Witty thespian Elsaphan Njora, 28, has made a mark with his spoken word poetry and TV roles and this year, he staged three highly acclaimed shows of his play Nzilani. He has a chat with SHIRLEY GENGA

Many Kenyans know you as an actor from your roles on TV shows like Briefcase Inc, Mali, Lies That Bind and Groove Theory and others know you as a poet, but how would you describe what you do for a living?

I do not like to be boxed into one category, I like to think of myself as a multi-disciplinary performer because I can do a number of things, apart from acting, poetry and spoken word, I can sing, I dance and I am an emcee.

Your work has not only won but also garnered some award nominations, tell us about that?

I won Best Poet at the Sanaa Theatre Awards 2016, I am the first Kenyan actor to win Best Actor in the Internationally recognised 48-hour film project for my role in the film Rolex by Ian Kithinji. I have also been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for my role in Kati Kati for the 2017 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards.

I was also nominated for a Kalasha Award for my role on Briefcase Inc and was nominated twice for a society impact award at Mavuno Church.

In 2016, your 51 Show had Nairobi’s art scene a buzz, what was the show about anyway?

51 was a show that was a combination of theatre, spoken word poetry, dance, singing, improv and recitation of poetry where I take on different characters for every poem. Originally, we did not know what to call the style of art show at my 51 shows because it was a combination of many things, but I settled on the name Zaphan.

51 was a three-part annual show. My first show was in March 15, 2016 which is my birthday and it was called 51 The Truth About You. My second show was in July 15 and 17 and it was called 51 Nzilani, A Man On A Journey and it was later brought back due to public demand in September 17, 2016. The final show was on November 8.

Who else was involved in bringing the 51 Show to life?

June Gachui is the director of the show and also part of the choral verse segment, Kendi Nkonge and Tim Nightway and I are in a band called T and K, so we provide music for the 51 Show. While Charity Nyambura and Brian Ogola and I do a choral verse, and they are also part of the spoken word segment in the show although I do most of that.

How did you get into poetry and spoken word?

I first fell in love with poetry back in 2003 when I read the poem From the Ballad of Squire Curtis in the Second Form Integrated English textbooks. I was immediately fascinated by how the poet used such few words to paint a very vivid picture. I knew that poetry was something I wanted to do, I just did not know what exactly, I have had to define that for myself.

What about acting?

I never really knew that I could act and I landed into it by accident. I was involved in the St Andrews Church Ministry and my friend came up with a play, and I got to act. It was then that I realised that acting came easily for me and I decided to pursue it as a career.

When did you get your first big break in the film/TV industry? And any new projects?

That would have to be when Yafesi and Grace Musoke gave me a role on the hit TV show Briefcase Inc. I have a role on the internationally acclaimed award-winning Kenyan film Kati Kati which won an award at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival, the internationally acclaimed TV series Sense 8 season 2 by the Wachowski Brothers of the Matrix fame, and a role in the musical adaptation of the award-winning animation Tinga Tinga Tales.

You also recently launched your book, what is the book about?

The book is called 51 chapter 1. It is a collection of poetry that I have written over the years. The reason I choose 51, is because it is 50 plus years since independence and we as Kenyans I believe are in a season that has been plagued with a lot of trauma that spells out our insecurity.

We know we can do more but we are afraid of even trying, because for many years, Kenyans have been told that we cannot do it. Yet we are not any different from the rest of world. We can also invent, create and leave our mark on the world. My goal is to try and inspire a generation that not only thinks it can do it but goes ahead and does it. The book was launched on November 8th and will be available in January.

Your hair and beard are very interesting, is it part of your act?

Not really, it is not a look or trend or something I do when I am to perform on stage, this is just me.

What do you believe is your most annoying habit?

I am extremely playful and I love to crack dry jokes.

Away from work, how do you unwind?

I dance, write scripts, cycle and I am quite the cat man. I love playing with cats. I am not ashamed because I think they are very fascinating creatures.

Are you dating?

No I am not, but I have many special people in my life, maybe one day.

my man;elsaphan njora