After a Spoken Word evening held at the British residence in Kigali on a recent Friday, I approached one of the attendees and asked her to rank her favorite performances. Without hesitation, she placed Marumbo Sichinga at the top spot. Her rationale for this: “Marumbo’s poetry had a pristine and lucid quality. It was captivating, relatable, and effortlessly natural in its delivery. His soft-spoken style and the seamless chaining of words made it easy for everyone to grasp and enjoy. Also, he skillfully infused just the right amount of humor to keep the audience engaged throughout the performance.” I couldn't agree more with her assessment. The Malawian poet obviously understood that unbridled virtuosity could potentially create a barrier between performer and listeners. Marumbo's recitals often follow a distinct trajectory. At the onset, he adopts a poetic and narrative style, weaving engaging stories into his performances; during the July event with the British High Council and British High Commission in Rwanda, where he kicked off the night as the first performer, he charmingly explained his piece titled Punching Bag, drawing parallels to his father's newfound interest in punching bag workouts. But as his performance progresses, his language takes a more technical and precise turn. On that particular day, the broad explanations of his interactions with his father gave way to stanzas filled with agile leaps, maintaining an easy and conversational tone. What truly sets Marumbo apart and adds a refreshing dynamism to his poetry is the fact that his narratives are deeply rooted in his own history. Having lived through every aspect of the stories he seeks to convey, he possesses a unique qualification to lead his audience through the spoken word experience. During our interview last Tuesday, Marumbo Sichinga, sitting on the terrace of the Radisson Blu hotel and sipping African tea, explained, “My poetic voice is shaped by my interactions with individuals from diverse backgrounds and various industries.” The poet was casual-business stylish in a white chocolate-colored long sleeve shirt, dark dress pants, and black and white sneakers. Marumbo has the visual presence of an East African everyman — sporting a high top fade haircut, long-faced and average height — but always wearing a contagious smile, which becomes even more pronounced when he passionately talks about his sources of inspiration, both joyful and challenging. One can easily imagine him effortlessly striking conversations with people from all walks of life, given his 28 years of interacting with people ranging from employers across multiple sectors to motorcycle riders and fellow migrants. Some of his deepest inspirations come from people within his inner circle. “So conversations with my dad, observing my sister's interactions with my mom, and watching how my friends interact with their friends—all of these moments have been sources of inspiration for me,” Marumbo recalls. Finding inspiration, he says, can be difficult, but the most rewarding wellspring of creativity lies in viewing everyday life through a fresh lens. “There's a special skill in taking even the smallest moment from your life and transforming it into a grand experience for others to share in,” he said. “When I sit down to write, I find immense fascination in ordinary things we encounter daily, but I always seek to infuse them with a unique twist.” Asked about the distinctions between spoken word and other forms of art, Marumbo carefully selects his words. For me, the most challenging forms of art are comedy, followed by spoken word, and then music, he explains. Comedy is exceptionally tough since your only tools are your voice, facial expressions, context, and your storytelling abilities.” He continues, Spoken word shares some similarities in that aspect, where your primary tools are your voice and the power of your storytelling. There's also the option to incorporate instruments, which can enhance the performance or detract from the poetic essence. It's a delicate balance, as too many instrumentations might shift the focus from poetry to music, and you risk losing the essence of spoken word. Marumbo is quick to clarify that music is not an easy art form either, but it does provide more creative freedom and space for experimentation compared to comedy and spoken word. Marumbo has always been deeply engrossed in literature. He actively participated in poetry events and enthusiastically recited other people's poetry. He spent his formative years in Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi, residing with his parents and younger sister. In one tender recollection of his time at the University of Malawi, where he pursued studies in Electronics and Computer Engineering, Marumbo describes how he wrote his first poem at the back of an engineering class about seven years ago. “I remember the lecturer was Indian and it was a hot day. I began doodling on the back of my notes because I was bored out of my mind,” he said. “But it just got to a point where I was like, ‘let me see what could happen if I try to write my own poem.’” This momentous decision led to the creation of his very first poem titled We Forged On, which centered around the theme of moving forward. “The poem was filled with rhymes reminiscent of kindergarten verses. It had a simple and naive feel, as if written by a six-year-old,” he chuckled. Despite his initial self-critical assessment, Marumbo went on to recite this newfound creation the following Thursday at the Writers' Club on campus. Little did he know that this simple act would mark the beginning of his poetic journey, leading to the momentous path he now treads as a spoken word artist. The rest, they say, is history. Since the release of his 2016 album Broken Keys, Marumbo's poetry has garnered high acclaim for the very qualities that resonate with today's art scene: humor, introspection, and above all, relatability. In his 2019 work Things I Wish I Said, he skillfully showcases self-deprecating honesty, presenting a collection of diverse thoughts about life, love, friendship, faith, and even the intricacies of the patriarchy. The richness of his reflections extends beyond what was expressed in that album, leaving more untold stories waiting to be shared. In 2022, Marumbo further displayed his good-natured vulnerability in the project titled Playing it Safe. Through this self-reflective project, he delved into his approach to attraction and love, exploring moments where he chose caution over risking vulnerability. Plenty of artists strive to evoke intense and dramatic reactions from their audiences, but Marumbo takes a different approach. He pours his poems into various containers with remarkable enthusiasm, but his driving force seems to stem equally from honesty and relatability rather than mere audience reaction. This allows him to convey a sense of authenticity that surpasses artists who fixate on eliciting strong negative emotions or adhering rigidly to a specific brand. “A significant portion of spoken word poetry revolves around themes of depression, sadness, and social injustice,” he said, adding that one's upbringing in certain countries “could be a strong influence of that.” For him, however, he is determined “not to be limited to a specific box or label, such as an activist poet or a love poet. For example, in the past, there were instances when I solely focused on love poems, but I soon realized that life and my own experiences are so much more than just one narrow topic,” he said. I've written poems in the past that lack honesty, where I felt compelled to address a particular issue, and I knew how to craft it well. That's not the kind of art I personally resonate with, though, he reflects. For Marumbo, the essence of true art lies in its ability to genuinely connect with him. He believes that art is a medium to express one's feelings and emotions, and it evolves over time. “My artistic journey may take different paths, but at the core of it all, I find the most joy and fulfillment in creating honest and authentic art.” The beauty of poetry, he told me, lies in its capacity to assist him in processing emotions. It has served as an escape during challenging moments in his life. The true essence, he said, lies in the ability to express himself through writing and subsequently finding healing by releasing those emotions through poetry. Writing poetry allows him to be honest with himself, to lay down his truth without fear of judgment, and that in itself can be immensely therapeutic. Then he added, with a smile, “But you know, I don't necessarily have to share that poetry with anyone else, right? It's a personal outlet to aid me through those moments.” Much is riveting in both his home country, Malawi, and Rwanda, where he draws a majority of his inspiration. The warmth and friendliness of the people, the perpetual buzz of events in the cities, and the ever-growing diversity in both places fuel his creative spirit. Through his skillful interweaving of these countries' nuances with the vibrant essence of spoken word, Marumbo emerges not only as a talented and accomplished poet but also as a tender storyteller. His narrative serves as a heartwarming chronicle of the evolution of this art form, delivered by a passionate and charismatic participant who is fully immersed in the audience experience, wherever they may be, and an active presence on the stage himself. Marumbo's artistic prowess lies in his intuition, exuberance, and fervent quest for meaningful connections. He channels these qualities into his art, using it as his cherished escape, and aspires for it to become a beloved escape for others as well. Clearly, he is succeeding.