United for Grandmaster Masese

An event in tribute to Kenyan poet and musician Grandmaster Masese, organized by the Mstari Wa Nne poetry collective, was hosted at the Kenya National Library, Nairobi on June 10, 2022.

Grandmaster Masese, real name Dennis Dancan Mosiere, came to prominence when a new poetry scene emerged in Nairobi in the late-2000s to early 2010s. That scene had events galore at venues like Club Soundd (Kwani Open Mic), Dass Restaurant Westlands (Rhythm & Spoken and Slam Africa), The British Council (Words and Pictures aka Wapi), Fiesta Restaurant Chester House (Adele’s Open Mic), Secrets Lounge View Park Towers (Wamathai Open Mic), The Junction Mall (Slam Africa), Club Afrique Museum Hill among others. It was a glorious time as many new names emerged and stamped their names on a space that didn’t exist a few short years before.

Mstari Wa Nne's Dennis Inkwa, Njeri Wangari, Mike Kwambo, Leon Kiptum, and Grandmaster Masese
Mstari Wa Nne’s Dennis Inkwa, Njeri Wangari, Mike Kwambo, Leon Kiptum, and Grandmaster Masese.

In 2008, Grandmaster Masese alongside poets Leon Kiptum, Njeri Wangari, Dennis Inkwa, and Michael Kwambo came together to form the Mstari Wa Nne poetry collective. It was an innovation at the time that had Grandmaster Masese with his obokano (a lyre from the Gusii people) as its musical muse. With the poetry scene finding its voice, the new collective took a while to get its name out and eventually many of its members opted to go down the full-time job route to earn a living. It wasn’t an indictment of any of the members as at the time corporations only seemed to want to give decent money to Caroline Nderitu (until the promulgation came and put an end to that).

Masese kept at his poetry and his obokano and continued to build his craft becoming a fixture at events in Nairobi strumming his preferred instrument. He would go on to form the Ritongo Afrika band which would accompany him to many of his gigs. He also spent a large amount of time with artistic communities both local and international in Arusha, Tanzania. There he developed a very pan-African view of his identity and his contribution while he taught the obokano and other specialisations.

In 2021, he gave us his album Grandmaster Masese produced by Dagoretti Records, the first full-length obokano record in history. As his star was about to blow up, the poet from Kisii tragically passed away from cerebral malaria on June 2.

On June 10, the Mstari Wa Nne poetry collective that had been in discussions to come back as a group before Masese’s passing organised an event to celebrate the beloved poet and musician. The event hosted at the Kenya National Library had several performances and addresses in his honour reminiscent of the open mics past. Some of these were from his Ritongo Afrika Band and the collective members Njeri Wangari and Dennis Inkwa who read a piece from poet Muki Garang’s debut collection His Invisible Optics. Also giving poetry were Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, Naliaka Wafula, Anyiko Owoko, D Tony Mochama, and many others. A highlight of the event after a moment to remember Masese was a heart-warming performance by opera singer Mary Gichu.

Please find some videos and images that we were able to get from the evening below;

Tony Mochama
Tony Mochama