Q&A Mondays: Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

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Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s talent is undisputed across, and beyond, the African continent; her voice at once bold and thoughtful, on paper and in performance. A native of Nairobi, Ngwatilo has steadily built a name for herself as a poet, performer, actress and musician.

A keen observer and devoted student of the written word, Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s book of poems, “Blue Mothertongue” (2010) is set in Nairobi and the African diaspora around notions of home, loss and healing.

Critics say the work is “crafted with beautiful pace and intelligence,” “a worthy testament of her times.” Lauded “a priest of the art of performed poetry,” Ngwatilo has presented her work at various African and European festivals, and also enjoys creating unique collaborative poetry-in-performance concepts independently and in association with various cultural institutions.

Ngwatilo’s new research documents the lives of diverse rural Kenyan communities. It will ultimately produce, among other things, a book of poems due in 2012.

We had a few questions for her and this is what she had to say:

1. What was your first phone?

A Nokia, one of those with four digit identifiers.

2. What do you prefer? Facebook or Twitter? Why?

I titter between both these days. Facebook is easier to catch up with after time away. Twitter is almost an artform, a family that can forget you exist if you stay in your room too long… and sometimes I like to stay in my room a long time.

3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years

I hope to have made my written or at least written this film idea I’m half/but not really working on. I should be well into my third, if not fourth book & CD, be done with my postgraduate work, really more sure of the thing I have to give. I definitely ought to be touring several countries regularly by that point. I ought to be a homeowner by then too.

4. Any question for us? We’ll publish our answer as well

What are the blocks of the Wamathai Empire?

  • Dedication, consistency, support from my brother & a team of amazing
    writers and a whole lot of luck.

5. What would you do if you were president for a day?

Create sustainable water storage across the country, especially water catchment.

– Quantifiy the successes, limitations and impact of the Kenyan educational system and initiate some serious research on what needs to be done to improve it so young kids are a) excited about learning, and actually b)succeed at learning, especially, about c)how to be human and resourceful.

6. Whats your favourite book& movie?

I don’t remember right this minute (WhatDoYouMeanYouDon’tRemember!) – Slow processor. J But my longest standing favorite book/book series was The Chronicles of Narnia. This does beg further investigation… With movies I’ve historically been easily pleased and belief suspended. But a flick that has changed my life/ideas or come close? Well, The Matrix and Lord of the Rings come to mind. But I remember being deeply affected by Dancer In The Dark.

7. Who/What inspired you to do what you do now?

I’ve always loved words, what they mean, what they sound like, what they can make you feel and see. The form of choice hasn’t been poetry for that many years, relative to how long I’ve been alive, but it makes sense. I also don’t remember not enjoying performing, (except as an awkward teenager), I’ve almost always been into acting and singing. But I’ve never really been good at telling jokes. With the words, my Dad will volunteer himself for that crown even if I neglected to. He taught me to read when I was very little. I suppose he’s also the one, at least in part who got me standing in front of people doing things. But I suppose a child betrays the things they are created to do. Going professional/full time was and continues to be the hardest struggle, mostly in the mind, also because the bulk of the challenge isn’t the words or the stage that you love, but everything else that goes into making that life work. You’ve got to constantly affirm and protect your mind and heart so you can continue to write and perform. That journey is affirmed by other practitioners who have gone before, and those special people who take the time to walk you through the challenges that have nothing to do with your talent, but are unavoidable if you really want to be an artist.

8. If you were to change jobs, what profession would you get into? Why?

Hm. I have to say what I like best about my career is that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a really desirable space where my current experience would be irrelevant. But if I wasn’t an artist, I’d likely have been a lawyer. Because when I’m not being arty, I like things done in a particular way, I can be anal about details and correctness; process and carefully crafted relationships. I suppose I could get into some kind of policy work – but bureaucracy for no other purpose but itself can kill my spirit, so perhaps not?

9.If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Superpower… what, like China?!

I would choose fearlessness & superbrains; so I wouldn’t be afraid to jump from tall buildings as I would had
already calculated and created exactly the thing that would allow me to land alive. J And there’s even cooler stuff you can do with fearlessness.

10. If you were deserted on an abandoned island what 5 things would you want to have?

  • My favorite music on a solar charged player
  • A knife
  • Corn
  • A solar charged kindle loaded with lots of books
  • A lactating milk goat

11. If you were a car, what car would you like to be? Why?

Subaru impreza. Fast, small, with the possibility for speed and passion, not a Toyota on efficiency but not a European car/guzzler either.

12. If you could be in any band in the world, which one would you like to be in? Why?

Björk cause I could from her approach to music and words. Also Janelle Monae – cause I think she’s just the freshest thing since coca cola, in every way. She’s got soul, something to say, a killer voice, and the girl can dance.

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