Not all heroes wear cape. But, sometimes, the effort of these cape-less heroes must be identified and emphasized and celebrated so that their accomplishment will not go unrecognized. Their statuses are achieved, not by the footprints they leave in the sand, but their brave move to step in the sand in the first place, and leaving a huge footprint afterwards. (Note: The idea for this article came as a result of a twitter engagement with @element_reezy )
One of such none cape wearing heroes is MutomboDaPoet. His last name betrays his trade (although his talents goes beyond standing on stage mesmerizing audience with his attention grabbing poetry). His untiring efforts at pushing for the recognition of the art form he loves at a time when nobody really gave two fucks about poetry or spoken word in the city of Accra especially at small spaced event can’t be slipped under the rug. What’s fascinating is that, Mutombo stammers.
1* He adopted the name of basketball Hall of Famer, Dikembi Mutombo
Mutombo DaPoet, born Percy Nana Osei-Appiah has been a performance artist since his days in Accra Academy in the late 90s. 1Nicknamed Mutombo for his basketball abilities and height (he towers over 6’3), he was drawn to poetry during his study of literature at Senior High School (formerly Senior Secondary School). His interest for spoken word was however fired up after watching episodes of Def Jam Peotry on MTV. He disclosed this during a 2015 interview with Culartblog
I love the arts, every art form, especially music. I used to rap in Secondary School for the fun of it. Literature was a subject as well, so I knew what poetry was. But spoken word started for me way after school when I watched Def Poetry for the first time. I was writing before then but wasn’t taking it seriously. Watching that video motivated me to start writing on a serious note, it gave me the vim.
2* ‘Bless The Mic’ was held every Thursday night around the mid-2000s in Osu. The event gave some of today’s top rappers the platform to build their fanbase and develop their crafts.
Cracking through the brick wall of acceptance meant seizing moments and holding his own. Mutombo DaPoet did that by making appearance at 2‘Bless The Mic’, an event created for hip hop enthusiasts -rappers, singers and enthusiast to enjoy a Ghanaian rendition of the culture we all love. Founded and hosted by P.Y Adoo Boateng, ”Bless The Mic” didn’t feature any poets. It was such events that Mutombo found himself, ultimately becoming a resident artist.
There were spoken word acts before I came through. I know of Sir Black who was doing it before I came through but he wasn’t that active. The difference I brought was performing from open mic spots to public events, and don’t forget, these events were filled with only rappers. I was the first spoken word act to perform side by side with these rappers. So it makes sense when people see me as the pacesetter or pioneer or whatever. I don’t let that get in my head though because I’m not solely responsible, even though I contributed immensely, and because the job isn’t half done.
3* Sankwas Bois is rap group made up of Mutombo and Glen aka Simpol Tinz. They were featured in Cov Ov Moni 2.
A man of many talents which include rapper (he’s one half of 3Sankwas Bois), photographer, video director, actor and artist manager (he manages the incredibly talented Amaarae), Mutombo doesn’t claim the accolade of being the first spoken word artist in Ghana. He, however, takes the title of invigorating the spoken word scene through his relentless performances at spaces not accommodating of the art form. He acknowledges that, there were some before him.
Poetry wasn’t an unknown genre before Mutombo’s appearance on stage. Ghana had – and still has- very renowned poets like Ama Ata-Aidoo, Prof. Koku Anyidaho, Kofi Laing, Kofi Awoonor, and ‘young’ poets like Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Their poems followed the conventions of written poetry.
What Mutombo introduced in 2006, on a broader scale, was a new form of poetry (spoken word); a variant of hip hop. Spoken word is hip, youthful and full of adrenaline. The subjects of his poems were similar to those reflected by orthodox poems- love, politics, and social themes. What spoken word does is to not to follow these conventions but rather create its own ‘rules’. Aside it’s acceptance of pidgin, Twi, Ga and other languages as a medium of expression, its definition is similar to how hip hop music is deemed within the context of ‘real’ music. That is, does rap qualify as music? Also, spoken word goes with music. Their voice isn’t the only rhythmic tool of expression. Spoken word artists recite (or rap out) their lyrics to cheers from the audience like it happens at music concerts. As he indicated during an interview with Kwaku Sintim-Misa (KSM), poetry is what is written for the page. Spoken word is what is written for the stage.
4* Mentor was a music reality which run on TV3 for almost a decade.
5* Ehalaksa Slam is a poetry event held annually in Ghana
The efforts of Mutombo soon earned him a degree of visibility within the mainstream media scene. I recall him being interviewed on Showbiz, a thirty minutes entertainment show around 2000s. He became the first spoken word artist to make an appearance on 4‘Mentor’, a TV Reality Show in 2007 where his performances earned him resounding applause. These, along with his continuous knocking on the door of acceptability via his performances at ‘’Bless The Mic’’ led to a profound move that ultimately changed the face of spoken word in Ghana which many poets and spoken wordists are continuing to blaze the trail. In 2009, he was adjudged winner of the first 5 Ehalakasa Poetry Slam held at Alliance Franciase, Accra.
After many years of performances, Mutombo DaPoet finally released his debut project, a 13 track album rightly titled ‘’PhotoSentences’’ in April 30th, 2012. The name of the debut, he explained was his attempt to paint photos with his sentences. Mutombo’s play on the scientific term ‘Photosynthesis’ in naming his debut album won’t be lost on anybody with basic science background. On the album, Mutombo paints very vivid portraits of childhood, politics, love and relationships, and about Ghana, and death. His style of delivery and expression of his perspective is an attention grabber.
On tracks such as ‘Changes’ and ‘Parade’, the topic of politics is addressed, with Mutombo focusing attention on its negative bearing on the country and people, in economic terms. They owe all things; sophisticated automobiles right down to your TV screens”, he bears out on ‘Changes’. He observes the struggles of the citizenry: “all our struggles have been rewarded with coins”. We are yet to handle the paper”. ‘Parade’ is an expression of nationalist sentiments.
6* X-Ray was the first single released and featured singer Lady Jay
Tracks like ‘Kicking Buckets’, ‘Native Slaves’, ‘My Thoughts’ tackle the subject of death, colonialism and neo-colonialism and capitalism respectively. On ‘Unborn Child’, he takes a pro-life stance. Whereas ‘Ten Regions’ is an excursion through the ten regions of Ghana, ‘Internal Migration’ discusses rural-urban migration. ‘Paddies’ reflect on the real friends verses fake friends nexus. Love receives a look courtesy the elegantly pieced 6‘X-Ray’ (where he sells his potentials and virtues rather than the depth of his pocket to a girl) and ‘Vibes’ is an exaltation of a lady.
Aside his profound abilities at social observations and political wokeness, what is praiseworthy also is his choice of musical effects to go with his pieces. From hip hop and jazzy beats to traditional dirge sounds, Mutombo made ‘PhotoSentences’ musically engrossing.
This trendsetting move by Mutombo validated his position as a leader when it came to spoken word in Ghana. He held high the torch of spoken word and today, spoke word has acquired a noticeable presence on the art space through poetry events and even at national events. In 2016, a spoken word performance was witnessed at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards.
As Mutombo rightly acknowledges, there were other contemporary poets before him – like Sir Black. What he did different was to take the genre from obscurity to relative prominence, inspiring in the process, a legion of spoken word artists to put their works out for the consuming public. Do you know the number of spoken word artist who have put out albums, EPs and singles since Mutombo’s 2012 album? And he didn’t do it with an album alone. Mutombo also put out the first video for a spoken word single ‘X-Ray’.
Follow him on twitter: @MutomboDaPoet
His Instagram page: @fotombo