We have all gone traveling somewhere and never wanted to leave. This installment of our series that paints a portrait of Nairobi through music dutifully builds on our previous offerings. In this edition, the intention was to tell the experience of living in Nairobi, that made these chart topping musicians sing about home. Instead what we’ve ended up with is an equivalent of a memorabilia t shirt.
This is because the best thematic songs we could find about the living in Nairobi experience weren’t done by local artists. So we have ended up featuring music by foreign artistes whose experience of living in Nairobi inspired them to make beautiful music on Kenya’s capital. Lucky bastards, you Gilad and company are. Most of us only get a t shirt and a shaky video as keepsakes from our travels.
Once You Experience Life in Nairobi, It Never Leaves You
“Been there, done that.” Is the cocksure attitude that perfumes the attention grabbing messages emblazoned on memorabilia t shirts. Call it nostalgia, denial and regret on the go. A cocktail of these emotions at odds can make one want to take a dump – only that the queasy feeling never follows through to its logical end.
It is a sickness whose remedy is ‘on sale’ at tourist gift shops or the oh-so expensive duty free airport shops. Memorabilia t shirts, college jerseys, key rings and baseball caps. The likes.
Still, no matter the dose of this medicine that one takes, it is only when the plane touches down at one’s home airport and the prospect of the familiar is within minutes, that one gets over binging on a cocktail of these emotions. It is only then that the reality that a glorious time has come to an end sinks home. For it is only when the air of home hits the system as you disembark from the plane, that one lets go.
Overcoming That Bogging Feeling That Replaces Wanderlust
Accepting the reality of getting back home starts off with the gnawing guilt of spending too much on impulse at the gift shop at the airport on your way back. We scapegoat this last buy, yet it often is the last in a long line of the bad choices made on the trip. Anyway as we board the taxi home, regret displaces the feeling of “playing hard as we work harder” that had consumed us through out vacay.
Later, as we unpack our bags, the futility of it all is suddenly apparent. What on earth convinced us to chance on condensing the memories of a trip in a piece of clothing with a lifespan of a year or two? You wonder to yourself as you try it on out for the first time.
As we struggle with the tight neck, it dawns on us, a tad too late, that we would have been better served saving those last coins of our vacation money. The mountain of bills that now demand attention serve a painful reminder. Still, this moment of “lifting of the veil” doesn’t negate our intentions. And so we carefully refold the t shirt, putting it away in the most sacred corner of our closets. With this move so do our “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” moments sink deep into the hearts of hearts of our secrets.
But hope lingers still. Hope that breaks into a wryly smile as thought of a future high crystallizes. The prospect of feel – good satisfaction when telling a tale of a great time spent somewhere, gently ushers in the reality of now. Hopeful we are that in the near future, a poor soul will ask where we got that nice t shirt.
For these artistes, their songs about their experience living in Nairobi / visiting Nairobi is this feeling and more. Indulge!
Nairobi Yangu: Gilad & Superband’s Experience Living in Nairobi
When you can sing love in Swahili as Israeli Gilad Millo sings about the shades of love in the city with his chart topping hits Unajua featuring Wendy Kimani and Sema Milele, we can only sit up and notice when you sing about your experience living in Nairobi, your adopted city.
Sitting up, we noticed Gilad’s play, diplomacy if you like, on Nariobi’s most famous ills: Nairobi traffic and Nairobbery. OK, lets call it what it is: revisionism. But that’s just our take. Besides, Gilad offers that it not always easy to see the love. Nairobi love he calls it.
Props to Gilad though on painting a portrait of Nairobi’s graffiti artiste. Nairobi’s graffiti culture can only be termed as stagnated. Aside from the brilliant work on matatus, the only pieces of street art that dot Nairobi reek of sanctioned pieces.
NGO propped street art bearing social messages. Messages often urging the predominantly young Nairobi population to take charge of their future by voting in non-corrupt leaders.
The fella in a hood and with headphones on, who rescues a lady from a hand bag snatcher, fits the bill of a quintessential Nairobian. He represents a face of Nairobi which holds such ideals: young rebels with a cause.
Still, his altruism pales in comparison to the compassion of the menacingly looking street urchins who help the matatu driver (played by Gilad) with a flat tire. You need to be brave to try that in Nairobberry. At least as brave as Gilad is in avoiding the temptation to portray a tourist version of Nairobi: Nairobi National park and the likes.
Take for instance that scene in the video where Gilad puts up a street performance. At the end of the street where he performs, on the corner sits a popular fast food chain. This corner of Nairobi is iconic in the city’s culture.
Alongside the street front at Kenya Cinema on Moi Avenue, many millennial Nairobians carry with them the nostalgia of romance born at that corner. First, that fast food joint was a popular spot for lunch dates back then. Secondly, at the very least, the fast food restaurant’s street front served as the perfect meeting spot before embarking on a date elsewhere.
This is because in 90’s and early 2000’s Nairobi, like most of Africa, mobile phones were a rarity. Therefore the only chance of meeting up with your date lay in agreeing prior to the date on the meeting spot and time via a landline call. Often the choice of meeting spot would be that corner of Moi Avenue and Kimathi street, or upfront Kenya cinema down Moi avenue from there towards the railway station.
Living in Nairobi is The Fullness of Life in The Beautiful City in The Sun Sings Rocky Dawuni
Just when you think you know your music, something like this comes and knocks you off your high horse. This reggae song leaves one in love. In love with Nairobi.
Not taking anything out of this masterpiece graced by the likes of Nairobi billionaire Chris Kirubi, Kenya Red Cross C.E.O Abbas Guillet and leading Kenyan conscious music artiste Juliani; but having listened to Gilad & Superband’s Nairobi Yangu, Nairobians will smell that this one was done by an outsider.
Right from the lyrics, choice of genre and even video shots. Gilad’s intimate knowledge of Nairobi shines through. From the video, one gets a feeling that Dawuni’s experience living in Nairobi was a short one. Needless to say, his attention to detail and delivering beyond expectations is something we all can emulate.
Nairobi by Rocky Dawuni is still up there though. With this track, it is easy to see why Dawuni has collaborated with Stevie Wonder and John Legend.
The description that follows has been lifted verbatim from the song’s You Tube page. Stylistic edits (sub-headings) have been added for clarity and relevance.
Beautiful City In The Sun
The song “Nairobi” appears on Dawuni’s acclaimed 2015 album “Branches of the Same Tree”. Filmed in Kenya’s capitol city, the video is an ode to this “beautiful city in the sun” and a plea for peace and celebration of shared destiny. The video captures a picturesque portrait of iconic and historic monuments of Nairobi as it explores the everyday life of the city. Dawuni serves as a traveling minstrel, journeying across neighborhoods, bearing a message of goodwill.
Kenyans disputed elections of 2007 plunged the country into a state of political and ethnic violence making headlines all around the world. Rocky Dawuni resolved to write a song of healing for his fellow African country. The opportunity came when several years later he visited the ignition point of the unrest in Kibera in 2012, the sprawling ghetto of Nairobi.
The “Nairobi” video features cameo appearances by a who’s-who of Kenyan top socialites and celebrities including popular Kenyan hip hop artist, Juliani; Dr. Abbas Gullet, the Secretary General of the Kenyan Red Cross; Kenyan publicity maverick Gina Din Kariuki; Kenyan tycoon and philanthropist Chris Kirubi; and Kenyan dub poet and musician Oneko Arika who is also featured on the song. The track was co-produced with Danish music producer Pharfar.
The “Nairobi” video was filmed by GoodMakers Films, a collaborative headed up by Tilo Ponder and Chris Blyth who also run What’s Good Studios based in Nairobi. Cris Blyth and Ethiopian filmmaker Babbi directed the video. GoodMakers Films is the NGO arm of What’s Good Studios and works to unlock the potential that exists in charities, NGO’s & marginalized communities through documentaries, music videos and youth-lead development.
Nairobi By Dawuni, like the Beautiful City in the Sun is a Melting Pot of Cultures
International music star and humanitarian activist Rocky Dawuni straddles the musical boundaries between Africa, the Caribbean and the U.S. to create an appealing “Afro-Roots” sound that unites generations and cultures. Filled with uplifting and irresistible songs, Rocky’s sixth album, Branches of the Same Tree, blends inspirations from his diverse experiences while expanding on his identity as an artist, a proud son of Africa and as a true world citizen.
Inspired by the soulful beats of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the positive messages and deep grooves of Bob Marley and the infectious, sing-along anthems of Michael Franti, K’naan and Matisyahu, Rocky Dawuni’s songs blend elements of reggae, Afrobeat and global pop into an enticing new sound.
The songs on Branches of the Same Tree also reflect influences of New Orleans funk, Brazilian samba, even the lilting sounds of Hawaiian ukulele, seamlessly integrated into a unique and approachable style.
Big Endorsement of Nairobi from Global Star
The album features appearances by an all-star lineup of guest musicians, including veterans from Michael Franti and Spearhead, Steel Pulse, Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals and Ziggy Marley. Already a superstar in West Africa with a devoted international fan base, Branches of the Same Tree promises to bring Rocky’s music to even wider audiences around the world.
Born in Ghana and based in Los Angeles, Rocky is a galvanizing performer whose infectious grooves and dance-inducing anthems have consistently excited fans. Blessed with easy-going charisma, Rocky has performed and collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Jason Mraz, Janelle Monae and John Legend, among many others.
Named one of Africa’s Top 10 global stars by CNN, he’s showcased his talent around the world at major festivals and prestigious venues such as The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Living in Nairobi is Representing Your City Wherever, No Matter – Offers Ilkacase Qays in Controversial Somali Anthem
First, what the internet likes will shock you. Over half a million You Tube views for a video where all indications are that it was not shot in Nairobi. Even more curiously, the video is of a song sang entirely in an ethnic language of a minority community living in Nairobi.
Maybe it’s the ballsy attitude by the artiste that make this a hit. Whatever the reason, Ilkacase Qays breaches ethno-religious stereotypes. Thus this song is important as it offers a take on one of the cultural tensions that Nairobi grapples with. A You Tube user hints at this dicey issue when s/he chides the artiste that he better sing about Mogadishu.
The response from another You Tube user swiftly settles the argument. They rightly point out that the Somali community has every right to claim Nairobi as their home.
Nonetheless, the historical context of this cultural tension that bedevils Nairobi is too wide a topic. At least its entirety is for this blog post. However, our offering of a time portrait of Nairobi suburb, Eastleigh, should offer some context though. Oh, the joys, sorrows, hustle and bustle of living in Nairobi.
Featured image courtesy of Martin Kwame/ Pixabay. Graphics by Hii Nairobi Team