Andrew Manyika (AM), is a world-class comedian, poet and sought-after Master of Ceremonies from Zimbabwe; and he is on a mission to create and capture moments and memories.
Since his debut in 2010, his deft touch with both pen and voice has made him a stand out act in his country and continent where he was a 2020 nominee for the Nama Outstanding Comedian Award; a Regional Slam Champion (Drama For Life Festival — South Africa); and has performed at several top-tier festivals in Africa and beyond, including Hifa, Shoko, Poetry Africa and Time of the Writer.
He is the first Zimbabwean to perform at the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival in the United States, among others. In 2019, he returned to the stage with a new show Just Married?!, and made his Bulawayo debut as the headliner of the Intwasa Arts Festival Comedy show Borderline Insanity! Career highlights include being the opening act of the 2019 PERMICAN Gospel awards at the City Sports Centre. He published his debut poetry collection Man of Letters in 2019. A member of Gourd of Consciousness Poetry, Manyika is storyteller par excellence and is currently representing Zimbabwe in the Hadithi Ya Africa Ultimate Storyteller Contest as one of the top 10 from a continent-wide search. He speaks to Khumbulani Muleya KM: and below are excerpts of the interview:
KM: Welcome Andrew at what stage did you start writing poetry and what influenced you?
AM: The short answer is Hercules. By which I mean, I was fascinated by the world of Greek mythology, the adventures and characters it presented and that served as some of the early inspiration for 12-year-old me to try my hand at poetry.
KM: When writing do you have any particular location, audience or themes that you focus on?
AM: The idea behind all of my creative output is that the human experience is a shared one. We are literally in this world together. My earlier works skewed toward romantic love as a theme; and when I got older I decided to stretch myself. So now the spectrum of themes runs the gamut from a love of bacon, to the devastation of xenophobia … and, of course, love.
KM: Was being an internationally acclaimed poet anything you ever imagined would happen in your career, prior to you winning the University of Johannesburg International Students Poetry Competition in 2010?
AM: Ha-ha to tell you the truth, even after winning that competition I couldn’t picture it. I suffered from terrible stage fright and only entered the UJISS competition to win the camera they had put as a prize, but it wasn’t until I became the Gauteng provincial slam champion a year later that I could see it being really possible to win acclaim on the global poetry stage.
KM: You have been nominated in prestigious awards, performed at several top-tier African festivals and beyond, how has this visibility on global poetry platforms enhanced your career?
AM: Every award, festival, show, every YouTube video, is an opportunity to gain a fan or a collaborator, or access to the next platform. So, it’s been great for getting my foot in the right doors.
KM: You are participating in one of Africa’s ultimate story telling contests curated by Hadithi Ya Africa, in the history of this continental competition only Zimbabwe has won it, what are your expectations?
AM: To bring it back home again until that trophy has permanent residence in Zimbabwe ha-ha. While winning is important to me, I’m also honoured to have the opportunity to once again be representing my country on this pan-African stage, and when the time comes I’m hoping that everyone reading this will cast a vote in my favour.
KM: How easy is it to penetrate international poetry spaces are there hints for the budding poet to look out for?
AM: You know people sometimes offer vague advice like “always keep it real …” and “do the right thing …” ha-ha, it’s actually good advice. But seriously, the little I have gleaned on this journey is that next to your poetry, your relationships are the biggest asset you’ve got and you have to nurture them. The seeds for your next gig might be hidden in the current one, so it helps to treat people with respect. Specific advice would be – investigate the existing platforms, select the one that piques your interest; approach its curators; and when they give you a chance make sure you put your best foot forward.
KM: By fusing comedy and poetry you’re already creating an avenue that is taking poetry beyond just poets, at what point did you start exploring this fusion of comedy and poetry?
KM: Do you have any branding tips for the budding poet or aspiring comic?
AM: The best tip for branding I can give is to be consistent in the creation of quality content. Good work tends to speak for itself and then in terms of the practical aspects — I would say crystallise your idea of what you want to be known for; distil it into an artist statement; create a visual identity which has a consistent look and just keep doing your thing.