Tony Mochama

Tony Mochama, aka Smitta Smitten, hands poet Nadia Gachanja a full year’s coverage when she emerged as the winning poet from the previous edition of Kwani? Open Mic on June 1, 2021.

| Thomas Rajula | Nation Media Group

Poets laud return of Kwani Open Mic event

What you need to know:

  • Event has exposed many poets and musicians to fame and fortune.
  • The live show brought up artistes such as Ngwatio Mawiyoo, Phyllis Muthoni, Winyo, Eko Dydda, Just-A Band, Juliani and Kenyan Poet.

On February 6, 2018 the Kwani Trust wasn’t sure about the next way forward for it’s monthly Kwani? Open Mic poetry and spoken word event held every first Tuesday of the month. David Oyuke, aka BlackSkillz, would be the last act for the live show that had been credited with bringing up artistes such as Ngwatio Mawiyoo, Phyllis Muthoni, Winyo, Eko Dydda, Just-A Band, Juliani, Kenyan Poet (Njeri Wangari) and Ukoo Fulani Mau Mau, among others.

Mike Mburu, a passionate lover of creative arts, literature and books, has been the sales and marketing officer at Kwani Trust for 12 years. He says: “In the mid-2000s, we approached Club Soundd and the owner was very supportive. They gave us the venue for free. The platform is not necessarily used to make money, it’s a platform for artistes (musicians, poets, spoken word) to showcase. When donors pulled out of supporting performance arts and the club shut down, we were not able to sustain it through ticketing.”

Costs of sound, lighting, space and remuneration for featured artistes proved to be too high for the sales made by the organisers. So, they decided to pause and  restrategise on what the shape the event would take in future, The search for sponsors was on and in September 2020, the first show sponsored by Bliss Medical Centre was put up. In December, the second one featured Mufasa the Poet, who had been a young lad starting out in the performance journey when the show was held at Club Soundd, Kaunda Street. Then a show in March and also on June 1 have seen the event gather steady momentum on its return, now being held at Wasanii Restaurant that sits on top of the Kenya National Theatre.

“Nothing much was changed, in terms of organisations supporting art. Bliss Medical Centre came in to support us financially: sound, paying the featured artiste, and running the entire event. What we’re focused on is how to make the event lovely and worthwhile for the audience,” says Mike.

Dr Austin Okoth, the medical superintendent at Bliss Medical Centre, says that, as the designer and overseer of public health service programs, health speaks to one’s state of complete physical, mental social wellbeing.

Music and poetry

“You realise that the social and mental aspects are not covered adequately, even within our clinic. One of the best ways to address this is by investing in in arts. When people attend events like Kwani?, music and poetry helps them to unwind and relax. Studies prove this has a positive and long-term effect on health,” says Dr Okoth.

He says that the sponsorship is part of their corporate social responsibility because they recognise a lot of the artistes at the event are not yet established and they may not be able to afford medical cover. Hence, there is a competition where the winner is awarded with medical cover for the year as well as a health talk to the audience.

“We also give out privilege cards that will give the holders certain discounts when they visit our clinics.,” adds Dr Okoth, saying the organisation will use its 75 branches countrywide to get Kwani? Open Mic to some of the 40 counties it is based in.

With a new host, Akinyi Oluoch aka Queen Akinyi as the new host celebrating Cindy Ogana, the event might need a bigger venue as the June 1 show was totally packed.

“The Kenya National Theatre creates a feeling for artistes of being in a space “that is yours”. They have given us the space for free, knowing that attendees will also patronise their services when they come and also later. Though the coronavirus pandemic has meant that people are not buying tickets as much as we would want to, we have been surprisingly successful. Because, people have been hungry to go out and socialise while watching performance arts. Artistes have also been looking forward to meeting their fellow creatives in these kinds of spaces,” says Mike.


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