Okot P’ Bitek, Christopher Okigbo, Jonathan Kariara, Everett Standa, David Rubadiri, Dambudzo Marechera and the list goes on, these are giants in the field of poetry whose names are disappearing as those who studied them slowly fade with age. It is without doubt that, few in the modern day African society can say anything about this literary greats. But the likes of Kenyan poet and spoken word artist Dorphanage are working to ensure that their work remains alive on stage, through various media and most of all in people’s minds.
Towards the end of June, the Kenyan spoken word artist Dorphan (Mutuma Dennis) hosted a poetry session dubbed ‘Without a Trace’ at the famous Goethe Institut in Nairobi. The June 22nd event kicked off in the early hours of the evening, with a two hour poetry presentation performances much to the anticipated fulfilment of a well-attended auditorium.
The stage dimmed as the artist, sitting on bench, hunched shoulders, started off with what would be described as the cry of every creative. It is a journey many take, some with the hope of making millions followed by fame others with the hope of earning a steady income and leaving a legacy. It is this journey that to some people has serious implications, some dire others subtle. To the poet on stage, it was the fear that maybe his words and voice may never amount to anything, piling on this fear is the laughter he receives from his successful peers and those at his level who ridicule him for doing art for naught.
The artist did not just lament about the unfruitful art. He also told a story of deadbeat dads. In the poem, the persona meets his half-sister who wants to know how their father was before he dies. It is painful for the persona to recount the good deeds of the dad he was starting to hate. All he finds to say of the father, is that; “He was a good man, but not good enough to take care of her.” In another scenario, the poet paints the image he wanted of a father, a father whom he could work with side by side while the soundtrack of Franco and Wailers play in the background from a transistor radio. This is the image many young adults wish for, whether in rich families or poor families. Many young people hope for that father son/daughter bond that is non-existent or if it is, it is not soft love and understanding but father barking orders while the kindred meekly obeys.
As Dorphan tore at the broken family unity, a bastard showing up after dad is dead, single mother hood, being born out of wedlock and a missing child, and the reunion that happens later, the poet fittingly showed his remarkable knowledge of human suffering.
Towards the dying embers of the show, being a political year, Dorphan delivered one of his finest political pieces, “State of the Nation Address.” with lines like “Kura Kwangu Mtakula kwangu” (Vote for me, you’ll eat with me) the poet satirizes the political speeches which are always timely to the needs of people but lack essence and meaning especially after the elections. In the piece the poet advises the electorate to choose wisely and never believe the empty rhetoric because in a corrupt society, coupled with poor leadership, it is the common electorate who pay the price.
Towards the end, the lights dimmed to mark the end of a well-executed showcase. The audience, dumbfounded, would linger on the chairs waiting patiently for some voice to send them on their away. The event ended as it had started, the poet on the bed reflecting on what life would make of him. It is the fear in many, whether they shall leave a legacy or just be statistics, unmarked graves.