Unknown to many, the art of the spoken word is alive in Nairobi, now more than ever before. Spoken word is an oral art form that is closely associated with poetry ,rap culture and also referred to as free verse rhyme. It is believed to have originated from west Africa, to America through the slave trade and now to Africa. In the city of Nairobi, spoken word has developed among the youths using Swahili, English and mainly sheng, a mixture of the two as the language of communication.
On a regular Thursday afternoon, poets in Nairobi commune around a mukuyu tree at the national theatre. In the spirit of devolution, this community of free minds has devolved to other counties. Kuni mbichi, a Popular spoken word artist says that the spread of this city culture to the suburbs is due to increased air play especially on radio. Producers around Nairobi and beyond have also recorded an increase in artists seeking to record. Eliud of Capstone entertainment says this signifies growth in the industry and soon the spoken art will enter a golden age similar to that experienced by genge in the early 2000. But before that, more people must subscribe to this art. This task lies on promoters and event organizer to continue putting together gigs and giving poets priority as opposed to rappers and Dj’s. Secondly, producers must work harder and smarter for if the industry will ever boom, we need our ‘poetry Dr dre’ here in Nairobi. Lastly, artists need to continuously write Pan African poems as opposed to following the westernized flow. This will give them an edge distinguishing our Nairobi brand from other forms of spoken word,
“Music, drama, name it. Every form of spoken art started with poetry,” says Kui Kare a professional fashion designer turned poet. Kui insists that poetry is the most elite form of art and the sire to spoken word. The free verse art is a more radical form of poetry in that it does not follow most of the rules like the old age sonnets. However, with radical arts legal issues are bound to occur. Robert Wanyoike popular as Robby Robbery says that defamation is the most common legal blunder among artists. He then goes ahead to ask artists to stay clear of libel and slander as they uphold the freedom of speech and artistic creativity guaranteed in article 33 of the constitution.
Some Poets in Nairobi have been stereotyped for their ‘ragamuffin’ appearance. This they say reflects on the inner being that is free beyond colars and Panga ties. Besides poets do not get to bank much after the curtains fall. Poet Kantona laments that most shows are there for one to build a brand, artists cannot survive on brand alone. He adds that he has also been given a t-shirt after a performing. Sadly, our rude city conductors don’t accept clothing for bus fare. This sad state has left most artists looking for conventional jobs to get their daily bread and most opting out of the industry.
It attracts a characteristically audience in the ghettos of Nairobi acting as a safety valve. Thousands of young people around the city are using it to express their grievances ranging from unemployment to high cost of living and poor governance but the question remains, who is listening as Nairobi speaks?
According to the World Bank, Kenya has a population of around 44 million people, two thirds of whom are considered to be youths between 15 and 35 years. The 2009 census by the government of Kenya shows that Nairobi alone has a population of 3.6 million people with over two million youths most of whom are unemployed. Some have choose spoken word as a way to express their grievances it attracts a characteristically audience in the ghettos of Nairobi. Places where poverty is evident especially among women and youths, a marginalized majority in the Nairobi society. Because of its aesthetic and intellectual appeal,thousands of young people around the city are using it to express their grievances ranging from unemployment to high cost of living and poor governance but the question remains, who is listening as Nairobi speaks?
By George Muthanji
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