A close friend, mentor, and peer I’ve known Kojo for what feels like a lifetime. So naturally when I heard that Kojo Baffoe was going to be hosting a Live Poetry Show on his popular Kaya FM radio talk show, Life With Kojo Baffoe, I just had to catch up with the lost poet!
An active participant in the Poetry/Spoken Word space from the time before it was cool or on TV and Radio and in Theaters, Kojo takes us through his journey and gets us amped for his show on Kaya FM this Thursday, 23rd February 2017.
You are seen by many as one of the pioneers of the Johannesburg Spoken Word/Poetry scene. Tell
us about your journey?
KB: Sometime in 1999, I was to meet a friend – Neo Muyanga – and he suggested we connect at a place he was performing at in Doornfontein called Jungle Connection. When I got there, I found that I knew the person – Julius- running the event, from Lesotho. I had been writing poetry ‘as therapy – since my early teens but had never really been exposed to people jumping on stages to share their poetry. I went back the following week to share some of my work and proceeded to navigate the open mic scene for years after that, across the city and, eventually, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and the UK. Hard to summarize the journey but I used to run sessions, ran workshops, booked poets for events, did corporate and other commissions, and eventually published my own collection in 2005.
It has been a few years since you were involved in not just developing platforms for but also actively participating in the Poetry scene, how has it changed over the years and what are your thoughts on poetry in the country currently?
KB: Sometimes, life takes over and, because I have always worked in multiple spaces, I gradually drifted away from the scene as my children were born and I found work to keep food on the table outside of poetry. It was also about embracing other aspects of who I am and some of the work that I want to do. As a result, to be honest, I am clueless as to what the scene looks like today and, therefore, have no real thoughts on the state of poetry currently.
I do think it is great that an organization like Word n Sound exists to ensure that there is a scene. I don’t know whether I am divorced from it or slightly older generations are divorced from the scene overall but it does seem to be very much a space for the youth. It is probably an indictment of me that I haven’t been a bit more connected with the space in a way that those younger can learn from our mistakes but it is what it is.
You’ve been writing since a very young age, and have used your talents in many different fields from the corporate space to broadcast [TV & Radio] as well as print publications. What is it about Poetry specifically that captured your imagination and keeps you coming back to the artform?
KB: Poetry was always a release for me. It was always something I enjoyed writing. When I made the transition to making a ‘living’ out of poetry, it lost that spark, at least in terms of writing. It started to feel like work. Also, the emphasis on performance and the pressure of writing for the stage became a little overwhelming. I still enjoyed, and enjoy, reading poetry. What I have often hankered for, is to return to a space where writing poetry was really just for me and as a form of expression. It is a part of who I am, whether I like it or not.
There is also the wonderful challenge, as a writer, of becoming better at their craft. As I have developed as a writer of other forms, I have drifted away from poetry and miss it as part of my personal mission to become adept in different forms.
Why do I come back? Why do I not walk away completely? Probably because it is part of me.
What is the biggest misconception about poetry that you would like to clear up?
KB: That it is inaccessible. It is accessible to everyone. It is about finding that which resonates with you most.
We recently hosted the annual Word N Sound Awards and as you are aware one of the Awards categories is named in honour of your poem “The Perfect Poem”. Being the patron poet of the WNS Perfect Poem Award, we wanted to know which of these four you think is the Perfect Poem?
KB: I draw your attention to the last lines of the Perfect Poem:
“every poem is the perfect poem
this poem is the perfect poem
and i was born
A cop out, I know but, hey, it isn’t mine to decide.
Each piece, though, has something about it. I love the diversity of voice, thought, rhythm and tone. I like that they don’t all sound the same.
Life with Kojo Baffoe is essentially a multimedia and multi-platform experience, of life through your eyes, with its roots in radio. Was radio just another box you wanted/needed to tick off on your list of platforms and achievement after having excelled in Television, Print and Online or has radio always been a goal?
KB: One part of it has been the fact that it is the only storytelling platform that I haven’t been submerged in but it is also about the fact that we live in an era when, as a storyteller/content person, we need to be able to jump across platforms with relative ease. The story is what is important.
To be given the opportunity to share my perspectives at Kaya FM, to be given a show where I can explore the diverse interests, thoughts, and topics that we do, is something that I am extremely grateful for.
For those who don’t yet know, what is Life with Kojo Baffoe on Kaya FM all about?
KB: The official line:
The world is full of blurry grey areas where things are not always what they seem. Life is not clear cut. Life cannot be neatly packaged and squeezed into a box. Life is cacophony. It is contradictory, paradoxical and, sometimes, downright confusing. And that’s what makes it beautiful – the questions, the journey to understanding and finding answers that make sense to us.
Life With Kojo Baffoe reflects all of the above and more. It navigates the nooks and crannies of every aspect of life from the frivolous to the serious. It is a manifestation of the random things that go through Kojo Baffoe’s mind and the people and stories behind those thoughts. It is about being naturally curious, engaged and interested.
Life With Kojo Baffoe is conversations, and laughter, and sadness, and construction, and joy, and pain, and hope, and an overwhelmingly optimistic view of the future. It is the balance between past and present.
It is a talk show on Kaya FM, 20h00 – 21H00. It is a video series on www.kayafm.co.za. It is a podcast. It is stories told across platforms because we cannot be boxed anymore.
Life is a beautiful thing in its randomness
It ebbs and flows at will
It takes us on a journey where the questions are often more important than the answers
A journey through the shadows and the light
This is Life With Kojo Baffoe
What can we expect from the Live Poetry Show on Life with Kojo this Thursday evening and how did you go about putting together the lineup?
KB: We often have unplugged music sessions at the station and I just thought that, with it being the month of February, this might be the perfect time to do a live poetry show focused on Matters of the Heart. Particularly since, years ago, I used to be called the ‘love poet’ – a label I had to work very hard to get rid of by writing angry poems and the like.
In terms of the line-up, I went to the place one goes to when you want to do poetry in this day – Word n Sound.
There are still a few spaces available for
listeners to attend the show so email
You published two collections of poetry simultaneously in 2005; “Voices in My Head” and “…and they say black men don’t write love poetry”; will we have the pleasure of you sharing some of your own poems on the show with us?
KB: I may just share a couple of pieces from then. Guess you’ll have to listen.
You are an economics major with vast business experience spanning close to 30 years [considering you started working in the family business at the age of 12]. What are the lessons you wish to share with poets and the poetry scene at large poetry regarding commercial viability?
KB: The starting point is probably to be clear on why you are doing it because that will answer whether you want to go beyond simply writing and sharing at open mics and the like. Outside of that, it is probably to look at it from a broader perspective in terms of teaching, performing, publishing, activism, etc as well as the multiple platforms that exist. I do think that, compared to when I was trying some years ago, there are greater opportunities for poets as long as they do not limit themselves and look at it in relation to what their skills are as opposed to the label.
Kojo has been onto this online thing forever.
Here is a link to Kojo’s old online poetry diary: