music, Poetry

To Be or Not 2B


Earlier this year I was a participant on the East African Soul Train, traveling from Nairobi to Mombasa on the Lunatic Line. We were encouraged to collaborate with fellow artists in the confines of a moving train and create something that was reflective of our personal experiences. The theme of the residency which lasted a week was Kovu Safarini – My Scar.

It was challenging, inspiring and the beginning of me questioning how I as a poet you explore my work in different mediums other than performance and workshoping.

As an artist in residence at 32 Degrees East I have been exploring my scars. The theme: To be or not 2b is an exploration of Migration, Identity and Mourning. The topic is multi layered, but my jump off point was ‘Maafa’ – The Great Disaster which was Chattle Slavery commonly known as The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Many Africans know nothing about this period in history or the implications it has had on Africans on the Diaspora and continent. We don’t speak about it, but i feel it is a scar that needs to be healed. But before that it has to be exposed. The continent lost between 11 and 100 million Africans to Maafa and I want us to remember that. We all know what it feels like to loose something and now as more and more Africans are being displaced through conflict, climate change, disease, I believe that even though it may not be us who experience this directly we need to develop compassion for each other and the trauma that this loss creates. This trauma doesn’t just go away it stays with us in the bones and the blood. It is generational.


The ideas for this installations have come through my dreams or meditations. As a poet I use paper, I love writing and have a Parker fountain for that specific purpose.  The other day at an event i was MCing I thought I’d lost it. I was frantic, I went back and found it laying in the aisle of the auditorium. I was so relieved I had found it. But what does it mean to loose a person you value and not know if you will ever see them again? How do we cope? Natural recycled materials are what i have chosen to work with.  I have been experimenting with the creation of paper using paper pulp and cassava flour. Using mabati (iron sheets) i  have moulded my pulp onto the iron sheet to create a ripple effect. This represents fluid movement and the the reality that our identities are seldom static. Constantly changing, both physically and mentally we evolve as human beings from year to year. Just like the annual migration of Buffulo across the Masai Mara we as human beings have always moved and when you think about the scale of the African continent this was always a great expedition and ultimately lead us to adapt and change as our circumstances as our environments dictated. This means we are now hybrids, Fusionist. There is more to being an African than being born on the continent. Its now about how we ‘want’ to express our ‘Africaness’, but is there an essence? What are the elements that keep us in contact with the land and each other?  Now in contemporary times Africans are restricted from movement. We are unable to see the other side, to broaden our horizons, we are restricted. Immigration policies mean we have to jump through hoops in order to justify our desires to travel and often even though we are told we are impoverished we pay visa fees which if denied don’t get reimbursed.


For most of my life I have been asking who am I? So I took a DNA test which showed me the genetic similarities I have to specific African peoples. Like Cheik Anta Diop I firmly believe we are one people who have mutated into the different forms which represent Africans now. I also discovered I am Haplo Group 1, one of the earliest groups of Africans who made their migrations out of Africa into Asia. So when asked where am I from, I can honestly say I am an African even though the details of location have been distorted or lost through the global trade (not really a trade but a theft) of Africans and the misinformation we are given regarding the contributions of Africans to civilization.  Maybe this is why i was searching to reconnect with those missing parts of myself I felt were lost. I also wanted to explore how other people define themselves as there is an assumption by Africans of the Diaspora that Africans on the continent know who they, celebrate their culture and will place it before anything else. Interestingly enough many of the indigenious Africans who attended the discussion felt that their cultures do not represent who they are or who they want to be and in fact they feel restricted by it. My mind was blown, what does this mean? Why is this happening? Reading C& (Contemporary and) publication ‘I am built inside of you’, the artist Helen Sibidi says ‘we own nothing….. we don’t even own ourselves’ and i see this, I see how we as Africans we are ashamed of our skin, our hair, our ancestors, we cleave to Christianity and Islam, to skin bleaching, to speaking with foreign accents, to being anything other than who we are. The seeds, our seeds are being lost to us and this is what tied us to the land, grounded us in cycles and rhythms and gave us a sense of purpose. Now we have become consumers who have bought into capitalism and expansion at the detriment of our environments. This is also why i chose bio degradable materials because i want the installation to change, decay, fade away just like I will at the end of my life. We are looking for permanence now.  Also as part of my exploration of Identity I interviewed Baba T and his wife Mama T who repatriated to Tanzania. They left Jamaica for the Europe and eventually decided to settle in East Africa. The elder who is 81 gives an emotional account of his experiences which will also feature in the installation.

The paper panels I have created will feature my poetry and quotes relating to the theme. I have a soundtrack which was created by a wonderfully talented artist called Joshua Oyintareoge Egbuson and am supported by so many great creatives Patience Asaba, Nikissi Serumago -Jamo, Kaya Sanaa to create an installation that will be an sensory delight. I will also perform some of the works as a part of the activation.

As an non traditional artist I have been challenged with how to present the work. For me it doesn’t go into a gallery space because I think what I have created is like a memorial to those who have been lost and due to the artist Sunoj D who is an Earth Artist who I worked with a few years back, the installation will happen outdoors in space which reflects some of the emotions and experiences Africans may have felt as they were ‘tight packed’ on the ships bringing them into slavery. The installation is also interactive and there will be certain things people will have to do before entering and whilst inside.  I realize the subject matter is heavy so to bring ease to myself and audience I have created 9 mandalas which represent my desire to heal this wound, to restore myself to balance and allow the ancestors to weep not just tears of pain but of joy, as we recognise their contributions and sacrifices so we can live and be who we want to be in contemporary Africa.


Poetry 0 comments on Living in the Era of Trump

Living in the Era of Trump


Slowly the ink flows to the nib.

A few shakes in the air and it begins to write.

I am chronicling the Age of Trump.

As it begins, who knows where it will end.

But he’s given us a heads up.

To make America great again, by any means necessary.

What irony

Is this once again a case of the chickens coming home to roost?

What goes around, comes around and America has some

Superpower karma coming its way.

So what to do?

In this age of Kali Yuga, destruction is the order of the day.

But there is always a rebirth,

a New Life.

So let’s prepare for that.

What would that world look like?


I see it

I feel it

I wish to describe it.

Its infinite possibilities, focused on the development of a new way.

There’s been no era like this one.

This is the age of Donald Trump.

There’s been lots of name-calling and exposure of a lack of character.

And the question

‘Will he be running the empire between tweets’?

Everything is up for grabs.

Get ready for the corporate feeding frenzy.

As he lines up his prey.

No support for family planning and alliances with Russia.

We are heading for an Indian summer and problems with China.

The sun will shine on the corporate sector, turning the earth into a desert.

Capitalism needs fuel to feed its lifestyle.

So what would happen to the American mind if there were no power, no fuel, and no water?

It’s a powder keg waiting to go off!

But hold on…

Let’s not get traumatized with images of apocalyptic whoa.

This is our opportunity to shine, to define our times.

To be present with the challenges and strategic in our vision.

They say Rome was not build in a day.

So let’s take the long view.

It starts with you and me, challenging our energy positively.

I know at times it’s hard when surrounded by negativity.

We just want to burn a Trump effigy.

But my mother told me

‘You can’t fight fire with fire, you need a little water’.

You know water is feminine, right?

So you see the march on Washington DC?

Is Pussy power!

Should we be afraid, very afraid?

Absolutely not

This is the New World Order.

Take a deep breathe, place your hand on your heart and feel.

Feel our connection to each other.

Fell our inter connection, our co dependency, our global perspective.

Put aside geo politic borders.

Put aside physical appearances.

Put aside hierarchy.

Put aside gender, because souls have none.

This is the Kannagara tribe and our god is Love.

So, as you write your protest letters,

As you light up social media with your passion and your progress.

As you connect with the global community of like-minded soul-diers.

Fill your works with Love, positive intention and balanced thinking.

Be present with your feelings, so you don’t loose your humanity.

Which is easy to do in the era of Trump.

Don’t get it twisted.

We are going into battle, but it’s up to us to resist.

The race is not for the swift but for those who can endure.

We are going to another level.

Some will pout and doubt because they don’t have faith.

But who feels it knows it.

So let’s get organized, mobilize, strategize, advertise our opposition to his plans.

Don’t be a useless eater.

A sleeping consumer.

Wake up!

And smell the coffee, it’s a new brand.

Freshly brewed, not stewed.

By Ife Piankhi

©copyright 2017



ife scowling

Drowning in the depth of my mental

Its hard to breathe deeply

I struggle to find my peace of mind.

Its shrouded in anxiety.

I want to die

then I wouldn’t have to straddle the middle,

masquerading as a strong African woman.

How will I ever find the balance I feel at times

When surrounded by trees?

Free from the urban market flows.

Noisy, polluted confusion over takes my mind.

Mystical levels lay beyond the living.

I believe I will find my peace of mind in the darkness

Its calling me,

come home, come now.

But how will I go?

I wish to depart on a peaceful note

but there is a storm inside, I feel it raging.

Swirling and competing for my psychic energy

I’m afraid I will never find my livity.

It seems so far away and there is always a price to pay.

By Ife Piankhi 2014


Loosing my Soulskin


My senga was lost to me in middle passage journey’s

Motherhood and marriage defined who I was meant to be.

The Wild in me conformed to societal ideals of femininity.

My mammaries grew full, for giving but never receiving,

learning to be seen but not heard

like the children produced in close procession.

The milk flowed over my belly, giving life to all and sundry.

In time I learnt this was not right, but I had no fight

I had died inside.

But the culture is strong, it confines me within a need to belong.

So I travelled across the sea to recreate my own identity.

I made mistakes, trusted in fakes.

Made new friends who sometimes cheated me,

smiling with the teeth but never with their eyes.

I took long to recognise, because me soulskin was lost to me.

I did the outrageous, created music, song and verse.

Inspired by the inner drive to find peace of mind.

Maturity can arise in time .

Lessons learnt through adversity bring strength.

The soul speaks, if we take the time to listen.

Visions flow freely leading us to the path of self determination.

Its for me to decide what it means to be woman.

This is what my Soulskin told me.

I found it beneath the layers of patriarchy

But I’m still struggling to put it on.

Ife Piankhi 2014




karibu performance 013

Bagamoyo return my heart to me

Lay it down so I can see

I am free now, I have returned

To the promised land,

To find peace of mind.

My ancestors were robbed

Enslaved in chains

For profit and gain.

Bagamoyo return my heart to me

In the full moon light

I see the sea.

Oceans deep, I pray away the pain.

Of cultures lost

In plantation fields.

Bagamoyo return my heart to me.

We used to dream,

Of trees of green,

It became the place of pain and shame.

Submerged in dungeons,

Deep we weep the tears of the scorned.

Bagamoyo return my heart to me

Ife Piankhi 2014images



Poetry for the People


We are like fuses

that fit into the MotherShip.

If your fuse has blown

You can’t complete the circuit

Thoughts have weight


Dare to dream and visualise

that we live in a state

of conciousness, harmony and love.

Its starts with you and me

Channelling our energy positively.

I know at times its hard

when surrounded with negativity.

But stand strong, stand against the tide of individuality.

By Ife Piankhi


Activism, Articles, Poetry 0 comments on Singing for the Heart Written by Ife Piankhi

Singing for the Heart Written by Ife Piankhi

Right now, with the growth of the creative industry globally and the culture of “bling” as perpetrated by mainstream artists, I think a lot of people think it’s a way to make fast money. It looks glamorous, being on stage, mingling with stars, having lots of money—which is a myth, there is always a price to be paid when signed to a major label—nice clothes, fast cars and beautiful men and women around you, but in fact it is a profession that takes a lot of commitment, practice and hard work.

I received an email the other day with a picture of an iceberg. The largest portion of an iceberg is underwater, which represented the rehearsal, and the smallest part being above the water, which is the performance that everyone sees but only represents a small percentage of what we do as vocalists.

The voice is a tool that has to be trained in order to get the best. Notable voice trainer Sam West recommends 30 minutes a day of vocal training in order to increase the capacity of the voice by building stamina through diaphragm control. Once you are a regular performer this training is essential in maintaining the voice, because it does get tired which is when strain occurs.

A lot of the singers I hear in Kampala have the potential for a great sound, but they don’t breathe properly.

Ife Piankhi<br>

When I discovered my intelligence in relation to how I learn, it turned out that I am musical, auditory and visual. In primary school I played guitar for many years but gave it up to pursue academia.


I never forgot how inspired I would become listening to different types of music and how singing in church would leave me feeling so euphoric. I would sing along to artists like Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Sade, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, The Blackbyrds, The Jones Girls, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Through listening to those artists I realized that being a good singer was about vocal quality (i.e. your unique sound), the message in your music and the quality of musicians you work with.

Vocalists also have to understand that studio recording is also a craft, developed through understanding the use of a microphone. I have watched—and performed with—some great artists, and I have come to realize that making it look effortless takes work and time.

The first step to singing is to believe you can. I sing because I love it. I started singing at home, and then in church, and then at events, but along the way it has become a livelihood which means I now have to maintain a standard of delivery, which I always honour when performing and preparing for gigs.

I remember once I went to a jam session with notable jazz guitarist Alan Weekes. I wasn’t prepared. I went up and tried to sing Weeping Willow in a different key to the original. Alan kept repeating the introduction and I just couldn’t find the key. I just stood there and ad libbed a little. I was so embarrassed.

Because of that experience, I decided to strengthen my ability to listen well. So I studied counseling and listened to different types of music and tried to break the sound into its components.

I think mistakes help one to grow and learn.

We can’t always be right. Sometimes we fail, but it is essential that we are able to reflect on it, instead of blaming someone else. It takes strength of character to admit it when one is wrong.

I realized that I needed to get to know my voice, to understand the signs of nervousness, fatigue and over-sensitivity. This is why I started to meditate. I can be sensitive to the opinions of others, and through meditation I’m able to create a little space between my feelings and my essence.

In a poem entitled Brave I have written “It’s alright baby girl, I just forget, sometimes I forget who I am”. What I mean by that, is that I am more than this body, thoughts or emotions. So when I remember my essence, I don’t take the performance so seriously—I can have fun with it. Meaning that I am free to get it right or to make mistakes. It’s liberating.

Warming up

Before I perform I visualize myself doing well. I imagine how I want it to go. Essentially, I am programming my mind. I warm up my voice a little with some deep breathing exercises, but I now know it takes two or three songs for my voice to warm up, which is when I can really express its range well.

Being an artist also involves a divine element for me, I feel that singing connects me to a higher power, which when I leave the ego aside I become a vessel for the creative. I’m not a religious person, but I realize that music like sport has a way of unifying people, which is what we need both locally and globally.

When Nneka visited Kampala last year she came with a great crew of musicians. We had a workshop where we created a collaboration song with Keko, Irene, Tshila and MC Flower. After soundchecking and hearing how they played, I sang a phrase to a riff they were playing. It became the chorus for Powerful Women. Later we went ahead and arranged it, so people also had a verse.

For me, this was the biggest confirmation of my singing and creative ability. In a very short space of time we had co created something wonderful together with a band and an artist which is globally known and respected for its content and innovation in music.

I want to be an artist who has longevity.

We all know artists who had a few hits and then disappear. As singers we have to know how to look after the voice, train it, and understand the industry—what motivates people in it. Ultimately you have to love singing, not just as a means to an end, but because it is how you express your uniqueness in the world.

Ife Piankhi writes poetry and music that advocates for the untold stories of Africa and the diaspora.

For Issue 034 Jul ’13 of, Editor Thomas Bjørnskau invited eight Ugandan artists from different art fields to write an essay about the essence of art, all responding to the same kind of question: to sing/write/paint/write plays etc — what is it really about? This is one of the essays. 

Activism, Activities, Articles, Diarie, History, Poetry, Workshop 0 comments on Watch ‘Someone Clap For Me’ – Engaging Short Film On Kampala’s Burgeoning Poetry Scene By TAMBAY A. OBENSON

Watch ‘Someone Clap For Me’ – Engaging Short Film On Kampala’s Burgeoning Poetry Scene By TAMBAY A. OBENSON

68297_10151120489741417_293269089_nA side of Uganda (specifically Kampala, the largest city and capital of Uganda) that we often don’t get to see here in the USA, and which I hope you will appreciate…

Poetry has become something of a phenomenon in Kampala in recent times, just as much as the political turmoil that tends to dominate headlines both locally, and internationally.

In the below 10-minute short film directed by the Qatari filmmaker Luciana Farah, titled Someone Clap For Me, learn about this so-called “Poetry Movement.” 

This film focuses on characters like Medals, the Born-Again Politician, from whose poem the documentary title is taken, and follows the poets’ daily lives, weekly performances and numerous interactions with live audiences throughout the city. 

It was actually made via Mira Nair’s Maisha Labs in Uganda, which we’ve told you about before. In 2004, Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Salaam Bombay!, Mississipi Masala & others) founded Maisha Film Labs – a Uganda-based film training initiative (not-so unlike the Sundance Film Festival’s filmmaker labs, or the IFP’s filmmaker labs).

The goal of the Maisha Film Labs is to give aspiring filmmakers in the East African country the tools & knowledge to tell their own stories through film, which would then help foster a self-sustaining film industry in Uganda and vicinity, that will support and represent the interests of local audiences.

I should note that the director of Someone Clap For Me, Luciana Farah, is expanding the short film into a feature, as I type this. In December, the Doha Film Institute revealed 27 projects that would receive grants, as part of its autumn funding session, and Farah’s feature was one of them.

So we’ll be watching for the feature version of the below short in the coming year or two.

In the meantime, here’s the short version: