2016 was a turning point in the history of spoken word poetry in Kenya, it is the year that had Slam Africa Poetry Festival born and a growing number of talented female poets showcase the best out of this world. It is also the year that Cre8ive Spills- the organizers of Slam poetry in the country introduced the group slam and female slam competitions that saw the country represented at the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS) in the US. Here Musungu Okach lists some of top Kenyan female poets that have shaped the voice of the spoken word poetry in Kenya, in no particular order.
Though she is yet to win the coveted slam poetry in Kenya award, Namatsi is a long term poet having graced various platforms in the country. She takes the powerful advocate for female power form in her poem Queen which lists the legendary queens of Africa from Queen Makeda to Cleopatra. Her poetry performance is rife with music and art- a package she borrows from her rich background as a writer, fashion guru, and a musician. She proudly refers to her creation as “Soem”- that is song-poem combination. Besides art, Namatsi has a white collar in the communications industry with a degree in Public Relations from United States International University-Kenya and Diploma from Kenya Institute of Mass Communication. She uses her academic skills to navigate the corporate world at the Cerebral Palsy Society of Kenya
The ninth slam poetry winner, Wanjiku Mwaura could be looked at as the ‘first-born’ slammer among women having participated in the second Slam Poetry event at Daas Ethiopian Restaurant where she was trounced by Dan Oballa’s Sheng poem. However she went ahead to become one of the biggest poets in Kenya, appearing on different stages both locally and internationally. Her artistic voyages saw her perform at the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival alongside Queen Godis (NY,USA) and South African Poets like Mphutlane Wa Bofelo, Napo Masheane (South Africa) and Qbibo intalektual (Swaziland) in 2010.
Her poems have been featured in several anthologies including the 2013 poets’ initiative anthology ‘The Power of Words’ She has also published her own anthology under the title ‘The Flow of my Soul'’
The dynamic Wanjiku is currently a journalist with the Germany broadcaster Deustche Welle (DW) besides running a radio series on cybercrime and a pan-African web show What Else. Although she holds a degree in Sociology, Gender and Development Studies from Kenya’s Kenyatta University and a Project Management Diploma from Kenya Institute of Management, Wanjiku’s love for language is what would see her start of as an animator with the DW-Radio. Her most famous poems are 'I am only Fourteen’, ‘I Speak Continental’ and ‘What Do you Want?'
Raya is intrigued by Kenyans who naturally switch into English when talking to her because of her light skin and curly hair. “I speak fluent Swahili and Gikuyu,” she confided in me once. In fact, her latest poem, ‘Boda Boda Lullaby’ has amazing lyrics in Sheng!
Raya began performing poetry more one and half a decades ago. Her poetry has been described by some as revolutionary because it speaks at length about mass emancipation from draconian leaderships and fight against corruption, tribalism, racism among other vices.
The 39th slam queen is also a judge at Kenya’s premier poetry competition- Slam Africa Festival. The poet has had many performances in the country on platforms like Wamathai Spoken Word at the Louis Leakey auditorium at The National Museums of Kenya, Ink Overflow at the Michael Joseph Centre (Safaricom House), Slam Africa Festival and FreeQuency among others.
She has also graced various international stages in Bamako, Mali and Durban, South Africa thanks to Pan-African competition and exchange project; The Spoken Word Project and the annual Poetry Africa festival.
The love of her life is poetry, Painting and reading. However, the soft spoken poet holds a private pilot license and a manager at a pet spa.
Shingai is an English major student at Daystar University in Nairobi Kenya. Blue is her favorite color, she says. Her poems speak about various topics touching on humanity, feminism, rights of the girl child among others. She is an avid traveler who loves meeting different people from different walks of life. She has traveled to over ten different countries and worked in different aspects of human association. For example, reaching out to kids in rehabilitation centers in Germany, teaching Burmese refugee children and Monk Kids in Thailand English, interacting and interacting with poor children in the Philippines.
Shingai which means being bold/ courageous or strong in the Shona language from Zimbabwe brings out the amiable character of this Zimbabwe-born Kenyan poet. In the year 2016, Shingai would display a remarkable talent in the many events that she participated in. During the FreQuencies Event organized by Crea8ive Spills in July 2016, Shingai showcased unrivaled oratory and powerful punch lines that exposed her resolve to fight against the injustices of the world, a soft-spoken tigress on the Mic. Her brilliance in 2016 shone bright in the Slam Africa Poetry preliminaries, Women Slam competition and Group Slam in which she displayed the leader in her. Despite the fact that she did not bag the Slam Queen title or the Women Slam, she indeed brought out a true meaning in the adage ‘everybody is a winner.’ Together with Mumbi Macharia, they would lift the group Slam title trouncing Romeo and Juliet.
2016 was her year to perform with greats like FreQ Tha Mighty and Raya Wambui, both excellent poets. It was also her year to test her powerful set of lungs with other Kenyan poets who hold the forte of the desert sun. Shingai also was among the acts at the April 2017 Ink overflow where her feminism torch shined bright in her 30 minutes performance dubbed “Conversations” The poet also addressed various issues including Google’s silent racism.
With the growth of poetry in Kenya, Shingai has truly shown her mark as a true disciple, a founder and a poetry queen in her own right.
She is currently involved in the show Too Early for Birds- a theatrical performance on the recent history of Kenya from crime, corruption and extraordinary acts by the east African country’s legends who have been shelved. Laura creative journey can be traced back to her school days. Apart from the class work, Laura was active in musicals and school production- what prompted her to take Music, drama and English in high school.
From school, Laura became a passionate actor, writer and a poet. Apart from Too Early for Birds, Laura has been involved in various projects like ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘We Won’t Forget’. Laura’s work can be found on her blogs; Relevant Ranting and Laura Ekumbo both on Wordpress.
Socratess born Tess Aura is an avid student of Socrates hence the moniker. She is an activist and a poet with a bias on women empowerment. Her prowess in poetry came to a test in the 2016 Slam Africa Festival where she was a runner up. On performance, the agile poet was part of the all-female performance at the British Institute of East Africa (BIEA) during the Crea8ive Spills’ Freequency. She also featured in last year’s Soul Experience among other shows at the Alchemist and other entertainment hotspots in Nairobi. Tess also runs a podcast 254 Kaa Rada together with Meremiya Hussein (Amer)
She believes in the Africa liberation and fighting for the rights of the oppressed. An ardent fan of pop icon Beyonce, Socratess brings to poetry the energy of a liberator.
The young poet is also an outgoing young mind, when she is not locked up in her room; she is out dancing. She admits that any outdoors is fun for her as long as she is in good company. Her favourite movie is ‘Life’ starring Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy. “The movie is relatable to how I make friends, but I can be moved by any other movie.” She states.
In some of her free time she listens to podcasts such as ‘The Read’, ‘The FriendZone’, and ‘Whats The Tee’.
Born Faith Shikanga, Shikiey is the 59th Slam Africa Queen. Like many of her women contemporaries, her poetry centers on the plight of the girl child and the struggle for the women in the so-masculine world. She has showcased her craft on different platforms including Fatuma's Voice, Slam Africa Festival among others
As a creative, Shikiey has been active in campaigns advocating for equality, end of tribalism and racism, plight of the girl child among other courses.
She is currently working with a group known as Revolution Art Hub- an entertainment group that hosts History vs His-story and ‘She Is’. The production of History vs His-story is scheduled for February 17, 2018 at the Pawa 254 in the Kenyan capital.
The winner of the 2016 poetry Slam, Becky is media shy, an almost incognito in the entertainment industry. Despite her shyness, her memorable presence at the 2016 Slam Africa Festival would echo the strength of a woman in that vulnerable weak persona the world has put her. Her presence on stage was theatrical and her mannerisms defiant, her energy was limitless and her words radical.
She has been featured on numerous poetry platforms including Eve of Poetry Nation (EOP Nation) among others.
Qui Qarre surprised many when she clinched the 2016 Women Slam in Nairobi. Her sheng (Kenyan slang) poetry during the festival would put her on the limelight as a fighter of the oppressed. Her poems on mob justice and a critique on artificial beauty won favor with the judges who gave her the ticket to represent Kenya at the Women of the world Slam in the US (WOWPS).
Ranked the 29th best poet of the WOWPS 2017, Qui would become the first poet from Africa to participate in the event. As a poet, Qui’s steady career which blossomed with the slam fete, would put her on platforms at an invite only event Colours and Reflections at the popular art spaces, the Michael Joseph Centre and Africa to the World’s’ at the PAWA 254’s Mageuzi Theatre in Nairobi.
Born Wangu Wangare, Qui’s epiphany in performance poetry was in 2008. From then she has picked up several tags including singing and design. Her highly agile mind is always on the spin mode for she does a lot of thinking and reflections on the wisdom passed on by her beloved aging grandmother.
The name Mumbi means ‘the creator’ among the Agikuyu community in Kenya. Young Mumbi started creating poems at the tender age of 16 and since then, she has become the word. Her poetry oozes the black power and shakes whizzes of oppression, slavery and female subjugation. She has performed severally on one of Kenya’s poetry platform Kwani? Open Mic where in November 1st 2016 she was the featured poet.
Mumbi was a contestant in the 2016 Slam Festival both in the individual Slam and the group slam where she teamed up with Shingai Kagundas. The duo went ahead to win the group category.
She is definitely indefatigable and her creativity and oratory, a definition of the word.