It all started as an escape. He was 16 years and in Form Two. His parents had transferred him from a special school to a regular one. The transition was not as easy as he had expected, and to deal with this difficult phase, he began to write.
“I found tranquility in writing down what I felt and what I was going through in my new surroundings. I wrote in poetic style,” he says.
Charles Mulwa, 23, is a spoken word artiste. On stage, he goes by Meek Junior, meek a reminder to remain humble when success comes calling, because he intends to be immensely successful. He is also a seasonal singer, actor, writer, creative director and rapper.
To embody his poetry, he sometimes appears on stage with face paintings, and other times, to enliven his performance, dresses in a certain way. Poetry, he says, is an art.
“When I started writing, the poems were all about me, but I later realised that most of my acquaintances could relate to them since they had also had their fair share of challenges. That realisation encouraged me to broaden my content to include the gospel, politics, love, pain and fear. I draw my inspiration from God, encounters with people and music. Reading too,” he says.
Charles, a fourth year Bachelor of Arts in Gender and Development Studies at Machakos University, made his debut in 2016. The following year, he was invited to perform at the Blaze Summit held at Machakos Stadium.
His parents were oblivious about this development in his life.
“I thrive best in the creative world and I want to do it for a long time. Though optimistic, I was afraid that my parents wouldn't support my new-found interest because it was a different career path. I only got to tell them last year while on my way for a TV interview,” he says.
Thankfully, they took it positively, though they implored him not to forget his studies. Charles, however, confesses that despite the fact that he enjoys what he is learning at the university, he sees himself becoming a full-time creative.
“Spoken word poetry has created many opportunities and opened many doors for me. Presently, I am interning as a copy writer at Saracen OMD, an independent media specialist. I got the chance after my performance during the Blaze Summit.”
“Last year, I started a project: 24_in _254, a 24-episode endeavour that seeks to document the lives of ordinary Kenyans. One of my friends organised a show last year and I got to perform some of the pieces under the project. Thereafter, I got a scholarship to study film and cinematography at Kenya Film School - I start in September this year.”
While he has an intent with all his poems, the delivery language varies depending on the audience.
“I mostly use Swahili and Sheng. Occasionally, I write in English. At the moment, I'm learning Filipino from a friend – I plan to write a piece in the dialect,” he says.
To incorporate aesthetics of word play and poetic elements like intonation, alliteration, metaphor, imagery and line breaks on one piece is a skill that Charles says is mastered through practice.
“I write almost on a daily basis. Sometimes, it takes me about two hours to write a poem. I also have those days that I hit the creative block. When that happens, I don't push myself to write, I listen to underground hip hop for rejuvenation. I have written tens of poems…I lost count,” he says.
PLIGHT OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM
In his list of poems is one highlighting the plight of people with albinism, but he is quick to confess that the condition has not been an impediment in any way.
“People with albinism go through many challenges such as unfair treatment in work places or being looked down on by those around them. Growing up, I encountered this, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I am glad that my parents didn't seclude me from other children. They instilled in me confidence, and over time, I learnt to embrace and accept myself as a unique gift.”
His greatest challenge, he points out, was getting people to believe in him, and to meet the cost required to professionally record his poems.
“In the quest to get myself out there, there were times I didn’t charge to perform or would only get bus fare reimbursement. Also, to hit the studio required me to operate on a shoestring budget and save most of what I earned as a part-time copy writer.
Now, with the number of requests coming in for me to perform, things are looking up. I market my content on my social media platforms meek junior and on my blog meekjunior.wordpress.com.”
To balance his studies and fulfill his obligations where he is interning, as well as practice his craft, he has learnt to be focused and become a good time manager.
“My employer is understanding in that I am allowed to work virtually when I have classes or a performance.”
In 2016, he initiated an event he calls Poetry Rush Hour at the university, which is held every Thursday. The aim is to mentor, inspire and create a platform for upcoming poets.
“One of the things that I have discovered is that there are many opportunities waiting for us, but only if we wake up and be ready to pursue them,” he says.