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Poetry solved my success puzzle

Mark Joshua Owino, better known as Teardrops, is known for his spoken-word artistry. But his journey to fame and prosperity is riddled with poverty and struggle to breakthrough in life

Grace Wachira @yaa_grace

His demeanour is calm and collected, a sharp contrast with the kind emotions and thoughts his poems stir. You see, everything that Mark Joshua Ouma, popularly known as Teardrops sees, hears and feels ends up in his creative work.

The renowned poet and spoken-word artiste, however started as a rapper while still in primary school. “I was born in Nairobi and raised in Nakuru and Kisumu. When my twin brother and I were born, our family moved to Nakuru,” says the 27-year-old.

While still in primary school, he and his friends got together and formed a rap group. “We called it ‘Rovi-g’ from our names, Robin, Victor, George and myself. On Sundays, back then, we could go to clubs and sing. Adults did not cause fits so much then because Bow Wow, the international artiste had just made his mark at a young age,” he says. If anything, Rovi-g was encouraged to continue making music, but his dream was cut short.

“Our mother passed on right after my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and spelt unwelcomed change,” Teardrops recalls. He and his fraternal twin brother were moved to Kisumu to live with their grandmother while the rest of the relatively older siblings set out to lead their own lives.

The switch from town life to the village wighed heavily on him. “We could not attend high school. We picked technical courses as advised,” he says. He chose to study electrical engineering at Oyugis Craft School. During the first year of the four-year course, Teardrops studied the dictionary. “I have always loved books. They opened up my imagination.

It was the only way I could feel like I lived outside the village and learning new words came in handy. I also diligently read the Bible,” he smiles. After he graduated top of his class in 2010, he decided to head out to Nairobi to earn a living.

“I was so full of expectations when I arrived in Nairobi. I started tarmacking for a job, but I did not have the two-years-experience that was needed. The grass was not so green,” Teardrops pauses. When a masonry door opened, he went right through.

“For two years, I would trek from Mathare, where I lived with my sister, to Westlands. It was tough. I remember some girls taunting me because I wore the same clothes Monday to Saturday. They even coined a special name for me: ‘Ule boy wa trao moja’ (the guy with one pair of pants),” he laughs. During the breaks at work, Teardrops would write poems on pieces of cement paper.

“My co-workers at the time always pointed out that I was in the wrong place after reading my pieces. I quit and even got a job at a hotel as a waiter, but landed behind the sink. It was not fulfilling,” he says. He joined a rap group, Maharamia, and they would jam together over the weekends. “A few interactions here and there and I landed a role as an actor performing set books at high schools.

That was how and when I first stepped into high school,” illuminates the spoken word artiste. By now, he knew he was good at writing poems so, when he heard about Slum Africa competition, he did not hesitate to sign up. “In the end, I was position 16, but the next Slum Africa gig that came up in 2013, I was the best and right after that, I was invited as a guest at a local television show,” he recalls.

After the interview, Teardrops took a motorbike home because it was late. On his way home, his phone went wild with activity. “I did not have a smartphone yet, so I used to get notifications via text and my phone would not stop buzzing.

Initially, I had 79 followers on social media, but after the interview, I had 5,000. I could not believe it!” he beams. He went ahead to affirm his prowess in the poetry genre, spoken word and also bagged a Kwani Open Mic Award.

“Now I could quote figures for performances and was able to foot my bills such as fare and rent, something that I heavily relied on my sister for. It now pays,” he says. Early, 2017, he was invited as a guest to the Churchill Show and has since become a resident act.

“My most memorable act, despite performing for top-notch audiences, was when I performed at a children’s home in Machakos. One of the children said he wanted to be like me and that moved me,” he says.

Teardrops runs a mentorship programme at Kamiti Maximum Prison. “Every Tuesday we meet up to talk and interact. It’s safe to say, we have a created family there. In the long run, I hope to create a platform for young talent. Poetry is my niche. Dream it, say it, do it,” he concludes.

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