The Kwani Open Mic dedicated to Binyavanga Wainaina was hosted at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi on May 28, 2019.
For many people around the world, Binyavanga Wainaina was the brains and charisma behind the literary journal Kwani? The journal was the home of writers who had failed to get a space in the Kenyan and wider African literary community. The Kenyan who passed away on May 21, was also known for many initiatives that brought African writing to the fore.
In Nairobi, one of the principle reasons he was known, especially by the poetry and spoken word community, was the Kwani Open Mic which his team started in 2005. The open mic was initially a place where you could hear people read from their current or forthcoming entries to the Kwani? Journal with some poetry, music and other readings interspersed. As the years went by, it became the stage that many of the poets of the last decade and a half cut their teeth. That open mic basically spawned what became Nairobi’s vibrant poetry scene.
On May 28, the poets who had their opportunity on the stage of Kwani Open Mic came to honour the man who was at the centre of their genre of artistic expression getting a home. The evening was conducted by Cindy Ogana who emceed the open mic for many years.
It started with Binyavanga’s sister Melissa talking about the man that they all knew before the poets came on stage and gave their poems. On stage were poets who had performed in the different homes of the open mic over the years from Café Crème to Kengeles Yaya Centre, Club Soundd in Nairobi’s Central Business District, Arfa Lounge at the Imax Theatre, the Professional Centre, and Chester House.
There were a variety of performers that included Njeri Wangari, Tony Mochama, Githuku, Mufasa, Teardrops, Jicho Pevu, Dorphan, Ivan Kirakoze, Mumbi, Mfalme Wangozi, Dennis and Yours Truly who performed. Apart from the amazing poetry, many would speak of how he had personally influenced them or how important that stage was to their lives. The show was opened by Lafrique Band.
Just like in the Kwani Open Mic of the past, it wasn’t just what was happening on stage that mattered. In the packed audience, we could see the Wainaina family represented by James, June, and Melissa who had spoken earlier. Also, there were folks like Kinyanjui Kombani, Buddha Blaze, Boniface Mwangi, Annette Majanja, Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, Wandia Njoya, Zukiswa Wanner, Simiyu Barasa, Betty Gathungu-Furet, and many more enjoying their evenings.
It was a night that the poetry and spoken word communities honoured a man that had done so much to give them a space that really didn’t exist before he showed up with his Kwani dream. Just like in days gone by many would go to nearby bars and spend the next few hours recounting the days that were and the days to come.
Below are performances from some of the poets who performed on that evening.