In this instalment of the Spear’s Midas Interview, award-winning wordsmith George the Poet tells Rory Sachs about his Ugandan heritage, the joy of podcasting, and the wisdom of the Netflix series Narcos
How much is an ounce of gold?
I don’t even have a vague idea. I’m going to Google it now…
How did you earn your first pay cheque?
I worked at a call centre when I was 16. People signed up to receive discounts and coupons for answering questions about their spending.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I’m more of a saver. I heard something on [the Netflix show] Narcos: Mexico, where a guy said, ‘Have you ever wanted something you just couldn’t get?… You teach yourself not to want it.’ That’s what happened with me. Early on, I always wanted more disposable income, pocket money, clothes, experiences. I wanted all this stuff, but there just wasn’t enough money to go around.
My life became quite stoic, and I developed behaviour that was more frugal. It kind of liberated me from keeping up with the Joneses. That was never an option.
You’ve been podcasting since 2018. What do you like about the medium?
Like reading, it gives enough space for the listener’s imagination to fill in the blanks. You can construct a whole world in someone’s mind with podcasts, but you still give them the licence to make of it what they will.
How has your podcast evolved since it started?
In the first two series, I’m talking about inequality, African politics, education. The second is a lot about how you can tell stories that explain a number of things at once, but it wasn’t necessarily about the black experience. But series three, after the 2020 that we had, and now that I’m doing a PhD – it’s really about value creation, about how communities create their own value.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
It’s like saying, ‘What makes a comedian funny?’ Their mind: the way they take in information makes it funny to them, and they learn to relay that in a way that makes the humour in the situation obvious to everyone else. For me, there is no one trigger or factor. Everything is fascinating to me.
What’s more important to you: music or poetry?
Probably music. The thing is, poetry is based on people’s ideas, in the parameters of human imagination, but music is transcendental. It’s beyond human. We don’t even have the science to explain the power of music yet.
What are your views on philanthropy?
A lot of money intended to do good needs to move away from thinking it can only be released into the ether and we just pray for the best. When we delegate money to the caretakers of a problem, think about how you can support initiatives that solve a problem while putting money in other people’s pockets. There’s so much dignity, pride, opportunity and growth to be had when you are aware of those innovations at a community level, they can scale up and do more than we can as individuals.
Where is your favourite place?
Probably my grandma’s house in Uganda.
You talk about Ugandan politics on the podcast…
It’s very important to me, because I didn’t grow up in Uganda, but the country was the foundation of my identity. My parents’ whole strategy was to raise me as part of something more than the estate that we were living on. I was determined to honour that heritage and to make myself relevant in Uganda.
What do you consider to be your proudest achievement?
It’s a daily achievement, really, but providing leadership to young men in my community who can’t find it anywhere else.
In association with Bushmills Irish Whiskey, George the Poet has written a poem, Singular Tales, which celebrates the power of storytelling
Illustration: Russ Tudor