It is quite interesting being a poet. You are constantly looking for a way to play with words. Words are your fortress and when you get a chance to perform them it gets you to a different ball game. It takes you from the power of just impacting from the mind of the reader to making them savour the moment of listening word for word while you give a monologue of your work.
For Mumbi Macharia, this has made her one of the best poets in the country. She wanted to be a rapper but when she discovered poetry she decided she is not going to hold back and she went for it. From then it’s been a journey. I ask her what was the most interesting conversation about her work and she tells me most are interesting as they are random some even at the supermarket. I ask her this and so many questions in this conversation.
Are poets making an impact in Kenya according to you?
Spoken word poetry is a unique way of using words, and people are now becoming woke to it. There is still a long way to go in getting spoken word into the mainstream, but it is definitely on its way. So yes, in many ways poets are making an impact.
Your poetry is fiery; what involves your creative process?
Fiery, I like that! Every poem has its own creative process. Sometimes I can sit down for 10 minutes and be done with a poem, other times I don’t quite have the words so it takes longer to write, and other times I might be required to undertake some research first. It all depends on the poem. There’s a method to the madness.
I watched a piece of yours where you talked about side chicks and how you weren’t sorry and how the main chick should not bash them; were you mad at the way our relationships are structured today?
I wouldn’t say I was mad at the structure of relationships, just that I saw an issue that needed to be addressed. I had also listened to a similar poem and thought I could put my own spin on it.
Do you have conversations on your poems with people and what was the most interesting conversation you had?
I always get questions about some of my pieces, i.e. what the inspiration behind it was, which leads to conversation. I’ve had so many interesting conversations I couldn’t pick one. But for sure the most interesting ones are always the most random ones like if someone sees me at the supermarket or just in town & they tell me they saw a video of mine somewhere. You can never plan the most interesting things that happen.
As a woman doing poetry do you find yourself conflicted about doing pieces on women’s issues and contemporary issues?
The beauty about me as an artist is I am never conflicted on what to talk about. I write about anything and everything. I would never want to put myself in a box with a label of what my poetry represents. I’m constantly trying different things; it’s why I love being an artist.
As a poet and an outspoken one for that, does it affect your relationships?
I don’t think so, or rather I’ve never encountered a situation where a relationship I had with anyone was affected by my poetry. Perhaps not having enough time to spend with a friend is the most a relationship has been affected, but they understand.
You sometimes seem to border on being outspoken on sex and relationships; do you feel like comprehensive sex education is neglected in the African scene?
Yes, comprehensive sex education is lacking. I think that’s why people find some of my poems risque, I mention some words and the audience gets uncomfortable because we have not normalised talking about sex. If it’s normalized from early on maybe people will stop looking at me like I’m mad when I say the word clit in a poem.
If you were to relive a performance you had which one would it be?
That’s a hard one. When I’m done with a performance I’m DONE, but if I had to choose I’d say probably when I performed at Churchill Show at Two Rivers, it was one of my first performances on the show. I had never performed in front of such a huge crowd. The poem I performed was also a very beautiful one. I was tremendously inspired to reach even greater heights.
I listened to a bit of ‘Kenyan Shilling Volume one’; Live for Me‘. It was a deep piece on depression and suicide, what inspired that piece?
I had been listening to Lauryn Hill’s Ex-Factor, and there’s a part she sings “Cry for me, cry for me You said you’d die for me Give to me, give to me Why won’t you live for me?” and that part spoke to me. It made me think of how we tell our loved ones we’d die for them, but really living can sometimes be harder. So I wrote the poem titled “Live for Me“.
Coming close to winning Slam was a good thing, does it make you fulfilled as a poet?
Yes, I was first runners up at the 2016 grand slam. In many ways, I can honestly say not winning was the best thing that ever happened to me as a poet. It made me see the competition as a stepping stone for bigger things. There was no way I could be complacent, I had to keep finding new challenges to beat. Now I teach spoken word workshops to school children, and I always reiterate to them that sometimes winning is a state of mind. You might not win the trophy, but you gain something greater, like purpose, or an energized work ethic, or even just the relationships you’ve made along the way.
You used to be a rapper would you consider going back to rapping?
You know what; I can’t say I’m entirely sure. Before I started writing poems I would write remixes to rap songs; I have an entire drawer filled with papers of some of those remixes. Then I started writing poetry and I found a different way to channel the energy I was putting into writing rap songs. My poems had messages, there was no beat for me to flow with, it was just my words. I like new challenges so I stuck with it, and I’m still trying to unravel the enigma that is poetry. So maybe I’d rap for fun, but my one true love has to be spoken word poetry.
What’s your take on the rap industry today?
I think there are some very talented rappers in Kenya, albeit underground. I hope they get the recognition they deserve. Conscious music in any genre is always a good thing.