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Kenyan Poet Brings Unique Blend of Music and Dance to American Audience


Ann Mwalagho lives by her personal philosophy, “Dance, sing, laugh, and truly love” -- which she calls “the joys of life.”

Mwalagho does each well.

The Kenyan artist sings and writes poetry, which she fuses with dance, a combination she says has won her a fan base in the United States.

Queen of Afrobeat

People wanted to hear what I had to say, and both critics and audiences like the way she says it. They’ve dubbed her the “Queen of Spoken Afrobeat,” a style of music that fuses spoken word with percussion.

One of her poems is called the “Dark Continent,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the racist description of Africa coined during the colonial era. For Mwalagho, the name also evokes the resilient nature of the African people in the face of such disparaging terms.
The physical nature of the language she uses -- how it sounds and feels -- accounts in large measure for the poem's effect.

“Edutainment”

Audiences also like her delivery and the universal nature of her message: “I was an African woman with an African accent,” she says, “but telling stories that everyone can relate to…and I used that to my advantage.

“I started getting ideas of telling a positive story about Africa,” which she says is the focus of her story lines – and one she says other performers often ignore.

Mwalagho calls her performances in schools, theaters and local festivals “edutainment,” because they’re meant to educate as well as entertain.

It’s a skill she also practiced in Kenya, where she won numerous awards for her stage and television work.

Getting into the entertainment business for an African woman in the United States is not without its challenges, including the language barrier. But that did not stop her. “Despite the heavy accent, I was not discouraged,” she says.

Her perseverance has paid off: Since the launch of her career in the United States, she counts many personal and professional milestones. She has shared the stage with the international South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela and entertained dignitaries such like winner Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai. Mwalagho was recently appointed an Ambassador for Peace by the Inter-Religious and International Federation for Peace.

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