NAIROBI, KENYA —
By day, Sam Muremi is the quintessential entrepreneur. He and his sister run a bakery out of their home.
But pastries are not his only passion. He writes poems during his breaks. By night, he takes to the stage under his alter ego, “Ecks.”
"You are here. You are here," he says in one of his works. "A construct called consciousness. ... To be human is to be aware that you are human.”
Muremi, 24, has been performing his verses around Nairobi for four years. It’s an art form known here as “floetry,” or poetry with rhythm. Muremi tackles love and politics.
“Floetry transcends boundaries," he said, "because the human experience is the same with different variations, and floetry captures these variations and is what is used to connect us as a people.”
There are now open-mic nights around Nairobi for “floets” like Muremi. Ayub Kairigo, who goes by the moniker "Flowflani," has been a poet for more than five years.
“The drum rolls are calling me home," he says in one poem. "They want to pack my bags and go back in time. Way back before the attack. Forget Biggie and Pac. I'm talking way back, when black was king. Way back when our lifestyle was simplicity, our villages were simply cities. …"
Fans say they love the performers' no-holds-barred approach.
"No topic is off limits," said one such fan, Mike Mburu. "You can say anything from sexuality, you can tell anything from political, anything from social justice, anything cultural, you can say it. There’s nothing that’s limited in poetry.”
The Kwani Trust, a literary network started by acclaimed Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina in 2003 to develop writers, holds one of the monthly open-mic nights.
“We see ourselves as a site for public memory," said Angela Wachuka, the trust's executive director.
"When the post-election violence happened a several years ago, for example, we produced quite a lot of work interrogating the beginning of this, interrogating the idea that there are some cultures or some tribes or identities that are more legitimate than the others, interrogating the idea that we are one national body, which is something that we find is to be healthy in any realm when it comes to creative expression," Wachuka said.
And the open-mic nights are a chance to do just that — to explore and challenge society.