Conversation with Ivan Irakoze, the talented Burundian poet currently living in Nairobi.
Ivan Irakoze is a Kenyan based Burundian poet and the organizer of Ink Overflow, one of Nairobi’s budding art and poetry show, a monthly event that brings artists together to share issues about life and Society. The most recent event brought to the fore discussions about mental health through spoken word and music.
As a poet Ivan has featured prominently in major showcases in Kenya including: Kwani Open Mic and Slam Africa Poetry where he was crowned the 58th Slam King.
Ivan opens up about his roots, growth, poetry journey and what it takes to run a successful poetry and art showcase.
Afroway: How are you Ivan?
Ivan: I’m doing well, thank you.
Afroway: Just to clear the air, who is Ivan Irakoze? And where are you from?
Ivan: That’s always a tough question. I’d say I’m a dreamer, a poet and storyteller, as well as an event organizer. That’s the simplest way I can put it. I’m from Burundi.
Afroway: You are the guy behind Ink Overflow. What is the organization about? Where was it conceived?
Ivan: Ink Overflow is a social enterprise which seeks to showcase and promote artists and their art forms locally. We believe in the power of artistic self-expression to positively inspire, incite, and impact our communities. It was conceived in a room with friends at this business innovation & incubation center within USIU called NEVA.
Afroway: How many years has Ink Overflow been in existence?
Ivan: 2014 is the year when we held a couple of shows within USIU. 2015 is when the shows moved out of USIU. So 3 years I’d say….
Afroway: As an entertainment hub, what have been the greatest achievements of Ink Overflow?
Ivan: Our shows are always great achievements in my opinion. We’ve held them at the Paa Ya Paa Arts & Culture Center which is Kenya’s oldest of its kind, and at the Michael Joseph Centre.
Afroway: When choosing the artists to perform at the Ink Overflow, what do you look for?
Ivan: I look for what they bring to a live performance. So obviously I have to see them perform before selecting. We don’t select artists who we haven’t seen live or who don’t have at least a few recorded live performances.
Afroway: Any artists you feel brought out the best of Ink Overflow?
Ivan: All the artists who perform bring their best. They’ve made every show we’ve held so far memorable and the shows keep getting better.
Afroway: Besides Ink Overflow, What else do you do?
Ivan: Well I’m also a performance poet and storyteller which is part of the reason Ink Overflow was started.
Afroway: Tell us about your earliest experience as a performance poet?
Ivan: My first performance was on March 4th, 2014, I’m good at remembering dates, …at Kwani Open Mic. It was a fun experience, the crowd was great and it encouraged me to perform more.
Ivan: The artist’s name is Mitteiy. We decided to collaborate in 2015 and combine poetry and visual art. The project is titled ‘His Words My Muse’. Her paintings are inspired by my poetry and vice versa.
Afroway: Do you have a career? How has it shaped your craft and life in general?
Ivan: My career is Ink Overflow. I’m a dreamer who believes people should do what they love and I encourage them to do so. I’m dedicated to seeing my dreams through and ensuring they come true.
Afroway: Do you have another job besides running Ink Overflow? If so, how do juggle between work and Ink Overflow?
Ivan: No, though I have come close to accepting the 9 to 5 life on a few occasions. My focus remains on Ink Overflow.
Afroway: Any artists whom you look up to for motivation?
Ivan: There are a number of artists locally who I look up to and respect for their amazing art and dedication. If I started naming all of them, the list would be long.
Afroway: Any Achievement as a performing artist?
Ivan: Well I won Slam Africa once in 2015 so I’d say that’s my favorite achievement as a performer.
Afroway: How was your journey towards being crowned the 58th Slam king at the Cre8vie Spills’ Slam Africa Poetry?
Ivan: It was fun and it helped me grow as a writer and performer. I won Slam Africa on my third attempt.
Afroway: You favorite music Genre and artist?
Ivan: Hip Hop & Tupac Shakur. Anyone who knows me knows that.
Afroway: Your favorite hang out in Kenya?
Ivan: That’s a hard one. I like finding new places to hang out. Usually I like quiet places to hang out and have conversations, unless I’m attending a show or concert. I’d tell you my favorite hangout spot but I want to keep it to myself and those that know about it.
Afroway: How was life like in Burundi? Is there any place that you miss the most?
Ivan: I was born in Burundi but I never grew up there. I’ve lived most of my life in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi. I do go back home every year to visit the family. The place I miss most is probably the place most young people who’ve lived in Bujumbura miss most, which is this small beach called ‘Bora Bora’ on the lake.
Afroway: If you were to do a poetry or music collabo, whom will you do it with and why?
Ivan: Easy. Tetu Shani because we’re friends, I admire his music, work ethic and thinking.
Afroway: And what is your favorite sport and team?
Ivan: Football & Manchester United. Anyone who knows me knows this too.
Afroway: Where do you think is a perfect place to build a retirement home?
Ivan: Man, I just want to escape to a deserted island one day and only come back to civilization once in a while. I don’t know, I just need a beach and the ocean and I’m good.