Festival to turn new chapter on book marketing

Story Moja members perform a play called ‘Cut
Story Moja members perform a play called ‘Cut off my Tongue’ at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi. This year’s Story Moja Hay Festival has started in Nairobi. /Fredrick Onyango 

Books marketing in Kenya has been a dull affair. Book fairs, public readings and other mini events to promote Kenyan books—usually far apart— are perceived as luxuries best left to the extravagant upper class and scholars.

They have rarely stirred the excitement that books and serious literary debates should.

This year’s StoryMoja Hay International festival seems on the way to opening a new page on book marketing in Kenya.

On radio, television, newspapers and other non traditional spaces like Facebook and Twitter, StoryMoja Hay festival organisers have been announcing to Kenyans that the festival—which started last evening with a dinner at Carnivore restaurant— is in town.

Muthoni Garland, the festival’s director, sung aloud on television to stress the importance of attending the event.

Besides high -sounding scholarly talk that might mean little to the typical Kenyan journalists and street readers, the StoryMoja Hay international festival has lined up opportunities for dances , music as well as poetry performances. Storytellers will also step on stage.

It is a three -day international celebration of stories, ideas, writing and contemporary culture through storytelling, mchongoano, music, books, live discussion forums, demonstrations, workshops, open-mike sessions, debates, exhibitions, live performances and competitions.

A popular genre that has been growing underground, mchongoano are the street contests that pit youngsters against each in ridicule contests that borrow heavily from the social, political and economic realities of the day.

“The festival hopes to encourage us to “own” our problems by exploring our situations and stories, and search for solutions by generating platforms for discussion and debate,” says a press release from the festival organisers.

“Simply put, the StoryMoja Hay Festival is a celebration of ideas expressed in many forms.” 

The event has a piece of something for different people with different tastes: those interested in business can catch up with enterprise tips by different speakers. There will also be a talk or two on sex and relationships.

Politics, environment and even economics as affects ordinary Kenyans will also be discussed.

All these, said the festival coordinators, are attempts to awaken Kenyans to read.

To lure readers to the festival that takes place in an open air field, the organisers have brought in several dignitaries. Eric Wainaina will offer music writing tips besides signing autographs as he mingles with his fans.

Unlike past editions when Kenyans have gone it alone, this year’s festival brings on board Hay Festival (UK).

The Hay Festival held in the UK every May attracts up to 150, 000 people ranging from presidents to authors. 

Keen on attracting the kind of fanaticism exhibited at rugby matches, StoryMoja Hay pitches tent at the Impala grounds, the home of Kenyan rugby.

The main stage for live performances and competitions will be on the grounds as well as 12 themed tents in which 12 events lasting 90 minutes will be held concurrently.  Each of the events will be graced by star guests in different fields.

One of the attractions will be a theatre performance by a troupe that recently visited Hampstead theatre in London.

A Kenyan production by the StoryMoja, Cut off My Tongue poetically tells the Kenyan story—including corruption, heritage and leadership or lack of it. There is also a dose of romance and love-related issues.

Based on the poetry of Sitawa Namwalie, the refreshing poetry performance blends dance into narratives and dance to tell a story— something that had gained ground in the country especially in the experimental era of the late Ugandan poet Okot P’ Bitek and other poets of that generation.

Refreshing performance of this nature are rare in Nairobi theatres these days, with most theatre stuff being foreign dramas.

Although performed by local amateur performers, when it travelled to the UK, Cut off My Tongue still managed to attract attention.

Delicate balance
Although their steps are uncoordinated and acting a little immature, with the performers struggling to keep the delicate balance between the facial expressions, movement and recitals, the performers tell a wholesome story.

The artistes—most of whom were stepping on stage for the first time—sometimes exaggerated the act, watering down the overall impact.

Even with the lobby pieces that permeated through the performances, it still struck a chord with the audiences.

Though highly publicised in earlier communications, Wole Soyinka will not be coming to the festival.

The Nigerian Nobel Prize Laureate whose deep writing, often mythical poetics, firebrand politics and groundbreaking thoughts have earned him literary friends and critics was scheduled to give a talk.