Kenya is unaccustomed to recognising prowess in literature as an art form. The Sondeka Awards thus ensures that writers of both prose and poetry are recognised…
By Frank Njugi
I take every happening in my city, Nairobi, as an ekphrasis, an archival of the aesthetics of my people’s creative trends. On July 7th, 2023, Creatives Garage organised the 5th edition of the Sondeka Creatives Awards. This event became the mockingbird that echoed our endeavours.
On the chilly yet colourful evening, artists were bestowed with tokens of appreciation for their artistry. These artists were recognised for performative art (spoken word, live music & short films), literature (short stories & poetry) and traditional/contemporary arts. There were also the podcasts, mobile game/app development, creative’s collective and digital art categories. The lifetime achievement award was also awarded to an artist who has showcased mastery in a defined creative pursuit over time. Tanzanian-born political cartoonist and comic artiste, Godfrey “Gado” Mwepemba, was the recipient of this year’s award.
Creatives Garage & the Pursuit of Creatives’ Recognition
As the witty Ugandan host, Yasefi Musoke, described it, the Sondeka Awards is an attempt to recognise creative pursuits that are barely acknowledged by mainstream audiences. As the Creatives Garage team revealed, there is a lack of opportunities and platforms for Kenyan, and other African creatives, and the award ceremony was founded on the premise of fuelling the growth of African creatives.
In 2013, Liz Kilili, saw the need to create a Kenyan creative and artistic community. Creatives Garage became this medium where creatives came together and sought artistic improvement. Five years later, when the need to recognise the individuals in the artistic community arose, Kililiset up the Sondeka Awards ceremony to acknowledge the exceptional adeptness of these creatives in the hitherto unappreciated skill sets. Since its conception in 2018, Creatives Garage, through the Sondeka Awards, ascertains that it has awarded over 100 creatives. During this time, Creatives Garage has received over 3000 applications, with about 500,000 votes for the nominated creatives. This is no minor feat. The prize has become one of the most engaged creatives awards in Kenya.
The African Scope
Although the primary audience for the award ceremony is Nairobi’s local arts enthusiasts, the nomination list also comprises creatives from other African countries. This is because the organisers aim to reach out to creatives everywhere, irrespective of the civil borders that separate them. This may have come about from the realisation that the African story is not so differentiated by the confines of state, and that there is a comparison in Africa’s diverse means of artistic expression This year’s nominations included Kudakwashe Rice from Zimbabwe, and Emmanuel Muhire from Rwanda, both nominated in the Spoken Word category.
Recognition of Literary Artistry
Kenya is unaccustomed to recognising prowess in literature as an art form. The Sondeka Awards then ensures that writers of both prose and poetry are recognised. As renowned Kenyan actress, Gathoni Gatheca, implied before announcing the short story category winner, “writers write tales that are the beacons upon which a people’s bane and joys are to be articulated; so they should be rewarded when they do this right like other artists as well.”
The short story winner, Natasha Muhanji, shares similar sentiments. As nudged for her views later, she wholeheartedly agreed, “I feel these awards have also given writers a chance to put themselves out there and maybe move towards the centre of the creative scene a bit, where they can interact with other like-minded creatives engaging in other forms of art as well. It is particularly impactful because it tells us our art is viable as well.”
The honour is Muhanji’s first ever writing award.
An Exciting Future for Kenyan and Fellow African Creatives
The existence of a ceremony such as the Sondeka Awards, which seeks to bring forth much needed respectability to African creatives who forge new terrains and explore the African narrative in their own chosen artistic ways, provides hope to Kenyan and other African creatives. It is proof that there is an ever-ready audience to appreciate African creative artistry. This shows a willingness to positively impact African creativity, and it should be celebrated.
Full list of the 2023 Sondeka Awards Winners
Spoken Word – Alex Muthama
Live Music – Analo Kanga
Podcast – James Muhuthu
Short Films – Gladys Mwende
Creative’s Collective – Cchora Studio
Traditional/ Contemporary Art – Kelvin Wamae
Short Story –Natasha Muhanji
Poetry – Fidelis Njoki
Mobile Game/App development – Nick Kipchichir
Judges Award – Clementina Kabuthu
Lifetime Achievement Award – Godfrey “Gado” Mwapemba