Kenya Poetry Slam entered its third preliminary, an event held at Nairobi’s Goethe Institut Theatre. The event saw Ivy Robi lead four contestants who qualified form the Grand finale in December during the Slam Festival. The event that attracted Ghanaian Hondred Percent, Tanzanian The Annoyin Artist, Kenyan Papillon and the band; Chief and the Marshals brought out the best in Kenya’s entertainment industry and the ever growing interaction of Kenyan Poetry Slam with other countries in Africa.
This preliminary, brought the total tally of Poetry Slam finalists to 10. In the first preliminary held in March earlier this year Teigist Taye, Abe Rogato and Timothy Gathoni would qualify for the finale. June would see Yours Truly who participated in last year’s festival return with a bang and lead Roba and Ellie Poet into the finals. And, in the latest Preliminary, held on September 8th, Ivy Robi, Artieno, Ivy Sumbi and Chia Kayanda qualified bringing the total participants in the Slam festival to 10. Conspicuously missing on the list is the group slam. However, the organisers have always included a spot for children and teen performance.
Although children feature in many of Slam Shows, one of the judges felt that, some of the children who come to the show or any shows nowadays have not been nurtured well into the craft. “Many young performers are not nurtured into poetry but are pushed because of the parents influence:” Dorphan- slam Judge said. “I am from Meru,” he added, “When I came to Nairobi I had to struggle and perfect my skill before I was accepted into the poetry scene.” Dorphan believes that the flaunting of children, half-baked into performance arena without building them up does not really make them younger poets but kills the spirit of creativity. To quote Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain artist when we grow up.” Making reference to the Jackson Five, Dorphan observed the group made it into the music industry because the kids were taught the value of hard work and determination. Ghanaian poet and rapper Hondred Percent was of the same view, that parents should support the children talents but at the same time not compel them to fame like cows to the grassland.
As the evening progressed, Hondred who had just come from a slam gig in South Africa compared the two events. “Slam in South Africa is in form of a league, it is not like here in Kenya,” he said, “in South Africa the winner of Slam is the person that accumulates the most points.” He was elated by the level of competiveness exhibited in both slams. Though, for the Kenyan poets; “Kenyan poets are too serious,” he observed. “Their poetry is deep, which is a good thing, but they should try to make it a bit more lively, where people could laugh.” He believes that poetry should also include some playful observation in society like forming queues at bus stops, clinics, ATMs, airports and so on.
On a personal level, Hondred, who has an album ‘WTF?’ said he was working on a new collection of works that would reflect the needs of different audiences. ‘I don’t want to be invited into a corporate gig and find that I don’t have material to present,” the Ghanaian said. Speaking on the sidelines of the slam event, he was very enthusiastic about the milestones he has made in the industry. Nevertheless, he also observed the challenges artists face in their chosen career- finances especially in the background of a family to support. But all in all, he loved his visits to Kenya and hoped for more in the future.
The victor, Ivy Robi acknowledged the impact of the event and how it has contributed in building careers; “Slam Africa continues to be a platform for young African creatives-poets and spoken word artists mostly-to not only showcase their talents but to have a community behind them that embraces their spirit and appreciates their craftsmanship. It's a chance to have an audience that enjoys the craft and continues to see the potential in it.” She added “The festival has personally given me a chance to interact with various like-minded people” The poetess felt that the competition allows poetry to be a stepping stone for expression and growth of the artist. Ivy is a food blogger and a journalism student in Nairobi with an optimistic dream of winning the grand slam. “If I have hope for winning... the competition only gets tougher at this point but I'm choosing to remain optimistic,” she said.
Although poetry Slam lost some of its hype this year, with the attendance being a little lower than the previous years. The energy is still there, many poets still want to be among those recognized and feted by this premier show in East Africa’s major economy.