By Salem Lorot
Having had attended Wamathai before, I knew that #WamathaiJuly was going to be only bigger and better. And I was not disappointed. The poetry/music/photography event held at the Michael Joseph Centre on 14th July was scheduled to start at 4 p.m. and end at 8 p.m. I was there at exactly 3.30 p.m., thirty minutes earlier, perhaps a bit ambitious for a normal Nairobi poetry fan and performer. Well, I had missed a couple of Wamathai events and I think my conscience had nagged. So, I greet Wamathai and Bobby Muirugi, exchange some pleasantries and admire KOA photography exhibition on a screen. I keenly observe the photos and I am struck by one quote: “I am not usually a verbose person so I use photography to speak for themselves”. And boy, don’t they speak. I admire the photographs and make a mental note that I need to enroll for photography course as one of those long term projects.
I sit behind a lady strumming a guitar. I admire her artistry. I just watch and listen to her and like the quote above, I choose not to be verbose. I just kept quiet. Then the show starts, at 4.30 p.m., well, thirty minutes late but people only streamed in at 4 p.m. ( that is the Kenyan trend, so I was not surprised). A powerful starter rendition by a duet led by Ndila gets me cocked. The first song, Mr. Jailer, was so powerful that a kind poet at #WamathaiJuly, @kibalimureithi, confessed that it had him wake up at 4.30 a.m. to sing it. The second song was about love and I was gripped by it.
Then ‘the School Bell Rings’, by El Poet and “Samo and The Almighty”, performed first at Slam Africa, served to confirm the prowess of the two artists. Methinks, though, that the mike stand was a bit lower for Samo and The Almighty but hey, the School Bell still rung, boy.
I don’t know, but I always associate good poetry with the power of its connection to the audience. This I found in Jemedari’s ‘Mr. President’. I had read and listened to the song before at Rayhab’s blog ‘Potent Ash’ and I was held in awe by the powerful lyrics. Listening to Mr. President live from none other than Jemedari himself was a treat. I felt honoured to be part of the audience. The poem is an open letter to the president from an ordinary Kenyan frustrated by the events in his/her country.
A white lady whose name I couldn’t get ( may be because I got carried away), performed ‘Stand Up’ and believe me my hair stood up on its ends. And when she did a Kiswahili version of the same piece, despite her disclaimer that her Kiswahili was horrible, she won me, quite literally. And yes, FYI, her Kiswahili was excellent and I mean it.
Nemesis/Man Njorowas next on stage. The two pieces he performed, one in English and one in his jocular fashion stood out. I am always left in stitches by his jokes and having listened to a couple of his songs, there is every reason why Nemesis, though a goddess in the Greek Mythology attributed to retribution and vengeance, is on a warpath in matters poetry. May be next time I get an opportunity, I will ask him what the reason behind the stage name is.
Throughout the evening, we were entertained by @DempseynTheboys, a trio self described as ‘ordinary Kenyan guys doing extraordinary music’. And yes, they do extra-ordinary music and I can vouch for that. You might want to check them out and find out what they do from their twitter handle.
Julie Wang’ombeperformed a piece aptly titled ‘Genocide’ and I was forced to sit up and listen. Hers was one of the poems that disturbs you, eating up at your mind and soul, unapologetic yet soft and calming and pleading. The poem spoke to me and I felt it within me.
‘The Revolution will be Televised’by Wangari had an apt message. She indicated that she was inspired by Boniface Mwangi’s (he of the recent popular #Loveprotest and the Ballot revolution in Kenya) One Thousand Words.
Njeri Wangari, she the author of the poetry book ‘Minds and Minefields’, gave a stellar performance lamenting our digital age which has robbed us of our being. Well, honestly speaking, it was my first time to see Njeri Wangari and having had read her website, her books and #POWO events, it was humbling to watch her perform. As the emcee, tongue-in-cheek, said, I got a deal for two.
After this, we were urged to join in a Storymoja campaign of ‘Start a Library’ where individuals can donate new and used books to be used in Kenyan schools without them. I found this initiative to be noble and I would urge everyone to support it.
Mwende, a film maker, the one behind the #Sudanrevolt, performed two pieces, ‘Ground’ and ‘The Dream Valley’. I was spell-bound.
The glowing tribute that Kavosa got from her introduction by the emcee was confirmed by her performance. There was something about the piece, something about being non-conformist that she brought out so well. And Miss, you were not nervous, at least to me.
Moraa Onsando, the lady I had told you who was sitting in front of me, stole the show. (Note to self: I should have gotten to know this beforehand from her so that at least I wouldn’t have known this beforehand, but well I was still trying Wamathai’s ‘first approach’). She had mastered her guitar, she had a powerful vocal range and yet her mien drew her close to the crowd. Yes, Michael Onsando, I heard your scream.
Wamathai, the host, did two pieces. Both of them were humorous. The first was about the dilemma of a man approaching a woman and the kind of approaches he might use. The second piece, written by Madiang’ Oluoch, made me laugh. It was about a man’s prayer to God to give him seven years to understand his wife. Wamathai, the founder of www.wamathai.com, is one of the living legends of Kenyan poetry. Through the website and the poetry events he organizes, he has been able to pool together Kenyan talents in poetry writing, short stories, book reviews and Q and A interviews.
A slot was given for us to hear more about KOA Photography. There is a particularly memorable part in the speech. That when you take a black and white photograph, you see into somebody’s soul. Not exact words but that was the gist. In photography, he said, we capture moments, we enter into somebody’s soul. This moment is so special and can’t be replaced by anything else.
Bobby Muirugi, Achieng’ andLe Cleric also performed, amid great cheer from the audience. Beautiful Adelle did her piece too and it was great to hear her once more. I think I had first seen her on stage ( she has been there a while now, before me) on one of the Poetry events last year.
Ngartiaand si ni sisi, especially si ni sisi, reminded me of the Music Festivals. Boy, this group had energy! For me, the theme of their performance resonated well with me. You see, things like the warriors are my stuff, having grown up in the village.
Wanjiku Mwaura, a lady who I respect so much in poetry circles, did two pieces to close the evening. The sad one (at least to a man’s perspective, like me) was so intriguing especially the last line where the ATM Card has been taken away. The funny piece was about an imaginary phone conversation which I found to be true and extremely funny at the same time.
I had requested for a slot to perform my two pieces, ‘Alphabet of Kenya’ and ‘The World Has Changed Much’. I was not very sure if I could attend the event so I had not booked a slot. However, I could not do it because of time. Probably I will be the first person to book a slot in #WamathaiSeptember but this serves to reinforce the point that poetry in Kenya is scaling new heights and there are amazing talents around.
DempseynTheboys came back on stage to end #WamathaiJuly in style. I listened to them and what I remember most from what they said was that people sing about mothers, girlfriends and women and not boys and men. One of the songs was for the men. Another song was a’feel-good-song’ to be happy with oneself. As @DempseynTheBoyssang, I sat there enjoying every moment and wishing that this trio make it far in their music. They have the voice. They have the passion. They are humble.
Salem Lorot is a lawyer currently pursuing a post-graduate diploma in law. He is a published poet with a running blog, echoes of the hills, a writer and an avid reader. He has written extensively on a wide range of issues on law and society. He is a connoisseur of the music in East Africa, fashion, cuisine and his regular staple is the entertainment industry with the manifold twists and turns. His interests are informed by themes of social justice and interactions with diverse groups in Kenya.