Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature Ogero Oscar aka Gufy. Ogero Oscar (Gufy) is a name that houses a lot in terms of creative display and prowess. He is intertwined in the fields of Performance Poetry, Film Making and Event Hosting. He is the 43rd Slam Africa Champion, he is also the host and amongst the organisers of the popular Poetry Competition #SlamAfrica. He is the current host of the iconic monthly Event Kwani Open Mic and the organiser to Nairobi’s leading Christian even Poetry Spot.
Gufy founded a Poetry Event known as Upgrade Poetry from as early as 2013 setting itself as a poetry pool in Kenya. He is Film Production graduate from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication or as its famously known as “Kenya Institute of Making Celebrities” where he was top of his graduating class. Setting himself as visual creator, he has directed concept videos to some of Kenya’s leading entertainers from Dorphanage to Liz Madowo to Joyce Omondi to Mufasa to Trabolee just to mention a few.
Gufy is widely known as the guy behind the world trending social media drive under the tag #MisimuZangu which made headlines in 2016 where the world opened up about their daily experiences. This initiative served as his base for his third Studio Poetry album Misimu which solidified his Poetry influence in Kenya. He has three critically acclaimed concept showcases under his name, 1. Beneath The Skin (2015) 2. Misimu Zangu (2016) 3. Home (2017) and a fourth on its way known as MAY I (May 5th) whose details will be out soon. His poetry mainly speaks of healing and the betterment of human interactions through mind gripping yet personal narratives when he takes the stage. He hopes to make people who listen to his poetry to open up about their experiences without feeling any fear and shame afterwards.
Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Nairobi has had me for some 6 years since 2012. I was born and raised in a small town known as Nakuru, the land of the Flamingos and brown toothed people. Everything I knew about life up until I hit 18 was acquired while there. Plus my brown teeth, my sense of direction and my art. Nairobi was more of a subtle desire than an obligation. An obligation to study Film Production is what brought me to Nairobi.
I grew up in an estate known as Kisuli Suli then we moved to Oginga Odinga just before I finished Kindergarten. Most people used to call it shags but that was home for me. I stayed there for 18 years, all through my primary and High school. Then when I cleared school, I came to Nairobi in 2012. A fresh face from Nakuru ready to experience college life.
What made me love Nakuru was my father, he used to work at the Kenya Railways and once in a while a trip there would make growing up fun. Besides sneaking into the vast stretch of Railway land to play hide and seek there, we used to go hunting with the dogs we kept and come back with game meat. We would get a beating after every adventure but that didn’t stop us. I remember River Ndarugu, where we would go swim naked and the greatest of them all, was when the Safari Rallies were held there. With our wired cars, we would dream of becoming those drivers, time had other plans.
When I officially came to Nairobi, from my previous visits as a child, I only knew about Bus Station, Afya Centre and Imara Daima Estate where my sister lives. As a child, this was a place where I could go watch Cartoon Network, get a glimpse of what KTN and NTV looked like since they weren’t available in Nakuru, eat brown bread and make ice since my sister owned a fridge. As I grew, Nairobi started feeling like home mainly because it broadened my mind, soaked me heavily into the arts and largely taught me all the film ropes.
What do you love about Nairobi?
I love how unpredictable this city is. The madness within it makes it what it is. In all its entirety, no one fully grasps what Nairobi has for you. There’s no given or the comfort of friendship no matter how long you’ve known each other. One time you have it all, the next time, it reduces you to an inch of seeking mercy from it. For me, this mystery is equally fascinating as much as it is confounding. Everyone has a different story about Nairobi, by just that, it goes down to it being so diverse one narrative cannot tell it all.
You don’t fully love Nairobi for its cruelty, you have an on and off kinda vibe. All the same, what I love it for is the ready market for what I do, though limited, it is something. There are new audiences willing to consume your art, new markets and newer creatives every day. In short, I love Nairobi for its diversity.
What would you change about Nairobi?
I would like to see a more clean, traffic free and administratively efficient Nairobi. Those are the only things I’d change. But if I were honest, the template of an unpredictable Nairobi wouldn’t change a bit.
I’d change two things in Nairobi to benefit my film and poetry sides. One, abolish the high financial caps when it comes to shooting in Nairobi and it’s subsequent licences. It shouldn’t be hard for filmmakers to thrive in their own country while in search of our own stories.
Secondly, I’d change the number of available spaces for creatives to showcase their works. We need to have more public theatres stretched across the city to expand avenues for arts to thrive. As a creative, I shouldn’t have to wait for months for the available spaces to free up so that I can stage a single show. It’s embarrassing that this city doesn’t value arts as much.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I juggle three forms of income-generating activities. I am a full time Performing Poet, a growing filmmaker specialised in cinematography (mtu wa camera) and an Event’s host. The three blend well to form a noticeable aspect of who Gufy is. Nairobi has been where I can confidently say I adapted fully to the three. It has given me learning opportunities both harsh and beneficial and it has opened different scopes for the three to thrive individually and as a larger blend.
It has been tough, more so trying to put a name out there and trying to have a unique selling point. when I came here it was more of starting afresh and that has its downside. People don’t believe in what and who you are. This place and its people make you feel like a foreigner. The first thing it sells to you is the air of defeat and if you believe it, it will mess you up time and time again. Took me a while before my poetry was noticed and double the time before my hosting and film skills were noticeable as well. The specificity is that Nairobi has been open to what I do but not without challenges.
There’s tight competition from creatives who are into a similar job description as I, there’s the constant urge to keep reinventing and trying out new stuff. These keep you alert, always anticipating and always on the move. My greatest fear came alive just recently, I lost an integral tool of trade (Canon 5D MarkII) through what we’d call a typical introduction to Nairobi (5 years later) the notorious side to it. I was robbed at gunpoint while heading home. So in those 5 years of building, Nairobi can take less than 7 minutes to shake you down, and it did so well I later became envious of its capabilities.
I work in two settings. A full time performing poet and a yet to be established filmmaker who specialises in Cinematography. The two have their own challenges but the biggest of them all is blending the two to be sold as a single brand. Many people know me as a Poet and this film aspect is relatively new to them. Having said that, getting constant clients and gigs is one of the recurring challenges.
Nairobi has its dynamics and it doesn’t assure you a constant pool of work. For the performance aspect, the access to readily available performances spaces is an extreme sport. You have to schedule months ahead to get venues for your showcases and they don’t come cheap.
Film is expensive in terms of hiring equipment and that is a challenge, it sometimes would take a longer time to actually execute an idea because of limited self-resources. In the end, you reach out to friends, call in favours and after everything, you still don’t get the assurance or help you need.
But there are also opportunities. The opportunities are well distributed, new clients, new learning opportunities, new creatives and numerous collaboration fronts. I look to dig deep in those this year.
If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
I would sell them the idea of art as a whole. I have very many artist friends who do some really decent work with their art. I would brag down an entire universe just to see this aspect of Nairobi experienced by my tourist friends. The sunsets here are beyond the beauty we think we know or we’ve seen and lastly, the food. Kenyan dishes are just too sweet to enjoy alone.