Nairobi City Guide: Beyond Coffee Table Guides & Glossy IN FLIGHT Magazines, This is Nairobi Through Music About Kenya’s Capital

The tracks that feature here are those whose lyrical content and music videos gives the audience a real feel of Nairobi. Each of these songs is essentially a Nairobi City guide but in the non-traditional sense.


The songs are about stuff that we do. Stuff that any tourist to Kenya’s capital needs to partake to be Nairobian. The tell of the different divides within the city. The paint different portraits of the city telling the stories one is likely to encounter depending on the type of tourist they are: budget traveler, business traveler or service corps types. As regards genre, I’d describe this music of Nairobi as less ghetto than Scarface’s On My Block; but falling somewhere in the midst of a scale that has Jay-Z + Alicia Keys Empire State of Mind on the upper end.

Before we get going, the Nairobi City cityscape in the featured image is a view of Nairobi CBD from Upper Hill Business District. The good photography is thanks to James Wahome. Buy James a cup of coffee here.

A City’s Portrait

Great…. now that’s done with, a little about this article. This post is part of our series on : A portrait of Nairobi Through Music. In this project, we feel 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 ended up with distilled city guides like no other. To be fair, these guides are unlike the usual coffee table types or clichés laden in flight glossy magazines. Take for instance my personal favorite so far on the Nairobi state of mind. On to the music now.


KARIBU NAIROBI- JUA CALI

The father of Genge music, Jua Cali, in Karibu Nairobi delivers what has to be the most up to date Nairobi City guide of the songs that we’ve reviewed. Published on You Tube on 20 February of 2015, and directed by @vjone, Karibu Nairobi in three expertly delivered verses is a tale of three personas of Nairobi. First, it is a quick guide on Nairobbery. Second, it does a good job describing Nairobi’s electric and vibrant nightlife. Finally, it leads us into the world of the city’s eclectic urban culture.

On Nairobbery, Jua Cali drops a tight one with this line. A piece of lyric that leaves us wondering if the intent was expression of artistic freedom or a warning worth heading. The more I listen to the song, the more I conclude that it’s possibly both. Might I add, what we’ve come to label as Nairobbery aside from the clever neologism is nothing peculiar to Nairobi. In the 21st century, with unequal wealth distribution, terrorism, fascism and racism, about every major city today struggles with violent crime.

City in the sun? Hapana siku hizi tunaiita city in the gun

Jua Kali in “Karibu Nairobi”

I’m not a connoisseur of the Kenyan rap scene, but I find this invigorating Genge hit to have come too late in Jua Cali’s stellar career. Nonetheless, that distinctive, high-pitched, melodic, flute-like tune embedded within the beat is one Kenyan Music lovers have come to solidly identify with music from Calif area, in the Eastleigh neighborhood found east of Nairobi. You might be wondering why this piece of nuance is important. Really, why is this profiling important?

Dreams do come true in Nairobi City: Moving on up

I endeavor to localize Karibu Nairobi as the hit wades right into the circus that every inner city hip hop act unwillingly and unsuccessfully performs in somewhere down their career. In Karibu Nairobi, the good life Jua Cali raps about tickles the perennial question: How ‘soft’ can a rap star get without being accused of being a sell out?

How much can they floss, as Jua Kali does in the track, without losing gangstar points? At what point do they become agents of those appropriating/gentrifying their inner city culture rather than cultural ambassadors of their area code? Answering every of these questions is beyond my remit in this article.

However, there is something we learn about Nairobi form the ideological questions raised. Going by the the content, in letter and spirit, of Karibu Nairobi, as regards this ideological divide, Nairobi is pervasively amoral. If the continuing success of artistes of the likes of Jua Cali is anything to go by, everybody dreams of moving on up, Kuomoka. With Nairobi, those who ‘omoka’ are worshiped. Literally, that is, irrespective of the means/source of their wealth.

Controversy aside, like any good MC Jua Cali in Karibu Nairobi seeks to move the crowd with shout outs to Nairobi’s favorite things. Like the ladies, hard partying and drinking, all which hint at the city’s eclectic urban culture. Take the lyric

“Wee jiachilie Nairobi itatulinda,”

Jua Cali in Karibu Nairobi

‘Let loose/flow along, Nairobi shall take care of us’ the Kenyan hip hop legends preaches.

The Built Environment and Architecture of Nairobi City as told in Karibu Nairobi by Jua Cali

In an open show of love to Nairobi – the city that made him – Jua Cali, never lyric scanty, hails some of the city’s architectural master pieces. The song Karibu Nairobi is and ode of sorts to skyscrapers that are an unmistakable part of the city’s skyline. Those sang about include the internationally renown talk shop meet spot, Kenyatta International Conference center, KICC. Not left out are symbols that serve as reminders of Nairobi’s status as East Africa’s corporate capital. Notably here is the iconic all blue, glass clad I&M Bank Tower that features heavily in the song’s music video.

Jua Cali also hails transformation of the city’s arteries whose expansion picked up in earnest in 2010 with construction of mega highways. Right at the end, Jua Cali odes one of the city’s seven lane highway.

The number seven in reference to city highways could be an ode to the more hard, gangster rap beat, hit “Mtu Saba” by Jua Cali and the Calif Records crew Mahatma and Nonini. The socially conscious hit has a rhetorical hook: ‘labda sisi ni wageni mtu saba’. This is in reference to an amorphous seven man ‘gang’. A group that comes over uninvited and forcefully demands more than is being offered by the unwilling host. In the song done entirely in sheng, the number seven is used to qualify social phenomena. Like charting a web of sex in the city along which HIV spreads. To referencing a seven man gang that brags about mugging the listener’s father yester night. Or a seven man crew that mocks the listener after engaging with the listener’s girlfriend in group sex activity

Karibu Nairobi is a Nairobi City Guide for the Budget Traveler. This is how to do Nairobi as Nairobians

Karibu Nairobi wraps it up with its guide to Nairobi. It’s a guide more suited to the budget traveler as it flaunts Nairobi’s erstwhile menu of world-famous Kenya’s cultural tourist attractions available on a budget. According to Jua Cali’s hit, for one to experience Nairobi’s offerings of a local feel, see and eat, a bag packer visiting Nairobi ought at least:

  • Visit Burma market for Nyama Choma;
  • Enjoy lunch ( cold soda accompanied by either a baked confectionery/smokey/hard-boiled egg). All hawked under the shade of Uhuru Park enjoyed whilst taking in the city from a distance;
  • Ride on a matatu
  • Try some gomba (Khat).

Speaking as a Nairobian, Karibu Nairobi (Welcome to Nairobi) is just the song that I want to be playing on the matatu’s high end music system, somewhere along me finding my way back home after a sojourn away.


MAISHA YA NAIROBI – SIRI YA MZIKI

Maisha ya Nairobi (Nairobi Life) is an acoustic afro-soul sociopolitical conscious song replete with an open mic feel. Starting off with a low score and defeated tempo, Maisha ya Nairobi ushers in the listener to an inevitable feeling of foreboding that is this reason for this song. Indeed this is one melancholic piece by a little known group – Siri ya Mziki. It’s opening verse, done in solo, is very much a dirge:

“Siwezi!
(I can’t! I can’t)

Siwezi!
(I can’t! I can’t)

Mi Siwezi!”
(Surely, I can’t!)

Set in Nairobi’s largest, and Africa’s second largest slum, Kibra, the dissoluteness of all hope lost is palpable in Maisha ya Nairobi. After jamming to Jua Cali’s Karibu Nairobi, this poetic piece is the perfect antidote. For it serves to remind us of how the other half of Nairobi lives. It is a stark reminder that indeed the city of Nairobi is cruel to some.

Slum Tourism and Nairobi City

I find it disturbing that the misery of a section, the majority actually, of Nairobians is often packaged as some sort of activity to experience; and marketed as a thing to do while visiting Nairobi. Tourism cannot be partaking in sadistic parading of misery and photo-oping in the name of charity fundraising. Nonetheless, for the visitor to Nairobi hoping to experience this side of East Africa’s capital, they’ve got to be born outliers. This is because patronizing the Mukuru complex, Kibera, Korogocho or any of the twenty slums in Nairobi, there are no in betweens.

You either have to be rich enough to afford personal security and/or cultivate links with local NGO types for guided tours.

Or you’ve to be a dare-devil with super people skills and the time to build friendships across the city’s physical, economical and social divides.

Usually though, most heads that tour the slums are the peace corps/volunteerism types.

That said, in defiance of this grim situation, the rap verse towards the end of Maisha ya Nairobi is quite uplifting. First, it’s done by a female MC. And nothing sounds better than a chic rhyming. Our female MC does well to pump tempo into Maisha ya Nairobi. She also has some tight lyrics in there too. My favorite has to be this one liner. A rhyme that packs all that there is to know about the green city in the sun in six words:

a high life fueled by nightlife


‘NAIROBI’ BY MAYONDE & STONEE JIWE

This groovy song about Nairobi ushers us into the Kenyan capital in the 21st century. Let’s put this way, this song is the equivalent to the reflective yet self promoting, brazenly air-brushed answer supplied to answer this question expected in every job interview: “Tell us about yourself.”

What Mayonde and Stonee Jiwe serve is how Nairobi would like to be seen. Vibrant colors and all. None of the black and white melancholy of Miasha ya Nairobi or the hard truths of Karibu Nairobi. In truth. Nairobi by Mayonde & Stonee Jiwe is the self-image of young, middle to upper class Nairobi. A generation accused of being wrapped up in the expat bubble, burdened by personal loans and barely keeping up with appearances.

This Nairobi of twenty seventeen is Hip, energetic, happy. Yes, happy ! Young too. You know how DeBarge’s Rhythm of the Night is 1985? That’s how Nairobi by Mayonde feat Stonee Jiwe is 2017 Nairobi. Not quite, but you get the drift. If you are visiting Nairobi for business and a fair bit of pleasure, this right here is the weekend packed in three or so minutes.

Then there is the way vocals have been arranged. That, together with the high score give the song a Jay Z /Alicia Keys Empire State of Mind feel. High praise here, but I absolutely love how these new age Kenyan musicians are emblematic of Kenya’s swelling numbers of educated, globally connected youth. Dreamy types who in a manner akin to some costly serum treatment at a beauty spa are invigorating the city. A city so young it just recently celebrated its golden jubilee as the capital of post independent Kenya.

Nairobi is Young and Bossing It!

These young fellas are not only courageous, but respectful too. I arrive at this conclusion based purely on nothing but the conclusion that lately every one of their music seems to be an ode to the sounds of before. We could blame the resurgence of Rhumba music for this sound, but in many other ways, this is Nairobi in the new millennium. A young city with a rich past. A city with a history, both proud and regrettable. It’s a past that’s not so distant. As it’s not to far into the ages, Nairobi’s past enables thinkers and doers of today reach out to it for magic.

Consider this: A young Kenyan deejay starting out a decade ago might have had to bear the brunt of the learning curve all alone. No mentor, neither a North nor anyone to look up to. Today, they can look up to the career of Kenya’s top corporate events Deejay, Dj Kamjo, an engineer, entrepreneur and husband running the industry leading outfit Discmen Entertainment. Or study street kings Djs Kalonje and Dj Demakufu and learn a thing or two about market segmentation, niche creation and brand equity building. That’s even without considering the legends. The likes of Dj Adrian who keeps representin’ or Dj John Rabar who built the behemoth Homeboys Entertainment.

A young footballer has the path of Victor Wanyama to emulate. A rugby head has IRB 7’s circuit star, Collins Injera to idolize. And so on. What’s crazy is that these guys, the Kamjos, Injeras etc, are still redefining their fields. We therefore can only expect them to push the bar higher, their work inspiring young upstarts.

Throw Back

Because these legends are still active, young guys coming through can still reach out to them. As a result, the upstarts can learn and emerge on the other side with gems that make today bearable and tomorrow a dream. In sync with this spirit of the times, the groovy R& B sound of Mayonde & Stonee Jiwe’s Nairobi takes us back to early to mid 1990’s Nairobi. A time when R& B, Reggae and Hip Hop ruled the streets.

Early 90’s Nairobi was a time much like now when Kenya’s capital was discovering itself. Then, Kenyan cultures melted to form bridges, most notably sheng, as rural to urban migration ebbed on. The search for opportunity in the city made Kenya’s eastern cultures meet western cultures. Coastal cultures blend with those of the mountains, valleys and lake regions. So on and forth.

Today, thanks to the digital age and Nairobi’s continued rise to prominence as a cosmopolitan international city, cultures again mix. This time though the blend consists of urban and rural Kenyan cultures on one side. On the other side is a beautiful cocktail. An enriching blend of alien cultures ones both African and from without the mother continent. Today we have Nigerians, Ugandans, Ethiopians, South Sudanese, Brazilians, Chinese etc; thus begetting us a beautiful tapestry.

Now go on and enjoy Nairobi city…. will you?

VIDEO: Nairobi’s Locked Kiss With Wildlife + INFO On How To Get Involved In Conserving Nairobi National Park

Nairobi begun as an outpost along the railway connecting the Kenyan Coast, Mombasa, and the hinterland of the then British Protectorate of East Africa. 1900 was the year. Mile 318 what was it was originally called. Away from the man eaters of Tsavo and awash with cool water from its many springs, it was just too perfect an area both for man, and the beasts of the African Savannah. As the city outgrew the outpost, in 1946 an area next to it was demarcated. Part of the Athi-Kapiti ecosystem, it measured 117.2 square kilometers. To date, wildlife roam free in the Nairobi National Park.

The story of a land, of a people through the eyes of their son – City Moran. A Video of the magic of Kenya’s capitol, Nairobi.

Today, Nairobi stands tall as East Africa’s economic engine. The City within a game park it has been called. Or is the converse more accurate? I wonder. Either way, the tensions between Nairobi’s ambitions as a modern metropolis in the 21st century struggling with traffic and congestion; and the desire to maintain the integrity of the park continue to balloon.

The fight to protect the heritage of Nairobi National Park as a sanctuary for both man and beast is ever getting more volatile. The following text highlights some of the recent flashpoints in the history of this tug of war. Moreover, we lead you to how you can get involved in the fight to save the Nairobi National Park. Further, we supply details on the bio of organizations involved in this conservation fight. We also have included ways in how to contact the groups in question if you desire to get your skin in the game.

Under Threat: The Nairobi National Park

There’s an AFP report in The Guardian titled: Kenya’s iconic Nairobi national park is under threat, conservationists warn. The report succinctly captures what lies at the heart of the pressure on the park that kisses the city:

Like countries across the continent, Kenya is weighing the difficult balance between conservation and development.The century-old colonial railway yard is now a traffic-clogged major city growing at breakneck speeds

the Guardian

The SGR Question

Nairobi based, US and Kenya registered non-profit wildlife conservancy group WildlifeDirect in a blog post raise their opposition to this major infrastructure project. In the post, the standard gauge railway fronted by the government as key to Kenya’s social and economic goals, is under the spotlight as a threat to the Nairobi National Park.

In recent years, the park has come under increasing threat from uncontrolled development around its boundaries. Now the government is proposing to route the New Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) link from Nairobi to Mombasa right through the middle of the Park. The proposal has alarmed lovers of nature and wildlife in Kenya and around the world. The SGR would cut the Park in two and impede wildlife movements. It would destroy forever the tranquillity that makes the Park so valuable as a refuge from the frenetic pace and stress of urban life.

WildlifeDirect
two rhinos in the Nairobi National Park with the city skyline visible in the background
The rhino, classified as vulnerable species, is part of the Big Five. Image by Alex Strachan from Pixabay

The Question Over A Bridge Over Nairobi National Park

TripAdvisor user, Samuel J, in a review of the world famous park mourns the ruin set to befall this beloved treasure. He dismissed the notion that the proposed ‘bridge’ over wildlife will blend into the surroundings.

There is now a plan to construct a railway bridge across the Park which those of us who love the place are most upset about. The bridge itself will become part of the landscape but the continuing erosion of this priceless asset is an erosion of a National Treasure

Samuel J.

Pollution, Poaching, Fences & The Park

Jason Patinkin, writing for The Rockefeller Foundation Informal City Dialogues, elucidates other threats to the Nairobi National park:

Unplanned urban sprawl isn’t the only threat to the park. There is a constant threat of poaching—a rhino was killed for its horn just two weeks ago—and Palmeris says recent years have seen massive flooding that has hurt wildlife and vegetation; the floods are the result of paving over wetlands and green space in Nairobi, causing rainwater to rush into the lowland reserve. And the construction of a leather tanning factory just a few feet from the park fence in the southeastern corner has caused so much pollution that the Kenya Wildlife Service had to close a tourist entrance there a few years ago. The fumes from the tannery, Achieng (KWS game warder whose name has been altered) said, were so corrosive they had to replace the metal roof of the ranger station once a year

Jason Patinkin

Is A Buffer Zone The Solution?

Gayling May, chairman of Nairobi Greenline Trust, writing in a local daily, offers a sustainable solution. May acknowledges the inevitable changes that the park that envelopes one end of the city is set to undergo. Moreover, May argues that all is not lost even as the 21st century catches up on Nairobi:

The park offers economic gains, something the government wants to uphold through tourism . The public must come together to protect the future of this park, currently under siege, and request that an alternative route for SGR be considered. The Nairobi Greenline has been working with like-minded partners to create a buffer zone within the park to protect the it from encroachment. Within the forest, the Nairobi Greenline has marked selected scenic sections to create picnic sites. These sites will serve people walking and riding on the walking/jogging trail.

Gayling May
a giraffe in Nairobi National Park on a hot sunny day with the city skyline in the background
Girrafe taller than Times Tower, the second tallest building in Nairobi CBD, is one of the most iconic photographs that tells the story of Nairobi as the City with a National Park next door. Image/ The original uploader was Mkimemia at English Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Bios Of Lead Conservancy Organizations In Efforts To Save The Nairobi National Park

WildlifeDirect

Information from its official website describes WildlifeDirect as follows: Previously the Africa Conservation Fund, it was founded in 2004 by the prominent Kenyan conservationist and paleoanthropologist, Dr. Richard Leakey, and former World Bank Representative to Kenya, Harold Wackman.

WildlifeDirect’s Mission is: Changing hearts, minds and laws to ensure Africa’s critical species endure forever. It’s website lists various ways that anyone joining them to realize this mission can take action. These include: making a donation, shopping to support, participate in planned activities and joining the movement. You can contact them here.

Nairobi Greenline Trust

Information from its official website describes Nairobi Greenline Trust as follows: Nairobi GreenLine was launched on 18th February 2010. The project was an initiative of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other corporate organizations. You can contact them here.

Kenya Wildlife Service

According to its website, KWS conserves and manages Kenya’s wildlife for the Kenyan people and the world. KWS is a state corporation that was established by an Act of Parliament (Cap 376). That act is now repealed by WCMA (2013). Today, KWS has the mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya, and to enforce related laws and regulations.

The KWS website is a wonderful resource on Kenya’s Wildlife protected areas and natural sanctuaries. Moreover, all the laws governing the conservation of wildlife can be found there. You can contact KWS here.

Nairobi Up Close: Love, Sex & The City

We delve into the silent whispers in the city, fleshing out how identity politics and institutions have a say on your having a good time. This is Nairobi up close.


From the time audiences met HBO’s Sex and the City, it became the automatic choice for pop culture references on expressions of sexuality in urban settings. While it is true that Nairobi might have been a few corners back on most of the brave discussions on sex explored in SATC; later date productions, notably, MTV’s “Shuga” which introduced Lupita Nyong’o to Africa tell of a city bravely confronting sex as a taboo.

This installment of our series on a portrait of Nairobi through music, that we’ve titled Nairobi up close, reviews Kenyan songs on love, sex and the city. It is centered on Kenyan music that push the envelope on this often emotive conversation.

Picture an image silhouette of a woman lying on her back, legs crossed and breasts cupped in her hands. The woman we talk of has assumed a deliberate pose that screams seduction. While the photographer ensure that the way the light falls on her like an invisible piece of lingerie, reveals just enough. The result of which is an artistic tasteful play on voyeuristic vulgarity, subtle animalistic references to sex, sensuality and shyness. So is the enchanting story of love and sex in Nairobi.

NAIROBI UP CLOSE IS: Careless Whispers, Hardened Positions

Sexuality in Nairobi is a delicate balance of the whispers within and without. This delicate balance whose bounderies are constantly breached is especially so because Nairobi serves as the seat to a world of institutions. Therefore, the asphyxiating choke hold of these institutions on sexual identities and expressions cannot be missed. That institutions exert a high degree of control over sexual identities and expressions is a well explored thought with sufficient credibility. Thanks to this conflict between individualism and institutionalism, Nairobi up close is dark and twisted.

This is a city where downtown, teenagers have been arrested for filming porn in a public park right in the heart of the city. It is a city that up the hill, several female legislators desperately battle accusations of sacrilegious relationship with a lad (emphasis on singularity) young enough to be their son.

A city where guides on how to bag sponsors ( rich benefactors purveyors of transactional sex ) are splashed out on national dailies. Moreover, such talk does not die with newspapers as it is dissected at peak hours every other day on FM stations. A city fond of selective rediscovery of its morals. On one end, it is swift to ban a local take on a popular pro-LBGT song, Same Love.  On the other, government agencies unveil plans in glitzy ceremonies in the capital. Plans to help craft policies to cater for the health needs of gays. Policies that some critics reckon account for nothing beyond whoring for donor cash.

Context: Portrait of Nairobi – The Journey So Far

This essay on Nairobi up close, is part of a series that seeks to paint a portrait of Nairobi through music. To get here, we made a bet on Kenyan music; and it has proven its worth as guide to Nairobi beyond reviews on the best stays in East Africa’s financial capital. Our take on mainstream Kenyan music has yielded city guides better than glossy spreads on coffee tables in any Nairobi hotel lobby. Guides more practical than those infuriatingly out of touch in flight magazines.

Partaking Kenyan music has allowed us to understand the ‘Nairobi State of Mind‘. We have been able to showcase where & how to indulge in the Kenyan capital’s cultural tourism offerings. Moreover, the good music has also served as an apt backdrop to Nairobi’s claim for the title of East Africa’s party capital.

Given such ground covered, which better way then to add strokes to our portrait than caressing the form of the city’s bedroom persona through music? We begin this installment , Nairobi up close, with a love story set in the green city in the sun.

1.The Afro-Fusion Ballad ‘Nairobi’ By The Boy Band – Kaskazini

The YouTube bio describes the group, which I fear may have suffered the inevitable fate of boys bands: the fight to remain relevant, as:

Kenyan afro-fusion band formed in Nairobi by vocalists Eugene Ywaya, Israel Onyach and Chris Clave. They met in the prestigious Sauti Academy but were originally friends. In Sauti Academy they advanced their vocal techniques, song writing skills and music business knowledge and later graduated in April 2017. They are also taking music theory and music production classes at the Redfourth music Academy.

Nairobi by Kaskazini is love. Albeit jilted love. It takes the listener to the excruciating pain that follows a heartbreak. A heartbreak is a moments that when one is in the depths of, makes falling love in the city seem a stupidly insane act. Indeed, those times when a lover becomes a stranger, unsurprisingly, invariably kills the joy in life, even if just for a fleeting moment. Be it in Accra, Jakarta, Nairobi or wherever it be. As the story in Kaskazini reminds us, we a left to pick the pieces and that cuts deep. Still, nursing a heartbreak in the city feels like the most cruel experience thanks to the uniqueness of life there.

Nairobi Desperate Lives

The palpable desperateness in the cry of the protagonist in Nairobi by Kaskazini, reminds us that in the city, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Nairobi, the shame, regret, relief and spectrum of other realities that the dejected lover may have pursed over the love gone bad mocks the victim relentlessly.

Cry a river if you will. Not even the possibility of the highs of liaisons when on the rebound tempers the hurt. The Kakazini duo implore that the faster life is in a city, the harder these pangs of pain ride. For the jab to your heart seems to dance with the neon signs, flashes with city lights and throbs to the rhythm of the heartbeat of the city. So much so that it is not uncommon to hate the city, your home. This is the state that we meet the protagonist in Nairobi  by Kaskazini.

For a dude, as it is implied the protagonist is, this may mean being overwhelmed by a debilitating doubt in your dating game. As a result, it becomes a case of double tragedy as the sadness consumes you. For the protagonist in Nairobi, the words of a famous Boyz To Men ballad, “love pass you by”, flesh out. In the lyric scanty, Kaskazini melodious ballad, the protagonist is caught in the trap of holding on to the memory of the one who got away. Sadly, they elect to wait. Moreover, the protagonist beseechingly mourns as he waits. Naively, they profess that their resolve is stronger than the tempting ways of the city.

2. Kairetu Ka Nairofi  by Cartel, Alfayo & Gathee wa Njeri

Kairetu, damsel/girl, is a Kikuyu word that made it mainstream. In the evolution of Sheng, Kairetu has won as it has successfully integrated into the ever expanding dictionary of Nairobi’s street lingo – Sheng. “Nairofi” is the Kikuyu-nised pronunciation of Nairobi. ”Ka” is simply the Kikuyu take on how the Bantu express the preposition ”of ”. The song’s YouTube description reads as follows:

Kairetu Ka Nairofi  a song that celebrates the beauty of Nairobi and the Kenyan woman is one of the release that Cartel and Alfayo Miguel of Katenga are working on in their soon to be released Album . The song is a Mixture of Mugithi, Benga base and Katenga style drums. It’s a track will will definitely take you to the dance floor and keep you singing along. They have featured Mugithi Artist , Gathee Wa Njeri who did the Guitar and the chorus.

The tune and beat of Kairetu Ka Nairofi is Mugithi through and through. It is pop Kikuyu music all the way. This is to emphasise that it is not entirely an unexpected happenstance given the songs title. But the gem of this song on Nairobi up close and personal is in the rap. Done in a Dholuo accent and grounded on Luo stereotypes, the intention here by Cartel, Alfayo & Gathee we Njeri  was for ‘shock value’.

Nairobi Up Close: Politics and Sex

This quality embodied by Nairofi: disrupting the monotony of life, is an integral ingredient of pop music. Only that this time, the trios artistic exploits get to the the heart of a phenomenon that dictates, as much as it upsets, the expression of love and sex in Kenya’s capital.

Identity politics, specifically ethnocentric mobilization, rule Kenya’s public affairs. In a country with a history of ethnic flareups during political high season, the influence of the institution of politics on love and sex in the city of Nairobi has to be pursed to get Nairobi up close. The protagonists in Nairofi fan this senseless contest of tribal egoism by remaining true to a dichotomy of Kenyan society: pro-Luo or pro-Kikuyu.

Nairobi Up Close: Sexual Identity in Nairobi

Luo and Kikuyu, are two dominant (not the only ones) tribes of the forty plus ethnic tribes that make up Kenya. The two feature prominently in any socio-cultural discussion in Kenya. This is because their myopic rivalry for political power defines everything in Kenya.

The roots of this fallacy lie in Luo-Kikuyu privilege in post colonial Kenya. From the narrative on Kenya’s independence struggle to this exploration of sexual identity and expressionism in 21st century Kenya, this yoke holds. It dictates a host of disenfranchising ethnic narratives that are under currents defining sexual identity and expression in the city.  Sample these ones:

Luo Men Are The Most Romantic

So goes the stereotype. This statement is in fact a euphemism for perceived phallic envy by ethnic groups east of the Great Rift Valley. Envy of lake basin tribes that is continually entrenched by contemporary ethnic stereotyping infused into comedy, radio, Tv and other vehicles of popular culture. Urban legend is that Western studs are the most endowed. Not only that, but with a libido to boost.

As a consequence, in Nazi-esque propaganda, as a rule, Western Men (Luo as surrogates here) are better warned (through tools of social engineering in African culture, notably oral literature) of liaisons with Eastern women (Kikuyus bear the burden of surrogacy here.).

Kikuyu Women Are Femme Fatale

Allow me to wrap up this issue with this statement: If we take Kikuyu privilege as a social phenomenon, then we have to correctly label the stereotypes laden on Kikuyu women. Stereotypes are just another manifestation of the excess of patriarchy. This time it victimizes  in an attempt at getting back on perceived beneficiaries of a complex social phenomenon.

For more examples of ethnic stereotypes shaping love and sex in Nairobi, read this article published in a Woman’s pullout magazine of a leading local daily: Marry Women From These Clans At Your Own Risk .

3. Kenyan Girl Kenyan Boy by Necessary Noize- Wyre& Nazizi

For all the bad tales of sexual harassment in matatus, Kenyan Girl, Kenyan Boy reminds us that there are happily ever after endings too. I dare say every Nairobian has had a thing in a matatu. Caught up in the infamous Nairobi Traffic a guy/girl has got to try. Why not ? In this song of Nairobi up close,  Necessary Noise offer a version of a likely encounter with the Kenyan music classic: Kenyan Girl Kenyan Boy.

Nairobi Girls Got Game

Nazizi, pioneer Kenyan female rapper drops this verse:

Nilikutana na yeye nikipanda 23 
Kwenye bus stop akinicheki secretly
Jamaa was so fly yo karibu mi nibleki
Akapanda mathree karibu nami kaketi.
Immediately sikungoja sikusleki Nikajidai excuse me unafegi
Got his attention sasa poa mambo deadly Niaje chali vipi unaitwa nani? Mi naitwa Nazareth na buru ndio mataani
Where are you going to?
Unashuka upande gani?
And if you don't mind twende roundi mataani
I like the way you smell hiyo ni Cologne gani?
Umenibaba style nyingine deadly yani
Unapenda reggae nina collection nyumbani
Tumefika kuja piga left hapa njiani
Have some of that tuongee mambo flani (mambo flani).

In those rhymes, she answers many questions to the affirmative: Can a Nairobi girl ask a guy out? Is she liberated to make choices – like pick a man she fancies? In control enough to ask for what she wants, say a cigarette – ignoring all the perils of the habit? What kind of man does she want ? Seems like smelling good will get you places dating this side of the Sahara. Maybe this verse also serves as an inkling for well groomed men by Nairobi women. More importantly though is that this verse should be seen as a seminal point in the feminist movement in Kenya.

Feminism, Love & A Nairobi Female Pop Icon

For many reasons Nazizi’s vibe occupies this hallowed spot. Some of its stock is elucidated in the rhetoric questions that we’ve asked above. Mostly though it’s because of the person who utters the words. And it is simply not because Nazizi is a household name in East Africa by the time the song comes out. Or the fact that she portrays an assured, independent demeanor, but in the way she owns the feminist agenda. Writing for The Guardian, Nancy Fraser distills the noble roots of feminism as movement that promised:

a new form of liberalism, able to grant women as well as men the goods of individual autonomy, increased choice, and meritocratic advancement

Nairobi Up Close: Keeping It On The Down Low

For all its rich history, Nairobi never has really been a Graffiti city. I’d equate this Ogopa Djs production to a subluminal piece that sought for street art’s place in Nairobi’s then nascent hip hop culture scene. In the then pioneering music video, vibrant portrayals of graffiti art serve as the backdrop of a uniquely Nairobi love story. Here graffiti is beyond an ode to matatu culture, serving to embody Nairobi’s younger generations defiance of prescribed sexuality.

That said, non-mainstream sexual expressionism and identities are hush hush in Nairobi. Indeed, most are illegal in Kenya. But that doesn’t stop Nairobi from offering an array of treats that can satisfy any fetish, thirst or kinks. You won’t find spots openly advertising as Gentlemen clubs here. But by any other pseudonym, operating on the thin margins of legality, they light up the city, going by such harmless tags as Bars & Restaurants with “shows”.

Others  go by the names of exquisite globally known sex tourism locales. Then there are houses in posh neighborhoods serving as ‘massage parlours’ and ‘private party’ members only establishments. Pretty much everything is served, you just need to find the way to those corners.

4. Moto Moto by French Boy & Ray C

The YouTube description calls out this evergreen hit as having a ” good feel of out door Nairobi inter twinned with the 2 musicians having a musical conversation.” It is the songs conversation bit that brings Nairobi up close. This could as well be a simple boy meets girl thing. Only that the girl is the sexy Tanzanian songbird Ray C. Going by this, it could be a story of exotic passion as we are made to believe cross-cultural relationships are. But really it is an ode to the smooth ways of Nairobian boys and by extension, the charm of Nairobi as a love spot. A city of love not in the romantic ways of Paris, but in more hot, hot ways, as the song’s title announces.

Moto moto is a night out in Nairobi. It is how city flashing lights can ignite sparks of passion. Guaranteed, in Nairobi, you will dance, get high and fall in love. Any day of the week, all year long. Almost any time of the day. That is if you know the right spots as day time drinking is largely Nairobi is illegal. It is not Spring Break crazy. Rather more Party and Bullshit in the Rita Ora sense. Kenyan group (Sauti Sol) whose music we feature in another installment of this musical take on Nairobi offers a clue in the ballad Isabella :

Hey Isabella are you gonna come out and dance with me tonight
The stars look beautiful outside, so so beautiful
Tell your mama I said sorry I didn't bring you home early last time
And I was a little tipsy I know she doesn't miss me
So put on those shoes that I like and we'll go and dance the night away away
[Chorus]
Because YOLO YOLO (you only live once) so, and me I wanna have some fun vunja mifupa kama meno iko, up and away we go, and spend all my money on you baby 'cause I can't take it with me when I'm dead
So tonight, tonight we are young, high and in love

5. Nyakadem’s Take on Nairobi Up Close – Nya Nairobi

Once again, the bio on our chosen portal for this trove of music on Nairobi has this on Nyakadem’s take on Nairobi up close: Taken off Makadem’s CD OHANGLAMAN. It’s a song in praise of the daughter(s) of Nairobi.

“Nya” is the Luo equivalent of  the Bantu preposition of “Ka” particularly when in reference to the geographical origins of a woman. It is interesting to note that unlike the Cartel, Alfayo and Gathee wa Njeri  song, there is no Luo-nisation of the word Nairobi. Could be simply thanks to geographical constructs. But there is no denying the deliberate pick of the woman lead in the music video.

Cartel and co. went for the quintessential Nairobi woman of the night/ Slay Queen /party animal. Need I say she is stereotyped as Kikuyu? Nyakadem goes for the other stereotype: Western women. The surrogate here is the lead woman with Nilotic features – possibly Luo. She is fortuitously portrayed as ‘unsullied’ by city life. So much so that the courting game involves a would be suitor playfully chasing her round. A chase designed to reincarnate encounters in romance novels.

Cartel & Co. are doing pop while Nyakadem is one of the capital’s most accomplished Afro-fusion artistes. His internationally acclaimed music is heavy on ethnic influences. This stylistic ocean could explain the differences so brought out here.

Still, does this song tell of a forgotten facet of relationships in Nairobi ? Spice is the flavor of life so they say. And Nyakadem shows us that Nairobi up close is definitely not a bland city.

6. And If Just Want To Have Some Fun, Manzi wa Nairobi By Nonini & Sylvia Spells The Possibilities

Now this song. This song taught us to dare. The visuals, believe it or not were radical at the time of its release. The message, well, the so called ‘militant feminists’ wouldn’t take to it too well. Nonetheless, the song’s lyrics also play on the ethnic stereotypes that we’ve tackled on here in our attempt at getting Nairobi up close.

It appears like all intents were for a song that sing praises to the voluptuous beauty of the Nairobi women. However, it ended up pronouncing the arrival of a sexual revolution whose main streak was sexual liberalism we see today in Nairobi.  The protagonist sings of his escapades with Nairobi women of different ethnic extractions, doing well to highlight ethnic stereotypes.

Manzi (old school sheng for girl) wa ( Swahili variant of the Bantu preposition ‘of’ ) Nairobi is a nice place to start learning Sheng. Sheng can’t be said to be the language of love in Nairobi. But anyone planning to visit Nairobi for a bit of fun would do themselves a whole lot of good picking up a few words. That is, if they desire to get up close and personal.

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 Aljazeera.com 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 Aljazeera.com 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 .

Chique

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

Popjustice

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.

Eastleigh Nairobi As Told By A Born Nairobian: Through The 90’s, Crime, Piracy and Emergence As Shopping District

Contemporary conjecture on the piracy-industrial-complex, the Somalia question and the culture of the Kenyan capital, implores that taking a walk through Eastleigh Nairobi would be of great benefit. In our attempts at testing this theory, we sought the help of a born and bred Nairobian. Together, we traced the metamorphosis of this address of Nairobi city through its defining periods.


Eastleigh is a neighborhood east of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. As it follows, like in most other cities in the world, the east end of Nairobi is home to the working masses of the city. As a rule therefore, this part of the city is less leafier. Its spaces more tight; the air thicker with all the scents of sardined humans. Predictably too, the inhabitants of these parts happen to have just enough of all types of green to barely get by.

ABOUT EASTLEIGH, A SYNOPSIS

We Nairobians love to joke that if you happen to reside somewhere to the east of the city, you are a city dweller. City residents – those with keys to Nairobi city – enjoy their habitation at addresses mostly situated in the west, south west, north and north west of the city. The implications of this class divide holds true for most parts of the everyday narrative on Eastleigh Nairobi. However, this misunderstood NBO neighborhood in more ways than one often tears up the rule book.

That said, lets start with the expected. Like, how well Eastleigh, or Esich, fits these everyday narratives. A lot it is, what is said, I must admit. Because, in truth, even for us Nairobians, the first question we silently ask ourselves every time a foray to this part of the city pops up is: How safe will I be?

A clothes store in Eastleigh, Nairobi, Kenya
Today, Eastleigh Nairobi Kenya is defined as the go-to shopping district. It’s streets are lined by numerous clothes and apparel stores. Image| Courtesy

EASTLEIGH NAIROBI: TOO GANGSTER FOR A RAP SONG

Beyond the obvious assumptions based on cliches of socioeconomic profiles of city neighborhoods, Eastleigh is special. This is because unlike other Nairobi suburbs: Githurai (Githu), Kibra (namba nane), Kayole (Oyole), or Dandora (D), Eastleigh is one of those rare hip neighborhoods – anywhere in the world – that a rap song hasn’t been made yet.

So gangster a stay it is that the rule ‘ What happens there stays there’, applies to Eastleigh in a unique way. So unique that even mainstream Kenyan Hip Hop artists dare not rap about. While it’s true that there have been the catchy tunes by Genge artists of the Calif Records stable about the Eastleigh neighborhood of California, to date there are no rappers claiming to run the streets of Eastleigh, Eastleigh.

Going by recent news reports, that claim (of running the streets) is apparently a tussle that involves a Ahmed Rashid. Ahmed Rashid is a vigilante the batman cop. His nemesis are the Gaza and SuperPower gangs of Eastleigh Nairobi.

Kalashnikov, Pradah and Micheal Kloss

Beyond these street gangs, it’s an open secret that the necks of the hood of Eastleigh Nairobi are home to some of the city’s rats and vermin. Human and otherwise. Within the Kenyan capital, it’s contemporary knowledge that Eastleigh’s nooks and crannies nurse what is arguably east Africa’s foremost black market economy. Down there, if you happen to know somebody who knows somebody, parting with a few shillings gets you the whole shebang.

From counterfeit Italian leather shoes to the real deal. I’m talking of knock offs that feel and look just as good as the originals. Then there is the other ‘real deal’. Here I talk of the all time Russian invention, not Vodka, but the Kalashnikov. Yes, that much firepower goes for a song in these parts. And as legend goes, the four-seven can come in a package that includes a ‘operator’. Of course, once again, depending on your needs.

But it has not always been this way. Barely half a century ago, Eastleigh Nairobi had a different charm.

POST INDEPENDENCE EASTLEIGH: HOME TO NAIROBI’S NOUVEAU RICHE

The 21st century Eastleigh that you see today: plastic bag littered, hawkers everywhere, throngs of shoppers and other ingredients that make up eight streets, in parallel, of chaos; only serves to remind us of a today quite detached from a glorious past.

Eastleigh in England is more of like my father's memories of Nairobi's Eastleigh
The well planned, clean, paved streets of England’s Eastleigh.We 21st century residents of Nairobi’s Eastleigh can only dream of. But it was not always that way my father insists. Image | Courtesy

Engage any body your father’s age and they will, with nostalgia,  regale about the second, third and fourth looks of envy that came by whenever they met up a former village mate for a drink and during the usual tête-à-tête, reveal to the village mate that their home address as: plot no xyz 3rd Street Eastleigh.

Envy is it? Well, that was post independence Eastleigh. Then, it was one of Nairobi’s most wanted addresses. Its streets were paved, streetlights lined and garbage free. And guess what? all that glam living was barely a 5 minutes drive from Nairobi’s central business district. What’s more? Eastleigh was one of the few neighborhoods that enjoyed scheduled city bus services.

As per its Wikipedia page, in the 1960’s Eastleigh was home to the educated few indigenous Africans and Asians earning a living as government clerks and dukawallas in downtown Nairobi. Going by this description, given the times, it was a proper upper middle class estate I must add that heading further back to the colonial period,the reputation of Eastleigh is rather solid.

WHERE IT ALL BEGUN: COLONIAL EASTLEIGH

Notwithstanding, in pre-independence Kenya, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Eastleigh was home to the country’s foremost airport- now Moi Air base Eastleigh. The only airport serving the colonies, it was also home to The Royal Air Force.

Even the queen would land there in her visits to her colony. I imagine that by all means, the governor must have pulled all stops  to put their best foot forward. Because it would have not been wise for him to irk the queen with an upsetting frontage of her colony on arrival.

Little wonder then that the inspiration behind the naming of this Neighborhood in the Kenyan capital was this town in England (see picture above). Consider that the then sewage free Mathare river – a tributary of the Nairobi river – ebbed by in close proximity. More importantly it flowed away from Eastleight carrying downstream all the pollution. With that in mind, you kind of get the ambition city planners had with Nairobi’s Eastleigh. However, by the 1990’s this vision was all but just a blur thanks to murk and dirt.

1990’s EASTLEIGH: THE GARRISA LODGE ERA

First off, this is the Eastleigh that I know. Needless to add, the 90’s must be the worst for Eastleigh Nairobi. In keeping with our roots there (my father having started our family there just after independence) my family still attended church in Eastleigh. I remember that after church, my brother and I would go window shop in Garrisa lodge and ogle at counterfeit Calvin Klein, Fubu and Nike’s.

Inside a shop in Nairobi's Eastleigh
A woman sells clothes items and ‘designer’ perfumes in a shop in Eastleigh. Image | Courtesy

The fact that by the 1990’s , our middle class family had been forced to move; informs us that Eastleigh was no longer the family friendly neighborhood of my father’s time.

By then, garbage blocked street drains resulting in sewage water filling the streets. So gangster it had become that even my pedigree ass born and bred in East of Nairobi city couldn’t make do in Eastleigh’s neck of the woods.

Further, the roads leading to and within Eastleigh were in the worst shape in Nairobi. In fact, it is better to say that there were no roads; but rather gaping craters filled with sewage water.

Matatus

Moreover, it seemed everything had gone south. Even the culture seemed to suffer. So much so that try as they did, Eastleigh’s matatus couldn’t hold a candle to their peers. This was despite the heavier investment by the Somali community keen to have a pie of Nairobi’s booming transport sector. As it were, the potholed Juja road simply pulled their investment, the matatus, apart.

Editor- In -Chief’s Note: We must point out that any blanket profiling of a people is unfortunate. Not all Somalis in Nairobi are refugees/ illegal immigrants. Similarly, being wealthy and Somali is not implicit to piracy in the high seas or other forms of black market trade. Nonetheless to date, Kenyan Somalis still carry the burden of this tag. A burden that infringes on their basic rights. To the extent that the acquisition of critical documentation like national identity cards for Kenyan Somali is fraught with road blocks. This in effect denies Kenyan Somalis the opportunity to engage in meaningful socio-economic activity.

LITTLE MOGADISHU

The 1990’s Eastleigh, was a small Somali in many regards. To us born and bred in Nairobi, the infusion of Somali culture into a corner of Nairobi was palpable. This happened as hitherto unheard of culinary delights like butcheries selling camel meat and milk mushroomed.

Growing up then was lots of fun. For us kids, we couldn’t understand the tensions between the adults. For us the cultural melting pot that was Eastleigh made it possible for us to  enjoy sun-dried dates and other delights for the first time in our lives during Idd.

With our Somali friends as guides, we would save up to take round trips in Eastleigh matatus listening to loud music. The next Saturday, we would return the favor, hosting our friends in our home route matatus.  As we did boys stuff, our sisters sneaked from the watchful eyes of the parents to have henna Mehndi. Needless to say, as we did kids stuff, the older kids experimented with Khat.

Sadly so, as the years went by, the chaos on Eastleigh streets spoke less of its emergence as a satellite city of Nairobi. Increasingly, this part of Nairobi has drawn unfair comparisons with the dire Somalia situation. This was because the long drawn conflict through the 1990’s marked a period when a majority immigrants from Somali integrated into Nairobi. Both via legal and dubious means.

EASTLEIGH’S DOWNFALL: THE MICROCOSM OF NAIROBI’S DECAY FROM THE LOFTY PATCH OF BEING CALLED ‘THE GREEN CITY IN THE SUN’.

Moreover, the decay of Eastleigh from the 90’s ownwards  presents a case study of similar happenings to many pristine neighborhoods in immediate post colonial Nairobi.

However much the decay of Easleigh, it is nothing like the tin-roofed shanties of Kibera
Kibra the most famous of all monuments of Nairobi’s decline from the green city in the sun. Image | Par Valter Campanato/ABr

A fate similar to that of Eastleigh would come to also befall the likes of neighboring Kariokor, Umoja  and Ngara estates. These estates or neighborhoods were decent middle class abodes in the 80’s. So what happened? For all the theories out there, in our eyes, the trigger event for this decay was the exponential swelling of Nairobi’s population over the 90’s.

This population event had many contributing factors. History informs us that the Black Swan event must have been the increase in rural to urban migration. People were being pushed (and pulled into the cities) from the villages by changes brought about by far-reaching macro economic breakdown.

In addition, outside the macro economic shocks, Kenya’s economy was in dire state following years of mismanagement and corruption (Read: Goldenberg ). The Brenton Woods backed Structural  Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in the early 90’s that ushered the macro economic environment responsible for Nairobi’s decay were just the final nail on the coffin.

Cumulatively over the years, these socio-economic changes have altered Nairobi’s portrait for good. The situation in Eastleigh is merely evidence of the transformation from Nairobi to Nairobbery.

To understand what we mean by Nairobbery, we have to unpack 21st Century Eastleigh. For us to have any success in this quest, we have to attempt to answer the Eastleigh-Piracy-Somali question.

SOMALI PIRATES AND EASTLEIGH: IN SEARCH OF THE TRUTH

I’m not aware if British political writer Johann Hari has had a taste of the Eastleigh experience. Nonetheless the openly social democrat leaning author whose works are syndicated in The Guardian and The Huffington post, holds strong views that attempt to explain Eastleigh Nairobi in the context of a wider Piracy-Terrorism-Industrial complex.

Eastleigh in Nairobi, Kenya has often been termed as the layring epicenter for Somali piracy spoils.
Representation of the threat of Somali Piracy during the height of this form of terrorism in 2010. Image | By Planemad [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Before we dismiss Hari’s views as just Muzungu talk, we offer that Hari is a guy with credentials. In 2007, Amnesty International feted him for his account of the Congo war. Besides, he is the youngest recipient of Britain’s highest writing award in political writing: The George Orwell award.

Given such credentials, we sit up when he explains the piracy problem off the Gulf of Aden in one word: Enterprise.

Is Piracy is a Vocation or a Vice?

Johann Hari’s argues in his Huffington Post article ‘You are being lied to about Pirates’,  that the concept of pirates and piracy is a hoax. The British government concocted this lie in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in order to protect the status quo.

The British government purposely spread propaganda so as to suppress free thought. Resistance to this government action manifested as rebel seamen who revolted against the oppressive labor practices at sea (then the norm). These rebel seamen advocating for and practiced a humane and democratic order.

Johann Hari cites work from historian Marcus Rediker’s ‘Villains of all nations’ to support his  arguments.

Leaning on Rediker’s scholarly acumen, Hari portrays pirates as an oppressed people. He contends that pirates act out of circumstances that are none of their own making. In doing so and in lieu of the fact that they are almost always fighting a larger unjust force, pirates opt for unorthodox means in their fight for justice.

Building on this argument, Hari disputes the commonly held view that pirates are nothing but savage thieves. Finally, he goes on to contextualize 21st century piracy off the Gulf of Aden in this world view.

In his eyes, the actions of Somali pirates are akin to the working of a rag-tag coast guard. This ill equipped coast guard acts to protect Somalia’s coast by levying a fee similar to a tax. The fee is largely in the form of ransom money.

All things are connected, Evil begets evil

This tax is meant to compensate for a situation born of the longstanding war that has ravaged Somalia since the early 1990’s. In addition, the selfish acts of rich, irresponsible Western nations taking advantage of this turmoil are to blame.

For example, these Western nations continue to use Somalia’s coast as dumping ground for  toxic nuclear wastes. Worse still, western nations own sophisticated trawlers that over-fish Somali waters. The combination of toxic waste and over fishing depletes an important source of food for Somalis.

Think tank Geopolicity estimates Somali pirates have cost the international community $ 8.3bn per annum in trade loss and increased business costs. On a personal level, Geopolicity estimates that a Somali pirate earns on average $80,000 a year.

Hari’s account of the washing up of barrels of toxic wastes after the 2005 tsunami is shocking. It is reported that this resulted in deaths and sickness of Somali’s. Moreover, there is no telling the long-term residual effects.

Although it’s easy to dismiss Hari’s article as well written conspiracy theory, it highlights human rights issues worth exploring. Walking through 21st century Eastleigh, the paradox is clear. Here, in the midst of unfathomable industry balanced with chaos, dirt, crime and loud whispers of ‘money laundering’ an economy thrives. Given this, one is tempted to ask: What gives?

WELCOME TO 21ST CENTURY EASTLEIGH: NAIROBI’S BOOMING SATELLITE TOWN

Counterfeit goods, Eastleigh’s version of dreaded Nairobi traffic jams: the epic 1st avenue gridlock, dreadful sanitation and foci of diseases of low status is one half of the story of Nairobi Eastleigh of today. The other half of Eastleigh’s story is told by the huge clouds of dust generated as old residential houses done in Indian architecture are torn down to clear way for symbols of 21st century consumerism.

Somali owned Mall in Nairobi's Eastleigh
A mall in 2014 Eastleigh, Nairobi, Kenya .Image | Wikimedia Commons

There are the shiny, glass clad mega shopping malls stocked with apparel, electronic goods and whole range of household goods. Beyond that, the number of storied three star hotels fraternized by members of parliament from Somalia keeps rising. Further, on street corners there are sparkling banking halls peddling all sorts of Islamic financial products.

Given this transformation from suburbia to satellite town, a joke goes round that the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has relocated to Eastleigh. That construction is booming and land prices have sky rocketed is enough evidence to this claim. Armed with money from wherever, enterprising Somali business have outshone local businesses in most accounts. But still, even in this merry of plenty, questions linger on where all this big money is coming from.

PART ANSWER: Shopping In Nairobi’s Eastleigh, The Experience as I Remember It

I tell you, the enterprise of the Somali people is undoubted. They are astute businessmen and women who won’t let a customer leave their shops without striking a deal.

As a result, my shopping experience in Eastleigh is unlike any other in Nairobi. First, customer satisfaction is guaranteed as your hard-earned money gets its value*** in Eastleigh.

All this service is in spite of the obvious language barrier. It is an experience that will test accepted notions of sales and marketing for any student of business.

However, in spite of these obvious in- your- face-honest entrepreneurial skills, the Eastleigh enterprise continues to raise questions. Next time you are in Nairobi, try to listen in on the whispers in the streets, corridors of power and editorial rooms.

THE FIGHT FOR EASTLEIGH

Late March 2017 street battles in Eastleigh Nairobi between hawkers (largely bantu locals) and shop owners (largely Somalis) convinced us of the value of Eastleigh to Nairobi’s economy.

This latest battle for Eastleigh confirmed the hands of politics in most of the schisms that etch themselves in the continuing narrative on Nairobi. Then aspirants for Governor, Mike Sonko and Evans Kidero dug in throwing their weight behind the warring groups.

Mike Sonko appeared to advocate for the hawkers economic rights. While Governor Kidero agreed with shop owners. To the owners of Eastleigh capital, hawkers who displayed products on their shop fronts denied them business. In my mind, the activities of the hawkers mimic a DoSS attack.

With that one move deep seated divisions centered on race and economic rights bubbled to the surface. With such like local factors in play concerted international efforts that have seen a dramatic decline in piracy incidents off the Gulf of Eden, go to waste.

This is because even with the semblance of order, subtle hints that remind us the unsavory reputation of Eastleigh of the 1990’s stalk us. One only need to imbibe media reports coming out of Nairobi. Such as this one on voter registration material being found in the hands of non state agents in Eastleigh Nairobi. Such acts that border on subversims remind us that with Eastleigh, we are never so far off the cliff.

*** The keyword is value. Also note that value is a subjective notion.

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!


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