Is Mashada still alive? That online community where folk gathered, once upon a time, to discuss issues? Hell, do those online forum still exist when there is Twitter and Facebook to mouth off on? Turns out they do.
A friend of mine recently popped up on Google-chat and said that she had read something about me on some social forum where I was being discussed. Look, I’ve heard and read a few things about me floating around out there, most of them resoundingly uncreative, the sum total of idleness destructiveness.
So I told her that there isn’t anything that anyone will write about me now that will entirely unsettle me. “This one might,” she wrote back and I got curious. So she sent me the link of this social forum that I won’t mention because it might dignify the racket they run there.
In short, they were saying I’m gay!
Me. Gay. A homosexual.
I read the thread and it struck me that I must have a doppelganger out there because everything about the details was queer (not intended). They said my girlfriend (boyfriend in this case, I assume) was in JKUAT (seriously, JKUAT? Drive all the damn way there for a moustache? It’s like dating a chick from Sagana). His name, it was revealed was John and I wondered if I often buy him flowers. Or if I help him with his homework. The discussion also revealed that I have two tois (the other, I assumed, with John) and that I often show up there on Fridays in a very loud Subaru (louder than my pants?). They went on and said; sometimes I spend the night in his room (Right, on those tiny bunker beds? Kwani just how skinny is this John chap?) And that when I travel I often take John along with me, (of course, John loves Giraffes). It went on and on, this narrative, with the onlookers online inciting for more information by stoking the fires of this person with the moniker Le’Kenyan. Amazing stuff.
It’s foolhardy to “defend” myself to such lore, but I just want to say one thing. I believe in reincarnation (and that Le’ Kenyan clown is certainly coming back as an albino Walrus) and if I ever came back as a woman, I wouldn’t date a man called John. That’s the kind of chick, I would be. Standards.
Oh, notice the cool illustrations here? They are by a chap called Maurice Odede, an illustrator by profession. We recently waited for an elevator together. He was this dreadlocked bloke sporting this gigantic chrome timepiece, one of those pilot jobs, and since I’m a huge fan of timepieces, I said, “ Some watch! Does it have a blood group?” He laughed, easy chap. We spoke about timepieces and when he got off on the 11th floor we had established that he was an artist and I was a writer and that we could work together. From today, he will be illustrating stories here. Maurice welcome to High School. The canteen is that way; get yourself half loaf and milk your welcome hamper.
Michael Joseph interview
I never write my questions down before an interview like most serious journalists. I walk in and feed off the temperament of the interviewee; an answer always informs the next question, I believe, and it’s this rhythm that makes it more about a conversation than an interview. Conversations are boundary-less, interviews are structured.
I have now interviewed Michael twice. The most important lesson I left with from the first interview was that sometimes you need to write the questions down before because interviewing Michael demands preparation; no trivial questions, no half-witted questions, no vague questions, no, ahs and uhms. With Michael, when you ask a question that is even beneath you, he will remind you. And if you have 45mins with him, it’s going to be 45mins, not 46mins, so you don’t have time to murk around. Michael demands more of you as a professional.
So when last week I was asked to interview him again, I prepared by writing down my swalis. We spoke about how it all started, how his personality informed his successes and failures at Safcom. We spoke about management, about handling people and about Elephants, his favourite animal. For 35mins he never once uncrossed his leg. And at the end of it all, one lesson easily buoyed on the surface for me, one that managers here might find useful. Indeed, Michael succeeded because of his brilliance as a leader, yes, but I realised also he did because Michael doesn’t just care what you think of him. We all do really care what people think about us, to seek approval that we it distracts us from the job at hand.
This is to managers who don’t give a toss.
THE GOOD AND THE UGLY:
Part of my hustle is to discover new trendy bars every week and review them for gazetini. Recently my pal, Martin Keino said that perhaps I should check out Explorer Tavern.
You see that dip on Argwengs Kodhek Road, where Radar security and Bar is? Go down, take a turn to your right. Half way through, before you get to that roundabout of Methodist/ For You Chinese restaurant, there is a small boulevard dirt road on your right. Explorer sits at the cul-de-sac.
Truth is, there aren’t many whisky bars in Nairobi. Most claim to be whisky bars because they sell Glenmorangie. Explorer is a true whisky bar.
It was started out as a friend’s club who enjoy whiskey but soon morphed into a bar. It’s discreet, “silent” and mature. Average age group; 40. They play nothing but New Jack Swing, which is to say they play soundtracks of our teenage. It’s not cheap, yes, but neither is good whisky. It’s place you go once or twice a month. Or if someone else is buying. Of course the patrons there are the slightly well-to-do, sleek professionals making some decent bucks; I met two top execs I had interviewed earlier, one who wasn’t happy by my portrayal of him in the article, but who, in a true grown up and gentlemanly fashion, stood up from his Johnnie Walker Black to shake my hand when I walked into a room he was seated. Which goes to show the type of guys patron this dive; men. We often find ourselves drinking with boys, which is okay because when we finally drink with men it re-defines how we drink. Explorer is where men drink.
GALAXY BAR, EKA HOTEL
I also, last week, patroned one of the worst bars I have reviewed in recent times; Galaxy Bar in Eka Hotel. You would imagine that a swanky hotel like Eka, a hotel that endeavours to take hospitality seriously, would impress you with their service because really, that’s the only thing that separates a good establishment from a bad establishment, not how expensive their floor tilling is.
The bar man, Juston, was one of the rudest and uncouth chaps you will ever meet. He treated me with contempt, he acted like he was too important to serve me and of course being kind of self-suffering egocentric twerp who takes things personally I summoned his supervisor who, when I realised didn’t have the necessary clout to address the issue adequately, I asked to call the hotel’s manager. He came down in a crisp suit and a sharp glib and listened to me sympathetically before he offered an apology (and some honey glazed chicken and chips). Nonetheless, I went home and wrote a bleeding review.
To say I was disgusted (by the experience, not the chicken) would be grossly understating it. If a barman from some random bar in South B – like Nerkwo (a decent local, sit down) – spoke to me like that, I wouldn’t care because they don’t include service charge on my drink. But Eka does and from them you expect a certain level of professionalism, of service.
I have never dug Sauti Sol. I realise that this admission might sound sacrilegious to their legion of fawning fans that hang onto every tune they pelt. I have heard tales of girls going cuckoo – throwing undergarments on stage etc – when they perform. I have read interviews where they were quoted extensively using superlatives like “home-grown”, “authentic”, “uber talented”, “local.” And I scoffed.
Not that I have never tried to like them because I have. I have You-Tubed and listened to their songs and missed that point of connection. But I liked their track “Coming Home”, it had a great video and they all seem to feel that song. Then they did that Gentleman song with P-unit and I thought, well there. That was something. To me, Sauti Sol has always been OK, but OK is not enough to whet my interest.
But then I realised that the root of the reason I didn’t really get wowed by them was because I associated them with Blankets and Wine, and we all know how I feel about Blankets and Wine. That association for me compromised how I would view them. I felt like they had stopped being artists and were now mascots of social (arty) liberation propagated by the bourgeois. I felt that they were a creation/belief of the middle-class, one that they pushed on forums that they most found comfort in; twitter. And so I thought of them as a Twitter-band, with a musical character that you would simply review in under 140 words. A single-layered band.
The reason why I associated them with middle-class is because the middle-class in Kenya it at a point where they realise their triviality in lauding foreign ideologies and bodies of work and so to appear conforming to their African pride, they look for “causes” to support in the arts and business. As it so happens, Sauti Sol was nearby because they sang better than most local bands and so the middle-class adopted them, making them their “charity” of choice. You know? Something to save their shameless faces with. A redemptive move. And taking Sauti Sol under their wings is also the same reason the middle-class now sees it proper to drop their English names and use two “African” names like Kimotho Gachara, Odongo Otieno, Wekesa Wanyama etc. Don’t be fooled that this is a sign that we are entering the long-awaited era of African reinnascence. It’s not. It’s just the middle-class amusing themselves before their own gallery.
I guess another reason I couldn’t embrace Sauti Sol is because I just couldn’t just get past their pants.
Sometimes in Oct I was commissioned to do a story about the Safaricom LIVE concerts. I went down to Eldoret to attend one of Safcom’s “Niko Na” concerts. I was required to spend time backstage during the concert and write a colour story about what goes on behind the stage before the artists go on stage. Of course I was filled with a deep sense of trepidation, not because it was a hard job to do, but because the whole Kenyan celebrity scene drain my soul. It’s shallow, trivial and frivolous. It’s smoke and mirrors.
But I have a daughter to take to school, some jobs you don’t pass no matter your feelings around them.
The artists present for the concert were Camp Mulla, Size 8, Wahu, Jimmy Gait, Emmy Koskei, Jaguar, Wahu, Jalango and, yes, Sauti Sol. The venue was Eldoret Stadium. Time was 8pm. It had rained, so it was colder than a witch’s tits. To keep the cold at bay, I shared whisky with Tony Mochama (he had Vodka) in the VIP tent then later shared another with Smitta. Tony is charming, funny, very knowledgeable and generous. Smitta knows all the celebrities and vice versa. And he writes everything in this small but intimidating notepad.
The one guy who surprised me was Jimmy Gait. He was exceedingly cultured and calm. He had a firm handshake and good eye contact, which is to say he was confident. And he was very mild mannered, engaging and accommodating. He answered my questions calmly. I liked him, he surprised me.
However, you want to know what happens backstage? Not much. They sit around with little activity, hibernating, saving their energy for the performance. I didn’t see any of them touch alcohol. I saw Jaguar sip tea and I saw some sip sodas but most drunk water. They were constantly on their phones though; thudding smses, tweeting, Facebooking…etc. And they watched the others perform from the big screen in their tent and I wondered what went through their mind, if they felt anxiety, foreboding, doom, vigour…I remember Jimmy was to perform last, and I asked him if he felt pressured that he would close the curtains and he said, “ No, I’m the last light. I have the word of the Lord and it’s my responsibility to send everyone home with that word.” Did you hear that? “I’m the last light.” Goodness, such depth I almost tossed away my glass of whisky. I almost felt unworthy to be holding alcohol in the presence of such godly quip.
The first thing that occurred to me when Sauti Sol got on stage was that I was wrong about them. Startlingly wrong.
Look, many artists went up that stage that cold night in Eldoret and performed to the best of their talents, but Sauti Sol carried the night even in those pants I resent. Not one could hold a torch to the level of voltage they zapped from that stage. They were extremely well choreographed, they fed off each other’s energy, their voices seduced even the hardest of cynics (read, me) and for their trouble, the crowd – a sea of them in that frosty Eldoret night – sang along, swayed, danced, cheered, and clapped so hard it sounded like an incessant clap of thunder.
Sauti Sol breathed life into songs that I had earlier on scoffed at and written off as lacking and desperate, like that one for soma soma. Si you know that school one? They had female dancers dressed in school uniform come on stage and do a sexy routine that made me want to go back to primo. And in a very brave move, they re-did Gentleman in a way that made it sound like a great song borne from a good song. They garnished these songs then delivered them with such star quality that left me reaching for humble pie. And they danced. By Jove, did they dance?!
I can only describe their performance in one phrase; A Sauti Sol musical orgy.
I was to interview Baraza, one of the band members. I hadn’t made contact because I had planned to catch him soon after his performance. So when he stepped off the stage – shored out by a screaming, un-quenched crowd – and ran behind the maze of tents to their backstage artist tent, I intercepted him.
I caught him vulnerable, just like I wanted. I caught him when his pulse was still thudding frantically at the base of his neck and his chest heaving under his shirt. Caught him when his face still glistened with sweat in the starless night. When he was still bewildered by the performance, blinded by adoration from the crowd and seemingly disordered by all these swirling emotions. I caught him unready, unprepared, unrehearsed and I peppered questions at him before his pulse could return to 72 beats a minute.
I asked: how do you feel? What’s your state of mind right now? Use one word to describe what you feel now. Describe the feeling of singing into a sea of humanity who loves you? What does music mean to you? Did you drink before the performance? Did you feel like it? Why do you have a chicken perched on your shoulder as your Whatsapp avi? Fried of roasted? No, Whatsapp, I mean, not chicken.
And Baraza was eloquent as he was gracious. Not once, not even after the amount of adoration he had just experienced – did he act like he was star, not once did I feel like he was trying to over-glorify his art or himself for that matter. He spoke of his insecurities and of the triumphs on a night like that. Of the amount of hours they put in as a group to get to where they are. Of how a good physical regime, how health plays a part in their performance. And right there it occurred to me that sometimes you have to respect the man before you can understand his art.
Then he saw my name on my PRESS-tag hanging from my neck. And he said “Oh shit, are you Bikozulu?” (Yes, reporting to duty, sir!) then professed how big a fan he was, how he loves High School and how in campus they often discussed my work in their literature classes (I didn’t believe that part). I was humbled that the chap who had just had everybody screaming moments ago, who had just harvested souls, thought I was the shit. Come on, don’t act like you would have acted cool, that shit is humbling.
I confessed to him I didn’t think much of them until that night. That I thought they were a bunch of phony musical posers and he laughed, good-naturedly, and refused to take offense. Took it on the chin like the star he has become. Baraza is all right, I decided. Sauti Sol is all right.
Still, those pants!