ADIPO SIDANG' rose to literary fame last year after the publication of his collection of poetry, Parliament of Owls. A play built on the theme of the title poem in the book was recently staged at the Kenya National Theatre.
Who are you? I am an avant-garde poet and author of "Parliament of Owls" poetry collection. And now, with the adaptation of the title poem in "Parliament of Owls," I am a playwright. I am culture exponent who advocates the archiving of African cultures through literature and performative arts. In one word, my philosophy is "authenticity" which must be exhibited in our literature, both written and oral.
Lately you have ventured more into performing arts and plays, why?
The idea to adapt "Parliament of Owls" was conceived at the launch of my book last year when University of Nairobi theatre students staged a theatre performance of the title poem. The performance was well received and I felt I owed lovers of poetry and theatre performance a stage play, hence the birth of this play which couldn't have come at a more appropriate time given it is a political season. I also perform my poetry, and I have gone the extra mile to do audiovisual productions of my performances. I will also do it with selected poems from my collection. This is because I believe it is time we packaged poetry (just like pizza) and delivered it on the doorstep of our audience.
Which rendition has been received, the book or the play?
I wouldn't say that one has done better than the other because it is the poetry book that sired the stage play; the two are therefore adjoined by a literary umbilical cord. It's like attempting to compare a mother to her son.
The title, and even the play are very symbolic: Tell us about the play: Parliament of Owls.
First, a disclaimer – I didn't create the term "Parliament of Owls". A group of owls is actually known as a parliament of owls. Contextualized, owls are a symbol of bad omen in most if not all African cultures. There is a lot of semblance between our parliament (read leadership) and owls hence the use of the term.
What is the play about?
The play is set in the Kingdom of Birds ruled by the owls, with Parliament of Owls as the most powerful institution only comparable to the Royal Trees – the abode of the Royal Owl, King Tula Nyongoro. Money Bags Owl is the Royal Owl's most trusted ally but he is corrupt, and goes grabbing every tree around. Besides he is the "sponsor" of Socialite Owl who uses her position in Parliament to push for passing of bills like the "Make-Up" Bill and works closely with Red String Puppet Owl and other sycophants in ensuring the interests of owls are protected, for instance with the passing of the Moonlight Bill.
However, Iron Lady Owl leads some owls in rebelling against bad governance. The rebel owls, together with Day Birds, Grain Eaters and some Night Birds and Omnivores (like Fleshy Carcass Vulture) join hands to support a tiny female Day Bird called Oyundi the Fire-finch who happens to be as cunning as her trainer Ogila Nyakarondo the Hare from King Lion's Kingdom. Oyundi has to work out a plan of how to trick the Royal Owl to ensure Parliament of Owls is replaced with Flock of Birds – an inclusive government. In an effort to do this, Oyundi the Fire-finch discovers the greatest secret in the Royal Trees – "The Golden Bead". Veteran P leads the parrots in reporting the unfolding events at Parliament of Owls in the Bird Kingdom.
Is Agora Theatre your outfit? Any plays you have previously staged?
Yes. Agora Theatre is my theatre group and Parliament of Owls play is our first play.
Why should Kenyans attend this play?
This play is a political satire that highlights how bad leadership, tribalism and corruption can militate against the growth of a society, at the same time it also proves that women and people from minority groups (like Oyundi the Fire-finch, a female day bird) can rise against all odds to bring change without necessarily engaging in violent protests. Most importantly, this play introduces a new perspective of engaging the youth and Kenyans in general insofar as civic consciousness is concerned.
Other than poetry and playwriting what else do you do in your free time? I have some few short stories which I do not intend to publish any time soon because I just submitted a short novel with a publisher recently. I am currently working on a novel. Besides, I write songs.
Who inspires you locally? And internationally, literary speaking? Locally – Tony Mochama is a great poet and writer – I call him the "Old King". Himself and Prof Alfred Omenya are doyens of 21st Century Kenyan poetry. Out there, Taban Lo Liyong', Nurrudin Farah, Jack Mapanje.
What will you advise young writers, especially poets and playwrights? Write whatever you want to write in your own way and be authentic and real with yourself. But always ask yourself, what is novel about my writing? What is unique?
What drives you as a man? Passion! Nothing compares to passion. When you are passionate about something, you become a missile in slow motion, steadily moving towards your goal, with grit, power and focus!
Your relationship status? I am in a relationship.
Can someone live off their creative efforts, especially from writing in Kenya? It is possible if you write quality work. We however must deal with piracy of books. Book piracy should be declared an economic crime and stiffer penalties introduced in the Copyright Act.
You are a teetotaller in a industry where drinking and smoking are assumed to be standard, why and how do you hack it? That's just me. I have never had enough time to spare a bit "just to get intoxicated" and feel good about it. Ha! Ha! Recently, we manufactured "Sodka" - a kind of "Vodka" with Tony Mochama. It is the kind of soda that comes with mental vodka and it serves the interests of teetotallers like me.
School: Barding Secondary School, Siaya County)
University: Urbaniana University, Rome (BA Philosophy)