#Babishai2016 Poetry Festival Guest Interview: Ngatia Bryan

Ngatia Bryan is a performance artist, poet, writer and filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya. His performances blend storytelling with poetry in a unique way. He goes by the moniker “Ngartia” while performing. This, he insists, contrives the art that lives within him.

Would you say you are the poet you wanted to be five years ago?

Am I the poet I wanted to be five years ago? No. And that is a good thing. Five years ago, I had no clue what kind of poet I wanted to be, I was reading a lot and writing a lot, but I had just gotten introduced to performance and it was changing the way I perceived self-expression. There are things that the me from days past thought I’d have done by now, like publish, that I haven’t accomplished yet. There are things I’m doing now that that guy couldn’t even imagine. Like writing some material for over an hour long performance and following it through.

Poetry is subjective and yet all talent needs to be nurtured. How has this fact influenced your work?

I think subjectivity is poetry’s strongest pillar actually; the fact that personal feelings and views are so intrinsic to the art. If we were all only aspired to objectivity, then our work would sound like reports and investigative journalism. My writing is for me, primarily. I need my biases, likes and distaste to hold a position of influence so I can keep myself rooted. I write to see myself, understand how I relate with the universe, how I think, make another baby step at this endless journey of self-discovery. It is being subjective that puts the human touch in art. Else, it wouldn’t touch people so. And would it really matter then? Realising the essence of writing for myself led to me producing work I am more in touch with. I don’t want to look back ten years from now and wonder how the heck I managed to be so pretentious.

Tell us a bit about Storyzetu and what your greatest desire for it is? is a blog dedicated to providing a free and uncensored platform for young, emerging and established African voices in art. We put up fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and op-eds almost on a daily basis. We are also quite active on facebook, twitter, instagram and will be launching our YouTube channel soon. Recently, we joined the vibrant performance space that is Nairobi with concept events geared towards encouraging experimentation and pushing boundaries. It is run by a team of four: Hellen Masido, Tonny Muchui, Mutwiri Njagi and I. We initially meant it to be a place for us to collaboratively push our writing, but we soon realised the potential it held and followed that instead. Our desire is to host writing that sparks changes and influences progressive discussions in Africa. We hope to help in the continuous challenging of established retrogressive systems of thought and in the process; help young writers and performing artists develop their voices.

Storyzetu will be conducting a three-day spoken word workshop during the #Babishai2016 Poetry Festival. Tell us a bit about that.

In collaboration with Babishai-Niwe, we reached out to a number of Kenyan spoken word artists who have been instrumental in shaping the Kenyan Performance Poetry scene and they have agreed to attend the festival. The idea is for the workshop to be more of a thought exchange with our counterparts from around Africa who will be present during the festival. American Spoken Word is big online. We all draw inspiration or are influenced by it, whether directly or unconsciously.

Some of the questions we hope to explore are: How do we make our scene as big? How do we get our voices heard? How authentic is our work? What have we learnt so far? How do we use that to map out our future? How do we improve our performance and writing skills? What we are hoping to do is to take chats artists have while walking home from gigs, and throw them around for discussion, re-examine them and face what we fear most in them.

Why was it important for you to accept our invitation?

Other than the thought of Ugandan food? I attended the Kampala International Theatre Festival late last year and was enthralled by the piece of Uganda’s art scene that I was privileged to experience. That aside, I watched the festival unravel online last year and was quite excited by what was happening. Having read A Thousand Rising Voices and Boda Boda Anthem, the opportunity to work alongside those who have made that possible was quite thrilling. I also can’t wait to interact with artists from other countries… And of course Beverly can be quite convincing. Not that I needed much of it…

What are the two main subjects you find yourself constantly writing about?

Social issues and human relationships.

How do you feel towards art for social change?

Change is inescapable; we are in constant evolution. Art has the responsibility to be the crest of that wave – to lead the park into the next level of thought and perception – right there next to science and philosophy. Artists need to be progressive thinkers; we have the ability to touch the depths that other disciplines may not reach. We are with the people, therefore should speak to the people and for the people. Fight for them and talk to them at the same time. Art cannot run from addressing social change, and I am glad it cannot.

We look forward to hosting you. Any concluding remarks?

Does plantain have to be in season? If yes, will it be in season in August? Because the last time I was in Kampala, I couldn’t have enough of that.

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