Perhaps the greatest merit of spoken word is its ability to fuse poetic elements into performance. There is the plain spoken word, devoid of any logical features and while it may be argued the arts do not aim for this, the premise stands, art has to make sense. Mostly, this type of performance baffles even the most ardent and optimistic fans. It gets tiresome with time because content and authenticity are thrown out of the window for gimmicks. I’ve had my reservations towards spoken word especially the one I continue to find in most events, and though the quality is quickly improving, a lot is to be desired.
However, we (art lovers) find ourselves in the quest for something good, something relatable, a striking incident or feature that would deepen our interest with what we encounter in life. A few spoken word artists have managed to enthrall us with pieces that not only entertain us but also build our curiosity regarding poetry; its finesse, the ambiguity, authenticity, and meaning.
Gufy’s manages to create a balance between spoken word and poetry and through the few years that I’ve known him, his art has grown, exploring the hybridity and cross symmetrical attributes of spoken word and poetry. It’s through this path that any hint of his originality and style continues to develop, but others are given. His poetry is experimental, inventive, and avidly attuned to reality which serves the ambiguity of the arts; the imaginative and what is felt and reality and what is thought about.
Gufy’s album MisimuZangu exemplifies the aspect of being imperfect engaging the listener with the strengths and weaknesses of a human being, sometimes narrated from the third person but mostly specified in the first person. The poetry is marked with a deep fascination with the ways in which poetic imagery fuses present circumstances across past happenings and futuristic aspirations. While purchasing the album, I asked him what he hoped to achieve. He claimed all he wanted was to tell a story and if anyone would relate or be inspired then what more could we ask from the artist. The artist primary assignment is to tell a story, never claiming authority, never trying to persuade but hopefully aiming their art does the same which is a complete irony. However outlandish, it provides an expository underpinning of what can be done, as in “Hardships Na Silence” where the poet ponders on the future by questioning the present:
“… darkness divorces the night
the sins of yesternight will be forgotten ….
statistics zikipikwa utapaza sauti lini kama wewe ni
mhuskia wa ushirikina na dirty deals za fitina ….
The irony we associate success with but deep down
we are all slaves to what we appear to be against”
The narrative of this piece takes its idiosyncratic angle which I believe to be the peculiarities most people in Kenya possess. What it addresses is specified in “Ndimu Tamu” as:
“nina uchungu wa roho, siasa za kupoteza ndugu
njoo nikuonyeshe aliyebaki na alama ya panga kichwani
njoo nikunyeshe aliyebakwa na maafisa waliyefaa kumlinda …
njoo nikuonyeshe anayeishi kwa hema …”
These pieces question our positions on controversial issues such a religion, politics, and social justice and equality aiming to show the underhanded tactics we use to survive, glorify or kill and complain against our detractors. This is why in Ndimu Tamu, a sort of refrain keeps jumping after each sentence “It’s not the politicians … mafala ni sisi.” The poet urges the people to refuse to be pawns of politicians and other greedy leaders. Furthermore, our understanding of life, the importance of religion (cue the strand of morality), tribal politics, and unemployment versus how we respond to them matters a lot in today’s society. Moreover, we’ve succumbed to artificialness seeking validation at all costs, we continue to glorify appearances and entitlement without considering if the next person sees fault in our actions or proclamations. This does not mean that we should relinquish of our sense of importance but act in the best interest of others while doing the same for ourselves.
Such is what the “So Love” explores. It examines identity politics, weighing our actions and arguments by questioning their level of truth. So Love begs the listener to self-cross-examine before throwing judgment of lampooning another with our prejudices. This is regardless of gender, as suggestive:
“custom made likings that short women are more beautiful
that tall women are hard to curve …
is it true that we’ve reduced the power of feels to the powers of
lightskins and darkskins not knowing that it is 21st-century racism …”
Despite the temptation to dive into a heightened discourse how we claim importance and love through appearances while taking advantage of other’s shortcomings and natural traits, it rests with the listeners to evaluate themselves if they are to experience the vastness of love. Subsequently, in “Nails Deep” the poet confronts his spirituality among other matters. Spirituality as it is strictly personal that I wouldn’t know what to say about it and to this end, anyone who listens to the piece can interpret it as it fits. Conversely, the poet seems to be thankful and to prevent any preachy material from me; words such as these are used:
“Teach my knees how to bend again
strip my lips (of) the lies woven by (time) …
reduce my grown self to a child …”
The last piece “Misimu” intersperses a classical appreciation (told by the son) with more fragmented, imagistic recollection that deconstructs and unsettles the tales of a narrative loop. The poet’s memories of his childhood are tangible and real but at the same time incomprehensible and distant to him: “why I do this ni mystery.” Language, words, and performance are limiting. The person matha (mother), in particular, is loaded with strength and perseverance:
“kuraisiwa in a family matha ni beshte ya God huwezi ngoja hiyo friendship ivunjike
looking back hizi ndoto ni toddlers kwa mkono ya life
poetry haina pesa, matha aliniambia nikiwa docky ntawacha kutarmac
niende chuo nipate degree baada ya matha kunipea diploma
masomo ni ngumu lakini si kuliko yenye matha amepitia …”
The inability of words to completely thank the mother brings to light those people we can never appreciate enough, those that have supported us through trials, successes, and failures. To admit they are rare would be an understatement and this is why “mother” remains the beacon of hope, for we cannot marvel enough at her godlike presence.
Stories in Gufy’s pieces offers as a counterpoint to try once more to grasp the extent of our lives, what we have, what we hope for, what we ought to think about, and what we hope to correct. It must be understood that this constructed view is self-consciously analytical and at the same time deeply emotionally engaged in his, highly genuine mind’s eye.
Grab your copy if you haven’t.