid is dished out. However, as the main character (correctly) retorts, aid has never solved poverty, “that’s what enslaves us, that’s what kills us”. From this point on, we knew this show was going to portray a unique narrative told through unique voices.
Live music featured heavily throughout the show. It provided ambience and a soundtrack for the piece’s hard-hitting rap. The poetry was full of often disregarded realities, which forced the viewer to seriously question what part they play in the long-enduring and unjust exploitation of Africa and its people.
“I’m leaving because diamonds, weapons, coltan, fish and timber freely cross the border!”, exclaimed the main character during rap song Me Voy (I’m Leaving), before adding, “Centuries under the same exploitation, slavery, colonisation, devaluation, corporation, sick of so much manipulation from leaders, complicit in this system.”
In a later scene, having reached Madrid, the main character writes a letter to his mother. However, his new downtrodden reality has now hit him. He describes how Europe isn’t like what they see in films, that poverty also exists here too. He confides that racism is ever-present, that he is unable to get a dignified job and that he is just seen as ‘black’, before going on to detail police abuse.
It was a solitary moment for the main character but a gut-wrenching one for the audience: this was and is the reality of European exploitation, European arrogance and European policy.
La Poesía Es Mi Manta is essential viewing for everyone living in Madrid. It’s a rare opportunity in Spain to hear a singular, and very unnerving, narrative of racism – both institutionalised and overt – through the eyes of the people who have endured it in their own skin and who continue to suffer from it daily.
However, it is also a performance of hope and determination where change is possible, hence ending the show with the song Mbolo: Union.
La Poesía Es Mi Manta is performed at various points throughout the year. If you would like to listen to the soundtrack from La Poesía Es Mi Manta, the full song list can be found on YouTube here.
- Support La Poesía Es Mi Manta
- Follow Asociación Sin Papeles de Madrid
- Spanish difficulty rating: 6/10
This article was written by James Vandeleur, who’s earned his critic credentials over many years spent exploring Madrid’s alternative theatre scene. Read more of James´ no-frills theatre articles here.