Living in Nairobi: When you find A home away from home in Kenya’s Capital

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.

Nairobi Love

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

Nairobbery: Revealing The Nakedness of Nairobi’s Notoriety Through Kenyan Hip Hop

What is Nairobbery? A common refrain would be Nairobbery is a song.  A title to a song and album made famous by a dynamic, legendary Kenyan hip hop group. We start this journey that takes us to a delectable spot in the evolution of Nairobi’s urban culture from this spot. This edition of our series on knowing Nairobi through its music  goes deep into the genesis of an African urban culture, in search of the most complete answers to the question: What is Nairobbery?

 Nairobbery by K South

K South, the pioneer Kenyan hip hop group, not the infamous Eastlands’s Nairobi suburb, ruled the streets at just the moment. Indeed, by the time the Bamboo and Doobez released their hall – of – famer album, Nairobbery in 2002, the duo were well-known within Eastlands’s underground hip hop circles.

By this accord, Nairobbery was Testament to every artist’s narcissism. It was an affirmation of the duo’s rap prowess beyond the nooks and crannies of 21st century Nairobi. By reaching for international appeal through its stylistic elements, Nairobbery was an unveiling of untold Nairobi to the new millennium. A brave new world of the internet and global villages.

Moreover, this album served to illuminate the fruits of the work of pioneer new age Kenyan music acts. Kalamshaka, Hardstone, others and FM radio shows hosts – namely Muthoni Bwika and Eve De Souza, had gone before. They had made Kenyan Music claim its rightful space on the airwaves never to leave. If the audacity of the work of these legends of the game was to be likened to that of John the Baptist, the release of Nairobbery was the coming of the messiah himself.

Nairobbery is Muziki Wetu

Like a topping of kuchmbari on mutura ya damu,  atop this base of increasing acceptance by a demographically younger Kenya of new age Kenyan music, something good blossomed. With Nairobbery, critics, fans and haters were all in unison. We all termed It a match made in heaven when the tested lyrical pedigree of Tim Kimani (Bamboo) and Jerry Manzekele (Jerry Doobez later Abass/ Abass Kubaff) fused with the refined bars of then Nairobi’s foremost production house, Samawati Studios, in Nairobbery.

It being that the stage had been set by pioneers – brave hearts who had broken down the barriers for Kenyan music thrive – a singular ingredient still lacked. Someone, some people, ready to own the spirit of the times. And interesting times those were.

Y2K Nairobi, the Birth of Nairobbery

Early 2000’s Nairobi, had a sense of urban culture maturity about it. The exponential cultural growth of the 90’s had morphed into a plateau. If urban growth lexicon has a term like a “nascent metropolis”, that would be 2000’s Nairobi in two words.

Kenya’s economic contraction of the 80’s through the 90’s had resulted in massive rural to urban migration that had nee slums. The Mukurus, Korogochos, Kiambiu etc., had grown beyond a smattering of a few polythene, mud and tin structures hugging the banks of Nairobi River and its tributaries.

Thanks to unplanned intra-migration, most of the city now lived in these necks of the hoods. And in confirmation of the unequal growth that neoliberal capitalism brings to lands where governments fail at their jobs, 2000’s Nairobi saw filth border prosperity. Nowhere else was this manifest as in Eastleigh which bustled along as Nairobi’s second co-city. Yonder, Westlands had established itself as Nairobi’s other commercial district. In Karen, horses still dirtied the streets up there with their poop. In downtown CBD Nairobi, gangs ruled frequently clashing for control. The most famous of which, Mungiki and Kamjesh, had become proper criminal enterprises complete with taxation and law enforcement arms.

In short, Nairobi, the green city in the sun had become the Big Bad City. Just like any other city, survival depended on mastering its speak. Getting about 1930’s New York needed one to be fluent in Great Depression inspired dirty slang. For late 90’s to early 2000’s Nairobi, your versatility with Sheng was your key to the city.

That Way You Speak, You Mustn’t Be From Around, or Are You?

Unlike today, Sheng – the lingua franca of what some have termed as East Africa’s New York – was not universal. In turn of the century Nairobi, Sheng was strictly local. In fact, the dialect of Sheng that one spoke was an identifier of the area of the city that one came from. For example, Nairobians from the Eastlands hoods  of Jerusalem (Salem) and Maringo (Marish) area were the originators of the reverse Sheng thing.

They would say dingo rather than gondi (thief). Ndirao rather than raundi (doing rounds – being out and about). Sheng from Dandora (D), Korogocho (Koch), Mathare, Kariobangi North & South had strong ethnic influence of the tribes predominantly residing there. Whilst Nairobians from South C, South B, Langata area, Parky (Parklands), Westy (Westlands) and Fedha Estate (The original Fedha Estate) were the Babylonians (Rastafarian meaning) with their heavily English/ American slang peppered Sheng.

Beyond Sheng dialects, these divisions in the city were manifest in Nairobi’s urban culture. Such as in the graffiti plastered on, and genre of music played in matatus plying various city routes.

Keeping to form, Kenyan hip hop groups – in the vein of American hip hop West coast and East coast rivalries – were de-facto ambassadors of their hood’s hyper-local culture. Devoid of wide acceptance of Kenyan hip hop (that saw minimal radio play of Kenyan hip hop) the only place and time where the city’s neighborhoods could battle somewhat safely for supremacy, the only spot that one could imbibe Kenyan hip hop to their fill, was at the epic rap battles at the iconic Florida 2000 jam sessions every Sunday afternoon.

Florida 2000, Jam Session & Nairobbery

It being that there was no social media and thank god only a smattering of FM radio stations – going by their ways today, we contend that these two pillars of the contemporary Kenyan information space would have stymied the broad evolution of Nairobian culture given their singular obsession today with love, sex and the city.

In the absence of these two forces of 21st century life, Y2K Nairobi was ultra conservative by today’s standards. The few FM stations – might we add that you could hardly tune in a few scores of miles outside Nairobi – hardly embraced Nairobi’s local cultures and subcultures as they do today.

What this meant was that here was no way for new Sheng words to spread as fast they do today (lamba lolo comes to mind). So, Sunday afternoon you’d be chilling next to from guys from D outside Florida 2000 (F2), too broke for the entry fee for Jam session, a fest of underage drinking and partying where groups like K South Flava fought for the city through rap battles.

Got Your Number

Fresh from church with the family, the preacher’s warnings of an impending Armageddon ringing in your ears, you’d hang about waiting for guys from your estate to escape their attention of their parents so that you’d gang up. Those streets were never safe alone. The guys from D would be in conversation – scheming on how to rob you off your second-hand Fila sneakers – and you would pick nothing from their convo. Soon, your feet will be up in the air. In the seconds it takes for you to come down, you would be shoe-less, pockets turned and with a sore neck to nurse for weeks to come from the veracity of a wooden flint augmented choke hold.

These nasty experiences outside F2 highlighted that Nairobi’s suburbs – like any city as modeled by schilling – were evolving to type. Exhibiting a strong identity influenced by the ethnicity, socioeconomic profile and other designs. It was a matter of pride therefore when your estate had the meanest matatus, hip hop group or had a rapper who killed other MCs on the stage during the rap battles at F2.

These children of culture (matatu, hip hop) afforded one some security in the neck of the hoods. Being identified by way of them meant respect. Respect is the currency of big bad cities like Nairobi. So when K-South dropped Nairobbery, Nairobi sat up and took note.

Nairobbery The Album – A Claim To Kenyan Hip Hop Classic Status

First, Nairobbery was a full album by a Kenyan hip hop act. Save for the Dandora based group, Kalamshaka, no hip hip act at the time had done a full album. The production was obviously high quality. It was nothing like the Fruity Loops of bedroom producers ruling the market then. Kapuka, Doobiez termed them. Even more, the album had more than hints of beats in the hip hop tradition, way before Nas certified hip hop dead.

Secondly, these guys rapped in hard Sheng, proper English and American slang. K  South masterfully blended Sheng’s lazy drawl accent with American slang’s sharper trot. The shock value of this stylistic tool was seen by the most eminent of observers as an affront to the city’s informal caste system.

As such, K South was a manifestation of the ongoing silent disruption of the urban culture of 2000’s Nairobi. This was because Nairobbery was a melt of Nairobi’s different identities into one gentrified one. Today, some might argue that K-South flava’s Nairrobery was a celebration of cultural appropriation.

K-South’s Nairobbery Cements Evolution Of Nairobi’s Lingua Franca Sheng

K South’s appropriation is in their introduction of new words into Sheng’s lexicon. K South’s rap linguistics went against the etymological pattern of the day. These words, as is the case with most Sheng words, weren’t simpleton combinations of Swahili and English words via some phonetic play.The word Sheng, for example, is an amalgam of ‘Sh’ from Swahili and ‘Eng” from English.

Nor were K-South’s new words ethnic versions of Swahili words. Take the case of the Sheng word manya (know), which is the Western Kenya Bantu language Maragoli word for know.

Their new Sheng words were descriptive. Take the term Kapuka that they used to derogatorily describe the predominating bass line in pop music that was then dominating Kenyan airwaves. Fronted principally by the South B based music production house Ogopa Djs.

What Nairobbery is to the non- Nairobian

These new sheng words flew in the face of Nairobi’s established neighborhood clichés. The title album’s title song: Nairobbery, which is Nairobi + Robbery is the prime example. Today, observers – from The Economist to Aljazeera have written about Nairobbery.

screenshot of a quote from article on Nairobbery describig how Kenya's colonial and post-colonial history is written into the fabric of the city
Nairobbery is a product of Kenya’s colonial and postcolonial history as this quote by a Kenyan tour guide on an article reveals

In these annotations, the authors, might we add Nairobians some of whom found a home away from home in Nairobi, talk of Kenya’s  capital B side. Their take on Nairobbery is filled with tales of the city’s notorious side: traffic jams, crime, corruption, the hard knock life of Nairobi. But as this next song reveals, Nairobbery is more than the external, it is principally a state of self.


Nairobi by Johnny Vigeti, Abbas & Sati

We could have made a pick from any of Kalamashaka’s hit songs- Tafsiri Hii, Fanya Mamabo. Maybe even chosen another hip hop joint from K-South’s Nairobbery. But we chose to seek 2.0 takes on Nairobi’s notoriety by two Kenyan hip hop legends. Hip hop gods who featured prominently in the preceding dissection of Nairobbery. None other than Abbas and Johnny Vigeti. Abbas of K South and Johnny Vigeti of Kalamashaka.

Off the critically acclaimed but poorly received comeback album Mr Vigeti, Johnny Vigeti – one-third of the Kenyan hip hop gods Kalamashaka – sought help form Abass and Sati in this triumph over drug addiction and scars borne out of the sacrifice of being a pioneer.

A collaborative effort that roped in Europe based producers Viktor Ax and Ruben ”Subcon” Keikhwa. Unlike K South’s Nairobbery, where the stars aligned to make a great effort, Mr. Vigeti is a child of poor timing. Would it have waited a couple, three, fours years to be released? Would today be better suited for its genre, when 90’s style hip hop attempts a comeback?

Nairobbery is Nairobi State of Mind

Nonetheless, this track “Nairobi” speaks of the city’s famed notoriety. In his verse Abass  defines Nairobbery succinctly as: Life’s a b*tch. The ever glassy-eyed, injected conjunctiva rapper goes on to add that

“Nairobbery ni mji wa click clack”.

Johnny Vigeti decries corruption, Nairobi’s money first mentality that afflicts even children and makes disreputable ladies of women.

He reminds us that Nairobbery is about donning a solid hustler mentality that never fades. Sati serenades the hard-hitting rhymes of these pioneers of conscious Kenyan hip hop dropping soothing notes on Kenyan cops love of a bribe, satirically upping their greed as a route of doing away with being broke/poverty (msoto).


Nairobi Yao- Johnny Span One & Kunta

Admittedly, Kenyan hip hop heads who were drawn by the word hip hop in this discovery of Nairobi through its music, must by now have termed this article as click bait. Nothing frustrates practitioners of an endangered art when mainstream acts steal their shine. When popular artistes, who at best only appropriate elements of their art, eat their sauce while they scrape pan bottoms.

For instance, Obama’s delivery of the keynote speech in South Africa during 2018’s Mandela day was frowned by a core of social rights activists as gentrification of their higher calling. The former US president arrival in a private jet complete with bodyguards and other razzmatazz of 21st century celebrity life must have been frowned by the activists of before-  the likes of Jesus, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

Likewise, to sections with similar  purist inclinations, our fronting of K South and Kalamashaka’s Johnny Vigeti’s music as emblematic of Nairobbery must be a smack in the face. This next choice, comes from the only other places where one could  enjoy Kenyan hip hop unfettered outside F2 on Sunday afternoon in late 90’s early 2000’s Nairobi: the bedroom, garage if you like, music studios of Nairobi’s Eastlands neighborhoods.

Underground Hip Hop and The Consciousness of Nairobbery

Flashing a middle finger to corporate hip hop, Johnny Span One disses a popular Kenyan deejay. By questioning the deejay’s sanity in releasing a sex tape rather than playing real hip hop, this Johnny questions the reward system of Nairobi’s entertainment scene. He by  extension puts Kenya’s sense of meritocracy on a balance. Keeping with this theme, Johnny Span One also throws barbs at politicians for their role in creating two Nairobis. One for the haves (the connected). The other for the have-nots.

Having deconstructed the folly of their Nairobi – the politicians, celebrities and elites – Kunta’s verse delivers the philosophy of another Nairobi. The Nairobi of the ones left behind. With odes to black supremacy icons like former Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie and South African anti-apartheid icon Steve Biko, the ethics of Span One’s and Kunta’s version of Nairobbery is set.

Nairobbery in this sense is therefore about resistance. It is about self belief. Nairobbery is an awakening of black consciousness that revokes the idea that black history starts at colonialism or slavery. It is beyond crime, dirt and grime in character as it trumpets black contributions to modern civilization such as mathematics

Finally, Is Nairobbery a Legalize it Movement?

We’ve made cheeky reference to Abass’s eyes. Johnny One chides Nairobi’s famed eclectic night life paying homage to weed filled nights as the real deal. We have drawn numerous casual relationships to the call of legalizing marijuana in this guide to Nairobi beyond the usual. This begs us to wonder out loud, is Nairobbery a marijuana smoke-filled existence? Or is it a state of mind?

Discover Nairobi Nightlife Through Music- When the City Partys

Nairobians love their drink. And the night. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Could be just collective escapism from living in an African city faced with the discomforts of being on the shot-end of neo-liberalism. But that’s not the story for today. Today “tunaweka shida chini tunatupa mikono juu”. However, we’ll be doing that on a budget. There are loads of songs about partying in Nairobi and other aspects of Nairobi nightlife but we picked only these two. Here is why.

Taste of Nairobi nightlife: The entrance to a chique bar similar to the one you might find in the Kenyan capital

First things first. This article is part of our series on : A portrait of Nairobi Through Music. This project feels for the fine contours of the body and soul of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, through review of music. In this soundtrack filled voyage we’ve distilled city guides like no other. Our guides are nothing like coffee table types or cliche laden inflight glossy magazines. They take you there as they are the sound of Nairobi. Like this piece on Nairobi nightlife.

My City My Town – Prezzo & Cannibal

You can’t miss that Taarab feel at the start of the this upbeat track dropped in 2012 by two of Kenya’s legendary hip hop artistes. There is the reality show star and entrepreneur Prezzo (Sheng for President) and the Rap King of Mombasa, Kenya – Cannibal. Just by their profiles, clearly, the intention here was to make a crossover hit.

Anthropologists, if any are, charting the urban culture of Nairobi will agree that My City, My Town was the song that marked transition of the city’s night life repertoire from B list establishments (Club Rezorous in Westlands and Club Betty’s on Kimathi street come to mind) to more sophisticated Nairobi nightlife offerings that Prezzo mentions at the start .


Prezzo’s characteristic simple flow pays homage to SkyLuxx Lounge – One of Nairobi’s pioneer A-list-ish night spots. He also paradoxically big ups gomba (Don’t Nairobians love their Khat! We might have a theory why, but a story at a time.) Once again by way of this song, Nairobi’s bad case of DID rears its head again. By now, via the journey we’ve covered so far with our city guides, you must have already figured that if Nairobi suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Nairobi’s Bad Case of DID

Maybe in featuring Cannibal, Prezzo seeks to cure some of the city’s personality issues. The Kaya Hip Hop god, gives the track identity, killing three birds with one stone. First, his cameo helps Prezzo build the Hip Hop cred of My City My Town. Given that Cannibal is a respected lyricist in the Kenyan music scene, the genre placing problems faced by many Kenyan songs is averted.

Secondly, Cannibal’s presence in a song that’s all about Nairobi nightlife confirms Nairobi’s new status as an A- List nightlife spot. By name dropping all Mombasa favorite joints, Cannibal allows listeners to appreciate the then gulf in class between My City (Nairobi) My Town (Mombasa ).

Party In Nairobi, Brunch In Mombasa

Finally Cannibal’s dip in the pool helps cements Nairobi’s status as home of the nouveu Riche. It is a song by and for young upstarts who have the luxury of Nairobi, Mombasa and elsewhere in the republic as their play spots over the weekend.

Moreover, with the commissioning of the SGR from Mombasa to Nairobi, partying in Nairobi and waking up in Mombasa could be the norm. In 2012, pulling such a stunt was not only a costly affair, but nigh impossible if one wished to be a productive citizen the Monday morning after. Consider that in 2012, even the budget airline Jambo Jet was two years away. Indeed, as evident in the song’s depiction of zeitgeist, the situation of life has drastically changed in Nairobi in the last decade.

Nairobi Nightlife: Evidence of Kenyan Capital Transformation With Economic Growth Spurt Of The Late 2000’s

In the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis, European money found a home in frontier markets like Kenya. Coupled with the Kenyesian policies of Pres. Mwai Kibaki, Nairobi exploded. Some statistics had Nairobi hitting peaks of GDP growth rate >8 % in the fourth quarter of 2010.

My City, My Town music video’s on point cinematography and directing alludes to this new wealth and sophistication. And if you missed the Taarab influence in the beat, you surely can’t miss the subtle sampling of Naughty by Nature’s Hip Hop Horray to add to the happy upbeat feeling of this song. If music can inform the feeling among the people, possibly from the happiness begot by prosperity of the times.

Huku Nairobi By The Historians

If anything Huku Nairobi makes the cut as it tells us of the journey of the road traveled. For those uninitiated in Kenyan music, this was a big hit somewhere in the early 2000’s? I emphasize the, was, part because I’d struggle today to explain any of that.

But it must be one of those things about music that’s hard to explain. Like author Jeffery Tucker offers: “80s music sounds so 80s now. But in the 80s, it just sounded like music. Whilst Popjustice puts it this way:

pop music can be at its most important when it’s being stupid and at its most stupid when it’s trying to be important


Nairobi Nightlife Is All About Drinking Yourself Silly

We feature this song as a tip of our hat to the old adage: The more things change, the more they remain the same. Truth is partying in Nairobi in many ways is like jamming to Huku Nairobi in 2017. Tired! Same old: silly drinking, and more drinking. We Nairobians don’t care much for dancing and would rather have the extra space begot by forgoing the dance floor be filled with watering tables. That, and of course sexual rendezvous.

Rinse repeat. Shake. Juggle. Rinse repeat. Same output : Drinking, partying and sexual rendezvous. Maybe a dingy gentleman’s club here to spice up the scene, possibly a limited choice of craft beer or a Choma and music festival; but mostly the same. If one isn’t watchful, their visit to Nairobi might just reduce to that.

Chances are that if you ask your average Nairobian for a weekend plan, it likely will center on the three. Admittedly, quite a waste in a city with so much to offer in tourist attractions including the world-famous Nairobi National Park.

Nairobi Traffic Jams : 10 Things

Beijing. Lagos. New York. Jakarta. Nairobi. When anthropologists do get to it, science might just confirm our worst fears: That those endless hours spent in traffic irredeemably shaped the human in the 21st Century. And adversely so. But who’s to blame? Granted, from way back, traffic jams are part of the college of any city. Indeed, mass transport of city dwellers is a challenge that every generation has to perennially contend with. As we learn from William Phelps Eno, Robert Moses and now the antics ubiquitous Nairobi traffic jam hawkers, cum entrepreneurs, its got something to do with regulation, structure and ingenuity.

Traffic jams are a hall mark of the inefficiency of modern life. They are a rising concern in the 21st century. Especially so as rising incomes and progressive global urbanization continues to give rise to mega cities. With traffic snarl ups, road accidents, pollution, depression and burn out continue to pose a threat to our health. Finding more sustainable ways of mass transportation for urban dwellers, such as electric transportation, remains the holy grail in this dream of a green future.

Traffic and Life in the 21st Century

Even if you are part of the climate change deniers gang, you must be persuaded by such arguments. Traffic jams are an affront not only to the economic but the also the social and health well-being of communities.

Moreover, the impact of busy urban life – expected to be the norm this 21st Century – on mental health is increasingly becoming point of study. A growing community of psychiatrists point out that the hustle and bustle of city life aggravates existing psychosocial stress. They opine that this might be partly responsible for increasing prevalence of mental health conditions like depression.

Nonetheless, just like a pea is similar to the next, the phenotype of the traffic situation of every city in the world city expresses itself in subtle yet richly diverse experiences. Therefore, understanding the anatomy of your typical traffic jam in any city might illuminate insights that might lead to an uncanny solution to this menace.

In this spirit, I jotted down 10 things that I noted when caught in Nairobi traffic. Here is the anatomy of a typical gridlock in my home city, Nairobi. The Kenyan capital and economic San-atrial node of East and Central Africa.

10. However Bad Nairobi Traffic Keeps Getting, a Key Life Goal of your Typical Nairobi Resident Remains – Buying a Car

If everybody had their way, that would translate to more cars on already crowded roads! It appears  the goal here is not to get home or to work faster – courtesy of  ‘investment’  in the liability of a ‘new’, refurnished and increasingly luxurious Japanese model, or the ‘barely there’ favorite for young and savvy types: German mid range automobiles – but rather, the need here is in making the inevitable traffic commute more bearable. All thanks to the pampering afforded by in car climate control and radio systems.

For as long as Nairob’s default mode of public transport, the Matatu , continues to face as much acclaim as a cultural icon as it does for being pathognomic with all that is wrong with Nairobi, It will keep making much more sense for many city residents to labor towards purchasing a car. As this January 2018 report on Business Daily attests to, this interest isn’t about to wane as the convenience of online shopping and e-commerce continue to take root in Kenya.

9. The Phenomenon That ‘Drive Shows’ on Fm Radio Stations Are and Their Symbiotic Relationship With Nairobi Traffic Jams

Drive shows in most of Nairobi focused Fm stations start out as early as 3pm and stretch out to at least 10pm in the evening. The same can be said of equally popular morning drive shows — some of the residents residing in the outer regions of the greater Nairobi area have to be on the road by 4 am if they are to make it to work in the city by 8 am.

Though the competition among these radio stations is fierce -exemplified by poaching of popular show hosts among the stations – thanks to notorious Nairobi traffic, the audience is huge. Too huge for three, four, seven FM stations.

Consider the car radios tuned in thousands of public transport vehicles ferrying tens of thousands of the city’s workforce to and fro the various areas of commerce.  And now with increasing financial inclusiveness, the ever-expanding middle class now with access to car loans to grab cheaper refurbished cars from Dubai, Singapore, Japan , Indonesia and other free trade areas for themselves. To the majority working poor of the city, walking home from industrial area and  listening in on portable Fm radio receivers, Fm enabled mobile phones and hand-held radios. Powerful it is.

The Power Of Radio

The power comes about as you can’t ignore radio, especially in a multi-ethnic and multilingual world like Kenya.

TV cannot compete with radio in servicing multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic audiences

Gareth Price

Especially given that the comedian and vile mouthed radio host tag team seems to work so well in Kenya. When caught in Nairobi traffic, expect this tag team, whose matrimony was consecrated in the Vegas of marketing world, to puncture your peace with stale ethnic stereotyped jokes; and sleazy sexualised talk

The radio was shouting at you, pleading with you, and seducing you.

David Byrne

All which bring us to our next point.

8. The Nairobi Traffic Flea Market

An African, female TEDx speaker set stage for her talk by telling a story of how she was once caught in traffic in an East African city. She didn’t name the city, but she tellingly reveals that she bought an alphabet letter chart from a hawker for her daughter. Listening to her, I couldn’t help but think that she must have been talking about Nairobi.  Tropical rain or Equator noon sun, you will not fail to find enterprising individuals fending by vending a variety of merchandise in Narobi traffic.

Almost anything you’d need for your grocery shopping; to car accessories; imported Egyptian apples and Israeli citrus fruits; toys shipped in from China; pirated DVDs of the latest Netflix series; productions from the underground local adult entertainment industry; and even airtime for your mobile phone.

billboard on one of the city's busiest inlets and hotbet for the infamous Nairobi traffic jams
A billboard advertising a popular show on one of Nairobi’s leading FM stations. Image| Adopt A Light Website

Big business not to be left behind in the selling bonanza spend millions of dollars on gigantic billboards and radio ads on the FM talk shows. Neither is it not uncommon for big brands to carry out product awareness campaigns distributing brochures and fliers in the heavy traffic.

This attraction to sell to traffic is understandable. First, there is pool of workers to work the traffic as vendors or as sales people. Nairobi is not shot of youthful and educated unemployed Kenyans. Young bloods seeking a buck for their bills who courtesy of the rising literacy levels, high levels of urban to rural migration and worrying levels of unemployment scrape by in the city. To this, add the almost free time for engagement with a bankable demographic thanks to the long queue of jalopies snaking their way in and out of the city .

7. Just like Malfunctioning I-phones, Traffic Jams make People Late

Lets put it this way: Nairobi traffic affords us, Nairobians, a convenient excuse for our torrid time keeping. If a Nairobian is late, it is most likely out of habit rather than actual happenings. The urban Kenyan proverb that is quoted in the image at the start of this article typifies this bad manners. Niko kwa jam nacome is sheng for “am on my way, but am caught in traffic”. It stems from a verse of a popular Kenyan Hip Hop song where the artiste pleads with the girlfriend to be patient/not to get angry/not think they are getting stood up as the traffic was heavy making him run late.

From songs to boardrooms, notwithstanding expansion of city road infrastructure that peaked steam in circa 2010, the emergence of boda boda or no boda, the traffic excuse is peddled around so much – even by the leaders of the land.

It has become part of the lexicon of urban talk. Therefore, as it goes, most Nairobians will expect that you’ll excuse them when they offer traffic as an excuse to their running late. This includes even those who punctuality is alien: The type who would be late even to their own funeral.

6. Nairobi Traffic jams: A Battle Pitting Matatu Drivers, Personal Cars, Pedestrians & Boda Boda Riders

The right to road to pedestrians at zebra crossings is a traffic rule that applies the world over. However, somethings remain unstated when walking about Nairobi.

For example, I have come to learn that we get by faster if I let my woman take the lead. I know that it is ungentlemanly of me, but cars stop for her at the crossroads, unlike when it’s me budging my thorax forward.

It is also generally recommended that when crossing, the pedestrian is best advised to look on straight a head. Not many behind the wheels will be keen to watch you shuffle your feet. Finally, whether you are driving in Nairobi or walking, expect the unexpected from the matatu driver, boda boda (motorcycle rider) and the lady drivers.

Be warned! Those three ALWAYS have the right of way.

5. Nairobi Traffic jams Ought be A boon for Relationships But …..

Growing up, there were always only two states possible. First, the more common of the two, the air inside my parents no-air-conditioning Datsun 120Y was so tense. The tension would only occasionally be split open by dad’s  mutterings as he battled matatus on our way home. Mutterings that my mum would rather I not hear. My dad’s then intolerance with a chicken crossing the road and insatiable appetite for expletives doing little to ease whatever it was that was eating them up.

Then those rare times when I even got a treat of chili-lemon juice flavored roast maize bought from the roadside vendor as we listened to Sundowner on the National English radio service. Listening, but pretending not to listen as dad and mum would poke fun at other couples in situation one above.

Dad would joke how it all might have started. Could be the mister offered the missus the tired traffic excuse after trooping in late last night with his breath smelling of fermented grains.

Throwing a quick knowing look, mum would point out how hard the missus was at it with ‘cold treatment’. She couldn’t be that engrossed with the sports section of the day’s newspaper. Adding that whatever ‘news’ the missus was imbibing news then would be at least 48 hours old!

Those were the days when tinted car windows were rare. Oh! those we the days.

4. Beware of Seasonal Traffic variations

  • Friday afternoon
  • Month end
  • Sudden change of weather especially the occasional unexpected downpour
  • School opening days
  • Big men in town days like international conventions, the president opening parliament , president X leaving for the airport or Raila Odinga going about his thing.
  • Gor Mahia playing AFC leopards in mashemeji derby
  • Nairobi International Trade Fair
  • University Graduations

3. Be Especially Ware of the Big Men

Ambulance, fire fighter engines and politicians are the three groups spared from the irritation of a traffic jam. This peculiarity could be just one of the reasons why just about everyone dreams of political power in this part of the world. Nothing like a free pass from the headache of Nairobi traffic jams.

The bigger the politician, the longer the traffic holdup. Tell you what, watching a 30+ presidential motorcade of German machines wheeze by, nothing speaks of power as it does. It is the little things they say. Such little things probably the reason why no sitting African leader is ever defeated in an election .

2. Every Cloud Does Have a Silver Lining

Traffic jams simply mean that more time is spent from point A to point B. For example, a ten minute ride may stretch out to half hour. This means that there is a chance that as much as an hour of your day may be lost navigating and changing lanes (the faster queue incidentally always happens to be the one you are not on).

Such time could provide an opportune time for  jotting down ideas for your next project – as I did with this article – as you wait for the traffic lights to turn green. Or catching up with the days necessary reading thanks to the convenience of mobile Internet. Besides, goofing around – a selfie here and there – never did anyone any harm.

However, be careful not to be caught using your mobile phone whilst driving. It’s bad manners everywhere. However in Nairobi, the pain for your bad habits is almost always instantaneous. Even in the thick of a Nairobi traffic jam, traffic police lurk in the shadows looking for fodder to pray on. Worse, don’t leave your windows down or central lock not engaged with valuables is sight. As the tweet below reveals, Nairobbery is a lucid state that spares no one.

1. Sit back and Enjoy the Ride

People watching ? Catching a conversation with a local? Taking in the beauty of the day in the colors of the morning sun?  When taking a matatu, if you get the chance, sit upfront with the driver. These chaps are usually friendly and should regale you with urban legends.

Enjoy the music from the state of the art sound system fitted in most matatus. Kindly note though that it’s not uncommon for party music to be blazing from the thousand dollar custom-built music systems on a Monday morning. Hardly ideal for most people. But I tell you what, there is nothing like your favorite song playing over the well woven music system. At that moment, the matatu experience comes full circle. Like an epiphany it suddenly occurs that which was playing over the speakers was much more than random music on a hectic morning ride. It was a sound track to your day.

What is the traffic Experience like in Your City? We would like to hear about it in the comments.

Courage of The Bobi Wine Mural Portrait At PAWA 254, Nairobi, Kenya

#ArtRising is the slogan of the Nairobi based creative advocacy outfit, PAWA254. This .org is associated with globally acclaimed activist photojournalist, author and Ukweli party leader Boniface Mwangi. True to type – utilizing art, media and ICT as weapons towards a better Kenya, this stunning giant Bobi Wine mural in Nairobi was recently unveiled to the world through a @bonifacemwangi tweet.

Important Conversations Set To Light By The Bobi Wine Mural at Pawa254 Rooftop

Is there a simmering sub-Saharan spring? Are conditions right for an Arab Spring-esque popular revolt?

The colors, attire and boldness of the Bobi Wine #PeoplePower_Our Power movement are so Joseph Malema’s EFF. If history is to repeat itself by yet again making South Africa the sinoatrial node of a sub-Saharan wide struggle for emancipation, the ruling class of today’s Africa have every reason to quake in their boots – for dry hot winds swirl through the lands that they lord over. Lands consumed by drought, literally, and droughts of other kinds: unemployment, inequality and stifling denial of unalienable human rights.

‘Hayawi, Hayawi, Huwa’ Say The Swahili.

It’s not happening, it’s not happening… then it happens. Like this one time I had started a fire to consume trimmings after shaping the hedge at mum’s. It was smack in the middle of the day, with the African sun at its highest. My actions were oblivious to the reason as to why my father always (then annoyingly, now in retrospect wisely) insisted on the garbage being set to light only after the sun had set. That Thursday in rural Africa, two decades after his death, and true to the Swahili saying asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu, the world handed me an unsolicited, unforgettable life lesson.

Only a quarter an hour it had been since I had left the pile of unwanted greenery unattended. Earlier, the smoke was still thick as the pile was barely smouldering when I headed in to cool with a swig of water. Now, the characteristic crackling sound of nature on fire confirmed what was before my eyes. The live hedge by the garbage pit at the corner of the farm had caught fire. The weak flames that I had just struggled to tend had been fanned into a furious consuming fire by the sneaky winds that roam when air rises as it gets hot by the sun.

Thankfully, timely discovery meant that my burning bush didn’t exactly turn into a wildfire despite the coming together of needed ingredients to. African leadership ruling over the great lakes region can only hope for similar luck in the face of socioeconomic upheaval.

Unease in Black Africa

The sparks are there: unease in Rwanda following continuous crackdown on dissent voices; simmering tensions in Uganda as manifest by the Bobi Wine phenomenon; the fragile ceasefire in Kenya evident in the skepticism that clouds ‘the handshake‘; Burundi’s ‘political crisis‘ that ensures the country continuously flirts with the abyss; the uncharacteristic breakneck speed of ease of decades long tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea; South Sudan’s blinking lights that alternate between peace and resumption of the norm- war. The DRC continues to act like a country while we all know that Africa’s richest land remains the poster child of the perfect storm that threatens this region.

Yonder, there are concerns over what some have termed as the Zambia debt crisis. This furor itself pathognomic of an elephant issue – 21st century African leaderships skewed interpretations of the “Africa Rising” narrative manifest in their agency as co-conspirators in the recolonization of Africa through foreign debt. Then the usual: Somalia and Boko Haram to the West. The unpredictable too: symptomatic in the steam gathered by the leftist group EFF in South Africa. All this counterbalanced by the stable crisis that dogs the forgotten – Libya, and the under-reported: Central Africa.

Social Media Creative Advocacy in Sub-Saharan Africa, Sterile or Will it Bear Fruit ?

That social media was at play in the series of 2010-2011 popular uprisings that toppled long ruling regimes in Arab Africa during the what was termed as the Arab Spring is not in doubt. In its analysis, Pew Research Center cites a study that “…suggests that the importance of social media was in communicating to the rest of the world what was happening on the ground during the uprisings.”

WIRED’s take on the role of social media in activism is more damning. Whilst acknowledging the catalyzing effect of social media on the Arab Spring, WIRED’s Jessi Hempel paints it as transient. Back then, regimes knew little about how social media worked.

Today, Hempel offers, totalitarian forces have turned the sword on the bearer. Both despots and terrorists are using the reach of social media to spread misinformation. Moreover, targeted crackdowns aimed at curtailing social media’s ubiquity have become the norm.

Now that governments not only have skin in the game, but also the tools and will to stifle independent voices on social media, what chance do social activists stand? The answer to the future of online social activism lies in this Bobi Wine mural at PAWA 254.

Why Bobi Wine & Co? Convergence of Ideologies, The Power of Art & Social Media’s Pollinating Effect

First, the symbolism on the politics of the comrade, Boniface Mwangi is not lost. It speaks to a certain convergence in ideologies that the Kenyan activist elected to be an agent of the Bobi Wine led People Power_Our Power struggle. If you are a stranger to his politics, following Boniface Mwangi on Twitter is all that you’ll need.

Hemel’s WIRED report identified a certain paucity, moderateness, as an Achilles heel to the impact of activists online. Mwangi is not afraid to ruffle feathers. And if you find his twitting graphic, going by past showings, his protests will slap the shilly-shally out of you. Similar things can be said of Julius Malema, Bobi Wine and others yet to be known or born. 

Secondly, the use of art as a tool for social change is undeniable and unapologetic. With this Bobi Wine mural, the choice of Graffiti here, screams ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT. It being a portrait, it harvests the enduring power of this art form. A portrait is expressionism that connects deeply and openly with those who dare indulge.

Soren Petersen (who spent time with renown portrait artist Ray Turner) in a Huffpost article offers what it takes to do a portrait.

“The photographer or painter must have empathy for their subject.” He writes.

In our case here, we  argue that the Bobi Wine mural at PAWA 254 seeks to impart empathy on its audience. The mural nudges us not only to feel for Bobi Wine, injustice suffered and all. It also asks us to act on the cause of the Malemas, Bobi Wine and Boniface Mwangis of 21st century Africa. To that, add the pollinating effect of social media and we have all the ingredients.

About The Discover Nairobi Through Music Series

Can a city’s soul be seen through its music? Can its state of mind be captured in a song? That’s the question we hoped to answer when we embarked on a project seeking to discover Nairobi through music.

Ask any lover of music of Africa, and they will confirm that Taarab music is quintessentially Swahili culture. Meaning, wherever one is in the world, whenever Taarab music comes on, it strums the innermost, purest depths of the soul; in a manner that stirs up the pool in it filled with all emotions, memories and regrets of their last visit to Mombasa, Dar-es-slam, Zanzibar City or their favorite East African coastal hideout.

Just like that, in 5D-like fashion, the Taarab teleports one to the sandy white beaches. The right tune will make one taste the sea breeze even in Timbuktu. Humans love music for precisely these kind of reasons. There’s no need to harp too much on that one as anyone, irrespective of their taste in music, has felt its power. But still, I ask “Can you know a city through the songs sang about it?”

That’s the question we faced with our home city, Nairobi. Was it possible to paint a portrait of Nairobi through multimedia (YouTube videos and text) so that a reader half around the world could come to discover Nairobi through music?

Trust The Process: How You Too Can Discover Nairobi Through Music

We as illustrated with the Taarab example above, we banked on the power of music to tell our story. To make it even more vivid, we choose songs – ballads if you like – that were either strictly music of the Kenyan capital or music entirely about Nairobi.

The ubiquity of YouTube afforded us little choice. It actually turned out to be an advantage as it allowed for most of our readers to access the songs. Or conduct their own search and add to the tapestry that we will paint.

Search for answers we did

The search term on YouTube was a simple “Nairobi” and once the algorithm figured we were interested in music, it was pretty straightforward. Being Kenyan and having Nairobians, born and bred, in the team was also a big boost. These team members would remember titles to songs they grooved to and we’d then google them up.

We also did google searches with terms like “songs about Nairobi”, “discover Nairobi”, “music about Nairobi”, “discover Nairobi through music”. It is through this method that we found a Guardian article about the best songs about cities. This brilliant article watered a thought to have one part of this series where we discover Nairobi through music to illustrate the role of Nairobi in the evolution of Benga music and as a refuge for Rhumba music.

But what were the questions?

What is Nairobbery?

How to have a good time partying on a night out in Nairobi

What does it mean to be Nairobian? What’s uniquely Nairobian?

How hospitable is Nairobi? How easily can one immigrate to the East African city and make a home?

New York gave us “Sex and the City” Does Nairobi serve up a steamy plate too?

Here’s The Discover Nairobi Through Music Series. Kindly Enjoy!

portrait of Nairobi: Nairobi city guide poster

Nairobi City Guide : Beyond Beyond Coffee Table Guides & Glossy Inflight Magazines.

Portrait of Nairobi: Nairobi nights poster

Discover Nairobi Nightlife Through Music- When the City Party’s

Portrait of Nairobi: Living in Nairobi poster

Living in Nairobi: When you find A home away from home in Kenya’s Capital

Portrait of Nairobi: Love, sex and the city poster

Nairobi Up Close: Love, Sex & The City

Portrait of Nairobi: Painting My City’s Portrait With Music

YouTube made what would have been otherwise an impossible task doable. Nonetheless, undertaking a project such as this one whilst restricted to digital music, no less a single repository, has its pitfalls. Most obvious of all being that not all songs about Nairobi are readily available in digital format and online. Does this mean that the portrait of Nairobi that we will paint will be incomplete?

All considered, YouTube’s content is user-generated. Therefore, chances are that musical pieces that are of most value to its global community can safely will feature. This music of Nairobi can safely be assumed to be representative of global perceptions about Nairobi through the stories told. Moreover, it’s precisely these types of handicaps that got me excited about this project of musically painting a portrait of Nairobi.

The painful realization that there was a significant chance that all my scouring , scraping and digging would still leave some gems hidden urged me on. That even with the support of the team over at MMIMMC, I could still turn up short. This imperfectness means that there can only be one outcome. That you, dearest reader, will hit us up with song titles that we’ve missed.

Let’s paint together

With you working with us, our shared resfeber will surely answer to the insistent tug of our wanderlust. Together, we will voyage in search of those songs about Nairobi, that will lead us to knowing the city’s soul. In this journey, like in any trip, the dividend of a chance at colliding with kindred souls is ever a welcome possibility.

This is because discovering new music is always a process of self discovery. First the listener wallows in the Yūgen of the world revealed to us by the artiste. Then, the listener gets to know the musician, savor the genre, decipher the song’s message, and cap it all by juxtaposing all that against the spirit of the times. What a feeling that is, I tell you!

With music of Kenya — the chunk of songs about Nairobi that we will sample here — this couldn’t be especially true. Confucius must have been talking of Kenyan music when he proclaimed: ” Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Such is the jungle of Kenyan music out here.

A jungle that we’ll help you navigate. To learn more about how we came up with this portrait of Kenya’s capital, check out on the process behind our quest to discover Nairobi through music.

A Portrait of Nairobi…

portrait of Nairobi: Nairobi city guide poster

Nairobi City Guide : Beyond Beyond Coffee Table Guides & Glossy Inflight Magazines.

Portrait of Nairobi: Nairobi nights poster

Discover Nairobi Nightlife Through Music- When the City Party’s

Portrait of Nairobi: Love, sex and the city poster

Nairobi Up Close: Love, Sex & The City

Portrait of Nairobi: Living in Nairobi poster

Living in Nairobi: When you find A home away from home in Kenya’s Capital

Music of Nairobi: The Sound of Nairobi

“Different genres, Different stories, One people, One city, All Music of Nairobi”

A major theme of this blog will be musical voyage in which we will discover Nairobi through its music. We will look at complex issues like the concept of Nairobbery through the prism of music. More trivial issues like how to party in the Kenyan capital as narrated by its music. How Nairobi is a refuge for rhumba music and a home for a rainbow of nationalities.

And more. We trust that you’ll be meeting Kenyan artistes who’d want their music to be classified as Boomba or Kapuka – a range of closely related sounds ranging from Kenyan hip hop to bubble gum pop – for what it’s worth.

Then there are the anathemas who release dis-tracks that play on subtle stylistic deviations. These ones seek to profit from the dividend of differentiating their brand by distancing themselves from the Kapuka aka Boomba group. From this group we will sample music from Genge, Kaya Hip Hop , Afro neosoul, Afro fusion and Kenyan underground hip hop artistes.

In discovering Nairobi through its music, we need to appreciate this tag-of-war in identities. This cultural conflict is an important strut in understanding the architecture of Nairobi’s soul. Because, well, music is contextual and archival. Thus, in this musical journey, through music of Nairobi, will dissect the network of cultural sensitivities that govern Nairobi. Possibly also unearth the roots of identity politics in Kenya’s capital.

We shall also come to appreciate that, with Nairobi, it is not always about sharp cultural divisions. There are strong assimilationist, arguably appropriator, types roaming Nairobi streets. They too have made music of Nairobi that paints their view of the city.

In Search Of Nairobi State Of Mind

Billy Joel’s 1976 “New York State of mind” proved so anthematic that to date, there have been no less than a dozen other recordings. Hip hop god Nas 1994 masterpiece “N.Y State Of Mind” was described as the ‘standout track’ of his debut album, the eternally sick Illmatic. This hip hop classic produced by Dj Premier, said pop critic Marc L. Hill , “provides as clear a depiction of ghetto life as a Gordon Parks photograph or a Langston Hughes poem.” Down our neck of the hood, we explain the case of an emergent class of Kenyan musicians – who cook up a good blend of African folk music and Kenyan Hip Hop – making songs about Nairobi to be in search of Billy Joel and Nas perfection. Through the struggles of these adventurous types, we get to see how the Kenyan capital is like that too. A state of mind – Nairobi state of mind.

What is Nairobi State Of Mind?

Like New York, Chicago, Cape Town – pick any other metropolitan city of the 21st century – Nairobi state of mind is an existence that in shades is reminiscent of resplendent village life. A rich existence that however inevitably comes with the kitchen sink, pots and pans. An elixir of the damned and blessed.

It is Darwanian struggle breathing the same air with strangle from too much. Dogs chasing their own tails kind of lives. “N.Y State of Mind” brilliantly paints a portrait of this existence. Take the interlude in the song when Nas slides into another of his characteristic “stream of consciousnesses” with the verse:

Once they caught us off-guard, the MAC-10 was in the grass, and<br> I ran like a cheetah, with thoughts of an assassin
― Nas – N.Y. State of Mind

That reference to Africa by Nas reminds us of the spaces of tribal existence, loosely sewn together by brittle bridges of urban culture that 21st century African cities are. Our cities are barely being held together by the taut strings of slang, street food, music and shared vanities ditto Kinshasa’s “Les Sapeurs” and for Nairobi, the spectacle that matatus are.

It is … Nairobbery

Through music about Nairobi, we learn that Nairobi state of mind is a fragile equilibrium of modern hedonism, postcolonial relics of existentialism and contemporary interpretations of the communiterian ways of our ancestors.

In deed, some artistes whose songs we feature in painting our city portrait through music, attest to what unfolds when this delicate equilibrium gets upset. These underground musicians, who Nas identifies with in “N.Y State of Mind”, not only just do not feel the love but also unabashedly sing about not feeling the love. Thanks to their efforts, we now have the phrase Nairobbery.

With their punchlines, they conscientise us that the city is cruel. They empathize with those who feel that Nairobi is not their city in a somewhat reverse KeNako paradigm. Their lyrics showcases the Nairobi chapter of the global story of a widening wealth divide. This is the story of Nairobi. The Nairobi state of mind.

And incomplete without …. Banjuka Tu!

Just like Nas aimed to represent the other side of the coin to Billy Joel’s ‘all dreams come true’ New York, there’s an anathema group to all tales of Nairobbery. Artistes who in keeping with global Hip Hop trends, offer an ambitious, aspirational, largely fantastical take on the same phenomenon of income inequality and crime. An increasing majority of the younger hipper ones who boast of not only running the city, but are also so in love with city life they are that they belt out ballads. For them, Nairobi state of mind is all kubanjuka tu! (dance away).

Feel, Taste, Know, Visit Nairobi. Your Complete Guide To Kenya's Capital