Youth turning spoken words into money: Cashing on expression

Poets Nakuru
Photo credit: Francis Mureithi

For younger Millenials and Gen Z, writing down their feelings and views on certain aspects of their lives has been an outlet to de-clutter their minds.

Now, they can even earn income from this soothing hobby.

The spoken word has become the next buzzword among Gen Z and millennials. The rising number of spoken word artistes is slowly becoming an avenue where they find their voice, and they are keeping it loud in public, social media and private functions to entertain their guests. 

These artistes are throwing a spanner in the works and are provoking conversations around social ills and their implications in our lives as individuals within families and elsewhere. Through spoken word poetry, the talented youth, some in colleges and universities, are igniting conversations on issues of social injustice, politics, race, education and community.

They are talking about mental health through spoken word poetry and about the experiences of young people suffering from mental illness - in particular depression.

They are amplifying the climate change catastrophe that is affecting the globe. Spoken Word Poetry is lifting youth voices and helping them breed confidence and discover their self-identities through the act of performing.

Above all, the youth are making money doing spoken word and it is becoming one of their income streams — earning up to Sh30,000 per show.

Marangu Faith Nkatha, 20, student Kabarak University who is Spoken word artist in Nakuru City
Marangu Faith Nkatha, 20, student Kabarak University who is Spoken word artist in Nakuru City
Photo credit: Francis Mureithi| Nation

Marangu Faith Nkatha, 20, student Kabarak University

As a third-year student at Kabarak University pursuing a Bachelor of Education in English and Literature, spoken word is a way of life and falling in love with poetry was immediate.

I was raised in a Christian background and I remember my mum, Lydia Kageni used to write poems for me, which I recited in the church.

My stage name is Belvin V-poet. I’m identified as a Sheng spoken word artiste but I also write poems in formal English. My target audience is Gen Z and millennials who communicate via Sheng. I also write poems for middle-aged people.

I’m in a position where I can sell my poetry work. Last year, I underwent a poetry development theatre programme that was held in Nairobi for three months.

Today, I know how to market my poems through spoken word because I’m a certified poet. When I participate in public shows, I’m offered cash rewards.

Depending on the audience and type of occasion and event. I’m paid between Sh10,000 and Sh30,000 per show.

I also market my verses to online platforms and the response is encouraging me to write more.

Besides earning money, the spoken word helps me let out my emotions. Poetry writing and reading have put me in touch with my strengths, and times of pain. It makes me think. It reaches into my heart and awakens my emotions, thoughts and perspectives.

Through spoken word and poetry, I have realised keeping what I feel inside can result in unhealthy behaviours, anxiety, depression, additional feelings of fear, sudden outbursts and more.

You don’t have to bottle up your emotions to be “strong.” The opposite is true. It takes more strength to be honest with ourselves, even vulnerable with others, about how we’re feeling.

I have read studies which show that mental health is greatly affected when you fail to communicate how you feel, either to someone else or in writing.

Therefore, bottling up emotions can further impact my physical health interrupting sleep, elevating blood pressure or encouraging bad behaviours such as overeating.

I have written religious pieces and I’m inspired by the belief that life is about learning and overcoming daily challenges. I’m inspired by the experiences people go through.

I write poems about sexual and gender-based violence, economy, and femicide cases in Kenya which fuel urgent calls for action to end violence against women.

In my poems, I want to establish what is provoking increasing cases of femicides.
In the spoken word, I have found confidence. I was shy but now I can stand before an audience and perform.

Spoken word is the way to go for the jobless youth as it could earn them good money.

Stella Wambui Irungu, 21, a student at Mount Kenya University who is Spoken word artist in Nakuru City
Stella Wambui Irungu, 21, a student at Mount Kenya University who is Spoken word artist in Nakuru City
Photo credit: Francis Mureithi| Nation

Stella Wambui Irungu, 21, a student at Mount Kenya University 

As a third-year student at Mt Kenya University studying Education Special Needs, I use spoken word and poetry as my side hustle.

Although poetry alone cannot pay all my bills, I must say what I earn from poetry helps me greatly to survive in these harsh economic times, because I don’t go begging for handouts.

A performance of less than five minutes could earn me Sh10,000 plus more endorsements from prospective clients.

Every day, I work hard to improve my art because the demand for my work is increasing by the day, as I post my latest work on all my social media platforms.

I perform in corporate, schools, churches and public functions.
When I’m commissioned to write poems for corporate entities for marketing their services and products, I charge between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000.

Through poetry and spoken word, I have found purpose in life. Through poetry, I have deepened my self-expression. Poetry has offered me a unique form of self-expression, allowing me to convey my innermost thoughts and emotions through the power of words.

To me poetry is passion. One of the most pleasurable and long-lasting gifts as an adult I can give to society is the love of poetry — a love which comes through the joyful sharing of the rich experience that poetry can offer.

I’m inspired by a lot of things. Simply going outside can give me a lot of inspiration. Many poems I have written are derived from nature and what is happening in society; looking at birds or walking on grass can help create ideas and images for my poetry. Though, you don't have to get ideas from nature; you can find inspiration from anything; you can write a poem about being stuck in traffic and the mental challenges facing the youth and society at large.

My late parents, Lucy Wanjiru and Livingstone Irungu, were my great supporters. Supportive parents and a strong passion for spoken word have fostered a love for poetry and encouraged me to explore and express myself through this art form.

My poetry is diverse. I write about the minority in the society. I write about the tribulations of single mums. Unless you get into the shoes of a single mum through my poetry, you won’t understand the hard times they go through to raise their families single-handedly.

I was touched when I performed the poem “Single Mom”. When I finished, one of the single mums in the audience approached me and said she felt as if I was describing the challenges single mums go through: financial strain, life balance, emotional stress, guarding children, custody decisions, stigma and judgement by the society, intimate relationship and behavioural problems.

This made me write more poems about the trodden in society. That is the beauty of spoken word and poetry. The reaction is instant. It made me feel single mums deserve a better treatment from the society.

But writing a poem is not a walk in the park. You must research to produce a thought-provoking poem that will generate a debate in society.

Samuel Ngahu, 21, Actor at Nakuru Players Theatre who is Spoken word artist in Nakuru City
Samuel Ngahu, 21, Actor at Nakuru Players Theatre who is Spoken word artist in Nakuru City
Photo credit: Francis Mureithi| Nation

Samuel Ngahu, 21, Actor at Nakuru Players Theatre

My stage name is ‘Chotara the Poet’ and my passion for Poetry is unstoppable. I started poetry while at Moi Secondary School in Nakuru City.

I was inspired by Willie Oeba who is an accomplished spoken word poet in his own right, who has captivated wide-ranging audiences and peers alike.
I started performing and writing poems after I completed my Form Four in 2021.

After 10 years on stage, I have perfected my trade. I’m a stage manager and I do set books for KCSE students.

The earnings are not bad. Climbing the stage for one performance, I could earn Sh30,000.

My income on stage is increasing because after posting my performance on social media handles, like TikTok, I get clients calling me to perform at their functions. That inspires me to work hard and write poems touching on issues that are trending in society.

Poetry is about being creative. I have perfected my creativity through language. I have built an innovative state of mind upon the four cornerstones of inspiration, intuition, imagination and imagery.

When I’m on stage I illustrate a different aspect and phenomena of creativity because the poem is a form of expression.

Daily reading of poems builds my imagination and creativity. It helps me use my imagination to create a picture in my mind of what the words are describing.

This exercise helps my mind become stronger by doing it over and over again.
I use sheng in my poems because the current generation is deeply in it and that is the language they use in all their interactions.

My recent poem titled “Whispers from Beyond”. This is a poem that speaks about how the economy has affected teachers, artists and other members of the society.

The beauty of poetry is that the message spreads like bushfire as we have many other upcoming poets in all the 47 counties who will pick my message and amplify it in their language.

The current Generation Z and millennials fuse poetry and music so well and that is a powerful combination that they can use to monetize their talents and earn good money.

To become a successful spoken word artist you must engage your peers to critique your work and when you repackage it afresh you have a powerful poem that will attract many views, comments and reactions from society.

Spoken word artist at Nakuru Players Theatre in Nakuru City.
Spoken word artist at Nakuru Players Theatre in Nakuru City.
Photo credit: Francis Mureithi| Nation

Kelvin Kariuki, 21, Spoken word artist

I’m a certified and budding spoken word artist and my stage name is ‘Kish The Doctor’.

I do poetry as a professional career as I have been certified by the Kenya Cultural Centre. I pursue poetry writing as a profession.

When performing a poem I charge according to the audience and occasion. If it is an entertainment occasion I charge between Sh5,000 and 10,000.

I do street poetry that is a mixture of sheng, English and Kiswahili.
There are those who argue that a career in poetry is probably not entirely wise.

However, I disagree with that kind of thinking because I pursue poetry writing as a profession and so far I can confidently say it is a fulfilling profession but challenging path.

I’m inspired by Kenyan rapper Kennedy Ombima, popularly known by his stage names King Kaka and Rabbit, publishing poet Oyamo Richard and Willie Oeba.

It's essential to stay committed to your craft, keep honing your skills, and seek advice from established poets and be open to feedback and opportunities for growth.

To establish yourself as a professional poet you must continuously work on improving your poetry writing skills.

You must read a wide variety of poetry, attend workshops, take creative writing classes, and participate in poetry groups in organized laces like at the Nakuru Players Theatre.

It is also important to build a strong portfolio of your best poems. I would suggest you create a personal website or blog to showcase your work and establish an online presence.

This can help you gain recognition and build your reputation as a poet.

Networking as a budding poet by attending poetry readings, workshops, and literary events to expand your network and learn from others in the field will boost your opportunities.

At the same time utilise social media platforms to share your poetry, engage with your audience, and build a following. Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, X formerly Twitter and Tiktok can be particularly effective for sharing short poems and connecting with readers.

What I advise those starting poetry or spoken word is to remember that building a career as a poet takes time, persistence, and dedication.