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DSC00132DSC00138When in Stockholm, make sure you visit Old Town (Gamla Stan) – Stockholm’s original city centre nestled in the islands of Stadsholmen and islets of Riddarholmen, Helgeandsholmen and Strömsborg. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve been to since I can remember. On our way to the Old Town, we meet a super cute Just Married couple taking a stroll. I think I want to do it this way when I get married.

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From the cobbled streets, tiny alleyways, old big doors like Zanzibar’s – I loved Old Town! Most of the walls are partitioned in two colours – mustard and coal. Most of the stairs to the tiny apartments and houses here are made of wood. The town’s picturesque setting overlooking the waterfront reminds me of a scene from Dirty Dancing. Wasn’t Patrick Swayze’s house by the beach? There is a piece of graffiti in Old Town – a paradox of sorts – rebellion smack in the middle of reserved history.

 

 

DSC00135 DSC00134Visiting Europe’s smallest theatre Dur & Moll located in Old Town is too cool. I understand that its space only accommodates about an audience of 17 and only one or two actors. Their website says, “Dur & Moll recently celebrated a very proud 15th anniversary. The theatre has been chosen to weave fantasy and fact in the historical environment to move the visitor in time through stage design, mask and attributes, and using ingenious solutions for sound, lighting and scene changes.”

 

DSC_1144The best part of Old Town is checking out Stockholm’s narrowest street: Mårten Trotzigs Gränd. The street was named after the famous German merchant who immigrated to Stockholm in 1581 and bought properties in the alley in 1500s. The 36-stepped alley is Stockholm’s most famous tourist attraction. I am with my host in Sweden – my dear friend Sylvia. She’s been going on and on about how I will love Old Town. Just as we are about to leave Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, a towering man approaches us, “Excuse me –do you know that this is the narrowest street in Stockholm?” We know.

BONUS: The Old Town dates from the 13th century but most of the buildings standing there today are from the 1700s an 1800s. The best part about it all is the fact that the government of Sweden restricts citizens from pimping the old town houses and buildings here.

 

I am not the one to dwell of negativity or rant all day and night. But when I don’t like something, I don’t – and I will speak, or write about it. I hate people who want to censor art, and other people’s art. Art to me – is not a piece of tangible art, or music, or words, or innovation but a far-fetched idea that lies beneath any expression. Art to me – is like the lone bird. It flies in whichever direction it deems and feels right, even though to others it may seem to be flying in the wrong direction. Art to me – is like a chameleon. Its camouflage can disguise and rub other people the wrong way, many times – especially if the colours you see aren’t the ones you love.

So how do we measure what’s right and wrong, what’s acceptable or not? What’s perfect or not? What’s a perfect world like? What’s offensive or not? True artists not only deserve to be respected for what they stand for, but they need their space respected. I recently allowed someone to censor my expression and my space, and thinking about it now – I am pissed me off that I allowed them to have a say over me and my expression. While other writers’ biggest worry is writer’s block, mine too is – but an even bigger worry for me is not to express myself or the fear of not writing my truth. If I don’t have inspiration it’s bad enough but for anyone to tell me how to feel and express myself is my worst. I let it happen once. God help me never allow it again.

— Roses.

yasiin bey 2-2Note to June – May was so uplifting, inspiring and awesome. I never thought that I’d one day meet the hip hop artist Yasiin Bey, let alone work with him and closely relate to him. Working as new PR Manager at Nairobi Rapsody (which in May hosted Yasiin Bey’s first showcase in East Africa) put me in direct contact with Yassiin as his Publicist while in Kenya.

First how wonderful would it be to see him in my country? I can’t wait. In official communication like press releases and emails, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def wants to be referred as Yasiin Bey – and I keep to that. About 36 hours before Yasiin’s first East African showcase, I have organised a press briefing for him and all the Kenyan hip hop acts set to showcase to engage with the media. However, he hasn’t made it in Kenya in time. Thankfully for his right hand woman and DJ – Samira Bin Sharifu (renowned writer, filmmaker, festival curator and DJ between Amsterdam and London) is present to represent his management.

Sharifa, whose got roots in Zanzibar, is enthusiastic to be back in East Africa. She is looking forward to her stay in Nairobi and tells Kenyan media that what is to expect of Yasiin “will all depend with how he feels when he gets here.” However, she explains to us that Yasiin gets a little crazy on stage and most times, “it’s not what you expect. He loves to dance, something not typical of most rappers.” This makes me even more curious to see him on stage now.

“Yasiin is an artist of feelings,” co – founder of Nairobi Rapsody says at the briefing. He’s told me this a couple of times as I prepare Yasiin’s media schedule in advance. I already know that I will roll with his flow when he arrives as I have planned a couple of interviews and appearances for him.

He’s happy to receive the Maasai shukas and Kenyan flag my friend Wanjeri and I have brought him. As soon as we get him to his hotel – Tribe, I request to take photos of him to post on Nairobi Rapsody Facebook Page to update anticipating fans. Yasiin is graceful enough to pose, after which he candidly tells me, “I don’t like taking pictures. Tell everyone that I am willing to do anything but not take pictures.” I immediately reckon that like anyone would have their unique preferences, Yasiin likes his space, and image protected. But there’s no way I am not in his first Kenyan selfie with him. “So can we at least take a selfie?” I have already held my phone up high. He doesn’t know much about me, still, but he kind of gets my twisted humour and gently holds my phone. “Aiiight … I’ma do it myself. What’s up with all these photos though?” he hands my phone back and wanders off into his executive suite, marvelling at the beautiful ambience.

Just that gesture of not wanting to take a selfie and wanting to be in control of the one he takes – tells me that Yasiin likes to control his portrayed. I am not surprised because we are living in a world of news made from Instagram posts; a world of people obsessing over numbers. It has always been wondrous to me what the world would be like if the internet suddenly disappeared. “Please tell everyone that I don’t like to take any pictures, it makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll do any other thing you’ve organized for me,” he tells me.

You might like my story for DStv Mos Def comes to Nairobi

Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?

In the continuation of the Yasiin series, look out for The Other Side of Yasiin Bey

DSC_0824It’s been a few weeks since my trip to Sweden. I think it was so cold that my mind has since, still been thawing. But thankfully I now am good to recollect all my thoughts :-)

Last November while in Netherlands, despite having someone to hug me during my entire trip ;-) I found Amsterdam so chilly – winter was kicking just kicking in.

Unbeknownst to me, that was preparation for my arrival in Sweden in a few months (March 2015). These were the last days of winter but they teach me what it really means to be cold. I had never experienced such cold that requires life to only exist with on and a load of clothes on, literally making you feel like you are forever carrying a load on your body. The streets are empty and I am told it’s because of the cold weather.

DSC_0755Interestingly, I receive such a warm welcome for such a cold country. The first people I meet as soon as I arrive at Bromma airport are the usual hungry taxi men. I ask one of them if I can use their phone to call Sylvia (my friend and host). Her phone is on voicemail so I promise the kind taxi man that we will take his taxi if at all I find her and we need one. I end up purchasing a week – long bus ticket that I start to use asap. As we walk out of the airport, I don’t want to glance at the taxi men as I am headed to the bus station. Sylvia tells me that their kindness is unique and unlike most taxi operators. When I finally steal a glance at them as we leave to the bus stop, they are all standing tall, smiling at me and waving goodbye.

I am lucky the sun comes out on my first day, as soon as I arrive. It’s so beautiful to see snow for the first time. Sylvia couldn’t be happier to share my first-snow-moment with me.

DSC_0786As we get into the city centre, I am amazed at Stockholm’s beauty. First, the buildings in Stockholm are located between Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. I find something I totally love about Europe’s architecture here – history that dates back to the 13th century, if not earlier. Sweden’s list of islands fantasizes me and sometimes while driving around town, I can’t imagine what a beautiful view those who live on these islands have every morning, especially during summer time. One building even has its top shaped like a ship.

I find the design of some Stockholm buildings quite similar to Dutch architecture. Sylvia tells me that a lot of Swedish architecture has foreign influences. Indeed, during the 1600s and 1700s, foreign architects were recruited to build the city and in recent periods Swedish architects often drew inspiration from their tours to Europe.

DSC_1129On a different day we pass by the eighteenth-built Swedish Royal Palace, one of the largest palaces in Europe. This is were His Majesty the King of Sweden resides. It’s so grand with 600 rooms and the whole shebang. I am wowed by the fact that it’s open to the public. As we walk in and out its lovely court area, Sylvia tells me that national events or announcements are actually made by the King, many times, here. Its Italian Baroque style, coronation carriages and magnificent coaches from the Royal Stable make me feel like I just walked into Disney World. I miss to see the parade of soldiers but indeed there’s that one soldier by the entrance who is so still, she looks like a statue.

Look out for:

Taking stock of Stockholm: Part II (Visiting Old Town)

Taking stock of Stockholm: Part III (Dogs, Music and Cuisine)

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While in Stockholm, I visited the Fotografiska, a Swedish photography museum and centre for contemporary photography opened in 2010. Its location is perfect – just by the Baltic Sea and habour – both providing beautiful scenery.

 

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I was glad to discover the space showcasing an exhibition on Herb Ritts – one of the world’s most sought-after fashion photographers. “In Full Light” (21st Nov 2014 – 15th Mar 2015) was a retrospective exhibition of Herb’s famous, iconic images and pictures that have never before been shown.

 

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At the moment, I didn’t know much of Herb Ritts – the person, mainly because his career’s high point was during 70s and 80s just when I hadn’t entered the world or was too tiny – but when I started viewing his work, especially the portraits, I realized that I had already seen some of them before.

 

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The exhibition’s images were so powerful, it amazed me how in just one image, Herb managed to capture the aura of superstars and personalities created over decades. For instance, there was a Prince image where he is gripping at his black leather cap tied to chains that cover is face – truly representative of Prince’s style and the facade he’s built around him to date. These are iconic images that evoke memories of an era like when King of Pop was alive and when Madonna was Queen of Pop.

 

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There are several nude fashion images but my best is of two male models sensually holding themselves like it’s the last time before the world robs them of their sacred moment. They look like sex gods, something I would only expect to see in sculpture at The Louvre. The museum writes of Herb’s inspirations, “There was an emerging fixation with the body and a fashion world inspired by gay culture.”

 

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Herb, who was good friends with Richard Gere, loved people and looks like he ended up making friends or creating working relationships with many celebrities. It shows in his choice of his images. Seeing an image of Patrick Swayze in such a beautiful portrayal that only reminds me of his sexy self in Dirty Dancing—one of the best films that I first watched as a child thereby my definition of classic. This and many images of “Full Light” are the “illustration of a rare equilibrium, expressed via a careful combination of natural elements. The result is a visual game that is apparently seductive and simple but which conceals elaborate technical skill.” This image balances between Swayze’s masculinity and femininity – a rare equilibrium to display via lens. I miss him so much.

My other favourites include portraits of Antonio Banderas, Magic Johnson and images of Cher’s butt (puts Nicki Minaj’s fakeness to shame), Naomi Campbell and a psychotic looking Denzel Washington (reminds me of his role in Flight).

“Herb Ritts died in 2002 of pneumonia at the age of 50. He is remembered as one of the major lifestyle photographers of the 80s and 90s. Mixing commercial commissions with portraits, music videos and his own projects, he broke the boundaries of fashion, art and advertising.”

 

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During his illustrious career in photography he worked for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. He also worked in music videos for the greats like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. He worked with fashion brands like Calvin Klein, Versace and Giorgio Armani.

 

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After visiting the exhibition, interestingly I was served at the centre’s bookshop by a Swedish gentleman who asked if I was from Kenya. “Your earrings do look like Kenya’s flag,” he said, adding, “I am actually going to be in Kenya soon for a holiday as my Dad used to work there.” I am amazed at this. When I am away from home, I always see signs that remind me of home. Ended up buying an awesome lens cup at Fotografiska.

BONUS: Thanks Sylvia Ziemski​ for the awesome company. Herb Ritts exhibition was a production of Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia, Milan, in association with Herb Ritts’ Foundation. It was curated by Alessandra Mauro and designed by Jessy Heuvelink, Head of Design at J. Lindeberg.

DSC00437Few stories have brought my heart such despair as much as hope as this 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup that I chanced upon in a small hidden bookshop in Amsterdam.

Solomon has “common hopes, and loves, and labors of an obscure coloured man, making his humble progress in the world”. He is born and raised a free man. The lower-middle class industrious man is married with three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Together with his wife, Solomon tries to make ends meet by running various short-lasting projects, including a career in music. Solomon is among few black males from Saratoga who can make some good money off his violin playing.

Two circus promoters approach Solomon offering him a job in Washington and promise to pay extremely well for his services as a musician. In desperate need for providing for his family, he follows them immediately without alerting his family. By tricking and drugging him, they kidnap him from his native Saratoga into slavery deep in the south of Louisiana – where he would be bound for 12 years.

“My subject is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage,” Solomon writes in the first page of the first chapter. I sobbed occasionally while flipping through his pages and now I balance tears reflecting upon the book as I write this. How a free man or anyone could find himself bound in chains and shackles then subjected to utmost inhumane treatment is heartbreaking.

This is a solitary tale yet a painting of the lives of so many – cast and condemned as slaves, either born into it or captured like Solomon.

Life of a Slave

tyas_cvrIn chronological order, Solomon explains to the reader the process of how he was enslaved, and the day-to-day life of a slave. The life of a slave is worthless. Some slave owners feed their animals more than a slave. And some let dogs maul their slaves. A slave’s history, if any, doesn’t exist. The words freedom and liberty must never be uttered from a slave’s mouth (lest they receive several lashes as punishment). The subject of freedom and liberty however was always spoken or thought of in private as revealed by Solomon, discrediting the old assumption that slaves never understood or even fathomed what it meant to be free. Before his kidnapping, Solomon recalls, “I frequently met slaves … Many times they entered into conversation with me on the subject of slavery. Almost uniformly I found they cherished a secret desire for liberty …”

Slave buyers bargain for human beings like they would for any commodity. Their qualities are rated just as a mule’s would. If need be, they are stripped and signs of scars from lashing indicate tendencies of a difficult animal to be made servant – the price immediately depreciates. Once bought, slaveholders can hire out their slaves just like animals or trucks. A slave can be forced to work tirelessly under the watchful eye of the overseer day and night while being whipped all through. They are also whipped if they don’t produce as expected during the cotton-planting season or if their produce fluctuates. If a slave is found walking to other plantations without a pass written by their master, any white man is permitted to seize and whip them.

At this point of the book, I am appalled at the utter darkness of an era when some life was so worthless to be branded with a price tag.

Throughout a whole year, a slave only gets about three or four days off during Christmas season – when they can eat up and meet with friends from other plantations. This is where and when married couples only unite and parents meet their children. Lovers unite too, “cupid disdains not to hurl his arrows into the simple hearts of slaves”.

The Great Escape

During his bondage, Solomon spends every day scheming how to escape and many times attempts it – a dangerous endeavor that always puts him trouble or risk with its worst punishment being death. During his first attempt, he notes, “we resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives.” At times, he starts to lose sanity. “Were the events realities indeed?” He is constantly baffled.

After a deathly flogging for declaring that he was indeed a free man soon after his kidnapping, Solomon writes, “I resolved to lock the secret closely in my heart … trusting in my own Providence and my own shrewdness for deliverance.” It’s a chance meeting with a good-hearted white man that sees his road to freedom start. Bass risking his life to write for Solomon is show that good can always trump evil. The important letter they both draft finally reaches the right and lawful office in charge of rescuing those illegally sold into slavery.

In the 12 years, Solomon’s spirit defies, among trials, a deadly smallpox outbreak that claims lives and causes him temporary blindness, thorough flogging, whipping, the jaws of hunting hounds, hunger and an escape that forces him to walk miles and camp in a swamp (amongst wild animals like deadly snakes and crocodiles). He also writes that he wouldn’t have made it out alive without music. Many times, his violin granted him solace, favours and visits to other plantations.

This is an extraordinary story on the resilience of the human spirit, especially in the face of the worst of life’s challenges and deepest of sorrows.

America’s Dark History Vs Redemption

This book totally immerses the reader into the darkest period (18th and 19th centuries) of American history when slavery was legal. It brings to full light the brutal horrors and injustice of slavery and how historically it was associated with African descent – contributing to a system and legacy in which race still plays a dominant role.

The book balances a memoir and objectivity – even though a mere slanted moral weighing machine. Not all slave owners or white people were heartless and inclined to slavery. Many times, Solomon expresses his regret in a “unjust, barbarous and cruel” system that empowered slave owners and a mindset that disregarded a people of one race. “It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives.”

Solomon’s mistress cries at losing her most handy servant, as his master is furious at losing their most-priced property. “Ten years I toiled for Epps without reward … I am indebted to him for nothing, save undeserved abuse and stripes,” writes Solomon. But at the book’s ending, his lawyer and associates who come to the rescue, ask him to bid his former master and mistress goodbye, which he does. Though subtle, this is a sign of a forgiving heart on Solomon’s side and it reflects upon one side of how a whole generation and a people would need to deal with the deeply scathing injustice of slavery and racism in pursuit of healing.

Unsung Heroes

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Steve McQueen and the cast and crew of 12 Years a Slave accept the best picture award at the Oscars.

Poor 23-year-old Patsey of Guinean descent was a slave brought over to Cuba on a slave ship. Solomon writes that had she lived another life, she “would have been chief among ten thousand among her people.” Patsey’s life was the epitome of a series of unfortunate events. Among slaves in Bayou Boeuf area, she was known as the queen of the cotton fields and would produce twice as much as any cotton-picker but would be whipped thoroughly at the end of each day if she either picked less or didn’t pick more.

Patsey is also caught in between the lust of her master and overflowing hate from her mistress. “She wept oftener, and suffered more, than any of her companions. Her back bore the scars of a thousand stripes; not because she was backward in her work, nor because she was unmindful and rebellious spirit, but because it had fallen to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress.” In the film adapted from the book, it is indicated that their master Epps would also rape her yet in Solomon’s tale, he only insinuates such activities. However, the girl would be branded by hot metal or thrown at glasses by her mistress just for kicks. And even though Solomon endured severe lashing as well as others, he writes that no other worse lashing did he witness during his 12 years as a slave that was worse than that subjected on Patsey by Master Epps.

Patsey is the only one who dares to run after Solomon as he finally leaves Master Epp’s farm as a free man. As she weeps at him, he says nothing at all. This is potentially a sign that even though Solomon left the bondage of slavery, he would remain enslaved by the empathy for his former comrades for as long as they remained enslaved. That’s why he is unable to bid the slaves farewell or urge Patsey to stay alive or strong – for a part of his spirit forever remains in those slave pens.

If you read and reflect upon this book, you will realise that Solomon Northup and everyone who helped him regain his freedom, and tell this story (including the director Steve McQueen) – are the silent unsung heroes of both today and a past time when calling a black man a hero would be despised. It is this unforgettable memoir that would inspire the director Steve McQueen to make the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave.

The movie befits the story, especially because its characters match the spirit of the slaves as described by Solomon, but it doesn’t come close to the actual suffering and horror slaves in Solomon’s account were subjected to. However, for these two dark-skinned actors in the film adaptation: Chiwetel Ejiofor (BAFTA Best Lead Actor) and Lupita Nyon’go (Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) to win for Solomon’s story is triumphant indeed. I wish he were alive to witness people of all colour and race live and be accorded equally and rightfully. He would assert that the producers, cast and directors who brought his story to life did not trump colour or race but the darkness of an era. He would be proud that they upheld liberty, equality and justice for all.

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Alas! The stories of the voiceless slaves have been told, again, hundreds of years later.

BONUS: You might love my review of To Kill a Mocking Bird. Can’t wait for the book’s sequel coming out this July.

DSC00208This moment right here is surreal even though I haven’t met D’Angelo yet. I am inside the backstage of D’Angelo’s The Second Coming Tour meeting his tour manager, Alan Leeds. I later discover that the legendary American music executive has won a Grammy and managed Prince and James Brown. He’s had a hand in the careers of serious soul music men though generations.

Alan asks so many questions about D’Angelo’s Kenyan and African reach. I hate that I am fully preoccupied by the thought of meeting D’Angelo so I decide to politely cut to the chase amidst our conversation.

“So how’s D’Angelo?” Alan must have dealt with a million journalists before as he immediately gets the code for the “Can I now meet D’Angelo” question. He says, “He’s okay. Tired and resting. You can’t meet D’Angelo or see him, especially after the show. I thought I also made it clear that no interviews. He’s not doing any interviews and doesn’t do interviews.”

Bummer. How I handle this conversation is what will either make me meet D’Angelo or not. I decide to be straight up honest and lay all my cards on the table. “I know you said no interviews but I thought that if I made it to the backstage I’d at least meet him and introduce myself, and maybe ask a few questions off the cuff.” Alan towering over me, looks at me pensively with that ‘what do I do with this girl’ look, while chewing gum and shaking his head. “No. You can’t meet D’Angelo. He’s not meeting anyone. Listen. Even his record label executives were at the show tonight and haven’t met him and will not meet him. I am with my cousin here, and she won’t even meet D’Angelo.”

In this moment, I understand and don’t want to be fussy – even though I am not moving an inch. “I also work with artists as a Publicist and I understand how sometimes they want time to themselves, especially before or after a show,” I tell Alan. He wants to know who I work with and I mention Sauti Sol and their recent MTV EMA Best African Act Win. Alan wants me to share with him more on Sauti Sol.

Our conversation immediately shifts from D’Angelo to music business. He starts to ask me about which international music stars have been to Kenya recently and seems pretty impressed that Erykah Badu was here a few years ago.

Read my 10 Mins with Erykah Badu

“Do you frequent Europe? Because we have a couple of shows lined up for summer” – an extension of The Second Coming Tour (which at the time was about to conclude). I respond, “I come to Europe once in a while, I only had to come this time because of D’Angelo and was hoping to interview him for Kenya’s National Newspaper: Daily Nation. He’s got a big audience at home.”

My article published by Daily Nation: A triumphant return: D’Angelo’s second coming a big success

We continue to discuss music business and at some point, I feel like we’ve talked about just about everything possible. Alan keeps thanking me for coming and says he hopes to see me again. We have also agreed that I will be interviewing D’Angelo via email – which totally works for me! Of course! But for some reason, I can’t go. Something keeps telling me to stay behind because ‘you might just meet D’Angelo’ – it says. But it’s getting late and looking over at Sylvia, she looks weary. I am also tired from the concert and long day that we have had. We are still carrying stuff from shopping from earlier in the day because we didn’t have time to return to hotel, have dinner and make it to concert in time so we carried everything with us.

I am so honoured to meet Alan and talk to him. He reveals a lot about the mystique around D’Angelo’s privacy and scarcity at interviews. “D’Angelo is very private and never likes to meet people. I try explaining to him but he’s an artist and he thinks in a certain way. I keep trying to make him open up more.” I totally understand, I tell Alan. He’s trying to explain to me why I have to go without meeting D’Angelo. By now I know I am not seeing him and am cool with that. Plus Alan has also told me that the whole band and crew is flying to Amsterdam tonight ahead of their twin shows at one of my favourite venues in the world – Paradiso.

Read about how I attended Wiz Khalifa’s concert at Paradiso

For the umpteenth time Alan bids me farewell and I finally feel like I can stop being a bother and leave. In my quest to seeing D’Angelo, two hours or more could have already passed in this backstage. We walk through the corridor and into the red-coloured lift, when Alan runs over to us and beckons me to return. “I will show you to a different exit,” he says. Suddenly, Alan is walking us through D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Second Coming Backstage, through the twists and turns – I feel like I am in a music video or movie. There are about 10 security guards, all tall and buff – some standing and others sitting on chairs by the walls. I don’t suspect anything, until I start to see signs with band members names on doors and arrows leading to D’Angelo’s Dressing Room.

We reach a dead-end. There’s only a red-coloured door here and a guard dressed in black sitting right outside. “Wait here,” Alan tells me and enters through the door. I am not sure if D’Angelo is here or he simply wants to pick something before leading us to ‘the different exit’. After about two minutes he returns closing the door behind him. He stands right in front of me and opens the door for me, signaling me to enter. I look at him like W-T-F-Dude! Inside – I see D’Angelo in the large room, all by himself. He quickly stands and holds his hands in respect, like how people pray, as I approach.

I stop half way, wondering to myself why I didn’t see this coming. I would have prepared a speech or a better introduction. For a split second everything that led me here plays in my mind. The drama and bad service at Brusells Airlines. My last-minute decision to travel all the way from Kenya to Sweden for this concert and the ambition to even try meet D’Angelo. And then there are lots of childhood memories of jamming to D’Angelo’s music and watching Untitled.

I drop all my bags on the floor and start to softly (I think) mumble things to D’Angelo. “Hey D’Angelo – Hey D” I am not too sure what to call him, “I am so honoured to meet you. This is unbelievable! I have loved your music since I was a little girl so this moment is too special. I am also a journalist …” He moves closer and hold both my hands, as if telling me – it’s okay you don’t gotta rap.

I take a breath and introduce myself saying I am from Kenya. “What!? Are you kidding me!? You came from Kenya? No way!” He won’t believe me. “That’s why I also want to interview you,” for the first time Alan cuts me off saying, “I told you no interviews.”

I respond to him and D’Angelo, “I know what you said, I am just explaining who I am and what I want to do because we’ll do it via email. I am not trying to interview him now.” D’Angelo is dazed. He looks like he just saw either and angel or a devil. He keeps rubbing my hand while saying, “Sister bless you!” He also gives me that respectful European cheek kiss and hugs me. I introduce Sylvia to him as my good friend and host in Stockholm and ask to take a picture with him. He’s cool.

All this time Alan is watching us like a movie scene playing out. “So did you enjoy the show?” D’Angelo asks me, and then asks Sylvia too. What? D’Angelo wants to know if I enjoyed his show? Me? Dreams are valid because having grown up in Molo, a small town in Kenya’s Rift Valley, I would never believe that I could even ever come close to meeting D’Angelo and get that kind of VIP treatment in that setting in a foreign land. When I walk out of Annexet, we hug again. My gloves drop and Alan calls me back to get them. D’Angelo is just standing there looking at me …

BONUS: My article on D’Angelo published by Kenya’s Daily Nation:  A triumphant return: D’Angelo’s second coming a big success

Read the full D’Angelo series below:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

Inside Second Coming Tour: How I Met D’Angelo: Part IV

DSC00146I know that it’s pretty easy for anyone to consider my plan to meet and interview D’Angelo in Sweden a pipe dream. But I have put all my energy to make it happen. I spend a good amount of time to research on how exactly this is going to happen because my spirit tells me that I can do it.

After several unanswered emails, tweets, Facebook inboxes, more emails and then a few fruitful viber and whatsapp chats with my Europe contacts – I have finally got through to D’Angelo’s Management thanks to Cleo.

Read about Sauti Sol’s debut Paris concert in 2014 organized by Cleo

I have finally made it to Sweden and to D’angelo’s concert. It’s over. I have Backstage passes that I only know can get me to D’Angelo’s dressing room but I wonder how exactly. Who will get me in? The security officers say that even they are not authorized to that area of the backstage.

DSC00203The best part about Europe concerts is people scatter as soon as it ends. No after parties like Kenya. So right after the concert, the concert hall clears up and I start to look around thinking about my next move as I plot to see and interview D’Angelo. I see someone who looks like The Vanguard’s keyboardists Cleo – who my friend from France – Cleo says I should look out for. “Hey are you Cleo?” He isn’t and tells me to quickly follow the real Cleo who just returned into the backstage. He’s already entered through the black velvet curtains that lead into a hallway. The guard at the entrance won’t talk to me and doesn’t care that I have the Backstage passes. But I am not moving an inch.

It’s until Cleo appears again though the curtain that I peep and beckon him. I think he thinks at first that I am one of those persistent groupies after a show – because he first refuses and then comes after my adamancy. “Hi! I am Anyiko, the journalist from Kenya and Cleo’s friend” – I have never seen someone so happy to realize who I was. Cleo hugs me tight and says, “I am glad you made it!! Where is your friend?” I introduce Sylvia to him and in no time, we are whisked into D’Angelo’s Second Coming Backstage – the security guards only being alerted – “We are together.”

I am inside such a fancy backstage for the first time in my life. Everything looks surreal. The hallway looks exactly like where Lupe Fiasco’s Superstar video was shot, without the lights. After several turns and a lift ride, Sylvia and I are led into what seems like the Annexet Arena’s main office, where we are received by a bespectacled dark-skinned man. He is sitting behind a desk full of newspapers, pizzas, magazines and files. “They are Alan’s guests, please let them wait here,” Cleo tells him. He is kind enough to offer us seats and asks us to wait.

As we wait to meet Alan and hopefully D’Angelo, a million thoughts cross my mind as I observe each and every detail around me. Apart from Sylvia, there are three other Swedish ladies in the office with us. They all look like they are in their 30s and don’t look like journalists but PR or marketing people. I really hope they are not journalists because I don’t want them to mess my chance to meet or interview D’Angelo. There is a lot of talk, chat and banter amidst laughter seeping into the room from the one right next to where we are seated. It does sound like this is The Vanguard reviewing the concert we just experienced a few minutes ago. I can’t hear anyone mention D’Angelo, and can’t tell if he’s among them. I can hear some heavy black American accents though.

Kendra Foster, the only lady in The Vanguard bursts into the room. “I am so hungry, could I grab some pizzas?” She asks the bespectacled man – who I would like to refer to moving forward as the venue’s manager. “Sure! They are all yours, take as much!” I am dying to talk to her or take a selfie but judging from the way Mr. Manager has been eyeing us from across the table, I don’t want to seem groupie-ish. But Sylvia, the classic PR lady has got this under control. “Hi! You were so wonderful on stage, we really enjoyed your concert.” Kendra seems genuinely surprised and taken aback by our praise and starts to ask more about us. She is so impressed that I have come all the way from Kenya. She is keen to tell me, “I am an artist by my own right and have co-written a lot of songs in Black Messiah. Check me out, I am coming soon with my own stuff.”

Read my review of Black Messiah

DAngelo_The_Vanguard_live_Soulfest_Melbourne_2014_Beaver_on_the_Beats_5-e1420427619375A quick check later and I discover that Kendra Foster has written songs for D’Angelo that include Till its Done, Really Love, The Charade and 1000 Deaths. I am curious as to who this girl is and how she met D’Angelo, and so I pull that journalistic trait of doing an interview in pretense of holding a conversation. “He found me!” She says, “I have worked for a long time with George Michael” – the American singer, songwriter and music producer who is the principal architect and band leader of P-Funk (Parliament-Funkadelic) and the mastermind of the bands Parliament and Funkadelic during the 1970s and early 1980s “I met D’Angelo during my time with the band and he’d checked me out and expressed interest in working with me.”

Black Roses: So what it’s like to work with D’Angelo?

Kendra: OMG it’s soo amazing and wonderful. I’ve learnt a lot from him every day and he’s so down to earth, chilled and fun. We have fun writing songs together too.

She quickly jots down her contacts in my notebook, gives us both a firm handshake before rushing out with a big slice of pizza. I am feeling like I am now moving closer to knowing and meeting D’Angelo. We have been sitting here for about 45 minutes waiting for Alan. I am anticipating the moment patiently…

The legendary Alan LeedsSuddenly, I see all the Swedish ladies stand up quickly in respect as soon as a bespectacled and tall man walks in. This is Alan. Unbeknownst to me at the moment, he’s the man who has worked directly with three generations of soul music men including James Brown and Prince.

“Hi Alan! We just wanted to say thank you for the Backstage VIP passes, it was such a great concert.” The ladies are brief. I am so happy they are leaving. But one of them stays behind.

We are also standing when Alan turns towards us and says while shaking my hand, “You must be the journalist.” It feels great that he remembered our conversations and recognized me as it’s the first time we are meeting in person. A quick re-introduction and I can already tell that Alan is super curious (in a good way) about what kind of person left Kenya to attend and interview D’Angelo in such a foreign land.

To be continued …

Read the first parts of How I Met D’Angelo series:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

The last Part How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V features D’Angelo :-)

 

 

 

DSC_2613~2Zukiswa Wanner has written an enticing tale about finding love and making ends meet. Set in South Africa’s Johannesburg, this is a story about what happens next after finding everything in life or losing just as much.

Mfundo, Mzilikazi and Tinaye are the Men of the South. Their self-narrated stories in first person divide the book’s three chapters. Zuki does more than shine through the voices of her three main male characters and doesn’t grapple with writing in the voice of an opposite sex, like many writers do – leaving me in awe at her beautiful mind.

Mfundo and Mzilikazi are childhood buddies and have shared a lot, from secret youth pleasures like threesomes to tough challenges as grown ups. They both grow up under the scrutiny of a society that expects them to achieve certain things and live in a certain way.

It is Mzi who is everyone’s connecter. He is best friends with Mfundo, and ends up introducing him to the future love of his life – Slindile. Mzi also indirectly introduces his friend Tinaye to his other best friend Sli.

It’s a swirl of events when, after years of friendship Mfundo discovers that Mzi has a queer sexuality. Mzi, a married man, breaks up his marriage to find his sexuality. How Zuki writes about a blooming relationship between two men simply plays out the innocence of how true love unfolds between two, irrespective of sex or cultural inclinations. Mzi’s finding of true love reminds me of Frank Ocean’s We All Try. As the song goes, “I believe marriage isn’t between man and a woman but between love and love”.

Read my review of Frank Ocean’s EP Nostalgia, Ultra

Through Zuki’s characters, the 2010 book brings to light pertinent issues in African societies like being homosexual (considered a taboo by many) and xenophobia. It never escapes her for a moment that, like many other countries, South Africa and its society is not a perfect picture – as painted by many. At the tail end of the book, her main characters all unite over some beer and end up discussing xenophobia, a recurrence in modern-day South Africa. Recent South African government figures indicate that the unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25%. Many residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes, yet it is a crime what the very same residents are doing – murdering and attacking foreigners, even blazing up their business premises.

As Mfundo’s sister Buhle defends the intent behind violent attacks directed at people of other nationalities living and working in South Africa, Mfundo interjects saying, “Some of our people are stuck in a comfort zone, waiting for the government or someone else waiting to do something for them”

To acquire a work permit Tinaye, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, is forced to marry or risk losing a job that he’s worked for all his adult life. Sli discovers that she can’t be with the man she fell in love with. Mfundo thinks his life is over if he can’t have both his music and family by his side. When the perfect couple Sli and Mfundo break up; though unexpected there is something for Mfundo and surprisingly someone for Sli. Mfundo and Mzilikazi both turn out quite differently from what the society deems fit. How everyone rises above their seemingly non-erasable mistakes is powerful for the reader, Zuki’s way of telling us one thing – you could never be so fucked up not to start over again.

Zuki’s triumphant twist to all these scenarios is the ultimate beauty of Men of the South. How her characters’ life challenges play out is a reminder of my own life and that of my friends. It’s extremely attractive how Zuki’s writing is so original yet so relatable in relation to city life and the challenges of modern societies.

You will love Zukiswa Wanner’s wit and charm. Like a good stir-fry, she has mixed up some comedy and thought-provoking tales that dance around our everyday reality. I really love Zuki for twisting the book’s ending. Just when you expect it to end this way, she takes a different route that either leaves the reader with the power to re-write it or the feeling that the book just started afresh.

Desperately needing to know what happened next, I ask Zuki (a friend of mine – always good to namedrop where you have no other choice), “I am dying to know – did Sli respond to Tinaye’s text? And what did she say????” Her response, “Kwaa. I don’t know. Imagine that’s the end? But as one of my more intelligent readers I know you have your own good ending :-) ” I actually do and I am considering blogging it out for fans of the Men of the South.

BONUS: The South African writer Zukiswa also blogs. She has written about why we should all #Boycott South Africa till South African government takes stern action against xenophobia, what she terms afrophobia.

Men of The South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. To my lovely cousin Sharon – thank you for lending me Men of The South – my first Zuki book :) Now can’t wait to read her other books: Behind Every Successful Man, Maids in SA and The Madams.

Watching the music video of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Umqumbothi is one of my fond memories from growing up. How could men drinking beer from pots look so fresh? While still a child, I immediately decided that Yvonne was the coolest African woman on TV.

Fast forward. 20 years later and Yvonne Chaka Chaka – the Princess of Africa, remains one the most respected voices in and from Africa. She has performed everywhere. From New York, Italy to Nairobi. Name it. She’s performed alongside world stars like Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Bono and Queen, among many others.

DSC00254I am the last to interview Yvonne during her recent Nairobi visit. ‘Damn – I have to make this good’ – I tell myself. “Are we ready? Twende sasa” She tells me as my camera crew takes forever to set up. We are seated in a tiny room by a café situated in the upper floors of Intercontinental Hotel. She seems a little agitated and tired. Thankfully, she quickly warms up to me as soon as we start, and even makes jokes you would only share with your friends. “I am not as skinny as you! You can see that now I am a mama,” she jests in realization that March 2015 is her special birthday month – she’s turning 50 and celebrating 30 years in the music industry. “Half of 100 is amazing. I can only be happy.”

DSC00256She is pensive throughout the interview. However, she answers all my questions without a second thought and thoroughly. She’s either done too many interviews or is extremely sharp. I think both. I am so intimidated and at the same time inspired by Yvonne – a true representation of a strong African woman with beauty and brains. “You are what you eat and drink” – all she can reveal about her beauty regime.

Yvonne beams with pride when I tell her how in 1990 – I was the little girl dancing to Umqumbothi in my mother’s living room in a little Kenyan town. She says, I don’t know how I got popular in countries like Kenya, Senegal, Ugandan and places like Mauritania. It must have been the power of radio, TV and my manager at the time because there wasn’t social media then. I did not expect to be so popular in this beautiful continent of Africa. But I am very pleased that I am known in this continent as am a very proud African.”

I wrote songs of freedom in the name of women

With a rich discography including other monster hits like I’m burning Up, Thank You Mr. DJ and Makoti; Yvonne’s songs and music videos remain catchy and popular, still dripping cool. However, only the clever listener can decipher the message behind most of her lyrics.

During the apartheid (1948 – 1994) there was more than racial segregation in South Africa. The ruling government did not allow musicians to directly sing about their own struggle or that of their country. These challenges heavily influenced the direction Yvonne’s music would eventually take. She says, “Growing up in South Africa I knew things weren’t as rosy as everybody thought they were. However, I had the platform and the voice and it was my right to disseminate information and air my views.”

Yvonne then found a secret avenue. She would write songs and then rewrite them to hide direct message. She explains her part in the South African rebellion against the apartheid government, “I Cry For Freedom was initially written for South Africans but SABC could not play its original lyrics.” Yvonne was forced to change the lyrics and had to battle with the idea of balancing the new message with the original. “It became a song about women empowerment and against women abuse”

Meeting Madiba 

Another one of my favourite Yvonne songs: Let Him Go was originally written for Mandela. “The message said let him go to his children and family but obviously I couldn’t say Let Mandela Go – I’d have gone to jail, so we changed the song’s packaging to be about a woman loving another woman’s man – you always there when he needs you, where is he now? Let him go.”

The song Motherland was about South Africa and Africa. Produced in 1989, its lyrics were directed to the colonizer: “Who’s that man calling me stranger in my motherland?” Yvonne says, “Things weren’t that bad then because we knew that people were fighting for South Africans to have their rights and to be taken out of the misery of apartheid.”

A year later, Mandela was released from detention. Yvonne recalls meeting Mandela in 1990, soon after his release. “It was amazing! I was lucky to meet Madiba. When you are in a room with him, you felt love and humility. You felt so good. I don’t know how it’s like with people amongst Jesus but when you were around that man you felt such love. I would never want to compare him to Jesus but really he was one of Jesus.”

Yvonne’s latest album, Amazing Man, released in 2013. It’s a “dedicated to Mandela and all the African leaders,” she says, adding, “I could never stop recording, it’s who I am.”

It’s hard for women to break through even in the 21st century 

Yvonne is a mother of four boys, “and that includes my husband – the fifth man in my space.” Of all her children only one took after her. Temba is a musician, music producer and writer, and has produced some of her music. She however hopes that he can put the music on hold to complete his degree.

She explains her mission in Africa to Black Roses …

“I have seen how easy it is for men to do whatever they want to do, and how hard it is for women to break through, even in the 21st century. Why can’t we give women a platform to air their views and be what they want to be? Women are still disenfranchised, disintegrated and married off early. I am strongly opposed to 12 to 13 year olds getting married to older men. Why can’t we just let the children be children? Why should I be married to a man who I don’t even love and just be given to him as a young girl? Why am I a woman who when my husband dies his brother will forcibly marry me, why can’t I chose my Peter or James?”

“I respect culture. If people or women are comfortable with that – that’s what they are comfortable with but some people find themselves in those situations or are coerced– those are the people who need us to rescue them.” I also get very upset when Africans fight and kill each other. I would like to have children (both boys and girls) live and learn.”

Awards and accolades

Just like music, Yvonne’s humanitarian work has made a mark and garnered her recognition. She became the first woman to receive the World Economic Forum Crystal Award. Other notable accolades include the 2015 Ubuntu Award for Diplomacy in Arts and Culture and a Continental Lifetime Achievement Award from the president of South Africa.

She says, “I don’t count awards I’ve received because whatever I am doing is not to achieve an award; it’s because I have time to do it, I see the need to do it and I am helping somebody. I appreciate awards and I get very humbled. It means once you are doing something you like, someone is watching and acknowledging. I am thanking God for life and being able to do all the work and the things I love. I do it out of the goodness of my heart and I’ve been given a platform. Maybe, it’s a calling from God.”

Yvonne’s first trip to Kenya was in 1987. Since, she’s become a Kenyan of sorts. She constantly throws in Swahili words and tells me about her friends who include wives of two of the most powerful Kenyan politicians – Aida Odinga (of Kenya’s former prime minister Mr. Odinga) and Margaret Kenyatta (the First lady of Kenya). She says, “I do come to Kenya a lot. My second home is in Kakamega where I work with Vestergaard Frandsen and have a lot of children.

DSC00267By the time I wrapping up, we’re cool and both relaxed. Yvonne tells me that today is a typical Yvonne-crazy-day with over 10 interviews to do. Her realness reminds me of my mum. “On a normal day I can sleep for 12 hours if I am not at rehearsal,” she says. So what would Yvonne do if not music? I wonder. “I’d have been a hopeless lawyer” – she says with that ‘I’d still be rocking!’ twinkle in her eye.

BONUS: I loved interviewing Yvonne. Thank you very much Chao, Susan Wong and Capital FM Kenya Team.

It’s sooooo good to see D’Angelo in concert, I don’t think words or reviews have accurately described an experience with the American singer/songwriter and producer – but I will try.

DSC00198On a very cold winter night, I am with my Europe partner in crime—Sylvia at Stockholm’s Annexet concert arena. Excited to catch D’Angelo’s ‘Second Coming Tour’, we are both expecting so much and curious to see if tonight will be as magical as we imagine it will be. Standing here now surrounded by thousands of people, I can’t help but glow in the realization that the little girl from Molo made it here.

I can’t wait to hear his set list. Hope my Black Messiah favourite Betray my Heart and my all time favourite Untitled make it.

Read my review of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah here

It’s about 9:00 p.m. Some really dope old school neo soul mix takes over but the crowd is stiff and staring hard at the dark-lit stage. After a while, the music stops and all lighting on stage goes pitch dark. Amidst the crowd’s cheers and screams, the official concert kicks off with the sermon-esque intro of 1000 Deaths, which quickly transitions into Prayer in a brilliant mash-up.

D'Angelo UnveiledWe can see only D’angelo on stage, after which full bright blue spotlights overlapping each other in the smoky dark blue stage ambiance stun our expecation. This is the introduction of D’Angelo & The Vanguard – his 9-man band. Their only lady – Kendra Foster – stands out with her angelic dance moves. I can tell that she’s a a free spirit.

After Prayer, the band revisits 1000 Deaths. It’s heavy electric and bass guitar clashing in deafening sound officially denounces the idea of this being a neo soul concert – we are rocking! For the first time, D’Angelo picks his black and silver embellished bass guitar and flaunts his newly acquired skill since taking a sabbatical.

Notable are the transitions between songs – such perfect mash-ups. Like how 1000 Deaths guitar chords transform into Aint’ That Easy. Also, D’Angelo’s careful balance between falsettos and sharp growls is so Prince – he’s clearly morphed into his mentor.

DSC_1000

Damn! I took a wonderful shot here. Mutua Matheka would be really proud of me :-)

From time to time, in between songs – the arena bursts into constant applause. And like a Messiah of sorts, sometimes D’Angelo stops to raises both his arms, so wide – as if reaching out to each and every one of us. It’s a reception only worthy of a King or some god and D’Angelo takes it in like one. Sometimes he taunts the crowd,“ Stockholm, are you done yet?”

For the blues and neo soul set, D’Angelo shows up in a red and black poncho to first perform Really Love. A red spotlight shines on Kendra Foster, who opens with the song’s Spanish (I suppose) prelude. The band eases out in this smooth session allowing us to finally hear the gymnastics of D’Angelo’s crisp voice and smooth growls.

The vocal arrangement of Brown Sugah live is really dope, probably the best at the concert – even D’Angelo tries to get us to sing along. The instrumentals have a groovy bass guitar giving the song the funky twist it would have if it were to feature in Black Messiah.

Sugah Daddy live is pretty cool and has a faster tempo. I keenly hear the lyrics of Till It’s Gone (Tutu) here for the first time – such beauty! Written by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster (who I am going to meet in Part IV of this tale). Below is part of the lyrics …

In a world where we all circle the fiery sun

With a need for love

What have we become?

Tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run

Till it’s done

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon:

Where do we belong? Where do we come from?

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon

Till it’s done

Charade is one of the last and most electric performances as D’Angelo and The Vanguard break into some crazy freestyle and dance – now we’re in church. Wow this is awesome!

The last performance is D’Angelo’s much-talked about Untitled (How Does it Feel?). Of course he doesn’t remove his clothes. This is now – that was then and since, D’Angelo has added a few extra pounds. However, sex is still dripping off him – trust me.

How D’Angelo Funxed with our Psychology

When the concert started, like most artists D’angelo doesn’t introduce the band. Somewhere half way, he introduces his band members one by one with such pride, lastly asking – “What’s my band’s name?” Because most artists do band intros at the end of the concert, I am a little sad, ‘Oh no – the concert is about to end” But its okay because I feel like its been so great so far. But there are other sets coming, yippee! The realization of there being another set makes you feel brand new and so lucky.

At the very end of Untitled, the band vocalists only sing “How Does it feel?” over and over again. It does feel like the best gig I’ve been to all my life.

One by one, the band members start to leave their instruments, either  by setting them down or walking off stage carrying them after bidding D’Angelo goodbye and thanking him – I guess for the opportunity or a great time. It’s an emotional goodbye between D’Anglelo and his band members, till only Kendra is left singing “How Does it feel?”

When she leaves, all of the lights are suddenly off, like in the very beginning, except for the spotlight on D’Angelo – who is now all alone playing the piano and singing “How Does it feel?”

He goes on and on and finally bids us goodbye. Nobody objects. It’s been so great.

I know it’s time to go meet D’Angelo in person. Wonder if it’s really going to happen because I am not leaving here without doing my best.

Look out for the last part of my tales about D’Angelo: How I Met D’Angelo Part IV, coming soon …

Read the full series here:

How I Met D’Angelo Part I

How I Met D’Angelo Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

Inside Second Coming Tour: How I Met D’Angelo: Part IV

How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V

DSC00074Every night, Dagobert Restaurant & Pizzeria, a Turks owned establishment in Sweden transforms into a Kenyan club. Named after Kenya’s second-largest city, Club Mombasa Stockholm is now the meeting point for Kenyans living in Sweden.

On a cold late winter night last February, Kenyans, including Kenya’s ambassador to Sweden, Dr. Joseph K. Sang, fill the venue to launch of Club Mombasa, situated on Roslagsgatab Street in Stockholm’s city centre.

There are plenty of activities: some chitchat, dance, laughter and hugs in the crowd as Kenyans in Sweden reunite and make new alliances. Kenyan DJ Frank, formerly of Mamba Village and now based in Sweden, plays a good mix of African songs. They range from rhumba songs from greats like Papa Wemba and Wenge Musica; popular Kenyan hits from olden artists like Remmy Ongala and Maroon Commandos to the best of the new crop of hit-makers like Madtraxx, Jaguar and Sauti Sol. Over at the bar, Turkish attendants bop their heads to the music while looking over to the Kenyans on the dance floor showing off famed Kenyan dances like Mosquito, Helicopter and Lipala Dance.

Kenyan businessman and music promoter Clay Onyango is behind the launch of Club Mombasa. Inspired by a need to create a space for Kenyans to connect without prejudice, he says, “Kenyans are indirectly discriminated elsewhere. ‘All tables are booked or you’re not dressed appropriately’ – some of the things we are sometimes told when out just to have a great night.”

Clay has lived in Sweden with his family since 1991, and since successfully set up a trusted Moving Company: Orkarinte. His office is just a block away from Dagobert Restaurant, where a brilliant idea struck him during one of his many lunch visits. He would eventually seal a deal with its managers to transform the restaurant into a Kenyan club every night, “with Friday nights mainly focusing on Kenyan music.” Beaming at the success of Club Mombasa launch, Clay says, “I am so happy, word went round and even attracted other Africans who aren’t from Kenya. I didn’t even know the Ambassador Sang would come as I didn’t invite him.”

Unlike in some European cities, there aren’t other known Kenyan clubs or restaurants in Stockholm. For a Kenyan visiting Sweden like me, it’s refreshing to have a Kenyan experience away from home. But for Kenyans living in Sweden, this is a dream come true. Osore Ondusye is a retired Maths and English Kenyan teacher, married to a Finnish woman and has been living in Stockholm for 30 years.

DSC00078This is an event he couldn’t dare miss even though he identifies himself as “one of the oldest Kenyans in Sweden”. The 65-year-old says, “Before tonight, Kenyans in Sweden hardly met up at specific places. That the Turks agreed for Clay to use their restaurant for Kenyans is not common. Kenyans mostly know of get-togethers via a website: Kenya Stockholm Blog, established about 20 years ago. Some social gatherings and very few occasions like visiting dignitaries have brought Kenyans together.”

At Club Mombasa, I ask ambassador Dr. Joseph K. Sang a few questions about his presence at the launch but he says he’d rather respond during working hours at the embassy. It’s clear that he’s out here in a different capacity – as an ordinary Kenyan enjoying a night out. On Monday morning, I catch up with the ambassador at his spacious office at the Embassy of Kenya in Stockholm along Birger Jarlsgatan. He’s now dressed in a suit – a stark difference from the casual man I met at the club. He says, “The launch of Club Mombasa has left me very happy and glad; I would like to see more of that. Plus Kenyan music is fantastic! We encourage diasporans to set up Kenyan clubs and restaurants, and more businesses to spark trade.”

This June the annual Swahili Culture event in Stockholm – working towards bringing Kenyans together while promoting an East African culture in Sweden makes a return. The Embassy of Kenya in Sweden has collaborated with the embassies of DRC, Tanzania, Congo and Rwanda to curate Swahili Culture. Dr. Sang says, “It’s not just about promoting food, music, film, art and fashion but also celebrating Swahili. We encourage Kenyans here to speak, and teach their children Swahili.”

A shorter version of this story was published by Kenya’s Saturday Nation April 4th. Read: Kenyan club opens in Stockholm

BONUS: For more of my tales from Sweden check the series below:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

DSC00121

Checking out Berns – Stockholm’s legendary concert venue on the day of D’Angelo’s concert.

I am with Sylvia, finally headed to D’Angelo’s concert. We have been waiting for this moment all our lives; it finally dawns on us. We arrive at the concert venue – Stockholm’s Annexet arena at about 8:00 p.m. This is where The Second Coming Tour stops in Sweden. In fact, the concert starts in about 30 minutes.

There are thousands of people outside the arena queuing for ticketing and security check. I need to get my VIP passes to the backstage at one of the many box offices around the arena. We quickly rush to the one indicated Press Office. “Hi. My name is Anyiko Owoko and I am here to pick my Second Coming backstage passes for the concert tonight from D’Angelo’s Management,” I put on a confident face while on the inside I am freaking the hell out.

I am not a celebrity or movie star – why would his management be so kind to me? How many journalists would die for such access? What if they forgot to leave the passes or someone decides to hoard them from me? There are a million questions racing in my mind.

Two friendly officers send us over to another box office with a fierce-looking lady separated from us by a thick glass window. “What’s your name again?” She asks while carefully examining some eight white envelops sitting on her table. “Anyiko Owoko,” I respond while crossing my fingers so tight. And voila! She has found my name. She glares at the writing on the envelope and then right back at me with that kind of ‘but-who-are-you-look’ – then hands it over.

DSC_0988I am on top of the world! Excitedly I rip the envelope open right there and then. It has two tickets and two backstage passes each indicated Guest. I quickly hand Sylvia’s to her. The VIP passes make us feel different and special; we’re not about to take that damn queue. We head back over to the Press Office, flash our guest tags and the guard quickly leads us into the arena using a back entrance – just like in the movies. It’s a split second in slow motion leaving me a little tipsy. Am I in Nairobi or getting this VIP treatment in a foreign land?

My journey to meeting D’Angelo is like a hurdle race. After every successful jump, is another hurdle to encounter. It was such a hustle getting through to his management. Now that I’ve finally got the backstage passes, my new challenge is how to get in contact with either Cleo of The Vanguard or Alan of D’Angelo’s Management, and eventually D’Angelo.

DSC00198Annexet’s inside is designed like Amsterdam’s Paradiso but its four times bigger than Paradiso. I love it! Not small and not too big. People stream in as we make our way towards the front left area facing the stage. Now that we’ve secured a standing area, I am trying to find more information about these backstage passes. Several security guards eye me with careful scrutiny when I flash my backstage pass asking, “Where does this lead me to?” Most of them don’t really know (weird – huh?), and direct me to their colleagues. I finally get a response from one guard. “This takes you to the backstage and D’Angelo’s dressing room,” he confirms, adding, “But this is a bad time as the concert is about to begin. Make sure you wear it after the concert. Ask any guard in blue to get you someone from D’Angelo’s Management. Only they can escort you to the backstage.”

Wait. Did he just say that this pass leads me to D’Angelo’s dressing room. Oh glory kingdom come! With that assurance, for the first time – I feel like meeting D’Angelo in person later tonight might become a reality.

Dimly lit in orange-ish light, Annexet is charged. The crowd roars and claps after every song the DJ plays, as if in other words protesting “We want D’Angelo!”

Check out:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III Second Coming Review

11082501_965598620131992_3887513584481505353_nIf you are a journalist like me – you constantly have to deal with PR people. They can sometimes rub you the wrong way because of always demanding results, even without employing the best means of communication. But my friend Cedrick Lumiti was never like that, he was king at PR.

We first started communicating via email and phone around 2009. From the get-go, even before meeting Cedrick in person, I gravitated towards his passionate approach towards work. His humour and the sincerity of his laughter was a bonus. Soon, I would start to realize that his style in practicing PR was quite different from the norm – it was very personalized and custom-made, almost for anything he was up to.

In communication, Cedrick covered all loops. He left no room for doubt. He also brought fun to work. After sending an email, he would always quickly follow-up by calling. We would almost always start chatting about everything non-work related before getting to business.

When we finally first met, Cedrick was a little intimidated by my towering figure. I admit that I was a little shocked that a man only four feet, six inches tall had such a big voice, strong demeanor and colossal drive. Thankfully our friendship would emerge tallest.

For the show I host on KBC TV: Grapevine, I hardly missed to attend any event or function that Cedrick managed during his tenure in entertainment-related PR. Some of our great moments at work include covering the Safaricom Lewa Marathon, twice. In a crowded bus to Lewa, full of rowdy journalists, I remember Cedrick shutting down someone’s idea for us to all eat at a fancy hotel. He instead took us to a famous meat-eating kawaida place, and even offered to buy drinks. He knew when to work and when to play – even though sometimes the two wouldn’t be far apart.

When we traveled with him to Eldoret for the 2011 Niko Na Safaricom Live Tour, he helped me hustle for an interview with Redsan before his performance (even though it was against Safaricom tour rules for artists to be interviewed before show). In many ways, we were the same at work—never blinking or letting an opportunity slide. Our friendship was cemented on the mutual admiration for each other’s drive.

On our way back to Nairobi from Eldoret, I convinced Cedrick to allow the driver to take a detour into Molo so we could visit my mum and eat some of that yummy Molo lamb. The man I introduced to my mum as my friend and the media liason for the countrywide tour, loved his shoes clean, but was walking barefoot. It had been a rainy and muddy morning in Eldoret and at some point he threw his dirty shoes away, and then his slippers too because they didn’t look good on him – he thought :-)

During one of his trips to his Kakamega shagz, he would later call me to ask for mum’s contact for her to organize some nyama. “Oh no! Your friend who came to visit me without shoes!? He was so happy and pleasant and had promised to send me credit,” mum remembers Cedrick.

Screenshot_2015-03-21-13-05-29In times when I needed footage at weird times like Sunday night to ensure that I had the news in time for Monday night show, many PR people promised to deliver but didn’t – Cedrick always personally delivered. Whether or not I covered his events and even after leaving entertainment-related PR, he constantly used to watch my show and pass a comment usually by calling. I appreciate that.

His departure from entertainment-related PR in pursuit of further education and growth into bigger PR firms was a very sad thing for me. Nobody else took PR in entertainment as seriously as he did. He also understood how much Arts and Culture meant to me. After his move, he would still send me invites– call–challenge and cajole me to broaden my view of a story angle. His thoroughness in PR has shaped my own career.

Your passing is a great loss to the PR and Communications industry in Kenya. It’s a greater, even immeasurable, loss for me. Cheers to the great times, lessons and memories!

BONUS: My condolences to Cedrick’s friends, colleagues and his young family. May his spirit forever guide us.

Journalists are like vultures to leftovers when around story opportunities. In a few days, I am headed to Sweden to attend D’Angelo’s Stockholm concert (part of the Second Coming Tour in Europe). And even though I haven’t got his contact, I DSC00143am planning to meet and interview the Grammy Award-winning neo soul/R&B singer while there.

I have tried to get through to D’Angelo’s management via several emails, Facebook and tweets but no response. It’s a little frustrating but I won’t relent – I know that either way I will file a feature or two on his triumphant return.

Growing up, my mother never allowed us to get out of the house, unless you were going to school, church or shop. We worked around what we had – which was only finding the world through films and music. My sisters, especially Emma, always had great taste in music—introducing me to grown music at an early age. Even before my teens, my definition of music was synonymous to Tupac, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Maxwell and D’Angelo. The rest didn’t matter much.

The thought of meeting D’Angelo then or now is still so foreign to me, a girl born and raised in a small town (Molo). But with my wealth of contacts (perks of being a Publicist) in an increasingly shrinking internet-world, I am doing my best to make it happen. I start to stalk all my European contacts for the hook up and thankfully my girl from Paris, Cleo, puts me in direct contact with The Vanguard’s keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” and D’Angelo’s management :-)

The rest is history.

From the day I arrive in Stockholm, I am almost never chilled out because I can’t wait for D’Angelo’s concert day to meet his people. Is it really going to work? Anxious, I send his tour manager several emails alerting him that I am already in Stockholm and would like to get full details leading up to the Feb 28th concert. But they are quite taken by the Second Coming Tour. I am surprised to get a response. One email says, “You will find your tickets and backstage passes at Stockholm’s Annexet concert venue at 7:30 p.m. on day of concert,” assuring me, “It won’t be complicated.”

So I wait.

I know how hard it is to get through to D’Angelo. As I move closer to his concert day, the more the idea of meeting or interviewing him sounds crazier. But I do have a strong feeling that it might happen. To avoid any jinx, I keep it all under wraps. Only his management, my editors at Nation Newspaper and a few friends know what I am up to.

Read: The Return of D’Angelo: Black Messiah (Album Review)

DSC_0946On the day of the concert, I am with Sylvia in town for some shopping and museum rounds. I spot D’Angelo concert posters everywhere. Today I feel all grown up because amidst the addictive pleasures of travel, I have brought myself this far to work and play.

Whether or not I meet D’Angelo, I am chasing a couple of Kenyan stories in Sweden and will still file a review of The Second Coming Tour concert. And for the cherry on top – I am reuniting with my friend Sylvia at her home in Sweden. Last November we bid each other adieu in Paris, jesting, “Who knows where we’re going to meet each other next …”

Seeing D’Angelo in concert is something I would always want to do at any point in my life. I just never thought I’d ever meet him, especially this way.

In the continuation, check out:

How I Met D’Angelo Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

Inside Second Coming Tour: How I Met D’Angelo: Part IV

How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V

 

 

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“The best-selling story of a negro teacher in a tough school in London’s East End”

To Sir, With Love is such a wonderful book. E.R Braithwaite has written an autobiography so sumptuous with its many life teachings – making it really one of those tiny books that will change your life. This is one of those books I’ve read a lot about, making our acquaintance sort of like meeting the old friend that you never had.

After studying and graduating in England, Braithwaite works for two years pro bono as a Communications Engineer for the Standard Oil Company before wanting to change jobs. He receives letters for different appointments for the same position at three different firms. Despite his qualifications, he is however always turned down because of his black skin. One time, employers note that he is overqualified saying, “[White people] might resent the posh way you speak …” A dejected Braithwaite sets the scenario, “To many in Britain, a negro is a ‘darky’, ‘nigger’ or ‘black’. [When] one sees Negroes as doctors, lawyers or talented entertainers, they are somehow considered ‘different’ and not to be confused with the mass.”

Sir Falls. Then Rises.

The book’s driving force is when a sad and idling Braithwaite serendipitously meets an old man, disguised as another “garrulous old crank” at St James’s Park. He gives counsel, “A big city cannot afford to have its attention distracted from the important job of being a big city by such a tiny, unimportant item as your happiness or mine. It’s no one’s fault.” Their small yet valuable and powerful conversation turns Braithwaite’s sadness into new inspiration making him apply for a job at an education opening. He becomes the first negro teacher at Greenslade School. His class is the most unruly and has the oldest children in the school. The children have driven numerous teachers away with their bad attitude and rude remarks. But after everything Braithwaite has been though to get a job, he’s determined to stay.

Braithwaite slowly teaches the brats life lessons like how to respect themselves first before other human beings, irrespective of colour. When he gets injured once, one of his students sees his blood and gasps, “Your colour is only skin deep, Sir.” As the older students start to refer to each other respectfully Braithwaite asserts that this is something the younger ones would aim at. He writes, “Every now and then I could overhear the now familiar ‘Sir said …’ expressed with positive finality, a constant reminder of the great responsibility I had undertaken.” Their relationship slowly transforms from bad to worse; then to amicable, and finally such fondness. The class even surprises him with a vase of neatly arranged flowers “collected from the tiny backyards and window boxes of their homes … the most wonderful bouquet in the world.” Even though Sir always subscribes to such exquisite etiquette and the finer things in life, equality and nobility is at his heart. When a local newspaper wants to feature the school, they want to interview Sir as a show of the school’s tolerance to supporting British ideals of equality. Sir however, turns them down not wanting his achievements to be aligned to his skin colour.

The book’s life lessons are many; the most profound being – respect begets respect. For instance, in the ruggedness of the kids, Braithwaite finds their style and individuality. “I could understand that such clothes merely reflected vigorous personalities in a relentless search for self-expression.” One of Braithwaite’s colleagues applauds his efforts, “You’ve made good of this job, you treat them with kindness and courtesy and what’s more they’re learning a lot with you.” This book teaches us that even those who seem most undeserving of anything deserve to be given a chance and be treated with respect.

Sir Falls in Love

When Braithwaite falls in love with a white lady, Gillian, he sees how their association exposes her to “vindictive faces and hard stares”. He writes, “It seems as though there was an unwritten law in Britain which required any healthy, able-bodied negro resident there to be either celibate by inclination, or else a master of the art of sublimation … We were to be men, but without manhood.” They are faced with difficulty if they stay together and even more difficulty if they don’t.

Braithwaite writes almost as beautifully as his own love story unfolds, “Life followed no pattern, no planned course. Before tonight I had not even kissed this sweet, beloved girl, yet now, for good or ill, the die was cast. I was afraid of this sweet person prepared to link her life to mine. But others had met this problem before and had succeeded in rising above it” She tells him, “I am not very brave about what people will say and things like that but I do love you completely. I’ll try to be good for you, I think we can be happy together.”

The death and funeral of a parent of one of Braithwaite’s students’ is the book’s ultimate gift of redemption. Seales’ mother was a white lady married to a negro. But still, most of Braithwaite’s students say they can’t go to his home to pass their condolences when Seales’ mother dies, because of what “the rest” will think of them visiting a black person’s home. This disappoints Braithwaite. He feels that they should have borrowed a leaf from the new ideals he’s taught them. Their headmaster warns, “This is a community with many strong racial and religious tensions and prejudices, most of them of long-standing …” Braithwaite decides to go to the funeral solo. Depressed by thoughts of his class; meeting them there, after all, becomes the book’s turning point. He sheds a tear, thinking, “These brutal, disarming bastards, I love them …” Braithwaite always has a sense of humour even in despair—some of his frustration in the book always bursts into comic relief.

Like life – To Sir, With Love isn’t perfect. Being told from Braithwaite’s experience and impressions, we don’t encounter a lot of other black people never subjected to prejudice or up against it; neither do we get a chance to get into the minds of those strongly against racism. There is room to question the objectivity of its themes. I am disappointed that the Sir in the book’s title isn’t the old man who sparks Braithwaite’s wits in teaching and mentoring. However, he writes, “I hope that he may one day read these pages and know how deeply grateful I am for that timely and fateful meeting.”

To Sir, With Love is timeless. Over 50 years later and we can still directly link it to the core message of the Black Lives Matter Movement. “It is easy to reach a gun or a knife but then you become merely a tool and the gun or knife takes over, thereby creating new and bigger problems without solving a thing. So what happens when there is no weapon handy?”

BONUS: It’s fitting that Sir Sidney Poitier who stars in the movie adaptation of the book To Sir, With Love – happens to be the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (for his role in Lilies of the Field). After To Sir, With Love, Poitier went on to star in two other acclaimed films dealing with issues involving race: In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

 

maxresdefaultJ. Cole isn’t your typical rapper. He’s probably the most strategic in the game in recent times. In his second album Born Sinner, he writes a song for hip hop legend Nas – Let Nas Down – yet in his latest album: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (FHD) he raps about having No Role Modelz. In FHD, J. Cole replaces the s with z in songs like Wet Dreamz, A Tale of 2 Citiez and Love Yourz – just like Tupac did in songs from one of the greatest hip hop albums All Eyez on Me.

It’s weird trying to review J. Cole’s calculations. Maybe I am being too critical but FHD feels a little more structural and thought through than his previous albums: Born Sinner and Cole World. However, of all albums FHD is the expression that finally graduates Cole into the school of real rap and independence. Most notable is the fact that this is the first all Cole-World album, featuring no guests or collaborations.

Unlike J. Cole’s mixtapes, albums before FHD had some straight up feel-good music like Can’t Get Enough, Lights Please and In the Morning. But FHD is a move back towards the mixtapes raw vibe. FHD is no mainstream bubble gum music. “The lyrics are powerful,” noted my good friend Jojo, adding, “I was never a die-hard J. Cole fan but this album is perfect. If you’re looking for turn up tunes you’ll be disappointed but if you’re looking for music about real situations then this album is a gem. He spits about angst, fake people, being black in America, happiness, dreams, success, romance and hustling.”

The bravado in Born Sinner’s Villuminati takes new shape and form in FHD’s songs like Fire Squad and G.O.M.D. Plus you don’t just call a song Get Out of My Dick. In songs like January 28th Cole namedrops rap geniuses like Rakim, Kendrick and Drake—some well-crafted egotistical rap, synonymous to Kendrick Lamar’s Control verse. Songs like Apparently and Fire Squad are such dope songs!

FHD is some type of masterpiece but still not the best of Cole. My gut tells me. I feel this is as close as he’s ever come to legend status. Hope he hasn’t disappointed Nas here :-)  In summary I love Cole’s evolution, I really can’t wait to hear what’s next.

I am very selective when it comes to rappers. I look out for the skill of rap, the delivery, punch line originality and the story, Most of my ideal rappers are those that have mastered all these qualities: Tupac, Wale, LL Cool J, Pusha T, Lil Wayne, etc. A die-hard Tupac and Eminem fan, I am biased to the idea that good rap music should have dope rhymes and punch lines and still make sense. No doubt – J. Cole is a legend in the making.

 

dangelo_wide-79c17be966d05cf20c4eb86d01d85b7bf43a3c63-s1100-c15D’Angelo no longer has abs for days like he used to but his long-awaited new record and return is just as sexy, if not sexier.

The album: Black Messiah is a sophisticated-near-futuristic reminder of some type of music rarity and timelessness that I can only relate to his past albums: Voodoo (2000) and Brown Sugar (1995) or Maxwell’s debut album Urban Hang Suite (1996).

The return of the former R&B sex symbol – to me, is like how it would feel for die-hard Jesus followers when the real Messiah returns. In a statement included in the album, D’Angelo reveals that the title Black Messiah was inspired by events in Ferguson and New York. “Black Messiah title is about all of us,” he writes, adding, “It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them.”

So what exactly makes Black Messiah such a gem and so damn sexy? It’s not really because of any utterance of sex in the songs’ lyrics but a slewed mesh of musical elements and strong messages. Black Messiah isn’t about one genre but such multi-dimensional songs and sounds, delivered with a punch that leaves you feeling a little dizzy and sometimes drugged. By the time 1000 Deaths gets to the end, the electric guitars make the song sound exactly how a cultic ritual would if music was involved. Ain’t That Easy is such a sweet entry into the album. D’Angelo has said severally that Prince is his biggest music inspiration. This song is rock–it is Prince.

Certain elements in the album enhance the general narcoticism of D’Angelo’s music. Betray My Heart is at the peak of it all and its theme – at the height of the art of loving someone. We normally strive not to break others’ hearts but when who you love is your definition of love, and you make that synonymous to your heart – surely you can’t hurt your heart.

With a twist and swing to it, this is probably the sweetest and deepest song (after Really Love) in Black Messiah. This song is proof that only D’Angelo’s instrumentation speaks almost as loud as his lyrics. As his ad-libs to “baby – stay right here…” rise in falsetto, the guitars and drums scream sexually with an ascending pace to the lyrics. Please tell me this isn’t sex.

If you’re looking for a really great and well-written song, Really Love it is. What is love? This song and books like Love in the Time of Cholera have taught me that love is different for everyone. Love is what you want it to be, and you can find it in the simplest of places or the extremes of suffering. “When you call my name, when you love me gently, when you’re walking near me, Doo doo wah, I’m in really love with you …” –sings D’Angelo in the first verse. Now I’d love to be in really love, such deep love that will make me talk in tongues like ” Doo doo wah …”

If you’re looking for some dope neo soul Till its Done (Tutu), Back to the Future (Part I), Prayer and Suggah Daddy are must-listens! The Charade is some type of odd sound that only music weirdos like me will really enjoy.

While Black Messiah sometimes sounds like one piece of music, every song ends up having it’s own uniqueness, edge and vibe. You’re guaranteed that loads of elements in the album will leave you bopping your head in surprise that all these elements fit in one place.

While D’Angelo was away, ladies worshipped sex gods like Miguel, Trey Songz and Usher. Other legendary figures in neo soul like Maxwell released albums – read a review of Blacksummers Night. But ladies never really forgot about D’Angelo’s olden sexy demeanour in his famed racy music video: Untitled (How Does it Feel).

To make a return just as sexy without that bod is proof that D’Angelo’s music is more than the visual aspect. It’s a psychological thing that the image of nude younger D and his music has since planted in our minds since we saw that video.

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After two decades of missing a very important figure in neo soul music, call it bravado or cocky but D’Angelo and the Vanguard couldn’t have named this return anything better than the Black Messiah. Its title and release (December 2014) has been associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Inside the album D’angelo writes, “Not every song in this album is politically charged (though many are) … Black Messiah isn’t about one man. It’s a feeling, that collectively, we are all that leader …”

After struggling with drug addiction, surviving a fatal road accident and taking a sabbatical from music—this return, so solid and soulful, has proven to the world, at a time when speculations run wild about the slow death of R&B and evolving genres, that D’Angelo is a Messiah of sorts. Maybe most accurately – the Messiah of R&B, neo soul, funk, jazz and still– sex.

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Electrafrique can throw some mean parties!

2014 is the first year I have felt bad to leave behind. Full of surprises like a piñata, mine was filled with small joys like meeting new friends from around the world and establishing classic bonds with them in record time. When all this was broken by unsaid goodbyes, we were all left in celebration of life’s little pleasures.

This year I bid farewell to employment. I work for myself and with whom I want. This has made me extremely dependent on my creativity, ideas and instincts. I have become a slave to my own schedule; so I can stay up all night and sleep all day or take a week off to travel off to wherever I deem fit. People think that this arrangement allows you to sleep more hours, you actually work more hours – if you’ve got stuff to do like I do. Setting up my PR agency and working with other artists like Suzanna Owiyo, Lynxx and Chidinma was dope! Working with Electrafrique was another dope thing about 2014. I already have a few dope artists confirmed for 2015, so it can only get spicier! Also pimping the company, it’s just about time to handle bigger gigs.

Starting to write for Nation this year is one of my major accomplishments. I am so glad I now have a wider platform to share all these amazing Arts & Culture stories from Kenya and around the world. Check out some of my articles below:

Project takes African film to world

Winners of Slum Film Festival headed for big screens

Why vernacular plays rule the stage

Why Kenyan music misses the cut

First local play on Westgate horror staged

In the seven years I have worked with Sauti Sol as their publicist, 2014 was the height of our union. Winning Best African Act an MTV EMA Award was priceless. And to be the first Kenyans to do this is historic. Their video Nishike being declared by Google the Most Viewed Video in Kenya in 2014 was awesome! When I first heard the news I remembered its release day so vividly, it’s the one Sauti Sol release day that I never slept one wink for more than 30 hours. Sleepless nights pay off. Touring Europe with Sauti Sol and attending Nynke and Steve’s wedding in Netherlands was really special. Check out Wedding of the Year!

Tales from Amsterdam

Fulfilling another one of my dreams – visiting Paris, in 2014 was dope! I still can’t believe I saw the real Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower and sampled some of that yummy French cuisine.

Tales from France

Travelling to Turkana this year marks a checklist off my life’s to-do lists. I have always wanted to see all parts of Kenya. I can’t be more content knowing in 2015 I have a couple of upcoming projects with organizations working in Turkana.

Tales from Turkana

Travelling to Dar es Salaam was also great. I got to compare and contrast bongo’s entertainment scene with Nairobi’s. Read all about it!

Maintaining old friends and making new ones was a beautiful thing. As you grow older, you really feel like you’ve had enough of close friends but this year taught me something—it’s just never too late for new stuff. So thank you to all my old friends. I am only going to mention the new lot :-) Sylvia. Iyobel. Lucia. Brenna—I adore you guys!

Uniting with Brenna

Letting go of others gave me room to accommodate other people and just be happy. Love shouldn’t ever cause anyone hurt. And I’ve figured you’re better off without hurt and love, rather than have one and not the other. But I want to be at my best.

dannilouiseTransparent5One of my poems was selected by Daniella Blechner, a London author, and published into the anthology: 7 Shades of Love – “a collection of poems written by women and men globally”. Like what? This one has made me so happy! :-)

Get the book via Amazon or via www.daniellablechner.com

2014 has taught me to believe in myself, and those who believe in me. It has taught me to listen to people and follow signs. I grew up when I had to travel around Europe alone in one week (I owe you guys this blog post). It’s taught me to spend on the intangibles – to cherish the untouchables. It’s taught me to keep giving, and that way I keep getting more in return. It’s taught me to love, and taught my heart to forgive and let go. I just don’t care as much as I used to. And then sometimes I care just a little too much.

My hustle being appreciated by a couple of publications was dope! read some of them below:

In The Cottage With: ANYIKO OWOKO

MEET: Multi-talented media genius Anyiko Owoko

Meet Anyiko Owoko, Celebrity Publicist to Kenya’s Afro-pop Sauti Sol

My best friend Bunny getting engaged to her boyfriend from our high school days was a major inspiring moment. Love is true – forget what anyone said. My new nieces Nya and Chrissy and my nephew Santa have brought me such happiness.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 16.04.34Celebrating my birthday in the wild was something! Plus there’s nothing like taking a balloon ride. Read about my bday celebration with Smiles and Daniel.

For a music lover like me, tracking down 22tracks and meeting Tabu Ley’s son in Paris was just it! Enough.

I could go on and on but at the end the accomplishments and experiences of a whole year couldn’t be summarized in one or two blog posts; words can’t even do justice. In summary, this is my best year yet and with this kind of vagabond energy I am ready to do everything and nothing. I am ready to live in the moment and not be tied down by anything or anyone. After all – it’s my life.

 BONUS: Thank you to everyone who touched me this year. Thank you if you let me touch you :-) Thank you Black Roses subscribers – we are at over 9,000 now! Big Fam Yo!

Wish you all a Kickass New Year!

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When in Paris – eat EVERYTHING at Paul Bakery. Thank me later.

I should be arrested for not having French toast while in Paris. But life is meaningless without breaking rules or committing any crime. Excuse me but I hardly ever have breakfast while in Europe or any other foreign land. I normally need at least a month to adjust to new places. I am normally sleeping in during breakfast time. Brunch is my thing. Plus I eat so many yummy baguettes in Paris.

On my second day in Paris, I am hanging out with my friends. We are pressed for time. There’s so much to do but such little time. Instead of visiting several museums and some romantic places like Pont des Arts, the romantic lovers’ bridge with countless padlocks; I’ve decided that we are going into town to find a great restaurant serving some good food.

I am10867234_10152856994762559_1813695895_n with Sylvia, Nynke, Steve and Chimano – the usual suspects. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon, and somehow most restaurants aren’t opened but we are determined to get a nice place to eat. We finally end up at café Benjamin, not too far from The Louvre. We sit by the patio and it’s perfect because we can feel the warmth of the shy sunshine and glimpse at fashionable street walkers (no pun intended). I want to have Steak-frites, a common dish served in Brasseries throughout Paris and Europe.

The waiter at Le Benjamin is so jolly it’s insane. He looks like a Chinese yet he can’t speak good English or French. He keeps shouting while talking gibberish and laughing out loud for no reason. ‘I really want what this man is having,’ I tell myself. Our food accompanied by a couple of glasses of beer, wine and espressos arrives. It’s all heaven. We savour it down as if it is our last day at eating as we exchange global stories from our respective countries: Netherlands, Kenya and Sweden.
10846947_10152856992697559_1382437728_n10841365_10152856998992559_456766178_nIt’s also Papa’s birthday – Steve’s bro in Mombasa. Steve pulls out his cell phone and we all record for him a Happy Birthday song. This distracts the elderly couple sitting next to us. They are Chinese and ask us where we are from and what brings us to Paris. We start to exchange stories. They say that they’ve been in Paris for the past two weeks and today is their last. They are excited to hear that some of us are from Kenya because they’ve been to Kenya’s Maasai Mara once and they loved it. They look like a stinking rich duo from China – travelling the world in 365 days. “We travel a lot,” the lady says, adding, “It had been a while since I returned to Paris, The last time I was here I was 14 years old.” She’s now in her 80s but looks like she’s 65—what good life does to you.

Later on in the night, we join the rest in visiting Sacré-Cœur Basilica, located at the highest point in the city. Walking down from the basilica, I am astounded by the beauty of Paris bistros located along the narrow roads down the hill from the basilica. We find an Italian restaurant where we have some really dope Italian and French food. Funny thing, we have had such a long day and a lot of wine that nobody cares to check the restaurant’s name. It’s located on the right side of Montmarte hill if you’re heading down along Rue des Martyrs, one of the busiest streets of shops and cafes in Pigalle area.

I have eaten the most steak I have had in my life in the three nights I’ve dined in Paris. I want more spice and chillies and the waitress presents me with an oily wine chilly in a bottle. “Just pour on your food,” she instructs. We dine with Cleopatra, the awesome lady who has played an instrumental role in organizing our trip to France. She’s so cool and classy and tells me a lot of stories about living and dining in France. For instance, the French don’t serve sausages or frites for breakfast. In other words, this is no city for chips funga – only love.

10863549_10152856990397559_797722014_nA few days later, I pass by Lille, a lovely city north of France. I am not a sweet tooth but decide to try out a pretty little cup cake from a bakery at the shopping mall. It’s the most explosive little thing I have ever encountered. Bursting with freshness and goodness, I even discover some sweet gel inside of it. France has restored and fed my appetite.

In the flight back to Nairobi, while leaving Paris, I am stuck in a flight headed to Seychelles via Abu Dhabi. Several Korean and Chinese people are inside. They must be tourists globetrotting. The hostesses have served me the best potato salad in the world. I wish I could ask or more or ask someone for theirs. But I am embarrassed. As if the gods really do hear us out, the Korean man sitting behind me taps me to hand over their salad. Like a silent mafia transaction, he doesn’t say anything other than hand it over and I don’t say anything other than receive it. People only offer you food when you ask or if you look like a street child or beggar – things I don’t look like. I don’t know why he gave me his food but anything Paris gave me – I gobbled it down without a second thought.

Thank you Cleo and Brenna for being such awesome company and guides.

BONUS: A survey of over 500 people through rsvp.com.au considered French food to be a turn on and a French restaurant was more romantic than an Italian meal. And the fact that French people care less for how much you eat is my driving force. The customer service I received was delicate and delivered with tender care, almost as if I owed the restaurants something.

Read the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

10841567_10152855080632559_21613601_nThe last few days of 2014 have seen my appetite turn from okay to wild. I don’t care that I am so busy trying to finish up work pending in 2014, I want food when I want it. I blame this to the French cuisine I recently sampled in Paris. The French don’t care for calories or time it takes to make a meal or wait to be served but that it’s made at par with food for kings and queens.

On returning to Kenya, I start to wonder how I am going to satisfy my food cravings. There is crazy traffic getting in and out-of-town, especially during this holiday season, so making my way to my favourite restaurants or food joints is a NO. NO. Well, not any more since I discovered hellofood.

hellofood don’t deliver food to the route where I reside but that’s okay because when I am at home I can cook up whatever I want. In a city with such slow service, a foodie like me would rather whip it up myself or stand by the counter to cajole the chef. So I am trying out hellofood on my last day at my office job this year. I desperately need something to eat and I am under a lot of pressure. I want to see if the food will arrive on time and just as I had specified.

1c8b642It was a great experiment on a crazy Monday trying to complete my stories on KBC’s Grapevine TV Show. It took seconds to download the app on my cell phone and a minute to find all the restaurants close to my location in Nairobi CBD. I think I want to have some yummy grilled chicken, salad and chips. And it’s been ages since I had anything from Steers.

The registration is so fast, no email notifications or confirmations – nobody has time for that. The app says it’s free for my food to be delivered and that it will take about 60 minutes. It takes less than 30 minutes (well my office on Harry Thuku Road is pretty close to Steers – but still). It’s great cropped-logo21to find an app I can trust with my food.

BONUS: Check out hellofood’s service. For more on my food tales from Paris, check out From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

10866683_10152854035642559_784345967_nI am surprised that Paris food didn’t get me pregnant. There’s nothing I do as much as enjoy French food while in France. French cuisine has taught me something about my basic needs. My perfect world doesn’t have to have Blair Underwood in my bed but fresh and soft French toast and fresh baguettes for breakfast.

My love for French food and voracious appetite starts as soon as I arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) when the taxi man (who only speaks French) Dennys buys me a chicken sandwich in baguette. This thing is the best sandwich I’ve had all my life! The baguette has parmesan and cheese. The bread is so soft and fresh with an outer crust so delicate, crisp and crunchy (the good-kind that doesn’t graze the inside of your upper mouth). The chicken is almost better than the 6-month old Kienyeji kukus from my mother’s farm. It’s so yummy the ooooohs and 10846981_10152854039547559_1361421982_nahhhhh and ummmmmms won’t stop. But I bought this at Paul Bakery – it isn’t even a restaurant and the food is this good?  I know I’ll enjoy food here.

I haven’t had a real meal in more than ten hours. I am really looking forward to my first meal at Le Suffren. I love this restaurant because it’s right by The Eiffel Tower. Walking inside somehow feels like a Parisian experience. It has a typical bistro feel with glass walls and wine-coloured vintage furniture. I am those kind of eaters who tell waiters, glaring at the table next to mine, “I want what they are having!” But today I can’t decide whose food I want to eat, because we’re all too close to each other–I like to window shop from a distance. Despite Le Suffren’s spacious design, its numerous tables sit close to each other, providing an intimate kind of vibe.

10872230_10152854052257559_596523713_nThe waiters here barely speak English but thankfully the menu is in English and some French. There is so much I want to try out but I settle on Beautiful Charolais sirloin with pepper sauce, fried potatoes and salad. Yes! I will have any food with “Beautiful” at the front of its title. Only in France! The waiter is either a chef or a food expert. He wants to know if I’d like my meat well done or not. He won’t take any unorthodox or un-matching orders, according to French cuisine. “Et du vin, mademoiselle?” He asks. “Oui, white sweet wine, not dry please,” I order. “No! We don’t do that here!” He yells at me. I am shocked at his rudeness and everyone at our table wonders why as he struggles with his English. “This is France. We never eat meat with white wine, never!” Hey, but I don’t like red wine, I try to explain to him. He won’t listen and let me have whatever I want, even though I am paying for it. He wasn’t really being rude, I was just a little offensive :-) We finally reach a consensus and he brings me some young sweet red wine which I absolutely adore.

Red wine is the supposed answer to the French paradoxical fact that French people have low rate of chronic heart diseases despite high saturated fat diet.

10846854_10152854035367559_266574505_nThe garnishing of food at Le Suffren is enough to make me never eat it just to look at this beautiful art of food.

My Charolais sirloin is the kind of perfect that makes you bite at your tongue. I later discover that Charolais originates from a cattle beef breed in Charolais, around Charolles, in France. The serving is a lot yet just enough to make you not want more yet not feel disgusted by your indulgence. We (Me, Marek, Chimano, Polycarp and Bien) also sample Le Suffren’s costly sea dishes. It’s my first time to eat Oysters and I love it! Marek says they are aphrodisiacs too.

I end up missing nights out and sight-seeing in the next few days because I am out eating. This is the first time I am in a foreign place and won’t compromise food for anything. I now know that food is the only way to any woman’s heart, too. What’s the best cuisine? The Jan/Feb 2015 issue of my best read, Intelligent Life, poses in the Big Question as seven writers champion their favourite of distinct national cuisines. The food writer Bee Wilson celebrates the carelessness and perfection of French cuisine. What’s the best cuisine? “Its genius can be seen in delicate fish soups with a dollop of fiery rouille; rare onglet steak and salds of green beans; tiny wedges of big-tasting cheese. It’s there in the habit of avoiding snacks between meals, not from self-denial, but because hunger is the best sauce,” she writes. I wouldn’t have put it any better.

People who really know me, know my love for food but they will be surprised to hear that Paris is the only place that actually shows me how much I love food. All this time I thought I just liked food but now I am open to travel extensively just to love food. I wouldn’t mind relocating to Paris for a year, just to eat. I think I would care less if I ate too much in France and added weight like Elizabeth Gilbert did during her time in Italy.

I have even added just a little weight from the three days of indulgence in Paris. “Your bod’s new look is refreshing!” A friend from Nairobi notes after seeing me after the trip. Another asserts after my tales, “Italian food has got nothing on Parisian food. You’ve had the best!” My relationship with French cuisine starts on such a high. It’s so engrossing, I can’t even think of any other thing. It’s not even birthday week but I am about to discover the best little cake I’ve ever had all my life in Lille, a city in the North of France.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

BONUS: This post reminds me of the time I enjoyed a Sicilian dinner at the Hague.

10866972_10152845400072559_782372086_nStepping into the Louvre Museum is like stepping out of a poster. The Louvre’s famed large glass pyramid and the two other smaller ones look as spotless clean and surreal just like in the post cards and French textbooks. This futuristic and avant-garde edifice looks almost like it just dropped from a UFO inside Louvre Palace with architecture so classical and vintage.

 

On my second day in Paris, I am hanging out with my super awesome crew: Sylvia, Chim, Nynke and Steve. After lunch, we are off to Musée du Louvre, world’s most visited museum and one of the largest of all. When we arrive, I am astounded by Louvre Palace that houses the museum. Originally a fortress in the late 12th century, this is how royalty looks. I want to walk but my feet are stuck as my senses try to adapt to an environment so grand and so inspiring, I am left speechless. It’s the same feeling I felt the first time I walked into Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

 

 

Meeting Sylvia again in Paris, just a few months after our awesome time in Netherlands (NL) this summer is a dream come true! If I didn’t have her in my life, I wouldn’t know it, but now I know that I would have missed out big time. Sylvia is the only person on this planet who understands my fascination for real art, as I understand hers. For us, art is in every detail of life. From the shoes we wear, to the pattern and soul of the streets we walk. Art is like a butterfly or chameleon; hard to stay put or define but keeps metamorphosing. A few months ago, we visited all top museums in Amsterdam. But we’ve also found art outside museums, like in words, sounds and scents. Sylvia is the only person I know who describes scents as if they were champions or freedom fighters. One time she describes a Channel perfume as radical. She would really enjoy Intelligent Life features and poetry on perfumes or jewels. In Paris, she’s brought me almost all perfumes she could find with my blog’s name: Black Roses. Rose Noir is really dope!

For more on customised scents & fragrances, check out Sylvia’s Sense of Scent

 

10877524_10152845417957559_152188571_nAfter queuing, getting tickets and passing security check, we are finally inside the Louvre museum. Hundreds of people are streaming in. When I look around me and above the cathedral ceilings, I start to think of Louvre’s 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments. I am suddenly overwhelmed! We won’t do it all, even if we wanted, so we quickly decide to go see the most visited work of art in the world—The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

 

10859657_10152845428132559_801170955_n

Sylvia, is that your hand? :-)

On our way to where she is located, we pass by The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman department displaying pieces from the Mediterranean Basin dating from the 6th century. The statues here have so much personality, I feel like they are Gargoyles. Above the flight of stairs, we see the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike of Samothrace). It’s one-winged but for reasons only art can describe, it looks stronger than a Boeing. Created to honour the goddess, Nike; it conveys a sense of triumph and grace. And even though it’s made of rock, its drapery still seems soft and flowing.

 

The Mona Lisa

Walking towards the museum’s Salle des États, where The Mona Lisa can be viewed is like a pilgrimage. There are so many people clearly following the directions along the corridors to the masterpiece’s resting place. I am glad we can take pictures and videos but a little disappointed that the real The Mona Lisa isn’t as big as I had anticipated she would be. The art piece, older than 500 years, is displayed inside a thick bulletproof glass is quite small, maybe just a little bigger than an A4 Size.

 

The Mona Lisa is listed by the Guinness World Records as having the highest insurance value for a painting in history and assessed at US $100 million. In 1911, an Italian employee stole Mona Lisa to keep her safe in his apartment. Several artists including Pablo Picasso were held in suspicion of the theft and later released. After two years, the culprit was arrested when he tried to sell The Mona Lisa to museum directors in Italy. He is said to have believed that Mona Lisa should have always been in custody of Italians because it was painted in Italy. The theft is what first made Mona Lisa hot property within the art world.

 

 

On our way out, I pass by the Louvre bookshop. It has just about everything with a stamp of Mona Lisa. We don’t have much time here but I grab Mona Lisa postcards, mug, fridge magnet, bookmarks and Louvre postcards. Need to send some to my nieces Zuri, Nya and Rose.

As I walk out of the Louvre, I still can’t believe I am right at the place where Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code touches on the myth behind the pyramid’s supposed 666 panes of glass. The sun is starting to go down and reflects beautifully on the waters along the pyramids floors. Such magic! As we make our way out, a French photographer stops me. She wants a picture of me by the pyramids. I let her snap away, vicariously living my dream of being a supermodel.

10847004_10152845436617559_1406930081_nThe half-length portrait of The Mona Lisa might be small but its mystery is grand. She continues to be a fascination and study of work. Her expression so imposing, is often described as enigmatic. She really is looking at me from all sides. She’s also mad at one point and then seems to throw a smug face all at once. Even though she freaks me out, I am glad I saw Mona Lisa.

BONUS: Thank you Nynke, Steve, Sylvia and Chim for the super time and company. I love you guys. Wonder where we are going to be all together, again :-)

y’all look out for my series of blog posts on my art museums expedition in Netherlands with Sylvia and Chimano. Starting soon …

You might dig my other tales from Paris, check out From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

 

 

 

France venueNever been with Sauti Sol (Best African Act 2014 MTV EMA) to a venue more magical than where they are performing tonight in Paris—Les Calanques.

Shaped like a ship and glass-walled, the venue lies along one of Paris serene water canals. At night I see a white ship cruising past in slow motion. There’s an all-white party with tables inside covered with all sorts of food, fruits and wine. It’s not summer or Christmas yet but people inside are having a merry time. How I’d give everything to be on a cruise (note to self when I go visit my sister in Florida). They are probably going to end up at Amsterdam harbour, just near where I was staying last summer.

SS Live in ParisThis Saturday night is beauty. Paris golden lights glitter through the glass from the back of the stage where Sauti Sol is performing like it’s their last. Right in the middle, I can see the The Eiffel Tower standing strong among skyscrapers. It’s always great to see Sauti Sol this content and confident while doing what they love to do. Managing backstage interviews, pictures with fans and celebrities in Paris, is one of my toughest times working as Sauti Sol’s Publicist. But we all pull through :-)

Having my friends (from across Europe) with me tonight makes me feel like I am not as far from home as I am. In fact, for some seconds, I don’t really know where we are, other than exactly where we want to be. The last time I felt like this was at Steve & Nynke’s Wedding. Home must be wherever you belong. Just the other day was with my Kenyan friend, Emo, in Nairobi and now we are partying in Paris. Same with the rest Nynke and Steve (Amsterdam), Sylvia (Stockholm) – from a happy summer in Netherlands, we meet again in Paris. I am in the city I always dreamt of visiting. And my first time couldn’t be any better with this kind of company.

BrennaIt’s also an amazing feeling to finally connect with my journalist friend Brenna, who lives here and works at France 24. We have the most meant-to-be-reunion. It’s almost like we always knew each other. And as it would turn out, this meeting only makes us closer and better friends. Brenna is the prettiest girl I’ve seen in France throughout my stay. I help facilitate her interviews with Sauti Sol for France 24 and RFI. And we can’t help but giggle at nearly every one of our conversations and discoveries like how much she resembles my Swedish friend Lisa. It’s so freaky, even Lisa comments on an Instagram photo of us saying, “I thought that was our TBT.”

Check out On the edge of stardom with African MTV winners Sauti Sol via France 24.

Lift friendship

My darling sweeties: Chimano & Sylvia meet Brenna.

I adore Brenna because I see myself in her. She’s as passionate as I am in journalism and a true lover of discovery and challenges. I just love how she mixes work and play, exactly how I do. She does part of the interview at the hotel and picks up every tiny detail along the way, even things I say in passing – this is my exact style.

We have a ball at the concert! When we are together, we can’t stop with the creative ideas on features we could file together. We have in the past shared a lot of stories and ideas, and even collaborated on some but our meeting makes us plan on doing our first official joint juxtaposition feature on Paris/Nairobi in 2015. We’re going to do something for radio and print—that’s all I can reveal for now.

Read Brenna’s feature on Children with cancer abandoned at Kenya’s largest hospital for France 24’s The Observers, inspired by a story I filed from my Visit to the Children’s Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital Children’s Ward.

Brenna sort of reminds me of my best friend Bunny. She’s got that cool I-don’t-care-I’ma-do-me vibe. She’s the kind of friend you can always count on, even when you haven’t seen or given them a call for a year. She’s true. Even before my arrival in Paris, she wants to know everything I would like to do so she can help in every way. “I want to take selfies by The Eiffel Tower,” my first request. “You’re pretty cheap,” she jests. A few days later, I see her true colours. When I almost miss my bus to Netherlands, she offers me a place to stay. When we think I am about to miss my flight back to Abu Dhabi, thanks to the grand affair that is Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), she offers me a place to stay. All these times, she is constantly texting and calling if not accompanying or receiving me at one end.

She’s like the best friend I never had, but could still have. Plus she’s met and interviewed one of my favourite musicians on this planet Lianne Le Havas. Keeping my fingers crossed so Brenna can come to Kenya in 2015 so we can work on that feature and I can show her around my country, city and hood.

BONUS: Thank you to MVC Events Paris for hosting Sauti Sol in Paris.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

10841221_10152834053202559_489482431_n“It’s an honour yet a challenge to be Tabu Ley’s son. People want me to be exactly like my Dad. But it’s impossible because I am another man,” says Pegguy Tabu Ley, a musician in his own right. His father is the celebrated Congolese singer and songwriter, Tabu Ley Rochereau, famed for his inimitable song-writing skills and extensive discography (250 albums).

I first got introduced to Pegguy’s music by Cleo (one of the ladies organising Sauti Sol’s concert in Paris tonight, where Pegguy will perform too). I found his voice extremely sweet and alluring making him one of the people I am looking forward to meet when I arrive in France.

When I am finally around him at the concert venue before kick off, nobody introduces us to each other. He is however kind enough to come introduce himself (just as Pegguy). We speak some French. I don’t recognise him from the music videos though I assume he’s just another awesome singer. It must be events that have occurred in the past 24 hours. To get here, I have just spent over 16 hours between airports and haven’t slept one bit since arrival.

Read the series: To Paris with Love.

I like his headphones and style. His harem sweatpants are dope. He’s very keen when any type of music starts to play in the room. And zones out in a dance when Sauti Sol run soundcheck. He seems pretty excited by their sound. I explain my work as their publicist, after which he tells me he would love to work with them. I only discover that Pegguy is Tabu Ley’s son after I’ve left the venue. Polycarp of Sauti Sol tells me, “You know that was Tabu Ley’s son you were talking to…” No kidding! I retort. This is long after we’ve already exchanged contacts.

Seeing Pegguy perform later on leaves me speechless. In Swahili we say, sauti ya kutoa nyoka pangoni. He’s got that kind of voice that will get you hooked like superglue. It’s almost like old meets new. It’s got some of that Tabu Ley finesse and a crispy run that can give Fally Ipupa a run for his money. Sometimes, he sounds just like Tabu Ley.

Tabu Ley is credited for pioneering Sokous (African rumba) music and mentoring some great Congolese singers like Papa Wemba (who I met and interviewed this year. I need to finish that report). In 1985, Tabu Ley composed for M’bilia the song “Twende Nairobi” (Na Ke Nayirobi) for their friends from Nairobi, after the Government of Kenya banned all foreign music from the National Radio service. The song soon became a Pan-African hit and one that resonated with many Kenyans forcing the then President to lift the ban. “My father had more than 3000 songs,” says Pegguy while trying to recall the song. I refresh his memory, “It means let’s go to Nairobi.” He remembers it quickly declaring his love for it.

“When Tabu Ley played, my life nearly came to a stop,” says Leonard Mambo Mbotela about Kenya’s attempted coup in 1982.

Renowned Queen of Congolese rumba, M’bilia Bel rose to fame after being discovered by Tabu Ley, who ended up marrying her. “Is your mummy M’bilia?” I’ve been itching to ask Pegguy. “No. My mum is Mundy, Miss Zaire in 1969. My father had many songs about her.” I see where he gets the looks. “And she is still beautiful,” he adds cheekily. Tabu had many women and many children (up to 68), the latter whom Pegguy says he knows most of. In fact he’s been working closely with his brother, French rapper Youssoupha.

Pegguy moved to Europe as a young boy together with his family. He is now based in Luxembourg. 2008 was the first time he returned to his native Congo since the move. He says, “I found my own way through my father’s music but Congo made me discover my real music identity.” Despite having worked as a composer and producer with some top artists in France like Vitaa, Diam’s and Booba, Pegguy is now concentrating all his efforts towards his solo career and reaching out to Congo. He has started a series of shows “Pegguy Tabu sings Tabu Ley” that shuffle in between Luxembourg and Congo.

In a few weeks (Jan 2015) Pegguy will be in Congo to promote his music. By the end of 2015, he will have launched his first solo album -“a mix of European, American and African music.” He sends me his new Lingala song,”Limbisa” (Forgive). The baby-making song is a distant relative to “Signs of Love Makin” by Tyrese. It’s unreleased and might be his next, he tells me. It’s got that Rico Love quiet storm R&B vibe, and vocals that will make the ladies wonder where Pegguy has been all this time.

tabu-ley-hidden-gems

“If you want success, you must be in the service of people.”- biggest life lesson Pegguy says he learnt from his Dad.

Tabu Ley died in 2013 while undergoing treatment for a stroke he suffered in 2008. Pegguy reveals that his Dad’s gregarious character and humour is the one thing the world never knew of Tabu. He says he also misses his Dad’s counsel the most.

A reveller comments after a Pegguy 2012 concert in Congo, “Pegguy is not a continuation but the resurrection of Tabu Ley.” While Pegguy can’t run from being constantly compared to his father, he’s on a mission to define his own sound. It’s a thin line that sometimes excites him just as much as it brings frustration. He beams, “People in Congo were impressed by the similarity of my voice to my father’s.” While many people want to hear just Tabu Ley in Pegguy, he’s cut out from a cloth that draped him for a bigger garment. “My Dad wanted me to be a singer for the people,” says Pegguy, who seems content living his Dad’s wish—just making music for people, irrespective of where they are from. In fact, he is interested in my PR services to promote his singles in Kenya, a venture I am considering very seriously.

Tabu Ley was my late father’s favourite singer. For the first eight years of my life, only Tabu Ley music played the most at our house. I tell Pegguy, who only responds with a “Cool!” Tabu Ley was and still is the King of rumba for so many of our parents; could you imagine the number of people who say that to any of Tabu’s kids? Either way – meeting his son makes me feel a tad little closer to the stuff that make legend.

BONUS: When I ask Pegguy if I could blog about him and his Dad, I am not sure I will be getting a yes. But he’s cool and even says cooler things about my Black Roses :-) Pegguy Merci beaucoup!

10834003_10152827237672559_2137975466_nI totally understand why an American woman, Erika Eiffel, ‘married’ the Eiffel Tower back in 2007. The thing is a keeper. Only problem I’d have with it being my husband is the fact that its erection must be shared with the whole world.

I expect to see the Eiffel Tower as soon as I step out of Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport. Like many people who dream of seeing the iconic structure, I think it’s the first thing you automatically see when you get to Paris. I discover that Paris is even more grand and swankier than I had imagined it would be. The streets are as beautiful as you could ever dream but wider than you’d suppose. They’ve got so many mini bistros, and bakeries with Baguettes hanging out like flowers in a flower shop. Just like in the movies.

It’s tough love that the first person I encounter soon after my arrival, Denys, the taxi man, doesn’t speak any English. As we make our way out of the wavy tunnels of CDG, I am too fascinated that I just can’t keep my mouth shut. So I grapple and fumble all I can with my French. “OMG! Paris c’est trés belle!” I marvel. Denys smiles and drives a little slowly every time we pass somewhere I could take a photo. “C’est la premier fois pour toi?” He asks and I explain to him that this is the one place I always wanted to visit. I have made his morning because his eyes twinkle. “Nous avons voir la tour Eiffel quand nous arrivons?” I want to know which side the tower will be so I don’t miss to see it but Denys tells me that it’s way off our route, and that the other taxi man, Faker (yes – quite the name) will drive past it a little later.

The weather isn’t as harsh as how everyone here had described it to me before my arrival. It feels exactly like the temperatures in Molo, my hometown—I associate with this kind of cold. The air smells as crisp as Mountain Dew and the shy sunshine’s rays make me want more.

N**as in Paris

First group photo in Paris! From left, Tito (Sauti Sol Bass guitarist), Denys, Izzo (Sauti Sol electric guitarist), Amani (Sauti Sol Drummer), Cedo (Sauti Sol Keyboardist), Faker and yours truly.

This surrounding makes me ecstatic and can’t wait till am surrounded by all my friends later today. We had the best time in Netherlands (NL) this summer during World Cup 2014, not knowing we’d soon be uniting in the city of love. It’s a bummer that part of my badass European crew: my cousin Judy from London, Danny and Joel from Hague and Helsinki, respectively, couldn’t make it here. However, the adorable couple: Nynke and Steve are soon arriving from Amsterdam. My lovely Sylvia (the best person I’ve met this year) is arriving from Stockholm. I am also excited to finally meet my long-time journalist friend Brenna who lives and works in Paris at France 24. Since her request to interview Sauti Sol years back, we’ve kept in touch, thanks to work-related features from around the globe. She Whatsapps me, “Welcome to Paris, Chérie! How are you, fatiguée? Now you have to end your messages with bisous like the French.”

I am planning on taking a power nap when I arrive at the hotel. For a split second I forget that there is no room for napping when you are on tour with Sauti Sol. They are like vampires, who won’t only last longer than Energizer batteries, but never need to recharge. They are just about to leave the hotel when I arrive and give me an ultimatum, “Stay here and sleep or we’re giving you 15 minutes to get ready if you want to come with us into town.” Of course I am ready to leave in 30 minutes :-)

The Eiffel Tower

A drive into Paris makes me feel like a kid in a candy factory. I want it all! I want to know how everything was made! I am staring at anything and everything. After shopping and driving around, at about 2:30 p.m. on our way to lunch, we drive by Paris water canals and glimpse at a replica of the Statue of Liberty – you know, the gift the people of France gave to America. If I didn’t know better I’d think I am in New York because this statue standing tall overlooking the Pont de Grenelle bridge looks like the real Statue of Liberty of New York.

We are about to drive by the Eiffel Tower—finally! This is probably the most touristy of famous places to visit while in Paris. As tall as an 81-storey building, this tower is strong and beautiful. The streets around the tower are so crowded as thousands of tourists are taking selfies and pictures of it. I am in such awe of the structure – definitely the most commercialised and sold out yet most wanted memento from Paris.

Parisians must be the luckiest people on earth. To live close and drive past this massive allure everyday. The queue of people wanting to go up the tower’s lift or stairs is horrific. It’s like a long python snake spilling into the streets. You probably have to be here quite early to avoid the long wait. ‘It’s never that serious.’ I think to myself. Plus I know of another spot from where I can view the tower and the city’s panoramic view.

The next day past midnight, we decide to pay the Eiffel Tower a late visit. The tower’s iron has transformed into a chic and classic golden-lit affair. In 1985, 336 projectors were set up to light up this Tower by lighting engineer Pierre Bideau who, since, has sparked an inspiration for nocturnal monuments around the world. We want to catch the tower’s wonderful lights that flicker every five minutes every hour till 1:00 a.m. (I think). We want to stand straight under it but Faker says, “I’ve got a better view for you”. He takes us to Champ de Mars where we get to face the tower’s front view. It looks and feels different at night. It’s like Night at the Museum.

"I call it magic!" *Coldplay voice* #EiffelTower by night

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

The Eiffel Tower’s golden lights start to sparkle and dance in blue and white lights while its beacon shines over Paris. I don’t marry the tower after all. Neither do I go up or down on it. I don’t dine above it either—that would cost me a fortune! Plus I have to book six months in advance. It’s one of the coldest of autumn days and the official first day of start of winter in Paris but this moment right here is priceless. Best things in life are free. I am standing right in front of one of the world’s most famed structures—the 125-year-old Eiffel Tower. Shhhhh …. No noise or disturbance, just static yet transient magic.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

BONUS: I took all those photos of the Eiffel Tower. I call it channeling my Mutua Matheka :-)

DSC_1639I don’t know about other languages or other people but I find French – sexy. It’s seducing and seduces. Not saying it right or nailing the accent and intonations takes away a huge chunk off its gist. It was the one language I always had to learn but of late I haven’t been confident expressing myself in French. It’s been about four months since I conversed with a real French speaker, and years since I held a good conversation in French. A few days before leaving Kenya for France, I tell my good Kenyan friend Robert (who speaks French as good as the French, if not better) that I can’t pronounce the name of the hotel we are staying to him because I don’t want it to sound wrong. “Rosey! C’mon!” He cajoles.

A welcome sign just as I am walking into Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) immediately makes me feel at home. I haven’t shared numerous live updates of my travel tales via social media and it’s itching me because I am finally in France, but first—the boarder police. I am here for work and all my documents are legit but you never know with countries you’ve never been to. As I am about to get on the queue for passport check, I realise that I haven’t even checked the name of the hotel where we are staying so I start to freak out. But two extremely hot policemen flash me a smile as they take my passport, “Bon matin mademoiselle!”

*Stamp*

“Merci! Bonne journeé!” I respond. My system is automatically going French.

After baggage claim, I make my way to the arrivals lobby waiting to see all my people in France here to pick me. Turns out ni**as in Paris went ham last night and no one can make it to the airport to receive me this morning. Only thing I receive is a text with the taxi man’s number. No way I am roaming with exorbitant Safaricom. And for some strange reason, my cell won’t connect to CDG Wi-Fi so I also can’t Viber. I am standing in the middle of CDG, feeling like I am the lone contestant in Amazing Race stuck at the airport even before the race begins. I need to find myself a cell phone or French line so I can call the taxi man. As I calculate my next move, I notice that most taxi men at the airport are black dudes and there are several super cute couples hugging, kissing and rubbing each other’s butts at every corner of the airport.

DSC_1640The long-braided African girl, firmly holding her travel bag and several magazines—I must look a tad stranded. A black dude walks up to me: “Taxi? Tu parles Français?” I now know that I have to unleash all the French I’ve learnt in the past, S/O to Kenya’s Alliance Française. “Oui, mais pas trés bien juste un peu,” I respond. Even though I state clearly that I won’t need his service, the man offers to give me his cell phone to call my taxi man.

The beauty of life is in its experience and its even better if you can share it with someone. I say this because in the recent past I’ve heard more nasty stories than good ones from France. About how French people are rude and are snobs. But since arrival, I am getting nothing but love from every person I’ve brushed shoulders with. No taxi man at Nairobi JKIA airport will give you a phone to use for free to call another taxi man. This gesture is only as noble as letting the person you love go and be happy to see them with someone else—now that I am in the city of love I will be using a lot of such comparisons.

When the taxi man assisting moves position (leaving me with his phone), I see him eyeing me from the corner of his eyes, like he’s worried about me. Every time new passengers flood the Arrivals terminal, I see his eyes darting looking out for business. I feel like he’s been far too kind and I need to let him go. I ask him about where I can buy a French line but he offers to run to his car to bring me one – for free! Only problem is it doesn’t have credit that I still have to buy so I ask him to please let me go buy one.

This is France. The dudes at the phone shop don’t speak English. This moment here puts me in a position of no vulnerability – kind of like the place you are when you tell yourself, “I am ready for love’. So with all I have to recall, I am able to get myself a new line and talk to the lady and gentleman at Café Lavazza close by to help me register and put in the credit. They are so nice to me. It’s been nearly two hours of calling my taxi man whose name is so interesting it has made me forgive him for not being here and not picking his phone. He’s called Faker. Miraculously, Faker picks up at the first call using my new line. He apologizes for mix up as a different taxi man, Denys, should have picked me up.

On calling Denys, he tells me that he speaks no English at all. I explain to him in French, slowly, where I am located. Turns out he’d also been at the airport all this while. It takes him about 30 minutes to get to my terminal from where he was. Another black dude, cool! “Denys can hardly speak English.” I text Faker, who replies “Sorry, but I don’t speak English well too.” (Guys don’t even dream about going to France without basic French). As I unite with Denys, the taxi man who helped me earlier looks over and salutes me goodbye. I wonder whether I should have tipped him for his kindness and later regret not asking his name.

DSC_1652We find Izzo, Sauti Sol’s guitarist (also here for the concert tonight) who landed on a different terminal. Denys is kind enough to buy me a Chicken Baguette at Paul Bakery. It’s the best sandwich I’ve had all my life! And this just came from a bakery not even a restaurant. I am about to discover that in this city French food is the closest thing that will get you pregnant, if love won’t. I am also about to take my first ride into Paris! So exciting …

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

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The Journey is the start of the Adventure

Paris has always been my dream destination. Just the idea of arriving and leaving after a peak at The Eiffel Tower and a walk down its love parks, still drives me nuts! I also want to have some nice French cuisine and walk down the lovely streets of the city of love hoping to bump into all the famous people who live in Paris like Kim Kardashian and Daft Punk.

When a work trip to France surfaces, I grab it with open arms. Goodness! Perks of working as Publicist of Sauti Sol. The last few months have possibly been the craziest we’ve had in Sauti Sol’s schedule this year and it’s about to get crazier as we are planning their premiere concert performance in Paris. After recently winning the Best African Act award at 2014 MTV EMA, this is also time to make the best of Sauti Sol’s France media contacts. I am also looking forward to making actual contact with my long-term journalist friend Brenna, who lives in Paris and works at France 24. For about four years, we have stayed in touch, sharing current affairs stories across the globe after first making contact regarding a Sauti Sol interview, back when she used to work for a UK publication. She will be helping me co-ordinate a couple of Sauti Sol interviews in France this weekend.

It’s Friday morning about 9:00 a.m. I haven’t really slept well because I was up almost all night packing and planning work in advance because I will be away for a whole week. I am bummed that I have a separate flight from the rest, who already left. I am scheduled to arrive in Paris on Saturday morning of the concert day. I’ve never had to travel far alone; I wonder if all will go well. Especially because I just came up with a last-minute plan for a European tour. I will be flying from Nairobi to Paris via Abu Dhabi. After France, I plan to head over to Netherlands via Belgium. That’s three continents and a trip around four cities. My ambition is priceless.

10836388_10152816152947559_421943054_nAfter a hospital run to see my sister’s new baby (such a cutie!), I am off to JKIA airport anticipating the Etihad experience. No shots being fired but last time I flew Turkish Airlines was the last time. Airlines are like the open house you have to camp in when you are homeless. So general service and new acquaintances aboard will be part of an experience forever etched in your mind. I normally care most about food and drinks (upcoming food blogs will attest to this) so Etihad better stuff me up.

It’s a four-hour flight crossing over to Middle East with around three hours time difference (Departure: 1:30 p.m. Arrival: 8:40 p.m.). I am wowed by Abu Dhabi’s beauty atop United Arab Emirates (UAE) skies. Bright lights bring skyscrapers and bridges to life, clearly displaying the intricately designed cityscape. It’s nothing far from Utopia. This is the capital city of UAE. I really wish I could leave the airport and go walk into the city – plus my head is playing J. Cole’s rap in the Beyoncé Party record, “We out in Abu Dhabi, we like to party, we don’t cause trouble we just ride Bugati.”

It’s a busy weekend in Abu Dhabi. Prince Harry is here for The Sentebale Polo Cup, a charity polo event he founded in 2010. Abu Dhabi is also hosting Grand Prix F1 World Championship, sponsored by our airline Etihad. (Notice how I am fast clutching at ownership? :-) Etihad’s flight magazine directs me towards Abu Dhabi’s top sights. They include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, “a stunning piece of architecture” built in 11 years, and the Yas Marina Circuit, home of Formula 1 where you can race cars. How cool are these people? If this circuit is what I saw from above the skies, it’s lovely!

If only something would happen to our connecting flight so we’d have more hours in Abu Dhabi, to allow me to sneak into F1 and meet Lewis Hamilton …

I have to come back for an experience. Just as I am daydreaming about a day in Abu Dhabi while heading over to a different terminal, I spot Russell Brand—yes, the hilarious British actor, also Katy Perry’s ex-husband. Dude! He’s right in front of me! He’s quite tall about 6′ 1″ and has ragged long hair. He’s wearing a kilt, black boots and a tight black tee, with quite minimal hand luggage and security. We are on the same escalator going down. I know this is Russell Brand because he looks back at me and we lock eyes, his saying something like, “Don’t start screaming my name please”. I am calm and start to film him from behind using my phone’s camera. I am planning to accost him with that cliché “Hey, you really look like a famous movie star” line. But just as I am about to get to him, he takes a turn into the Gents. I’ve lost him. I could only camp outside the Gents for my hubby Usher Raymond.

Some of my friends are not convinced that I bumped into the real Russell Brand just because I didn’t take a selfie with him but the guy already has business with Abu Dhabi. In August, Russell is said to have hinted a possible reschedule of his 2013 Messiah Complex tour that was due to open in Abu Dhabi last year but got cancelled. Plus who else apart from Russell Brand would be rocking a kilt in Abu Dhabi? He’s probably here this weekend to do something like smoke hookah with Prince Harry or party with Lewis Hamilton after the F1.

10847138_10152816154217559_992330598_nIt’s been four hours of enjoying Abu Dhabi International airport’s coffee, sandwiches, magazines, Wi-Fi and the sight of handsome Arab men dressed in crystal white thobes. It’s about 1:30 a.m. when my flight to Paris finally departs. Around 7:20 a.m. still a little dark outside, I hear the flight attendant announce our arrival at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Yaaaawn! Yaaaaay! But wait, did she speak in French? Damn! I forgot to practice my French before leaving Kenya. But what the heck! I am here already – ready to receive love and découvert …

Read the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

BONUS: Super awesome blog with stories from Abu Dhabi, check out LISA REINISCH | CLIPPINGS AND BLOG

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My mac loves it too!

For a self-proclaimed music lover like me, discovering new music is like the shopping of shopaholics. I am addict. So when in 2011 a friend introduced me to one of the world’s leading music websites (22tracks.com), I’ve been getting hooked to new, cool and funky stuff since. I’ve found my own modern-day jukebox. Only its a free service and  intangible. This is my all-time favourite music site but I missed to visit their head office in Amsterdam last time I was in Netherlands (NL), a few months ago. So when I found myself back in Amsterdam last week, this was definitely a must-do this time.

Accompanied by my friend, Iyobel (an artist who also works as a Manager in music entertainment in NL), we are on a mission to find the head office of the music discovery service. I don’t really know what I will do when I get there – I just want to pick the genius brains behind the platform. After identifying their location online, we start to track them. We are somewhere along Radarweg street, near the city centre police station. It’s an extremely cold autumn afternoon around 4:50 p.m. Darkness is slowly starting to creep in. I am afraid that they might be closed for the day when we get there so instead of a 20-minute walk, we take the metro. On arrival at Nieuwe Prinsengracht, I recognise the street from the last time I took a boat ride around Amsterdam. “This is the rich people street!” I tell Iyobel, who wonders how the hell I have such information. In the 17th century, most of the rich Dutch merchants resided here. This former residential area now houses a couple of banks and a few serious offices. I am guessing 22tracks aren’t too bad off.

10841721_10152813428347559_1406075166_nWhen we bump into the building we think is the one, it’s another eureka moment! When I see a sign with 22TRACKS on the left side of the door, I can’t believe we finally made it! I press the little round black doorbell twice and after a few seconds, the door automatically pushes itself open. On the second floor, there’s a plain door with the sign Sound of Amsterdam. After doing my Happy Dance, I start to freak out and pant. Iyobel encourages me, “Just open the door, say hello then introduce yourself as a journalist and a fan.”

I do it!

Two guys are sitting behind their desks. One has the kind of hair you want to ruffle and the other one’s head is clean-shaven. They seem cool. The office space is all white (exactly how I’d pictured it would be). There are loads of iMacs with the one at the reception area with 22tracks on the big screen. Some cool original 22track-inspired artwork pieces are hanging on the white walls. “I’ve got twenty two tracks but the bitch aint’ one”—I like this one. I see a couple of trophies on a shelf. In the mini-boardroom at the end of the office, there is another huge black and white picture of a dope-looking party on one side of the wall from the Paris launch of 22tracks. Interesting sign because I just came from Paris yesterday.

I arrive unannounced but Gilles de Smit, co-founder of 22tracks tells me, “Right now is a good time! We love when genuinely interested people walk in. I wish everyone were here to meet you.” Their warm reception makes me chill. I introduce myself just like Iyobel asked me to and within no time we are having a great informal interview. They offer us drinks and Chupa Chups (super cool office).

Tracking the Genesis

In need of morphing an ordinary music site into a unique platform for discovering new and expertly selected music, Vincent Reinders (Venz) founded 22tracks in April of 2009. Venz also owns a clothing line and hosts a national hip hop show and writes for several magazines. “It quickly started to roll, and six months later I joined forces with him to officially launch in Amsterdam,” says Gilles. On the first year, the platform was run by DJs from Amsterdam and Brussels. Now, five years later, 22tracks has expanded in three other European cities: Paris, London and Brussels.

So how does 22tracks work?

10841312_10152813448657559_1071371046_n22 local top DJs from the cities of Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Paris share their 22 hottest tracks of the moment in order of genres. These make 22 tracks in each playlist for your selection. 22tracks management has nothing to do with any of the music selection across the cities, if it’s not sponsored or a partnership. “Only the DJs and city curators have the power and freedom to choose this,” says Gilles. As much as 22tracks DJs won’t miss out on popular or hot artists like J. Cole and Usher; you won’t believe the number of amazing artists (most indie or underrated) that get featured. Via 22tracks I’ve discovered countless artists and DJs most of who aren’t well known outside their regions/fan base. Roses Gabor, Rochelle Jordan, Szjerdene, Lianne Le Havas, Fullcrate, Kaytranada, Blonde, Years & Years, Mars, August Alsina, Mack Wilds, Rudimental, Jessie Ware, Submotion Orchestra, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Jhene Aiko, Ephemerals and Tanya Lacey. The list is endless.

Tracking Technology

In an increasingly crowded cyberspace and controlled mainstream media, finding fresh music curated to suit your taste is a task. But never too daunting for the real music lovers. And now with 22tracks, we’ve got this era’s own jukebox. Just like the olden jukeboxes, 22tracks has the latest songs and a way of playing music on demand without commercials. A Top22 playlist from top trending tracks being played across the platform in different cities is updated on the site every day. Gilles says, “The only way artists can get themselves on Top22 is by promoting their music via our site. That will possibly make their fans keep sharing and listening more.” Like jukeboxes, 22tracks has also offered listeners a means of controlling what they want to listen by the option of creating your own playlist, MY22. Sometimes they also have exclusive tracks that you won’t find anywhere else. A new playlist, Tip22, features hidden gems collected from newly released tracks or those that you might have missed.

10799310_10152813448352559_1105949860_nJurian van der Hoeven is responsible for all content and city management at 22tracks talks about keeping up with the tracks. “I find special DJs who can fit in our platform. We are currently working on our London and Paris contacts, we already have new people in London, some who have big names in reggae.” However, the work never stops at finding curators and the music. He says, “We are down to every detail, even concerning who is sharing 22tracks on Facebook.”

It must be some crazy tech sophistication to manage a business that permanently and fully depends on the net – a playground for malicious rivals and hackers. Gilles recalls, “One time, our site was messed up someone could basically download all the tracks.” The website has also experienced downtime in the past because of power outages and working with hosting companies that couldn’t manage the kind of tech advancement required from the start. “We have now moved to a bigger company hosting five of our servers. There are huge costs of running 22tracks but we had to change into more reliable servers to enhance security after being hacked a couple of times,” says Gilles.

Tracking the Trajectory

I don’t think you could dig up this kind of music selection and not have some sort of clairvoyance for future sounds. Gilles says, “The point of it all isn’t just discovering new sounds but supporting those that can potentially be the next big thing. For instance, Drum & Bass Amsterdam playlist isn’t that popular with everyone but we choose to keep it because it’s a genre that might come up and pick up especially in the clubs.”

The sprouting growth of the platform and emerging financial ventures like advertisements and collaborations with software companies, has empowered 22tracks to provide music while running business in different cities – what Gilles calls “taking a different approach.” Through a recent Microsoft deal, 22tracks has partnered with Internet Explorer to create a sound spectrogram that responds best via touch screens. The app is situated on the far right upper side of the website. Gilles says, “We never knew we’d get to such technology. Now we have a testing team in charge of that. This gives us the freedom to solely concentrate on music curation and strengthening the sound of this city outside the platform. We are big in Dutch clubs!” 22tracks is now “exchanging value” with various media partners, music labels and festivals. All either pay for selected playlists or barter trade, confirms Jurian. They have also collaborated with NL hotel CtizenM to play guests 22tracks during stay.

My favourite DJs on 22tracks are Amsterdam duo: Fullcrate and Mar (who are musicians too) can’t wait to see them one day in concert. I also love Paris R&B/Soul curator JP Mano. I tweet him saying I forgot to send him a shout while in Paris recently. He replies, “What a pity! Don’t forget next time, it will be a pleasure.”

10846586_10152813473067559_1646672204_nAbout having more of African music spilling into the European-based platform for the delight of music lovers worldwide, 22tracks occasionally have an African playlist curated by Fiona Okumu from Afripop. Gilles confirms that 22tracks is already planning on launching into the cities of Berlin, New York and Cape Town—first African city. Gilles says, “We are definitely interested in more sounds. We are watching Nairobi too as it’s one of the emerging markets in Africa.”

Double Yaay for my city!

We both like the idea that maybe through me 22tracks finally got their Nairobian contact. I tell them about some edgy sounds from Africa I suppose they would dig, and that I work as a Publicist for Kenyan band – Sauti Sol (Winners Best African Act 2014 MTV EMA). Shock on me, they know Sauti Sol too well. In fact, Gilles sings to me their Swahili song Mama Papa. “How did you know them?” I marvel, soon realising that I asked the wrong person the right question … This is home of discovery.

BONUS: S/O to Iyobel. I am so happy I was at 22tracks outside my comp! Plus they gave me some cool merchandise. Thanks for errrrthing 22TRACKS!

If you like this, you might also dig my Love, Sex & Drugs tales from Amsterdam.

 

10833773_10152808467332559_2079984471_nLiving in a remote Turkana village is as sticky as being the nut in a peanut butter bottle—you must feel constricted by the heat, aridity of the area, lack of food/water and high illiteracy levels. “Villagers here are like a child dishonoured by their parents, brought to live in a dry land far from River Turkwel,” says a Turkana elder. This tremendously sad simile describes the hopeless situation most Turkana people have found themselves in while staring at hunger at the brink of disillusionment.

It’s damn hot this afternoon. I am finally at Nakukulas village in Turkana, about 12 minutes drive from Tullow Oil’s main operating hub at Lokichar. Accompanied by my colleagues and guests hosted by FoLT (Friends of Lake Turkana), we are here to meet and greet the villagers of Nakukulas. Tullow Oil just took us through a presentation in which they cited their relations with the local community as amicable. Whether they admit it or not, after getting exploration licences and discovering oil, Tullow Oil’s success in running their business pretty much depends on their relations with the locals. Curious to hear from them.

Most Turkana villagers don’t have cell phones or any form of communication other than word of mouth that spreads as fast as fire. When the Land Rovers, Pickups and Jeeps we arrive in at a clear gathering among a few trees, it doesn’t take long before about a 100 Turkana men arrive to greet and welcome us to sit near them under one big tree—the village’s main meeting point.

Most of the villagers are dressed in loose sarongs either tied on their lower body area or hanging loose around their torso. Some men are carrying a little wooden stool “ekicholong”, that they use to sit on or place their heads while lying down. Others are wearing a wrist knife that can pass for a fancy bangle. This can be used for fighting or to cut stuff. I am told by one of the guests of Turkana descent that “ekicholong” or wrist knives, just like every other Turkana cultural regalia, aren’t for anyone, “you have to earn its respect more than attain a certain age or age group.” A younger man wearing silver loops and another rocking some dangling beaded earrings tell me that Turkana men got style.

10818748_10152808481447559_1607944622_nThe children and women walk into the meeting about 30 minutes after all the men have already settled. It is the custom that women come after the men and don’t speak. If they do – it has to be after the men. We sit facing the men and the women and children all sit behind us, making it look like they are not part of the meeting. But this is how sitting arrangements work around here.

This afternoon I’ve learnt that there are three main stages in the business of oil discovery—the licensing, exploration and development; the latter can take up to five years. This means that only until the fourth quarter of 2017 will Tullow actually be able to have the final product from their current investment. But most of the local villagers don’t really have information broken down to them like this. It’s clear as soon as they start to air their sentiments. But they have more pressing problems. The first one says that people from the Pokot tribe have taken all their village’s livestock and killed people too. “We have no food; we are finished! We are mad at Tullow Oil because they are okay and going about their business!”

All the elders speak in Ng’iturkana (there’s a translator).

Another elder says, “We saw Tullow Oil coming to set up without consulting us. What is oil? They say it’s for fuel but we didn’t know how it’s extracted and manufactured till it gets to that form. They say that the government has granted them the permit to run business here and that our returns are sent to the county government of Turkana but we’ve never received anything,” posing, “If the place of finding food is ours, then why are we dying of hunger?” This man is so furious he’s trembling and spitting like hungry Nairobi bus preachers at every utterance. At this juncture I just wish we came with some representatives of Tullow Oil. If they felt this volatile mood among villagers of Nakukulas, they would know better how to handle these locals. Or maybe they do.

Our session with the villagers of Nakukulas leaves me feeling like they tend to blame all their problems on anyone close to them (Tullow Oil, included). Tullow provides some locals with employment and the communities with water tanks. Is that enough? And when is the government of Kenya called to action?

The only woman who stands to talk on behalf of womenfolk seems quite old, maybe in her 70s. She’s got loads of beaded necklaces on her neck, that commanding granny presence and a posture worthy of a woman only half her age. Her speech is precise. “There is no life here; we are only talking about death because everyone has been killed by rival tribes. They even behead children [that’s why] most people here are newcomers,” she says, adding, “Anytime we see cars approaching, we think its assistance. We really need help curbing insecurity in Turkana. Now our lifestyle is nothing but taking chances.”

IRG_0827BONUS: While at Nakukulas, I get to show a group of Turkana kids how to use a smart phone – read take selfies :-) We have such a ball! Never met kids with as much personality and swag. They also request to have my bottled water, after which I watch them running up and down the village with it, carrying it up like a trophy and ululating in laughter while thumping fists. Like what? Won’t they even drink it? I conclude that I have no life problems.

Read the complete To Turkana and Back series below:

To Turkana and Back: The Heat and Women (Part I)

To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)

To Turkana and Back: Returning (Part IV), coming soon.

 

Sheila Bett of FoLT and AnyikoOn my first visit to Turkana, I am lucky to be visiting Tullow Oil—leading independent oil and gas exploration and production group that has pitched tent in Kenya’s remote Lokichar area since around 2012 (soon after the first announcement of oil discovery in Kenya).

There has been intense interest in the country’s oil and extractive sector and even more mystery surrounding exploration groups like Tullow Oil. Not much about their operations and the kind of deal they have with Kenya’s government, especially relating to incentives for the locals of Turkana when and if the business makes returns, is public information.

The journey to Lokichar, Tullow’s base in Turkana starts from Lodwar as early as 5 a.m. We arrive at around 10.00 a.m. This is part of FoLT (Friends of Lake Turkana) plan of activities for us during their first Natural Resource Conference this week, where I am working as one of the communication consultants. It’s the roughest road trip I’ve ever had. Pedo, our driver from Lodwar, seems to be thrilled by the bumping and grinding; because the worse it gets, the faster he drives and blasts some crazy hip hop that you wouldn’t expect to be blaring off a Turkana Land Rover. Like older 50 Cent and the likes. DSC_0304DSC_0305

It’s so hot, I envy a Turkana woman I see walking bare-chested as our entourage of big cars blow off desert dust blocking anyone from seeing her from the back. After passing a few villages and being shown some water tanks set up by Tullow Oil by our guide, we have arrived at the exact place where Tullow rocks Turkana oil.

It’s a large space – about 12 acres (the size of any one of of Tullow Oil’s camps). I can see are a few large tanks, machines and tents. The security check at Tullow Oil is as strict if not stricter than that of any serious establishment in Nairobi. Cars have to drive at 40 km/h or less – there are security guards all over. As soon as we get into their premise, we are asked not to take any photos (of course I rebel) as we all register our names/companies to be issued with guests tags that we have to wear at all times. As we get prepared for the special orientation at a nearby tent, we are read to ground rules. “Shall you hear a siren, please lie down as there might be a security threat, either from the extraction or tribal wars between locals of the area,” we are also warned.

Today Tullow Oil will demystify itself to us. Turns out that Tullow’s facilitator Huma is an acquaintance of mine; we’ve shared the dance floor a few times during Electrafrique parties at the Carnivore. It’s an awkward coincidence. You don’t really expect to meet the guy you danced with once in Carni all the way in Turkana, for whatever reason. There are professors, filmmakers, journalists and mostly researchers from organisations interested in investing or helping communities from areas with natural resource finding like Turkana, among FoLT guests. DSC_0302

The Tullow presentation starts off on a good foot with Huma doing a lot of PR for Tullow while at the same time opening our eyes and minds with priceless information. For instance, I get to learn that the government grants tenders to explore natural resources all over Kenya to various other similar companies, after which the highest bidder takes it all. Tullow has placed itself strategically as the leader in Kenya’s oil exploration. During their excursions, they have bumped into a couple of other natural resources like water and gas and subsequently handed them over to other companies interested because their main focus is oil.

There are a lot of questions from the audience, concerning the transparency of the tender issuance, what’s in for the locals of Turkana and much more. Do locals know who Tullow Oil is and what kind of permission they have been granted to access local land? At some point, the session becomes so heated that Huma has to stop taking any questions. It’s a very healthy discussion we are having because we are just a cross section of educated Kenyans and professionals who don’t get this new oil business in Kenya; what of Turkana people? Most of who have low literacy levels due to factors such as inadequate infrastructure for education, mobility due to nomadism, economic marginalisation and cultural practices.

By the end of the presentation, we’ve already spent more than five hours at it yet there is still so much to discuss and to expound on. Huma calms my main worries and curiosity by stating that Tullow Oil has hired a number of locals to help communicate Tullow’s mission to Turkana locals on a daily basis. This, and any other means of integration between companies in the extraction of natural resources business, locals of the areas and government policy makers is paramount for so many reasons – the main one being to avoid conflict, now or in the future. DSC_0313

When the session ends, Tullow are kind enough to share with us their presentation and serve us with some luxurious lunch, for Turkana. It’s a four-course meal, complete with ice cream and cookies. Serving ice cream in Turkana really is something like discovering oil in the region—eureka moment!

It’s perfect that Tullow had time to host us and aren’t as hostile or oblivious to circumstances around their Kenyan business as they seem to the outside world. Tullow Oil seems to be working towards compensating the locals of Turkana for their exploits by providing them with water sources and jobs. But is that enough? Is it just a hoodwink mission? And is Tullow just being nice because this is actually the work of Kenya’s government and not theirs? After lunch, we are heading to the local village to meet and discuss with the villagers these same issues…

In the continuation of my tales from Turkana read To Turkana and Back: Villagers of Nakukulas (Part III)

BONUS: For more info on the first Natural Resource Conference Hosted by Friends of Lake Turkana (Oct 22nd – 23rd 2014), kindly visit FoLT’s site

Kenyan women are not kids or students to be reprimanded by men, like teachers and pastors do to boys sagging pants. We are adults with rights and the freedom to express ourselves without having to be subjected to judgments or punishments. We deserve and demand to be dealt with as human beings and not the weaker sex or sex objects. If I decide to wear baggy jeans or mini skirts, no one has a right to attack my dressing or strip me. And yes – despite it being a reality that this society will judge you for what you wear, like many other societies will – with that knowledge, what I wear is still my choice.

Even though orchestrated by a women body, My Dress My Choice campaign supersedes the current women stripping shame issue. Dressing doesn’t only mean to wear a dress but general clothing. This campaign has been mistaken to be another feminist rant or a women vs men face off but to me; this campaign champions gender equality, human rights and freedom of expression for all. So all your reasons for why women stripped could have been stripped or why in some scenarios, you could be stripped because of how you are dressed – are null and void. There is no justification for violence against any human being, for whatever reason. To those who call the stripping shame a lesson to women – you are not teaching us anything but stripping us of our dignity and leaving us forever traumatised.

This stripping shame reflects on our society’s culture and how lenient we have become—to allow gangs and criminals, purporting to be teaching women lessons, destroy our freedom and demean women. If it was the case that women scantily dress, is it a crime stipulated by Kenyan law? If so then people found in the wrong should be arrested and not taught lessons by mobs. Instead of trying to make womenfolk change their ways of dressing, deal with those terrorising women. No civil society becomes a people who teach people lessons.

To those who feel like Kenyan women in non-traditional dressing are un-African or disregard our culture; carefully go back to our history. The African culture primarily has less clothing. I just came from Turkana recently and women in their society still walk bare-chested or only tie a loose cloth around their torso. Why don’t their men view them as objects ready to be pounced at? Theirs is a culture that respects women and doesn’t judge them by their anatomy, physical dressing but character. Oh by the way – fashion is suddenly dangling out of an open window! While women dressing will outright and scientifically be more attractive to the male fancy, women too fancy male dressing – so men do not make women dressing a unitary taste affair only suited for you, because women also dress for women, and when we fancy or find your dressing provoking, like you say of ours at times – we don’t go stripping men.

Strip. Stripper. Stripping—all these mean different things but only you know who you are and how you want to strip or be stripped, if that’s the case. But for someone, for a rowdy mob to attack and strip you the way Kenyan women are being cornered is wrong. It’s shameful. It’s hurtful. It’s haunting. It’s demeaning. It’s frightening. It gives me chills.

To all the Kenyan women out there, it’s a reality – now we have to watch how we dress according to where we are. We shouldn’t have to feel this way and it shouldn’t be like that. Any society should protect its people but ours has failed in protecting women. We have to be our sisters’ keepers. When men feel like we are to blame for what befalls us, it means that they most probably won’t protect us, even if they were in a position to. To the real Kenyan men, you can’t play nice sitting by the fence—protect Kenyan women.

Because I was brought up knowing a respectable brother, and a dad who always treated my mother and his four daughters with utmost respect, I believe that not all men are wild or perverted as some claim. Not all men are turned on by the mere look at women’s bodies, exposed or not. No normal man will strip a woman walking down the streets of Nairobi. The school of thought that indecency deserves a punishment or stripping is uncouth and barbaric. To those who support it—what’s the morality/decency weighing machine? What length of a skirt is too short or too long? What pants are too tight or too loose? And so forth …

Clothing is a mere form of expression. Dignity is in essence all we have, and it’s plain sad for someone to take that from you. The indecency card leaves us at the risk of condoning a society thriving off ambiguity and hypocrisy. We are in danger of moulding a societal groupthink that suppresses freedom, creativity and liberty; a society that silences any form of expression. I crave for the liberty to always express myself and have others do the same, in whatever way. I am not my clothes and neither is she. And if I were, it’s my choice.

BONUS: A group of protesters against the recent ‪#Stripping Shame‬ incidence of Nairobi men stripping women apparently “indecently dressed” match in the city in support of ‪#‎MyDressMyChoice‬ campaign.

Turkana WomanI discover that in Turkana, breasts are like Ricky Rozay’s moobs. It’s okay to show them off, no one really cares. I see a woman walking bare-chested once and many others with lose clothing or wraps that leave their breasts sagging or peeping. Traditionally, Turkana people wear wraps made of rectangular woven leather materials made from animal hide. Women wear two pieces of cloth—one wrapped around the waist while the other covers the top. Some actually don’t wear anything on top.

It’s an interesting trip. The flight to Turkana from Nairobi is almost as long as a flight to Dar es Salaam—yes, it’s that far! It will take you two days travelling by road. I am headed to Kenya’s most north-western county—the farthest I’ve been to in Kenya, so far. I am so excited that I miss Wiz Kid’s Nairobi concert just so I don’t miss my flight check in at 4:00 a.m. on the same night/morning. I actually pass on sleep.

Magical Kenya As we arrive at Lodwar airstrip, I am amazed at Turkana’s beautiful landscape. I see lovely clear skies and hills above the horizon – just like in the storybook endings. I am lucky this Mashujaa Day morning isn’t as sweltering as usual, my company tells me. I am here for a whole week, during which I will be working as a publicist and communication assistant at a 3-day conference hosted by Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT). I am using this trip to also discover and learn more about the people of Turkana.

The first thing I notice about Lodwar is that everyone and everything (including tea cups at restaurants) is colourful. I am constantly oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the sight of colourful Turkana women, walking down the dusty brown roads. Because I am new here, somehow I find it hard, at first, to ask our drivers to stop so I can take a picture of River Turkwel or the women. I am also afraid the women might take offence and I wouldn’t find a way of explaining to them, that to me – they are the most beautiful Kenyan creatures I’ve ever seen.

Granny from another LifeA typical Turkana woman is dark. Her skin as smooth as moulded black clay ready to dry into a pot built to last. Her hair is shaved or very short with different Mohawk styles and sometimes, different hair colour. Some attach beads to the loose ends of hair just near the forehead. She never wears a bra. As her breasts hang loose; her neck stands tall, surrounded by a tower made of multi-coloured beads and necklaces. I later discover that distinct neckpieces on women reflect on different identity and age group. And the more a woman’s neckpiece; the more desirable she is. Side Note – In line with my general love for beads and beaded things, I think I would be a very hot thing if I were from Turkana.

The venue of the conference is at the newly constructed FoLT Lodwar conference centre, with an excellent view of the origin of Turkana County capital’s name—Mount Lodwar, just a few meters away. Locals tell us that Lodwar means “something extremely bitter”. I am astounded by how surreal and close the mountain seems, “Wow! We should go hiking!” My colleagues warn me that we wouldn’t even get to half of the mountain because of the heat and security concerns.

Rocking LodwarAfter much observation over a few days, I realize that even more than Turkana people’s culture for disregarding the torso’s covering, it works all ways for them because the heat there is ridiculous. I’ve been to hot cities like Dar es Salaam and Kisumu, recently, but there isn’t a place as hot as Turkana – trust me! The weather goes up from about 35 to more than 40 degrees. The heat and humidity even makes your senses operate slower. By the third day, I find myself tying a shuka across my body back in the hotel contemplating if I should walk bare-chested the next day. I really suffer the heat because I didn’t pack light in fear of looking indecent, little did I research on this culture. But now I know ;-)

On my second day, I already feel like I’ve been here long or that days are so long and basic. I can’t figure out what day of the week it is. It hits me that I never felt or saw any sort of commemoration for Kenya’s Heroes’ Day, yesterday. This place doesn’t feel like shagz, it just feels neglected and far from the rest of the Kenyan think tank … But for some like FoLT, this is home.

In continuation of the series: To Turkana and Back read:

To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)

To Turkana and Back: Villagers of Nakukulas (Part III)

BONUS: You might dig my 2010 blog post on my Samburu Safari, where my folks used to live about 34 years ago.

DSC_1939My paternal grandmother, Dani Emma Awuor Owoko, was a simple woman. It gave me so much gratification that her funeral was as simple as the life she led. She had a big boma and many acres of land, but spent the last thirty years living in the small three-roomed house her son (my father) built her. Dani Emma had all the characteristics of Big Momma. When I was younger, I would get lost in her close embraces and suffocate in her scent of Dettol or Rob. I would be amazed by her whitish grey short hair (every time she took off the white or blue kitambaa on her head) and smooth light skin.

Dani’s flair for storytelling and unique voice stood out. Most of her stories were of journeys she had undertaken in the past, extraordinary people she had met, or made like my Dad, and dreams (some of which were premonitions or sort of apparitions). Her voice was alluring yet commanding. At certain intervals, it would be deep yet high-pitched. The sound of her speech was almost as if the kind that would be produced if a person with a stereo for a stomach swallowed a microphone. “Choke!” was one of her favourite exclamations. “Yao rangach!” was one of her favourite things to shout. Opening the gate for her visitor’s cars was dirty work she never liked. So she would shout at anyone on sight to open her own gate.

Fun Fact: I was named after Dana’s mother, Anyiko.

In her final months, Dani lost her speech. Quite the epitome of life’s ironic twists for any storyteller. But through eye contact, touch and smiles, for months, we managed to communicate. During this time, I only saw her a couple of times and only heard her speak once calling me, ‘Mama na’ (my mother) when I introduced myself as Anyiko.

I remember when I was younger (below 10); Dad and granny were still alive. We would always leave home (Molo) so early in the morning for dala (Ugenya) to arrive at dusk after a Kericho tea-stop and Kisumu fish-stop. It was such a long and tiresome journey but I always felt like the destination was a special place. I loved the plants around Dani’s homestead and the smell of herbal trees around it. At night, there was the roaring sound of Dad’s hearty laughter around the boma. In the pitch darkness of Ugenya skies, I recall savouring every moment of the magic that was shooting stars and dancing fireflies.

Another Fun Fact: I once left my beloved cat at Dani’s during one of our trips and later got word from her that the cat had fell into her pit latrine. That shit broke my heart. Why I hate cats.

Old Family Portrait

Grandfather Owoko Miyayi, far left. Granny Emma Awuor, next to him carrying the babe – posing like she invented that pose.

In her heyday, Dani and her husband, Miyayi Owoko, made such a stylish couple. I heard somewhere that before finding salvation, Dani was a badass traditional beer brewer. But all my life, I knew her to be a unwavering Catholic (Katolik – she called it) and servant of Christ, as she would have loved to be introduced.

Arrivals and departures at her home were strictly officiated by rosary prayer and the sprinkling of Pii Hawi (holy water). Her casual prayers were nearly as long as the length of a full Catholic mass. In fact, when younger falling asleep in the middle wasn’t such a strange thing.

Returning to dala a week ago for granny’s funeral was an emotional roller coaster. More than the sadness that comes with having to say goodbye, it was a reminder of the few but special moments I shared with my late Dad during earlier dala trips and the long-gone simple childhood days. Like a child’s umbilical cord is cut off their mother, is granny’s departure. It’s left me feeling detached from whatever little I was grasping at in the already hollow cleft left by Dad’s demise.

As we lay Dani to rest next to my Dad’s resting place – one glance at my mum and like looking into a mirror, I see her pained more by the reminder of the day she had to bury her beloved husband, right here.

All her life, even in dementia, Dani talked endlessly about my Dad, the beloved son she lost. I was only eight years old at my Dad’s funeral but I remember clearly that I couldn’t figure out why it was my grandmother who cried and cried and cried, as if she was the one who had lost her husband, and not my mother. If this departure by any chance brings Dani closer to Dad—those two are going to have a serious reunion party.

While en route to dala for the funeral, I am chatting with my sister in the States. She is named after granny, Emma Awuor Owoko. “I am so sad because after this, there won’t be anything left in dala,” I confess. Emma says, “I am so sorry, but you are wrong, the great memories we shared will always be there. Dad is there and Dana is still there, just not in body but in spirit.”

True to her word, Dana is felt yet missed all through the trip. Plus I only spot fireflies once, on the night after her burial :-)

BONUS: Wrote the below poem for Dani Emma on her farewell day.

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Today, for the first time, we are in dala, without you.

But instead of tripping, we see you at every glimpse of your homestead.

With every memory we recall, we see you grandmother – smiling and narrating your enchanting stories (some of which you repeated without knowing).

With every corner we turn, we feel your warmth.

With every prayer we mutter, we hear your strong voice, silently whispering among us.

                  With every soil and flower we rest at your place of sleep, we feel at home.

Now, you’re back home where you longed and next to your beloved son, on your right.

Must be nice.

10628306_10152674425038713_3171467631350492403_nIn the 48 hours I spend in Tanzania (TZ), I never hear TZ radio playing a single Nigerian song or American hit single. My ears don’t suffer like they do in Kenya. In fact, I never even hear them play songs from East Africa but only their own, even though a lot of TZ people tell us that Sauti Sol songs: Soma Kijana and Shukuru are fan favourites. Once, I hear Sura Yako off a radio Saturday Mix.

The Kenyan music industry is still tied to the constant debate, about whether artists are producing shit songs or it’s the DJs who are not playing local content but instead forcing into our ears too much of foreign content. Because I am journalist and a strong believer in local content and creativity, I always put myself and my peers in the first position to take blame. Kenyan media hasn’t yet achieved what other successful and self-sustaining music industries have done for their own artists. In this instance what TZ media has done for Bongo artists.

On a fine Saturday afternoon, it’s so hot in Tanzania (TZ) and the traffic is maybe worse than Nairobi’s. But the venue where Sauti Sol is performing tonight, Escape 1 Mikocheni, just by the beach is so fly; we can’t wait for the show. After visiting TZ radio stations, we’re here for sound check. Before show time, at about midnight, I present the organisers with Sauti Sol’s hospitality rider. The organisers actually ask me if there is anything else the band needs. This is unlike many Nairobian promoters or event organisers who after paying artist performance fees, they care less about artist’s entertainment prior and after the show.

When we arrive at the event’s venue, the gentle nature of TZ people really shines. Nearly all mainstream photographers are generally obnoxious. They will click into messing the sound of your recorded interview and even get into your shot or trample you over at a press conference just to get a perfect shot. Well, that’s really like the softer version of real paparazzi but when Sauti Sol arrive at the backstage, several photographers and event promoters come up to them; stand at the side to ask me and the event’s organiser, Amarido, for permission to take photos with them or greet them. Like, what?

Outside I see a lot of people sitting patiently waiting for the band. And when they finally get on stage, the audience maintains it’s cool, while still not so up tight not to dance. It’s a really mature and cool TZ crowd and Sauti Sol really enjoy this. After the show, instead of being crowded by groupies, we meet a couple of radio producers and presenters backstage. It is a general Kenyan attitude that if you are not one of the biggest acts in the entertainment industry, every single person will act like they don’t know you, even when they do. Did the 8-4-4 system subconsciously teach Kenyans that art is shit? I am not that kind of journalist or person who will act like I don’t know you, when and if I do. I take pleasure in introducing myself to people and using the power I have through my journalistic voice to expose talent. But most Kenyans seem not to want to acknowledge talent or even some established artists. That’s why it’s very simple for many to shamelessly parade that fallacy that a majority of Kenyan musicians produce shit music, instead of taking time to give an ear to underrated artists with great albums like Jemedari, Chizi and Atemi.

Maybe, it’s true that a prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown. According to my quick survey about TZ’s music industry, I discover popular opinion has it that Ali Kiba still is the biggest act in TZ and not Diamond (though still beloved) as it seems from outside TZ. Few TZ artists have crossed over to Kenya’s music industry. Even fewer Kenyan acts have done the same in Bongo. However, what Bongo has done for their artists is what should be emulated in Kenya. It doesn’t matter that you’re not Diamond or Ali Kiba, you get airplay and to perform at Serengeti Fiesta (TZ’s biggest show bringing together different artists, big or small, from around the country), that recently ended in such grandeur by having T.I as the main act.

Bongo music rocks because they have found a way of supporting their local acts and even when most of them don’t cross over to other regions, they are accepted and get airplay at home. This has in turn, made artists localise their stuff to appeal most to local consumers. Authenticity in this industry is key. TZ promoters and organisers are trustworthy and know how to treat artists. Kenyan artists shouldn’t have to beg Kenyan media and DJs to play their songs; it should be the media’s duty to support local. Support will be directly proportional to better quality of productions; and the same way, other factors in the industry will only get better.

On landing back to Kenya, I quickly think about my observations and recall the constant arguments and battles I keep having online with Kenyans, trying to explain to them why they should support Kenyan music and why it should be their responsibility. “Why the hell wasn’t I just born in TZ and found myself working in the TZ music industry?” I wonder, but because I wasn’t, it’s my duty to make this better. A luta continua!

During my short trip in TZ, I am so tempted to jump into a ferry for Zanzibar, I have even prepared the fare and all but I save it for another time. I will have to do it when I have ample time.

Read the first part of this blog post here: To Tanzania and Back: Bongo Love (Part I)

BONUS: Read one of my articles on music entertainment published by Daily Nation on Why Kenyan music misses the cut.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 00.33.29I think its ridiculous that most Kenyans haven’t been to any or all East African countries yet we harbour dreams of traveling around the world. As I head over to Tanzania (TZ), can’t help and think how ridiculous it is that before this trip, I hadn’t got myself to visit my brother who works and lives in TZ. It’s even more ridiculous that my brother had to be on leave and back in Kenya on the weekend that I am finally scheduled to be in TZ. We end up missing each other.

It’s always exciting to be around Sauti Sol, working as their publicist and discovering new places while at it. For this trip, I am accompanying them additionally as tour manager to their premiere big TZ concert. I am particularly keen to juxtapose Kenya’s music entertainment business with that of TZ’s, while there.

We depart Nairobi on an early Saturday early morning and land in TZ’s coastal city of Dar es Salaam, a few hours later. After Ebola screening and paying for work permits, we’re in and immediately TZ feels like Kenya’s coast! Our hosts in TZ, Legendary Music, have organised a mini-press conference at the airport. They’ve got larger than life bouncers for each Sauti Sol member.

The celebrated lovely nature of Tanzanians “Bongo Love” and the old adage that TZ people are slow – starts right at the airport. The officers handling our work permits seem to take an eternity. They keep eyeing us curiously. By the time, the last of us, Savara, gets back his passport, the officers start to sing Soma Kijana. They all want to take pictures with Sauti Sol and welcome us affirming, “tumewakubali sana hapa Bongo.”

Traffic from the airport to town, Southern Sun Hotel (where we are staying over the weekend) is atrocious—quite similar to Jogoo Road’s mid-morning Saturday traffic. However, this is worse because of the heat synonymous to Mombasa’s. As the boys fall into sleep, I am listening to the radio blasting some dope Bongo Flavour while fascinated by how ugly TZ public transport vehicles (matatus) are. In comparison to Kenya’s hip javs, they have no sort of graffiti. But the way people are carried in excess, with some standing, is probably worse than in Kenya and only similar to route 36 -Dandora matatus.

It’s really great to arrive in a foreign country and immediately feel at home.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 00.42.01On arrival at the Southern Sun Hotel, we quickly freshen up and brunch. At the hotel’s Baraza restaurant, one of the chefs comes out to appreciate Sauti Sol, saying, “Hapa bongo tunawakubali sana! Kwanza ile nyimbo ya Shukuru ambayo mlifnaya na AY”. It’s so nice for the band to be away from home and be treated like they are home. Just as we are leaving the hotel, the chef desperately wants to know our schedule. I tell him every radio station we are headed to and he says the entire kitchen staff will tune in. He would later run up to me the next morning to say Thank You because he caught Sauti Sol on radio … Soon we are headed into town for the TZ version of Sura Yako Media Tour that kick-started in Nairobi.

We first head over to 100.5 Times FM where we meet the awesome DJ Dommy and TZ media personality C Da King. I really love the questions they throw at the band. But even more, I love how sweet their Swahili is articulated.

At a different station: Clouds FM, we do a couple of interviews and drops. However, we notice that it’s almost a ghost office. “Everyone went to Fiesta,” someone mentions to us. This is in recent times, TZ’s biggest gathering of music artists and fans, happening every weekend in different counties. Fiesta brings alive artists of all calibre and different genres of music. “Oh so that’s why, all radio ads either have Fiesta or Beauty & Music Night Show (where Sauti Sol is performing tonight),” I note to myself. While coming from Clouds FM, our chaperone, Richie, tells us about how big Fiesta is and how it has managed to include all sorts of music artists, even the upcoming lot. There is a live link on the radio and a reporter is interviewing a hip hop artist we’ve never heard of.

Reporter: “Ni kipi kipya ambacho unaweza ukawaeleza wale ambao wanakusikiliza nyumbani ili wafanye kuja Fiesta kuona show yako?” (What would you like to tell those listening regarding what they should come check you out at Fiesta?)

Rapper: “Yaani mimi kwa kusema ukweli siwezi nikataka kuchukua pesa yako kwa bure kwa hivyo nakusihi uje leo unione na nitakupa bonge la kiburudisho” (To be truthful, I don’t want to take anyone’s money for free, so I beg you all to come see me and I will give a performance truly worth your time and effort).

Only in TZ do you have rappers talking like angels. But as we would later find out, almost everyone in TZ really is an angel.

In continuation of this post, read To Tanzania and Back: Why Bongo Music Rocks (Part II)

Restart

I thought I was falling. But instead, I was floating on thin air. And like a dancing piece of paper, I was flown left and right. Like a fancy leaf during spring, I bounced happily but sadly, I had to fall. Now desperately, for no reason whatsoever, can’t wait for next season. To fly again, or maybe shyly drop. But if I fall, like Shai, I will be sure that we are friends.

IMG_0822On my birthday (Sept 4th) this year – I wanted to do it small and intimate. I wanted peace and silence. I wanted no crowds or surprise parties but to witness the great Wildebeest Migration—World’s Seventh Wonder. My super sweet girlfriend Smiles, and being in the Maasai Mara gave me a week to do this.

On the morning of my birthday, I decide to pass on a balloon ride at 4:00 a.m. to sleep in. Yes. Imagine that. At about 10:00 a.m. Smiles comes from work, photography during balloon rides. She rushes in, “Hurry! Out! The wildebeests are about to cross the river,” she in a frenzy. “I haven’t even showered!” I retort but she isn’t hearing any of that. “Oh! It is your birthday!” She remembers, gives me a hug and we are off. Hopping into her Land Rover, we are headed towards part of the Mara River where a Safari Guide just tipped us of a potential wildebeest river crossing.

When we arrive, several Safari vans and tourist Land Rovers are parked close to the riverbank by the dirty brown water. We get a fairly nice spot. All the cameras and binoculars start to come out. I thought our camera’s lens was boss but boss! Suddenly, I see lenses so big; they could easily take a crisp shot from a mile away. I am so excited just by the thought that I will, on my birthday, witness a scene off Nat Geo, live. I can’t wait till the wildebeests start to jump and run across the river. The vehicles aren’t too far from each other and shouting in the park is prohibited so I can perfectly hear most foreign tourists whispering and asking: “What? Where?” Some of them have never even seen zebras, so this should be exhilarating for them too.

IMG_7947I’ve got binoculars on and Smiles has the camera. We alternate these two – our most important tools while outside the house at Mara. I can see a herd of wildebeests on the other side of the river. Unbeknownst to me, this is going to take loooooooong. It takes the herd of wildebeests led by zebras at least 30 minutes to move 3 steps towards the river (there are at least 20 steps to the water). We’ve been here for more than two hours already. I’ve seen hippos, crocodiles and vultures, all lurking in and around the Mara River but not a single wildebeest crossing the river.

An hour later, the wildebeests and zebras stealthily advance towards the water. Finally! I can’t wait to witness the dramatic crossing, you know just like it happens in the documentaries. We’ve got all the cameras ready! Finally! The first and bravest wildebeest starts to insert their hoof into water and the others follow suit, slowly. Suddenly, the vehicles from across the river start their roaring engines to move closer to the scene, for the tourists to get better shots and a view of the spectacle. This annoys us so much because the sounds start to distract the animals, now starting to retreat.

 

 

I still pray so hard that they cross. And just as the dramatic cross attempts to begin, a more dramatic thing happens – a leopard jumps onto the herd, across from a nearby bush. It’s serious chaos as the wildebeests and zebras run fast, drawing back into the clearing away from the Mara River. Standing on our Land Rover’s rooftop, through the binoculars I can see thousands of wildebeest herd formation, adding a beautiful darkness to Mara’s horizon. It’s my birthday and I don’t think I want to spend the whole day waiting on wildebeests to cross a river. “Let’s just go home,” I tell Smiles, who reluctantly drives us off half-heartedly. She really wanted me to see the show I had anticipated on my birthday. But I have already seen the wildebeests migrating from atop a balloon ride and seen hundreds of them run in full speed when we’re driving across the park. It’s still breathtaking.

 

 

We head home, where Smiles’ hubby Danny and his friend John are preparing a barbecue for my Bday Late Lunch. I manage to steal some time to read all the awesome birthday messages left by friends and Skype with an important someone before lunch. The lunch is perfection – the best chips and burgers in the entire Mara. We sit at the patio, overlooking a beautiful view enjoying the yummy meal. “Do you realize you’re dressed like you’re going to a party and you’re wearing lipstick in the Mara?” John points out, looking at me in awe. But with every bite and crunch of my food and sip of the sweet white wine – I realize that my life is really about nothing but what simply makes me tick—Life’s Little Pleasures. Spending my whole morning doing nothing but waiting on wildebeests to cross the river; wearing my fancy dress and lipstick how I like it, not caring that I am in the jungle

DCIM100MEDIARight after lunch, there is a huge down pour (blessings in the African culture). I take a nap. Late evening, we head over to Serena Mara for sauna and a massage. After dinner, later in the night, Danny, Smiles and John teach me how to play Euchre, a trick-taking card game commonly played by four people in duos. I am paired with Danny and we end up winning! “You’re so lucky!” John keeps saying that about my naive moves, that always knock his opposing team out. Well, I consider myself lucky to share a birthday with my beloved late Dad and to have celebrated my birthday this year, alongside such loving people :-)

I couldn’t thank you Smiles and Danny enough for the joy our friendship has continuously brought into my life. Thanks for making my Bday this year AMAZING.

BONUS: The Serengeti Mara ecosystem consisting of Tanzania’s Serengeti, Kenya’s Maasai Mara, surrounding conservancies and ranches forms the stage for the biggest show of wildebeest migration, yearly. All migrations differ in exact time and character. Food and rain remain a constant push factor despite the mystery surrounding why wildebeests migrate and cross Mara’s deadly waters, even when their current location has perfectly lush grass and water. This is the World’s Seventh Wonder.

I also wrote for DStv some 5 fun facts about the wildebeest migration Read my complete Bday in the Wild series, tales from Maasai Mara below:

Bday in the Wild: To Maasai Mara: (Part I)

Bday in the Wild: Atop a Hot Air Balloon (Part II)

All photography: yours truly, except for the first by Smiles. And yes, she witnessed that.

 

 

 

10703992_787706441276339_1274066966158109720_nWhen a gig was too good that you couldn’t find the right words to describe it – then someone else did! Dickson Migiro on Sauti Sol …

“Let’s face it. Last night’s Sauti Sol gig at Tree House brought together a large group of like-minded strangers. For Social Skydivers (people who like to meet strangers) it was a gem. Digits were swapped, sweat broken and drinks bought. I first saw Sauti Sol perform at Alliance in a John Sibi-Okumu play circa 1999, I fell in love with them then and just when I thought I couldn’t fall any deeper, here I am posting. Over and above their music, which manages to be both old school and fresh, they seem to bring together a certain mix of people that even though they come from such diverse backgrounds have a common thread. They like experiences, they have traveled, they hate Kanye West and all that theatrics that pass for the music industry. These people want connection, they want to try a new cocktail, go somewhere new, meet someone new… Flirt without it having to go anywhere. Flirt for the heck of it and the unintended results that that has. And it is not always sex. No one fought. Everyone was gracious. There was some pushing and shoving as one would expect on any self-respecting dance floor. There was otherwise proper girls who dissolved into giggly fans. I liked it. It made a resonance with me. It re-affirmed my love for this really talented boy band … We live in hope.”

BONUS: No edit. This post is a replica of my good friend and writer Dickson’s Facebook post following another one of Sauti Sol’s successful concerts over the past weekend.

Signing out,

Proud Publicist.

DSC_1494You’ve heard a lot of people call others their doppelgänger or siblings from another mother. When it comes to our individuality, what really constitutes our solitary self as human beings? Who are we? What are we made of? Who are you? Who am I?

The self is an impalpable topic, which fascinates me. The 2014 publication, Self, is probably the most interesting yet strangling philosophical text I’ve come across. Barry Dainton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool presents to the reader several scenarios that require you to channel your sixth sense.

In the prologue, he makes you the subject of an assumption. Imagine waking up in the morning and realising that something above your head- your brain is missing. Your computer has a message left by the kidnappers that reads, “You will receive an email from us shortly – your brain will be returned to you.” Beyond mind-boggling, this context serves as a central part of Barry’s belief and argument. Barry constantly refers to theories and texts by olden philosophers and scientists on the quest to understand the self, while constantly making assumptions. In the end, a couple of things that probably constitute the self of a human being arise. Our consciousness make us more than just physical beings. But we are also more than just consciousness. Barry terms part of the self as our stream of continuous consciousness (C-System).

The self is more diverse and elusive than we think or has been deduced, because the exact point of the brain that owns the mind and how it synchronizes all other bodily/mind functions hasn’t yet been conclusively and unanimously been identified. Barry writes: suppose you lost all consciousness or you are dead in dreamless sleep – would you still be yourself or someone else? If you were to teleport, would the other person who arrives in the other destination, worlds apart, still be you or someone else with certain aspects of your self? If you had an accident and lost all consciousness and your memory, should you be considered to be a new person? VR_simulation_room_axe

Regarding how future technology might affect the self, Barry presupposes that shall technology find a way of working closely with the human brain in the coming centuries, human beings would simply use memory chips with other people’s C-systems. And if you had this chip, you could at a moment live inside the mind and consciousness of whatever personality you fancied from the past or future, even Michael Jackson or Napoleon. “These virtual reality trips to the past would certainly be used occasionally in history lessons, and future historians will no doubt make more use of the facility, as would novelists and others with a particular interest in what it was like to live at a certain period.”

A more advanced technology would have future people either have a way or extending life cells and lifespan in general or immerse minds, through memory chips attached to computer software or technology simulation, into a virtual world, where you could create your world or rebuild your existence anew—pretty similar to architectural simulation of the film: Inception. (This part of the book shikas me a good one!)

Barry is convinced that if technologies like global wireless internet connection on mobile devices, something that seemed like magic centuries ago, was invented – there are so many more innovations similar to magic that could be invented. Barry writes: It is very important to appreciate just how powerful the most powerful computers of the future might be. He refers to Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s simulation trilemma argument:

  1. The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a technologically advanced stage.
  2. It is unlikely that any advanced civilization will run large numbers of simulations of their own history.
  3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

But to what extent will technological simulation on humans be survivable? If you could get into a virtual world, teleport, acquire or exchange personalities and consciousness, would you return to your original self, dead or alive? Barry speculates. The self remains a subject as deep and vast as the ocean. In summary, Barry asserts that the human will is self-driven. It is possible that you could survive almost anything, in life and through afterlife – but only if it’s what your mind wants and determined to achieve.

The self can’t be defined solely though physical attributes or the pumping of a heart but by the memory’s composition, and how this is influenced by past and present social and genetic factors. The present, however, seems to trigger most our autobiographical memories, even more than video recordings and pictures. “Psychological research has shown that our memories are not passive replays of (mental) recordings, but active re-creations, which typically involve a sizeable number of fictional elements.”

DSC_1492I bought this awesome book in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum Bookshop. It isn’t for the light-minded. Expect to encounter jargon and some uninspiring diagrams. But if you can keep up with Barry’s book and your mind’s interpretations of this information; you will be a step closer to understanding the self and it’s facets like souls and how it all evolves though continuity and streams of life.

BONUS: You might dig my other post on ‘what’s your self without Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram?’ Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?

I found a review of Self + other similar books. Read here: “Is there such a thing as the self? Teleportation and LSD trips could help us understand the nature of personal identity”

Intelligent Life Sept/ Oct 2014 writes:  the point of life is to bring about more consciousness.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 03.28.10This year, my vision of marking a new year in different style, started at treating my birth day celebration as a one-week affair. Since my arrival in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, on a late Tuesday afternoon; every single minute and second of the week feels like its mine, to celebrate and note that it’s my birthday (4th Sept).

This year, I didn’t want a party or some kind of celebration in the city, so I ran to the serene wild, where one of my best friends, Smiles and her hubby, happen to live their happily ever after. It’s great to reunite with Smiles and her hubby Danny (also referred here sometimes as Dan or Daniel) who is a pilot. I also meet his pilot friend John. Smiles works at Mara as a balloon ride photographer alongside Danny, who flies balloons. They have already booked me for a balloon ride tomorrow morning.

I am so excited about this ride; I can hardly sleep on my first night. I am however, already dreading how early we have to get up tomorrow morning to prepare for the ride – 4:00 a.m.! “I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve never got used to waking up that early,” Smiles confesses. Danny’s strong voice acts as our main alarm system on Wednesday morning– “Girls! Time to get up!” I am not a morning person but boy! Am I excited or what? Quick shower, warm clothing, some hot tea and minutes later, we are outside the Serena Hotel, joined by several Norwegian tourists. What nobody (except for pilots) ever realizes is how meticulous the journey of steering a hot air balloon is, even before takeoff.

First, the pilots explain to us that we’ll have to take a 25-minute drive into the bush, into a flat and open area, safe for the balloons to take off. And how, when we arrive, they will have to ascertain that the weather conditions (not rainy) support takeoff. As we drive off into the wilderness, it’s still pitch dark; it must be about 5:00 a.m. now. Some wild animals like Antelopes and Gazelles are graving. They stop to watch the lights from the safari vehicles disturbing the peace. When we arrive, passengers marvel as the pilots start to operate the two balloons flying this morning. But before that, pilot Daniel gives us all instructions while a balloon assistant demonstrates how to enter the rectangular-shaped balloon box, now lying on its side. “You have to enter the box while lying down. Ensure that your feet are attached to the strings inside and if you have a handbag ensure that it’s between your feet – to avoid it flying off or hitting you, during landing. (Why – oh why – did I carry a handbag here?).

During takeoff and landing, ensure that your head is placed on the board of the box, to avoid yourselves bumping into each other or being shaken tremendously.” This is harder than I thought it must have been for balloon pilots. I have heard all the rules, now all I want is just to hop in. It’s time! It’s a little awkward though, lying upside down and turning your neck backwards, to watch the pilot blow the balloon with cold air, then hot air. It is around 6:00 a.m. now. It’s bright and I can finally see how grandiose a balloon really is. It’s nearly five times the size of a basketball court, and nothing as small as they seem in pictures above air or in the movies. After what seems like a dangerous hot and cold air blowing mission, complete with fire blazing, the pilot alerts us that we are about to take off. The balloon starts to swell and rise upward. Its strength raises the wooden box decorated by reeds. Within no time, we start to slowly rock, left to right; and then we start to slowly rise above. A crew of around 20 men and a tractor, out of the box, are holding onto the balloon, propelled by strong ropes, pulling left and right – until the pilot feels it right to takeoff and signals them all to let go. DCIM100MEDIAWe are slowly flying up. Yeeeeei!

We slowly ascend further and move towards north of Mara. As the pilot blows air into the balloon, there is a constant alternating “Hoooooooov!!” sound above our heads, after which there is a short period of enjoyed silence. We spot Topis, ugly vultures above trees (with beautiful nests resting on their heads) and a lioness on top of a rock. She is later chased by two Buffalos. Then we spot dozens of zebras, next to a herd of migrating wildebeests along their milky curvy shaped path. That hovering sound off the balloon scares the wildebeests, which take off in speed. I just witnessed part of the wildebeest migration! The pilot turns out to be a safari guide just as brilliant. He explains to us the nature of all the wild animals and their behaviors, we see. What a sight!

The beauty atop the game reserve beats anything! It’s like a game drive from above. It’s something everyone has to partake. I turn back to check out the other balloon, a couple of metres from us and there it is – the sunrise. I’ve never seen a more striking sunrise. The clouds have opened just like in those ‘what heaven is like’ pictures published in the Jehovah Witness books, usually issued for free. After snapping away a few pictures (which I don’t have now, because at the time of this experience, my phone has just a few days before it gets acquired by a forceful new owner – let’s call it Nairobbery), I am dire need of a nice selfie, so I ask the Norwegian woman next to me to get into the shot. It’s such a beautiful morning and feeling that I have already forgiven her for having asked me during takeoff– “Do you speak English?” But I can’t really blame her after all, seeing I am the only black person/Kenyan on this balloon. All the others, holding onto the balloon, were left on ground. I probably could speak and write better than her. I actually do speak better English; I discover as we strike a rapport.

We land in the middle of nowhere, the border of Kenya and Tanzania – somewhere in between Serengeti National Reserve’s Lemala Kuria Hills at about 8:00 a.m. The grass here is taller than I am; so glad I wore my worker boots. I am dazed from the spectacular view and the pilot’s art of steering the balloon/smooth landing– everything that got us here. As the balloon’s crew is back at disembarking, from afar I hear Pilot Daniel calling out my name, “Anyiko! Are you okay? Uko sawa?” When was the last time I had such a good morning? I converse with my inner self– ‘Oh! It’s Wednesday morning—the eve of my birthday. At approximately this time, I could have easily been in Nairobi’s polluted traffic or at work, but I am not. I am lost in this Bday week bliss.’

DCIM100MEDIAEven though I wasn’t in the same balloon ride with Smiles, she knows what this means to me and understands when I can’t respond to her question on ground, “So how did you like your first ballooning experience?”

The Serena Hotel crew has set up a magnificent breakfast buffet somewhere by the bush. We start off by tossing to a glass of champagne before the real deal. From afar, I can see a towering beautiful giraffe grazing into the jungle. “It’s not even my birthday” *Insert Riri Voice*

BONUS: Later this afternoon, we are heading over to Narok at one of the ballooning pilot’s farewell party, at his crib. Tomorrow, my birthday should be super chilled. We have only planned to catch the wildebeest migrating across the Mara River …

In the continuation of my tales from Maasai Mara during Bday week, read Bday in the Wild: The Wildebeest Migration (Part III)

. Coming soon …

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.04.51This year I wanted to celebrate my birthday (Sept 4th) in different style, so I decided to go wild and spend it in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve with one of my best friends, Smiles, who lives there. Like – who lives inside the Mara? Well, she does, and if her home wasn’t automatically mine too, and vice versa – I’d totally hate her.

Sparked by a recent article I wrote on top 5 places to go on a road trip while in East Africa, I thought Mara would be perfect—famed for the big five, it’s a cool and relaxing spot. The timing too is opportune to witness the seventh wonder of the world – the wildebeest migration and also do what I always wanted to do – take a balloon ride. This plan is spontaneous, ambitious and sweet sounding, so I jump forth!

It’s Sept 2nd, Tuesday morning.

I just returned to Kenya, a few hours ago, from an awesome weekend in Tanzania. Sauti Sol was playing at a massive concert in Dar es Salaam hosted by Legendary Music Tanzania. There’s so much work pending but my birthday is imminent, and its plans – more important. As I struggle to meet deadlines to leave in a few hours, I receive numerous texts from my girl Smiles, who can’t wait to see me. I can’t wait to see her either! But somehow, I sort of know that I’ll probably miss my flight, scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

Just as I am heading to town, Smiles orders, “Buy us four large pizzas! Promise we’ll eat them all.” It’s terrific Tuesday – buy one and get another free. Yaaay! But I end up waiting so long on the pizzas that should have been ready 30 minutes ago. Crazy queue! “You guys I’ll be late somewhere,” I beg the ladies serving us, prompting them to quickly shove some boxes my way. And the series of unfortunate events start to roll … Balancing four large pizzas and my luggage, I grab a random taxi in town. As soon we take the turning into Wilson airport, a policeman accosts us. “Kwa nini hauna headlights? Toka nje ya gari!” The driver begs him to let us go so that I don’t miss my flight but he doesn’t flinch. The policeman takes the driver’s license. By the time the two agree that they’ll meet after I am dropped off, I am already too late for my flight. ‘There is no way in heaven or hell that I am going back home with these pizzas’ – I tell myself. ‘And if I can’t get another flight, I will just sit here and eat them all.’ I am not panicking or afraid that I won’t get another flight. After standing my ground and cajoling Safari Link—they’ve got me a spot! Finally, leaving Nairobi. Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.00.14

It’s a hot afternoon, thus the bumpy flight to Mara. I decide to sleep (I do that every time it’s bumpy – I always figured if am ever going down, I don’t ever have to see it happen). Before I know it, about 30 minutes are over and we have landed at Mara North, the first stop. On opening my eyes, all I smell is pizza. I am starving and for a second I wonder, ‘who is serving food in this mini plane?’ Oh! That’s my pizza. Lol. Several tourists, with American accents, board on their way back to Nairobi. They are impressed by this kind of VIP pizza delivery I am running at the Mara, mumbling to themselves how much they’ve missed pizza. Too bad I am not giving anyone a piece.

We finally land at my destination – Kichwa Tembo airstrip, where I am getting off. From the plane’s little windows, I spot an excited Smiles, beside her white Landrover, waiting on me with her camera ready to click. I ask one of the tourists to hold the pizzas so as to prank Smiles. “Shit!! I forgot the pizzas!!” – I regret on alighting. “Nooooo!” She cries. But I am kidding. As the plane slowly takes off, I feel the tourists eyes watching us reunite, hug for what seems like a lifetime, and then toast to a glass of sweet white wine; as they bid Mara goodbye. The last time we were here together, was in 2009, before her marriage and relocation to Germany. But today, she calls this jungle her home. This is the life. It’s official! My birthday week just began, so did my career in photography.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.12.05 After sipping on some good sweet white wine, catching up, surrounded by the panoramic 360-view of the game reserve, and filming another happiness-filled Instavideo; Smiles, impressively in control of that Landrover, drives me home along the bumpy road. It’s about 4:00 p.m. I am lucky my arrival coincides with the evening Game Drive time. Our companion, Paul – a safari guide with Serena Hotels, is kind enough to explain to me the nature of all the wild animals we encounter. Among other wildlife, we spot a lioness, leopard and buffalo—three of the big five, yet I have just arrived! I think topis and waterbucks are really cute.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.19.44When we finally get to the house, I can’t believe how beautiful this place, Smiles and her husband Daniel ( I will sometimes refer to him as Danny) have built a home in, is. A pirates and German flag hang on the wooden walls. Their shelves, occupying the entire wall on one side of the house, have all sorts of goodies. One side has the complete book series of The Hunger Games; and another a host of board games: my favorite – risiko and scrabble. The cats: Mr. Bigz and Bailey, roam around like they really are the owners of this house. The living room couch is made of Maasai Shukas. There is huge plasma TV that no one really ever watches; there is too much to watch out there anyway.

Outside the house is a front view that I’d do anything to see every morning. There is a view of Mara’s horizon, complete with the great Mara River, the source of water and life for a majority of wildlife here. “Sometimes, we see the wildebeests migrating across the river while here,” Smiles tells me. “Oh my! You must enjoy such peace and no stress while here,” I reckon, and she agrees. She walks me to the very front edge of the yard, where there is a cliff. Right before it is large flat wooden plank – “this is where we sit, to watch the stars on nights when the skies are clear – it’s so beautiful out here.” I notice a little bird house tagged “Rock City” hanging by the big tree, as we are getting back into the house. Smiles says, “A pilot who owned this house in the 90s was buried by this tree. When he passed away, none of his family members claimed him so local friends cremated him and laid his ashes around the tree. He was from America’s Rock City, but because he wasn’t taken there, they brought it to the Mara. He really loved the town around here, this tree and bird house is his memory. And shall never be taken down …”

BONUS: I just read my 2010 blog post from my my last visit to the Mara in 2007, and boy! Is it terrible or what? My style of writing was atrocious. But what I absolutely cherish about this post, is how it details the struggles me and Smiles have had through our friendship. There was a time when we had nothing, we couldn’t even afford a local flight, but we always had great times together. Now God has really blessed us. We’ve come a long way, in all aspects. To avoid getting too emotional, if you couldn’t read the post at all, it’s cool – I understand – I leave you with 5 fun facts about world’s 7th wonder

In the continuation of my tales from Maasai Mara during bday week read:

Bday in the Wild: Atop a Hot Air Balloon (Part II)

Bday in the Wild: The Wildebeest Migration (Part III)

DSC_1063

DSC_1075Everybody in Hague is tonight jolly, drinking beer and partying! Netherlands (NL) the team we (Sylvia, Danny and me) are supporting just won over Mexico, proceeding to the quarterfinals of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. We are in such high spirits—we forget to carry the bottle of wine Danny had prepared, as we head out to Lucia’s for dinner.

The roads leading to Chinatown (where Lucia lives), located in Hague’s city centre, are thin and twisted with smooth corners, perfect for Hague’s little cafés and restaurants with intimate patios. On our way there, we walk past the Dutch Parliament Buildings. They really do look like the university Harry Potter should have attended after Hogwarts. Adjacent paths are romantic and decorated by red flowers.

DSC_1084Two three-meters high Chinese gates decorated by sculptured dragons welcome us into Chinatown. “Wow!” I marvel because it does feel like I am in China—or what’s up with the numerous red balloon Chinese lanterns and Chinese people all over? Danny says, “You can actually get anything Chinese here, specialized beauty things like Chinese manicure, even acupuncture – you should try it once.” This is the place that suffered impoverishment after the Second World War; and it was only after a 1970s revamp that Chinese people increasingly settled here.

But tonight it’s not the Chinese but Italians from Sicily—sweet Lucia and her full-of-life Papa—hosting us in Chinatown. Just like me, Lucia’s Dad is in NL for the first time. We first met a few days ago in Eindoven (province of North Brabant in the south of the NL), when the Danny and Lucia (adorable couple) tagged him along to a Sauti Sol concert. Tonight is his last day in NL before he goes back to Sicily. To celebrate that, he has prepared an Italian dinner for us all. Lucia has also invited her Australian friend and colleague, Sarah and her French fiancée, Pierre.

I am starving … Apart from bread, nearly everything I am about to eat is foreign or has been prepared in a foreign way. Lucia is kind enough to explain it all to me  …

DSC_1088DSC_1089DSC_1090There is a yummy starter (not pictured) that looks like ham but is made from beef: Carpaccio, done with Bresaola and Rucola (rocket) and parmesan cheese (Parmiggiano a scaglie)— all seasoned with “a special kind of vinegar”: Aceto Balsamico. Peas cooked with onions, ham and butter make the side dish: Piselli al Burro in Italian. And the mother of them all is the bigass meat loaf that behaves like a multi-flavored lollipop; with every dig, I discover something new inside – cheese, ham then boiled eggs. This is “something we do in Sicily,” Lucia says of the sliced minced meat: Polpettone (In Italian polpetta means meatball so Polpettone literally means grande Polpetta).

It’s a pity that at this juncture of my gastronomical and reading journey, hadn’t got to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Part of Eat, Pray, Love. Now that I’ve completed the book, I know that her Italian experience in Sicily that drove me hungry at first read has got nothing on my Sicilian dinner in NL. As we savour the dinner, we are having conversations about our countries: Australia, Kenya, Sweden, NL, Italy, France and Germany and others we’ve been to. We discuss our varied perspectives of art, public relations, the dying form of physical print magazine issues and new age social media marketing, the latter driving us into a heated debate that is quelled by another bottle of the “very very strong” Sicilian Nero D’avola red wine, typical of Sicily, Lucia explains.

Lucia’s Dad only speaks fluent Italian and French and just a little English. But thankfully nearly every other person speaks bits and pieces of French and Italian to accommodate him. That situation makes me realize how broken and bad my French has become, but I can still comprehend (see what I did there?) conversations going around like the Cherries for desert.

DSC_1105As the night ends, we take pictures and exchange contacts. Lucia’s Dad presents Sylvia and me with two A4 Sized photos (each) of Italy’s red hot and simmering Mount Etna, 2001 eruption. And just like that, I discover that Lucia’s Dad – Michele Sipala is one of the few photographers who got a chance to capture the volcano’s Strombolian eruption in action. Photo caption: from left Danny, Sylvia, Yours Truly and Lucia’s Dad.

I ate the most. And probably drank the most. By dinner’s end, I am tipsy nicely. I don’t want to even think of having to go back to Amsterdam. But as Sylvia and I settle in the train back, I can’t help but nap blissfully in certain realizations—dinner at Lucia’s ends up being my best home-cooked meal during my entire stay in NL, and my first real Italian. I also just had my first global gathering. Italian dinner in Hague’s Chinatown, hosted by Sicilian Italians and attended by globe-trotting professionals: a French, an Australian, a Swede and Kenyans.

We arrive in Amsterdam at about 3:45 a.m.


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On a different day when Danny is in Amsterdam to fix his mac, NL is playing against Costa Rica at 2014 World Cup semi finals. While in NL I am always missing Danny’s calls because I am always out shopping or at a gig and he always misses mine because, well … he works at ICC. Ahem. “Do you realize we just had our first phone conversation in NL, today?” We laugh when he calls me, later meet and end up doing a lot of things including taking pictures with Dam Square’s Grim Reapers and at Rembrandt Square’s 3D Sculptures. We also enjoy some deathly sugar-free Espresso by a random café’s patio before taking a boat ride (where we see a boat full of orange-dressed people – super cool!) around the city.

Later in the evening, we are met by Joe, Danny’s Kenyan friend from Finland, who is visiting Amsterdam for a few days before proceeding to Berlin. They haven’t seen each other since high school days and I am super glad to witness that reunion. We enjoy Joe’s tales of cold Helsinki and there being only about five black people and generally about 20 people along any Finnish street, after which we discuss The Great Gatsby film and book; Finland, Germany, NL and Kenya in relation to careers in ICT and Law. I’ve been to nearly all touristy spots and museums, so I draft a list of Must-Dos in Amsterdam for Joe + Danny practically appoints me as Joe’s guide while here. I don’t mind.

DSC_1753DSC_1761It’s suddenly evening and World Cup time. But all pubs and bars are full and they won’t let in more people, so we start to walk down the streets along Leidseplein Square in search of space. Attendants and owners of establishments act like we are on Kenya’s famed business-minded River Road street, beckoning and begging us to “Come in! We’ve got space and a TV and good food.” We finally find a spot where I enjoy huge Argentine ribs – probably the largest pack I’ve ever seen or eaten.

NL is kind of under-performing and now everyone is crossing fingers hoping we don’t get to penalties. My cousin Alicia in Costa Rica sends a message saying, “Costa Rica guys are going crazy”. But NL people are really going insane; a lot of people have stormed out of premises and others, especially women are crying. Others have taken into drinking more beer. When NL finally wins, even I am relieved. The penalties brought a lot of tension and agitation. Leidseplein Square transforms into a rowdy orange party zone. As we walk home, people are beer drinking, singing and dancing. I can decipher the patriotic serenity that comes with your country trumping another at World Cup; it feels so good; but I can’t imagine how it would feel to lose. I would feel so whack going to bed.

BONUS: A few days after returning to Kenya, I receive a message from Elliot Christian saying, “In your video of Amsterdam at Leidseplein Square, it’s my group of friends in the middle with people on shoulders.”

:-)

I cherish every orange I wore; yell I made at football; and drinks we poured for Holland while sharing the 2014 World Cup moment in NL with the Dutch and my friends. P.S, check out Part I World Cup 2014 from Holland: Going Dutch of this blog post. Look out for more from my Travel Tales.

DSC_1062Like most girls, I don’t like football. But even I know that only fools fail to recognise how big a deal World Cup is. This is the only time, every four years, when football makes the world stop. It’s when everybody must be watching football – if not for the game, at least for hotties like The Boatengs and Origi. However, that Netherlands is playing at World Cup coincides with my trip to Netherlands, doesn’t really cross my mind. But even though World Cup doesn’t feature anywhere in my daily schedule and plan, somehow, it intersects with my plans and ends up making great memories.

It’s Sunday afternoon. Tonight Netherlands is playing against Mexico at 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. It’s a night of firsts.

DSC_1038I am leaving Amsterdam for Hague (where I am visiting for the first time) to meet a group of friends for dinner. Just left my company, all boys, in disbelief that I wouldn’t be watching the anticipated game (in Netherlands) with them in Amsterdam. It’s a big deal because today is the first time Netherlands is playing at World Cup while we’re here. This is also my first time to take a train in Netherlands, and I will be alone. Since my last train ride in Kenya was total hell, I am really looking forward to this while hoping I don’t get lost or something. As I await the train to Hague while at Amsterdam Centraal Station’s upper platform, I panoramically see that everyone, yes – everyone (even little babies in prams) is dressed in Orange—the colour of the Dutch Royal Family and show of patriotism. Now I am certain that everyone can’t wait to watch the game. The orange reminds me of the super nice receptionist in Bergen’s Hotel 1900, where I just came from the second day of the Wedding of the Year, a little earlier on. He was also in orange.
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I walk into a Café to buy coffee and while inside I meet a little pretty girl with kinky hair. She tells her Daddy she would like a photo with me because I’ve got hair kinky as hers. Super cute. “She can’t speak English, she’s German but she says she really loves your hair,” her Dad thanks me on my way out. My heart swells.

I have a fancy plan of how I’ll be reading my book – Eat, Pray, Love – as I enjoy the beautiful scenery from Amsterdam to Hague while in the train. But as soon as I enter the train, my eyelids won’t stop hanging. I try to stay alert incase someone comes to ask to see my train ticket—but no one does, so I slip into a nap that emits nonlinear dreams of sandy beaches and Kenya. I’ve never slept for more than four hours in the past five days but instead had very crazy long days and nights, since my arrival in Netherlands a week ago.

I arrive at Den Haag Centraal about an hour before the game commences. My friend from Kenya, Danny (who before reuniting with in Amsterdam a few days ago I hadn’t seen in more than three years) spots me as soon as I reach my cell to call him. ‘Isn’t anyone ever late in Netherlands?’ – I wonder. Soon, he is pulling his bike along and I am happily galloping, as we head towards some fancy white-coloured apartment building, where he stays – about eight minutes walk from the station. I am astounded by Hague’s beauty. Buildings along Frederikstraat street look like a mashup of Amsterdam’s old architecture and something a little modern yet classic. Also, there aren’t edifices too tall around Danny’s hood; I feel at home.

Serendipitously, along the whimsical roads, we bump into my friend from Sweden Sylvia (who is also staying in Amsterdam over our brief stay in Netherlands). She’s in Hague to visit a friend, who she’s with. Somehow, while in Netherlands, my friends and friends of my friends easily all become friends; so Danny and I end up tagging them along. Danny has planned for us to watch the Netherlands Vs Mexico World Cup game first before heading out to Lucia’s for dinner. But first, we have to go Dutch: “We have to wear appropriate gear, otherwise they will think we are supporting Mexico,” Danny advises. We walk into his apartment and voila! Each one of us has orange paraphernalia. I’ve got a hat and a wristband on.

DSC_1059DSC_1055We are now part of the orange army, and proud to make our way downstairs and right into the intimate Le Moulin Fou  (restaurant that serves traditional French cuisine, situated right opposite Danny’s apartment building), tonight transformed into a pub. The sizeable venue is full to capacity. Seats and tables have been set outside to accommodate the overflowing crowd (98% Dutch or just European). The streets along Le Moulin Fou have been decorated using anything and everything orange, hanging loose or tightly fit.

Their red wine is bad but the game is worse. Mexico is first to score. By the time Netherlands scores a goal, too, 90 minutes is almost over. I can see how bad Dutch people want to win this game; nobody cares anymore for their drinks but cringing and praying. The air feels so tense. Just as Danny and I are standing to assess the situation, a waitress comes up to us with free shots of some drink that tastes like a mix of Martini, lime and a little whisky. She’s got a sad face, “For Holland”—she says, while offering. We look at each other as we take down the shots. Danny speculates, “Maybe these were meant to celebrate a win …We just have to take them anyway even though we are losing.” I agree, saying, “You know what would be epic? Is if this game turned out just like 2014 UEFA Championships League Final and we scored last-minute” – Danny immediately starts to record a video of us and the crowd like he just got sparked by a sixth sense. All of a sudden, the Dutch delight in a turn of events, scoring another goal in the final few minutes of the game—this has put Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The game has ended! We won!

Pandemonium! Drinks! More free shots make rounds! We are all hugging! All the other people are singing, kissing and hugging and cheering and pouring beer and throwing bottles at each other and yelling—celebrating in all fashion. The whole place is merrily Orange.

#worldcup #Netherlands #Hague #Celebrations

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

As soon as I post pictures and videos of the riot on Instagram, my new friend, Iris from Amsterdam, comments saying that her mother actually lives right by the street where Le Moulin Fou is located. We briefly get back into Danny’s apartment where I enjoy the aerial view of the happy singing crowd, through the window. Some guys are beckoning me to come down and blowing kisses (which I gladly send back). I am still wearing my orange hat and wristband – it doesn’t feel silly or like a show. For a brief moment, I can’t separate myself from the Dutch die-hard support and love for their country at World Cup. I could see even children, seemingly below 10 years, celebrating Netherlands win against Mexico, as if they really knew what it meant. They must have.

We soon leave for Lucia’s crib in Chinatown (located in Hague’s city centre). It’s dinnertime, and in true Italian style … as I am yet to discover.

BONUS: Read final part of this blog: World Cup 2014 from Holland: Going Global (Part II). You might also dig another one from my Travel Tales: discovering the mystery behind Lord Egerton’s Castle.

10621785_10152576265477559_623321037_nNever, at any point of my life, have I ever read a book whose breath and pulse mirrored my own like Eat, Pray, Love—a brutally honest and raw tale about “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.” It was delightful for the 2006 memoir to have been my companion during a recent trip to Netherlands across Kenya and Turkey.

American author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert is an ambitious career woman who can’t seem to get her marriage together. So she files for divorce and quickly moves on with a different lover. However, none of her relationships work out. And nothing makes things work – not prescribed drugs, countless nights of crying on her bathroom’s floor or even yoga-for-starters. Sparked by an ambitious plan and an old medicine man’s forecast that she would one day return to Indonesia (where she had visited years back while on an assignment); Elizabeth decides to embark on a 12-month trip across continents, on a journey to scrutinise her inner self – to find the self and discover soul food.

She begins her journey in Italy, the home of world’s best pizzas and pasta makers. A friend, Giulio tells her that Rome’s word is SEX. While trying to find her life’s own “word”, here she submerges herself into the pleasure of food like “airy clouds of ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, bread chunks floating in aromatic oils, tiny plates of sliced meats and olives, a salad of chilled oranges tossed in a dressing of raw onion and parsley.” It’s the first time she encounters the expression: Il bel far niente “the beauty of doing nothing” while learning Italian. While in Sicily, the most third-world section of Italy, she remembers what Goethe said: “Without seeing Sicily one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is.” This part of the book makes me recall meeting a new friend, Lucia, in Hague. Lucia who hails from Sicily turned out to be the sweetest Italian girl I’ve ever met.

In India, Elizabeth discovers the power of meditation, yoga and silence. After having tasted part of her heart’s desires like forgiving herself and forgiving others, she heads over to Indonesia with an open mind, hoping to find more balance. Here, she ends up buying a Balinese woman a house and finding love, after all. What an intelligently authored book with impressive research on travel and different cultures. In Indonesia, she discovers that the word amok, as in “running amok,” is a Balinese word, describing a battle technique of suddenly going insanely wild against one’s enemies in suicidal and bloody hand-to-hand combat.

The book isn’t as cliché as the sound of its title, or as simple and straightforward as the 2010 film adaptation might have depicted the story. But the ending is. Elizabeth ends up falling in love with an older Brazilian man. But before then, she writes, “I not only have to become my own husband, but I need to be my own father, too.” I really loved that Elizabeth is jaunty and not afraid to share any bit of her personality. She writes like it’s her private diary. From TMI that, sometimes, ends up annoying the reader like mindless chatter would, to the juicy part where she recounts breaking her celibacy – “never have I been so unpeeled, revealed, unfurled and hurled through the event of love-making” – and the dry spell days that drive her to masturbation.

Elizabeth digging into her inner being to identify her weaknesses and how best to overcome them, is my first encounter with the book’s power. Most times, human beings don’t want to be corrected or when corrected – they find it hard accepting their faults. But it is surely something of magnificent power to sit down and analyze your life problems and triumphs; and from that – prescribe yourself a winning life-changing plan. This book has even inspired plans for my next euro-trip :-)

BONUS: She ends up marrying that Brazilian man after the book. They’ve since been together for more than five years. You can also check out my review of another wonderful book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin- Louis de Berniéres Then watch the below video of Elizabeth talking about the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love. She’s so funny.

 

81jdBXzYBTLThis will sound freaky, but the book – Eat, Pray, Love by American author Elizabeth Gilbert has changed my life profoundly. The tale about “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia” took me on a journey this year from Kenya across Turkey and Netherlands. And at every turn of a page, I savoured my trip as I read how Gilbert savoured hers. But what really changed me was discovering Elizabeth’s search for her inner self so as to change her life and relationships, for the better. Her will to connect with God or a higher power and new people also amazed me. Most importantly, learning the essence of yoga, solitude and silence in this book has taught me to keep calm during life’s challenges. I’ve learnt that things will happen, good or bad, there will be storms and deaths and just about anything, while we still exist. So it’s essential to keep calm. It’s an art. Every life difficulty passes, such that even if we die, we should exist. I will stop there and share with you the below quotes that I really loved from the book. Cheers!

1. The classical Indian sages wrote that there are three factors which indicate whether a soul has been blessed with the highest and most auspicious luck in the universe:

  • To have been born a human being, capable of conscious inquiry.
  • To have been born with – or to have developed – a yearning to understand the nature of the universe.
  • To have found a living spiritual master.
  1. A monk said, “The resting place of the mind is the heart. The only thing the mind hears all day is clanging bells and noise and argument, and all it wants is quietude. The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart. That’s where you need to go.”
  2. Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time – when pursued like a bandit – will behave like one; always remaining one county or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair colour to elude you, slipping out of the back door of a motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant …
  3. Questions of love and control all through history are the two things that undo us all, trip us up and cause war, grief and suffering.
  4. We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses—one foot is on the horse called “fate”, the other on the horse called “free will”. And the question you have to ask everyday is – which horse is which? Which one I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?
  5. As smoking it to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff of it is bad for you.
  6. About fighting your own personality and trying to change your inherent tendencies, the ancient Pythagorian philosopher said, “The wise man is always similar to himself.”
  7. Your treasure – your perfection – is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.
  8. Liz’s guru says, “People universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it.”
  9. The yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash … To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.

BONUS: My review of Eat, Pray, Love, is coming soon … You might also like 12 Quotes from 100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The history of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops, where marijuana dealing is legal, dates back to the early 70s. And since, for most tourists, it’s not a complete taste of Amsterdam’s diverse culture without a good spliff. I am finally seated inside a coffeeshop with an Amsterdam native to oversee my experiment-cum-experience. We haven’t started smoking yet but I already feel like I don’t want to leave, more than I want to smoke. The freedom of it being legal here is grippingly unfathomable. But I keep calm and act like a trooper.

DSC_0577The self-service at Café 420 is simple: order your weed or coffee, or both – pay and sit down for a roll and sip. Dealers assume that smokers know how to roll weed. If you don’t, you can instead buy spliffs already done, for a few more cents or euros, depending on type. But my company, who I will refer to here as my Amsterdaman, is an expert at rolling. Tonight it doesn’t matter that I’ve never liked weed or that it stinks; I am about to have some. And if it works the same way a cigarette does after a satisfying meal, then after the kind of massive dinner we just had, I should be okay.

There is a very big black cat, lingering around like it owns this place. Sometimes, it’s sitting on one of the big stools by the bar, prying into private conversations. When it gets bored, it gracefully walks on top of the counter and impressively jumps across the bar into the shelf where it cuddles the old school stereo, smoothly emitting sounds of Kings of Leon, 30 Seconds to Mars and A Tribe Called Quest.

10536493_10152557457412559_1434802227_nThe harsh smoke smoothly grazes down my throat. “Take it easy,” Amsterdaman urges me as I cough. But with every sip of cappuccino, the next puff feels better. In fact, I feel irie. My head is slowly spinning in light of the moment and every micro situation emerging from it. We start to catch up; it’s been about four years since the last time we saw each other. Then we become silly. We jest about what could possibly be the black cat’s soliloquy. It’s funny. But it’s even funnier knowing that we are being silly but we can’t help it. We laugh out loud. I notice that everyone in the not so big café is calm and collected. The roar of our laughter and the riot we make out of the sheer pleasure of reuniting – is my only surrounding. I feel the need to take away something for myself, or someone, so I head over to the counter and buy a Café 420 Lighter and a fancy slice of lemon weed cake, for a friend at home.

DSC_0593We happily walk out of Café 420 and into the city for a walk, where we admire the beautiful illuminated canal rings (shining by night), and slanting buildings. I wonder if the buildings are really slanted or the weed’s high is rearranging architecture. It’s about 11 p.m. and finally pitch-dark. We end up at the only club I fall in love with while in Amsterdam—Bitterzoet, where we meet other friends. This is the place where I discover the world’s classiest and sweetest Rosé beer – the only thing I would end up drinking, almost entirely, throughout my trip in Netherlands. Soon, I’ve lost my people. Looking for them, I head upstairs into the smoking room. It’s crowded here worse than at mini coffeeshops. It’s like a smog storm going down; I can’t see a thing and the air inside is humid and dense—a mixture of all sorts of smokable things. I locate them after a few seconds and dash out immediately. I have finally embraced my two-faced vagabond spirit, I don’t care that the smoke probably has my hair smelling like shit. It’s never that serious.

DSC_1345DSC_1364DSC_1257DSC_1277As my stay in Netherlands elongates, I attend festivals, concerts and walk around town, hawk-eyed, checking out coffeeshops from a distance. Smokers are all over. There’s yet another weed crowd and cloud at Gyptian’s concert at Keti Koti Festival. However, there aren’t as many peeps smoking weed here as there would be in Nairobi, if Gyptian performed at Uhuru Park or KICC. On a different night, before heading out to Wiz Khalifa’s concert, I eat a yummy weed chocolate muffin in respect of Khalifa’s status as rap’s weed prince (Snoop is the King or Lion). At the concert, Wiz Khalifa’s full band is performing while smoking kush; half the crowd is smoking up too. I am hypnotized more by the fact that I am at Paradiso (one of Amsterdam’s legendary concert venues transformed from an olden church building) attending Wiz Khalifa’s concert. At some point, his Taylor Gang Crew stop the concert to make him smoke up the biggest spliff I have ever seen—it looks like a barrel-sized Cuban cigar. Amsterdam people cheer on! “Arrr rrr he heee heee hee hihihi” – there goes Khalifa’s sheepish signature high-on-weed laugh. My night is made. I’ve already had a couple of Vodka cocktails, and the weed muffin I took is finally starting to manifest. Wait. Wiz is singing: So what we get drunkSo what we smoke weed … We’re just having fun … We don’t care who sees … So what we go out … That’s how it’s supposed to be … Living young and wild and free …

The muffin doesn’t get me really high till about six hours later. After which I am hungry every 30 minutes. By the end of the night, I’ve disgusted myself, having eaten like four starved men would. I vow never to eat weed muffins again. Interestingly, with time, my perception of weed slowly transforms, from the stinky stick to just another thing equivalent to a cigarette or cigar. I think I am also getting high just off the ever-present weed clouds above the city’s social scene horizon. This must be why I am constantly laughing out loud while in Amsterdam.

DSC_1317On my last day in Netherlands, I am up to no good. I am also pressed for time but I have to meet a new friend in Amsterdam. I ask him to take me to so many places including a “a not so full” coffeeshop. He says,  “You’ve got so much to do in such little time,” so we end up at the 1984-founded Siberië (Siberia). This place, older than I am is perfect and private – there are only about 10 people in here. I like its café-style light mahogany furniture. But I don’t like the dealer behind the counter. He barks at me for answering my cell inside the coffeeshop (apparently cell phones are not allowed in here), so I step out. On returning, he asks to see only my ID – this is a requirement for anyone, if called upon. Rules into coffeeshops only allow 18 and over and if too strict – you have to be over 21. But don’t I look older than that? Grrrrrr!! Free at last, we end up checking out Siberië’s detailed menu, before embarking on discovering each other’s world over some coffee and hash (spliff made from concentrated THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): cannabis most active ingredient—“positive weed,” my friend calls it.

Lighter down the throat; hash hits the head faster. I am now a trooper. We have a great conversation revolving around South Africa, Kenya, Netherlands, westernization and African cultures. It’s a dope coincidence that we both work in music entertainment. There’s so much more to share and talk about but tonight my friends from Europe have organised my last-supper farewell dinner by the sandy beach at Scheveningen (district in Hague), so I have to make it there. Lost in the creation of a new bond, I end up missing my train to Hague, and almost missing the train after that. When I finally make it in, my Kenyan friend from Finland, accompanying me to Hague, won’t stop laughing at my newly acquired lisp thanks to hash highness. I also can’t stop laughing, and talking while simultaneously thinking about how an 85-minute long date left such a grand and lasting effect ;-)

Within no time, we have arrived at Den Haag. The slightly over 50-minute train ride from Amsterdam today felt like it lasted a mere five minutes.

Read the complete Love, Sex and Drugs series below:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam Red Light District (Part II)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

BONUS: The above series only account a section of my adventures and experience and should not be confused or mistaken for condoning salaciousness or the use of marijuana or any other substance.

 

 

DSC_1514Everybody loves Amsterdam because it’s marijuana haven, with hundreds of coffeeshops where smoking weed is legal and taking alcohol – prohibited. Coffeeshops are indicated by the display of an official, green and white sticker on the window (which nobody really looks out for – you just know a coffeeshop).

But weed and I have never had an amicable relationship. It smells like shit, makes hair and clothes stink, and then I’ve heard myths about substandard weed in Kenya. So ‘Why?’ I always thought, ‘Should I try what’s possibly not the real deal?’ Plus there was that time, about two years ago, when two policemen in Kenya planted weed in a friend’s car parked outside a club in Nairobi. Then they accused us of having in possession the biggest rolled-up bundle of weed I have ever seen. After holding us hostage nearly all night, turns out all they wanted was a bribe and to keep their weed. Because of these scenarios … visiting a coffee shop doesn’t make it in my list of Must-Dos while in Amsterdam – though at the back of my mind, I know that at some point I will have to act like am in the Rome of Netherlands. ‘If I’ll have to, I have to be accompanied by an Amsterdam native and smoker’ – I tell myself.

On my first day in Netherlands, while walking towards the apartment building where I am staying, I find myself staring blankly at three different people, a guy, another guy and a lady. They are fashionably dressed, leaning at several sections of the old building’s walls, smoking. Part of the smoke they emit is foreign. A little later I realize that it could have been weed. I am fascinated by the freedom to generally smoke along Amsterdam streets. It’s really cool yet annoying, if you can’t tolerate smoke. In IT Crowd and certainly Nairobi, you have to puff at a designated smoking zone, and you have to be so bad to smoke carelessly along any public place because you risk getting arrested.

On my second night in Amsterdam, I accompany friends into the first coffee shop we encounter along the Red Light District. It’s the most beautiful little shop I see throughout my whole stay in Netherlands. Decorated by multi-coloured graffiti, this is the Bulldog No. 90—we just stumbled upon what happens to be Amsterdam’s first coffeeshop, converted from a wine cellar. This explains why inside dozens of people are squeezed into a space probably designed for ten. Walking in feels like walking into a smoke machine. I can hardly breathe or see, so I step outside. My company returns with weed cakes and spliffs. I don’t smoke or eat any. We are met by more friends as we proceed to the supermarket to buy drinks to complete the supplies for a random chillax plan right around Rembrandt Square. I am happily shocked at how cheap wine is in Amsterdam. There’s an offer to buy two bottles for 4.50 euros or single bottles for a euro or up to five. I could buy my mother a barrel of wine but we only grab beer cans and a bottle. After an hour or so of enjoying my first uninterrupted sight of summer’s bright of night over laughs and conversations with friends, suddenly all the smokers are super loud and seem to be on a higher level than those drinking. The smokers soon bounce for home, without a goodbye. It’s so abrupt and unexpected. The rest of us head out to a classic Jay Gatsby-themed about 100-year-old Café Schiller; and later, to the only strictly hip hop bar in the city, which totally has that Choices Baricho Road vibe. I thoroughly enjoy my second night in the new city alongside an old and new friend.

DSC_0550Because of its coffeeshops and general restrained liberty, I think Amsterdam is cool. I have even bought some weed hoodies at the flea market, and several marijuana fridge stickers and lighters at the souvenir shops. But that’s as far as it goes. Regardless, a few days later, I meet up with a great friend of mine from Amsterdam. We first have dinner at Hannekes Boom while sitting outdoor, where there is a great view of the Amstel River overlooking part of the city. “What else do you want?” My friend is so sweet and the best host. I find myself requesting to be taken to a classy coffeeshop “with not so many people and so much smoke hovering.”

We end up at the perfect 420 Café, which balances with ease a café and bar feel. Its aesthetic and vibe makes our date even better. The ambience is to die for—dark wooden interior with low and high stools or chairs to choose from. Several huge framed old school tobacco posters make the café’s crème-coloured walls vintage.

DSC_0573DSC_0574My Amsterdaman (yes – I just created that word) actually used to live across the street, very close to Café 420. He schools my fascination: “In the early 20th century, smoking and tobacco were still quite exotic for the masses. It was also the onset of mass consumption and the birth of advertisement posters. Cigarette brands played on the exotic edge that was in fashion those days with advertisements geared to appeal to this. Cigarettes were associated with countries like Egypt or the cultures of the Far East, with images of ancient Egypt and other themes used to sell products. The 20s and 30s had their own Jugendstil – the style of the youth. So the owner of 420 Café uses his profits to buy an enormous collection of old cigarette posters just out of love for these – almost – pieces of art, that he constantly puts on rotation of different days.” We take a high table not too far from the entrance, that way we can also steal a glance of the dark of summer night creeping in through 420’s huge glass doors.

In the continuing series of my tales from Netherlands, read:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)

BONUS: This post is solely an account of my adventures and experience and should not be confused or mistaken for condoning the use of marijuana or any other substance.

Dreams of Greatness

When art breaks, paint spills. When my heart aches; it’s because not even pills would heal me of your portions. I can’t see any other mural or painting better than ours; but what we have isn’t the real deal. I can’t be a solo artist without your direction, yet I have to. I can’t ignore what we made, yet I want to. So I can’t help but thank the strokes of your brush; for when I was empty – you filled me. When I was undiscovered – you saw me. When I was ruined – you fixed me. And just as I was starting to glow in your light – you left me, illuminated.

— Your piece of work.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 10.05.33While in Amsterdam, the word Sex is like the word Tea or Majani in Kericho. Part of the Dutch pride and fame for sex is synonymous to the kind of global advertisement our tea has done for Kenya. In Amsterdam, sex is cool. It’s rich. It’s okay. It’s liberating. Because of the legalization of prostitution, it draws tourists. Together with the legalization of weed; prostitution is part of the Dutch toleration for things, otherwise, not legal in many parts of the world.

On my first day in Amsterdam, while walking down the shopping district, I bump into the Sex Museum. It’s right between tourists’ souvenir shops, food joints and a kid’s toy (no pun intended) store. And it’s only four euros in. As soon as I tell one of my friends that I am staying right in the CBD close to Amsterdam Centraal Station (CS), they say: “That’s very close to the Red Light District (RLD), make sure you take a trip there!” I end up visiting RLD at different times on different days, thus noticing different things, every single time, day and night.

From the start, I have no imaginations of what RLD is like, apart from a place where it’s okay to pick up a prostitute when in lust and with money, or a street where you can easily spot hookers. On my first evening in Netherlands, accompanied by friends, I take my first walk down Amsterdam’s RLD, known for high-profile hookers. The buildings along RLD boast part of the city’s charming 14th century architecture—not what I had ever pictured. The District is located along one of the most beautiful parts of Amsterdam, with long alleys with a few twists and turns. It’s about 9:00 p.m. and still quite bright because it’s summer. Most of the large and long windows or glass doors through which prostitutes show up, from the classic buildings, still have curtains. The streets aren’t jammed. Prostitutes, in sexy lingerie and truckloads of makeup driven by bright or deep red lipstick, tease streetwalkers. As if made a tad shy by the bright of night, they dramatically jump in front of the curtain, revealing a leg or their torso, and then quickly jump back. Some prostitutes just peep out of the window, smiling and waving or beckoning passersby by the index finger.

“Good gracious!’ – my first thought. What a wonderfully liberal world this must be. For these women to be as proud as they are, up for sex, and not being jeered or stoned or arrested but being adored and marveled at, just as any other product on sale would be window-shopped.

There are gay bars, pornography cinemas, an Erotic Museum of Prostitution and a Sex Theatre (where you can view live sex – yes!) along RLD. There’s also the Condomerie, Worlds First Condom Specialty shop, first opened in 1987. Photography here, and generally along RLD inclusive of the signs and prostitutes is prohibited, but I still steal some and the video below:  

They have a shop for just about everything and anything in Amsterdam. #Tourist

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

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DSC_1690On a different day I visit Condomerie with a friend. We marvel at the naughty post cards and joke about how it would be cool to see if a receiver would put two and two together if sent the wittily designed cards. But none of us wants to experiment. The tiny sex shop, full of curious (in all ways) customers and tourists, has ALL shades, sizes and flavours of condoms. And then there are toys and probably whips and chains. We don’t stay in too long. I am already in trouble for being spotted taking a photo.

On a different day – the end of the night Netherlands win against Costa Rica in the World Cup, together with my two male friends (names withheld for obvious reasons), we decide to head over to RLD for two reasons: to find a bar with good beer and simply assess business. Why not? Especially after Netherlands beat Costa Rica by luck at the penalties. We are curious if this result will influence an influx or decrease of clients at RLD tonight. Although there are celebrations and a lot of drinking beer and singing in town, most fans (read – everyone including me) are still not too happy by Netherlands performance again. The game against Costa Rica was just like their previous match against Mexico, too much struggle and still failing to score in 90 minutes.

DSC_1689“It’s going to be a bad night for the girls. Or should I say, a good night?” One of my friends jests, adding, “The prostitutes will probably make a lot of money, still.”

We have arrived.

Tonight I see the RLD in different light. (It’s the busiest I’ve seen any street, day or night, during my entire stay in Netherlands). It’s the first time I am experiencing human traffic. There are so many people, among them, more than half dressed in orange jerseys, walking up and down RLD lanes. Everyone (the Dutch and tourists alike) has been wearing orange all day, in support of Netherlands at World Cup, so there’s no way of knowing nationalities of people along RLD, tonight largely dominated by men. My friend says a lot of the guys down RLD are usually Brits. And leaning on that statement, I overhear several British accents along the crammed and jammed street. I wonder if there are male or homosexual prostitutes too, somewhere. They can’t miss to have their spot in a place like Amsterdam—the city with something for everyone. We spot a couple of policemen along the canal bridges dressed in their “Politie” jackets, standing at bay watching people stream in and out of the district. They are possibly looking out for trouble. But there is never trouble.

It’s way past 1:30 a.m. The prostitutes are not afraid of the dark of night – they seem to be encouraged by it. They are on display just like meat hangs by the butchery windows or how mannequins pose by windows at the malls. There are no curtains here. As you stare at them, the more they lure you while touching themselves and demonstrating skills and positions, some smiling as innocently as virgins. All this happens through the life-sized windows through which I can see single rooms lighted up in red, blue, violet and even green. The rooms have beds layered with white towels and numerous toys, some looking like gadgets. Some rooms seem to have doors in the back.

We are standing next to a group of three girls and one boy staring so hard at one of prostitutes demonstrating her prowess by mocking her viewers from across the window. The foursome stares so hard as if they are watching a silent movie. I can now see that most of the prostitutes have done a boob or mouth job, or both – it’s so evident. The prostitutes clearly represent different nationalities. Some look Indonesian and Korean. There is also a lane with black girls. Here is the first place I see big -sized prostitutes. We also pass a window where several men are queuing for one prostitute and there is a bouncer, (or should we refer to him as a pimp?) ensuring that there’s no pushing and pulling or jumping the line.

Most pubs and clubs have red-lit signs gleaming and popping with witty names of the places. Sex Palace. Banana Bar. Moulin Rouge. And so on. We finally find a club that is full enough to handle us (the others are overflowing). I just want some of that good rose’ beer. My boys are soon turned off by the fact that there are only four girls (me included) in this club so we leave soon after …

In the continuing series of of my tales from Netherlands, read:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)

BONUS: Prostitution is legal in Holland with most of Amsterdam’s business running in the Red Light District. Window prostitutes have been allowed to legally display their trade since October 2000. PS: RLD hasn’t always been known to be the safest place in Amsterdam. From time to time, several crimes have been reported from there so while visiting, make sure you have company and be watchful.

 

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