Art Can Be Frustrating And Heart-Breaking – An Interview With Mbunge Aliyeparara, A Kenyan Spoken Word Artist By Phateema Salihu

Mbunge Aliyeparara is a spoken word artist based in Nakuru, Kenya. He uses Swahili, English & Sheng to raise awareness and spark conversation on social vices such as corruption, poor leadership, violence and inequality. He is a part-time self-defence trainer, a crime researcher and writer, a photographer and a videographer. He holds the title of 51st Slam Africa Champion.

LitVo: Good evening Sir, it’s my utmost pleasure doing this interview with you

Mbunge: Good evening Fatima and thank you for having me.

LitVo: A part-time self-defence trainer, crime researcher, writer, photographer and videographer. This is aside from being a king of spoken words! How do you do all these? What goes on in your head when you are not doing anything?

Mbunge: It all depends on what season I’m in. Poetry alone doesn’t pay the bills so I have to do other part-time jobs like training self-defence. I studied Film in college thus the photographer and videographer part. I focus on one at a time depending on season and demand. Is there a time that I’m not doing anything? Hahaha, I think about the future a lot

LitVo: I also wonder if you ever rest. You are a multitasker and you chose to do that with some of the difficult genres of art. Most people will tell you they grew up with the love from childhood, is that the same for you or was there a trigger for you to delve into that genre?

Mbunge: I find time to rest. I deactivate social media a few times a year and disappear into an undisclosed location to relax and unwind. I started as a Rap artist back in primary school. But I did my first audio recording in High School in 2010. I was part of a Rap group called WABUNGE THE HEADPHONES. (Wabunge is a Swahili word for Members of Parliament.). I switched to Spoken word in 2013 when I attended UPGRADE POETRY – a Poetry event in my hometown – and one of the organisers called Uba asked me to give it a try.

LitVo: You were rapping already in primary school? This is not something you hear daily. I for one can attest to the richness of your pieces. I really commend that. Your most recent studio album “The quest for a king” is a massive success already but all the pieces are mostly in Swahili, does that mean your work is for certain kinds of people? How do you hope to carry the rest of the world along because you deliver/talk on issues that affect every country of the world so we can all relate?

Mbunge: I started composing my compositions when I was in grade four, you can call it childish thoughts put on paper. My pieces are in Swahili because that’s the language my country understands best. My primary audience is Kenya even though the themes that I address affect almost every country in Africa. I think the world is too big for me to conquer, so I focus on my country believing that change must start somewhere and spread.

LitVo: You are already giving us some poetic verses already. I guess it’s in the blood, you can’t help it. Still on “The quest for a King”, One of the records was titled confession and I had some lines roughly translates to: “These are the struggles of an artist who wants to make it, an artist whose name is big but money isn’t coming my way. The industry knows I’m Caesar but it doesn’t want to pay what belongs to me.” These lines explain most of the struggles of writers and some performance poets, it seems like talent is not appreciated enough. Do you blame writers who are seduced by the western world and do everything possible to be featured there?

Mbunge: Expound on the last paragraph please, what do you mean by seduced by the western world?

LitVo: From Nigeria for example, we have a few writers who got published with the University of Nebraska, under what they termed as the “New Generation of African poets” for African poetry book funds.

Many of the writers are thriving hard to get published there, so you see how the western world is taking the best of talents away because back home, their arts are not appreciated enough. This is just one out of many and others give scholarships and even residences for writers abroad. Do you blame anyone for leaving?

Mbunge: I don’t blame anyone who leaves. Our leaders give us less and less reasons to stay. They steal public resources and borrow heavily only to steal those funds instead of using the M to better our lives. If someone gets a chance to move where they will be appreciated and well taken care of, they should go. Africa is not worth dying for. You will be forgotten and they won’t even mention your name. Then someone else will profit off your death. Artists in Africa are being jailed, tortured and killed for doing what artists should do: speak for the voiceless. Why should they stay? A jail term is not appreciated.

LitVo: This is very deep. This reminds me of some other lines from one of your works where you said: “I know what it is like, having unanswered prayers despite praying daily. Show after show with nothing to show for it. The secret to success is the inspiration and it’s hidden from me.”

Mbunge: Art can be frustrating and heartbreaking. At the time of writing that, I wanted financial fruits from my work.

LitVo: I believe that’s a familiar phrase for most artists. You said something about artists being the voice of the voiceless but is that enough as artists? Is speaking enough to spark the change we all clamour for? When will younger people start taking charge of political offices, effecting changes at the top level of the government?

Mbunge: Artists alone can’t bring change. We can speak about it and spark reactions but we alone cannot bring change. For change to come it will take everyone to be onboard from farmers to students to lawyers to security guards etc. I don’t believe that only young people can bring change. In Kenya, we have young legislators but they are not setting a good example

LitVo: That’s the problem. Sometimes the little young ones privileged to represent the majority there end up doing worse than their older counterparts. Can you tell us a bit about your journey of winning the 51st slam African Champion? How many times have you participated before winning?

Mbunge: I am of the opinion that education is the solution. I won the title in 2014, 7months into spoken word. I participated only once and won.

LitVo: You are born for this really. Just a few months into spoken word? That’s interesting. Can we see a list of some of your favourite performance/spoken word poets?

Mbunge: My favourite poets in no particular order are: Dorphan, Laura Ekumbo, Gufy Dox, Faith Shikkie, Murathe Ngigi, Yours Truly.

LitVo: What has been your motivation to keep doing what you are doing, have you been threatened or warned to stay clear of volatile issues surrounding bad governance? If not, what will happen if that happens?

Mbunge: I’ve really never understood what keeps me going. I just find myself going back to it even after calling it a day and quitting. There is something in me that yearns for art. I’ve bever been threatened, hopefully, it stays that way. But if that time ever comes, I will assess the situation and decide what next. But I don’t think it will ever come.

LitVo: The world is currently fighting an epidemic, how has it been like in Kenya? were you in lockdown or not?

Mbunge: The pandemic has had a really negative financial impact on artists in Kenya because the government banned social events during and after the lockdown. So, no shows, no clubbing nor festivals.

LitVo: Going forward, what should we expect from Mbunge ?

Mbunge: Going forward I’m planning to find and use better distribution channels so my work can reach as many people as possible. I’m also working on my 2nd studio album to be released late this year.

LitVo: Kenyans have such unique names, why do we hardly see local names like Michael, David and the rest. Plus, what’s the inspiration behind these names, For example, what does yours mean?

Mbunge: Different tribes have different naming styles and reasons for naming. Mostly on the second name and Surname. First names are common English/Christian names. Some name a newborn after a relative, some name depending on season and time of birth. Gregory means a social person, Ochieng because I was born during a sunny day and time and Chieng is the sun in Dholuo.

LitVo: Thank you very much for taking the time out to grant this interview with me. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and having a peep into your life. Have a lovely day.

Mbunge: It’s been a pleasure, thanks for doing this with me.



Fatima Salihu ( is a writer, spoken word artist and an activist who has been described as a hurricane in her passion and dedication to literature and arts. A graduate of Mathematics from Bayero University Kano, she has her writings published both locally and internationally, in prints and online. She has performed on stages including at TEDx. Her debut collection of poems is titled Sketches. She’s presently a pioneer student of the School of Politics, Policy and Governance (SPPG). The Deputy Editor, Literature Voices (LitVo) and Moderator, Hill-Top Book Chat Review. She can be contacted via: Email-, Facebook/ Instagram – Phateema Salihu, LinkedIn- Fatima Salihu