Journey to Mali Part 2: ‘Stop being a chicken!!’

The quote in the tittle is censored.

Although I had completely sworn off performance poetry, I have always and hope to always write. Amongst friends and family, I would share my poetry and people often preferred being read to, than reading it for themselves.

Reading my poems out loud, with an audience also helped me grow as a writer. I became more conscious of punctuation and repetition as a result.

During these somewhat private readings, I would often be encouraged to do audio albums of my poetry, seldom would the suggestion of writing a book come up.

Then, a friend, caught wind of a competition. The Carnivore Star Search was a competition for four categories, Djing, rapping, comedy and poetry. I was adamant, that I was not taking part, but he insisted more adamantly. My friend Dru, is the one who authored the tittle that I have to censor, he said those words over and over again, until I agreed to enter. He even went as far as to escort me to Carnivore repeatedly for auditions, just to make sure that I actually went.

The piece I chose is called Mkokoteni, she is still a favorite of mine today. Her inspiration is an actual mkokoteni fruit display, outside Uzima Church and Uzima Centre in Embakasi.  My description of the fruit was from observation and memory, because the sight mesmerized me. That cart, embodied everything I love about Nairobi, and it’s position shared ironies with Nairobi as well. Hard working, beautiful people who are working much harder than their infrastructure suggests. In recent performances, I have extended the personification, so that it, is a she. I did that, because it allows me to express Nairobis attributes in a way that connects more with my audience.

During the preparation, I deployed a rather unorthodox method of trying to conquer stage fright. I would go to karaoke and request to do a poem after my song.  I had deployed a system of memorization that involves breaking the poems into sections, memorizing a line at a time, then memorizing their order.

A drunk crowd is usually an unforgiving one, but a drunk crowd that is trying to have a karaoke, is predisposed to not listening, except when someone from their table goes to sing. If I could hold the attention of one person in that room, then I had achieved greatness. It was also around that time that I memorized I Carry, a heart break poem. Which you will not find in my blog, it’s in my manuscript though,and I have performed it severally.

As as it turned out, The Carnivore Star Search was the kind of event where most of the attendees are fans of the competitors. The rappers all rapped in sheng, and there was only one other poet competing.  Since there were only two of us, we both got into the finals. In the finals, SMS votes would decide the winners. The winner would have their own audio album recorded for them for free.

At this point, I had nothing close to a following, and I noticed a weakness. I was the only one doing everything in English. I had to have some Kiswahili somewhere. I decided to add the Kiswahili verse to I Carry and include it in my performance.

The verse I wrote goes:

‘Nakubeba moyoni,

nikikuona, nazubaa,

Ni kaabado wanitamani.

Venyetuliachana, Kwangu ni kajana,

Kwako, nizamani.’

Arguably not the best Kiswahili in the world, but it works in the context of the poem.

The finals were apon me. I had gone to Toy with my Cucu, who had bought me a fairy white, glitter embroidered dress, and had it adjusted for me. I had hardened myself against fear of rejection and resolved to put on a show. I knew, the number of people on my table alone would not win me first place so I hoped I’d be able to make an impression on the fans who had come to watch the other genres.

Unfortunately, the other poet competing (whose name i forget today 😦 ) changed his act, and decided to do a comedy piece. He was in the first round of competitors, and we would now both be competing with rappers. His act was hilarious! We were all in stitches and my vote went to him. Though I knew, I was really supposed to have voted for myself.

The mood in the room after I performed was very blank. I remember it with a cartoon thought bubble  above the crowds heads that reads “What just happened!?” My body still shook from top to bottom, but I had found a way to retain the strength of my performance regardless. There was a live feed for smses rolling on a projected screen, giving live feedback from the audience. I remember the phrase ‘huyo mzungu’ in reference to me. There were one or two complements, but none were directed at content, so I don’t remember them.

We lined up to be told how the votes had tallied. I was third in my group of five. To be honest, my ranking had lost meaning to me, because I wasn’t competing with any poets. There were good rappers in that competition and the energy of rap and the energy of spoken word poetry, are very different.

I was the first person to have their prize announced. There was a dramatic suspense before the MC announced that I would be receiving an Ideos smart phone! I couldn’t believe it! Along with two thousand shillings of credit!

As it turns out, Safaricom was gifting all finalists with an Ideos and airtime. For me, it was an unbelievable blessing. It was to be my first smart phone ever. I would like to thank Safaricom with all my heart, for that phone, and for the countless other poetry and music events that they have supported consistently through my growth as an artist. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am without the opportunities they have afforded myself and many, many other artists and event organizers.

This is time, I stuck my neck out, and was wonderfully rewarded.

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