Saraba Magazine: special issue on literary festivals in Africa

Saraba’s latest issue is a special feature exploring literary festivals through the eyes of writers Magunga Willams, Tolu Daniel, Ciku Kimeria, Nyana Kakoma and Julie Muriuki.

Each contributor reflects on the festivals they have attended and the impact these events have had on their writing life.

Once again, I am excited to hear that the issue of language is being addressed in these forums. Moses Kilolo (Jalada) was quoted on his commitment towards connecting anglophone and francophone literary scenes in Africa:

“Networks also grow very fast during festivals. In the 2015 Writivism Festival for instance, we were able to further conversations regarding bridging the gap between Anglo and Francophone literature scenes in Africa. From that we have been able to reach out to writers, translators and other interested parties who are participating in the Jalada Language anthology. Next year we hope to have a Francophone anthology as well. We had been having such dialogues, but not until we met with Edwidge Dro at Writivism did it become so powerfully possible.”

Moses Kilolo

To get a vicarious taste of Ake Festival, Storymoja Festival, Writivism and  Hargeisa International Book Fair, you can download the magazine here.

Brush up on your French at literary events in Africa!

If you’re following the African literary scene closely enough, you’ll definitely have heard of a number of book fairs and festivals being held across the continent, from Ake (Nigeria) to Cape Town to Nairobi.

But have you thought of looking up some off-the-beaten-path literary destinations where, on top of promoting your book, you can also brush up on your French? 2015 has been a year of rising interest in linking up the “anglophone” and “francophone” literary scenes and the time seems ripe to expand our horizons as readers and writers.

Here is a selection of festivals set to happen before the end of the year:


Salon international du livre d’Algers (SILA), 20th edition
October 27 – November 7, 2015
Algiers, Palais des expositions, Pins Maritimes

Burkina Faso

Foire internationale du livre à Ouagadougou (#FILO2015), 13th edition
November 26-29, 2015
FB :


Salon du livre de Brazzaville, 3rd edition
December 4-8, 2015
FB :


Foire internationale du livre et du matériel didactique de Dakar (FILDAK), 15th edition
November 11-16, 2015
Dakar, Centre International du Commerce Extérieur in Yoff.

There are many more book fairs coming up in 2016, stay tuned 😉

Thank you to Ciku Kimeria for nudging me to write this post.

Any important events missing from the list? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Review: Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

Falstaff (Mrisho Mpoto) and his associates

Falstaff (Mrisho Mpoto) and his associates

Translated into Swahili and localized in the Kenyan context by Joshua Ogutu (@ogutumuraya), a boisterous interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ was presented at the 2012 Globe to Globe festival before embarking on an India tour in November 2012. This co-production by Better Pill and The Theatre Company is back in Kenya, much to the delight of local theatre buffs who had been impatiently waiting for a chance to see the show.

A comedy of manners

The plot revolves around a small community – located in Kiambu in the Swahili version – where intrigues are born of ambition, lust, greed and pure complacency. Falstaff, a corrupt politician who deludes himself into believing that he’s irresistible, tries to woo two married ladies with the exact same ‘love’ letter. When Bi. Ford and Bi. Page uncover the trick, they decide to take him for a ride, a plan that ends up creating a cascade of comical situations.  A jealous husband, a shrewd, down-to-earth maid, a young couple whose love is threatened by the girl’s parents’ misplaced ambition and a host of grumpy undisciplined servants, complete the hilarious gallery of characters.

Here is the preview posted on The Theatre Company’s YouTube channel:

In an interview recorded by Globe International, actors Joshua Ogutu and Sharon Nanjos talked about their experience of rehearsing ‘Wanawake wa heri wa Winsa’ and performing the play at the Globe Theatre. They worked with director Daniel Goldman who brought on board a different perspective on theatre performance and managed to whip up a localized interpretation although he did not understand Swahili.

One of the most notable influences of this collaboration was the breakdown of the ‘fourth wall’, with audience members becoming participants in the unfolding of the story.

A performance shining through the language barrier

While some critics felt that the adaptation betrayed the spirit of Shakespearan comedy, most reviewers were enthusiastic about the performance given in April in London and Statford-upon-Avon.

The fact that part of the audience decided to brave the rain to attend the show testifies to the interest raised by ‘Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa’ at the Globe to Globe festival. Only a handful of Swahili-speakers were present, but this did not seem to mar the success of the play, as Dr. Sarah Olive reported :

The audience’s unceasing mirth was proof of the way in which the actors captured a panoply of characters’ essences through their mannerisms, facial expressions and intonation in a way that transcended language and appealed to a global community.

This view is shared by Rob Wilson of Think Africa Press:

While information about the bare bones of the plot were projected on a side-screen in English during the play, the quality of the performance was such that the audience did not need to be Kiswahili speakers to understand what was going on and laugh in all the right places.

Some of the finer details and nuances might have been lost in the process, but the excellent acting definitely made the show worthwhile even for non-Swahili speakers.

Reception in Nairobi

Being Swahili-speakers and familiar with the setting of the play, Nairobians had access to the full experience, including the social cues and linguistic nuances. The translation uses modern, conversational Swahili to reflect the contemporary context, which facilitated understanding but missed the opportunity to include a certain poetic turn of phrase one would expect of a Shakespeare play. I think the Swahili language would lend itself graciously to such an endeavour.

In ‘Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa’, langage is widely used as a social marker highlighting Kenyan stereotypes: the scheming, greedy maid spoke in a Kikuyu accent, the aggressive kanzu-wearing doctor was supposed to be a Somali and only expressed himself in broken Swahili, and the shady characters serving as Falstaff’s valets were Sheng’ speakers. This added a comic twist to the plot, with each appearance of Bi. Quickly (the maid) causing new fits of hilarity.

Also worthy of note is the successful transposition in Kenyan society of issues originally set in Elizabethan England. Women’s empowerment within a conservative society and the lurking power of greed were themes that ran through the play, evoking current social tensions in Kenya. Had I not known that it was a translation, I would easily have believed that the play was written by a Kenyan with reference to today’s Kenya.

In line with the expectations set by earlier reviews, the acting did not disappoint. The cast of 8 deployed immense energy to manage 18 parts, bringing to life the Windsor community in front of our eyes and constantly engaging the audience to take part in the action. It is however regrettable that several of the initial cast members were replaced, thus compromising the harmony of the group.

Poor lighting and distracting background banner at the Nairobi performance, 15th December 2012

Poor lighting and distracting background banner at the Nairobi performance, 15th December 2012

For all its merits, the performance had some major technical shortcomings. The lighting had clearly not been thought through, to disastrous consequences. A lone white projector lit only part of the stage … and a house in the background which was not part of the set. The technician tried to rectify this during the show, unfortunately to no avail. As a result, the actors could not make full use of the space and had to wriggle around, upsetting stage balance.

Finally, I understand the sponsors’ demands for publicity but having a sponsors’ banner as a backstage wall is really taking it too far!

Disappointing turnout for this quality production

Overall, we were treated to a quality performance. I especially want to salute the translation effort and the creative work that went into adapting ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ into a lively, truculent Kenyan play.

It is a shame that despite the show being advertised on the popular blog Nairobi Now, on Facebook and at Alliance Française, Nairobians still did not turn up in large numbers for Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa:

Did you attend the play in England, in India or in Kenya? Share your experience with us in the comments section below or on Twitter (@hardcorekancil) !

Photo credits: AttributionNoncommercial Maneno Matamu

International Translation Day 2012: Translation as Intercultural Communication

Today, we celebrate International Translation Day honouring translators and the work of translation on the feast of St Jerome, who is considered the patron saint of this profession. This event was initially promoted by the International Federation of Translators (FIT) as early as 1953 before its worldwide appeal gave rise to the 30th September as International Translation Day in 1991.

The theme for this year’s International Translation Day was revealed in an official communiqué (pdf) by FIT:

Indeed, one of the most important  activities  that  help  people  of  diverse  ethnic  origins  and  different  political  and  cultural backgrounds  to communicate  is  translation,  a  distinctive  feature  of  which  is  the  crossing  of  the  boundaries between  Self    and  the  linguistic  and  cultural  Other.  In  other  words,  translation,  as  intercultural communication, is a means of transporting the ways of life, customs, attitudes, mindsets and values of one particular culture across time and space to another culture or other cultures.

Facilitated by the major changes and shifts in the global economy, culture and information technology in the last three  decades,  we  now  have  a  radically  altered  linguistic,  socio-political  and  cultural  context  for intercultural communication. If “to be or not to be … global” is hardly a question for people and nations in the contemporary era, then “to live or not to live … in  translation” is no longer an option but a reality of our everyday life.

As  brokers  of  peace  and  mutual  understanding,  FIT  members  will,  in  various  ways  and  through different channels, celebrate International Translation Day (ITD) 2012  with the  theme of  “Translation as Intercultural Communication”.

(emphasis mine)

This is an occasion to salute the remarkable work accomplished by translators in Africa and around the world, which too often goes unacknowledged. A series of conferences and other events have been taking place over the weekend in London, Dublin, Thessaloniki, Manila, Yaounde, Cape Town,  Johannesburg…and several other cities!

Here is to translators:

I wish to conclude with a bit of fun: some excerpts from 100 facts about translation :

35. There is no such thing as the “perfect translation”.

36. Nabokov hated translation and tried once to translate one of his own novels into English, with hilarious results (he did it word-for-word).

37. Goethe said that translation is the most noble profession.


66. There is no such thing as an ugly language.

Happy International Translation Day to everyone!

Illustration ‘I ❤ Translation’ by Danielys Pulve

Maneno Matamu Poetry (Uhuru Park edition): the photos are out!

The technology fairy tells me that luck is on our side this time. In spite of a stubbornly defective memory card, I managed to upload the pictures of our last show which was held at Uhuru Park (Nairobi) on 3rd March 2012.

Thanks to a diverse panel of performers, we listened to poetry pieces in …

Swahili (Jemedari and Sentimental Floetry), Kimeru (Ngartia), Kikuyu (Ngartia, Njeri Wangari, Carol of Sentimental Floetry), Dholuo (Jacob Oketch and Patroba), Luhya (Namatsi of Sentimental Floetry) and Sheng’ (Gaz & Kuni, Teardrops) !

You can view the full set on Maneno Matamu’s Flickr photostream. For a sneak peak, see below:

We gathered on a sunny Saturday afternoon...

Jacob Oketch captivating the audience with his dramatic dholuo piece

The pretty lily pond at Uhuru Park (Nairobi)

Maneno Matamu : the show is back in Nairobi!

If you missed the first show in December, this is your chance to catch up on the Maneno Matamu vibe! Each performer will present pieces in African languages, including Swahili, Sheng’, Kikuyu, Dholuo and Kimeru.

This time, we take to Uhuru Park (Nairobi) for an afternoon of poetry with an amazing line-up of artists:

See you all on 3rd March 2012 from 2 pm!

If you have a minute to spare, do take a read at this article featured on

Maneno Matamu fosters poetry in African languages

Maneno Matamu poetry, 1st edition

It is still time to join the show…click here to find out how.

One of our performers, Richard Wambua, just created a Facebook event page: feel free to show some love!

Coming up: performers profiles !

Your words on stage: join the performance!

As much as I love the cybercommunity, there is no such a thing as hearing your sweet voices … your words are the matter shaping the African continent!

On the 10th of next month, Nairobi (Kenya) will be celebrating African poetry: poets and lovers of words will get the chance to perform in a variety of African languages.

If you would like to join this event, kindly send an e-mail to africanpoetry(at) including:

Your name
The language you would like to perform in
A short profile about yourself

I am well aware that some of you may not be able to make it to Nairobi and here is the good news: if you can record your piece in audio format and e-mail it to us, your words will find their way alongside those of your fellow poets!

Stay tuned for more updates and details of the programme…