Having worked with a number of poets and poetry bodies, Boniface Otieno noticed that poetry, though important, had very little acknowledgment.
He consequently wanted this beautiful art to be recognised for its worth. This is why he started Mind Art Recordings last year, a poetry label that aimed at strategising, branding and packaging the beautiful art that is poetry. The label is based in Kenya but operates in Rwanda as well.
Poets who are signed to this label are helped in building a brand to ultimately sell their work; this is done through different channels, such as visuals and audios. They are also facilitated to build portfolios of their work that they can share or use as bargaining power while dealing with clients.
The weekly video episodes that are posted on YouTube also bind well with Mind Art’s vision which is to expose African poetry to the world.
Otieno, who is also a cinematographer, photographer, editor, producer and director, says what Mind Art does is an effort to create the biggest poetic library in Africa and the world.
Poetry is one art that connects us to our true selves, he says, adding that it is therapy—a deep and sensational platform that deserves recognition.
Otieno believes that in the dreadful solitude of depression that is rampant today, poetry is a caring companion.
Mind Art introduced Rwanda’s poetry to the rest of the world.
It is like a spiritual connection that strikes people and reveals to them who they really are. It’s a therapy; I have heard from people who read some pieces and open up to me on what is happening in their lives, some attend these intimate events and it becomes so overwhelming, they can’t handle the weight and they let it out through tears, he says.
“Poetry is a beautiful escape to our spiritual realm. During my time in Rwanda, I fell into depression and it was really hard for me, and if it wasn’t for poetry, I don’t think I would be existing. I ate, slept, spoke and consumed poetry. Poetry saved me from depression—it still does—and I believe it has done the same for many who have encountered it, if only they could be given the platform to share about it. If it helped me out of a very dark moment in my life, I believe a lot of people need to know about this art, who knows how many we are losing for just not sharing?” he says.
He is, therefore, ardent on doing his best to see that poetry grows into an admirable and more inspiring industry, and this is slowly coming to fruition.
Innocent Bahati, a poet and affiliate to the poetry label, says the label has given poets space to an international audience and that this motivates them as poets to work even harder.
Poetry was barely known and people didn’t view or love it as a form of art, but this is changing, Bahati says.
Poets are facilitated to strategise and brand their work.
“This has given our work more exposure and we have come to learn that poetry is not for us alone, but the entire universe, and this is how we are connected. When we meet with our poets, we learn from each other and grow together through competition; this is how the industry grows,” he adds.
Delice Mukazi, a poet, says Mind Art introduced Rwanda’s poetry to the rest of the world.
She says poets who started working with the label are benefiting from it. The label has motivated more poets to join the industry, and this is extending its wings regionally and globally.
“I say this because before I joined this label, very few people knew me as a poet. But once I featured in Mind Art projects, even Kenyans got to know me, and those around the world who are aware of the label,” she says.
She also notes that the label has exposed poetry to a greater level that more people are developing interest in understanding and enjoying poetry.
“Nowadays people are enjoying poetry nights, they now understand and know the impact of poetry in society basing on the messages we convey in our poems,” Mukazi says.
Mukazi applauds the label for working as a bridge for poets and lovers of poetry. “It connected us and I hope that poets make it to the international scene. And as we connect with others, we learn a lot from each other, we now know what goes on with souls from afar, we share and work together, we are no longer shy once we meet strangers.”
Poets need more exposure to showcase their talent.
Appreciating diversity in poetry
The label has an exchange programme where Kenyan poets come to Rwanda and vice versa. This helps in engaging the poets through performances and workshops where they learn from each other, and this is mostly done with support from Transpoesis and Spoken Word Rwanda.
There is minimal content which limits the poetry audience; we want to address this issue, Otieno says. This because he believes that this form of art can’t be fixated, it can’t be boxed, and this is why it needs to be given its space for an individual to be able to communicate.
Otieno says poetry in Rwanda is still growing; it is still a journey that poets and the audience need to take to get it ready.
“The good thing with poetry in Rwanda is that everything is pure, everything is raw and intimate. I remember when I came with my team to Kigali last year for a workshop and a show, some of the poets I had come with were shocked as to how deep Rwandan poets were,” he says.
Poets need more exposure to showcase their talent.
“I have noticed that some poetry events in Rwanda don’t put a lot of emphasis on marketing the event. In most cases, posters have come out a few days to the event. There are fewer poetry events in Rwanda too.”
More branding, hence, needs to be done, according to Otieno, explaining that most poets have impressing work but they don’t have anything to show for it besides the endless writing in their books. This makes it very hard for an event organiser to book them.
With hard work and persistence, Otieno is positive the poetry industry is set for a revolution.
Poets and their work need to be respected. It’s heart-breaking when people say that poetry is easy and always request some poets to perform for free at an event yet they are charging for entrance. Poetry is also part of the entertainment industry, so creating more space for poets can boost it, like Spoken Word Rwanda and Transpoesis. These are the leading poetry platforms in Rwanda and we need more.
Sam Asiimwe Ruhindi, Photographer and poet
There needs to be more exposure for it, just like they do with music or film production. More events should be held by the organisers. I am sure with the right coverage and publicity, people will in time fall in love with poetry.
Barbra Burabyo, Student
I think poets need more platforms to showcase their talent. They also need a stronger presence in the media, especially television. With this, even upcoming poets will get enthused. Poets on the other hand need to have more work, keep on improving and have more credibility.
Placide Munyaneza, Poet
More training and workshops should be held to improve the quality of poetry that is produced. This will help poets be recognised on the international scene.
Prossy Mbabazi, Administrator