Monday, 29 April 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 29 April for Friday 3 May 2019)

There’s a reason Mumbi Kaigwa has produced ‘The Vagina Monologues’ several times since she first took the revolutionary step and staged the show with its controversial (even unmentionable to some) title back in 2003.
“Violence against women is still there,” says the actor who has been in the theatre since age ten, first dramatizing Wole Soyinka’s ‘Strong Breed’ for local TV, then doing everything from live theatre to Australian sitcoms to Hollywood films like ‘The Constant Gardener’ and others.

The Monologues have a message that sadly hasn’t lost its relevance in the 21 years since it premiered in New York City, produced and directed by its playwright Eve Ensler. It’s still the case that in Kenya, the title distracts some people from appreciating the depth of women’s feelings and experience that is revealed in the play.
Yet the show has had phenomenal success worldwide where it’s spearheaded a social movement of women for their empowerment and against the type of violence that we tragically see every day in the media as we hear about women being murdered, raped, mutilated and even burned intentionally.

Last Thursday’s performance of the Monologues at Kenya National Theatre featured phenomenal actors relating true stories of women and girls from all walks of life who’d been interviewed by Ensler about intimate aspects of their lives.
Some of those stories could easily scandalize those who still feel sex should not be discussed publicly. But frankly speaking, The Monologues have had a liberating effect on most women who have either been in the production or listening to it.
It might be surprising to know that actors like Nini Wacera, Shiviske Shikivi, Aleya Kassam, Pauline Kyalo and Mumbi herself all performed in the Monologue as volunteers. 

But once we heard from two widows who have been assisted by the NGO, Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization, for which the Monologues raise funds, it was clear that this exceedingly vulnerable sector of society deserved help.
Speaking after the show, Rachel and Janet gave heart-wrenching testimonials about their trials and the support they’d received from Diana Kamande, founder of CTWOO.  Rachel had been abused by in-laws who threw her out of her home once her husband died, and Janet had been beaten, stabbed and ultimately set on fire by her spouse who left her for dead. Funds from The Monologues have contributed to their rehabilitation and school fees for Janet’s three boys.

Friday, 26 April 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 26 April 2019)

Paul Onditi has always had a passion for classic cars, particularly Citrons. Yet he didn’t know at the outset that vintage cars would have tremendous investment potential, nor that his passion would eventually lead to his owning a corral-ful of classic cars.
“It’s a life-long story,” says the well-known Kenyan artist whose interest in vintage cars isn’t widely known among his peers in the local art world. Yet he doesn’t see his love for classics and passion for painting as conflicting passtimes.
Owning a Citron is what he calls “a childhood dream” even though he didn’t see many classic vehicles while growing up in Kendu Bay in Nyanza County.

“But Tom Mboya had a Citron,” he says while seated in one of his latest projects, the Kwa Wangwana Restaurant and Wine Garden, which is situated in a leafy suburb of Nairobi. “I never saw him drive it since he died before I was born. But his wife used to pass by our place in their Citron on her way to Rusinga,” where the Mboya’s used to live.
There were several others in his neighborhood who had a Citron, a car whose futuristic features also appealed to the young Onditi.
“As early as the 1950s, Citrons had power steering which only Mercedes and Volvos had,” says the artist-restauranteur who currently owns ten Citrons.
He also owns one 1998 Mercedes W140, a Saab 900 Turbo and a 1998 Volkswagon Kombi. Thirteen in all! But his heart will always belong to the Citron (along with his wife Christine and his offspring).

One other reason for his devotion to the Citron is its futuristic style of ‘sleeping’ whenever the car is turned off and the back end of the body ‘collapses’, hiding the rear wheels. Then when the vehicle is started up again, it immediately ‘wakes up’ as if it was coming to attention and the driver was royalty or a dignitary of some sort.
But Onditi didn’t start collecting classic cars in his youth. Nor is it a hobby that he recommends everyone with money should seriously consider taking up.
‘But if you’re prepared to do the research and keep your eye on the market, collecting vintage cars can be a good way to invest,” he says, cautioning that it isn’t wise to just go out and buy old cars.
“You should only buy a vehicle that won’t depreciate. If you buy a classic, you may have to wait a few years, but if you’re patient it’s bound to appreciate significantly.”
For example, he says that Land Rovers will soon be going out of production, which is bound to mean that after some years they will accrue in value substantially. The implication being that even if you have an old rusty Land Rover, you’d be wise not to sell it. And if you see one on the market, it might make sense to snap it up right away.
Not so with a Toyota, he remarks, since its value is bound to diminish after five years.
Onditi admits the vintage car market is a niche market. “It may be small, but you can be sure the demand is there, so long as you have the [right] commodity,” says this wise man who hasn’t yet reached the age of 40.

The challenge is to know which ‘commodities’ are most marketable. And that is where research comes in. “You have to know the history of your vehicle to know if it’s a classic or not.”
For instance, Onditi bought a rusty old Volkswagon Kombi with 21 windows that most people would consider “scrap metal”. But he knew better. He’d done his research and paid Sh200,000 for it a few years back.
“Even before it was restored, I was offered Sh1.2 million for it. And now it’s selling for Sh3 million online,” he adds.

The very first classic car that Onditi could afford was the Citron DS 21 that he bought for Sh150,000. He was still living in Germany at the time, having gone there to be with his future wife and to attend art school at Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Offenbach am Main. But he had returned to Kenya for a visit in 2006. That’s when he took the leap and fulfilled his dream for the first time.
“I had to buy it in installments. Fortunately, the owner was my friend. I even left the car with him while I was away,” he recalls. When he was able, he ultimately invested Sh1 million to restore the car. “But I have already been offered Sh3.5 million for it by someone who wants it badly.”

Onditi doesn’t buy his cars all at once. Nor does he repair them straight away although he has one mechanic who works for him full-time and only does body work, meaning panel beating and painting. He also has a mechanic who fixes engines and other internal issues, but he only works when he’s called.
“I can handle minor repairs myself,” he says, although he admits driving his classic cars, while being one of his greatest delights, can also be difficult.
“Sometimes the car will break down in the middle of the road, and if it’s a Citron, it can’t be easily moved,” he says. But leaving the car where it ‘died’ can elicit rude comments from other drivers who have no patience for a man with ‘dirty hands’ driving an ‘old car’.
“Most of them don’t know the value of these classic cars,” says Onditi who has scathing remarks for the so-called ‘tenderpreneurs who can’t even change a tire but measure a man’s worth by the kind of trendy new car he’s got.
One may well ask how Onditi the artist can afford to own 13 classic cars, three of which are in working order and which he can often be seen driving around town.
First of all, he says he never buys a car without first researching its history and considering its investment value. “I don’t just buy a car with the idea of keeping it forever,” he says.
One reason for that is he has to repay the bank loans he gets in order to buy most of his cars. That’s to say, taking up the sport of buying and selling vintage cars does not necessarily mean the buyer has to be a rich man (or woman), although a retiree looking for a fascinating hobby might enjoy the challenge.
 Onditi says he had to establish a trusting relationship with his bank. What’s more, he’s never defaulted on one of his bank loans. But he has had to sell some of his vintage cars, all of which went for more than twice the price of what he bought the vehicles for. Among the cars he’s sold were his bronze Citron Prestige, his Opal Cadet and one VW Kombi.

The day we met him at his Kwa Wangwana Restaurant, it had recently rained, so Onditi showed up driving a 1996 Land Cruiser which has 4-wheel drive. When asked why he wasn’t driving one of his classics that day, especially when he knew we would be talking about them, his answer was simple and clear.
“I’m a practical man,” meaning it’s not the weather for driving a classic car.


                                                                                          Rahab Njambi Shine

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 26 April for May 3, 2019)

There used to be an advert that ran in the 1980s inducing young women to smoke. It read, “You’ve come a long way baby”, suggesting smoking was the mature thing to do. Feminists and non-smokers generally despised the ad. But as an adage, the phrase rings true when it comes to Rahab Njambi Shine who currently is part of a group exhibition at Village Market.
                                                                           'Munyaka Village' by Rahab

Rahab is the only Kenyan in the show since the other four exhibiting artists are Ugandans who frequently come to Kenya where their artworks seems to sell well.
Rahab is also the only Kenyan woman in the exhibition. (Maria Naita is the one Ugandan.) But that’s not an uncomfortable position for her to be in since she was the only female member of Banana Hill art studio for years before the studio was transformed into a gallery, and she and Shine Tani became its Managing Directors.
The other big difference between Rahab and the other artists in their current Second Edition of an exhibition entitled ‘Indigenous Mashariki’ is that the others studied in professional art schools, most notably the world-acclaimed Margaret Trowell School of Fine Art at Makerere University.
In contrast, Rahab has gone through rigorous training together with her fellow Banana Hill artists, all of whom literally learned how to paint from Shine who himself had gained his inspiration from an older brother who painted briefly but didn’t have the same passion for it as his younger brother did.
Rahab was a secondary school girl when she met and fell for the artist who had started off as a Nairobi street entertainer before he discovered the art galleries and soon gave up acrobatics for art. Once the two got together, she, like several other aspiring artists, began learning the basics of painting from Shine.
Established artists like John ‘Silver’ Kimani, James Mbuthia, Martin Kamunyu, and even Joseph Cartoon all passed through what Shine and Rahab established under their roof which was initially called Banana Hill Art Studio.
Rahab had never touched a paint brush before she met Shine. She had never been to an art gallery or met another working Kenyan artist before she met her future husband and the father of their children.
But today, thanks to her devotion to art and determination to tell Kenyan people’s stories through it, she has developed her own skill and distinctive style and become one of Banana Hill’s leading artists.
One of Rahab’s daughters seemed to have emulated her mother’s early attraction to artistic men since her eldest girl, Njeri married the Makerere University-trained painter, Ronnie Ogwang who is also in their group’s ‘Indigenous Mashariki’ exhibition.
In fact, many of the Ugandan artists who exhibit at Village Market, including the four in the current show, got their start in Kenya showing their art at Shine’s and Rahab’s Banana Hill Art Gallery.
“Shine went personally to Kampala to meet the artists and invite them to exhibit at the Gallery. That they did, and most of them still have their work there,” Rahab says. Their relationship with Shine hasn’t stopped them from exhibiting elsewhere although they often gravitate back to Banana Hill.
But Ugandan artists aren’t the only East Africans that Shine has invited to exhibit at the Gallery. Currently, he has several Tanzanians’ artworks on show at the Gallery. They include Phidelis Hassan Kamwona whose elongated blackwood sculptures are inspired by Makonde ‘shetani’ [or spirit] carvings. Also, there are bright, colorful paintings by Malikita which are drawn in the surrealist style of the late George Lilanga. And there are even Tinga Tinga-styled paintings by Issa Saidi Mlaiponi, who is a nephew to the late Edward Saidi Tingatinga.
Coincidentally, the Nairobi Gallery next to Nyayo House is also hosting artworks by Tanzanian artists, all of whom are ‘disciples’ or followers of Tinga Tinga, the artist whose painting sold recently at the Art Auction East Africa for more than Sh5.5 million. In radical contrast, the price that Tinga Tinga-styled paintings are going for at both the Nairobi and Banana Hill Galleries is substantially less. Call it ‘affordable’ since it’s around a million times less.
The big difference between the Tinga Tinga-inspired art at Nairobi Gallery and that found at Banana Hill is that the former is all anonymous, unsigned. But at Banana Hill, the signature of Mlaiponi is clearly visible, making it more valuable for its individuality and authenticity.
In sum, Nairobi is increasingly looking not only like the economic but also the artistic hub of East Africa.

Sunday, 21 April 2019


                                                                           Everyman confronted by Death

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 April 2019)

Churches have been the home base for many a Kenyan actor. It’s the place where many have gotten their start in theatre, staging shows about everyone from Daniel in the lions’ den to Queen Esther, both of whom had whole books written about them.

‘The Account: An Easter Musical’, which was staged over the holiday weekend at the International Christian Centre, wasn’t specifically about a Biblical character, not even Jesus Christ whose story of death and resurrection has to be one, if not the most dramatic stories in the ‘Good Book’.  

But it was about similar issues, only set in a contemporary context, and made into a musical by Bethuel Lasoi who wrote both the lyrics and score. The music was well done under Chrispus Maina’s direction, although it would have been interesting to see the musicians, especially the soloist, Julie Njambi who sang so beautifully.

 According to the show’s director, Ndaiga Waweru, ‘The Account’ was adapted from the straight play, ‘The Summoning of Everyman’ by Les Elison. It also bears resemblance to Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ in that it’s also about a wealthy, selfish man who’s confronted by death and made to look closely at his self-centered life and how he has consistently made heartless choices for which he is now meant the pay.

The premise is a Christian one, of course. It is that there are divine laws which one either obeys or does not. In that regard, God is seen as a sort of divine Accountant who keeps track of everyone’s ‘balance’. Then on Judgment Day, it is said that He tallies up everyone’s account, after which you are assigned to go either to Heaven or Hell.

The Account’s protagonist is Everyman (Kimani Gichia) who resembles many a man that we know. He’s a proud fellow, proud of all his achievements, his university degree, many awards and his money. He’s an achiever but he’s not a very nice guy.

We don’t know much about him until Death (Yvonne Muranda) literally comes for him. What he learns quickly from her is that not only does he not have a pulse, but his ‘account’ is empty. The implication being that all his material achievements mean nothing in the account that is tracked by Death and by the divine Judge as well.

We’ve already seen how rude Everyman is to his annoying roommate (George Kitavi). But once he meets Death, he begs to be given a chance to augment his account by first going to his business interests, Goods (Stacy Wairimu) and Tenders (Stephen Gakuru), then to his sister (Sabina Ojil) and finally, to the attributes he assumes he still possesses, such as Knowledge (Sylvia Gichia), Strength (Nicole Githiri), Discretion (Peter Kitavi) and Wits (Wanjiru Mwangi). But all of them had nothing to give him. His sister is tempted to sacrifice herself for him in spite of his having forsaken his family and even walking out on the funeral of the father he’d despised.

So Everyman’s fate is apparently sealed. Death has called him and he has little choice but to accompany her.  But then in the nick of time, Grace (Martin Abuya) arrives on the scene.

Wearing a magnificent white agbada, Grace is this powerful messenger who Christians claim is the divine gift given to God’s son Jesus when he’s empowered to overcome death. It’s basically the essence of resurrection that they celebrate at Easter.

Grace comes and reminds Everyman they had met once before, only he had forgotten about the gift after getting immersed in materialism and a me-first mentality.

Nonetheless, Grace offers Everyman a means of escaping death. It involves changing his ways completely and embarking on a new life. But before Everyman makes that final decision, the scene is transformed.

Suddenly, we are back at his flat and we discover, like Scrooge, he had been dreaming the whole time. But his dream has seemed so real that we are left assuming this Everyman is going to change.

What’s interesting about this well-directed allegory is that Everyman isn’t portrayed as an ultra-greedy gangster or cruel crook. He looks more like a typical human being who puts his self-interests first and doesn’t really care who he hurts or leaves behind in to process.

In short, one need not be a Christian to get the message: that one’s behavior has consequences. We are all accountable, by one means or another, whether we realize it or not.

Friday, 19 April 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 19 April 2019)

You didn’t have to see ‘Necessary Madness’ by Hearts of Art late last year to appreciate the sequel when it premiered this past weekend at Kenya National Theatre.
‘Necessary Madness 2-Deliberate Contempt’ can stand on its own although it might have enhanced one’s appreciation to know that NM1 was a social satire on corruption and its trickle-down effect on an entire population.

In the Kenyan case, it doesn’t just trickle-down. It infects everyone from political elites to lowly traffic cops to reckless matatu drivers prepared to risk their lives and those of others rather than keep their mat’s in good repair while also obeying traffic laws.
There are a few individuals who still value integrity, honesty and justice in NM1, like Nessa’s lawyer mother Lesedi (Veronica Waceke) and the talented techie teen herself (Frazier Chilande) who puts up a website meant to chart corruption cases, including video footage of eye-witness accounts of wrong-doing.

What they don’t expect, however, is to receive footage of Nessa’s traffic cop father Dakarai (Peter Kawa) soliciting a bribe from a woman driver (Jacky Vidzo) who’s rushing to get her pregnant sister to hospital. The delay leads to complications and the sister dies.
What’s worse is that Dakarai also releases a faulty matatu at the instruction of County Governor Zuri (Benson Amare) who also owns the matatu. It’s that very matatu that subsequently crashes and kills the Governor’s daughter Ziki (Azziad Nasenya) who is also Nessa’s best friend.
NM1 ends tragically and abruptly with the demise of Ziki, the collapse of her dad and confusion as to what is to be done with Nessa’s corrupt cop dad. We are left with a teetering cliff hanger that members of the public wished could be resolved.

Fortunately, NM playwright Walter Sitati came up with a response to those unresolved issues, producing a sequel that is as good, if not better than NM1. He also brought on board several well-seasoned new cast members, including Gilbert Lukalia, Veronica Waceke, Sam Psenjen and Melissa Kiplagat, all of whom fit right in with HoA regulars, like Peter Kawa, Pauline Kyalo and others. What’s more, they all worked well under Caroline Odongo’s direction.
Gilbert introduced a whole new character in the form of the Governor’s no-nonsense father who embodies the fiery wisdom of the elders. Gilbert also brought his formidable set designing skills to the production, enabling set changes to move swiftly and seamlessly.

Meanwhile, Veronica Waceke took on the role Nessa’s mother and estranged wife of Dakaria in a wise, decisive and comforting style. What’s more, she’s prepared to use her legal skills to seek justice for Ziki through the court, suing both the Governor and her spouse as well.
Ziki herself makes a comeback in NM2. She reappears as an angelic apparition to speak reassuring to Nessa as she dreams. Her ghostly arrival adds an otherworldly touch that comforts her friend and lifts the fatal shroud that had fallen as the first NM came to an end.

Meanwhile, Sam Psenjen is outstanding, playing the pitch - perfect parody of Police Chief Shabaka who, like Dakarai’s wife, has little sympathy for his tragically compromised traffic cop. Indeed, the only one who has a spec of sympathic feeling for Dakarai is Officer Tamela (Pauline Kyalo) who plays tough in the midst of Nairobi traffic but has a soft spot for her former colleague.
Melissa Kiplagat as the no-nonsense Judge who gets shipped out of her seat by backdoor means, gets replaced by one who’s sure to side with the powers that be, for a price of course.
But the crooks in NM2 don’t get the last word. Instead, it’s the Poet Mufasa whose powerful slam poetry sums up Sitati’s overriding message: that the courts won’t crack the corruption conundrum. The change required has to first come from within ourselves. Only then can we, with clean hearts, witness an end to the corruption at large.  

Kenya’s former Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, speaking as a post-production guest of honor, had a slightly different take on winning the war on corruption. He appreciated Sitati’s powerful suggestion that the solution doesn’t reside with the courts. He also liked the way Sitati satirized lawyers and judges. But he advised artists of the need for a deeper class analysis and understanding that corruption is global. Those who indulge in it locally are merely puppets in an international game.
“So next time, you might want to include a Chinese [in your play],” he said partly in gest and essentially for real.


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (Posted 19 April 2019)

Walking into Polka Dot Gallery two days before the opening of Coster Ojwang and Arnold Jaoko’s exhibition, entitled ‘Tales of Strokes’, the timing couldn’t have been better!
To the untutored eye, one might have seen sheer confusion as the Gallery’s new manager, David Gathumbi was in the process of choosing which paintings to put up where. That meant everything was in flux. Some works were coming down, while others going up.

But for someone wanting to see artworks by not just two but several exceptional young Kenyan artists, it was rare and wonderful occasion. That’s because quite a few so-called ‘up-and-coming’ local artists have discovered Lara Ray, Polka Dot’s chief-curator, is especially receptive to ‘new blood’.
She’s given a number of them their first chance to exhibit in a public space where they can not just show off their art but sell it as well.
For the prospective investor in East African art, this means they need to keep a periodic eye on Polka Dot since one can never know what new gems you might find and often, they can be affordably priced.

For instance, Coster hasn’t been exhibiting in the Nairobi art world for all that long. But he’s already well established and recognized for his lovely landscapes and labor-filled cityscapes. He’s also exhibited at Polka Dot before. But this time he has brought Arnold Jaoko, his former classmate from Mwangaza Art Centre in Kisumu to share the gallery walls at Polka Dot from last Sunday through 5th May. Jaoko hasn’t exhibited in Nairobi before, but he has a lovely auburn-toned color palette and his figurative subject matter is also well-executed.

But Jaoko is just one of a number of ‘newbies’ to the local art scene. There’s a printmaker named Robert Yigo whose miniature prints are attractively colored and filled with rural imagery reminiscent of Rosemary Karuga’s, only hers are in collage and his are print and mixed media.

Several artists from Mukuru Art Club have also brought their works to Polka Dot. But Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Kimau, Lloyd Weche and others from the Club didn’t just bring their art to be placed on racks for visitors to thumb through. Lara actually put club members’ art online at the gallery’s website, offering a special ‘Mukuru Art Club Art Sale’ on their behalf.
“Lara has already sold five of our paintings online,” says Adam Masava, founder of the Club who adds that online sales will go towards construction of a new artists studio.
But then, it isn’t just inside and online that Polka Dot is exposing a lot of unsung artists to the light of day. Even outside on easel and front wall, one could see artworks that would be gone by Sunday’s showcase of Coster and Jaoko’s paintings. Gone would be Elias Mong’ora’s Untitled urban scene, one of Sarah Sungi’s black and white silhouettes and the halo-ed beauty by Philip Kere who we hear normally exhibits at The Tamarind Restaurant.

According to Gathumbi, Mong’ora’s paintings rarely stay at the gallery for long. The Brush tu-based artist’s works tend to go quickly, he says, pointing to just two that remain up for the time being. But they too are just about to come down, as are the paintings remaining from a recent solo exhibition by Nigerian artist, Akinyemi Ajibade.

Ajibade has been in Kenya just less than two years, but as he loves teaching, he says he has settled in at GEMS Cambridge School where he teaches art. But the painter formerly from Lagos takes care that he leaves enough time for himself to keep up his career as a professional artist. His first solo show in Nairobi was in March, entitled ‘Shape of things to Come’. It focused primarily on young attractive millennial females. All designed in geometric lines and brightly-colored patterns, his paintings have a familiarity about them, particularly the few remaining in the gallery which contrast the masculine and feminine in both diamond and spherical mask-like forms.
Ajibade’s one painting, a set of circular masks, bears an uncanny resemblance to masks made by the Ngeche-based artist, Peter Kibunja, whose one spherical-faced painting is also at Polka Dot. It’s one of those still propped up against a stool, awaiting dismissal to the Gallery’s storeroom.
Finally, the two space at Polka Dot that don’t rotate regularly are the cupboards that Lara fills with miniature works by painters like Yony Waite, Anne Mwiti and Drishti Chawla, and the ceiling from which hang mobiles by Isaac and wind-chimes by Evans Ngure.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (Posted 16 April 2019)

Watching a documentary film like ‘Whispering Truth to Power’ makes one wish Kenya had a ‘public protector’ like the one South Africa had in Thuli Madonsela up until quite recently. The film was screened last Tuesday at Alliance Francaise courtesy of DocuBox.
Thuli’s role was to defend the South African Constitution, a task that included waging war on corruption which exploded during the years when Jacob Zuma was in power.
Her office was established back in 1994 soon after her country gained Independence and the heinous system of Apartheid was theoretically dissolved. Yet one thing that has hardly changed since then is the huge disparity between rich and poor.
Nonetheless, Thuli who admits she was an avowed Marxist during the days of Apartheid, took seriously her job in fighting injustice and inequity, which wasn’t easy. But it got much harder when she took up the challenge of addressing the excesses of Zuma, including his so-called 65 million rand ‘splurge’ on building Nkanda, his private home using public funds.
Thuli had the guts to accuse the President of violating the Ethics Act, a charge he ignored despite her outspoken style of speaking gently, what the filmmaker Shameela Seedat named ‘whispering truth to power’.
Seedat documents the tumultuous days before Thuli finally resigns, including the time when she challenges the Gupta connection to Zuma in their jointly stealing millions from the public coffers. That is when she got hit with the first installments of ‘fake news’.
She had made enemies over the years, but when she took on the Gupta network, which was a Mafia equivalent, she discovered the real intransigence of evil. She had personal interviews with her former friend Zuma who she had worked with for years in ANC prior to 1994. They were to no avail. Nonetheless, the woman was unrelenting in her quest for justice and defense of the Constitution.
She even endured death threats and made them publicly known. But that didn’t stop her detractors from saying she was ‘protecting’ white monopoly capitalists and riling up raucous crowds to accuse her of the same.
There was real sadness when she announced she would resign. But it would not be before she conducted her last research into the looting connections between the Guptas, Zuma and the State agencies they looted.
Right before her resignation date was at hand, Thuli’s report was ready for released. Yet she strategically chose to see it released after she was gone.
In her absence, the report spoke for itself. It implicated Zuma in major ways that were so air-tight that it didn’t take long after that for him to be booted out of office. The Guptas had already fled the country, but the film didn’t suggest that the war on corruption is over or that the monumental gap between rich and poor in this country is about to bridged.
Nonetheless, one still wishes Kenya could boast of a public protector like Thuli Madonsela, who could fight and finally win the war on corruption.

Monday, 15 April 2019

AMREF launched Jua Kali Drummers, now in its 8th generation

King of Persia weds Esther in Esther the Musical

Joe Musyoki at Technical University of Kenya


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 15 April 2019)

Osborne Macharia and Kevo Abbra are surrealist storytellers currently showing off ‘7 Years of Afro-Futurism’ at Alliance Francaise.
They are also magical mixed media men. One’s a photographer, the other a fashion designer and together they create captivating images complete with caption-like stories that feel like they’re fresh out of somebody’s hallucinogenic dream.
                                                                         Nairobi's underground Fight Club

Presented as if the images are anthropological finds, the seven sets of photographs are described as if they are ‘discoveries’ made by the two as they traveled to obscure corners and enclaves of Nairobi.
These never-before-seen clubs, clans and ‘special units’ are all said to be “little known…till now.” That line, found at the bottom of all seven captions apparently translates to mean they all came out of the fertile imaginations of Osborne’s and Kevo’s minds.
The show is puzzling at first. But once you realize these two are ‘merry pranksters’ having fun being as plausibly outrageous as possible, you have to marvel at their genius.
They seem to take as their baseline of believability, Nairobi’s popular urban culture, including everything from Marvel comics and ‘Black Panther’ references to mitumba and Mau Mau generals including Mau Mau wives. They tune in to youth fetishes for fashion, fancy hairdos and ‘found objects’ transformed into junk art.
But then they take off into uncharted territories of consciousness. They make their ‘discoveries’ everywhere from Kawangware and Kipipiri forest to Kibera, Lake Magadi and unknown sites beneath Nairobi’s CBD.
Only two sets of the seven feature women but their women are glorious creatures who you’d love to meet in real life. The four Kipipiri women are said to be a ‘special unit’ of Mau Mau Generals’ wives who, like their spouses are ‘leaders’ in their own right. Whenever there’s a full moon, they emerge with super high-styled hair do’s.
But it’s the Lake Magadi mamas who are even more intriguing. They are “former female circumcisers” who abandoned FGM to now design elegant ethnic fashions and mentor young women in both making and modelling those same fashion designs. Trained to be self-sufficient and able to succeed both locally and globally, the Magadi girls have mainly been ‘rescued’ by the mamas from child marriages. So while the mamas may be antiques, they’re providing an important services nonetheless.
The men’s groups are mainly seers or defensive fighters. The ‘Kawangware Defense Force’ is made up of HIV/AIDS orphan boys who go to school by day and go on duty with KDF by night. Hooked up with discarded boda boda helmets and home-made electronic that can trace criminal prowlers, the KDF’s work is to detect and then relay ‘untraceable’ calls to alert the local police.
Another group of fighters were ‘found’ underground beneath the CBD. Osborne and Abbria only found five midgets who are members of the Nairobi Fight Club. Funded by local elites, they’re involved in intensive training. But the ‘researchers’ didn’t identify what they were being trained to fight for. Could that suggest there will be another installment of their Afro-Futurist ‘documentation’?

There are two groups of seers. One is the Ilgelunot, blind Maasai elders who were rescued by Wakanda’s King T’Chaka after which they became his trusted advisors with extraordinary powers acquired from exposure to the mysterious metal, Vibranium.
The other group belongs to a secret unit of Mau Mau fighter who also have special powers. Called ‘Macicio’, they are five opticians who create hand-crafted spectacles (similar to Cyrus Kabiru’s C-Stunners) that allow them to have night vision. Their specs enabled the Mau Mau to spot their enemies throughout the night.
Finally, ‘Remember the Rude Boy’ is meant to be a tribute to Kevo Abbra’s father who is said to have been a tailor based in the ‘ghetto’. His tailoring friends created an eclectic fashion collection made out of up-cycled mitumba (second-hand clothes). The collection was staged as a fashion show in tribute to the elder Abbra. The first show is said to have been in Kibera but it’s set to travel all over Nairobi and then ‘across Africa’.

There’s enough fantasy in this Afro-Futurist showcase to assume that all seven stories are pure fiction. Nonetheless, there are many relevant themes sprinkled throughout this remarkable exhibit to make one admire the blurred lines between fantasy and reality.
What’s more, a record-breaking film like ‘Black Panther’ proved that the whole world, not only Kenyans, have a thirst for flights of fantasy that are conceivably true. So why not go for an improbable flight with Osborne and Abbra and delight in their fabulous ‘discoveries’.

Thursday, 11 April 2019


                                                             TUK Design students display projects at Railways 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted originally 11 April, revised 12 April 2019)

Technical University of Kenya, formerly known as Kenya Polytechnic, has spawned a number of important artistic figures in our time. Among them are Patrick Mukabi and Waweru Gitahi and others.
And now, after seeing what senior Design students are doing at TUK, one can forecast there are young Kenyan artist-designers coming up who’ll maintain the ‘tradition’ of creative excellence established by their Poly predecessors.
Granted TUK students were working more in multimedia than paint, charcoal, palette knife or pen. But similar artistic skills plus a fertile imagination are required in both careers nonetheless. And these were apparent in plenty last Thursday when both diploma and degree students displayed their final projects inside the Kenya Railways Museum and out among the vintage railway cars.
For instance, fourth year Design students like Joseph Musyoki and Anthony Waweru Kamuru created animated short stories on film for their final projects. Meanwhile, Mercy Mwangi created a magic carpet using recycled cement bags and scraps of multicolored kitenge. Having stitched an abundance of the scraps onto multiple layers of the cement bags, Mercy created a soft thick carpet that could be used either as a decorative floor mat or an attractive wall-hanging.

Mercy wasn’t the only TUK student to create functional designs out of recycled materials. Anne Wangari made an attractive lampshade out of plastic cups and a blossoming flower (complete with vase) out of plastic spoons spray-painted silver to look like stainless steel. Her floral design reminds one of the twelve-foot steel-spooned ‘Coffee Tree’ that currently stands in the central plaza of the Hub mall in 
Karen, created by the Thika-based artist, Peter Ngugi. Hers is on a much smaller scale but we applaud her upcycling plastic waste. Nonetheless, her plastic lampshade, while being decorative, doesn’t seem functional since the heat generated from lightbulbs is bound to melt the lampshade in no time.
Purity Igoki also upcycled ‘useless’ waste, transformed discarded cotton t-shirts into handbags, shoes and her idea of Maasai bead jewelry.  The ‘defective’ shirts had been rejected by clients of silkscreen printers who Purity says were happy to be rid of the ‘rejects’. So Purity took them home, tie-dyed them (as she had been taught at TUK) using bright sunny colors. After that, she sliced up the shirts according to the shapes she required to make matching sandals, clutch bags and necklaces.
Then there were designers like Stan Manthi whose full-time job keeps him on his computer throughout his working day. That’s how he knows about dysfunctional mouse pads. Noting that when the pads are made out of rubber, they tend to buckle rather than lay flat. Suspecting he was not the only one who found that tendency to be a nuisance, (especially when you work under serious time constraints), he decided to create a series of denim ‘jackets’ for several mouse pads. Then as a way of decorating the denim, he used a dual-purpose kitenge border, one side of which had pen-sized pockets so you could have all your essential tools literally at your finger-tips.
But it was the animated film shorts that attracted the most wide-spread attention at the TUK exhibition. Even the TUK Vice Chancellor, Professor Francis Aduol voiced his enthusiasm for the inventiveness of the animators who were required in their course to not just produce a finished short film. They also had to create multiple story-boards that illustrated the film’s screenplay. Plus they had to create visual profiles of their characters.
Joe Musyoki’s short film, entitled ‘Lost’, is about three characters: a paint can, a palette knife and a paint brush all of which are wide-eyed and fully-dressed when they wake up one day and find themselves in ‘a strange place”.
(“Their home was in the art room, not the living room where they had been left,” says Musyoki).
The story unfolds with the three characters stumbling from one obstacle to the next as they struggled to find their way home.
Since Musyoki was constrained by time, the film ends with a ‘To be continued’ as the three take a rest, exhausted by their difficult day.
The imagination that Musyoki displayed in his film could easily serve as a pilot to a charming children’s television series that one of Kenya’s TV station ought to pick up. In the meantime, one hopes this ingenious animator will follow through and create a sequel to “Lost’ in which the trio carry on with their journey, wherever it leads them.