There seems to be a poetry Renaissance taking over Nairobi, a somewhat new phenomenon that is seeing the budding of poets, performers, venues and projects that were previously unheard, now dominating evening clubs, coffee bars and restaurant gardens.
Most would hate to admit that poetry has always seemed to them as a way of expressing love, Shakespeare style. That Poetry has no African roots thus the emerging Poetry revolution is nothing but a fad that will fade away quickly like fashion or The English Premier League.
3 years ago, poetry was just but a form of art relegated to High Schools as a course in English Literature, Annual Drama festivals for institutions and Anthologies (Poems from East Africa compiled by East African Educational Publishers).
The revolution of writing in Kenya
That was before Binyavanga Wainaina won his Caine prize for his ‘Discovering Home’ short story.
Soon after, he founded Kwani Trust an organization funded by the Ford Foundation. This was to prove Taban lo Liyong (one of the pioneers of African Literature at the University of Nairobi) that Kenya was not a literary Desert. A notion that many had held and accepted. That no greater writers after Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Okot P’ Bitek or Marjorie O. Macgoye existed.
Kwani? 1– a compilation of short stories and poetry written in English, Kiswahili and sheng paved way for a new generation of writers in Kenya. A collection that triggered a lot of international acclaim, debate, praise, criticism and even outright hatred from local mainstream media that could not fathom poetry in any other form apart from what the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Robert Frost and all other 19th century poets wrote.
Kwani Trust is currently working on Kwani 4
The dawn of Performance Poetry – Kwani? Open Mic
Talent in poetry writing was identified from even the most absurd characters whose vocations included, accountants, IT geeks, university students etc
Open Mic concept has been there in the western world for a while now. It was however launched early last year in an artistically set club right at the heart of the capital city by Kwani Trust.
Taking place every first Tuesday of the month, the goal of Open Mic sessions was to have poets read their poetry, share, interact learn and eventually introduce poetry as a new form of entertainment.
Poetry merges with Visual Art
Soon after Open Mics and Poetry readings had become an emerging trend, WAPI (Words And Pictures) was formed.
Buddha Blaze, Mwafrika and Muki Garang’ who, with the support of The British Council conceptualized the idea of creating a platform where underground visual and performing artists could showcase their talent, interact further enhance their careers.
Poets, Graffiti and Visual artists, musicians and Hip Hop artists cast their works in line with the monthly theme which ranges from Social, political to economic.
Poetry, percussions, Choreography
Mbalamwezi Moods Expressions, a group directed by Peter Mudamba initiated a new form of poetry performance.
Last month saw the first performance of its kind at the Godown Art Center where various poems written mainly by Kenyan Poets was compiled into two themes, Ferocious Love and Fearless reason each forming 1Hr of Poetry performance fused with music, dance and choreography.
They will be staging an even more powerful performance this weekend at the Alliance Française in what promises to be Bi-monthly shows. They are prospecting to do countrywide tours and recitals as well.
Migritude Poetry & Project Heshima
Shailja Patel, an Indian of Kenyan Origin burst onto the Kenyan scene last year with a poetic depiction of migrations dubbed ‘Migritude’, It is currently showing at the Phoenix Theatre players (Professional Center) from 6th to the 9th June.
Project Heshima is a brain child of Naliaka, a Kenyan poet who was earlier based in the UK. The first show night at the Daas Restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant in Westlands was quite promising as the ambiance, music and program of events was on insync. The organizers have not been able to have another show yet.
Renaissance or Fad?
On 5th June, I went for Kwani Open Mic. The theme was ‘Madaraka Day’.
Having attended many previous such shows and offered comment here and there I was hopeful that after a year, things definitely would have improved.
Having arrived slightly early, I had a chance to samples the DJ’s selection of music. Sounds of John Clegg then later on Jill Scott and Eric Roberson reigned in the air creating the right ambiance for a poetic evening.
What followed curtain raising by a Reggae Artist. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reggae music but, having heard poetic lyrics from Jill Scott, I was transposed from ‘walk in the park’ to Jamaica with chants of “Jah, Rastafari”, “fire Burn dem”. I must admit that the ‘poetry’ that came after that did not make the situation any better. I have been down that road, from reading the poem right off my paper, to having all my lines, it’s a terrifying ordeal the first time, but there were basics which one had to have learnt 2nd time round.
I quote an anonymous writer who posted a comment,
- Anonymous said…
Is Kwani a poetry session or a ragga session…let the people decide….or better still – let June decide…
I am afraid that many who looked up at Open Mics as being a great start to poetry are now either been treated to unrehearsed, un-vetted works and cannot see any advancement or a future to it.
At WAPI, the story is slightly different. What was earlier a shared platform between Poets and Hip Hop artists is now seeing more of hip hop free styling, ciphers and Reggae.
The concepts are great and can still hold a crowd, media attention even attract business proposals and partnership. However, Concept Consistency, Constant improvement, identifying long term Goals are the Key things if the initiatives are to become a success.
I believe that Poetry can stand on its own as a form of Art with its own kind of music, environment and target audience.