For Funsies

If you’re a Kenyan online, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Nishike and Kookoo, two singles recently released by Sauti Sol and Elani. The songs don’t have that much in common, but they’ve both gotten us talking about what is commonly referred to as the thirst.

You must have seen the videos by now, but just in case:


(Can I just say, yay Ogopa and Enos? Our video quality has improved vastly. Time was you cringed when you saw a Kenyan artist on the screen. No more! Not as much, anyway.)

As I was saying: rather different in mood and theme. I had a bit of a serious conversation about them on Twitter earlier, touching on heteronormativity and gender roles and objectification, all of which are undoubtedly true and necessary to think about. I really wish @Woozie_M and @nochiel would write their longform critiques. They’ll be merciless and tear us new ways of thinking and I’ll love it.
But this is my take, and it’s a simple one:
Sexy Kenyans. It’s a thing, and I like it.

* At this point, I’d like to point out – I generally leave the over 18 stuff alone, but i have deviated somewhat for this post. It’s nothing extreme, but if you’re uncomfortable with adult themes and [mildly] strong language, you know, caveat emptor.*

Let us open with a regal Bien – all glistening and kitted out with gold-tone and a throne. There’s a strong African King vibe at work here, which still manages to stay true to the king-on-the-throne theme so common in music videos, as seen below:


(Yes, for fun, I just used examples of female artists subverting the trope)

Where was I? Ah, yes, retention of ideas and images already seen in other videos (Delvin’s bit is basically a knock-off of Trey Songz’ Na Na, yes?) The newest idea perhaps, is do Kenyans really do this? Which is a daft question in a country with a population problem. Kenyans are rampant shaggers, best believe. Parents’ Magazine was a constant back in the day and always had some coy, frisky headline about love and the bedroom on the cover. Sex aunties and therapists do a brisk business, many of them running successful advice columns and shows in our mass media. Toy shops are on the rise, there’s the regular #VerbalIntercourse hashtag on Twitter, so why the insistence otherwise?

Clearly there’s still some shock value in seeing this deliberate display of sexiness – and it is deliberate, a quick IG trawl of Bien’s and Delvin’s accounts shows pics posted over the past couple of months of their workouts, with some teasing and hinting at this forth-coming video. They are on display, served up to us – almost more than their female counterparts. Of course, this opens the conversation about depersonification of women – displaying bodies at the expense of faces is a classic method of dehumanizing and objectifying. However, if I’m being honest, this wasn’t the feeling I got from this. Certainly they’re very sexualized, and a lot of the focus is on their figures and bodies, but it is not at expense of their faces or humanity. Most of the ladies get full-on face shots, Polycarp and his heroine are certainly given equal coverage. The ladies are active, touching as much as being touched. Special props to Delvin’s girl (I wish we knew their names. It’d help my argument) who seems to have had a great old time, leaping onto torsos and what-not.
But it remains, the lads are very much on display, in a way we don’t often see from our men (except perhaps athletes and sportmens – go Kenya Sevens, amirite?) so it’s still a bit new, and definitely more blatant than the sportsmen. Perhaps this is why some uncomfortable tweeps claimed watching the video was gayyyy. Part of the conversation and attempt to deal with this discomfort seems to revolve around an idea that it’s unmanly to be too eager to please a woman –and I just don’t know how this is possible. The general lore amongst a section of twitter seems to preach a certain disdain for foreplay, a firm belief that dick game alone should be sufficient, and for their wives and liaisons we say a prayer. At this point in time, how anyone can be embarrassed about wanting to please someone else, I can’t imagine. I hope that in the privacy of the bedroom, this is all just bravado. No one has time for candles and massage and leather crossover jumpsuit things all the time, but come on – never?
Amidst all this are the safe, defined boundaries of sex and sexuality and its expression. There’s an argument found in the comic book world about how characters who are ostensibly meant to pander to female readers (your Thors and what have you) are really just another male fantasy, where the sexiest thing imaginable to a woman must be the manliest of all men, all blood and sweat and musky muscle and not a whit of anything softer. The shirtless gyrating does seem to echo this – this must be what women want. Not much of sensitivity or give-and-take, (perhaps this is why I was absurdly pleased with Polycarp, who awkwardly doesn’t really touch his lady beyond some stroking and cuddling- there’s a point his hand stops literally right below her bust – and I just know someone will translate that into being less than a man, and to you I say, foh).
But. Formulae are formulae because they work. And part of empowerment is taking what you get and making it yours. Perhaps it’s because I like tall dark men, but honestly the fantastically nicknamed Mahanjam Grind works. Which grind you say? This one:


And I’m not the only one who thought so, either. I must admit, I was very jazzed to see the outpouring of enthusiasm from the Kenyan ladies on twitter. People may object to the song itself, and the copy-cat aspects of the video, but we appreciate the boys. And it’s great to see women persist in cheering them on, even in the face of revolt and bruised ego – unataka kubebwa na we ni size ya…, if I’m like that, you must be like this…. Most of us don’t have the genetic or gymmed-up gifts people chosen for display do, but come on. We’ve really got to learn how to appreciate some of this stuff without tearing other people (and sometimes the people we’re appreciating) down.

There’s a less thrilled viewership that’s decrying it as porn – and once more our public discourse is soaked in hypocrisy. It’s no more than what we are used to, brought out into the light of day. Morals and discussions of modesty and how much people are comfortable revealing will come into play here, but that’s a whoooole other topic. All I’ll say is that it’s not really worth clutching the pearls over. What’ll really shake us up is the day they pair him with a guy. But we won’t push for that – if he is in the closet, as the lore suggests, (I can’t find anything definitive online) it’s really nobody’s business but his own. We’re not all Binyavangas.
As a sort of post-script to this, comes Kookoo.  I really don’t want to say this, but well, you know. It can’t be ignored that they’re a much more femme-centric group than SS so perhaps that accounts for the variety in their outlook. It’s a bit more flexible, a bit less normative. Certainly there’s an attempt at diversity – body modification (I swear I’ve seen that pierced chap at B&W or something. Who is he?), a bit of race mixing, different body types… Very bohemian and fresh, in keeping with their image.

I’d read plenty of tweets before watching the actual video, and most of them were focused on Mo’s lovely figure. Coming off of this, and the fact that I (somehow) managed to watch Nishike first, I must say I was expecting a lot more skin. They’re an attractive trio, and the ladies’ make-up was beautiful, but they weren’t as blatant about it as the Sol. It was just – oh here are three beautiful people taking a stroll through Nairobi. Odd that in such an overall romantic video the bit I heard most about was the afore-mentioned figure, which just goes to show – sometimes people will focus on what they want, despite our best efforts. It’s part of classic boys vs girls on twirra, people pick sides and yell what they want. It’s what we do. We stand up for what we believe and defend what we’re passionate about.

Me, I’m just here for the grind. And that leather crossover jumpsuit thing.



Dust: A Review

DustYvonne Owuor’s debut novel is not an easy book, by any means. The prologue is one of the pebbles whose splash causes the ripple of narrative. But one doesn’t realize this when reading it, and the repetitive account of Odidi running tired me, as I’m sure it did him. Even when you get past it, it still takes some time before things really start moving. It was almost a relief to abandon it for lighter reads, which I’ll admit I did a few times before committing.

But nothing good comes easy. As the different threads came together I was – in awe, I guess. I stopped reading out of fellow feeling (buy Kenya build Kenya) and became genuinely wrapped up in the story and the need for resolution. This is not a smoothly-flowing, straightforward story, like Americanah, or We Need New Names. Things happen, but in the middle of densely descriptive prose and recurring omens, they don’t come easily.

The backdrop is Kenya, diseased, deformed, divine, and Ms. Owuor travels up and down the country and its history. One of her settings is the dense and crowded Nairobi cityscape. It is urbane and criss-crossed with people making do: the threads of narrative tangle all over a city where you can haggle with a matatu tout over a 20 bob hike in the fare that’ll take you to the bar where you’ll spend hundreds or more likely thousands in the name of eating out. Because isn’t that how we live our lives as a nation? We’ll kick someone out for pinching a nose but gleefully crown CVs of [alleged] crimes against humanity.

There is the wider outdoors, where it is not as easy to hunker down and keep your soul closed. She chooses Northern Kenya. It’s an unusual, deliberate choice, and not only because it is a place too often seen only on “we need a superhero” billboards or as an end destination for caravans of relief food. It’s also unexpected considering the strong Luo flavor the book has. The central homestead is named Wuoth Ogik, but despite this, when “the lake” is mentioned by the characters they mean Turkana, not Victoria. Wide open and mostly dry, this Kenya is expansive and remote and barely recognizable. The dearth of human interference means that what does happen stays happened for a long time – Wuoth Ogik holds in its books graffiti that lasts a generation, unlike the city walls where chaotic life and pollution and kanjo means a poster, defiant scrawl or bloodstain are ephemeral at most.

It is in these landscapes and memories that the characters learn that shock and denial are not first born with them. We are a country built on accepting and moving on, but you may never really realize it until you listen to those who have gone before. The rumours and plays and articles and bar stories that are told to enable people to cope, because maybe the future will be better – they were told before, and as you find them in your own mouth, you wonder if your children will have to spin out their own version. The older a Kenyan gets, the more s/he learns that “they” never tell you anything, and that this land has produced things and people that beggar belief. A friend commented on watching her younger crop of cousins waking up to tribal realities over the last elections, as we did in the prior ones, whose looming shadows still trouble our days. With time you learn that some of those shadows were cast long before 2007.

Books like this make you wonder if there is indeed a future, or only a recycled past.

What of the characters? It’s hard to say whose story this is. Odidi, whose steps are the first we hear? Rugby-playing UoN engineer, his is a familiar face. We only really encounter his internal voice at one crucial moment  but much of the remainder of the book is spent dealing with the effects of this brief episode. His entry is his exit, and this one death amongst many brings together other people, other debts created long before. Different things to different people, even his name changes depending on who is talking: Odi, Shifta, Odi-Ebe, Ebewesit. He is universally beloved, adored, full of potential, and yet as so often happens, it’s not enough.

Maybe it his sister, Ajany’s story. A good portion of the book follows her internal monologue in her journey, poor soul, to see what life is without an anchor, when the back that protected you from eternity is removed. Or her father’s, for whom this is one more loss in a life and country that has already taken so much of life.

What of the mysterious Hugh Bolton? Name shrouded in secrecy, with the ones who knew him vehemently silent, and the younger lot taking him for a totem of sorts, as indeed he may be. His presence in the story is puzzling. You keep asking yourself what the hell a colonial type is up to out here – too far for a safari, as one character is told. He remains an enigma, sketched out in slashes and strikes as bold as his paintings, as the house he builds: empire builder, home-stead builder, colony-builder.

And then Akai – elemental, for whose presence and vitality all others search. Her introduction is one of power, such that I was left wondering if she was flesh and blood or made of legend, (a question several characters seem to wrestle with: she is undeniably mythic):

 Akai-ma. She wards off ghouls and bad night entities, wrestles God, casts ancient devils into hell before their time, and kicks aside sea waves so her son will pass unhindered. Akai-ma.

She is so vivid, so self-sufficient, it is almost fitting that it is the death of her own son that comes closest to conquering her – she who has lost more and worse, who uses language as she pleases and walks tall despite the weight of years and secrets.

These characters’ movements force reaction from the others. It seems almost everyone takes their place in relation to them – especially to Akai. But everyone, major or minor, especially Ajany, whose journey we follow closest, is looking for something – trying to find the dead, to find what they lived for so you may better understand them. Even Akai must dedicate her power to something, some anchor. And so it is that we spend our lives searching for each other, and are in awe of those who seem unbound, unfettered by any inherited curse, any problems passed down at birth to detangle, whose only goal is becoming more of themselves. We sigh in their wake and try to drink their energy, unaware they may consume us instead.

It is a musical book, a colourful book. People trade meaning in art: songs and stories and paint. Akai is charmed by Ali Dida Hada’s songs, Odidi sings camel songs to a misty-eyed Eastleigh trader. Hugh and Ajany and Justina are painters. It would seem unlikely that so many people share such singular talents, but life is made of patterns, and patterns rule their lives. Their eventual coming together is like a fulfilling of an age old pattern, begun long ago, and not quite complete, even at the end – a motif in a larger theme that continues on, even when the colours and characters change. When you come to the end of Dust, it feels like an intermission. The book is done, but not its continuity. You can believe the songs are still being sung and journeys are unended. It is a dense book, ideal for a book club, or set book. And I mean that in the best way possible. These are the books that can inspire theses and fandoms and cos-play and be translated across media. There is so much in it, it would be possible to sit down with other readers and just talk your way through it. So much is going on, in the background, in the foreground – it is set during the turmoil of PEV and yet she barely goes into it further a few tch’s in the mouths of story-tellers, which should give you a clue as to how dense this book is. I will definitely read it again, to try and gather up what I know I missed.

Chon gi lala…

P.S. I really struggled with editing this. There’s so much unsaid! So many strong characters, all of them with a backstory, and it would be lovely to go into all of them and just revel in all that story-telling and interconnected omens and recurring events. Maybe later.

Here’s To All Of It

You’re not allowed to be enthusiastic any more. It just isn’t done, darling. You must maintain a fashionable disdain, a coolness for certain types of emotion. You might be – maybe, possibly – allowed to be enthusiastic about peer-sanctioned things, but even then, you better be sure the rest of us approve. The hipster philosophy (thou shalt never be too mainstream) affects us all.

So it is with some trepidation I tell you that I have a soft spot for Valentine’s Day.

Hang on, wait, I can explain!

Maybe not the commercially hallowed day with its chocolates and roses formula, but what it represents. Or what we’re told it represents by the people who want us to believe them so they can take our money.

And this is why.

I have become an observer of the people I know. At this point in my life, I am surrounded by people in various stages of the partnership game. Wedding committees and engagement photo shoots, baby/bridal showers and other occasions that act as an excuse to get together and drink and marvel about how old we’re becoming. They are the settling-down group, forging bravely on into the future. Not everyone is so sure. There’s the other lot – people fresh out of break-ups or friends-with-benefit-ships or decisions to take a break and not get serious. People who have sworn to never settle down because, nah, I can’t be tamed.

And that’s all very well. Life is a sort of ride through all this. From the early stages when it was the greatest sin imaginable to like a boy, to later days when it is still, strangely enough, unpardonable to admit you actually care. Cool and disdainful, remember?

But through this whirl of circumstance, this mass of people who are together for convenience or convention, for now and no longer, there are the special ones.

Because they are special, you know.

There are those people who, in blessing each other, bless the world. Couples whose story is so strong it moves the people caught up in its wake.

You must know people like this – the people who secretly give you hope.

“Does this scare you?” I asked a newly-engaged friend, referring to a Samantha’s Bridal magazine. “Not at all. Not at all.” he smiled. An immediate answer, so calm and confident I could only smile back and pity every panic-soaked guy out there.

The happiest groom ever, marrying my friend, the most laid-back person I know, who got down and danced for 45 solid minutes at their reception because she didn’t want to let him down. He was an acquaintance before, and I didn’t know him too well, but the first time I saw them together the worries I had were warmed and melted by the space they made for each other, unconsciously and with ease, like it was no big thing.

Have you watched it happen to people you know? Have you seen the change in them – the good kind – have you seen it? Seen his face light up, heard her voice change?

When people tell you you glow, when no-one else is worth listening to. And we hope it’ll last forever, or for long enough. You know it, you can see it when it happens, but the problem is you can never really be sure. Things change, and it’s not certain what will change with them. Maybe that’s why it’s more precious – because we all know it’s not permanent. You may be lucky, and your love will never fail. But then life and its eternal bleakness never fails either, nor does death, in the end.

This moment will come to an end, they always do. And every time you’re trapped in the throes of a break-up or unrequited disaster, or in the less dramatic disappointment of a moronic date,  you swear that this is it, this will never happen again. There’s no point, there’s nothing there, you may as well give it all up.

So why do it at all?

Because it’s heaven when it works and hell when it doesn’t

Because there’s magic in them thar days and nights

Because of the spark when you touch and the thrill when you talk

Because when you patana (like-iana) it’s fantastic.

Because admit it, we love it.

Music Fests

“Festival” is one of my favourite words. It just sounds like sandals in the sunlit grass and dancing. At the most famous ones, legends are born: Woodstock, Glastonbury, Burning Man. Even experienced second hand they’re amazing. Pop culture blogs will show you clips of Beyonce or Mumford and Sons or Jimi rocking out, fashion blogs will showcase the wacky and the beautiful, magazines do thoughtful pieces on origins and transcendence. It’s an experience – crowds upon crowds gathered with no pretext to anything but enjoyment.

At this weekend’s Blankets and Wine, the festival vibe was strong. As usual, it was preceded by snooty commentary on Kenyan Twitter. It’s a Kenyan trait to look down on something you’re not into. Live and let live isn’t really our thing; we’re more into “Why the hell would you want to do something I don’t?” So there was a full tirade: the price (3,500 itakununulia… ), the accusations of being bougie, middle-class show-offs (bebeni quails…), and an ugly, unexpected taint of malicious glee when someone reported being mugged.  But it’s only Twitter. I already had my tickets and shorts lined up, and dammit, I was going. And it was so worth it.

So many things in life are dependent on the crowd, and what a crowd it was. The overwhelming impression is one of attractiveness. We kept saying “Kwani Nairobi is just made of good-looking people?” So much effort was put in. By now, there’s a certain expectation of B & W, once called Nairobi’s most photographed event, and people brought it. Oh, how people brought it. Girls in shorts and cut off tees, girls on trend, girls doing their own thing.  Midriffs, face-fuls of jewellery, edgy, unique outfits all over the place. Guys in fitted pants, guys with mohawks, guys in artfully grunged-up vests. One dude was just walking around draped in robes and looking like African royalty. There was flamboyance everywhere. I have to say though, some of the fashion is more madcap than maverick, but that’s the thing. It’s Blankets. It’s allowed. It works. Where else are you going to wear your favourite oversize American-flag vest and slim-fit overalls?

B & W’s raison d’etre is music, and hype aside, it does it well. Despite a general Afro-neo-soul-fusion sort of theme, the music was quite eclectic, especially the DJs’ sets. We rocked out to hip-hop, EDM, Afro-house, and general pop. I especially loved that Kriss Darlin played a set – the dancers were noticeably fewer, but his reggae/dancehall segue was on point. One love!

And then, the lineup. It’s very pleasing that we can draw acts like Mi Casa and Mafikizolo – who have current hits, not hits we used to love. I didn’t catch all the performances, but the ones I did were impressive, to say the least. The stage setup was great, enhanced the performers wonderfully. The sound was good, as was the lighting, strobing and pulsing over audience and performers and building the energy to awesome levels of fun. It’s something else, being part of a massive, massive crowd, all screaming and dancing and being part of one unique experience – it was electric, pure adrenaline.

Mafikizolo were amazing. They basically stole the weekend. Their set was perfectly chosen – not just their own music, but iconically South African tracks that just amped the energy to unbelievable levels. Mi Casa were also a crowd favourite, a bit less mainstream than Mafikizolo but still fabulous. It didn’t hurt that J’Something, their vocalist, is hella cute – and so friendly! The pic I got with him is blurry but it’s already made my year.

I don’t care what anyone says. This is destiny.

Our home performers didn’t disappoint, either. We all know that Kenyan live music has come some way from “Dj weka track 3.” B & W is one of the spaces that has helped nurture that growth, and it shows. Just about every performance was worth watching. Perennial favourites Sauti Sol, for example, were fantastic. They’re seasoned performers by now. They know their audience, they know what we like. We all just want to sing along, dance along and have fun, and they know exactly how to get us there. Their performance was almost more self-involved than the others, in a way. They looked like they were having such a good time, like we’re part of their experience instead of vice versa. Just A Band were also in top form –  the Nairobi hipsters par excellence. Bill’s raspy vocals are always a delight, especially on Migingo Express, which is one of my absolute favourite tracks.

It was such an experience. One of those huge events where you can’t do a lap without meeting an old friend or a cute stranger. People are just so much friendlier at these things, and it’s always a joy. We laughed, we danced, I accidentally kicked a bottle at a guy who took it surprisingly well, and a good time was had by all. It was awesome. Consider going, if you haven’t. It takes some budgeting, let’s be honest, but if you plan ahead it’s not impossible. Gather some friends, some shukas, some bottles and your shades and rock out.

P.S. Happy 2014! Here’s to getting back to regular posting. 🙂


May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope,…

The whole New Year’s Wishes sequence in one place…

What I’ve Been Reading

Over the past few months, I’ve changed workplace and moved house. Major changes, which necessitated a lot of travel. And a lot of travel, for me, means a lot of reading.
Unfortunately it also means less time on WordPress. To get back into the swing of things, here are a few brief sketches of some of the books that have kept me company:

A Song of Ice and Fire.


So. Game of Thrones. Some time ago, the internet went into collective meltdown over The Red Wedding, a particularly harrowing episode of Game of Thrones. Loyal fans were shattered. The intensity of the reaction was so great I was convinced to finally give in and just read the books.
So I did. And I fear I shall never love Game of Thrones. I‘ll finish the series, if George R ever manages to write them, but I won’t be re-reading. The storylines are impressively intricate, and you have to admire the mind behind it. But I feel like he’s just cranking out endless reels of plot, with not much of story. It’s admirable, realistic plot, where there is no serendipitous deux et machina at which to roll your eyes. 
But what really put me off me was the excessive, excessive amounts of rape. It seems to be his favourite war atrocity. I understand sexual violence is part and parcel of war, but the sheer amounts of it, and all of it directed at women. It’s unnerving. Perhaps it’s because I read them back to back I felt so overwhelmed.
And then. I get the use of archaic terms. Cunny, privy, wench. Okay. But why “teats”? Must the ladies be so obviously treated as cattle? Sigh. Me and my pesky feminist sensibilities.
But then we have Brienne and Arya and all sorts of other views of women to balance it out so I was not put off enough to give up, although I ended up skimming instead of relishing. Teats? Ugh.

Lemony Snicket,
I don’t know. I realize that the best children books are often darker than we realize – Harry Potter, the original, gruesome fairy tales, Roald Dahl. Even Tom and Jerry involved surprising amounts of alcoholism and suicide. But the narrator seems to enjoy the Baudelaires’ misfortune too much. And then constantly talking of what which word means – I like wordplay, but this was annoying. I got to page 1 of book 3 before I decided, meh, this isn’t working. Let’s move on. So I did. To….

The Brief and Wondrous life of Oscar Wao.

This was a read I thoroughly enjoyed. I described Oscar to a friend as a nerdy second cousin of the Buendia’s from One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I stand by it. The book is rich in geek lore: LOTR, role playing, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books – they are all deeply important to Oscar, and by extension, to us too. As the wry narrator spins out the characters and their fates for us, he draws many comparisons between them and famous pillars of the Genres of geekery. Batman, Mordor, Darkseid – it’s all there.
Oscar is our starting point, our anchor as the book picks speed and the tendrils of narrative spread and take root, tracing the destinies of his family. Inherited curses, atavistic memories and visions, the inevitability and repetition of Fate and Nemesis – it’s all very Marquez, and Junot Diaz knows it. There’s even a brief shout-out to Macondo at the story’s start.
I was fortunate enough to have enough time free to read it in a sitting, and when I finished I just sat there for about 5 minutes, mind quietly spinning. The best books always leave you staring at them – last words, or cover, or absently stroking their spine, as you try and take in the magnitude of what you just finished. This was one.

Life constantly gives you chances to start over. New school. New crush. New house. New job.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. And in the space between ends and beginnings, there lie transitions.

Gaps in life where you find yourself wandering, drifting. Post KCSE, pre-results, when all I did was hang around my parents’ house and contemplate the shadow that was the next few years, and wonder when light would dawn.

Post-graduation, wondering when my posting would arrive, and would I be able to move away from home.

First nights in new houses, sleeping on a mattress, with a rolled up sweater for a pillow. Hasty first meals of juice and bread or chips from the first clean-looking joint I spotted. Last nights surrounded by packed up boxes, air thick with dust that had a year or two to accumulate in forgotten, hidden corners. Relieved or wistful goodbyes, when suddenly every song playing on the radio is fathoms deep.

You learn to carry around talismans life has handed you. My brother’s campus radio that he handed down to me. A stuffed furball I stole from a friend’s room. A jacket my mum forced on me that has warmed me on uncounted overnight buses.  A laptop filled with memories.

The things that remind you of the common roots in life, easily uprooted, easily transplanted, so everywhere you’ll be, you’ll be home. 


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