An emerging trend with the inspiring people I've interviewed is that many are masters of several trades. Today's interviewee, Musa Okwonga, is no exception. Musa is a poet, writer, musician, City lawyer by training, member of poetry collective A Poem in between People (PiP), a blogger for The New York Times and The Independent and a twice-published author. His first (and award-winning) football book is titled A Cultured Left Foot and his second is titled, Will You Manage?
Musa also runs Poejazzi, one of the most exciting spoken word and music nights in London, along with word and graphic artist, Inua Ellams and poet and musician, Joshua Idehen. Poejazzi has received two five-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and has been named TimeOut Critic’s Choice, and included in its list of 101 Things To Do Around London. Poejazzi has curated two sellout shows at the Southbank in collaboration with E4 and Udderbelly, one sellout pre-show for Henry Rollins at the Southbank, and successful shows at Proud Galleries and Roundhouse Theatre. They have also featured many acts who have gone on become mainstays in london and UK spoken word scene, including Scroobius Pip, Polar bear, Natty, Heidi Vogel, Kate Tempest, Beardyman, Ed Sheeran, and Jono Mccleery, to name a few.
What's your passion?
Writing. It's the one thing that I do pretty much every day, whether that be tweeting, blogging, poetry or longer pieces.
What inspired you to become a poet? What inspired Poejazzi?
I have written poetry for many years – I wrote my first poem when I was eleven or so – but the real inspiration came when I started reading the old poets, like Alexander Pope and Shakespeare. I have always liked epic writing, and so that's where it started for me.
As for Poejazzi, Joshua Idehen is to thank for that. In 2006 he was working in a bar, Volupte, and they asked if we wanted to programme a night of music and poetry during one of their free evenings. We put together a line-up of a couple of poets and musicians, the night was received really well, and so they gave us a regular monthly slot. The first few nights sold out two weeks in advance, and so we knew we were on to something exciting.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
By recognising self-doubt as a friend. The best artists are also the bravest – Prince, Bjork, Radiohead – so if you're terrified of making a creative choice it normally means that you're doing something brave, something that has rarely if ever been attempted. The very making of that attempt will make you a better artist.
What has your greatest achievement been?
Performing "The Creep", a poem about climate change, at the Tallberg Forum in 2008 to an audience of diplomats, scientists and executives. It is probably the best performance I have given of a poem and it really connected with the audience in a way I could never have imagined. It was one of those moments when I can definitely say that my life changed: after reading it, I was invited to Paris to perform it for the EU ministers for energy and the environment. It remains one of the most special moments of my entire life.
Where will you be in 10 years?
I'll be a full-time poet and sportswriter, writing more and better work about the things that I care most deeply about.
How does Africa inspire you?
As I get older it becomes more important to me that Africa is a continent whose people have the autonomy that I deserve, and I will do anything that I can do to help advocate for that.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Yes – the link to my new music project, The King's Will, at www.thekingswill.com.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
Definitely: on 13 December, I'm launching my new music project, The King's Will, with a friend, Giles Hayter. I perform the poetry, he provides the electronica, and we have a team of animators who make videos for each of the tracks. Our first gig is at Poejazzi at C.A.M.P., 70 City Road, London.
Images courtesy of Musa Okwonga