Conversation with Kenyan poet Tessy ‘SocraTess’ Aura, driven by desire to question beliefs we have, with an intention of formulating our own truths
She’s one of the young poets from Kenya, some of her popular poems speak more to the women and issues affecting the female gender. The young poet’s work questions the beliefs we hold and subscribe to. As a student of Socrates, she is driven by the desire to question everything with the intent of finding her own truth. Tessy uses her place in society as a poet to questions most of what we consider truth, Tessy seeks to open her audience’s thoughts the other side, where one can have the freedom to adopt and conform to their own beliefs, instead of being informed by others.
Afroway: Just before we begin, tell us about the moniker ‘Socratess’?
Tessy: I always say I am the female version of him – and my name is Tess – so, hence the name.
Afroway: What motivates you, from the life and times of the ancient Greek Philosopher Socrates?
Tessy: I read about Socrates during my time in college and I got super attached to him because we shared the philosophy of questioning everything and finding your own truth but this isn’t always celebrated. So being in my 20s and reading about this guy who annoyed the whole town because he insisted on interrogating everything most people thought were absolute truths and his willingness to die for his freedom rather than being alive and having to be a prisoner to the beliefs of others was really inspiring.
Afroway: What does Tess Aura do apart from poetry?
Tessy: At the moment, I am a human rights officer at UN-Habitat. I also dance full time! hahaha, a therapist to some and a spiritual guru in the making!
Afroway: About your poetry, when did you start writing and performing?
Tessy: I started writing around the age of 11. Performing isn’t something I did since I considered personal but in high school my dance group asked me to write a poem about dance and present it at a recital – I think that is my earliest memory of performing a poem.
Afroway: 2016 was a Poetry Slam season for you. Tell us about your experiences and what you learned.
Tessy: The experience was great. I encourage everyone to do it! I learned that people really listen to poetry intently up until then I just thought people would listen for like the rhythm or flow but after every show the audience would like come and rehash my lines and share their interpretations with me.
Afroway: Now, tell us about the upcoming show, The Soul Experience at The Michael Joseph Centre Nairobi.
Tessy: This show is going to be really dope!! I am having the super talented Moseh play percussion with me and we are going to just try something new. I am really excited about it!!!
Afroway: You also run a program on soundcloud ‘254 KaaRada’; what is the program about?
Tessy: 254 Kaa Rada is a podcast I co-host with Meremiya Hussein (Amer). We come together every 2 weeks to talk about the social political issues in our content – we agree and disagree on some points. It is a really good platform for us to take back the authority over what is going on in our continent and share it from our perspectives. One of the things that I love that we do on there is the #africangem section where we share an individual or a group of Africans doing amazing things in the continent!
Afroway: What do you consider as an ideal vacation?
Tessy: I think it is anything that keeps you away from your mundane daily activities. It doesn’t have to be out of the country or at the beach but just different from what you usually do – anything that kind of functions as a reset button.
Tess Aura, Photo Courtesy
Afroway: In many of your works, you talk about equality. Do you think Africa is doing enough to achieve gender equality?
Tessy: For sure, the peak of our acceptance will be evident in about 15+ years when I am the first woman to be president and then the next 5 women who will follow suit will just be us showing off!…. Great things are happening in this country of ours! Especially, with regards to men realizing that the idea of women not being equal to them is a myth but one that many people have gone through many efforts to make them think it is a fact – kind of like the efforts voodoo connoisseurs make.
Afroway: As a poet, what do you think is the impact of poetry to the world?
Tessy: Poetry like any art form has the power to kick start the reader or listener into a meditative process into their lives or the issues being discussed.
Afroway: Who are some of your mentors in life, your career and poetry?
Tessy: Maya Angelou, Beyonce, Michelle Obama and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Afroway: Which is your favorite hang out in Nairobi?
Tessy: Oh man. So many places – usually food is involved but there is a park at Upper Hill with this boat ride – roller coaster type things that I like to visit with friends and bully them in to riding. It is so scary and usually 10 years olds ride it and I manage to be the one screaming the loudest. I don’t understand how they are so chilled when that thing is going back and forth and rising to unnatural heights. I think I will go there again this weekend. Want to join?
Afroway: Thanks, but haha! I am afraid of heights, maybe on the food I may join you. Talking about food; your favorite meal?
Tessy: Chapati and Ice cream! (Not at the same time)
Tess Aura, Photo Credit: Collins Irungu
Afroway: Does Tess Aura read? What titles are you reading now?
Tessy: “The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor” by Martin Meredith and “Beyond Limits” by Pepe Minambo given to me recently by a dear friend!
Afroway: What is your favourite Music?
Tessy: I like all types of music, I have an eclectic taste. Right now I am super into acoustic covers though.
Afroway: What are some of your most embarrassing moments?
Tessy: Hahaha. One time a lady walking towards the opposite direction I was walking in turn around and started following me and I made so many turns and u-turns and she kept following. It was when I was new in Nairobi and had heard of all these conning and robbing stories so I was really afraid and then she like rushed and caught up with me and said “look, I am not trying to rob you but your zipper is open and everyone can see your hot pink underwear”
Afroway: Oh! My….! Now tell us your stand on African culture. Do you identify and appreciate any of the African cultural practices, if so which one?
Tessy: African culture is rich with many things that we should maintain and others that we should just pretend don’t exist. But I think one that I will always uphold is spoiling my grandmother, financially and with other material things. I think out of the continent grandparents are known to spoil their grandkids in terms of how they treat them and also financially but I think in the African culture your grandparents are almost like your spouses when you start working or your children. You just wanna buy them everything and the only thing they have to do to in return is cook your favorite meal, when you go visit them in the village. To know that without this human being your parents wouldn’t exist and thus you wouldn’t either I think is something that is venerated on the continent. And when they are alive they are already wise, they have lived their lives there is nothing really that you could add to them as they are already developed human beings. They are the ones who can add to your life when it comes to wisdom and knowledge so all you gotta do is buy groceries, send them money from time to time and hug them tight while they are still alive. And they honestly appreciate anything you give them. I have cousins who buy our grandmother furniture others yogurt, others fabrics, others shoes etc. and my grandma receives them all with the same appreciation.
Afroway: Finally, what is your advice to your fellow artists- the upcoming ones?
Tessy: You are the most important audience member you will ever have – the number one fan and the hardest critic – do everything for yourself first.