The arts scene in Kenya has, for a long time now, been quite vibrant with numerous musical concerts & festivals, gallery openings, literary festivals, theatre plays and acrobat shows in Nairobi and Kenya’s other major towns. Poetry however is a new form of art that has only gained a following in the last 3 years.
This was shortly after the start of poetry evenings by the Kwani Trust, a Ford Foundation funded literary publishing firm. The evenings dubbed ‘Kwani Open mic Nights’ brought together poets from Nairobi and different parts of the country as well as from other countries in Africa and beyond.
The need to start blogs, as most poet bloggers shared with me, was mainly due to the fact that most, if not all, could not get any publishing house willing to publishing their works. This frustration and the demand by the now growing number of fans, led these poets to venture into blogging as a way of publishing their poetry. For artist bloggers the need to start blogs was driven by the cold shoulder given by mainstream local radio stations.
However, unlike poets who have fully discovered the potential of blogs and are using them to their advantage, Kenyan artists are yet to venture into this. Again, even fewer have discovered and fully exploited music marketing forums/applications on the internet such as myspace or Youtube or social websites like Facebook in a bid to build a fan base or let online visitors sample their music.
Mike Kwambo is a poet as well as a recording artists, he has always had a passion for both forms of art despite not getting a venue to share his talent. In August 2006, his campus lecturer encouraged to persue his talent in music and poetry. Soon after, during a seminar organized by Martin Keino for Sportsmen, he got to learn about blogging. He had attended the seminar as he is also a Rugby player. He soon started his blog that features his poetry and the occasional human interest topics. As a sample, here are the first few verses of a recent poem he posted, titled “My struggles as a man“:
my struggles as a man…
they keep me from self actualization and wholeness
I have an inability to communicate my emotions
I have been socialized to suppress them
the only form of communication I know is aggression
I feel silenced when frustrated, disappointed, sad or lonely
because I cannot identify what it is I am feeling
I do not know how to express it constructively
probably this is the reason I speak in sheng’
because without an emotional outlet I feel like a mute person
a mute person trying to speak a foreign language
According to Kwambo, the blog has had a great impact on his pursuit of music and poetry.
Muki Garang is a hip hop artist and poet who blogs about urban culture, music, poetry, occasionally politics… and in general social commentary. Here's a video of one of his spoken poems titled “A poem for Africa“, that he posted on Ghetto Radio:
The impact Muki Garang's blogging has had has been mainly to newbie bloggers, his fans and rivals as he quips. He tells me:
I consider myself a pioneer…. on a tone down note… what critics post makes a whole load of difference from what the average fan says… it creates checks and balances hence… tightening your laces.
Muki hopes to revamp his current blog to a full blown website by the end of the year as he hopes to introduce new insights into urban culture and loosen it up to just ‘CULTURE'… whose growth is often hindered severely by foreign gatekeeping.
Naliaka Wafula is a lady poet who also ventures into prose, music and art. She is a journalist by profession and, with her partner, she started a monthly poetry and live music evenings dubbed Rhythm & Spoken under the group ‘Project Heshima’. Her blog – which is actually a blog for the Rhythm & Spoken evenings, is quite young as it was started a few months ago. As she confides in me, the main reason she started it was to provide accurate reliable information to the shows fan base.
Her blog mostly features information about the upcoming Rhythm and Spoken events, as well as reviews and pictures of the performances such as the one on the left of Mike Kwambo. It also features poets, neo soul and afro soul music as well as featured bands that get to play during the poetry evenings. The blog has had a great impact on the artists who perform during the evenings as they get featured on the blog artistes and are able to showcase their talents. Naliaka Wafula says:
What's the point of art if nobody can see it right? I will most likely start another blog featuring my work in the near future.
And she adds that blogging is no easy task especially with poor internet speeds as is the experience in Kenya.
Dennis Dancan Mosiere – who goes by the stage name Grandmaster Masese – is a musician, poet, writer, dance and an actor. He is more known in various art venues for his signature Obokano – an 8 stringed musical instrument from the Kisii community in Kenya.
He started blogging in 2006 as a way of reaching out to more people to read his works and to be able gather feedback. It was a way for him to publish his works as he had, for a long time pursed local publishers, magazines and other mainstream media without luck. His blog is mainly about his writing although he occasionally puts up information that is of interest to his readers. Here is the latest poem that he posted on his blog:
Oh Africa,My father,
Your agonizing wailing and weeping
Keeps our next neighbours peeping
Their heads shaking in dismay
As your disease gets its way
Why hurt your heart and wail
hate your fall and fail
Your punch punches but your heart
And your torch torches but your hut
Masese says his blog has helped him know his fan base, collect criticism, advice, admiration, even outright negative commentary. But as he admits, it has helped mould him into a better performer. He also appreciates the fact that his poetry is able to reach readers and poetry lovers globally and that encourages his even more:
I want to be able to make it a place where you can get enough stuff from visual to audio. I need to get videos and audio files for the blog on various issues and forms.
These are just some of the many Kenyan artists and poets who have discovered the power of blogging and what it can do, not only to market themselves but also a way of keeping direct contact with their fans.
By visiting their blogs, one can attest to the sheer talent and energy. One can only look forward to the proliferation of Kenyan artist and poetry bloggers and a spectacular show of talent online.