Sheng’: Interview with artists Gaz and Kunimbichi

When I first met Gaz and Kunimbichi at Goethe Institut Nairobi in 2010 I enjoyed their poetry performance, laughed at the few punch lines I could catch in Sheng’ and admired their stage presence and their energy. Since then, I have met them time and time again at their Kenyatta Market haunt where I came to know more about their approach to art and their passion for words.

Kunimbichi (right), Gaz (middle) and their friend Victor (left) at a shop near Kenyatta Market. Photo taken on 13th January 2012 in Nairobi.

The artistic duo have performed at an impressive number of venues and festivals in Kenya, including Kwani, Wapi and Wamathai. Their trademark opening goes like this:

Hatujacome showbiz na issues

Tumecome show, biz, na issues

Na ukidharau stuff yetu kaa tissue

Baada ya haja kubwa ndio utajua ni issue

Fire inaburn, hakuna wa kupuliza

Fire fighter tena wakuja kuituliza

Puliza Nitulize (x2)

GAZ: Gundua Anger Zaidi

Gaz (left) and Kuni Mbichi (right)

Maneno Matamu: So, who exactly are Gaz and Kunimbichi?

Kunimbichi: I’m Kunimbichi aka Nelson Victor Anyula. I do spoken word, street spoken word, that’s what I can say. And we’ve decided to come up with our own style called SWA.

Gaz: Dickens Onil Akonya aka GAZ aka Gundua Anger Zaidi.

MM: We’ve heard a little introductory piece of yours and I’ve seen you perform some other pieces before. I just wanted to ask you how you came to poetry and what your inspiration is.

Kunimbichi: Everything just comes from the way we live. Everything has a background and we know we are from the streets. Basically we are hip-hop artists but we had to look for another way to attract our audience so we decided to, like, do away with the tracks and start reciting the lyrics a capella. You see, that’s how we started to develop our art into another thing so that we smear comedy just to attract guys. That’s what I can say.

Gaz: Yes, poetry is the mother of all these things. As hip-hop artists we decided to go into poetry because we thought we could do much better so our audience could hear what we are saying. We’ve used some instruments and we normally go for different shows but we came to the idea that our fans don’t get what we say. We wanted to tell them the words without using any instruments.

Kunimbichi: SWA is Spoken Word Auditorium. We interact with guys, we reason with them but we do it in a poetic manner.

MM: Another thing that is particular about your poetry is that you perform in Sheng’. Could you tell us a bit more about this language and what is means to you?

Kunimbichi: An artist is a mirror to a society. Sheng’ is a language used by all guys in Nairobi because it has emerged due to the interaction between different ethnic groups in Kenya. It’s the only language we can talk to reason together. That’s why we decided to use Sheng’: we reflect on where we came from and talk to our people.

Gaz: Just to add on what Kunimbichi has said, we want to use this language – Sheng’ – so that we can reach each and every person from the young to the old.

Kunimbichi: Sheng' is the only language we can talk to reason together.

MM: Going back to the fact that your poetry is performed in front of various audiences, how does this affect what you write and how would you describe this experience?

Kunimbichi: That’s where art comes in! You have to meditate on your audience before writing and as you write, you dialogue with them, just like I am talking to you. So when I ask a question like ‘Siwezi pata kitu kutoka kwa nothing, ni lazima kitu itokee tu kwa … ?’, they’ll say: something!

MM: Alright, let’s hear your poetry then!

[It took 2 hours to load the video clip … which then mysteriously disappeared. This could only mean one thing: you’ll have to wait a couple of days before tasting the delicious word content created by Gaz and Kunimbichi – unless a computer whiz abridges my plight. End of digression.]

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