The two day inaugural Slam Festival slated for the December 9 and 10 brings together a number of top performers from across the globe and the best in the Kenyan music scene and poetry circles. The ultimate performance will see artists face off with each other at the popular Alliance Française venue in Nairobi.
Poetry Slam Africa is an event organised in Kenya by Crea8ive spills an organization made of writers, visual and performing artists.
Afroway’s Musungu Okach sought an interview with Crea8ve Spills’ Ian “Nonickname’ Gwagi:
Okach: Tell us about yourself.
Ian: Just Ian or Nonickname
Okach: Tell Us about Crea8ive Spills.
Ian: Cre8ive spills is a collective that brings together Writers, Visual and performing artists to discuss, create and showcase works that are meant to ignite conversations around raising a society that uses expression as a tool for education and progressive development.
Okach: What is your position in the organization? And what are your responsibilities?
Ian: I am a creative director and basically conceptualize, coordinate and actualize projects and activities at Cre8ive Spills
Okach: When was Crea8ive Spills launched?
Ian: September 9th 2010
Okach: What is the relationship between Slam Africa Poetry and Crea8ive spills?
Ian: Cre8ive Spills is the entity that manages and runs poetry Slam Africa as one of its programs
Okach: Any other activities similar to Slam Africa that Crea8ive Spills is involved in?
Ian: We have had a number of regular, seasonal and one-off concept events and activities including Words Galore, Renaissance, Unchained Voices, the other side of the mirror, Dorphanage, Blame my roots, 7 poems, Frequencies, Hii Chapta, Only a few survivors and many more.
We also have a project called Rising Voices for communities, schools and colleges/ Universities and a web series yet to launch dubbed A mic and a Purpose.
Okach: Tell us about Slam Africa Poetry. When was the first slam Poetry and where was it held?
Ian: Started in 2008 by Imani Woomera, a presenter at Capital FM aided by Buddha Blaze (one of Kenya’s leading event promoters) at Dass Ethiopian Restaurant,Poetry Slam Africa is a competition that aims to recognize poets and spoken word artists discussing a range of current issues affecting Africa and the world at large for their message, artistry and creativity.
Okach: Who was the first winner?
Ian: Timothy Mwaura
Okach: What are some of the phenomenal artists featured in the slam competition?
Ian: It has been home to a host of artists including: Pepe Haze (Co-Star alongside Lupita Nyongo in MTV’s Shuga 1), El Poet, Mufasa, Teardrops, Dorphan, Nuru Bahati and Rix poet of Fatuma’s Voice, H_art the band (Mordecai and Chira are slam champions), Yung Nnoiz- Kenya’s two-time beat-box champion, Beatbox king Flowflani, Dan ‘Number 8’ Mwangi of NTV, Adelle Onyango of Kiss 100, Just to mention a few.
Okach: This year Slam Poetry competition was different from the previous events, what is the thinking behind this new slam calendar? Tell us about the quarterly competition, the winners when the competitions were held, and the slam festival scheduled for December 9-10th.
Ian: With the aim of ensuring continuity and after-care for contestants, we decided to scale down the number of events to 3 in a year (preliminary rounds) culminating in a grand slam final at the end of the year. The winner gets to hold the title of Grand Slam Champion for that year and all the privilege that comes with the title. It also serves as the pre-selection of contestants to represent the region at the Cup of Africa Slam that brings together some of the best slam poets from across Africa and the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS) where we intend, for the first time, to send a representative from the women’s slam. The spacing out of events also allows us to have more concept events and workshops throughout the year. Winners from this year’s preliminary editions include Kalamu ya Mshairi, SocraTess and Mgeni Roger.
Okach: What should the fans expect in the upcoming slam festival?
Ian: There will be tons of fun with some of the greatest conscious live acts on one stage. There’ll be showcases by some of the Region’s best poets, and musicians including the sensational Swahili Ally and Vitali Maembe from Tanzania.
Okach: Who will be competing in the slam grand finale this December?
Ian: The Grand slam qualifiers are as follows: Becky, SocraTess, Shingai, Rozet, Roger, Jaaziyah, Saisi, Mc Elfra, Mumbi
Okach: How can one participate in the Poetry slam competitions? What categories can one apply for? What is the selection criterion?
Ian: There is 1 preliminary edition every quarter culminating in a grand slam at the end of the year. A call for application goes up before each event and a jury selects the contestants for each slam.
Okach: You are a poet yourself, how has slam helped you get to where you are today. What are your plans and expectations in poetry as a performance art?
Ian: I have learnt a lot, interacted with slam organizers from around the continent the rest of the world and gotten a better understanding of why people slam and how they write. I’ve learnt that poetry can be used as a tool for change and also as a way of injecting some much needed content into mainstream entertainment. My expectations for slam are that it, besides tea, grows into the main Export from this region, Just like Nigerian movies and music and South African TV series.
I’d like to see contemporary poetry being learnt in schools and performance poetry being integrated into the schools’ curriculum, academics having discourse on how poetry can grow young people’s potential to influence change in the society for just and equitable progress, religious leaders using spoken word poetry to minister and support being extended to the development of the art form.
I believe in us being able to develop a poetry culture and infuse traditional and contemporary elements from our diverse heritage to preserve and promote our culture, share our stories, point at frauds, and simply just stop the world from going to sleep.
Okach: Where do you see Kenyan art in the future, specifically performance art?
Ian: There is a renaissance in Kenyan performance art with one of the biggest musical acts at the moment being a band that plays live. I’ll describe Kenyan art as a game. We have players but haven’t created the game yet. When we do, then we can form teams and have room on the team for everybody to take up positions, including fans and commentators.
Okach: You talked about group and students category in this year’s slam Poetry. How do you plan to make schools participate in this annual event?
Ian: Rising Voices…Rising Voices involves the use of spoken word poetry and related art forms to develop responsible leadership skills, esteem, self-expression, awareness and consciousness in young people in schools. A community and school based programme (High schools & Universities/Colleges) that creates activation cells for young people to lend and develop voices, it helps create and connect poetry clubs from which contestants are drawn to participate in the schools competition.
Okach: Do you think of planning a slam festival that includes the entire East African region?
Ian: Maybe you should rephrase. The question should read, “Do you think of planning an Inter-galactic slam festival that includes the entire cosmos?” If I owned the worlds reserve for vibranium (now you know I adore Marvel’s Black Panther) then you bet I would!