Just who is this guy, and where has he been all along?
That question could be heard from many a reveler following Lion King’s stellar performance at the sixth anniversary celebrations for Spoken Word Rwanda last Wednesday.
Three days later, at another spoken word and poetry forum, the Kigali Vibrates with Poetry, King was at it again, holding poetry enthusiasts at the Impact Hub in Kiyovu captive with a spirited performance of his poem, Cyacyana. This time, the poem scooped him three accolades; Best English poem, Best Overall Poem, and People’s Choice.
The 19 year-old (real names Kivumbi King) describes himself as a rapper, poet, and spoken word artist.
Watching him perform at Spoken Word Rwanda and Kigali Vibrates with Poetry, the last thing one would have imagined is that King is a newbie on the local poetry/spoken word scene, hence the many murmurs of “where has he been hiding?”
That question is understandable. It was only recently, in April this year that Lion King first graced a Rwandan stage. That was at the commemoration edition of Spoken Word Rwanda, held at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in April. Before that, he had only managed to perform for fellow students at school (Exodus College) in Uganda.
“I have brothers who know that I love poetry a lot, and other guys that know everything that’s going on around town. They told me about it (Spoken Word Rwanda) and I asked if I could perform and they said no. But just for the love of poetry I was like I have to see this. I went there knowing I wouldn’t perform, but reaching there I saw people walking to the MC and asking to perform and I decided to do the same. I walked to him (MC) and asked if performing was free of charge and he told me yes. That was my first performance at Spoken Word and people liked it. The organizers told me to come back another time,” King recollects the events leading up to his first Spoken Word appearance.
About his first performance at Kigali Vibrates with Poetry on July 29 he says:
“There was a workshop last month which a friend told me about and asked if I wanted to attend. I told him yes, and so I went. We did the workshop and at the end of it we performed. Everybody liked me and told me I was a good poet.
Then Andrier Grieder (curator of Kigali Vibrates with Poetry) told me about it and asked if I wanted to attend. I sent her my poem via email and she told me I had been selected among participants. That’s how I ended up there.”
“My purpose wasn’t just to perform for people, my purpose was to perform and win because I believed I had the potential to win and I did win. I performed from the bottom of my heart so that people could really feel it and they felt it,” he explains.
Indeed, the crowd was screaming in unison every time he paused in between performances. When he left the stage after his performance the cheers and screams went on for over two minutes.
His winning poem, Cyacyana, just like all his other works, is a story of his own life:
“Here in Rwanda when people call you cyacyana it’s like they are saying you’re a bastard, someone useless. They usually judge people based on their appearances. Because I don’t like to cut my hair people have always walked to me and told me I don’t have a future.
But it’s a wide poem that addresses so much more. For instance today the youths are blamed for losing their culture but we didn’t lose anything. We were born like this and it’s 2017, so I don’t know where they want us to get the culture.”
My appearance makes you judge
But your actions make me laugh
Coz the biggest criminals don’t wear tattoos and dread locks
They are smart people they wear suits and ties, look …
He delivers the poem in English and Kinyarwanda.
On rap, poetry and spoken word
King is of the view that rap, hip hop, poetry and spoken word are close relatives:
“Hip hop is just a culture. People don’t do hip hop, people live hip hop. You just have to have a certain mentality in you. Many people think that hip hop culture is a black people culture in America but I don’t believe that. It’s just a mentality. Rap is the type of music that is poetry with a lot of rhythm and rhyming and it’s usually done to a beat, the reason people call it flowing. Good poets emphasize the writing part of their poems and they are usually short but very meaningful. They can have twelve lines but with so much meaning as you can get in a whole book. Then you have Spoken word poetry and it gets even more exciting; you can do poetry, rap music, you can sing.”
To many of his fans, he passes off as shy and unassuming, timid even:
“Many people tell me I’m shy but I don’t think I’m shy. I just happen to look shy but I’m just silent. Most of the times that I’m quiet, I’m thinking. The more quiet I am, the more focused I become, and the more words and more purpose for the pen. So I always like staying silent but when you meet me at home with my brothers you won’t believe I’m the one because I do shout when I mean to.”
Gifted with the garb
Lion King started writing in Primary three but it wasn’t exactly poetry at the time. “It was just anything that was on my mind. I could try and mimic American rappers but I wouldn’t even know what they were singing about. I just loved their flow. I started writing poetry in primary six.”
Asked how many poems he had penned so far he retorts:
“I write a lot. I think I have as many poems as it would take me to make my own show. I could perform my pieces for forty five minutes.”
Recently he also ventured into script writing for film, and is enrolling for filmmaking classes soon.
“I don’t agree with those people who believe spoken word shouldn’t rhyme. A spoken word piece which does not rhyme to me is not interesting. Rhyme just gives it that sweetness and people will continuously listen.
You have to feel what you say. The mistake most spoken word artists make is to try and write something they don’t feel. I write things that I’ve experienced, so when I’m on stage performing them you’ll just see it on my face. That’s why I like writing about real life events. Spoken word artists should understand their audiences. Understand the people you’re going to perform before, and understand what you’re going to perform to those people.”
He partly attributes his affinity for the spoken and written words to his dynamic school life;
“I went to eleven different schools in three different countries – and that’s only primary. In secondary school I decided to be static by doing it in one school. I knew the mess and I said I’m not going back to that.”
He studied Kindergarten and primary school in Rwanda before his family moved to Burundi where I repeated P1. Coming back to Rwanda, he attended different schools for P2, P3 and P4. His family then moved to Uganda where instead of P5, he was demoted to P3.
“I think it’s one of the major factors that developed my writing abilities. Every school I went to I’d always be the new guy that nobody wanted to mess with. So I’d be the lonely guy. There were no phones to keep me busy so only papers would keep me busy.
So I would just sing and after getting tired of singing I’d get a pen and write as a way of making me happy but also whiling away the time.”
“I’ve always believed that I have a message to pass on. So the one chance I get to do that and I do it perfectly and people like it –that’s the best feeling I ever get. The best part of it is that people have actually memorized some of my lines which they recite whenever they meet me.”