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Kennedy Odongo, popularly known as Kennet B, is a Kenyan spoken-word performer and poet known for his electrifying performances in Nairobi and across the country.
With the ability to play with words while delivering messages on pertinent issues such as HIV/AIDS, Odongo has become a well known figure in spoken-word circles. Odongo, who performs mostly in Sheng, a Swahili-based slang used among urban youth in Kenya, has participated in major art events in Kenya and East Africa.
Odongo spoke to Sabahi about his life as a performing poet, music studio manager and ambassador of Luo culture.
Sabahi:Â Tell us about yourself.
Kennedy Odongo:Â I am a performing poet and a social justice activist with a passion for enlightening Kenyan youths about issues like HIV/AIDS and other ills affecting our society today. I also run a recording studio in Nairobi where I work with young and upcoming artists.
Sabahi:Â Why did you choose spoken-word poetry over other genres of art?
Odongo:Â As a man who considers himself a social educator of the youth of this nation, I usually have a lot of things to say when I go on stage, which makes my compositions very long.
Song lyrics are usually limited to a certain length, as songs are rarely longer than 10 minutes. If I were a singer, I would have to edit and cut a lot of my verses and lose a lot of the message in the process.
When I was beginning as a young man, I tried music, but I had a lot of issues with producers who were telling me to shorten my word count. Therefore, I chose spoken-word poetry because it gives me a platform to say all I want the way I want.
Sabahi:Â How would you describe spoken word in Kenya and its impact on society?
Odongo:Â This is a relatively new genre in Kenya, having gained popularity in the late 1990s. It started in Nairobi clubs, where youth would gather in the evening and listen to each other read or recite their poems.
As these poetry nights became popular, the content of the verses being spoken started improving. They started talking of serious social issues such as poverty, corruption, good governance and HIV/AIDS. They were also attracting renowned writers and publishing houses and encouraging the development of modern poetry in Kenya. This was also having an impact on urban music such as hip hop, since its lyrical flow is similar to poetry.
In short, spoken word gave poetry a musical touch and made it popular among urban youth. Today we have popular Kenyan hip hop artists like Eko Dydda and Juliani, whose works draw heavily from spoken word.
Sabahi:Â Where can people see your work?
Odongo:Â In the beginning, I lived in the lakeside town of Kisumu, where I used to do music in my mother tongue. But since coming to Nairobi, I have performed in numerous events besides the poetry nights that are usually held in clubs around the capital.
I have performed at the Jukwaani festival and Words and Pictures, an event sponsored by the British Council that brings together talented Kenyan urban youth. However, my biggest stage appearance was when I was invited to perform in 2009 at the Messengers of Truth summit, a UN-HABITAT sponsored event dealing with environmental issues.
I have compiled three albums so far, all of which I sell by word of mouth and at events I attend. They are “Green Talk”, which is about the environment, “New Earth” and “Coming of Age”.
Sabahi:Â Do you have any upcoming events?
Odongo:Â I will be one of the main performers at the Storymoja Hay Festival, which will be held in September in Nairobi. The festival brings together people from all over East Africa who have a passion for performing and writing arts. I will also be performing at an annual event called the Samosa Festival in Nairobi next month and at the Arusha Cultural Festival to be held in October.
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