Kwani? An explosion of Kenyan Works


I am in Nairobi. I had not heard a thing about the Kwani 111 launch. Don’t get me wrong I read the papers, watch my average share of television and listen to the radio on my way to work. On occasion I attend the recitals and readings that Kwani holds at Kengeles on a Tuesday every month. For some reason the launch at Simba Saloon passed me. On Wednesday morning my brother, Wanduma, who also posts on this blog and happens to be a couple of thousand kilometres away in Washington or New York (he moves quite a bit) sends me an invite for the launch and cocktail. I am once again impressed with the way he maintains contact with friends here at home. Having a few of my own friends who always complain that we Kenyans don't read and write, I called a few to find out what their plans were for a cold Thursday evening. Most had other plans or were planning on staying indoors- keep warm spend some quality time with the family- you know the kind of excuses!

By the end of the day I have resigned myself to the fact that only my dear wife will accompany me to the launch. This is of course if I can somehow manage to convince, cajole or bribe her to change her routine that she follows religiously:1. Arrive home at about 6pm shower. 2. Have tea and watch news. 3. Supper and small talk with hubby and girls. 4. Stretch out on the sofa and relax 5. In bed by 10pm. 6. Asleep by 11pm. My evenings are more or less the same except for those days that I indulge myself in a few 'double famous'.

So I get home Wednesday and engage in a mixture of pleading asking and demanding for my wife’s company to the launch. I have been married 15 years so I do not hesitate to say that I have mastered the technique of getting my way. Although sometimes I wonder whether knows before hand and just plays with me, enjoying her moment of strength. Anyway, she finally agrees to accompany me but not before I have promised to by her a perfume called SENSI or some name like that. I am relieved for I feel I got off easy on this one.


I spend most of the day in government offices trying to cut through the usual red tape. From the clerks to the big boys, everyone is asking: “si ununue ka chai ama lunch”? It most frustrating trying to explain to them that as a matter of principle I do not pay people, who are already salaried, to do their jobs. The clerks think that I am arrogant and their bosses think I must know someone more senior than them. How else can my aloofness and attitude be explained? Eventually I get what I want and leave the offices in a huff.

On my way to where I have parked my car I run into my cousin Kibati. I ask him in passing to join me for the Kwani launch later in the evening. He stares at me awkwardly and laughs. Poetry and readings? “Who the hell listens to such”? Trying not to hurt my feelings he agrees to meet me there.

I arrive at the carnivore, wife in tow - I am sure that sounds crude but yes wife in tow and tons of excitement and expectation on my part. My cousin is already there and has secured a table positioned very wisely close enough to the stage and far enough from the speakers. He introduces the Pilsner in front of him as his date and offers us seats. In the back the cocktail is going on. I sneak a look into the tent and spot the large imposing frame of Binyavanga Wainaina in his trademark dreadlocks and a golden yellow African outfit. The only other person I have met is Judy Kibinge who I have always thought to have dreamy eyes and an enchanting laugh.

I rejoin my team and the wife proceeds to order dinner for herself. My cousin and I decline, as we are more interested in the wine list than the menu. There are about 25 people in the Simba Saloon and probably another 20 in the cocktail tent. At about 9 pm it starts to fill quite quickly, people are coming in from tent and others are paying the 300 shillings entrance and soon we have about a hundred people maybe two hundred.

The drums roll and the show begins. A single man in front of a set of Bongo drums introduces the first poet. It’s a great poem and the words “This poem is a dance” are captivating. A dancer joins him on stage and together they rhythm and dance. The person reciting the poem is offstage and his voice is strong and powerful. I am not sure but I think it was KJ- he of Red Korna and Redycullus (sp). The whole house enjoyed that tremendously.

This is part One if you have found it interesting please comment and I may post part Two. Encouragement needed.


wanduma said...

Very very cool!! I can picture the scene...and definitely wish I was there...

Please post part two!!

Mshairi said...

You must complete this. Cant wait for part II

MMK said...

The natives are jostling for part two and they might get restless! Wish I had been there.

Mama_JunkYard's said...

A belated Karibu and please post part two. I really enjoyed part 1.

Blue Poet said...

Thanx all for stopping by. I am writting this as an expression of my personal take on the launch. In following parts you may find me slightly critical on some aspects of the launch or the readers or fellow drinkers at the Simba Salon. Kindly grant me the licence to be critical without taking it personally.

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