Meet ‘Mama Africa’, the Kenyan artiste reciting her way into a fortune in USA

A talented Ann Mwalagho had been a culture vulture in her days as a schoolgirl. She has now grown up to become a passionate poet, dancer, actress, singer and songwriter, all rolled into one.

Ann’s career on stage hit the fast lane when she landed in the US in 2000 after she won the International Arts Achievement Award for being the best actress in all the universities in Kenya.

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But she had to overcome a setback, as she could not twang to rhyme with the American audience.

First experience

“I was ready to take Hollywood by storm and share my gift and talents. Little did I know that the road would be winding and the journey would be infinite,” Ann told The Standard about her first experience at the University of California in Los Angeles.

As soon as she landed on stage and auditioned for some American plays, she was not selected for any American roles but she was considered for an immigrant’s part

“I never thought that my accent would be my stumbling block, which is why I wrote a poem called Flavoured Worldthat speaks about the ‘flavours’ of our different cultural backgrounds that contribute to the beautyof our world,” Ann said.

Ann, 37, says she later stumbled upon actors in a café where they were reciting and reciting poems in different styles.

She says she had written more than 100 poems and her desire to perform was still burning despite the hurdles in a new country.

“I took to the stage in front of an all-American audience and educated them about Africa through my poem I have a Dream inspired by the famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr.

She says she spoke passionately and proudly about the beauty of Africa and after the seven-minute poem, she received a standing ovation.

From then on, she says people realised her talent and this gave her a niche in America and a launching pad to the present world of entertainment.

This also made her become the poet performer who has educated Americans about the value and beauty of Africa, socio-economic issues and gender inequalities. Now she is called ‘The African Ambassador’ or ‘Mama Africa’.

Through her poetry performance, Ann has been able to travel throughout the US and internationally.

In 2004, Ann established Mwalagho Productions, an entertainment company in USA, and has also formed a band known as Afrofloetry.

“I have released two powerful musical and poetry CDs, Ukweli and Haki; poetrybook Poetry in Exile; and live performance DVD, Anna Mwalagho: Wisdom, Knowledge & Laughter,” she added.

Her performance has seen her interact with the mighty.

In 2009, she was picked to represent Kenya during the inaugural events of US President Barack Obama at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art where she performed infront of thousands of people from different parts of the world.

Ann has met and entertained dignitaries such as Academy award-winning actor Forest Whitaker, Dr Maya Angelou, Dr Henry Louise Gates, Actor Jeffrey Wright, the late Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka, former President Mwai Kibaki, President Jacob Zuma, Princess of Morocco, among others.

She became the first Kenyan poet to be honoured at the International Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in 2012 and has also been honoured by many local and international organisations for her work as performing artist, social activist and philanthropist.

Early years

Ann, who was brought up in Nairobi, traces her talent to her early years. She says while she was eight years old, she loved to play and sing a lot.

“In school, I was the class entertainer and I would sing and dance for my classmates whenever I got the chance,” she says.

Her journey as a performing artist started when one of her teachers enrolled her into the children singing game group due to her playful nature.

“I became the soloist of the group, and our group won at the provincial level. This competition sparked a fire in me and this marked the beginning of my love for the stage,” said Ann.

She says what gives her greatest joy is touching people’s hearts through her poems, songs, acting comedy and dance.

She attributes her achievement to God.

“I am grateful to God for my talents and my success and I do not take this gift for granted,” she concluded. –

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