George The Poet on Creativity

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to GeorgeThePoet Mpanga (GM) on Creativity.

RK: (As George’s podcast fades in the background…) It’s amazing to see and feel how George puts together a variety of voices on spoken word. I think I am getting to a loss of words.

Welcome George to #360Mentor, how have you been?

GM: Been okay, thank you.  I am actually getting married soon that’s taking up a lot of my time.

RK: Eh! Eh! Eh! You see you don’t belong to yourself anymore. You belong to us all. We need to be part of that event when you are getting married. We need to enjoy the livestream.

GM: Sure, we are working on that.

RK: Congratulations, you have taken the right step. I have been married for 20 years and I am very happy. My sidekick Tony, got married recently and his life improved tremendously. We look forward to your life changing and you becoming greater than you were before.

GM: Thank you very much.

RK: The first question I’m going to ask you is; were you born a creative?

GM: I actually believe I was. Some of the thinking processes I got through in order to make my work today, these are thought processes I had as an infant. Before I had language, I knew I had a curious way of looking at the world.

RK: Tell us more about that.

GM: I used to play games with my hands. You know you have nothing as a kid. I used to drift away with my thoughts. But I would come up with stories by looking at my hands. The left hand would be a certain character and the right hand another. If I put them like this, they would become dinosaurs. If I put them like this, they would become plants. I didn’t have the language but my mind was offering different ways of looking at the world.

RK: And you believe those are the foundations you have been able to build on?

GM: I believe so. Because when I’m sitting in the studio or in my office deciding what to write, it happens to the same part of my mind.

RK: Tell us a bit, how does your creative process work? What goes into it? Does it come easy?

GM: You know Robert; it doesn’t come easy. To come up with a poem takes concentration. It’s not any different from writing an article or an essay for me. Not everyone will give you this answer. But for me, it is difficult. And the reason is, when I was younger, I was a rapper. As a rapper, I taught myself how to rhyme. But I quickly found out that making words rhyme was very different from making words matter.

RK: Hold on. What’s the distinction?

GM: We have so many talented rhymers as rappers, singers, song writers, poets but in my opinion, the most talented ones are not the most successful.

RK: Why is it like that?

GM: I think the reason is, your talent alone cannot make people connect with what you say or feel. If what you are saying and releasing into the world doesn’t matter to people. It doesn’t get them excited, it doesn’t make them think about their own lives, then they don’t care about your talent. That’s the truth.

RK: Really?

GM: Yeah! Everything can rhyme. But how do you make the listener care?

RK: How do you make your audience connect with what you are saying?

GM: Personally, I try and say the most powerful thing I can. The most important thing that needs to be said at the time of writing. I love my audience. I have a love for anyone who will take time out of their life to listen to me. So because of that love, I want to give them something meaningful. The creativity has to follow the course of; how do I make them care? How do I make them meaningful?

RK: What are these things that are meaningful?

GM: I would say being aware that you won’t be here forever is very meaningful. If you are aware of that you know that there are people who will come after you who will need your advice.  They will need your experience. And your thoughts matter. In a hundred years to come when we are not here anymore, there will be someone on this earth who will have benefitted from the advice you gave to them to their parents or grandparents. That’s were true meaning comes from; the value that you put into the lives of others.

RK: And so you craft your art, your poetry, your spoken word not just to entertain but also to deliver a message?

GM: That’s right.

RK: How do you make these meaningful things fit in your work? There are many people who want to be who you are and many of them are listening in. They are waiting to hear the human mental process even the physical that you go through to arrive at the product that deliver and at the excellence you do.

GM: Thank you. That’s so kind. The first thing that I will say is that I listen to music. I get insight. I get strength. I get clarity from listening to music. And usually when I ma listening, I come up with ideas. I come up with answers. I just write. But usually, there is a question that I am trying to answer when I am writing. I try to answer a question.  That’s really my process.

RK: the thing that struck me about listening to you podcast is something similar to jazz. The reason is at some point, the different people playing the different instruments go off in their own direction but it still remains together until they reconnect and thread it together to the original sound. And in all that, they are revoking certain emotions. Listening to you today, how do you manage to create diverse subject? How do you do that?

GM: I think it starts with listening. Thee connections in life, the things that bring us together they are not always obvious. They require us to be patient. Sometimes, they require you to pause on your views. You need to suspend your perspective. Mute the voice that you want to impose on a situation and listen.

RK: Wow! Could you breakdown how this works; the muting and not imposing your voice to the audience? How do you do that?

GM: Describing it out loud is making me think about it loud for the very first time. That’s the thing I referred to earlier, I listen to music. It gives me clarity. Bringing different experiences together is coded in music.  Just by trying to relax and enjoy myself. I am taking in someone else’s perspective. And because I respect their music so much.  And because it is so unique to their part of the world, I am able to hear their perspective. My voice is irrelevant. I am listening to Fic Famaica’s song, Wiz Kid’s song and Drake. These people are from different experiences to me but because I am enjoying the sound, I am able to understand the perspective.

RK: According to you, you listen out for other people’s sound and then out of that, you develop a lot of respect for it, and out of that you open your mind to their perspective? By doing that, is that how you enrich your creative process with other people’s experiences?

 GM: Exactly! That’s one of the main ways, listening to the different music and learning about the artist is the main way. And that’s because like my Uncle Daudi Mpanga, I am a music lover. Everyone will love whatever they love. To some people it’s about football, they will learn each layer, the culture of football where they are from, the opportunities that led them to the club that you support or hate. We can learn so much about the world through other people, through taking an interest in other people, for having respect for other people.

RK: You seem to be a big champion for the podcast as a method of delivery, why?

GM: Haaa! Before podcasting, I was releasing songs and sometimes random poems on YouTube.  And I am grateful for this period because it helped me build a fan base but there was something missing. And what was missing, Robert, was the big picture. I didn’t feel that in any particular poem or song, I really explained the big picture, this thing on my mind. The back experience. Education. Migration. Politics. There is no song that would really let me explain everything in four minutes. Some artistes are really good at it. They shine when I talk about these things in song form but I thought I was restricted. I needed something that gave me more space and podcasting was the answer. 

RK: You’ve just started something you call Back to UG. Can you give us something from that episode?

GM: Thank you. Back to UG tells my story from about 15 years old to 20 years old when I met my wife to be and I was developing my Ugandan identity. I grew up in Britain. I had to do a lot of work to reconnect.

RK: Out of interest, where does your wife-to-be come from?

GM: She’s also Ugandan. So yeah, Back to UG explores that. (Recites…)

RK: How does identity influence your creativity?

GM: The poetry comes from Africa ultimately. If you look at all these black males across the entertainment landscape who have been able to rise up from communities that didn’t have much opportunity through effective poetry. Whether America, Jamaica or France, we fall back on our poetry to establish ourselves. There is also the subject matter. The confusion of the black experience. It can be very confusing. And because there are so many people in the diaspora who are struggling to understand this black thing and why it functions the way it does, I can never run out of material to help a black person or someone who is trying to understand about black life. There is a big conversation that can’t run out, and I am part of it.

RK: If you are to talk to creatives in Uganda to day who want to make it to your scale or even bigger, what is it that goes into becoming a consequential creative artiste?

GM: It all comes down to the contribution you make to the life of your listener. Many of us approach art, we pour our ego in what we do. I would invite all young creative especially poets and they are amazing, I am inspired by them but if they want to set themselves apart from the crowd, I would invite them to think about what they are offering. It should be different.

RK: What’s your relationship like with Prince Harry?

GM: I was asked to write a poem for his charity that is about destigmatising HIV. So I wrote something. I like jobs that I believe in. I only take in jobs that I believe in. So I believe in the cause. And we had such a good experience collaborating that they asked me to be an ambassador. And that was my professional relationship with Prince Harry.

And because of that relationship his team asked me to do a poem with the BBC for his wedding. And the poem was well received, I guess.

RK: What’s your favourite Ugandan music?

GM: I am a ‘Musummer’. I come in the holidays. And I like music that makes me feel like I am on holiday. Ugandans are always having a good time in some way. When I had just started coming to Uganda, it was more of the Radio and Weasle, Rabadabba generation. That evolved overtime to the Winnie Nwagis and Sheeba. Everything you hear in Uganda.

RK: What are you trying to do with Have You Heard about George’s Podcast, what are you trying to do with that?

GM: I have a list of things I want to talk about. I want to create a big picture. I cannot just talk to you for five minutes and disappear. I might need 20 or 30 minutes. So the podcast is my way of making these conversations as engaging as possible. It came about in 2015 when I stopped releasing music and I started paying more attention to the TV industry. What I liked about TV is that they had series. and series have a number of episodes. So unlike a music releases that comes one by one, the series will have potential for weeks. That’s my big opportunity to stitch a picture narrative together. For example, as a young British Ugandan, I am trying to stay connected with Uganda. If I am not going to use songs, then I need to share my thoughts about Ugandan society, politics, history and podcast is one I could make that interesting.

RK: Talking about podcasting, there are a lot of young people trying to build a career in podcasting, do you have any advice for them?

GM: I do. I’d say; give some thought to what you are trying to do. There’s this thing in podcasting of funny charismatic people just talking about anything and people listen because of the personalities. I enjoy podcasts like that but that’s not for everyone. But I think the reason why people enjoy my podcast is because there are specific ideas that I want to get across. So if you want to get into podcasting, have an idea. Don’t just be drawn to the fact that people are making a name. Have an idea of what you want to say.

Be exceptional. Don’t just try to fit in because other people are making one. Do what no one has thought of.  

RK: I have a personal question I need to ask you,

GM: Sure.

RK: What does love mean to you?

GM: uhhhmmmmm! Love means sacrifice. As humans, we are self-preserving. We are going to do what is in our interests. But love gives you an opportunity to go beyond your interests. What can you do that isn’t for you? What demonstrates your love?

RK: There is a picture of you on one knee, showing your love to Sandra, how did that feel? That’s courage. Some of us couldn’t get to look the girl in the eye?

GM: It’s funny because I was friends with Sandra. If you listen to Back to UG, you will get the whole story. Sandra and I have been friends since we were teenagers like over ten years. And in that time, friendship was the best form of relationship between us. It was perfect. That’s all we needed. But I reached a point where Sandra became the most trusted voice in my life.

RK: You could be vulnerable around her and be comfortable?

GM: Yeah. And there was no pretence between us. There was no ego between us. That is why I said love is sacrifice. Because what I am prepared to do for Sandra, I know she is prepared to do for me. My interests are her interests. And she’s always treated me like that. And the more I have matured I realised this is the foundation. You don’t get these things every day.

Festo Kato: How do we keep having these conversations of allowing us to continue having conversations of our fellows in Uganda? Our youth seem to forget so easily. We skip from one challenge to another. How do we keep on track?

GM: This is something that stays on my mind always. We have a lot of needs that are not coordinated. How do we keep our young people engaged with the journey of progress? It starts in the home. Before we start thinking about big strategies for thousands of people we need to think about our families, the young people around us. Do you speak to young people around you about African issues? Because if you do, you are giving them a head start. By the time they are your age, they will have more tools from your struggles and triumphs. So it starts in a home. My parents were always talking to us about Uganda. They were always connected. I absorbed that. 

Aside from our private lives, I think education is the most likely way of influencing our people’s priorities. We need forms of education that allow our young people to have these questions on their mind regularly. The problems we have as young people in the west, is that we grow up in education systems that have no idea of who we are. By the time Black Lives Matters blows up, everyone is scrambling to catch up. Even as black people we argue amongst ourselves about the nature of our progress. We do not have a consistent progress about our history, our strengths, opportunities and challenges. We need that. The black struggle needs to be embedded in the day to day education of our children.

Ultimately, the way we are as the creatives can support that, is by being intention about what we offer our audiences. It’s fine to make a song that makes you feel good. That’s important and I am grateful for that music. But when you give us these songs, we connect with you, what else can you give us? You are an artist. You are famous. People care about your life and your opinion, so how can you use that influence to draw people’s attention to what really matters?

Irene Mutuzo: Do you ever get a writer’s block? 2) There’s a lot of great work out there but it is not noticed, how do we get your work noticed. 3) I have a request, Wake the Poet and I would love to have a collaboration with you, we would love to learn from you.

GM: Irene, I do experience writers block. In fact, I have recently listened to the second chapter of my podcast and I remember struggling with the writer’s block. I wrote about it. By writing about it, I confronted it. I said out loud what my problem was. I had ideas and I had insecurities. So every time I thought about something to write, I doubted myself. When I wrote that down, my doubts were not scary anymore. I could just dismiss them. I’d encourage anyone dealing with writer’s block to be brave and write something. And try and write about what you feel; why you are struggling to write. It’s always temporary.

2) I always turn to what has been successful. I think music has been successful. Music has improved the image of Africa to many people outside the continent. This is a product of cultural exchange. The world gets a better version of you. We need to think why music was so successful like that. Is it the sound, the club, the youth? If you can study what is working, try and incorporate that into what you are offering. So in terms of poetry, it’s all about the message, the words, so once again, are saying things that will connect with international audiences? Are you presenting your poetry in a way that is competitive? It’s not only about being honest, it’s about being the best that you can be. I find a high of talent and competency in Uganda from writing, production, poetry, dance, fashion. I find a world class level of creativity in Uganda. Unfortunately, many of these markets are not fully grown so it is hard to monetise the creativity. Don’t let that put you off. Even though you see me doing poetry now, it wasn’t like that 10 years ago. We had to build a market for ourselves by pushing through even when we had no money.

My podcast didn’t make me any money when I started it. and podcasting wasn’t as big as it is now. But I was convinced that I had a competitive product. That what I was doing deserved to be on the world stage. If it didn’t work, I’d still try to improve it. So don’t be disheartened if it hasn’t fully matured. Try and utilise your diaspora. Use your relatives across the world to connect with other people. We need that connection.

RK: How was it working with Burna Boy and Stormzy?

GM: Those guys are so talented. That song that we collaborated on, Real life, it is one of those songs I believe in. Like I said, I like to work on projects I believe in. I believed in the message of that song. They had already made it when I was brought on but they had this part in the video where the video was telling one story and the story was telling something else and people needed to connect what was happening. So they asked me to write a poem. Again it’s a thing about creating your own market and offering people what no one is offering. They thought to themselves, who can help us connect what is happening in the song with what is happening in the video and I was the person they thought of thankfully. So I watched it was, what can I say that matters?

Julius Ssenyonga: George, how did you make it? How would you advise others to do the same?

Comrade Otoa: your political poetry, it’s so mind provocative. How do you use your poetry to get people think differently?

GM: Thank you, Tony. I have to say to every Ugandan here, you don’t know the value of real Ugandans embracing me because I have spent all my life not feeling like a Ugandan. Thank you.

I would like to shout out to WAKE 256. He’s a great young voice. I want to work with you guys. Much respect to you.

To you Tony, political poetry is one of the things for me is one of the most meaningful offerings I have for a young listener especially when I was young, I had all the grownups talking politics. Whether it was my parents talking about Ugandan politics or people on the news talking about British politics. But, because they are not talking to me as a young person, I am struggling to keep up with the conversation. And politics gets people upset. So I would see people around me getting upset when talking about politics, raising their voice and as a kid, I didn’t have enough information.

But then in my teens, I started to study about politics. And I studied politics because didn’t like not knowing what was going on. Through studying politics, was able to build a sense of what I believed in. I got to know how the world works.  And that was important from me. As a man it helped grow as a thinker, intellectually. Then I noticed that so many people had been denied that opportunity because no one was talking to them and unlike me, they didn’t have an opportunity to study. So I was thinking to myself, how’d you engage all those people because they are important. Just because you didn’t go school or you don’t speak the best of your language doesn’t man that your life is not of consequence. It doesn’t mean that you are not important to the future of the country. So over the years, I realised that the one thing that people connect with is entertainment. So if there’s a way of talking politics in an entertaining way, you’d open the future of the country, you open the future of the world to so many young people who are not being spoken to about this stuff. You’d give them time to think these things through.

We all remember the TV shows and the books that we enjoyed as a young person. We remember them. they stick with us. they shape our outlook. So in my poetry, I always want do that. I wanted to do something you would enjoy in your leisure time but would influence you in the work place, in the voting booth, in different ways. But the problem with politics is that it can divide us. So as much as I wanted to give people information of a political nature, I also wanted to encourage compromise, understanding, respect, listening. And these are the principles that guide how I approach political poetry. Instead of writing a poem that is one side or telling how this person is, the best thing I can do is to encourage you to listen to someone else. and that’s my political poetry. I hope that’s what people get when I talk politics.

RK: George, I have something to ask you, do you have some more poetry you can perform for us?

GM: Sure. There is this poem called IMPOSSIBLE.


Impossible is a word people use to describe something they can’t do

Sometimes they even want to be sadistic to tell you they are being realistic

And tell you it’s nearly not impossible

It is nay impossible

As if you’re lying in hospital

For defying obstacles

And trying not to hold

No. Your impossible isn’t my impossible

There are no winners until someone has won it

You won’t know of what I am capable of until I have done it

I could have a stand here patient and listen

Wanting to make an incision

Having to wait for permission

Or I could make a decision

I could take a position

Impossible is the manifestation of your inhibitions

So fear of trying is really fear of flying

Imagine your heart is racing and your mind is out to help

You’re starting to doubt yourself

The nights are cold and mornings are rough

And now you’re worrying of people calling you a bluff

You have imposter’s syndrome and you’re second guessing

All of your stuff but no.

You alone is more than enough

This is the truth I saw before I went to sleep

I knew my time would come eventually

So I celebrate every test ever sent to me

Because what’s about to be

Was meant to be

It’s remarkable to try but I cannot afford to die

Knowing my ambition didn’t kill me

Forget the voice of doubt, that’s not the real me

No guts, No glory

Thank you!

RK: I wish I had the sound for applause. Thank you!

GM: Thank you very much!

RK: You have reinvented yourself many times, could you share with the listener on how to reinvent oneself.

GM: You know what, we are in a world that is constantly changing if you are paying attention and you’re learning about the world around you. You are also changing. If you’re open to new information and new experiences. Saying yes when you should have said no, or saying no where you should have said yes. You who will reinvent yourself as a matter of course, you won’t have to force it, you won’t have a crisis, just listen. And be open to new information and new experiences.

Even at this point in my career when the podcast is doing very well, it has enabled me to have serious conversations with the likes of you Robert. Even at this point, there is another level and I am trying to reach that. I have built a platform that is all about having these kinds of conversations continually. It’s called COMMON GROUND.  We are building common ground. For anyone who wants to learn about common ground, come and visit us after you have visited the podcast.

RK: Thank you to you all for always tuning in for the #360Mentor. Thank you George, from today, you’ve been initiated back in to the community by the elders. May your podcast continue to grow.

3 thoughts on “George The Poet on Creativity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.