Denis Boakye Mensah

He turns his love for spoken word intro rap music, podcast episodes and slam poetry. In his lyrics, he talks about identity, self-reflection and mental health. And if it was up to him, every social debate would be conducted in spoken word form from now on. An interview with Denis Mensah aka de Stille Stem ("the silent voice")!

  • Denis opek
  • Denis Boakye Mensah

Is the love for spoken word something you've taken with you since you were young?

Yes, but it took a while before I actually did anything with it. And also before I became good at it (laughs). During my first performance, I was so nervous I forgot my lines despite the fact that I was allowed to take my text with me on stage. But since then I have had many opportunities, attended workshops and met inspiring people. As a result, I have continued to write and perform and since that difficult debut, I have achieved a lot that I am actually happy with.

How did you come up with your artist name de Stille Stem ("Silent Voice")?

My very first text was a kind of monologue to myself. At the time, I wasn't quite sure under what name I wanted to go public with what I wrote, and I just went with Stille Stem. Only years later did I realize that in Twi, my native language, reflecting literally means: to listen to the silent voice. That made perfect sense to me. The meaning of the name refer to someone who is very self-reflective and thinks a lot. Sometimes too much (laughs).

You write in both English and Dutch. Is that confusing?

I would rather call it complementary. By using both languages I express myself more fully and in a more nuanced way, I have more opportunities to play with words. Often I even switch languages in the same text without being aware of it.

What does your podcast mean to you? How do you come up with topics for your episodes?

The episodes often start from books I've read. Using that book as a conversation partner, I look for its application to a human life. I choose works that shaped and transformed my thinking myself: I want to share that effect. I like the idea that this will be my legacy, something to pass along the insights I have collected myself. Primarily to my children, but I dare to think other people will benefit as well.

Do you have recurring topics in your lyrics?

The first thing I think of is identity. If, like me, you live somewhere where you are not rooted, you experience life in a different way. But there is also the danger of losing yourself in that identity and in the idea that everyone should treat you from that frame of reference. It's important to me to stay aware of this, but also to be able to disconnect from it at times.

My other themes are just as present, but perhaps in a less explicit way. I'm talking about self-reflection and mental health, dwelling on who you are and why you do things. It's about caring about how you think, but also about fantasy, imagination and putting beliefs into words. Animals communicate too, but humans are the only talking creatures on this planet. I am convinced that this is not without reason.

Spoken word has tremendous anti-polarizing powers that create harmony between conflicting opinions. You can radically disagree with someone, but you can't have anything against someone who expresses themselves honestly and says what they feel.

You are currently teaching a workshop at WISPER on identity and gender. What do you expect from it?

Most of all, I hope for an open space where all thoughts and opinions can have a place. And I also mean the less popular opinions. In a debate, you always need different perspectives to form your final conclusion. Spoken word, in my opinion, has tremendous anti-polarizing powers that create harmony between conflicting opinions. You can radically disagree with someone, but you can't have anything against someone who expresses themselves honestly and says what they feel.

Why do you think there is so much openness in the spoken word world?

For me, spoken word is an art form that allows me to show who I am on the inside, that allows me to express my identity - which is linked but not limited to how I look on the outside. That has nothing to do with the freedom of the format, because at the end of the day you still impose rules on yourself about what you say and don't say. It is more like an intuition, a feeling: in this context I can express myself without being judged.

Slam poetry is often socially critical - you describe your lyrics rather as philosophical. Is that a statement?

Yes. I want to bring a message that transcends current events. Of course, social criticism is never completely absent from it, but I consciously don't make it my main focus. And that's not just because I want my texts to be timeless. It's also because social criticism often involves a great deal of indignation. I do understand and share that anger, but always look for ways to use my voice to promote balance in the dialogue. I think spoken word has a rare unifying power, but it's also true that the slam poetry world right now is still mostly made up of a lot of single-minded people feeling the same way about the topics being discussed. It would be a nice second step if conflicting opinions could also have a place in that context of respect and non-judgment.

Do you have a message for beginning slam poets?

Don't hesitate to sign up for a workshop. Think of it as an investment in yourself, in your personal growth and mental state. Spoken word has such a therapeutic effect that it would be a miracle cure if it came as a pill (laughs).

What slam poet would you like to recommend to the readers?

I'm not a fan of namedropping. My recommendation would be: search for slam poetry on YouTube, maybe include a country, and just start watching. Each slam poet puts into words a truth of their own, and listening to that can always teach you something or inspire you, even if you don't speak their language.

Got curious after reading this interview?

Check out the workshops with Denis Check out the Stille Stem podcast
Denis Boakye Mensah vierkant
Written on Tue 18 July '23