Wednesday, 12 December 2018

STORYTELLERS ENCHANTED ALL IN 2016 AT KWANI TRUST



Maimouna Jallow at Kwani? at first Re-imagining African folktales Festival

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (written 2016 but posted 12 December 2018)

In theory they were five female storytellers scheduled to perform last Saturday night in the production ‘And then, she said…” at Kwani Trust where there had already been a day filled with charming storytelling sessions for children by some on Kenya’s finest performing artists.
But in practice, the five were magicians each weaving her enchanting spell to draw you into her story which in turns, made you laugh, cry, empathize and often hold your breath in anticipation of what emotion she’d arouse in you next.
The only one of the five that visibly disclosed the stories all came from written texts was the first one, Mumbi Kaigwa. She performed a sort of service in that she situated us in ‘the book’, bringing out the element of realism by revealing that all five storytellers would actually be drawing their stories from the original tellers who like themselves are amazingly strong African women.
In Mumbi’s case, her reading started from the beginning of the late Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye’s compelling novel, ‘Coming to Birth’. But rather than try to synthesize the whole novel at a go, Mumbi opened up the original setting of the story, thus requiring us to go find out for ourselves what happens to the newly-weds Martin and Paulina.
In contrast, the other four jumped into their stories head first: Raya Wambui, who was appropriately dressed in a hijab, shared the deeply moving story of the period just prior to the Somali civil war. Drawing from the historical novel, ‘The orchard of lost souls’ by the young awards-winning Somali-British writer Nadia Mohamed, Raya bore witness to the painful experience of three Somali women. Her performance was so powerful that one could practically feel the women’s apprehension as each anticipated the coming war.
Equally powerfully but emotionally antithetical was Patricia Kihoro’s hilarious performance of Zukiswa Wanner’s painfully funny and profoundly perceptive “Maid in SA: 30 ways to leave your madam.’ Zuki’s a keen observer of the nuances of race relations but it was Patricia who captured the essence of Zuki’s tongue-in-cheek mockery of the white ‘memsab’ or Madam. It was Patricia who made us laugh so hard that we eventually wept from the tummy ache that her interpretation of Zuki’s astute class analysis of white women’s characters brought on.
The final two stories were staged to a slightly smaller crowd since some took advantage of the extended intermission to disappear. But it was well worth sticking around since performances by both Sitawa Namwalie and Maimouna Jallow could have stood alone rather be one of five incredible women’s renditions. For not only were the women writers’ stories deeply revealing—although one was steeped in sorrow while the other was exactly the opposite—a kind of celebration of women’s ingenuity and canny ability to outsmart the cleverest man. At the same time, these two deeply dramatic and detailed life stories would never have roused the enthusiastic response that they did if not for the actors, the genius storytellers Sitawa and Maimouna.
Sitawa’s interpretation of Mariama Ba’s ‘So Long a Letter’ was intimate, soulful and strikingly candid and personal. As if she were disclosing a woman’s secrets and stunning disappointments to a best friend, Sitawa’s story is one shared by a multitude of women not just in Africa but worldwide, wherever a spouse or lover betrays their woman’s trusting love by picking up a new wife without even consulting the first one. Sitawa conveyed the woman’s heartfelt pain so deeply, one couldn’t help but empathize with the experience many women face.  
Ultimately, it was Maimouna’s finale performance of ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ that made one most grateful that we didn’t leave at intermission. Each wife’s story is dramatically quite different but Baba Segi’s discovery in the case of wife number five turned the whole tide of this marvelous tale that Maimouna told with gusto and guileless flair.
 And somehow she managed to synthesize the whole story without losing the pace, humor, personality or power of Lola Shoneyin’s tall tale.
It was Maimouna who produced the whole day and night of ‘Reimagined’ African Folktales and we hope she’ll put on a similar production again soon.
That day could come sooner if she succeeds in receiving an excellent range of modern ‘re-imagined’ African folktales of the sort she’s invited people to send by May 20th to www.reimaginedstories.com.
Meanwhile, tonight at The Elephant in Lavington, ‘Tinga Tinga Tales: the Musical’ has its official premier performance. Based on the TV series written by Claudina Lloyd, with music by Eric Wainaina, who also co-stars with John Sibi-Okuma and others, it’s a show not to be missed.













STORYTELLING FESTIVAL TO FEATURE INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS


                                    Maimouna Jallow at 1st edition of Re-Imagined Storytelling Festival

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 12 December 2018)

Saturday’s Second edition of The Re-Imagined Storytelling Festival is going to be an important all-day event at Alliance Francaise that nobody keen on theatre, storytelling, orature or literature of any kind should miss.
Maimouna Jallow, founder of Positively Africa has brought together storytellers from all over the world to join with her in a delightful program of storytelling, interactive workshops, panels, art auction and even a music jam towards the end of the day.
Three major highpoints of the Festival will be first, a book launch of ‘Story, Story, Story Come’ which is hot off the press and edited by Maimouna herself. The 12-story anthology is the fruition of her two-year effort to enlist members of her Pan-African network to re-imagine traditional African folktales as a means of reviving interest in African orature (or oral literature) and nurturing a contemporary reading culture.
The book contains enchanting stories by creative writers and storytellers from Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan and Zambia. It’s beautifully illustrated by Olusayo Ajentunmobi.
The second highlight of the day will be the premiere performance of ‘The Door of (No) Return’ which is an adaptation of some of the stories in book presented in partnership with ZamaleoAct.
And the other glorious feature of the Festival is Maimouna’s managing to bring storytellers from Morocco, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Australia and Kenya together for not just a day-full but a week-full of their sharing their art, both on Saturday and throughout this week. They performed everywhere from Mathare and Eastleigh to Buruburu for school children. This Friday, they will be giving master classes at Alliance Francaise, but one needed to sign up for them in advance.
If anyone doubts that storytelling is an inspiring theatrical form which has an age-old history based right here in Africa, then come to the festival to get a taste of what storytelling is all about.
Meanwhile, at Louis Leakey auditorium at Nairobi National Museum, Kenyatta University students will be staging an original play by Tony Sesat entitled ‘Reverberations’. Directed by Fanuel Mulwa who performed in Sarafina as Crocodile and Jesus Christ Superstar as the Apostle Peter, ‘Reverberations’ is all about a corrupt churchman whose infidelity leads to tragic consequences as the man’s two sons are deeply affected and infected by their father’s poor parenting.
Sadly the story resonates in the Kenya of today. The show runs from tonight through Sunday.

HEARTSTRING & HEARTS OF ART PLAYS PRESENT FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE



THEATRE REFLECTS WOMEN’S PERSPECTIVE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 12 December)

Looking at Kenyan theatre last weekend, one might have gotten the idea that some of our leading thespians have become infected with feminist notions.
For instance, at Heartstrings’ last Friday night I saw a woman outwit her man, a master flatterer and philander.
Throughout the play, ‘Do it Yourself’ you see the spouse (Nick Kwach) apparently having the upper hand. He’s cheating his wife (Anne Kamau) with super-sweet words, all the while making ‘whoopee’ with the house help (Adelyn Wairimu), scheming to swindle her with his pal (Victor Nyaata) and swiping funds from her ATM.
Meanwhile, the wife is wise to her man. She’s apparently known all along that, although he may love her (he puts on a great act), he’s definitely got mixed motives. After all, she’s moneyed. We don’t know how she got it. But we see she’s a working woman and probably a saver whose spouse is eating into her savings fast.
But like any thief, he’s bound to trip up eventually. He stretches his luck too far when asking his wife for a million in cash. That’s the red flag that gives her notice that she’s got to put her foot down. After all, she’s known about his games all along.
But it’s only after Victor and Nick stage a hilarious ‘kidnapping’ complete with a scrappy video that she reveals she isn’t going to keep quiet any more. She’s always known that he’s an unfaithful crook.
The deepest thing about this modern-day dark fairy tale comes when she gets philosophical. Looking at her man and men generally, she admits she’s known he’s a cheater, but she loves him all the same. In any case, what man is better, she asks? If she dumped this guy, what fellow could she find who would be any better!
Her perspective may seem cynical. But the crux of her (and Heartstrings’) insight is that we’ve been bringing up brighter girls every day but letting our boys slip through the cracks. We’ve left them without the moral or ethical education they need to become great and good men who can stand side by side our new women.
It’s a powerful insight that needs to be taken seriously.
Hearts of Art tackles an even more delicate issue than greed, infidelity and blackmail.
It’s rape. Or is it?
That’s the contentious topic that Walter Sitati’s new script, ‘Scars and Stilettos’ tackles, using tropes we’re familiar with.
Like the attractive intern (Tracy Amadi) working in the office of a popular politician (Allan Sifuna), which echoes the notorious scandal of Monica and Bill Clinton. In both scenarios, the intern’s intentions are open to question. Was she a temptress out to seduce a married man? Or a vulnerable victim as her best friend (Patience Akinyi) believes her to be.
It’s the best friend who insists she go see a lawyer (Sitati). Once he gets to court, he doesn’t just present her case. He’s enflamed with a feminist fervor as he challenges the politician’s canny lawyer (Pauline Kyalo).
Capturing all the dramatic electricity that a courtroom can contain, Sitati’s powerfully reasoned soliloquy is matched by the defense lawyer who’s managed to collect alluring photos and emails from the intern to her boss.
Fortunately for the girl, the Judge (Brian Muchina) rules the photos inadmissible in court.  If he had ruled the other way, they could have been grounds for the pol contending the intern seduced him.
But then, we don’t find out how the case concludes since Sitati leaves us on a hanging cliff. The ‘curtain’ comes down just as the Judge is about to rule. So we’ll never know where the writer really stands.
What we do know is that Hearts of Art has empathy for women and understands how deeply the experience of rape affects the woman. We haven’t seen plays in Kenya address this delicate issue in the past, so we are grateful to HOA for defying the taboo on the topic and opening it up to public debate..
Tracy Amadi did an excellent job portraying the young woman whose naivety got her into big trouble and pain she hadn’t foreseen. We also loved the militant spirit of her friend (Akinyi) who insisted her friend take a stand, defy victimization and fight for her dignity and for justice.
Incidentally, PAWA254 must fix the light system for their stage. Otherwise, I feel thespians using that stage suffer from inferior lighting.



Tuesday, 11 December 2018

ANUJA'S VISION OF TRAINING YOUNG WOMEN IN FASHION AND FINANCE



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (11 December 2018)

Last Sunday afternoon at Spinners Web, a ‘Celebration’ Fashion Show featuring the collections of top Kenyan designers were modelled by 30 ‘dream girl’ models who’d been trained by Anuja Prashar.
Anuja doesn’t normally train young women in modelling, but this was a special occasion. As director of the AMURT’S department of development and CSR, she is normally busy setting up a vocational training program for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. So far, she’s already got 2000 girls from the ages of 19 to 26 lined up to learn practical and ‘employable’ skills in everything from handicrafts, specifically sewing and beading, to hairdressing and health care to business administration.
“We aim to train young women to become economically self-sufficient,” says Anuja whose organization has been in Kenya since 1993. “But in the past, AMURT focused primarily on health care services to disadvantaged people.”
But she says once they realized that most of the illnesses they were treating were either directly or indirectly related to poverty, they decided they needed to focus on entrepreneurship training and helping (in this case) young women to become financially self-sufficient.
For that reason, Anuja organized her fashion show to raise funds for the job training program, part of which will teach young women skills in fashion-related skills. Entitled ‘Dreams Entrepreneur and Enterprise Program’ or DEEP, the build-up to her fashion show was what she called the AMURT African Beads and Print 30 Day Challenge.
During those 30 days, she and everyone supporting DEEP was to wear African prints and beads every day for one month. So the fashion show was effectively ‘celebrating’ the end to the Challenge.
“The Challenge helped us raise Sh250,000 towards establishing the program,” says Anuja, who had launched the challenge with a panel addressing the topic “How African Beads and Print Industry are linked to Kenya’s Socio-Economic Community Development.” On that panel were two of Kenya’s leading designers, Deepa Dosaja whose expertise is fashion and Rhodia Mann whose genius is in jewelry and beads.
The fashion show itself also featured Deepa who was one of several leading Kenyan fashion and jewelry designers whose collections were worn by 30 young women who’ve been through AMURT’s first ‘dream’ training program. The other top designers included Niku Singh, Kiran Ahluwalia and Weaver Bird as well as Spinners Web designers like Tracy Kamau, Jackie Resley and others.
Anuja says the show itself was to illustrate how top designers need the skills she aims to train her young women in. The first dream program trained them in skills related to domestic services so they would be more employable as house maids.
But as Anuja believes that young women have the capacity to learn far more than being good domestics, she is keen to train them in entrepreneurship.
“I looked into other vocational training courses, including those run by the government. The cheapest courses ran anywhere from Sh15,000 which is way out of the range of the young women we are targeting. Our program is free,” she adds, noting her ambition is also to set up all over the country. Currently, the dream girls who took AMURT’S first course come from informal settlements (aka slums) around Nairobi such as Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kangemi where AMURT already runs a hospital.
Those are the same estates where the models featured at the Sunday fashion show came from. Wearing everything from beach wear by Kenya Kanga and Tausi Trends to an off-shoulder cocktail dress by Amazing Collection to Maasai Beaded dresses, Straight, Umbrella and Maxi Slit dresses down an impromptu cement catwalk, the novice models put on an elegant show.
The fashion show and raffle which featured, among other exceptional gifts, several hand-woven, hand-dyed Kenyan woolen jackets from Spinners Web, earned DEEP another Sh150,000. Anuja says DEEP is set to take off early next year.
The show itself was a tremendous source of inspiration to the models and their friends. But following the fashion show, what inspired them as much or even more was the arrival of Kenya’s leading Gospel singer, Gloria Muliro, who sang several of her hit songs including ‘Narudisha’. She also told her story of having been a house girl herself for three years, from 2000 to 2003.
“You would never believe it, looking at my life today. But what lifted me up was that I never lost hope and I never let go of my dreams. So don’t you let go of yours either,” Gloria said, speaking directly to Anuja’s dream girls.




TOP DESIGNERS' HOT COLLECTIONS MODELED BY 'DREAM GIRLS' FROM EASTLANDS



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 11 December 2018)

Last Sunday afternoon at Spinners Web in Kitisuru, a ‘Celebration’ Fashion Show featuring the collections of leading Kenyan designers were modelled by 30 ‘dream girl’ models. The thirty are from a pool of 2000 young Kenyan women from informal settlements who have been trained by the community development agency, AMURT.
The top Kenyan designers whose latest collections of fashion, jewelry and other accessories included Deepa Dosaja, Niku Singh, and Kiran Ahluwalia as well as designers represented by Spinners Web such as Tracy Kamau, Tina Masese, Irene Mkasa, Jackie Resley and others.
It was the first fashion show that Spinners Web has hosted since they moved from Spring Valley to Kitisuru more than a year ago. But the open-air catwalk turned out to be a perfect venue for the crowd who came to support Anuja Prashar, AMURT’s new director of development and CRS who had organized the show to promote a vocational training program aimed at assisting young women, including the thirty models who graced the catwalk that day.

Niku Singh’s jewelry pieces were the first of 40 designs that went down the catwalk that day. All his jewelry is one-of-a-kind and the sort of accessory that is both dramatic and unforgettable. The models who got to wear his designs looked like they wore works of art, not just ornamental jewelry.

Next came Deepa’s bright sunny dresses looking both cheerful and chic. Her beautifully fitted orange cocktail dress made the dream model swish all the way down the catwalk. Deepa’s elegant white and green patterned print blended in beautifully with the Kitisuru setting of tall trees and leafy shrubs.
The beach wear provided by Kenya Kanga and Tausi Trends made us want to head for the Coast right now and not wait till the Christmas holiday.
Shoes that featured in the show were mainly sandals provided by Ikwetta as well as by Nina and Azus Leather.
And as the afternoon featured mainly casual day wear, there were a wide variety of bright free-flowing dresses that came down the catwalk. Ikarashi provided the beautiful Maasai Beaded dress while Tracy Wairimu Kamau had a whole line of Umbrella dresses in the show that were clearly the easiest to wear for comfort, style and any time of day.

Tracy, whose labels are Anointed Hands and Suhil, also created the trendy Blue hoodie that most of the models wanted to wear. The Hoodie could have gone well with the Cotton Fleece pants by Rowamy but instead, the pants were matched with a top by Models Own and a Denim bag also by Rowamy.
Deepa’s dresses were among the most elegant ones modelled in the show. But Tina Masese’s Thin Strap dress was also elegant. So was the Maxi Slit dress by Mbabazi, the Ugandan women group that works closely with another Ugandan women group that makes Clutch bags covered in hand-made paper beads. The bag worked well with the Maasai Beaded dress.
Among the other fashionable accessories worn last Sunday were hats. A big floppy Safari hat came from Rowamy while the red hat that matched the red umbrella dress came from Tausi Trends and several beach hats came all the way from Madagascar and Madagascar Arts.
The height of ‘beach wear’ was actually provided by Karin Ahluwalia who brands her bright multicolored silk scarves with her first name. They formed the perfect beach cover since they are slightly transparent but also rich in sunshine hues that make you think of sunbeams not swimwear.

But the cutest moments of the day came when four little models came down the catwalk just as coy and cute as one might want to take home and adopt. One wore a turquoise blue poncho which was slightly too big for her but nobody cared since she carried it with poise and pleasure.
The real show stealer was the little four year old dressed in a white frock patterned with red roses. She wasn’t quite sure where to walk but she marched on and proved herself to be a promising model, just as promising as all the other young women who are trainees with Anuja Prashar’s Dreams Entrepreneur and Enterprise Program or DEEP.
Nearly all the fashions on display last Sunday are available at Spinners Web.



CELEBRATING KENYAN FASHION WITH DREAM GIRL MODELS


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 11 December 2018)

Last Sunday afternoon at Spinners Web, a ‘Celebration’ Fashion Show featuring the collections of top Kenyan designers were modelled by 30 ‘dream girl’ models who’d been trained by Anuja Prashar.
Anuja doesn’t normally train young women in modelling, but this was a special occasion. As director of the AMURT’S department of development and CSR, she is normally busy setting up a vocational training program for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. So far, she’s already got 2000 girls from the ages of 19 to 26 lined up to learn practical and ‘employable’ skills in everything from handicrafts, specifically sewing and beading, to hairdressing and health care to business administration.

“We aim to train young women to become economically self-sufficient,” says Anuja whose organization has been in Kenya since 1993. “But in the past, AMURT focused primarily on health care services to disadvantaged people.”
But she says once they realized that most of the illnesses they were treating were either directly or indirectly related to poverty, they decided they needed to focus on entrepreneurship training and helping (in this case) young women to become financially self-sufficient.
For that reason, Anuja organized her fashion show to raise funds for the job training program, part of which will teach young women skills in fashion-related skills. Entitled ‘Dreams Entrepreneur and Enterprise Program’ or DEEP, the build-up to her fashion show was what she called the AMURT African Beads and Print 30 Day Challenge.
During those 30 days, she and everyone supporting DEEP was to wear African prints and beads every day for one month. So the fashion show was effectively ‘celebrating’ the end to the Challenge.

“The Challenge helped us raise Sh250,000 towards establishing the program,” says Anuja, who had launched the challenge with a panel addressing the topic “How African Beads and Print Industry are linked to Kenya’s Socio-Economic Community Development.” On that panel were two of Kenya’s leading designers, Deepa Dosaja whose expertise is fashion and Rhodia Mann whose genius is in jewelry and beads.
The fashion show itself also featured Deepa who was one of several leading Kenyan fashion and jewelry designers whose collections were worn by 30 young women who’ve been through AMURT’s first ‘dream’ training program. The other top designers included Niku Singh, Kiran Ahluwalia and Weaver Bird as well as Spinners Web designers like Tracy Kamau, Jackie Resley and others.

Anuja says the show itself was to illustrate how top designers need the skills she aims to train her young women in. The first dream program trained them in skills related to domestic services so they would be more employable as house maids.
But as Anuja believes that young women have the capacity to learn far more than being good domestics, she is keen to train them in entrepreneurship.
“I looked into other vocational training courses, including those run by the government. The cheapest courses ran anywhere from Sh15,000 which is way out of the range of the young women we are targeting. Our program is free,” she adds, noting her ambition is also to set up all over the country. Currently, the dream girls who took AMURT’S first course come from informal settlements (aka slums) around Nairobi such as Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kangemi where AMURT already runs a hospital.

Those are the same estates where the models featured at the Sunday fashion show came from. Wearing everything from beach wear by Kenya Kanga and Tausi Trends to an off-shoulder cocktail dress by Amazing Collection to Maasai Beaded dresses, Straight, Umbrella and Maxi Slit dresses down an impromptu cement catwalk, the novice models put on an elegant show.
The fashion show and raffle which featured, among other exceptional gifts, several hand-woven, hand-dyed Kenyan woolen jackets from Spinners Web, earned DEEP another Sh150,000. Anuja says DEEP is set to take off early next year.

The show itself was a tremendous source of inspiration to the models and their friends. But following the fashion show, what inspired them as much or even more was the arrival of Kenya’s leading Gospel singer, Gloria Muliro, who sang several of her hit songs including ‘Narudisha’. She also told her story of having been a house girl herself for three years, from 2000 to 2003.
“You would never believe it, looking at my life today. But what lifted me up was that I never lost hope and I never let go of my dreams. So don’t you let go of yours either,” Gloria said, speaking directly to Anuja’s dream girls.




TRAINING FOR SELF-SUFFICIENCY



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 11 december 2018)

In the last two years, nearly 2000 young women from Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kangemi have been trained in the ‘Dream Girls program’ run by the community development NGO, AMURT which has aimed to empower girls from disadvantaged background
Yet Anuja Prashar, director of AMURT’s department of development and CSR says that program had flaws. It didn’t teach the young women the kind of vocational skills that would enable them to become financially self-sufficient.
“They were basically trained to become house maids,” says Anuja who has much higher ambitions for the women. She’s started a vocational training program that aims to teach them practical and ‘employable’ skills which her research has shown will meet a market demand. The market she’s been focused on initially is the fashion industry since it relies on skills labor to create their high fashion.
The updated ‘dreams program’ that she has created teaches young women between the ages of 19 and 26 both employable skills ranging from handicrafts, including beading and sewing, to hairdressing and beauty to health care and hygiene.
But as important as these hands-on skills are in her program, Anuja is convinced that it’s the entrepreneurial skills that will help them most to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs.
“I want them to be able to start their own jua kali enterprises. Their businesses may initially be small scale, but I’m convinced there’s a ready market that’s prepared to keep them occupied once they have the right kind of skills training,” Anuja says.
The ‘Dreams Entrepreneur & Enterprise Program’ (DEEP) will provide that kind of training, she adds.
“We already have the program set up and we’ve begun training the young women. But we still need funds to expand our infrastructure since we want to take DEEP countrywide,” she says. “What’s more, in the near future we hope to include young men in the training.”
AMURT itself has been in Kenya since 1993 but in the past its primary focus has been on bringing health care services to disadvantaged people.
“AMURT has already set up three hospitals, the largest one being in Kangemi,” she says. “I was brought in to develop enterprise training programs after AMURT realized that many of the illnesses they treat are either directly or indirectly the result of poverty.”
But as it isn’t everyone who understands the link between skills training of young women and improved health, Anuja recently launched an African Beads and Print Challenge.
“It aimed to get people thinking about the role that [accessories like] Maasai beads and African prints play in developing our local fashion industry,” she says.
For 30 days she challenged herself and friends to dress in African designs and beads. At the outset of the ‘challenge’, she organized a panel discussion highlighting how the African Bead and Print industry is linked to Kenya’s socio-economic development.
Last Sunday, the challenge culminated with a fund-raiser fashion show at Spinners Web in Kitisuru. The show featured collections by top Kenyan designers’, all of which were modelled by 30 ‘dream girls’ and 10 child models, all of whom came from ‘informal settlements’ (or slums).
The top designers whose fashions were feature included Deepa Dosaja, Niku Singh, Kiran Ahluwalia and Spinners Web designers such as Tracy Kamau, Jackie Resley and Weaver Bird.
In the introduction of the show, Anuja invited several ‘dream girls’ to come forward to tell what the Dream program had done for them thus far. Among them was Aisha Wandia Muchiri, 23, from Kibera who has a primary school education. She said the program had already given her the self-confidence to stand up and speak in public which she couldn’t do before.
The highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of the renowned Kenyan Gospel singer, Gloria Muliro, who had once been a ‘dream girl’ herself. She said she too had been employed as a housemaid, something she did from 2000 to 2003.
“You would never believe that I was a house girl if you look at my life today,” says the acclaimed singer. “But what lifted me up was that I never lost hope and I never let go of my dreams,” she added.
Muliro inspired the youth that day, singing and dancing with them. She also invited them to join her as she sang one of her favorite tunes, Narudisha..
Anuja raised KSh250,000 from the Challenge and another SSh150,000 from the fashion show. She now plans to ramp up DEEP in the New Year.







Sunday, 9 December 2018

KENYAN ART FILLS THE CITY



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 9 December 2018)

Is it the holiday season that’s inspired so many artists to hold exhibitions this month? And is it a sense of adventure that’s caused quite a few to find new venues rather than wait in line for a space at one of the more established spaces, like Alliance Francaise, One Off, Circle Art or Red Hill Galleries?
Those established venues organize their programs well in advance. As such, One Off is currently hosting Peterson Kamwathi with his three KU mates, Martin Musyoka, Victor Mwangi and David Mucai.

Circle Art is featuring 15 artists from Zimbabwe. Red Hill just opened with a solo show of works by Joseph Cartoon and Alliance Francaise, which is celebrating the 70 anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights this week, is also featuring an amazing exhibition of graphite drawings by Nicholas Odhiambo entitled ‘Pedagogy of Oppression’ (echoing Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

So artists like David Maina and Munene Kariithi have a show at the Karen Landmark building entitled ‘City Faces’.  They are exhibiting under the umbrella of After5Art.ke which began showing Kenyan art several months back. Their exhibition space is in Merita Technologies which isn’t vast. But MT had plenty of empty wall space which worked well for Maina and Munene whose show is running through the weekend.
But that’s just one of the new spaces that has recently opened up to showcase young artists’ works. Out in Kitengela, Chelenge van Rampelberg just teamed up with the Banana Hill Art Gallery (another established gallery that’s booked up way in advance) to open her gracious rustic place and set up a new gallery that she’s calling Chelenge’s Home Studio.

Interestingly enough, Chelenge isn’t the only artist who has set up their own public viewing space. Jeffie Magina has opened his Studio Soku for public displays as has Joan Otieno who often holds wear-able [junk] art fashion shows at her Warembo Wasanii Initiative in Kariobangi North.
Restaurants have often been known to feature Kenyan artworks. Now the new eatery in Garden Estate called 45 Degrees is featuring an exhibition of new works by Evans Ngure, Samuel Njuguna, Anwar Sadat and Milena.
And while the Carnivore is mainly renowned for its food and music fetes, Pascal Chuma currently has a one-man exhibition there in time for the pre-holiday festivities.
Malls are also open occasionally to hosting art exhibitions which is what the Lavington Mall did last weekend when a group of young artists, one as young as 12, had an impromptu show.  It was instigated by a mother, Dr Irum Mirza who feels strongly that her son Hariz has real talent. She’d been told by his teachers as much ever since he was five. So the mom rented space in the mall and the lad put up his work to ideally elicit a positive public response.
And speaking of Malls, at the Rosslyn Riviera, the two-man exhibition entitled ‘Boundaries’ featuring the works of Carbon Mwini and Eltayeb Dawelbait obliterated the assumption that malls were not places for art, only for food, jewelry, clothes and home appliances.
There are several new galleries prepared to adjust their schedules to accommodate artists who are keen on being exhibited. Polka Dot Gallery displays that sort of flexibility which is beneficial to both the artists and Lara Ray who opens her art space to a wide range of Kenyan artists who in turn have attracted a widening audience to come to the Souk in Karen where Polka Dot is based.
Currently the ‘Un-found’ exhibition features several artists who specialize in upcycling. One is Evans Ngure who has previously referred to himself as a ‘junk artist’, but Polka Dot’s manager Tewa Thaddu prefers the trendy term ‘upcycling’. It simply means taking found objects or junk, basically scavenged materials that artists collect from here and there, and then transforming them into works of art.

Evans is there with Leena Shah, Rogan Anjuli, Lionel Garang and Njogu Kuria. All have upcycled various materials to create a fascinating show.
The other flexible art space that is attracting wider audiences with every exhibition they hold is at the Kobo Trust where the gallery is currently displaying the artworks of Patrick Kinuthia and Kennedy Kinyua.

 The show was meant to be for Patrick alone but as he’s become something of a mentor to Kinyua, he wanted to give the younger artist an opportunity to be seen, especially as he’s experimenting with new subjects and styles.
So with the holidays coming, keep in mind that artwork makes an excellent gift.
                                                       Nduta Kariuki and Jess Atieno are both featured in the newly released Radiobook Rwanda

Friday, 7 December 2018

UPCYCLED ART HAS BIG APPEAL FOR KENYANS WHO THINK ‘OUT OF THE BOX’


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 6 December 2018 for Saturday Nation)

Upcycling is different from recycling. Both processes involve the use of garbage, or put more politely, ‘discarded objects’.  But recycled junk tends to remains just junk only that it’s sorted and then sent somewhere to either be disposed of safely or used to make something else.
That’s not so very different from upcycling except that the upcycled junk is specifically used to create something of higher quality or value than the original material.
Today there are many Kenyan artists who are busy upcycling. Some are doing so because the junk is far more affordable than conventional art materials like canvas, acrylic, oil or spray paints. For others it’s the environmental appeal and the pride of knowing they are creating value out of what someone else has seen as valueless.
Then there are artists like Evans Ngure, one of the six artists whose ‘upcycled’ art is on display at the Polka Dot Gallery for the next few days. Evans used to be a painter until one of his lecturers in Kenyatta University’s art department encouraged him to explore the artistic potential in more unconventional art materials. ‘
“Her advice helped me open my thinking to begin experimenting with all sorts of things,” he says referring to Anne Mwiti who taught him in his third year at KU. Her advice led to a major change in Evans’ art practice such that now, he rarely if ever picks up a paint brush. He’s more inclined to work with plyers on all kinds of found objects.
From the look of the six sculptures that he’s got in Polka Dot’s current show entitled ‘Un-found’, Evans found and reassembled (or upcycled) everything from parts of old cars, bicycles, TVs and telephones to an old hacksaw, crash helmet, scissors and piping from a junked motorcycle. He’s also got plenty of screws, nuts and bolts keeping his artworks intact.
The point is, Evans creates art from junk for the pure joy of it. The works themselves testify to the fun he’s been having in transforming, for instance, a hacksaw into a friendly ‘bull’ or a hollowed out TV box into a 3D frame (or is it a cage) wherein one of his scissor-birds resides.
But Evans isn’t the only artist in the show to display quite a bit of wit, ingenuity and resourceful in the way he or she creates their upcycled art. Leena Shah for one has used old glossy fashion magazines to create collage art that sparkles as she’s designed her own surreal notion of fashion, suggesting she’s got many more upcycled collages to make, since the medium clearly suits her.
Lionel R. Garang uses old gunny sacks in place of canvas for his series of automobile paintings. Richard Njogu is also a painter only he works with ‘found’ vinyl ‘45’ records to create portraits of beautiful women, prominent musicians and ‘celebs’ like the late Bob Marley, Loren Hill and others.       
Wallace Juma and Rogan Anjuli are also painters, although they too are very different. Wallace paints actual junk heaps, but he does so in such a way that his junk is meticulously detailed, distinctively colored, branded and strewn beneath pastel skies that look almost heavenly.
In contrast, Rogan substitutes canvas for leather which he too has found, but then beautified with portraits of people that have been embossed into the leather to ensure a sense of permanence.
‘Un-founded’ is Polka Dot’s first upcycled art exhibition, but it should not be the last since there are countless more young Kenyans who’ve discovered they need not buy expensive art materials to express themselves in fresh and innovative ways. Most would love to be in Polka Dot’s next ‘un-found’ show   




Wednesday, 5 December 2018

MORE AT STAKE IN PAA YA PAA FAMILY DISPUTE THAN LAND



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 5 December 2018)

The late Samwel Wanjau is considered by many to be Kenya’s greatest sculptor whose best known work was the 10 foot tall statue of the Mau Mau Freedom Fighter. It stood at the same location from the time it was commissioned by the former Kenyan Attorney General Charles Njonjo. That was at Paa ya Paa Art Centre where Wanjau had created it out of cement and reinforced steel in the early 1970s.
But as of last Sunday morning, 2nd December, the Freedom Fighter lies in pieces on contested ground, on land which according to Nairobi City Council belongs to Elimo Njau, the co-founder and artistic director of Paa ya Paa. But according to a court ruling, half the Paa ya Paa land allegedly belongs to Rebecca Njau, Elimo’s estranged first wife who claims she’s owed half the Njau’s so-called matrimonial land.

In the name of her alleged ownership of half of PYP’s five acre plot, Rebecca sent workmen to the land nearly two years ago. Without notifying Elimo of her intent, she ordered them to erect an extended mabati fence all along the line she claimed divided her land from Elimo’s. From then on, the fate of the Freedom Fighter was precarious since he stood on her side of the mabati fence.
Elimo has never accepted that the land belongs to himself. “The land was bought by Maurice Wolf, my secondary school teacher, who specifically bought it on behalf of Kenyan artists, not me,” says Elimo.
“I am only a caretaker. My land is in Tanzania,” adds to Marangu-born artist and former Makerere University lecturer.

Yet Elimo’s claim is weak from a legalistic perspective since the title deed to the land names him as its owner, not Kenyan artists. Nonetheless, he is adamant his first wife has no legitimate claim to the ground.
Local artists aligned with Elimo have tried to bring down the mabati which they also saw as illegitimate. Yet Rebecca has tried to take them and Elimo to court for trespassing.
In other words, the land dispute is a quagmire. To make matters worse, Elimo at age 87 hasn’t had the means to retrieve the broken pieces of the Freedom Fighter. He has friends, like his neighbor Dr Ernst Tenambergen who have offered to pay to have Wanjau’s masterpiece removed from the contested ground so that the sculpture can be restored to its former glory. But for reasons best known to himself Elimo has refused the help.

That left the Mau Mau vulnerable to the fate that befell him last Sunday when the gang of ten returned to destroy not just the Freedom Fighter but also the wall of the Njau’s ecumenical chapel which had stood adjacent to Rebecca’s mabati fence. They also did serious damage to PYP artists’ storage rooms where priceless artworks were being kept.
According to John Njuguna, the caretaker employed by Rebecca to look after the two and half acres that she claims, he had been informed by her in advance that her men were coming to do her job. Nonetheless, she hadn’t told Elimo that they were on their way to remove all properties remaining on more land that she now claims. That included the chapel wall, other walls behind which had been the artists’ stores and the remaining pieces of the Wanjau sculpture, which she considered no better than garbage to be junked.

Ironically, the gang of ten also bashed down several metres of the mabati fence. Initially, it was a mystery why they would tear down the very fence that Rebecca had originally put up. But then, Njuguna says the first demarcation was inaccurate. It supposedly short-changed Rebecca who is now claiming more PYP land according to her surveyor’s measurements.
This week on Tuesday, Rebecca’s gang returned, again without notifying Elimo they were on PYP land. But when he was informed by his second wife Phillda that they were still around, he found the men dragging parts of the Freedom Fighter off their boss’s side of the grounds back over to Elimo’s
“They’d already broken off one of his arms. By the time I found him, he had lost another arm and a hand,” says Phillda who further observed that “parts of the statue are still on the other side of the fence.”

So the restorers will have quite a task to reconstruct Wanjau’s masterpiece when and if funds are found to conduct the required artistic ‘surgery’ of putting him back together again.
One can hardly blame members of the gang who were merely employees (some might call them mercenaries) of the estranged wife. But the way they have treated a piece of art that many feel should be seen as an historic relic of an important period in Kenyan life is nothing if not philistine.
Clearly the case of the Freedom Fighter and the Paa ya Paa land are unresolved. One only hopes the Kenyan public, or even the family of Wanjau will come forward to find out if the elder’s Mau Mau can be brought back to life. 



SANAA AWARDS: WERE THEY WORTH WAITING THREE HOURS FOR?




By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 5 December 2018)

Award ceremonies can provide the best of times as well as the worst. It was true last week at the Kalasha Film Awards when the cast and crew of Subira felt elated for having won Best Film of the year. But a few felt the ruling wasn’t fair since the jury didn’t require Sippy Chadha’s beautiful film to go through the same vetting process as everybody else. Nonetheless, one need only go and see the movie this week at any one of several cinemas houses to concede that Subira is a stunning film with a Kenyan woman’s story that deserves to be told.
Then this Monday night, at the Sanaa Theatre Awards, there were lots of happy winners and a few sore losers who felt an injustice had been done in their category. Nonetheless, what Sanaa’s jury chairman Dr Fred Mbogo sought to make clear in his opening remarks (which unfortunately were given well after 9pm, despite the ceremony having been scheduled to start at 6!) was that the task of judging this year was especially difficult since so many first class productions had been staged over the past two years (no awards were given in 2017), it was almost impossible to select a single ‘best’ awardees among the candidates.

It was especially tough when it came to best actors and actresses, best playwright, best production and best producer. But possibly the most difficult of all for the judges was choosing the ‘best musical theatre’ since these past two years have witnessed an avalanche of outstanding musical theatre shows.
The Nairobi Performing Arts Studio alone produced highly professional shows in Jesus Christ Superstar (twice), Sarafina and Grease, all of which were first class. So were the musical shows staged by Aperture Africa Productions including Jungle Book, Robin Hood and Cinderella. And finally, there was Tinga Tinga Tales that filled the Kenya National Theatre every day and night for a month before it went abroad and got rave reviews after being seen by New York audiences and theatre critics. And while Brookhouse’s Dreamgirls was on the list for consideration, their production was staged after the deadline for submissions, so one’s not sure why they were even listed.

Best Actor went to Gilbert Lukalia for his brilliant performance in Breathe: stories by Jackson Biko. But every other candidate also gave outstanding performances. Best actress went to Elsie Akinyi for her sterling performances in shows like Cinderella, Sarafina and Brazen. But again, we saw a wealth of female acting talent these past two years. So in my mind, all the women could have won. But then there would have been no competition.
Undoubtedly, it wasn’t any easier for the judges to select best actress in a supporting role although Mkamzee Mwatela who played Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar was practically a shoe-in. So was Bilal Wanjau for his part in shows like Robin Hood, Jungle Book and Minister Karibu, although he too had faced stiff competition. And best playwright went to Walter Sitati for scripts like Necessary Madness, What Can’t Kill you and All I ever wanted.

One of the most surprising wins was for Best Producer since it may be asked why a politician, Hon. Cleophas Malala won that award but we gather he is an outstanding thespian. On the other hand, perhaps Hon. Malala could pave the way for a wider appreciation among government officials to come out in support of Kenyan theatre.
Alliance Francaise deserved to win Best all-round supporting institution just as Kenya National Theatre deserved winning for the Most Improved Theatre space.

But for me, the other sad selection that the judges made was for Best Narrative Theatre. It exposed one of the major flaws in the jury, which is that in many instances jurists had not seen some of the best performances of the last two year. Among those, I personally saw Maimouna Jallow, Sitawa Namwalie, Mshai Mwangola-Gitongo and Hellen Alumbe, all of whom are brilliant storytellers. I assume Kenyatta University’s performance of Annabel, which won Best Narrative was also excellent, but I wouldn’t know. Nonetheless, I’m sad one of these amazing storytellers lost. But as I said, there had to be winners and loser that night.

Among the high notes of Sanaa’s fifth awards night were the Special Distinction Award that went to Tinga Tales and the Lifetime Achievement Awards which went to Nicholas Ole Moipei, Chairman, Kenya Cultural Centre Board, Peter Mudamba, Muthoni Garland and Benson Wanjau aka Ojwang’ Atari.


'TOO EARLY FOR BIRDS' DEBUTED TO POPULAR ACCLAIM, WON SANAA AWARD BY 12.2018


                                  Abu Sense and Bryan Ngartia won a Sanaa Theatre award for Too Early for Birds



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 5 December 2018)

(originally posted from US, Wilmette after watching it on YouTube in January 2018)

At last a first class original Kenyan production that grabs the meaty drama of the country’s recent history and turns it into brilliant theatre.
‘Too early for birds’ is a production that deserves to return tonight to the Kenya National Theatre where just a few nights ago, it practically brought the house down, so well received it was by the hefty house-full crowd.
Clearly the word had spread among a new generation of enthusiastic theatre-goers beforehand that Ngartia’s and Abu Sense’s hybrid production was something very special to see.
It’s a show that combines snappy stand-up storytelling with hip-hop and slam-styled poetry, R&B and a range of revolutionary moments in Kenya’s recent history.
‘Too early for birds’ is a cryptic title for a play about war. Not war in the sense of World War 2; but maybe more like an anti-colonial struggle waged at the cultural level against dictatorial power that aimed to crush all political, social and even religious dissent.
Remarkably, the show is largely carried by a single storyteller who also happens to be the scriptwriter and slam-poet who goes by the name of Ngartia. He’s magnetic from the moment he steps on a stage that is vast, but which his spirited performance commands.
Ngartia’s enthusiasm for his story and soulful subject matter is both electrifying and infectious. So much so that it doesn’t take him a tug to draw in his audience to chant along right in time and at his tempo as he makes powerful points and motions his audience to concur, which they joyfully do.
He’s energized by the story of a great man, a living legend and authentic Kenyan hero, Dr. Rev. Timothy Njoya.
The story isn’t a like a boring biographical history of the man. Instead, it zooms in on turning points in our recent past. Specifically, it’s the 1990’s at a time when rumors abound that fellow Kenyans (critics of the government) were either fleeing the country or getting grabbed and detained.
And then, there were the Mothers who confirmed the rumors with their lives. The Mothers of Political Prisoners were passionate about getting their sons out of prisons and detention holes that were said to be torture centre.
The Mothers play an integral part of the true story. So does Nobel prizing-winning Kenyan Professor the late Wangari Maathai. But “Too Early for birds’ focuses on Rev. Njoya who, like Wangari, enduring life-threatening beatings.
Wangari also nearly lost her life at the time standing and marching to the place that has since been christened Freedom Corner. But Rev. Njoya was beaten bloody not just once but several times and he never relented.
His resistance inspired and propelled a movement that eventually was able to bring the dictator down. What was beautiful about the play was also the way the storyteller could morph and become other charters to help dramatize key moments that further served to illustrate how dramatic those moments in Kenya’s recent history really were.
“Too early for birds’ is a show not to be missed. First staged by the wider public (it might have had smaller show-casings) at this year’s Storymoja Festival, we are fortunate both that Ngartia and Abu Sense listened to their fans and brought the show back on stage.
What I also appreciate is that the producers shared the view that getting a video of the show out on YouTube would only enhance, not diminish audience attendance. For instance, I unfortunately could not get to the earlier KNT productions but I did manage to see the show on YouTube. And while I’d have loved for the cameras to zoom in a bit closer occasionally, the cinematography was sufficient to confirm that ‘Too early for Birds’ local theatre lovers need to go and see.