Spoken word poetry spurs artiste collabos

Series of shows displayed evolution fostered by residency programme

In Summary

• Graduates of training by Poetry Theatre Artistes had a lot to offer

Richard Oyamo and other trainees perform at KCC
Richard Oyamo and other trainees perform at KCC

Spoken word poetry, a dynamic and evocative medium of art, is experiencing a surge in popularity in Kenya. It enables our youth to weave together diverse threads of modern culture, social history and their contemporary experiences. This verbal art is deeply rooted in the rich oral traditions of our folkloric past, while also incorporating influences from other verbal art heritages, such as hip hop, ragga and rhetoric.

Functioning as an aesthetic platform, spoken word provides emerging Kenyan poets like Richard Oyamo with the opportunity to share their narratives, address societal issues and celebrate the multifaceted identities of Kenya today. Particularly resonant among the youth, spoken word invites us to immerse ourselves in a new experience of oral storytelling.

Beyond its role as mere artistic expression, this genre in Kenya serves as a catalyst for social discourse and cultural celebration. In Nairobi, for example, spoken word poets engage with a range of themes that deeply resonate with the urban youth, transcending the boundaries of conventional communication. Whether performed online or live, their presentations spark conversations inside and outside college corridors, conversations that echo long after the final word is spoken.

The Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC) has been playing a key role in supporting this modern poetry heritage in Kenya. The Poetry Theatre Artistes Residency Training was organised in November last year at the KCC.

This historic initiative converged spoken word poets from 11 counties. These are Busia, Eldoret, Embu, Kakamega, Kilifi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nairobi, Narok and Turkana. The poetes came together for an immersive experience that promises to redefine the landscape of poetry theatre in Kenya.

The initiative started with a meticulous selection process. Artistes who successfully completed a two-month online training programme were chosen to participate in the physical training. This digital preparatory phase not only bestowed foundational knowledge upon them but also facilitated a seamless transition into the hands-on, in-person sessions.

Before the poets delved into the rigours of the residency training, a thoughtful orientation was orchestrated. This preparatory ritual aimed to acquaint participants with the intricacies of the training, providing a vital platform for them to forge connections with the project’s partners. Representatives from Heva Fund, British Council and TVET-CDACC attended. They encouraged networking and collaborative initiatives as methods for fortifying the artistic empowerment of the trainees.

The curriculum of the Poetry Theatre Artistes' Residency Training offers diverse subjects designed for the holistic development of the artistes. From Poetry Theatre Performance to Environmental Literacy, and Digital Literacy to Entertainment Law, the comprehensive approach ensures that the artistes are well-equipped to navigate the multifaceted world of poetry theatre.

To facilitate effective learning experiences, the artistes find themselves in classroom setups at various university locations in Kenya. This strikes a balance between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Each day unfolds as a unique opportunity for the artistes to refine their craft on the illustrious stage of the Kenya National Theatre, an iconic venue that serves as the crucible for their artistic metamorphosis.

A pivotal moment in the training of the first cohort occurred on November 28, when the Kenya Cultural Centre played host to a distinguished delegation from the British Council. Rebecca Simor, Rehana Mughal and Eric Onyango discussed the Poetry Theatre Development Project. The visit culminated in great performances by the trainees, providing the British Council representatives with a firsthand glimpse into the artistic strides being made at the centre through this transformative project.

The Kenya Cultural Centre unveiled performances on December 7, 10, 12 and 17, with the climax being on 21st. These performances made public the artistic evolution fostered by the Poetry Theatre Artistes Residency Training.

The Poetry Theatre Artistes Residency Training at the Kenya Cultural Centre, seamlessly intertwined with the Kenya National Theatre (KCC-NT), is not just a standalone initiative. It is part of a larger initiative that highlights the need and power of collaborations in the creative arts sector. In a strategic alliance, KCC-NT has partnered with Ignite Culture: ACP-EU Culture Programme (Eastern Africa) to bring forth the Poetry Theatre Development Project in Kenya as an endeavour that transcends geographical boundaries to nurture emerging and existing artistes in the realm of poetry.

At the heart of this collaborative venture is the Poetry After Lunch (PAL) programme, an initiative by KCC-NT designed as a national talent development platform. PAL spans across different counties in Kenya, acting as a conduit to discover, mentor and network artistes, offering them a pathway to a more promising future within the creative industry. Currently anchored in Nairobi, PAL radiates its influence through 10 satellites in the following counties: Busia, Embu, Kakamega, Kilifi, Kisumu, Meru, Mombasa, Nakuru, Narok and Turkana.

The Poetry Theatre Development Project casts its net wide, targeting PAL artistes and poets from the 11 participating counties. Many of these talented poets excel in crafting and performing short poetic pieces, yet they yearn for the skills to weave longer narratives and seamlessly integrate them with other artistic disciplines, ultimately producing ticketed shows, a full poetic theatre experience that not only sustains their artistic endeavours but also contributes positively to society.

Crucially, this ambitious project has garnered support from Ignite Culture: ACP-EU Culture Programme (Eastern Africa), with Heva spearheading its implementation in collaboration with the British Council Kenya. The financial contribution of the European Union, coupled with additional support from the Organisation of ACP States, underscores the global significance of this initiative within the ACP-EU Culture Programme.

As we kickstart this new year, there is an increasing imperative for poets and artistes to forge networks and collaborate. This strategic collaboration is not just about amplifying the artistic journey of these poets; it is a crucial step towards elevating the cultural landscape of Kenya to new heights.

The network of artistic brilliance and collaborative endeavours, demonstrated by the Kenya Cultural Centre and its partners in recent times, offers yet another foundation for a poetic renaissance in this decade of promise as we march towards 2030.

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