Wednesday, 28 November 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 28 November 2018)

It’s a Christmas tradition in certain parts of the world, including at Braeburn School, to celebrate the season with a pantomime theatrical production.
Braeburn’s selection this year was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (B&B) which was staged this past weekend at its Gitanga Road campus, and most assuredly was nothing like either the Disney movie version of the story or the traditional one.
There were traditional elements to the show however. The story was typically a fairy tale featuring a ‘Principal boy’ which is always played by a female (Shelina Allport) and a ‘Dame’ which is usually played by a man. But here was the first major departure from tradition that director Charlotte Everest dared to make in this wildly inventive pantomime.
Ms Everest made several delightful departures from panto’s centuries-old traditions in B&B. For one, the ‘Dame’ was a female, a truly eccentric Madame Fifi (Jazz Mistri). Another was the introduction of both live and recorded pop music, none of which was Christmasy, but all of which was heaps of fun to watch. It was especially fun as the youngsters (both on and off stage) were clearly delighted with the ebullient energy that got unleashed, thanks to Madam Fifi’s frivolity and flamboyant style of commanding everyone to get up and dance along with her.
What Ms Everest didn’t change were ‘the goodies’ and the baddies, headed by Flora, the sweet Good Fairy (Jenny Childs) and Belladonna, the cackling Bad Fairy (Joanna Hechle). Bella’s a real schemer and quite a scary bad witch who nearly succeeded in toppling the reign of Ms Good Fairy as well as the hope of the Prince.
There was genuine suspense in this sinister battle between good and evil. Fortunately, the goodies had a secret weapon in Madame Fifi who you just knew had to ultimately win the day. But in the process, Braeburn’s youthful director succeeded in sucking us all in (including adults and toddlers), into the battle that Bella and her minions nearly won.
Ms. Everest was only at Braeburn on a three month residency. Conveniently, she was at the school just long enough to direct her first pantomime and shake up tradition sufficiently to turn it upside down.
One reason she got away with revolutionizing the old model without ruffling too many traditionalists’ feathers is because the majority of cast members, especially the young ones loved her contemporary approach. Also, she’s a hands-on professional who took charge of the sound, lights and visual projections as well as directing. That meant special effects like the timing of thunder and lightning (signaling activation of Bella’s curse) was impeccable as were the snappy set and scene changes.
Ms. Everest didn’t give the audience a moment to have our attention lapse since the momentum of theatrical action never waned. There wasn’t a single clumsy, time-consuming set change, of the kind that lead audiences to lose what thespians call that essential ‘suspension of disbelief’. That’s the element of theatre that inspires someone to get sucked into the alternative reality that theatre ideally aims to draw every audience into thoroughly.
This pantomime was most effective in holding us captive for the duration, even though the audience on Sunday afternoon seemed to be mainly toddlers, moms and pre-teens. That’s to say the show was enchanting and spicy at the same time. The moments of adult humor were sufficiently cloaked in double entendre to keep little ones from being shocked or baffled by off-color jokes or even slams at rival schools.
The show stealer of the night was undoubtedly Madame Fifi, who not only led the charge through the Fearsome Forest, into the enchanted castle where the Prince had been transformed into the Beast by Bella’s curse. Fifi also led everyone in dance, including when she managed to get the majority of kids up on stage to sing and dance to a simple happy song. Belle (Kate Snow) was also a sweetheart and her sassy self-centred sisters, Britney (Samantha Mihajlovic) and Whitney (Razan Gubara) were bossy but beautiful buggers.
The choreography was also well done. What was especially clever was silverware dance where Braeburn kids danced dressed as either spoons, plates or forks.
All told, Beauty and the Beast had multiple campy moments, as a traditional pantomime is meant to have. But this B&B mixed those moments in with so much joyful modernity that it was just fun watching this inter-generational cast share a festive spirit that was well-suited for the upcoming holidays.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


                                        Sippy Chadha, screenwriter, director and coproducer of 'Subira'

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 27 November 2018)

It’s no wonder the Kenyan-Danish co-production of ‘Subira’ won Best Feature Film at the 2018 Kalasha Film Awards last Saturday. It’s an elegant tale well told of a shy but smart and strong Mswahili girl’s quest for freedom in a culture that dictates she become a child bride and be subservient to her spouse and his family the rest of her life.
What’s the wonder is that Subira didn’t win more of the 13 awards the film was nominated for. It did win Best Director which came as such a shock to the Kenyan-India-born screenwriter and co-producer Sippy Chadha that she had to choke back tears of joy upon receiving her trophy from the ICT Cabinet Secretary, Joe Mucheru. Sippy had worked more than eight years to write, fund-raise and direct this semi-autobiographical film which she set both in Lamu and Nairobi. So what she was witnessing was a dream come true.
But Subira didn’t win best cinematography, yet the Tanzanian-Danish cinematographer Talib Rasmussen created an elegant and magical feast for the eyes, filming the Indian Ocean where the child Subira (Zinat Mohammed) learned from her beloved father (Abubakar Mwenda) how to fish and play in the sea before a terrible tragedy hit her hard and resulted in her swift arranged marriage by her impoverished mother (Nice Githinji) to a wealthy young Nairobi-based businessman (Tirath Padam).
The filming is seamless and stunning. The music too is subtle but well-adapted to every scene of Subira’s journey from Lamu  to Nairobi, back to Lamu in flight from a marriage she’d never wanted, and then back again to the big city. But I won’t spoil the film’s ending by saying ‘for what’.
Subira has been described as an ‘inter-racial’ love story but that’s a misnomer. Just because Brenda Wairimu (who won Best Actress) plays the teen-age Mswahili bride and Tirath Padam plays Taufiq doesn’t mean the film was meant to be inter-racial, nor even a love story. In fact, for most of the film, Subira is in rebellion against the confining dictates of her culture, including the marriage.
As a child, her father ignited the rebel in her by taking her to the sea (which is culturally the ‘domain of men’) and telling her she is ‘meant for greater things’. She has no choice but to wed, but once in Nairobi, she violates all the ‘wifely’ norms. And once discovered for her cultural ‘crimes’, she flees before she’s beaten by her in-law.
Subira’s qualitative journey to self-actualization is a delicate unfoldment that is magical and masterfully conceived. It’s nearly all in Kiswahili with English subtitles. Only Nairobi-dwellers like Melvin Alusa and Sitawa Namwalie speak English, which in no way detracts from this beautiful film.
Subira premiered last night and runs all this week in cinemas around Nairobi. Thereafter, the Mombasa ‘premiere’ will be December 7.

Monday, 26 November 2018


                                                                             Niketa Fazal with her artworks at home

By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 28 November 2018

Niketa Fazal is a rare kind of Kenyan artist. For one thing, she had to endure a mini-mid-life crisis before she realized she was meant to be a visual artist. She’d trained in graphic design in UK and then went into advertising once she returned home to Kenya. But she didn’t feel fulfilled in that career.
“I’d always loved the arts,” she told Saturday Nation. But it wasn’t until she’d nearly reached forty that she finally took the radical step to leave her job and enroll in Kenyatta University’s fine art department.
Niketa says she was the oldest student in her class, but she didn’t mind, since she felt she was doing what she was meant to do.
Now Niketa is painting up a storm. For her latest series of works, she traveled all around Nairobi, sketching sites and shooting photographs in order to create a number of cityscapes. These were recently on display at Village Market, together with art of two other women artists.

With Yulia Chvetsova and Milena Weichelt, Niketa mounted an exhibition entitled ‘Diverse Perspectives.’ Their show only ran from 16th to 19th November so I confess I didn’t get there. But I managed to get a private viewing of Niketa’s art when I visited her home and saw both paintings from her recent show as well as earlier works she’d created this past year.
“2018 has been a busy year for me,” says Niketa who got her bachelor of fine art in 2011. “I had a [solo] show in [Delhi] India in February, and another one in Spain in September which featured my watercolors,” she adds.
Hoping to organize a group exhibition of water colorist in 2019, Niketa’s works at Village Market had been primarily painted in acrylics.
“For my cityscapes, I traveled all around Nairobi, both sketching scenes on site and taking photographs that I would later use inside my studio,” says Niketa who says she loves her city.
But she admits she’s been troubled to see how rapidly the city has changed on the surface. Her cityscapes reflect those changes since she, like another Kenyan artist, Paul Njihia, felt compelled to paint construction sites as ‘works in progress’.
But more troubling to her is that beneath the surface and behind those high rises, she’s continued to see the same slums that haven’t changed significantly despite all the towering walls of cement and steel rising rapidly all around them.
Her show included both high rises and scenes from Majengo and Kibera. Yet even though she painted ‘mabati’ shacks situated near a city dump, her perspective never seems bleak or voyeuristic.
On the contrary, one work that she entitles ‘White Wash’ highlights not the dilapidated slum so much as the white sheets hanging on a laundry line in front of a shack behind which stands the one beautiful purple-blossomed Jacaranda tree in that neighborhood.
Another one of her works is a common sight on Landies Road where scores of empty blue metal barrels are stacked maybe thirty feet off the ground. Her painting portrays the peculiar beauty of that scene. The man standing below the stack seems minimized by the magnitude of the metals’ implicit might.
The painting by Niketa that I find most intriguing is one she created in early 2008 entitled ‘Power Sharing’. The scene is somewhere in Eastlands. What’s most distinctive about it is the darkened sky overhead which evokes a mood that’s haunting and almost ominous as was the politicians’ talk of ‘power sharing’. On the other hand, dark skies could foreshadow much-needed rain. So there’s a paradox to this painting which reflected a sign of those times.


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted November 28, 2018)

Carbon Mwini and El Tayeb Dawelbait transcend all sorts of ‘Boundaries’ in their joint exhibition which also happens to be the title of this premiere exhibition which opens One Off Gallery’s ‘annex’ at the Rosslyn Riviera mall!
Their exhibition is the reason I stepped foot in one of the many new malls going up all around Nairobi. But it was such a good idea for One Off’s Carol Lees to find this well-windowed space which greets you right as you climb up the first set of steps into the Mall.
The space seems vast with its high ceiling and pearly white walls which are large enough to easily accommodate one of El Tayeb’s larger works. It’s not quite as tall as a similar piece of his that stands graciously in the lobby of Delta House in Westlands. But he employed a similar set of methods, motions and notions to create them both.
For instance, in both instances, he’s assembled old wooden boxes that he’s picked up here and there, then placed them in a larger boxy frame, after which he’s painted them in various colors and styles. The finished work feels almost antique in its rustic elegance.
What the show’s curator, Willem Kevenaar of The Attic Art Space has done with this show is to harmonize the works of El Tayeb and Mwini. He does so by hanging geometric ensembles of Mwini’s laser art, placing them together either three by three or two by four in forms that correlate the two artists’ works.
According to Mwini, each of his mixed media paintings can stand on its own. Each is a smaller piece having its own unique fascination. First, it’s surprisingly symmetrical, or rather one layer of each painting contains an exquisite sense of symmetry which Mwini has achieved by carefully drawing his iconic African designs using laser light.
In other words, in place of a paint brush, pencil, biro pen or palette knife, Mwini ‘paints’ using high-powered laser rays in a way that I confess I don’t fully understand. But by so doing, his indigenous African icons are also ‘assembled’ into intricate shapes that become modern-day icons that combine the old and the new.
For Kevenaar, that’s one way that Mwini defies the boundaries of time and space. Probably, the most obvious way that both men burst out of linear boundaries is most easily seen in that neither artists’ works conform to the more conventional forms of ‘fine art’. For instance, Eltayeb collects ‘found objects’ (most notably discarded boxes and planks of wood) and then reconstructs them into new and beautiful forms that can’t quite be called painting or sculpture. Or perhaps it’s more apt to say his art combines a little bit of both.
The same with Mwini. Painting with laser is hardly a conventional mode of artistic expression. But then, in this show he’s increasing used additional media to show how art never stays static. His innovations are beautiful although not altogether abstract since his icons are infused with meaning, especially associated with ancient African history, Mwini says.
Eltayeb is best known for his African male profiles, some of which he paints on canvas; others he ‘engraves’ in wood. But in this show, those profiles take on new twists. In one instance, he slices his profile from top to bottom and adds another narrow wood panel vertically, suggestive perhaps of a split in his man’s personality. In another case, several of his profile portraits are given partial wood plank frames for added effect.
In addition to One Off’s otherwise untitled exhibition space at Rosslyn Riviera (which I’ve informally named the annex) making its debut with this pop up show, the exhibition is also the first time that Willem Kevenaar has ventured out of his Attic space to curate another gallerist’s show. It could have been a challenge for him since his Attic is relatively small by comparison to the annex. But he utilized the voluminous space quite effectively, giving each piece room to breathe and every observer an opportunity to look a bit more leisurely upon each piece without the pedestrian traffic jams that sometimes occur at art show openings.
We applaud Carol Lees for opening up more space to local artists who are not part of the One Off ‘family’ of well-established ones. Judging from what came forth at this premier exhibition, it’s likely there will be lots more openings at the Riviera sometime soon.

Monday, 19 November 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20 November 2018)
Sabina Oketch has directed many shows at Brookhouse School in Karen over the years. But when she heard the powerful voice of Brianna Koome, she knew there was only one musical that would not just showcase this girl’s glorious voice. It would also challenge her to stretch her vocal chords to the max. At the same time, ‘Dreamgirls’ (the show she had in mind) would also offer many other musical talents in the school the chance to perform in this year’s biannual school musical.

Opening this Wednesday night the Brookhouse Auditorium, Dreamgirls will run from through Saturday and feature three different casts. Subina says she made that directorial decision to accommodate more of the young people who auditioned for the show and who didn’t really deserve to be turned away.

“We have so many fine singers in the school, I wanted as many as possible to be part of the show,” says Subina, who in addition to directing the schools’ productions (including both straight plays and musicals) teaches drama and English literature at Brookhouse.
During the dress rehearsal that the school’s other drama teacher, Ian Mbugua invited me to watch, all three casts got a portion of the show to perform. It was slightly confusing to keep track of cast members and their characters. But Brianna performed in the entire rehearsal, just as she’s performing in all four shows to which the public is invited.

The other big draw to Dreamgirls is the live band, which is made up of professional musicians (several who also teach at the school) who are utterly comfortable playing everything from Soul, R & B, Funk and Rock ‘n Roll. There are also a few former Brookhouse students in the band, like Eugene Kanyugo who’s returned just so he can play bass guitar in the show, and piano especially to accompany Brianna.

One big question that everybody who’s familiar with the movie or knowledgeable about African American Soul music of the 1960’s is likely to ask is ‘How well does the cast compare to the musicians who the movie was based on, namely the Supremes, Diana Ross and James Brown?’   

But even more curiosity is likely to be aroused over the other big question: ‘How well does Brianna’s voice compare to that of Jennifer Hudson’s?’ It’s a question that will only be answered by coming to see ‘Dreamgirls’ at Brookhouse.

Sunday, 18 November 2018


                                            DCK students in rehearsal for The Nutcracker' opening 1st December

By Margaretta wa gacheru (posted 18 November 2018)

Ballet is a form of dance that has been in Kenya since the 1950s, ever since Madame Zerowitz began teaching at the former British Council complex which is now the Kenya Cultural Centre.
But ballet had never been taken and taught all over Kenya before. Yet that’s what’s been happening ever since the Dance Centre Kenya started teaching kids from Kibera and Kuinda as well as from Karen and Muthaiga.
DCK started doing it around five years ago. It got underway soon after the American prima ballerina Cooper Rust got together with three pairs of interested parents and officially opened the Centre in 2013 at a temporary site at the Karen Surgery.
                                                 Stella Essing and Lawrence Ogira in rehearsal for The Nutcracker

Since then, DCK has grown by leaps and bounds. With Cooper serving as its Artistic Director, DCK first shifted to a spacious place in Hardy. Then, it opened a second site inside the Lavington Mall, and just recently, a third branch was opened at the new Rosslyn Riviera mall.
But that’s only a fraction of what DCK does. In addition to staging its annual ballet, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovshy’s ‘The Nutcracker’, which opens December 1st at Kenya National Theatre and runs over two weekends, first at KNT, then at GEMS Cambridge Auditorium December 8th and then at ISK December 9th. DCK also teaches dance in more than a dozen Nairobi schools plus it opened up another branch at the Sure 24 Orphanage in Nakuru.
But DCK’s assistant director’s Caroline Slot Wamaya explains that it’s not only ballet that is taught at these scholarship sites. “At Karen C [in  Kuinda] and at the Orphanage, the children are encouraged to choose between learning either African dance, contemporary dance or ballet. They also have the option of doing visual art or theatre,” Caroline adds.
At both of those sites, children are taught for free, courtesy of the NGO, Artists for Africa which Cooper started over seven years ago to help provide scholarships for talented youth who are nonetheless disadvantaged socially and financially.
A number of scholarship students will perform this coming Sunday at 3pm at the Karen C School in Kuinda which is just adjacent to Karen. Their performance will be complimented by DCK ballet students dancing in Act 2 of ‘The Nutcracker’. That includes Lawrence Ogira, 22 who was on scholarship his first year at DCK but having been a professional dancer before coming to the Centre, he now assists with teaching and is on his way, with AFA’s support, to study engineering and dance at the University of South Carolina.
Opening night of the full ballet will special indeed. For not only will Cooper dance for one performance only, playing the Snow Queen, (Thereafter, the part will be danced by Stella Essing with Lawrence Ogira as her partner). But the ballet will for the first time be accompanied by a live orchestra rather than recorded music.
The Nairobi Philharmonic Orchestra is an offshoot Nairobi Orchestra and will be led by the guest conductor, Jonathan Rush who will also lead the Ghetto Classics Children’s Choir from Korogocho.
The other guest performer in this year’s balletis Baris Erhan of the Turkish State Orchestra and Ballet.
This will be the fourth year that DCK has staged The Nutcracker, but as I have seen all three of the previous performances, I am looking forward to this one for several reasons. For one, Tchaikovsky’s music is beautiful. For another, Cooper always re-choreographs the ballet every year to keep it fresh and inspired to fit the new crop of dancers. And three, there are always seasoned dancers mixed in with the new rising stars who Cooper trains as does Caroline and several other first class Kenyan teachers, all of whom have been trained by the artistic director herself.
Five of the younger dancers who are in this year’s Nutcracker are children that Cooper is not only teaching to dance but also mentoring while they stay in her home. Among the five is 12 year old Lavinder Orisa Thuku is has the leading role this year of Clara, the little girl who’s given a nutcracker doll that comes alive in her dreams and leads her into a beautiful fantasy world that is the essence of the ballet.
Cooper has mentored and home schooled several children since she opened DCK. Most remarkably is Joel Kioko who came from Kuinda and through sheer hard work, dedication, natural talent and Cooper’s care has led to his currently being a student in London at the National Ballet School of UK. 693

Saturday, 17 November 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 17 November 2018)

Celebrating a seventieth anniversary is definitely a major milestone, especially if your business has been running successfully for all that time.
So it’s understandable that Julie Dabaly-Scott, the Managing Director of Bunson Travel Service Ltd. felt compelled to celebrate her company’s 70th this past Saturday.
But there was no way Julie was going to do it alone! For one thing, Bunson has been in partnership with the Carlson Wagonlit Travel Global Network since 1999, so they had to be included to her fete. In fact, CWT staff helped her orchestrate a fabulous afternoon affair that not only included a great many of Bunson’s clients, both past and present. It also involved taking them all on a travelers’ trek by train (known that day as the ‘Bunson Express’) all the way from the Nairobi Railway Station (which has seriously gotten spruced up) to Mlolongo where they landed just outside the Nairobi National Park, at the African Heritage House.
Greeted by a line-up of Maasai morans, it was a climb up a stone-staired hill only to find coconuts being sliced open in our presence so everyone could have a fresh coconut drink of their own. Or if you preferred something stiffer, that was right there as well.
Then just ahead, there were exquisitely set tables, decked out for the sumptuous meal that was to come. They were all carefully nestled under high-flying tents which were charming to behold but ever-so functional. For in addition to offsetting the charming view of African Heritage House, they served to protect guests first from the sun that beat down at high noon, and later in the day, they saved us from the rains that arrived unexpectedly. Fortunately, they came long after Alan Donovan, the owner of African Heritage House, invited guests to come for a tour of his beautiful house. We also had a chance to line up for an exceptional and multi-menued buffet provided by ‘Chefs by Design’.
Personally, I am not a big eater, but I couldn’t help myself that day. It started with the stir-fry! Two chefs were on duty to take your order as you selected whatever assortment of colorful vegetables you wished cooked in the wok, (the frying pan shaped especially for stir-fry). My chef also asked if I wanted freshly-ground garlic, ginger and pepper mixed into my dish. Yes, indeed, all the above plus a bit of hot sauce and soy sauce as well.
That should have sufficed as a meal. But no, there was chicken tikka, baked tilapia, fried steak and of course, rice and chips (aka French fries). There were still more sauces, chutneys and fresh salads. And lest we forget, they also served yummy lentil soup which had just right measure of spicy kick.
I could have done without desert. But then the guests I was seated with came with their fruit-filled hot crepes drenched in chocolate sauce! How could I resist?
All the while there was wonderful live music that wasn’t so loud as to interfere with lively conversation among Bunson’s mainly corporate clients, including bankers, airline and UN reps, and all sorts of sweet people I didn’t have a chance to meet.
The rains waited for Julie to come onto the dance floor, officially welcome all her guests and give us a brief history of her life with Bunson Travel. She had been in the travel business before she joined Bunson in 1998, just in time to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.
Since then the business had gone from strength to strength, such that she decided to acquire sole ownership of the firm in 2009. It had already gone into partnership with CWT, becoming one of the first travel firms in Africa to join the CWT Global Partners Network. Now CWT Kenya is independently owned and operated by Bunson Travel.
So Julie has a lot to celebrate, including the fact that both her children work with her, as does her brother and sister. What’s more, they were all on hand that Saturday as was her mother and her spouse, Bruce Scott.
So by the time the rains finally came, guests were relaxing under the tents, pleased to be Julie’s clients and happy to see how this MD thinks large and clearly likes to treat her clients to the very best. No doubt they’ll be happy to return for Bunson’s 75th or even its centennial celebrations since there seems to be no stopping in sight for Julie and her fellow travelers.

Friday, 16 November 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 November 2018)

While there is speculation about the government possibly endorsing a Museum of Art, there was also loose talk about Kenyan artists having nowhere to show their visual art, which is patently not true!
A new art space opens practically every month in Nairobi and those sites don’t just cater for ‘established artists’ and ‘elite’ clients.
For instance, there is a new gallery that opened yesterday (22 November) in the Rossyln Riviera mall.  Not long before that, The Attic Art Space opened in Nyari. Before that, Polka Dot gallery opened. And somewhere along the way, Kobo Trust opened up an art gallery as well.
Plus there are countless eateries that are happy to host young artists’ exhibition. Take the Talisman, Que Pasa, the Fonda, Lord Erroll and even the new La Terrazza in the Green House, just to name a few.
Also there are a number of fairs and festivals where artists exhibit, such as the Nairobi Art Fair, Affordable Art Fair and other annual events where artists eager to exhibit often find their way to them.
Artists’ studios have also turned into exhibition sites where young artists are also able to sell their sculptures and paintings. Those include places like Brush tu Art Studio, Kuona Artists Collective, Dust-Depo, Maasai Mbili, GoDown, Studio Soku, Kobo Artists’ Studio and even Kitengela Glass.
Shopping malls like the Village Market also accommodate a multitude of artists. Plus, many of the malls also have commercial galleries inside where energetic artists go and showcase their work.
Hotels like the Norfolk, Kempinski, Sarova Stanley and Intercontinental also frequently exhibit the works of Kenyan artists. So do foreign cultural centres like Alliance Francaise and Goethe Institute.
The United Nations has a recreation centre that also has art exhibitions occasionally. So does the new ‘Dream Cona’ art space out in Uhuru Gardens.
And lest we forget the galleries, one that hasn’t gotten much attention is Nairobi Gallery based right next to Nyayo House. It’s affiliated with the National Museums of Kenya as is the Creativity Gallery at Nairobi National Museum which is always holding shows for up-and-coming artists.
Finally, there are a number of well-established galleries like One Off, Red Hill, Circle Art, Banana Hill and Tribal Art which some might say are ‘elite’ but they all have a role to play in Nairobi’s burgeoning art world.
There’s little doubt that Kenya needs a National Art Gallery like ones existing in Nigeria, South Africa, USA, UK and France. But in the meantime, most of the galleries, studios and malls are alive with contemporary Kenyan and East African art.
For instance, tomorrow (24 November), there will be two ‘Pop-Up’ events, one organized by Beta Arts at the Argenti Restaurant in Muthaiga Heights. The other will be at Polka Dot where a Body Art ‘Pop-Up’ show will be happening all day. Artists specializing in tattoos, body piercing and henna will be there, although they prefer you pre-book if you want your own ‘body art’.
Also at Polka Dot, the popular two-man exhibition featuring the art of Ismael Kateregga and Coster Ojwang will be ending. That means there are a few more hours when the public can go see lovely paintings highlighting the beauty of both Kenya and Uganda.
Kateregga is an older, more seasoned Ugandan artist than Coster a Kenyan. But both have an exquisite sense of beauty. Both blend aspects of impressionism with realism. And both could be called ‘plein air’ painters, artists who concentrate on painting out in the open air.
The other thing the two have in common is that their art reveals that they are both travelers, painters out to find some of the most beautiful spots in East Africa. Clearly Kateregga favors Lamu, Kampala and sites around Lake Victoria while Coster’s work is even more eclectic: he paints everything from Dunga beach, Suswa and Mai Mahiu to Ziwo and the National Archives in Nairobi.
Both create warm and welcoming works although Kateregga has one distinctive feature to his art. His larger paintings play with space, specifically blank space, leaving the viewer to imagine what lay behind the whiteness of the canvas. It’s clearly intentional on the part of the artist. In some cases, as in one Lamu scene, the blank space might be a sky or the sea. But otherwise, a work like ‘Lamu Main Street’ leaves one pondering and possibly appreciating the artist’s silent invitation to look more closely and see that the space isn’t blank at all.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 November 2018)

‘Lest we forget’ that indigenous East Africans fought and lost their lives in the First World War, Davina Leonard and John Sibi-Okumu staged a series of readings last Monday night, just a day after Northern Europeans commemorated the armistice that annually marks the end of that war’s most horrifying hostilities when Western powers fought among themselves and Africans served as their proxy fighters.
Armistice Day was centrally celebrated this year on November 11th in Paris. But in Nairobi, it was at Alliance Francaise that Davina and John recited a series of poignant poems together with extracts from historic letters, notebooks and memories. All but a few had been written during or immediately after the so-called ‘Great War’ which had supposedly been fought ‘to end all war’.
Alas, that was not the case as World War One merely opened the floodgates of further strife and bloodier conflicts erupting throughout the last century and even up to now.
‘Lest we forget’ was devised by Davina and shared between the two as they each took turns painting an evocative portrait of the horrors of war and the tragedy of so many lives lost in the most excruciating conditions.
At times, their performance was painful but sensitive since neither shied away from sharing first-hand accounts of poets like Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, Pierre Bonhomme and John McCrae, all of whom wrote empathetically about the hundreds of thousands who died.
Writing to make sense out of the nonsensical had to be one reason so many gifted poets wrote during that time, between 1914 and 1918. But even today, Kenya has gifted writers like Walter Sitati’s whose play ‘Sins and Secrets’ (staged last weekend at PAWA254) also sought to make sense out of the irrational gap between the super-rich and the poor in our present-day society. Peter (Elvis Gatere ) and Janel (Tracy Amadi) met while working in the same law office. But outside the office, they have little in common. She’s a child of privilege whose father’s (Sam Psenjen) wealth meant she’s never had to sweat for anything, unlike Peter who’s the son of a single mother (Grace Waihuini) and has had to struggle every step of the way.
‘Sins and Secrets’ isn’t a story of class struggle, but it effectively illustrates the irrefutable need for change in a world where injustice, greed and inequality seem to take precedence over humanity and honesty.


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 November 2018)

Kenyan theatre got a big boost last week with the third Kenya International Theatre Festival happening mainly at Kenya National Theatre.
Organizers Kevin Kimani and Gabriel Thuku deserve immense praise, especially for pulling together local and international theatre troupes who went on stage and showed each other what they could do.
But the exposure to both fellow Kenyan companies and groups from Sweden, South Africa, Egypt and North America (both Canada and US) also revealed certain things, both positive and negative.
One thing positive was the revelation of Kenyans’ appreciation of artistic collaboration. It was apparent first when The Theatre Company of Kenya and thespians from the States staged a ‘collabo’ based on Muthoni Garland’s story, ‘Tracking the scent of my mother.’
That appreciation was also seen when actors held workshops for two days on everything from acting and dance to puppetry, directing and set construction.
But it was on the final Saturday night that the thrill of actors working together got the best of the night. It happened after the one major disaster of the week occurred: the accidental fall of South African actor Sgomotso Modise, who was one of the stars ‘Woza Albert!’.   
The audience had already been wow-ed by the one-man performance of Goitsemang Pholo who played Jika in ‘Jika: Reform or Revolt’. So we were prepared to be dazzled all the more by the dynamism of ‘Woza Albert!’ But this was not to be.
Instead, Modise’s costar, Hamilton Dhlamini went on stage and performed a theatrical metamorphosis that made heads spin and hearts cry for missing these brilliant South Africans perform together.
It was during the Q and A that Kenyans spoke up (specifically Mwaura Bilal who’d just costarred with Immanuel Mulili in Matchstick Man) wondering when they could perform with the South Africans. From there, the evening’s MC Andy Ruri suggested that it start right then and there.
Ultimately, the internationals and the locals both got on stage and performed an absurdist improvisation that showed how comfortable the two groups had become over the week. But it also exposed the need, mentioned during the two-day KITF Conference, for more regional unity among thespians, both at the national and international levels.
One major weakness revealed during the festival, and noted that same night, was a complaint I invariably raise. It relates to Time! It is an issue that Kenyans don’t seem to understand is an integral part of performance and appreciation or lack thereof. When shows and events begin a half hour, hour or even two hours late, some of us are inclined either to leave without seeing the show or having a negative perspective no matter how outstanding the performance.
Time and its delay were intrusive features of the Festival that factored into my interpretation of this year’s KITF. I won’t recount all the minutes and hours wasted waiting for actors and audience. Until this problem is rectified, one has to appraise this year Festival with mixed feelings.
For instance, the Egyptian troupe was prepared to go on as per the program, starting at 7pm. But due to prior delays, their amazing performance didn’t begin until well after 9pm. Their performance of dramatized poetry, based on the Arabic verse of Salah Abd Al-Sabour, was a powerful critique of political tyranny. But the show time wasn’t fair either to the audience or to the actors.
There were many good things about this year’s KITF, especially the staging of so many original Kenyan plays during the week, including Martin Kigondu’s Matchstick Men, Peter Tosh’s Sabotage and Marvin Kibicho’s Maxwell. It was a challenge to see all the shows, especially as one never knew when a show would go on.  Otherwise, one looks forward to more KITFs as well as to more performances of the Kenyan plays that were only staged once during the Festival.
One thing KITF confirmed is that theatre in Kenya is thriving and local thespians are filled with passion to write, direct, dance and perform. Congrats to the Fete for confirming that fact.
Finally, both Martin Kigondu and Walter Sitati staged original works this past weekend, and both will be bringing more original scripts to the stage very soon.
Kigondu’s Matchstick Men featured large at KITF and one of his other works, ‘Of Cords and Discords’ will be staged November 23rd and 24th at KNT.
Meanwhile, Sitati just directed ‘Sins and Secrets’ last weekend. His group, Hearts of Art returns with ‘Scars and Stilettos’ December 8th and 9th at PAWA254.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 November 2018)

Stephano Rusticali is passionate about all things Italian. From the wines, antipastos and pastas to the cheeses, chocolates and prosecco valdo bbiadene, Stephano has brought them all from his homeland in order to open Nairobi’s newest Italian restaurant.
La Terrazza has a similar ambience, menu and tip-top service as his first Italian eatery, La Salumeria, which was located just behind Valley Arcade. But when the opportunity arose for him to relocate to the top floor terrace of the Green House Mall on Ngong Road, he couldn’t resist switching spaces.
Now at La Terrazza, one will find a similar savory menu to what Stephano served at La Salumeria. One will still find the most remarkable array of fresh pastas being served, from the fettuccini tricolore to the spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and risotto. He will still be counting on his Italian chef Claudio Panico and his well-trained Kenyan staff, all of whom have been taught to prepare pizzas, antipastos, cocktail prawns and profitterole pastry just as well as any expert Italian could do.
But the most important feature that distinguishes La Terrazza is that all his key ingredients are flown in every fortnight from Milan.
Naturally, his fish is flown in regularly from the Kenyan coast; his vegetable are also brought in even more frequently from local farmers. But otherwise, his wide array of salamis are flown in from Italy and kept at just the right temperature. So are his cheeses, (including his buffalo milk), chocolates and coffees.
Stephano says that bringing authentic Italian culture and cuisine was his central purpose for coming to Kenya and opening his restaurant. “There are five components to creating a successful restaurant,” he says.
“There must be the ambience [or convivial atmosphere], the quality food, superlative service, unique and personalized style, and most importantly, the authenticity,” he explains.
Stephano admits he is not a chef himself. He leaves that to Claudio and to his matre d’ Murielle Minchella who he says keeps a close eye on every detail of every dish to ensure the quality of presentation as well as preparation remains high.
Stepano’s expertise is nonetheless multifaceted. For he is not only trained in financial management. He is also a wine aficionado, having been specially trained for three years in the fine art and history of Italian wines. His wine cabinet reveals the range of his cultivated taste for red and white wines coming from all over Italy.
But just as passionate as he is about wine, Stephano takes tremendous pleasure in seeing his guests enjoy their meals. For starters, we tried the Caponata de Melanze, sweet and sour which was a delicious blend of vegetables and the Arancine Siciliane, which were four fried rolls filled with meats, mushrooms and vegetables.
Selecting a main course was a major challenge since the menu (composed of both Italian and English explanations) is diverse. Not only are there multiple kinds of pizzas and pastas to try. There are also fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes to choose from as well. We finally settled on a baked Red Snapper served with exquisitely steamed vegetables and the fish ravioli. We both devoured our meal, although we nearly spoiled our appetite tasting the amazing Foccear bread which Stephano serves with two different creamy spreads, one made with avocado, the other with zucchini.
I was thoroughly satisfied with my delicious entrée, but Stephano insisted we try to Proffitole since it was made with Italian chocolate specially prepared in his kitchen and a bigne pastry that his Kenyan chef Tunje baked just as well as Claudio does. We could hardly protest since by now, we knew Stephano was true to his word.
The Proffitole was ‘to die for’. The pastry was super-light and filled with a fluffy whipped cream, all of which was covered in hot dark chocolate that was unspeakable divine.
But if that wasn’t enough, I requested a macciato (espresso with foamy cream), little knowing that our host wasn’t going to allow us to leave without tasting the Tiramasu. Oh my!
Who knew we weren’t full already? As if one dessert (split between us) wasn’t sufficient, the Tiramasu had to be tried. So one spoonful led to us finishing the whole dish in no time flat.
With La Terrazza upstairs from the Lounge and Art Gallery, the restaurant also has two cosy conference rooms making Stephano’s new space a perfect place for gatherings of two, twenty or even more.  Currently, his art gallery is filled with super-realistic photographs by an Italian artist.


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 November 2018)

Like so many Kenyan artists, Eric ‘Stickky’ Muriiuki was ‘supposed’ to become something other than an artist. Maybe a doctor or an engineer or it even a lawyer.
But from the look of his current one-man exhibition at Nairobi National Museum’s Creativity Gallery, it appears that Stickky is stuck on the visual arts.
Last Saturday, he gave an ‘Artist Talk’ in the Gallery and shared a bit of his history, his style of painting and some of the reasons for him creating art as he does.
“I admit I have a fetish for shoes,” Stickky told a crowd who had gathering in the gallery specifically to listen to his views on art. “I grew up in the 1990s when shoes were very important,” he adds, recalling the way he wore shoes back then. But now he paints them.
“I started out by painting shoes,” said Stickky who literally painted plain white canvas tennis shoes with beautiful designs and colorful patterns. None of them were in the show, probably because he sold most of them, after his friends recognized that his shoes were works of art.
What he did have in the exhibition, which he entitled “Watu, Viatu na Mavazi” were paintings of shoes. One was an antique shoe (a leather boot actually) which he’d retrieved from somewhere. It had special significance to him such that it could’ve been called ‘Portrait of an Old Shoe’. Instead, he named it ‘Kiatu changu’.
But Stickky has branched out since that first phase of his artistic career. He attributes that growth to his working closely with Patrick Mukabi at the Dust Depo Art Studio, next to the Railway Museum. Patrick has a way of mentoring and inspiring young artists which compels them to grow. Plus he puts his mentees (of which Stickky was one) to work helping him teach children’s art at places like The Hub, Dusit D2 Hotel and any number of other venues.
In this show, Stickky has included paintings of other mitumba (second hand) items, such as sweaters and denim jackets and even a shawl reminiscent of his grandmother’s kanga which he says she used to drape around her legs to keep her warm in evenings when he was growing up in Nyeri.
But it isn’t only the variety of found vestments that reveal Stickky’s artistic development. It’s also the way he’s able to create a three-dimensional effect out of a 2D jacket. At a distance, that baggy multi-colored jacket looked like it was practically falling out of his painting.
But Stickky’s show also has a number of ‘watu’ (people) featured in it. He’s painted several portraits of pretty women, women he suggests are dream sweethearts, not actual ones.
The one set of paintings by the artist that I find most appealing and most reflective of his ability to capture dynamic action is untitled. But it’s a football match among boys who are clearly playing to win. The painting is primarily a charcoal drawing on a long sheet of brown paper. The paper is so long that it nearly covers one whole gallery wall. And then it seems to spill over onto walls on either side of the central drawing.  Mukabi’s influence is evident in this powerful work. It’s reminiscent of a long charcoal drawing that the mentor did called ‘The Journey’ which I first saw at Alliance Francaise several years ago. Both paintings reveal people in motion. In Patrick’s case, they were migrants; in Stickky’s they are big boys have fun, striving to control a football and trying to kick it home for a goal.
Stickky’s exhibition will run until November 30th.

Monday, 12 November 2018


                                                                               Ugandan artists at village market

 By Margaretta wa Gacheru (12 November 2018)

There are grounds for claiming Nairobi has become the visual arts hub of East Africa. What else could it be, given that just last weekend, it was Tanzanian artists who came to exhibit at Kuona Artists Collective in Hurlingham. This week, it’s Ugandans who are at Village Market filling exhibition halls on two floors with a rich and varied array of artworks. 
                                                                       Ismael Kateregga at Polka Dot Gallery

There’s another Ugandan, Ishmael Kateregga exhibiting at Polka Dot Gallery alongside Kenyan artist, Coster Ojwang. Then too, currently at Red Hill Gallery and running into the New Year, the Sudanese painter Abusharia Abdul has stunning artworks on show which he created between 1993 and 2015. And later this month, there’ll be Zimbabwean artists at Circle Arts Gallery in Lavington.
At the same time, Kenyan artists have also been exhibiting all over Nairobi. At Kobo Gallery, Nairobi National Museum, Polka Dot Gallery, Dream Cona at Uhuru Garden and even in Karura Forest where the Bizarre Bazaar’s pre-Christmas fair had artworks as well as crafts for sale.
                                                                                      Onyis Martin at Kobo Trust

In the meantime, we are also pleased that a number of Kenyan artists were recently exhibiting in Nigeria, at XArt in Lagos. It confirms that all over Africa, contemporary art is alive and thriving.
Previously, when art critics referred to ‘African art’ they were either speaking of West African art or pre-colonial so-called ‘tribal art’ that mostly came from West or Central Africa.
But now, it’s East African artists who are making a splash, exhibiting all over the world, with especially Kenyans’ artworks being shown everywhere from Cape Town to Cairo and Chicago as well as in Paris, London, Lagos and even Washington, DC.
                                                                          Lemek Tompoika at Kobo Gallery

Right now, it’s the Ugandans who have taken charge of nearly all the art space in Village Market. It’s a joy since these ten artists’ works literally throb with vibrant colors and lively imagery that befits the title of their exhibition, “African Life, Culture and Traditions.”
The top floor show is an easier array to handle since it’s mainly filled with artworks by two marvelous painters. The works of Paul (aka ‘Kaspa’) Kasambeko have often been shown at Banana Hill Art Gallery. But at Village Market, one has the chance to see a much wider variety of his works which are not only figurative but impressionistic and semi-abstract.

Alongside Kaspa are works by a relative newcomer to the Nairobi art scene. Damulira Shira is one of the dozen Ugandans who has his paintings both upstairs and downstairs where the majority of these prolific painters are displaying their works. Shira’s other distinction is that he’s one of the few Ugandans at Village who’s been fortunate to attend the Margaret Trowell School of Art at Makerere University. It shows in his art.
But what’s so surprising about the other Ugandans whose art is displayed on the floor below Kaspa’s and Shira’s is that virtually all of their paintings are appealing and frankly, visually addictive. One is tempted to think there’s something in the water they all drink or in the air that they breathe. But it certainly seems that even the so-called ‘self-taught’ painters among them have been blessed by an osmosis that comes from living in such close proximity to East Africa’s first and most formidable educational institution of art, at Makerere.
Among those exhibiting in that second floor hall are Anwar Sadat, Herbert Kalule, Ronnie Tindi, Sebandeke and Shira (all of whom are there in person this week) as well as Ibrahim Muwanga, Cliff Kibuuka, David Kigozi, Jjuuko Hoods and Kenyan artists Adrian Nduma and Sam Njuguna.

                                                                                              Ronnie Tindi
When I note that nearly all the Ugandans haven’t had a formal art education, I think this show is one of the clearest illustrations of how informal mentoring can be the most effective way to bring up brilliant young artists.
For example, there are three blood brothers currently exhibiting at Village, namely Jjuuko, Anwar and Sebandeke. All paint beautifully with refined technique and highly individualized style. One would never know from their art that they are related by blood. But the fact that they have rubbed shoulders and probably learned the basics of painting from one another suggests that their ‘home schooling’ has given them a lot of knowledge, experience and inspiration. Their passion for painting is also apparent as it is among all the artists involved in ‘African Life, Culture and Traditions’.

So artists are busy showing off their latest works, finding spaces to exhibit all over town.

                           Eric Gitonga is exhibiting his art in the new Kenya Arts Diary 2019

Wednesday, 7 November 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 7 November 2018)

The Kenya International Theatre Festival has been running for three years. But it’s this third edition, which opened last Tuesday that’s the best one yet for FITF’s founder Kevin Kimani and his co-KITF-organizer Gabriel Thuku Kimani.
It was low in starting. But it only took Buganda, Bunyoro and Luhya Dancers to shimmy their way into the audience’s heart and make us forget the delay.
The Ganda Dance Troupe set off a stream of stunning performances that will run through this coming Sunday.  On opening night, the most impressive performance was by The Theatre Company which had teamed up with American thespians from the University of Colorado to dramatize Muthoni Garland’s gripping novel, ‘Tracking the scent of my Mother.’ That same night, another Kenyan company, Art Ukwazi presented an absurdist play entitled ‘Womxn’. What’s more, puppeteers from Sweden and Egypt also made presentations.
The other Kenyan companies that are featured in the festival include Prevail Arts’ ‘Matchstick Man’, PBAG’s ‘Unforgiven Sinners’, Latent Theatre’s ‘Dead Men’, Liquid Arts’ ‘Sabotage’, Furnace Africa & Son of Man International’s ‘Maxwell’, Thespian Assembly’s ‘Roses of Blood’, Baragumu Arts’ ‘Nash, the Love Doctor’ and The Talent House’s ‘Annabelle.’ The Theatre Company is also bringing a Swahili production entitled ‘Salim, Kwani Hana Damu.’
Among the main attractions of this year’s festival is the wide range of theatre companies that have come from around Africa and beyond. They’re here, as we said, from Egypt, Sweden, and US, as well as from Canada, South Africa and Rwanda.
There have already been a number of amazing performances. But this weekend, the public is still invited to watch productions from Canada and two from South Africa (including ‘Woza Albert’) on Saturday as well as from Kenya, such as Peter Tosh’s ‘Sabotage’ today and Martin Kigondu’s Matchstick Men on Saturday.
There will also be a series of drama workshops today and tomorrow at KNT. They’ll be focused on dance, directing, acting, puppetry and production design, tapping into the talents of the international and local thespians attending the festival.
The other feature of the festival that has made it more than simply a showcase for exceptional performances was the two-day Theatre Arts Conference which was held Wednesday and Thursday. It was attended by theatre practitioners as well as by academics, students, journalists and representatives from the Kenya Government including the Kenya Film Classification Board. It was up to them to tackle the theme of the festival which was ‘Paradoxes of State Aid in the Growth of Theatre in Kenya.’ It was a slightly peculiar topic since the State has provided little or no aid to Kenyan theatre, leave alone aid that would enable theatre to grow and prosper.
But what made the topic quite timely was the recent talk uttered by a senior Kenya government official to the effect that university courses in the arts and social sciences ought to be abolished in favor of more technical and vocational training. That perspective, that courses in the humanities have little value to the Kenyan economy, was countered by the former Chairman of Kenyatta University’s Theatre and Film Department, Dr Emmanuel Shikuku.
Dr. Shikuku, who was speaking on the topic of ‘The University Curriculum and the Creative Economy,’ observed that the creative economy (fueled by the humanities) has the capacity to become the “driver” of other sectors of the Kenyan economy. It’s a perspective that many politicians fail to understand. But it was elaborated further by Dr. Rosemary Murundu, a senior lecturer in Literature at Moi University. Her view was that it is only the study of the humanities that can teach a person to understand him or herself, leave alone the rest of the world.
Other speakers at the conference included Dr Charles Kebaya, the KITF’s Keynote speaker, Mueni Lundi who spoke on Participatory Theatre, Fr. Charles Kinyua who spoke on Theatre for Evangelization, Tash Mitambo, founder of Renegade Ventures, Goitsemang Pholo on South African theatre, Mai Mohab Elsayed on Egyptian Water Puppetry and Dr Simon Peter Otieno on the Kenyan Schools and College Film Festival.
Preceding the culmination of the conference, participants gave their views on the way forward for Kenyan theatre.
One way forward is heading to PAWA54 on Friday night to watch Hearts of Art stage Walter Sitati’s play entitled ‘Sins and Secrets’. Co-starring Samson Psenjin and Pauline Kyalo among others, the show will also run through Sunday.

Monday, 5 November 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (5 November 2018)

Heartstrings’ players took us back to the village in ‘Sugar and Spice’, reminding us of what’s both endearing and exasperating about rural life. But they did so with an absurdist twist that made some of us feel this was the Heartstrings team’s best production ever.

That’s an absurd idea in itself however, since the troupe rarely fails to maximize on ear-to-the-ground hilarity that invariably looks at us Kenyans as we are right now.
For how many urbanites do we know who aren’t in a hurry to get back to town from rural areas when they have to go back to their homeland, be it for a funeral (as was the case in SaS), a land dispute or some other family ordeal.
That’s the dilemma posed to the children of the late Baba Jethro. All three are busy people who’ve shown up for the funeral of their dad. But just as they’re about to go for the final ceremony, their uncle’s wife (Mackrine Andala) informs them the funeral can’t proceed because a major mistake has been made.

They dug the grave on government land (an issue very much alive in the media and in society right now). But before they can proceed, certain customs and traditions must be followed.
Here’s when Heartstrings does a no-holds-barred on absurdity. The siblings are now held at rural ‘ransom’ by Jethro’s brother (Cyprian Osoro) and his wife who both insist that customs must be performed or else they’ll all be cursed and Jethro’s spirit will never rest in peace.
But none of the children want to stay. The daughter has a plane to catch the following day, and both brothers (Paul Ogola and Victor Nyaata) also have work duties in town. But now they’re at the mercy of Jethro’s bro who comes up with rituals that are quite remarkable. Like ‘the last born [of Jethro] must sleep with the oldest widow in town’.
Hysteria ensues as Victor Nyaata, who plays Jethro’s last born, goes nuts at the idea of having to sacrifice himself for the sake of culture. His wife (Natasha Wanjiru) is okay with it since she knows he’s been unfaithful for years.

But then, when the Chief (Mark Otieno) shows up with truths about parental infidelities by both Jethro and his wife, the whole issue of paternity is now rendered null and void. We’re left laughing and wondering who’s who anyway! Brilliant work, Heartstrings!!