I didn’t think I would make it. I left the house just before 6 pm. The poetry gig was meant to start at 6. Most of the matatus I found at the stage were either full or empty. And the ones which were half-full had conductors who competed vigorously against each other for my money.
In the end, I had to settle for the one who was the least pushy.
As if it couldn’t get any better. the traffic jam to town had already built up. Why is it whenever you’re late, circumstances always seem to be against you?
It was a chilly Wednesday evening. Unlike others, this one found me on my way to one of the biggest poetry events in Nairobi. Nothing would stop me, I told myself. Not the crazy traffic jams, or the careless matatu drivers. Where do they even rush to when there’s traffic everywhere?
But all that was rushing in my mind was how late I was.
All this drama started on a Friday in August 2016 when I got a message on Twitter. Curious to see who had slid into my Sahara-like DM, I quickly opened it. It was merely an event poster.
The first thing I read was “Team Mufasa vs Team Teardrops”. A scream almost immediately escaped my lungs. And in that instant, this Events Junkie knew she had to witness this rare showdown led by two of the best spoken word poets in Kenya.
Somehow, it reminded me of the movie “Superman vs Batman”. Tough to pick a side.
As I hastily walked across town that chilly evening I carried one fear along with me – I would find the tickets over. Luck was on my side; there were still plenty of them at the door. Relieved, I quickly fished out 300 shillings from my black coat and got one in return. There was no going back now.
I silently crept into the dark Alliance Francaise auditorium. It was already full with a few people standing at the back. A Kenyan poet I did not recognize was performing on stage.
In a few minutes, I had settled down into my saved seat near the back. Had the perfect view (Thanks Mwaniki). I checked my phone clock because sadly this writer doesn’t have a wristwatch. A few minutes past 7pm. The event had just started, I was told.
This is truly Africa, isn’t it?
After a few opening spoken word performances, the show officially kicked off. All the poets we had paid to see stepped up on stage. On the left side was Mufasa, with his two-man and one-woman team. And on the other side was Teardrops with his mega
And let me tell you, it was one long lineup.
I was glad to see both men and women represented. Most of them were introduced by the MC as Slam Kings and Queens – winners of previous editions of Poetry Slam Africa. The best of the best were here.
I had a feeling this was about to get fierce. After sizing each other up, they began the lyrical battle we came to witness.
First on stage was Team Teardrops. Each member was backed up by a singer and instrumentalist as they performed their spoken-word piece. They were in turn followed by a Team Mufasa poet. The latter had no backup. They were armed only with their sheer enthusiasm and memorized lines.
The most interesting part was the unique performance styles. Some spoken word poets brought heavy emotion, while others relied on smooth flowing lines to entertain the crowd. Obviously, a few impressed me more than others. I mentally gave one point to Team Mufasa, another to Team Teardrops. It was neck and neck.
Even though they recited different pieces, each carried a similarly powerful message that moved both our hearts and hands.
There was one girl who stood out from the rest. I remember her because my friend had a huge crush on her. (Is it still there Mwaniks?)
Her name was Shikkiey. Or Shikkiey with the divine legs.
In between the performances, the MC of the night Gufy took over the mic. He cracked a few jokes which sent the crowd roaring in laughter, especially the front row. He must have positioned his family and friends there.
Not bad, I thought. Maybe I can do better.
You see, as I watched them do their thing on stage, it made me want to be part of them. To be the one standing in front of a vibrant audience, performing as a background vocalist. Or a female MC.
Si our dreams are still valid?
In what seemed out of character, Gufy became serious every once in a while. He started dictating some of the laws in the country that most of us had no idea about. He didn’t preach for long however as he noticed we were more interested in Kenyan poetry than politics.
It must have been difficult for him to quickly switch over from comedy to politics. I gave him props for that. Nevertheless, I learnt a few bits about the 6th chapter of the Kenyan Constitution which was the theme of the show. After all, the event was dubbed “Hii Chapta”.
By the way, have you ever tried to read the constitution of Kenya by yourself? It is like reading an encyclopedia of words you never knew existed. They seriously need to make a dummy version for us non-advocates.
After the three spoken-word poets from each team thrilled the crowd, it was time for the kings to face off. But that was not before the MC did a piece of his own. To be honest, I had no idea he was also a spoken word artist until then.
He spent a few silent minutes on stage before he began. His strange behaviour bemused me. What I didn’t know was he was channelling the inner poet in him.
When he started speaking, he suddenly became this emotional being. I’m pretty sure I saw tears welled up in his eyes. He spilt out his repetitive piece solemnly like he was possessed by somebody else. It was sad to watch. And touching. I almost wanted to pass him a tissue.
But in a couple of minutes, he was done with his sad piece. And back to his old goofy self. Phew!
Like an opening act, he gave way to the main men. First off was Mufasa. He was accompanied by Tha Movement, a local band who performs with him on many occasions.
The drums, keyboard, bass guitar, electric guitar, S-shaped violin and saxophone were all in play. The boys started off with some jazz-reggae fusion proving just how talented they are.
Soon the lion stepped on stage. He was dressed in a long black coat with two buttons which reminded me of a certain high school teacher. Fortunately, he took it off to reveal a white dashiki and matching shorts. And almost immediately, I felt the room become hot; I had to open up a few of my own buttons too.
Then Mufasa went ahead to do what he does best. Tear up the air in the room with his roaring energy. Pausing in between sentences to build up the drama and suspense. Then he would go on a tirade of words that would just leave you speechless.
At one point he began to sing as the band played in the background. He really surprised me that day. Who knew the Lion King sings, away from the movie that is?
Now if you’ve never watched Mufasa perform let me give you a tiny picture. Watching him is like attending a play. You sit back, open your eyes wide and just absorb it all. His inhuman energy radiating from the stage. Sparks and shards of lightning emanating from his body. Like the god of thunder. One of them flew and hit me. I was starstruck.
(Can I also be a poet guys? No?)
He truly becomes someone else on stage. Someone unimaginable. That evening I watched with wide admiring eyes as he transformed from a man into a beast. It was so intense I couldn’t help but cheer. You know how ladies scream when one of their friends takes the fifth shot of the night? Or when she dances with a random but hot stranger in the club?
Yup, that was me.
When he finished his spoken word performance, I was beaming so much you could probably spot me like a light in the crowd. This is what I came for. My cheeks were flushing. My temperature was rising. It was bliss all over again.
Moving on swiftly, it was time for Teardrops. He was preluded by poets from his own team who performed a medley spoken word piece. They were also joined by their short background singer; her voice reminded you of Beyoncé.
Their different styles merged into one beautiful piece as they warmed up the stage for Teardrops – the king of Sheng spoken word.
He must have anticipated photos from fans as his T-shirt read “No Pictures Please”. He had a tasteful fashion sense, I must admit. But don’t get me wrong, Mufasa looked good too in his simple laid-back outfit.
Unlike the lion who pranced and roared on stage, Teardrops sat calmly on a stool next to the microphone. And he just spoke. Words flowed out his mouth like water from an open tap. Punny lines after lines left the audience gasping and clicking their fingers. It was like a conversation in which we were part of. A spoken word magician.
At the end of his performance cheers of admiration and affirmation ensued. This was going to be a difficult verdict. Both spoken word poets were so talented, yet so different. One didn’t know who to pick.
Thankfully, it was not up to us to decide the winners.
It was 9pm when the judges stood up on the wooden stage to declare the results. Two tall men, and a short woman in the middle. The brown chubby lady was Mwende Ngao, who is also a Kenyan lifestyle and entertainment blogger.
While the men were in solemn dark suits, she looked cute in her tied up afro, bright print dress, black tights, and pink shoes. After giving us the lowdown of the judging process, it was time to announce the winners of the great poetry battle.
Nobody knew what to expect.
And the runners-up is… she began. Pause. More long pauses. The suspense was suffocating.
“Team Teardrops!” she announced. I immediately cheered, something I did not see coming. It’s not that I was happy they were in second place, but the winner was evident.
That is the moment I realized even though I had pretended to be on neutral ground, deep down I was always Team Mufasa. My heart simply could not resist his enchanting performances.
Both teams came on stage separately to receive their awards. Each participant was given something in a red paper bag – I didn’t bother to find out what.
A couple of photos later with the director of the Alliance Francaise, the show was over. Just as quickly as it began.
Was there an afterparty you ask? Well, if you call mingling with other attendees and poets outside the auditorium an afterparty then yes, yes there was.
I took that time to admire the Kenyan art which covered the walls of Alliance Francaise. There were no African paintings that day. Instead, the white walls were filled with those satirical cartoons that you usually see on page 14 of the daily newspaper. Yes, the political ones.
As I read the striking messages on the walls, I was reminded of the theme message of the show. Each spoken word artist talked about the current state of leadership in Kenya. Of the social injustices we complain about in our homes while we watch the evening news. How corruption is continuously eating up our country with only a few people getting full.
The Kenyan spoken word poets expressed our frustrations on our behalf. Their lyrical words expressed the anger we have at our system, our government. Instead of leaders who are meant to serve, we have opportunists who take pleasure in stealing.
I almost wished our politicians and police officers were there to hear what the youth really think and feel.
Their heavy words reminded us all one thing. Our power to change this country is in our vote. We simply cannot afford to sell our voices to selfish old people who promise us the same old things every five years. My favourite line of the night went something like this:
Our politicians have too many notes in their pockets, but what we need is change.
It was 10pm when I finally headed home after another inspiring poetry event in Nairobi. But that was not before I hugged the leader of the winning team for about 15 times. Okay maybe it was 5, but who’s counting. You can be certain I slept like a child who had just gotten their dream toy that night.
As I patiently wait for the next general elections and poetry event, it is time to get to work. Develop my emceeing skills, and practice on my dry jokes. Maybe even join a singing class. For you might just spot me on a local stage real soon.
But I won’t be late this time. I promise.