Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

The highly acclaimed TV drama Game of Thrones might be on its last stretch but it would appear that it has left a mark on Kenyan audiences. In the drama series there is an Iron Throne that every person, who thinks they have leadership blood in them, wants to occupy.

The throne is forged out of many swords said to have been melted by fiery dragon breath. Now, the quest to occupy this throne leads to a lot of bloodletting. Closer home, Sebastian Kiarie, a visual artiste from Ngecha Village in Kiambu County has come up with his local version of the Iron Throne.

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Like the throne on King’s Landing, Kiarie’s throne is made up of hundreds of machetes. He calls it The Seat of Impunity. The image is, at once, terrifying. This is especially when one takes into consideration Kenya’s blood soaked election cycles. Starting with 1992, the machete or panga became the weapon of choice for politically inspired ethnic clashes during election time.

 

Politicians who felt threatened by voters from ethnic communities, other than theirs, hired goons to finish off these ‘enemies’. The dark climax of these killing was witnessed in 2007, when Kenyans turned upon fellow countrymen in an orgy of mindless violence that left more 1,000 people dead; all in the name of politics and the quest to acquire power.

Kiarie’s sculpture is thus a timely reminder of the deadly nature of our politics, where politicians will do anything, including shedding blood in order to get into power. These politicians are encouraged by the fact that they will get away with it. In short, the top political seat in Kenya is drenched in blood.  This is the impunity Kiarie addresses in his unique sculpture.

Seat of Impunity is among artworks that have been on display, at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) since the beginning of this month. Titled Art Creative and Beyond, this is a joint exhibition by artists drawn from Ngecha Village. This village has been made popular by the large number of self taught artists who have left a mark, nationally and even internationally.

This is a village where everyone knows someone who is an artist. Besides, Ngecha could well be the only village in Kenya with two active art galleries. Some of the popular names from Ngecha include, Brush Wanyu, Sane Wadu, Shine Tani, Chain Muhandi, among others.

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Artists are said to be mirrors of society and true to type, the artistes from Ngecha have not shied away from happenings in society including politics. Still on the topic of violence and impunity, Brush Wanyu has a painting that depicts the violence that took place in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, a few years ago, that resulted in the death of a number of people.

The explanation given to Kenyans on those killings was that it was the work of terrorists, but Brush is unconvinced. “This is impunity at play; perpetrators know they will get away with it,” he says. “Life in our country has completely lost meaning.”

Then there is King Dodge, whose painting style mirrors that of Brush. Dodge has a painting that talks about the foundations of nationhood. He says that the Kenyan Nation was founded on falsehood. “The true fighters of freedom were shunted and power was taken by home guards and loyalists,” he explains. “That is why the Kenyan flag is upside down.”

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There are a total of 14 artistes from the Ngecha collective, who have taken part in the exhibition that ends at the end of the month. Notably missing from the exhibition were Sane Wadu, who now has his base in Naivasha and Shine Tani, who runs the Banana Hill Gallery.

With such an abundance of artistic talent one would assume that the Kiambu County Government takes good care of these artistes, after all they are a positive marking point for the county. Sadly, this is not the case. King Dodge explained that the county government has been aloof at best. “We’ve tried getting in touch with the county government to see how we can work together but we were taken round in circles; we eventually gave up on them,” he said.

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It is ironical that while the top leadership in the county is busy airing its smelly fabric in public, they have completely ignored this artistic village in Ngecha, which if well embraced, would catapult them to the top of the charts as it were. Yet, this is a county with a Cultural Officer under its payroll.

Meanwhile as the Kiambu County Government continues to bury its head in the sand, NMK knows too well the important place these artistes occupy in the country’s cultural heritage. This explains why they keep hosting them for exhibitions.

Lydia Galavu, the curator of the Creativity Gallery at the NMK says that the story of Kenyan contemporary art would not be complete without mentioning artistes from Ngecha. “The beauty of these artistes from Ngecha, who also include women, is that they live and work in the village,” she explains. “They are mostly farmers, which is their main source of livelihood. Their day to day existence is reflected in their artworks.”

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Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o makes a homecoming, of sorts, when he returns to Amherst College—where he was based in the early stages of exile—in a three-day fest celebrating his 80th birthday.

He will be one of the star attractions at the Amherst Lit Festival, hosted by the top liberal arts college, and whose prominent Kenyan alumni include President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ngugi taught at Amherst College in 1991, serving as a distinguished visiting professor of English and African Literature. His birthday celebrations will be between March 1-3.

The Kenyan journalist and author, Dr Peter Kimani, who is coordinating Ngugi’s event, is presently the Visiting Writer at the college. Kimani expects Ngugi’s celebration to springboard an assessment of his artistic legacy.

Ngugi Poster

Poster for the three-day event

Kimani, whom many in the literary world consider to be Ngugi’s literary son, explained that the theme of the celebration, ‘This Time Tomorrow,’ draws from an old Ngugi play that contemplates the future of a widowed woman, who is rendered homeless after her slum home is overrun by city authorities.

“It’s opportune time for Kenyans and Africans to ponder: Where do we go from here? Where do we take Ngugi’s artistic legacy, ‘this time tomorrow’”? Kimani said, adding that Ngugi’s engagements as a socially committed writer and activist provide useful lessons for African writers.

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Prof Ngugi (left) and his protege Dr Peter Kimani

“Ngugi’s decision to return to his roots, by championing African languages in late 1970s, was at the peak of his writing career. That meant his work suffered less immediate circulation, though not necessarily, less impact.

“But he received less external recognition, as Europe wasn’t going to reward someone seeking to end their cultural hegemony. He put his people and continent first, and that’s a useful lesson for us to postulate.”

The Amherst celebration will feature readings and discussions surrounding Ngugi’s life in writing. Most activities will be held at Amherst College, though Smith College, which is part of the Five Colleges incorporating Amherst, Hampshire, Mt Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will host some events.

This includes Ngugi’s public lecture: “Birth of a Dream Weaver: The Pleasures and Perils of Writing,” reflecting on Ngugi’s evolution as a writer, a career that took off while still an undergraduate at Makerere University in Uganda in 1962 with the play, The Black Hermit. This will be on March 1.

That evening, Amherst College will host a staged reading of the play, This Time Tomorrow, directed by Kim Euell, an award-winning African-American dramaturg based at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

On March 2, Amherst College will also host a screening of a film, Ngugi wa Thiong’o: The River Between African and European Languages, directed by the Kenyan academic, Prof Ndirangu Wachanga, who is based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

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Wachanga’s work looks at the intersect of memory and the construction of national history. Over the past decade, he has documented the lives and times of leading Kenyan academics, including Ali Mazrui.

Ngugi will deliver the final reading the Amherst Lit Festival, followed by his birthday celebration, on March 3.

The month of March will prove busy for Kimani. He has a scheduled tour of London between March 10 and 17, to promote the British edition of his historical novel, Dance of the Jakaranda.

The book was released in New York last February, to great critical acclaim, including a New York Times Notable Book of the Year selection.

Kimani will give public readings and discuss his work at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics, and Cambridge University.

Other book events will be Daunts, the oldest independent bookstore in London, and Waterstones, the largest bookstore chain in Europe, where he will be in conversation with Fiammetta Rocco, the Books and Arts editor at The Economist.

Kimani will wrap up his mid-year book tour at the Calabash festival in Jamaica, hailed by critics as the best literary event in the world. Hosted at Treasure beach, south of Jamaica, the biennial festival is held on a beachfront. It’s free and open to the public.

At any given point in the weeklong fest, some 2,500 people sit in the audience, waiting to soak up a reading or performance!

Nganga Mbugua makes history by being nominated for a record fourth time in the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize with his book Angels of the Wild, published by One Planet.
The winner of this year’s edition of the Wahome Mutahi Prize, administered by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), will be awarded at the end of the 19th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair, whose hast tag is #NIBFinspiredtoread.
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The first time his book Terrorists of the Aberdare (Big Books) got nominated, in 2010, it went ahead to win the prize, which is awarded on a bi-annual basis. The next time the prize was announce, in 2012, his other book, Different Colours (Big Books) again won the prize.
In 2014, his collection of poetry, This Land is our Land was again nominated and got the first runners-up position, after the top spot was scooped up by surgeon Yusuf Dawood’s The Last Word (Longhorn).
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Ng’ang’a Mbugua (Left), is all smiles as he receives his winner’s certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji, who was the chief guest at the ceremony

This year Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s book has been nominated alongside Anthony Mugo’s Ask the Stars (Longhorn) and Peter Kareithi’s Komu Fights for Change (Longhorn).
KPA also announced the nominees for the Kiswahili category of the Award. They are Mashetani wa Alepo by Tom Olali (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation) Kovu Moyoni by John Habwe (BookMark Africa) and Narejea Nyumbani by Jeff Mandila (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation).
The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize, now in its sixth edition, was established in 2006, by KPA, in honour of humourist and satirist, the late Wahome Mutahi, who was made popular by his Whispers column, which was published by both the Sunday Nation and Sunday Standard.

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Kenyan book lovers, on Saturday October 17, woke up to an excoriating piece of criticism aimed mostly at literary critics of the University of Nairobi. The writer Harry Mulama, in not so many words, dismissed them as a bunch of washed up incompetents.
Pricked to the quick, Prof Chris Wanjala, who was especially heavily targeted, took to his Facebook page to respond. Read his response, verbatim, below.
“What a reading on an October morning before the 20th when we celebrate Mashujaa day? Does the author know the pain of keeping the literary discourse going for all these years. If we had not written would Harry Mulama have had anything to rant about? He is looking for answers outside us,outside Kenya. It is like the proverbial child who thinks that this is not his mother and looks outside for surrogates. Let us see how far Harry Mulama will go.
As a colleague has mentioned this morning,the question we ask is, “Who is behind Harry Mulama ?” His article cites very few cases of the works that have been written by members of the academic staff of the Department of Literature Depth Uon .I know in the article like his, he would not have had enough space for quotations, references and different works and ideas. But at least he needed to contextualize and make comparisons.
And even then, the discipline of literary criticism is growing and multiplying and depending on many people, including Harry Mulama,to move it into new areas. The evidence of this is all over in this country, not just at the University of Nairobi, but at Kenyatta, Moi, Egerton, Maseno, Masinde Muliro, and private universities like Daystar.
We are not doing badly at all and no one is going to create sheep and goats in the discipline.
All the people that Harry Mulama mentions belong together. Why do people who fail to either get a degree from the University of Nairobi and/or get a job there resort to hiding
in the bush and begin throwing stones at the reputable scholars who keep knowledge flowing in Kenya? Look around this country’s universities and tell me how many professors, senior lecturers and lecturers there the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi has trained, examined and rewarded higher degrees. You just need to look at the list of high degrees the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi when it gave Dr Eddah W. Gachukia a PhD on “Cultural Conflict in East African Literature,” and she now the founder of Riara University to see our influence and impact. You will come to the winner of the 2015 Burt Award, Christopher Okemwa who now teaches in Kisii University, wrote: “Mushida’s Cooking Pot: A Creative Exploration of Women Issues in Kenya.” for his MA qualification at the UoN, in 2008, and scholars like Dr John G.O. Mugubi, Kamau wa Goro, Dr. Sophie Macharia, Dr Kweya G Kweya, who are teaching in other universities, and Dr Kisa Amateshe of Kenyatta University, to know the expanse of the UoN’s influence.
Even those Harry Mulama is extolling like Professor Simon Gikandi and James Ogude are University of Nairobi products. Professor Evan Maina Mwangi, who operates from
the US, was our MA and PhD student. He wrote a thesis entitled: “Stylistic Reciprocity Betweeen Textual Errancy and Cohesion in David Maillu’s Broken Drum,” for his Master’s in 1997.
Is Harry Mulama’s not the story of the proverbial rabbit who could not get fruits from a tall tree and ended up saying, “After all those fruits are not ripe?” If Harry Mulama has some writers who can write better than us, why does he not get them to come forward and write for the Saturday Nation? If he thinks we are not worthy academics, why, in this free and democratic country, can’t he train his own and have them do the job of literary scholarship?
We may not be the best but we are what you have and we are expressing the fears, hopes and aspirations in the discipline of literature, which even the best can deal with. This shameless attack is a case of infantile radicalism coached in demented cowardice.”

Paa ya Paa Art Gallery is calling on artists who have their artworks stored there to collect their pieces, apparently because they are running out of space. In a Facebook post made on Thursday July 16, the centre invited the artists for chai – probably the delicious grass tea made by the generous host Mzee Elimo Njau – on Saturday July 18, at 10.30 am.

 

Elimo Njau and his lovely wife Philda

Elimo Njau and his lovely wife Philda

Could this lack of space be the result of the court ordered subdivision of the five-acre plot, Paa ya Paa sits on? Following a court dispute between Elimo and his first wife Rebecca Njau, a Nairobi court ordered that the land be divided into two equal parts, with the other part going to Rebecca. The last time Maisha Yetu checked, the other part, which hosts, the famous Freedom Fighter sculpture, had already been fenced off.

It now remains to be seen whether artists will heed the call and collect the pieces. This might present logistical challenges to some of them, especially those with more than one pieces, more so if they are framed, as most artists lack efficient means of transportation.

Reproduced below is the Facebook post. Note that there was a typo in the date, whereby it reads 2025 instead of 2015.

Paa Ya Paa
Call For Artists –
KARIBU CHAI
Saturday, July 18, 2025
10:30 a.m.
We invite the following artists to Paa Ya Paa on Saturday, July 18th at 10:30 a.m. to come for a cup of tea and to pick up your artworks left in storage for many years. In this our 50th year of existence, we no longer have space available. As we work toward our celebration at the end of the year, we will also share with you our calendar of activities as we look forward to the future. If your name is not listed, but you know some of the artists, please inform them just in case they have not seen this notice.
THANK YOU.
FRIENDS OF PAA YA PAA
ARTISTS: Adam Massava, Anne Mwiti, Allen Green, Allan Kangetwe, Boyd Oyier, Bevern Otieno, Caroline Mbirua.David Mundia, Dedan Kimani, Daniel Wanjau, Dan Marigi, Esther Mukuhi,Elegwa Wycliffe Swift, Ezra Joab, Evanson Kangethe, Eliud Ngugi, Evans Maina, Elias, Elian Mung’ora, Evans Mwangi, Eric Manya, Florence Ochieng, Frederick Kamau, Fred Shinzu, Henry Odero, Hussein, S.K., Hannah Turuga, Immaculate Juma, Isaac Kamau, Jimmy Matu, John Gitonga, Kibacia Gatu, Kayiira Owentebbe, Ken Artifat, Kamondia, Kayako, Lionel Njuguna, Lazarus Tumbuti, Lawy, Mike Kyalo, Moses Kabiru, Mukwana, Laura Vanessa, Morphat, Makonde, Nuru Bahati, Ngaruiya, Nduta Kariuki, Onyis Martin, Orade, Paul Owino, Paul Kihiko, Peter Murio, Patrick Kariuki, Robinson Omweri, Richard Mudibo, Sinoh, Smoki, Tony, Tabitha wa Thuku, Timothy Bonanza, Uhuru Brown, Victor Nandwa, Watindi, Hezron; Wangatho, B., Yassir Ali .
PAA YA PAA Arts Centre
0733 270 109

Barely a month after Culture minister disowned the ‘Kenyan Pavilion’ at the Venice Biennale, it is now emerging that a letter had been written by the ministry requesting participation at the Biennale. This is in spite of repeated denials from the ministry, including CS Hassan Wario, of the same.

Already a letter allegedly written by Wenslas SA Ong’ayo, on behalf of the Principal Secretary, expressing the intention of the Republic of Kenya to participate in the event, is doing rounds in social media circles. The letter, apparently written way back in November 10, 2014, and addressed to Dr Paolo Baratta, the chairman of the Foundazione La Beinnale di Venezia, said that “Maretti Editore srl” “will sponsor the event and that Mrs Paola Poponi has been appointed Commissioner of the Republic of Kenya pavilion,” says the letter.  Onga’ayo is the director of administration at the ministry.

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Matters came to a head when it was discovered that, for the second consecutive time, Kenya was being represented by Chinese artists at the prestigious event – the same happened in 2013 – popularly known as the Art Olympics. Local artists and their representatives protested and formed a delegation to seek clarification from Wario.

On April 14, the SC, accompanied by, among others, Ong’ayo, addressed a press conference at the Kenya Cultural Centre, and strenuously denied knowledge of the ministry’s connection to the people manning the Kenyan pavilion.

“Our investigations on this issue show that this happened at least twice before, in 2003 and 2013, through the involvement of Armando Tanzini, who resides in Malindi,” read part of Wario’s statement. “Tanzini and his team have presented themselves, wrongfully and repeatedly, as Kenya’s official representatives.”

During the press conference, a resolution was made to the effect that Kenya’s name and flag would be dropped from the pavilion. A letter to that effect was dispatched to Venice. That action by Wario must have caught Tanzini unawares, for he is the one that released Onga’yo’s letter, to prove that he indeed had the ministry’s backing.

Silvia Gichia, the director Kuona Trust, who was at the forefront in agitating against the Kenyan pavilion, told The Nairobian, that Tanzini called her from Italy, where he is manning the pavilion. “He was very furious and was protesting what he called betrayal by the ministry,” explains Sylvia. “He was saying that the ministry was tarnishing his name, yet they were the ones who issued him with the letter, and that is how he emailed me that letter.”

She says that Tanzini acted surprised when asked why he did not include Kenyan artists in the pavilion. “Which artists?”  he retorted.

Sylvia adds that following the Tanzini’s revelations, she got in touch with Wario, who expressed disbelief at the direction the saga had taken. “He promised that action would be taken at the ministry level,” adds Sylvia.

On her part, Sylvia, who is a member of a committee – consisting of government officials and individual artists – formed to address the Biennale saga, expressed her disgust with the government. “We are disappointed with the government; Wario should be on top of his game. We hold the government responsible for this whole fiasco,” she says adding that there is a need to re-evaluate that committee seeing as their trust with the government has taken a hit.

We wrote a email to Tanzini seeking his side of the story by had not received a response by the of going to press. Calls and a text message to Ong’ayo also went unanswered. Wario’s personal assistant, who promised to get back to us once he came out of hospital.

SolThe first time I listened to Sauti Sol’s latest single, ‘Nerea’, in a matatu, I thought the lyrics were jarring. The conservative voice in me felt that a ‘taboo’ subject was being handled inappropriately. Yes, abortion is such a sensitive subject in our society. Despite the fact that the procurement of abortion is, today, as widespread as the common cold, it is still talked about in whispers. Any woman suspected of having procured an abortion, becomes an outcast in society.

Amos and Josh

However, as the song progressed, my nerves were somehow calmed by the harmonious vocals of the group, which has teamed up with the duo of Amos and Josh, for this project. Despite their controversial nature, the lyrics are quite a revelation. The song is dedicated to Nerea, who could be any girl out there, and who is heavy with the singer’s child. It could be that, for one reason or the other, Nerea wants to terminate the pregnancy. The artist is therefore beseeching Nerea to give the unborn baby a chance in life.

They even introduce a spiritual side to it by invoking God’s name implying that it is Him who provides for every life that is brought into this world. This appears to be a direct challenge to women who justify aborting arguing that they have nothing to feed the child once it is born. The man in the song even offers to bring up the child.

The song is deceptively simple, with only two stanzas; the first one, which is also the chorus, carries the whole message of the song, while the second one enumerates what the future holds for an unborn child. It could be a future president, an actress like Lupita or an environmentalist like Wangari Maathai. However, the potency of the songs lies in its simplicity. Those lines are repeated over and over, throughout the song, to cement the message and to prick at the conscience of any woman contemplating abortion; what if the baby I plan to ‘flush’ becomes the future Obama and lifts me out of the valley of poverty?

Well, in terms of packaging a message, Sauti Sol and Amos and Josh score a strong ‘A’.  It will be recalled when finer details of the present constitution were being thrashed out, the topic of abortion was perhaps the one that elicited the most heated debate with the point of departure being when life begins; during conception or at birth.

During this whole time, it was the lawyer types, civil society activists, religious persons and politicians, who were engaging each other with the finer details of when life starts; while the masses, where the real, erm, abortion takes place, watched on bemusedly, wondering why there was such a fuss.

Now enter Sauti Sol and ‘Nerea’ and the abortion narrative has now been squarely placed where it belongs; among the masses, and especially among the youth – who are most likely to be experimenting with illicit sex, the result being unwanted pregnancies and eventual abortion. The topic of abortion might appear quite abstract, even fancy, when being discussed by the opposing pro-life and pro-choice lobbies. Using art, and good art at that, Sauti Sol/Amos and Josh have brought the message uncomfortably home, and it is causing what the Swahilis call ‘tumbo joto.’

More than ever before, Nerea has quite deftly brought men into the picture. Previously, men were seen as passive participants in the whole abortion matrix; isn’t abortion about women and their bodies? The only time men are roped in, is when they fork out the ‘blood money’ used to procure the abortion, and like Pontius Pilate wash their hands off the whole thing. Otherwise men pretend to be horrified by abortion, despite them being active and sweaty participants in creating the foetus now being aborted.

When they appeared on ‘The Trend Show’ of Friday, April 24, Larry Madowo, the show’s host pointedly asked Sauti Sol, what business they had policing women’s bodies. Bien, sidestepped the question rather brilliantly by referring to the ‘nakuomba’ word they used in the lyrics, indicating that they were merely pleading with Nerea not to abort. The inference here was that the girl was at liberty to do as she wished.

The answer can be classified as false humility; misleading at best. A critical look at their lyrics indicates that they use the words ‘mimba yangu’ – loosely translated to ‘my pregnancy’. The tacit ‘ownership’ of the ‘mimba’, gives men more power while negotiating abortion choices, while also making them more responsible for the welfare of the offspring. The pro-choice lobby, which argues that the body is theirs and can as well do as they wish with it, might not like this sneaky empowerment of men.

As things stand, ‘Nerea’ has thrown a spanner in the works, a cat among pigeons as it were.

A discussion about Nerea is not complete without looking at the technical aspects of the song. The music arrangement of Nerea is what the late Billy Omala of the ‘Chaguo Lako’ fame on KBC radio, would have described as ‘vyombo vimepangwa vikapangika’. The arrangement is just right.

Polycarp opens with his easy lead guitar, the signature tune of Sauti Sol, as the listeners are familiarised with the song’s lyrics. With the two stanzas firmly in place, it is time to move to the next gear and at one minute and 13 seconds, the double bass is slowly eased into the background. This gives cue for Josh to hit the high notes with ‘nitamlea’. The vocal effect continues with Chimano’s deep bass – despite his slight stature – followed by the chorus, which is at climax. At two minutes, the other instruments including the violins take over and the vocals take a back-seat, for an interval of 15 seconds. Here, the beauty of the song shines through. Afterwards the song is on homestretch; time to relax things and bring the song to a close.

Despite their current popularity, Sauti Sol occupies that complicated space between urban mass appeal and high Afro fusion with its complicated audience, but have managed to appeal to both audiences. It is rare, in Kenya today, to find the mass market embracing musical groups that perform with the backing of a full band. They prefer simple, computer generated beats, creating what is eventually known as bubblegum pop.

Things however changed when, in their debut ‘Mwanzo’ album, the did the song ‘Lazizi’, that captured the essence of your urban culture and aspirations’ with a young man seeking to date a girl in Nairobi and taking her to Java, where not many can ordinarily afford to patronise. ‘Lazizi’ earned them a legion of urban youth, and who refused to let go. This effectively marked a turning point with Sauti Sol, who in order to serve their newly acquired fans, found themselves steadily pulling away from the donor/expatriate spaces they had been courting at the beginning. This has been exemplified by the song Gentleman, a collabo they did with urban pop group P Unit.

They have however maintained their sophisticated musical roots, not once abandoning the full band; ‘Sura Yako’ and ‘Nerea’ attests to this. It can be argued that Sauti Sol introduced Nairobi youth to the finer details of music.

Sauti Sol’s crowning moment came when they shared the stage with internationally acclaimed South African Acapella group, Lady Smith Black Mambazo, to perform ‘Diamonds on the Soles of her Feet’, a collabo with Paul Simon. Bien did Paul Simon’s lyrics, much to the applause of the audience and respect from the Joseph Shabalala’s outfit. Finally, Sauti Sol had arrived at the international stage.