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12295134_10153603829577559_41289555_oI just arrived in Nigeria for my first time to a rude welcome – our baggage was left behind, but the airline promises to make sure we’ll get all our bags tomorrow.

I am with Sauti Sol, here for the AFRIMA Awards accompanying them as group’s Publicist and Tour Manager. It’s a 40-minute ride to the hotel from Lagos mainland to Victoria Island, where we are staying over the weekend. On our way, we ask our driver to shuffle between radio stations. We don’t hear any foreign music being played but their own – hit and shit songs alike – an amazing model that has forced Nigerian artistes to push their music out of their saturated market.

Interesting how most of the local radio stations in Kenya play more West African and American content than music from Kenya or East Africa. Kenyans have such pride in music. This has built a wall over music fans and media, making everyone a gatekeeper or wanna-be pundit leaving an industry birthing serious imbalances. If more local content, regardless of quality, is put on radio quality and competition levels will skyrocket. You just never hear shit songs on Kenyan radio. But you can’t always hear hit songs on radio either.

Bien asks the driver, “So who are the biggest Nigerian artistes?” Too many, he says. “Who is your best?” Olamide. “Who is the most respected and greatest?” Tubaba, he asserts.

I already hate Eko Hotel at first sight. I’ve heard so much about how dope it is but I just don’t like its grandiose plan. It feels like a small city. I am not sure if the crowd at the hotel all came for the AFRIMA but I really hate crowds and people lingering at lobbies and reception areas. This place is a beehive of activities. Plus part of my room’s ceiling falls on a guest inside my room. Like WTF!?

12294939_10153603827432559_1947468013_oAt night, my girls – Abi leading the battalion scoop me to DJ Spinall’s Album House Party at Oniru Estate. A generous cocktail of Smirnoff welcomes us to the mad house. Poor mansion! Numerous rooms have guests thronging in and out like a festival with bottles popping like it’s a beer factory. On a different side some people are jumping into a pool. I can’t help but think of Banky W’s Lagos Party. Again I hate crowds but I really like this party and its show for the Nigerian affluence. Who allowed all these people to party in their house? Won’t they steal or completely damage the house? I need to see and meet DJ Spinall, so I ask Abi to lead me to the VIP section. On getting there, it’s as packed as a brand new matchbox. I can’t even see or reach him. Our night at the house ends. We end up at a club. Here, my memory fails. I might have had too many :-)


Sunday Morning


I wake up thinking about nothing but our luggage. My heart and conscience tells me that the airline will neither deliver nor call any of us to get our luggage. (They actually never do). So I start to make my own arrangements to go to airport in time to catch the arrival of the flight that should have our luggage. At first I think I will sort it out myself but trouble starts when I can’t find a taxi for the airport because there is fuel shortage in the city. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT FOR? The petroleum industry in Nigeria is the largest in Africa. Contributing to about 14% of its economy, it hardly benefits the normal mwananchi directly. This is why I hate that western media and countries equate GDP to African development and fastest growing |“healthy” economies. What’s the point of having the highest GDP when the person on the street can’t even have fuel or power? Because of this kind of disparity, I am passionate about PR in sensitising communities, policy makers and key stakeholders in natural resource management on equity, transparency and conflict management.

Last year, I worked on a similar project in Kenya’s Turkana area following the discovery of oil reserves. Read To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)


I don’t know what I’d do without IBB. He sees my distress. Knowing too well that the time it will take me to get a taxi man with sufficient fuel, get through the airport madness and to our luggage will be the same time the airline will take to disembark the luggage, load them back in and send them back to Kenya – he assures me, “Don’t worry I will get you someone who works at the airport to sort everything for you, and we will have to pay him.”

Case closed.

Best Artiste Group, Sauti Sol (1)

Can you see my legs on stage? :)

When our bags finally arrive, it’s such a relief that nothing is missing. We are now ready for the AFRIMA tonight. Despite AFRIMA’s complete disregard for time and schedule management, I applaud the organisers and fraternity for having set up a brilliant system of awarding African achievement and excellence in music entertainment. Sauti Sol win Best African Group & Producer of the Year.

There are so many African stars at the event backstage. Busy with Sauti Sol and spoilt for choice, I show some love to Cobhams, Tubaba, Diamond Platnumz and congratulate Cassper Nyovest for filling the dome. I am more than impressed by the kind of media coverage AFRIMA attracts. There are hundreds of journalists at the red carpet. I’ve had a field day, I would absolutely enjoy working in the Nigerian industry. I’ve met top publicists from Angola, South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon. I’ve met top radio owners, promoters, music executives and many of my peers. Everyone is warm and open to exchange. I love that about Nigerians. They are open to the rest of Africa and collaborations.

As of the end of the ceremony, our flight back to Nairobi is at 1:50 a.m. unbeknownst to us. Why would anyone book us into such an early morning flight, and especially when the ceremony wasn’t even over then? We have missed our flight back and have only one chance to catch the 12 p.m. flight. But will we? Looking at Lagos morning traffic across The Third Mainland Bridge to the airport and the fact that organisers messed too many flights to sort them all out in good time – we will have to pull an Amazing Race.

BONUS: Thank you so much IBB.

Read the last Part III of To Nigeria and Back: Baptism by Fire coming soon …





When I heard that my luggage was missing :( Lol!

My first time in Nigeria is worse than terrible! It’s such an anticlimax because this is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I had been beating myself for years for missing to visit my aunt when she used to live in Nigeria. That, and Nigerian cuisine laced with very hot chilli peppers of international repute, are just some of the reasons why Nigeria and India have always been in my Dream Destinations.

I find myself headed to Nigeria about two weeks prior to my first planned two-week trip/work exchange program to Lagos. I am accompanying Sauti Sol (Winners Best African Group & Producer of the Year at AFRIMA) at the award ceremony as the group’s Publicist and Tour Manager.

Just the idea of being in Nigeria excites and thrills me so much that I hardly read my book in the flight. The four hours + flight time seems like forever. On arrival at Murtala Muhammed Airport, we realize that two of the Sauti Sol members’ visas aren’t valid even though they just came from Nigeria about a week ago. Turns out all foreigners have to get an Entry Visa at every new entry, even if it’s just a day after your last visit. At a special office, we are asked to pay 50 USD in cash for each. It’s surprising that the system at this office is down yet they won’t allow us to pay in Nairas or using a Visa Card. Across the jam-packed airport, we have to find an ATM and a bureau to exchange Nairas into USD – like why can’t your systems just be functional?

Just as we are about to finish the process, a policeman walks into the room holding a pen and paper. He calls out Chimano’s name, insisting: “Passengers who came in from Nairobi!?” His bag was left in Nairobi as flight was “over weight”. I start to laugh out loud thinking to myself – he is so fucked right now! The policeman calls my name next. That’s when I quickly stop laughing – everything starts to sink in. Out of all five of us, only one person receives their bags. The KQ official asks us to head over to their Ticketing Office for further explanation. We are furious because we are only in Lagos for two nights and to attend two events on each night. To tell us that our bags will only arrive 24 hours later is basically telling us that we came to a foreign country without half of what we needed for the full stay – senseless!

We’ve spent an hour getting the visas. It takes us another hour to get through to someone at the Ticketing Office. When they show up, their only explanation is that they received an email from Nairobi indicating that the flight was overweight so our bags had to stay behind. The officer suggests that we should call Nairobi. On calling Nairobi, the team says that we should get answers in Nigeria. Eventually Nairobi office assures us that we will receive our luggage tomorrow. It’s so disappointing to be in a new place, all sweaty and tired and with no single change of outfit. I quickly call our Nigerian Rep IBB on arrival at hotel. He hooks us up with a couple of designers and stylists to salvage the situation. My girlfriend Abi brings me an outfit and shoes that fit, saying, “Keep this dress – I know you will love it and it will fit perfectly.” It actually does :-) Together with my girls, I am off to DJ Spinall’s album house party at Oniru Estate. The rest of Sauti Sol decide to pass.

My first look at Lagos on our way to the hotel is like a film. We spot a woman walking on the road slapping a man on an Okada (motorbike) – just like in the Nigerian movies. I really wonder what he did. He must have grabbed her ass or something. We are staying in Victoria Island and so we pass through The Third Mainland Bridge – the longest of three connecting Lagos island to the mainland. At one point this was the longest bridge in Africa until the 6th October Bridge was erected in Cairo.

Finally blogging about my first time in Nigeria 😂 #BaptismByFire

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I am extremely happy to see Jua Cali and Yemi Alade mash-up on the third season of Coke Studio Africa as the only billboard along The Third Mainland Bridge. Looking at the bridge and its surrounding, I am intrigued by the paradox that haunts most African countries. Here, on this road leading to some of the wealthiest hotels and estates in Nigeria, you can see first-hand disparity between the rich and poor. On two sides of the grandiose well-built bridge is the Makoko slum area with shanties elevated atop the Lagos Lagoon.

Picture via Bisola Bello

I am fascinated by the old public transport vehicles (most of which are VWs)—these are the Danfo, known for notorious drivers and conductors, just like Kenyan matatus. In some Danfos, the conductors and passengers are literally hanging outside – just like in some Nairobi and Dar mats. It’s such a homely welcome when I visit an African country and notice something that totally reminds me of Kenya – my own country. This is Africa – a continent rich in diversity just as much as in similarity.

Fore more juice on my Nigerian trip full of Wahala read To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part II)


Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 04.43.11As soon as I sit down with members of Dru Hill – the iconic American R&B music group that rose to fame in the late 90s – in Nairobi (Oct 2015), nostalgic memories cloud my mind. How can you accurately describe 90s music era without citing Dru Hill? Is that even possible? In My Bed, Never Make a Promise and How Deep Is Your Love include their seven Top 40 hits. Initially starting off under the name Legacy, the group later decided to go by the name Dru Hill – a move that would forever tie their legacy to the “the area where we used to rehearse,” Dru Hill founding member Nokio messages me, adding, “We got the name Dru Hill from Drui Park in Baltimore which is near where I grew up. We wanted to represent Baltimore wherever we went with no question.” As I am writing this article I realise that it was the one important question that I forgot to ask Dru Hill during my interview with them so I drop Nokio a message and he responds immediately.

Dru Hill is in Nairobi for their first concert in Kenya. Nokio says, “We didn’t know about all the love we had here until we got here. Hopefully we can spread more love through our music.” They are only doing two TV interviews while in Kenya including this one so I have to make it count – I tell myself. Sitting at the ebony-coloured Sankara Hotel meeting room with Dru Hill members: Nokio, Sisqó, Tao and Jazz – I quickly notice that all have such different personalities. I am surprised that Sisqó the lead singer of the group isn’t the most vocal. It is the founder Nokio who talks most and is most assertive. He’s also protective of Dru Hill, in a caring way. Tao and Jazz hardly speak but their body language says that they support everything the rest say.

Dru Hill’s 1996 debut eponymous, and sophomore album: Enter the Dru (1998) catapulted them into instant success. It wouldn’t be long till the 2000s came with the recession of R&B. By this time the group had also been affected by internal wrangles, tension and an identity crisis leading to temporary separation and some members pursuing solo careers. In 2002 however, Dru Hill decided to reunite and produced the album Dru World Order, which would be followed by the 2010 release InDRUpendence Day. Their 20-year long career has been a roller coaster filled with highs and lows, great memories, tours, travel and breakups to makeups. So what now? I am curious. Nokio says, “It’s a good time for us in music as a lot of generations listening to good music are still discovering us and those who sang with us when we were younger are still getting a chance to see us perform.”

I always wondered what went on in the minds of the 90s kings of R&B like Dru Hill, Jodeci, Silk, R Kelly and Kenny Lattimore. Was it always lovemaking, heartbreaks and songs about sex? I ask Dru Hill to expound on what really went down behind the music. Their story goes that they were signed to a label at a young age forcing their initial sound to sound mature even though they were actually not mature as individuals and as a group.

In My Bed

Written and produced by Daryl Simmons, Ralph Stacy and Raphael Brown, In My Bed was a song Dru Hill detested yet it would later become a number one platinum selling single – the second off their debut album. It spent three weeks at number one on the US R&B chart. Sisqó says, “I never wanted to sing that song initially because nobody was sleeping in my bed that I knew of and I kind of felt like a cheat singing about someone sleeping in my bed. I was like this is our second single and now I am looking like a sucker. I really had to figure out how to channel that aggression in the first opening line. The aggression actually worked out to my benefit because it took away the venom of the words I had to sing.”

That explains why I remember watching In My Bed back in the day and feeling the pain of someone cheating on me even though I was barely 10 years old and couldn’t have known what it really meant to be cheated on. That was the beauty of the baby making music era – singers sold feelings and tales, more than just sex.

Dru Hill suddenly look at each other and burst out laughing at an inside joke. They are mumbling about having had two or three girls in their beds soon after the song’s triumph… Men will be men.

Never Make a Promise

The number one single followed In My Bed and was also written and produced by the American R&B singer/songwriter and record producer Daryl Simmons. Daryl went to high school with future legendary R&B music maker Babyface. Their life-long alliance would flourish into friendship as they joined and formed several music groups and bands from their teen days. Nokio says, “When Daryl presented to us Never Make a Promise we were like – are you sure? A lot of people never understood Daryl and his history in music – him, Babyface and L.A Reid have been together playing in bands and making music since the 70s and he was just the one who was doing his own thing when the rest started LaFace.”

‘How We Found Ourselves’

When Babyface teamed up with L.A Reid to start LaFace Records, Daryl went his separate way yet still maintained his ties with the duo. The trio together discovered, signed and produced artistes as Toni Braxton, Usher, TLC and Outkast. Dru Hill recalls the glitches and perks of having worked with Daryl at an early stage of their career, “We were fresh out of college with ideas in music. He was the first major producer to come to us with mature music. We didn’t understand it totally and one time we sat down with him to learn vocal dynamics because before we were just singing.”

Sisqo interjects.

He says, “[Before Daryl] our demos did not sell. That was when we learnt at a very young age at the very beginning of our careers [the secret of] working with other writers and producer—they already have their money and notoriety and if they bring you a song that they feel people will like – that’s when you’re artistry comes in. When I was singing in the lead in songs like In My Bed I told myself – Yo! If I can make this song hot then that means that I become a commodity.” From then onwards Dru Hill would always stamp their twist in every project. Nokio says, “Short of it being a record that we love so much, we always make sure we go in and make a record totally ours. 112 liked In My Bed but it ended up being ours. Who knows what it would have been if someone else did it?”

How Deep is Your Love

Any music lover knows too well that every generation comes with its movers and shakers. Dru Hill says that the new skool cats they are digging include Trey Songz, Chris Brown, NE-YO, The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller and Fetty Wap – “the foundation of new R&B” – they describe the collective. Nokio tells me of Dru Hill’s golden years, “To pioneer a genre and set the foundation and still be able to be around now for the younger generation to get us is a blessing,” before digressing thanks to my puzzled star-struck face, “Look she’s sitting looking at y’all like – what?”

The rest start to laugh at me.

At this moment I am here but I am not. I can’t help but think of my growing up in a small town (Molo). Watching MTV was such a luxury so we would record MTV shows with our favourite artists (and Dru Hill would never miss) then we would play it over and over. One of my best Dru Hill jams was How Deep is Your Love.

“See you are talking but I can’t believe you’re here,” I tell them.

“I am not though,” jests Nokio.

We all burst into laugher.

“I gotta keep pinching myself; you can see my expression. I am here wondering were these guys in the video of How Deep is Your Love? On top of that building?”

Nokio jumps off his seat and pinches me as we laugh more. He says, “You know how crazy it is that you mention that. We left South Africa at a Nelson Mandela Celebration event and got a phone call that the director of [the 1998 movie] Rush Hour was finishing to film and wants to shoot the video of How Deep is Your Love with us and we were like – Okay! We went to shoot the video in Hong Kong [but events leading to it make us remember] great memories from Africa.”

Solo Careers | Dru’s New Order

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 9.57.31 PMAt certain times the group decided to take breaks for members to pursue their solo careers. It has been reported that Dru Hill had made an agreement with the mother of Woody, one of the original members of Dru Hill, that they would let him pursue a solo career in gospel music after their success. Woody recorded a solo album under Kirk Franklin’s label before reuniting with Dru Hill for their third and last album with him as member. By the time Dru Hill released their last album, InDRUpendence, Woody had been replaced by new member Tao.

It always seemed like lead singer Sisqó was also head of Dru Hill or always wanted to pursue a solo career. He responds, “It was a misconception. Initially I never wanted to be a solo artist but I ended up exploring that out of necessity because of different things that we had to work out as a group. I always wanted to be the best group member that I could be.” Sisqó’s debut album, Unleash the Dragon (1999), birthed the hit single Thong Song marking the onset of his successful solo career that also saw him release the album, Return of Dragon in 2001. Little is known about his 2015 released, Last Dragon, album.

Nokio on the other hand says that he would never have been at the forefront of Dru Hill or even sang at all if he had his way from the start. “I sang because that’s the only way I knew how to get into the business. In the beginning I didn’t even want to be an artist. I wanted to be a record man or a producer but I couldn’t figure out that at 14. One of my mother’s friends had a friend who was in the music industry. They came to our house one day and I sang Baby Hold On To Me and they were like, we’re gonna take you out to of school and move you to Philly. Later I started Dru Hill and then I just never left,” adding “Once I saw Jodeci I thought I could be that cool, write and produce. All I wanted was to be the sexiest background singer there ever was.”

I don’t even know what he is talking about – he made it! :-)

Sisqó says that he’s worked with Nokio on most of his solo projects. Nokio also sings in a rock band called Black Angel Down. Both Jaaz and Tao have their solo music too. Having this in-depth conversation with Dru Hill leaves off a feeling of eternal camaraderie between them, whatever the case. I wonder if Dru Hill still has their synergy during the live performances of their songs like in the video of We’re Not Making Love No More. “We’ve got the classic moves and a couple of new ones,” says Sisqó – who has a hood over his head. He refuses to show his hair till show time.

Their concert has a Dru Hill and Sisqó set. It’s not what I expected but it’s still memorable. “Music is never gonna be the same from generation to generation. Even before we came out people were trying to get deals but couldn’t but we just kept going. There is no balance so you either get all of it or nothing,” says Nokio. I wonder if this is his way of accepting the different facets of their career’s circle. However, I really love their dance moves and different renditions of most of their songs at the concert.

Yaaaas to that jump!! #Tellme #DruHillKE @DruHill4Real

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

Nokio dishes new plans, “Right now we are working on our twentieth anniversary project. It’s not going to be just music but we have a lot of different components that we are putting together collectively, and individually. Thank you for all the love.” I once read a great detailed Dru Hill feature story (but can’t remember where) and told myself that one day I would do the same myself – so grateful to catch up with Dru Hill right when the  dragon is planning to awaken 20 years later.

BONUS: Thanks Della, HBR, PRC LTD and Dru Hill. Another cherry on top of my already awesome cake of a year

12202158_10153568249707559_59896028_nI have a serious love affair with Rwanda and the city of Kigali. I’ve been there three times already only this year. Spending a week in Kigali in October opened my eyes to the peace, calm, order and beauty that this city has to offer. I compiled a list of things you must do when in Kigali. Thank me later.

  1. Visit the Genocide Memorial Centre

Here you will learn in detail about the history and detail of the 1994 Genocide. Remember to carry flowers to place in the garden. Carry a handkerchief as you might end up sobbing like a baby, but even more importantly carry your head up high, no need to sob—this is an experience that will make you understand the power of redemption. The memorial centre opens even on Sunday so there’s no excuse for missing out on this. Look out for my friend Bonheur – Chief Historian who works there.

I wrote about the Kigali Genocide Centre

2. Visit Nyamirambo

Many have described Kigali’s most vibrant and oldest township – Nyamirambio – as the equivalent of Nairobi’s Eastleigh. This is where to get the cheapest food and motels in Kigali. The motels will not be top notch but the food – you will never forget it! This area has a large population of Muslims. For this reason you will easily find Swahili delicacies here. Try Chap Chap, they have some great Pilau and Fried Meat in onions and curry.

Make sure you try the Akabanga Chilli Oil – it’s so so hot! Chap Chap also has the best Ginger Tea and Lemonade I have ever drank. Check out the names of the tiny shops here. Hilarious! From KFC (Kigali Fried Chicken), to Feedback Shop :-)  I really enjoyed my nights in Nyamirambo with Danny, Christian, Bruce, Patrique, Eric and Nelson. Thanks guys! While there you can also check out Nyamirambo Regional Stadium, it has some beautiful coloured stairs. Kigali’s hot music group: Urban Boyz shot one of their videos here. Check it out!

3. Visit the National Museum

12197167_10153568256402559_176978646_oMost people think that Rwanda’s history is synonymous to the genocide. That’s an unforgettable past and as Rwandese people find a way forward into a brighter future, discover the other side of their history. Danny and I took a two-hour bus ride to Huye (formerly known as Butare) to visit the institute of National Museums of Rwanda.

12204913_10153568252812559_103483428_nThe architecture of the museum and organisation is impressive. Going through the five galleries will present you through Rwanda’s history, from the geographical formation and composition of the country; tradition, culture, the pre-colonial and post-colonial eras, and trade. I really loved to see their traditional attires. The Ishabure (a ripped loin skirt) is something I can wear today. The King’s other wives wore crowns that had two horns. These and many other futuristic African regalia make me wonder why African ornamental expression has receded in progression of years. The king’s babies on the other hand were so fat my God!

4. Take a Moto (motorbike)

12204050_10153568259227559_58150090_oYou haven’t really been to Rwanda if you haven’t taken a Moto. It’s cheaper than taking a taxi. The cheapest Moto within town should cost you around 300 Rwandan Francs and the most expensive shouldn’t be more than 1,500 Rwandan Francs. They are also a safer option in comparison with the madness that comes with bodaboda riders in Nairobi. While in Huye Danny and I hop onto Motos to find the small lovely café Nehemiah. There we hid from the rain and shared the best burger and chips I’ve heard since I could remember.

5. Check out Kimihurura Street

12190485_10153568263407559_1234832017_oThis street is the life of the party. Several clubs including Trattoria, Envy, Papyrus, Chapter One, Mama Club and Sundowner are based here. During the day you can grab good some great food at Trattoria or the restaurant African Bites right on the street. The food at African Bites is boring-looking but I thought them presenting the food in African pots was really cool. They serve Rwandese specialties like Isombe and some Ugandan treats like the Beef or Fish in Peanut Sauce. Shokola is a restaurant and café along the same street that is just the best for you if you are like me – I love gourmet food, peace, calm, books and time to myself to think about my life and get work done. Thanks Eric for introducing me to this cool spot.

6. Attend the Kigaliup Festival

This is Rwanda’s biggest music festival and comes every July. Its organisers also hold workshops and tiny events around the main two-day festival every year, so check this out. This is one of the platforms bringing to Rwandans quality live performances. It’s held at Amahoro Stadium – a historic venue. In 1994 it was temporarily hosted up to 12,000 refugees. A Lucky Dube Rwanda peace concert held in 2000 here hosted 20,000 people. While on that tip, check out Hotel des Mille Collines – this is the hotel where 1994 Genocide events inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Hotel Rwanda.

Yesterday at the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda ✌ #Huye #Butare #TravelTales #ILoveArt

A photo posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I wrote about Hotel Rwanda here

I wrote about Kigaliup here

As I keep going back to Rwanda I will discover more things to do so I can share with you all. Cheers!

BONUS: Thanking my good people at Positive Productions, Afrogroov and Rock Events and Promotion for hosting me in Rwanda and making sure my time there was awesome. Murakoze! I wrote about Stromae for Daily Nation, the article will be published soon.

IMG_0195 (1)With Kenya athletes emerging top for the first time in the IAAF World Championships this year, there couldn’t have been a better time to make a film on the runners. A new film titled, Chep, is already in the works. The film has been directed and written by Jinna Mutune. She also directed and produced the 2012 film ‘Leo’, a story about a young Maasai boy with dreams of becoming a superhero.

Jinna says of her new project: “Chep is a film covering the journey of a female athlete in her effort to become a world marathoner. The film explores themes like redemption, love, power and family.”

Set in the 1970s, the fictional drama will capture the history of Kenyan running, from the early beginnings of the long distance running supremacy. Being a time when female runners were almost unheard of, a young aspiring runner Chebet — the lead character of the film — triumphs over prejudice and hardship to challenge a tough environment and become a female world marathoner.

Jinna says: “I needed the 1970s time period because I love pan-African culture and I’ve noted that African films aren’t themed as much. It also allows me to experiment with different sets, fashion and style.”

While the film is set to capture Kenya’s rich culture before the dilution that came with modernisation, its score celebrates the woman and the impact she is making in the society today.


‘Ebu Njoo’, featuring Sauti Sol, composed by Jaaz Odongo and written by Fena Gitu, has already been released as a “tactic of using music to introduce the film to the public.”

Jinna says: “The song’s message applauds men in the society, who see women for more than just housewives or cooks. However, there is nothing wrong with those who see women differently — we are just challenging stereotypes in a holistic manner without being too direct. “Additional to cutting across to a global audience in a poetic way, the song’s message also has a CSR campaign agenda supporting maternal health.”

The film is currently in its first phase of production and should be launched early next year. Jinna has developed the script with the expert help of a team of African writers, including Samba Yonga, Kaizer Mastumunye and Rodgers Gold. She confirms that she has locked down her main cast members and scouted film locations, including Iten and Iveti Hills in Machakos County. She will also be collaborating with various professionals in the Kenyan and Hollywood film industry in the production.

‘Chep’ is a story about the African woman, courage, and the power of a dream. The film will capture the rich cultural heritage of Kenyan communities while telling a riveting story of how Chebet triumphs over cultural norms. She must eventually fight and overcome her own fears to find her voice.

As audiences wait on ‘Chep’ — what promises to be yet another unique Kenyan film — Jinna concludes: “Kenya’s film industry is sprouting and at a better place.

There is a lot of talent and people are starting to see the commercial viability. Ripple effects include Kenyan actress Lupita Nyongo’s Oscar win, and freedom of speech. All these things make me hopeful.

“However, I am not doing art for art’s sake, it has to make money sense, this is a business. I am producing Chep for the mainstream market and aiming for Cannes Festival among box office and mass distribution.”

‘Chep’ will be released in May next year.


  • ‘Chep’ is a story about the African woman, courage, and the power of a dream. The film will capture the rich cultural heritage of Kenyan communities while telling a riveting story of how Chebet triumphs over cultural norms. She must eventually fight and overcome her own fears to find her voice.
  • Set in the 1970s, the fictional drama will capture the history of Kenyan running, from the early beginnings of the long distance running supremacy.
  • Being a time when female runners were almost unheard of, a young aspiring runner Chebet — the lead character of the film — triumphs over prejudice and hardship to challenge a tough environment and become a female world marathoner.

BONUS: This article was originally written for Daily Nation, and edited by my amazing Editor of Saturday Nation Arts & Culture. It was also published by Nation Online.

You might also like my article on the annual International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR): Project takes African film to the world published by Daily Nation.

12071680_10153519387597559_69402108_nI always have a dream—for all artists irrespective of their calibre, status or nationality – to be treated equally, and to be granted same opportunities to enhance collaboration and dialogue. In September, I birthed an idea – to produce an Artist Talk Back Event featuring South African rapper K.O and Kenya’s very own Octopizzo, on the topic: music’s role in shaping the African narrative.

K.O has come to East Africa for his first media and tour showcase and being the manager of his Kenyan phase I take it upon myself to make this happen.

Read my article on why ‘collabos’ are the future of African music, published by Saturday Nation.

On a chill Friday, we make our way to the lush Nairobi Arboretum grounds – home of 2015 Storymoja Festival. The good people here are hosting the Artist Talk Back event powered by WhatsGoodLive. I choose Octopizzo because just like K.O he comes from a small background, for the kind of personalities they’ve both become. The two are inspiring pillars in African hip hop and have both remained true to their wit, swag, attitude, local slang and originality. I wanted them to share their story with a youthful audience and inspire them with their stories of starting empires of sorts; from nothing to something.

From Grass to Grace

By the time K.O arrives at Arboretum, he’s already heard a lot about Octopizzo. My hommie on the other hand didn’t wait a second to confirm that he’d do the session with K.O when I asked him. At the talk he confesses,” I feel K.O’s music even though he might think I don’t. People like him doing it big in their native language are the people who make me proud to rap in Sheng’.”

12071658_10153519387422559_287495735_nA table elevated by a platform, two seats, two mics, a moderator (me) and a crowd of about fifty guests – the setting for two rappers in an intimate setting. They are like two peas in a pod. The way they first greet each other before entering the dome feels like they are friends reuniting.

When I remember the shit hole where Octo came from in relation to his success, it puts me back to an extent that words can’t describe my pride for the hommie. Back in the day, he took me to his shanty, right by bursting sewers and broken pipes, deep in the heart of Kibera slum, where he was born and raised, “a place where I still go to write real shit, that’s where I can be inspired,” Octo says.

K.O recently made history with his music video: Caracara becoming South Africa’s first hip hop video to reach a Million Youtube Views. The official celebration of the video’s 2 Million Views was held in Kenya at Mseto’s Afrobeat Wednesdays at K1. He says, “It hasn’t been easy coming from a South African small town miles away from Johannesburg. If you were to see my environment, my hometown, you won’t even believe that I am this guy sitting here with all this swag. It’s all about self-belief, putting God first and chasing your dreams.” K.O recalls how he started out, “I moved out to the big city and made a few friends. We were all interested in music so after we graduated we decided to do music professionally despite not having enough money to start our career. To cut the long story short that’s how Teargas was started.”

Both rappers, like most of us, experience challenges, criticism or negativity. K.O says, “A lot of people meet hurdles and change their minds and want to give up. When I had challenges they were not deterring enough for me to decide on a different career path – the dream was always there. Even when Teargas wasn’t happening and sometimes I found myself with no income, zero in my account—it made me work harder and smarter. That’s why I am here and pray that God will bless me with the brains to do better and be smarter to reach my fullest potential. If you have a vision, despite your line of career, believe in yourself and want to change the world. Follow your path.”

Octo says, “If you’re an artist know that this is a marathon, you can start today and have a hit song but what will be next?” adding, ”I’ve been a lucky guy. I started back in 2008 and kept going despite people loving me then hating me. I was told change that ghetto stuff. People will always talk about you. It’s a circle. But I never changed. I stay focused.”

 Nairobi to Jozi: Building Empires

12077270_10153519387467559_1588056011_nK.O is also a record producer. He was the first artist to be signed to Cashtime Life, which he also co-owns. His debut album Skhanda Republic has surpassed gold sales and counting into platinum. Among other awards and accolades the album has won three awards: Record Of The Year – Best Rap Album and Best Collaboration at the South Africa Music Awards (SAMAs XXI). He says, “I was blessed with a vision of setting up my own company and being able to give back to the industry and create opportunities for other people – how the idea of the label Cashtime Life (co-owned with my manager Thabiso) – came about.”

Octo is currently in Europe for a tour. Most of his songs are produced by producers from other countries, “to avoid the monotony of Kenyan beats and stay fresh”, he says, advising all artists, “You have to be business minded”. Around 2009, Octo started his company Chocolate City with a group of friends who acted as bouncers and security for tourists who wanted to tour Kibera. “We were idle and I saw an opportunity for us to make money while showing local and international tourists all sides of Kibera. It’s not just about drugs and theft or bad things but there is talent and I am show for it,” says Octo. His company now specialises in making merchandise, well-organised Kibera tours and funding youth projects in the slum.

Music’s role in shaping the African Narrative

“As of last year Teargas members decided to explore our solo careers and that’s how you guys got to know of Caracara. I was lucky enough to see what Caracara did beyond South Africa. My music is in Zulu. It’s not a coincidence that you know Caracara—music is a universal language that’s why people jam to it,” says K.O.

The song Caracara is K.O’s ode to the legendary vehicle and how it featured in the South African township lifestyle of the 90s.

K.O’s successful hit single Caracara has changed the landscape of South African urban youth music, ushering a new era. It become the first song to ever top all 5 EMA charts – SA Local Music Top 40 Playlist, SA Local Music Top 40 RAMS, SA Television Top 40 Playlist, SA Top 100 Playlist and SA Top 100 RAMS at the same time. He says, “I am glad that I am still relevant enough to come here and interact with you guys and have real relations with fellow artists and get my name popping. Africans need to remain content and proud of our culture as the world wants to see fresh and new culture.”

12053185_10153519387372559_586764573_nOcto’s music style has remained true to Sheng’ and his hood, to an extent his a.k.a is his hood’s route number 8. He says, “My Africa is Sheng’ as there is no Sheng’ elsewhere. The Kanyes are now putting Swahili in their rap because it’s cool. If they knew where they came from they’d be rapping to it, even Luo. We have an advantage because we know our roots but we don’t embrace it. We try to be western nowadays – we have to stand out as Africans. When I first rapped in English in Berlin, the crowd didn’t get me till I started rapping in Sheng’. I respect that about K.O he kept it Zulu – that’s gangsta. K.O’s response, “Take your sheng’ to the world for they understand the mentality and attitude and they wanna buy into that.”

Octo is celebrated for his debut breakout hit: On Top. In the song Octo cleverly strings the connotation of buying fly shoes when you get stash with the theory of faking it till you make it. Octo is the success story of a hustler using street cred to camouflage his way into getting full status in the entertainment world. He says that following up the hit song was a nightmare. “When I did Hivo Hivo people didn’t think I’d have another hit song out.”

12048694_10153519387697559_659744886_nK.O has been to TZ too during his first East Africa tour. He says, “We decided on this trip as a business decision so next up is the West. That’s our main strategy. If you have music inspirations, make sure that you have a broad enough world view for you to do the things you want to do in the country,” concluding, “As Anyiko said – it is very important for African artists to not necessarily get into the music with an [alienated approach]. Don’t focus on serving your country only, as Africa is a big continent. [As artists] we need to make sure that we engage beyond our own nationalities; we need to export our talent, culture and heritage.”

BONUS: Thank you Alan Mola for the photography and 2015 Storymoja Festival for hosting us. Thank you WhatsGoodLive for co-producing and powering the K.O x Octo Artist Talk Back Event. Thanks Nairobi Rapsody for being partners. Thanks Thabiso, Tsholo, K.O and Octo for being the trillest :-) 


IMG_20150920_141923The last time I was in Rwanda I only spent 24 hours there yet it felt like a good three days so when I actually returned to Kigali this September for a good three days it felt like a great week – I will try explain why.

After a busy week coordinating and managing three events as part of South African rapper K.O’s first media tour in Kenya, I have attended the wedding of the year on Saturday and two parties on the same night before catching my flight to Kigali on Sunday morning.

I arrive in Kigali and head straight to the Amahoro Stadium to meet my colleagues at Coke Studio Africa (CSA) in a press conference. We are in Rwanda in preparation for the launch of the song ONE – a peace anthem. As the Publicist of CSA, my work here is to assist in managing media interviews and all PR opportunities. My other duty is to enjoy myself, and this place to the fullest! It’s awesome to be reuniting with all the artistes and their entourage. Had really missed them all since the end of filming the third season of CSA in Nairobi.

Hotel Rwanda

We are staying at the historic Hotel des Milles Collines Kempinski – the film Hotel Rwanda was based on the actual events that happened in this very hotel in 1994. At this serene and neat hotel 1,268 people took refuge during the genocide as the manager at the time, Paul Rusesabagina, acted to save lives by granting them shelter. I discover later that the film Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle wasn’t actually filmed here but the fact that I am staying at the hotel where thousands found refuge is such a special thing for me. The rooms are pretty simple and classy. I love that the hotel has paintings all over – it provides a sense of homeliness. Their outdoor patio – where we always have breakfast – is like heaven.


A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

As soon as I arrive at hotel I am met by Ishimwe (a young Rwandan visual artist) who I had prior met at Kigali UP Festival during my first trip here. He’s brought me a painting of myself. He says he made it because he likes my pictures and writing. Despite the fact that it does look like me in the next 20 years, I am in such awe. It’s so touching when someone who doesn’t know you to do this kind of thing. We talk about his career, constantly switching between English and French. His English is as terrible as my French and vice versa, so we find a middle ground. Ishimwe will be finishing art school in a few months and would like to embark on his first solo exhibition, take up photography and find a resident program at an art centre. We vow to join forces to make all these happen.

Finally Watching Mafikizolo Live in Concert

After finally settling in, I call over my Rwandese friend – Bruce. He’s the most legit person in the entertainment scene here, his latest project being the first-ever Mafikizolo concert in Kigali, happening tonight. From about 4:00 p.m. we start to hang out. He even takes me to the airport to pick up ice Prince and Alikiba after which he scoops me for a 25 minute-ride out of town to the venue where Mafikizolo are playing in Rwanda for the first time ever tonight. I have never seen Mafikizolo in concert so I am more than excited.

When we arrive it’s cool to see the festival packed. Bruce leads me straight to the backstage VIP area where I meet Mafikizolo. I remind them that we met in Nairobi last year and I was the last to interview them. They seem to remember me but I am not too sure. Nevertheless, we have a great conversation with Nhlanhla. I am quick to tell her that she’s one of my biggest role models and style icons, and that her ways truly inspire many young African women. Her smile is worth a thousand words. Being backstage with Mafikizolo observing them prepare for their show is like watching a movie. Theo doesn’t speak much. He keeps throwing dance moves and fixing his lovely Maasai regalia, which he says he purchased in Tanzania. Nhlanhla wants her lady dancers to shorten their half coats. She literally pulls out a thread and a needle and starts stitching up.

When it’s finally show time, they are playing half live—it’s a cocktail of colour, dance, classic songs and synchrony between the dynamic duo. I enjoy the show so much I can’t even describe how awesome it was. Anyone who hasn’t seen Mafikizolo in concert must make a point. Through their performance, you can see maturity and experience – and years and years of investment. None of their band members sounds greater than another; it’s a balanced mix. The performances of Khona and Happiness make me so happy.

After the concert, I sit in the backstage watching Bruce coordinating Mafikizolo interviews and selfies with fans – it takes Forever. By this time, I have hardly slept two hours straight in the past 48 hours. I just want to go home. But I have to wait for Bruce to finish the job. It becomes so crazy that I am so tempted to put on my Publicist boots and yell, “Everybody Order! Now leave!” I don’t.

Kigali nights out are like nights out in Europe. Concerts don’t go over 1:00 a.m. and people leave for home soon after events, unlike in Kenya where there’s always an after party. Bruce drives me to the hotel alongside Makeda, the loveliest lady I’ve met in Kigali. She’s also a radio presenter and DJ. We enjoy conversation about the music industry in East Africa and the fact that Stromae is half Rwandese, and almost played in Kigali. Bruce was bringing him in until he fell sick… He hopes to bring him in before year ends, can’t wait!

_20150929_143500On the next day, we enjoy an awesome celebration of the Peace One Day at the Petit Stade at the launch of our Coke Studio Africa produced peace anthem – ONE, written by Zwai Bala and performed by Coke Studio Africa artists: Maurice Kirya, Ice Prince, Dama Do Bling, Alikiba and Wangechi.

At night we’ve got a low key after party at the hotel. Bruce and some new friends from Rwanda come over to our hotel. Most of them are industry players and recognise me from the Mafikizolo concert. “You looked so serious though,” they note. Lol. It’s so great to talk challenges in our music industries and many are similar. Makes me realise why Africans need to unite more.

By Tuesday morning, I am sad and disturbed beyond what words could describe. First of all, I don’t understand what has been happening to me in Rwanda. The time just seemed to not move (in a good way). It seemed and felt as if I was able to use only about 10 hours in achieving productivity I could generally achieve in two days. When I napped or slept, I would always woke up feeling like I was late to work or something, only to realise it was always around 5:00 a.m.

I don’t need to blog again about the cleanliness in Rwanda. It’s impeccable. Read my previous blog post on Rwanda here. The only stray thing I see is a bottle of water left at the airport counter by one of my colleagues. Wonder who that was, either way I dispose it for them. I miss to see my other Rwandese buddies: Nelson and Bonheur who are away on business. However, I really enjoy my time in Rwanda this time.

As I am heading to the airport, this time there are no hard feelings. I have slept enough, seen enough, been gifted with a painting of myself and just about done everything I wanted to do over the trip.

Thank you to each and every person who made my trip in Rwanda amazing. I feel so blessed.

BONUS: Check out the song ONE below:

Behind the R&B/Pop sensation: NE-YO on Coke Studio Africa, Empire & Songwriting

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.36.53 PM“Let your passion be your focal point –that’s my secret to success,” NE-YO tells me. I am the last to interview him in Kenya and thankful that I didn’t run out of time. If I did, I’d still probably interview him. As the Entertainment/Music Publicist of his hosts Coke Studio Africa (CSA), I am working in collaboration with his Publicist Afrika and so far we’ve had a successful day managing NE-YO’s first press conference and interview spree in Nairobi.

Meeting and closely interacting with NE-YO has been a dream come true for me. Earlier on in the day, right after my first meeting with him, I tell him how much of a fan I go way back. “When In My Own Words came out in 2006, it was around my gap year before starting university and that was everything I was jamming to,” I tell him. He seems genuinely impressed. We talk more about work. I introduce myself to him better and explain the concept of Coke Studio Africa and what’s expected of him at the press conference.

While sitting across him at CSA’s cozy Behind the Music studio space for the interview, I can’t help but feel like he’s jumped right out of YouTube. From So Sick, Hate that I Love You, When You’re Mad, Sexy Love, She Knows, Coming with You and Lazy Love – I am such a die-hard NE-YO fan. I hope I don’t fuck up. Thankfully I end up with a sweet interview.

Home Away from Home

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.39.22 PMNE-YO’s first time in Nairobi, Kenya is memorable. He says, “Everybody I’ve come in contact with has been head over heels with the friendliness, love and niceness. I feel loved.” The American superstar is Coke Studio Africa season three’s main guest star. “I’ve been put in the presence of five [Maurice Kirya, Wangechi, Ice Prince, Dama Do Bling and Alikiba] amazing artists representing five countries [Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, respectively] to create an amazing song. We’ve done just that. I honestly feel like I’ve known them all my life because we share the same passion. I look forward to the performance of this song later on in the season,” he says, adding “This is my first time in this part of the continent but I definitely plan to come back. I want to see what Kenya really has to offer and get acquainted with more artists from here.”

The third season of Coke Studio Africa premieres October 21st

Music + Art + TV = Art at its Best

“Don’t do visual arts or sing for money. Those things need to be done with a passion. In anything that you love and do – you need to enjoy doing it. If you do it well someone will enjoy it too and pay you for it. Do what you do from your heart,” says NE-YO. The accomplished musician has to date produced six studio albums and featured in several blockbuster films. NE-YO has won three Grammies including Best Contemporary R&B Album for his 2008 album: Because of You. He’s since founded his imprint company: Compound Entertainment, which he speaks highly of at the press conference. As my moderation comes to a close, he crashes my vote of thanks message adding, “And shout out to Compound – without them I wouldn’t be here.”

He’s got fans in anticipation of his new role as music producer of the second season of Empire. “I can’t give away too much but I’ve definitely been a fan of the show from the very beginning,” he says, revealing, “Really excited to be working with just about everybody that does music on the show this season. I am working mostly with Jamal and Hakeem. I love to be part of the machine and what the show is doing for music.”

The second season of Empire premieres September 23rd

NE-YO seems to be living the celebrity life – what many artists are chasing at if not the money. But sitting with him and connecting makes me realise the more that even superstars can be such ordinary people. He says, “When people meet me they are like you’re so down to earth but for real the celebrity thing is just a title. Don’t do anything for money. Making ends meet shouldn’t be the motivating factor of why you’re doing what you’re doing. There are a multitude of things that you can do in this planet but art should never be in that category.”

Songwriting – Let me Love You

 Every song that I’ve written in the realm of love be it the good or the bad side have all come from specific people and relationships that I screwed up or that other people screwed up. The unfortunate thing is songwriters will always explore the negative side of relationships. I keep it in that realm because everybody goes through it. It doesn’t matter if you’re the richest person in the world or have a ballad to your name, there is that special person to you and it’s gonna go good or bad – that’s just the reality of life.”

Even before NE-YO’s 2006 debut album – In My Own Words – birthed an R&B game changer, he had already built a name for himself as a masterful songwriter of the new R&B era – post 90s writers like R. Kelly and Babyface. NE-YO has written mega R&B hit records like Marquez Houston’s That Girl (2003), Mario’s Let me Love You (2004), Beyonce’s Irreplaceable (2006) and Rihanna’s Russian Roulette (2009). He’s written several songs for other artistes too, even for Michael Jackson before his passing. And now he’s held onto the songs so as not to be disrespectful to the memory of the King of Pop.

NE-YO says, “Let me love you is one of the very few co-writes I’ve ever done. Shout out to [the Australian singer/songwriter] Sia – the incredible artist and songwriter. The initial premise of the song came from her personal experience and things she was going through, in regards to self – love. She was going through a period where ‘let me love you until you learn to love yourself’ tagline dealt with some of her dealings with the people who helped her get to a better place.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.41.23 PMI am amazed by the chance and opportunity to meet NE-YO. It’s really so inspiring. I grew up in a small town, watching MTV videos and listening to good music but never did I ever even imagine meeting NE-YO, let alone having to work closely with him and his team. He tells me, “I am a person who gives people the respect that I expect to get back and just live my life.” Thank you Coke Studio Africa for the chance.

As I wrap up the interview, I want to know what kind of things NE-YO likes to do when he’s not around the world working and touring. “When I am not all over the place, my typical day is with my kids Madeline (4) and Mason (3). I spend a lot of my free time with them. They are not old enough to move around with me yet but as soon as they are, I will take them with me. If I am not with them, I go to the studio, movies or restaurants—I am a person first.”

NE-YO says that he has plans to work with Coke Studio Africa’s 5 artists past the song recording. He’s now eyeing the Coke Studio Africa season premiere, his stint on Empire and his seventh album – “coming very soon.” As for die-hard NE-YO fans, he left you a message: “From the bottom of my heart I just wanna thank y’all for being real and regular people. The celebrity thing is cool but I just thank you all for appreciating the music and letting me be who I am and letting me live my dream. Thanks for the support. I will keep delivering quality entertainment to the world.”

BONUS: Watch my interview with NE-YO for KBC’s Grapevine :-)





11912977_10153422834902559_300575038_nJust one visit to the memorial will be the best history class you’ve had in a long time. During the Rwandan Genocide, “Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines was used to incite hatred, to give instructions and justify the killings” – writes the memorial. In this post, I dissect the roles played by media and church in the propagation of the genocide, and a peaceful way forward.

Role of the Media

Media propaganda played a big role in shaping the events that led to the genocide. While at the memorial we see archives of sample newspaper cuttings over a span of a decade. They are all spreading malicious lies, hatred and implicating one tribe against the other. This is what served as a backbone of fuelling genocide.

We also see the 10 Commandments of Hutus drafted by a certain bishop. Everybody was expected to act on the 10 commandments just like they did to the ones in the bible. So ridiculous. Bonheur narrates of how the propaganda conditioned people’s minds. “If you take life from someone even before you kill him [it means] the killer is not a human being but a killing machine. A young man could attack a whole group [of people] without resistance because they had already killed in their minds. They were successful in killing and wiping out families – why women and children were largely attacked.”

11894832_10153426890767559_604674739_oThe international media also played a big role in the wrong definition of the genocide. They largely reported that genocide was an outbreak of African war against different African tribes. Very few accurately reported the real cause of the genocide. However, many were accurate in reporting on the kind of preparation and training for the genocide. The international community was warned about the impending massacre but they never ran to Rwanda’s rescue or responded positively. Bonheur says, “1,700 militias had already been trained and 300 more were supposed to be trained each week, with a capacity of killing around 1000 people in 20 minutes, revealed Jean Pierre (coded name for his security)  one of the trainers from the ruling party.”

By the time we are done with this part of the history lessons, one thing is clear. The genocide’s wrath left many scathed. Those who set out to kill others were highly effective as successful. Many families had Tutsi and Hutu members in one household. The segregation between a people ran down into families, ending up separating siblings – making them arch enemies. Bonheur remembers his father’s survival tale. Militias had confused him for another man and missed to kill him. – “even though he was killed later.”

We also visit a space designed like a darkroom. There are hundreds of pictures of those killed, hanging on walls and on strings across walls. They were retrieved and protected here as memorabilia. There are also some personal effects like ID cards, shoes, bracelets and dresses put here.

Role of the church

More than 80% of Rwandans were Christians. 35% of all the people who were killed during the genocide died in or around church.I am very disappointed by the Catholic Church when I learn that they did not fight to save lives during Rwandan Genocide. Instead some priests ordered killings, and at times the church was in collaboration with a biased government. “The churches were no longer sacred,” says, Nelson – our other host. A lot of people ran to church for refuge – the safest place anyone can think of when in danger. Because they had a majority, the church’s role to “fight the genocide would have been more effective than any other institution,” notes Bonheur.

This part of the memorial has blue cathedral windows. It feels likes I am in church.

The Road Travelled Vs a Peaceful Future

80 % of Rwandan children experienced death in their families. 75% witnessed it and 90% believed that they would die. They are today the majority of Rwandan grownups. The memorial writes, “The international Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, was established by the UN Security Council in its resolution 955 of November 8, 1994 to prosecute high-level organisers of the genocide. After nineteen years the Tribunal had completed 75 cases with 12 acquittals and 16 cases pending appeal.”

Not all Hutus were killing others. Some worked tirelessly to save lives. After the war, many refuges fled to Congo and other parts of the world. Survivors were left devastated and traumatised. They had to start a new life. They had to find their people’s remains or identify where they were killed so as to start the mourning process. Today the government gives 5% of its budget to survivors’ care – this includes psychological healing.

Despite all these efforts, Bonheur says that the genocide is still being denied. “We (Rwandans) are still fighting against the denial,” he says. However, “We are trying to build a peace that can never be broken,” he asserts, adding that it’s all in line with rebuilding the country’s socio-economical cloth. The memorial also runs several peace programs that have since started similar projects in Kenya and South Sudan.

I am very proud of Rwanda’s heritage and their motivation to remember the genocide. I wish international media as well as Africa media would sensitive people on the genocide more to avoid its recurrence or a replica. Visiting the memorial reminds me of Kenya’s post election violence. I don’t think Kenyans would even dare fight if they really understood the loss, and depths at which the genocide has taken Rwanda, to date.

11914235_10153422835517559_1673735365_oAs we leave the memorial, Bonheur bids us farewell and everyone immediately walks into the car. I remain behind to chat with Bonheur, thanking him for his time and taking us though their history. I ask him about his experience during the genocide. He lost his mother and five siblings in the terror. His voice trembles, making me start to balance tears. “I can’t talk about it now. I am so glad to have survived,” adding, “I owe my life to the woman who saved me.” I want to hug him so tight and reassure him that I feel him. But I am afraid because we just met today and I don’t know him like that. I don’t know what to say, other than, “I am sorry about your family, glad you are here today, and thank you.” There is power in this man, standing here in total belief in redemption. I am inspired.

As we drive out of the genocide memorial towards town for dinner – my heart is heavy. I watch my surrounding. I see happy people, children playing, beautiful streetlights and just normalcy. It’s unbelievable to imagine the massacre that was on these cool streets some decades ago. I wouldn’t have been here then. But I am here now, wondering whether the Rwandan obsession with cleanliness is to sanitize themselves from the deep scar.

Whatever the case. It shall be well.

Read the first part of my tales about Visiting Kigali Memorial here.

BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. Thanks Bonheur, Bruce and Nelson for the trip.  Guys check out the memorial’s website

11873171_10153422857597559_847123258_oNo matter which part of the world you come from, this is the one place you must visit in your lifetime – to be reminded and re-educated of life’s fragility and the danger of the human vulnerability.

In 100 days, an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed in the genocide. Imagine what the world would be if we actually spent 100 days making love, and not war. I was just a kid during the Rwanda Genocide but I was conscious of what was going on, and since vowed to visit the memorial at my first chance in Kigali.

I am in Kigali for only 24 hours. As soon as I arrive in Rwanda, I ask our hosts right at the airport about how far the Genocide Memorial is and if it opens on Sundays. Thankfully, they open on Sundays too.

Read about my 24 hours in Kigali

Accompanied by Sauti Sol and some of their band members, we head over to the memorial on Sunday afternoon. I am so touched that the management stayed open past working hours, for us. We are met and welcomed by the best historian and guide I’ve met in my history of visiting museums and places – Bonheur Pacifique. Quite the name!

11894729_10153422863502559_843035090_o (2)The remains of over 250,000 have been buried here at the Genocide Memorial, set up to prevent mass atrocity and genocide through education. I am impressed by the structural prowess behind it and the neatness and cleanliness of the memorial. Nestled above one of Rwanda’s many hills, overlooking the beautiful picturesque view of Kigali city, this has become Rwandans place of reuniting with the ones they lost in the genocide. I am embraced by a feeling of serenity, peace and purity soon after walking in. I am suddenly empowered to be strong-minded and brave. I am ready to learn about the genocide atrocity. Something tells me that I won’t sob here, today.

Honouring Rwanda’s Lost Souls

We start the visit by watching a short film at a small and intimate film room with wooden benches. The film is about survivors of the genocide, recalling the events that lead to losing their families, and how they have since found closure at the memorial. I am very touched by the story of a middle-aged man recounting how his whole family was slaughtered in a stadium, where they had been seeking refuge. “I looked over and saw my mother bleeding. She raised her dress to show me my small brother lying beneath her – dead. When I started to cry, she told me to shut up. And if I were to die, then I’d rather do it with grace. I ran off and never looked back. That was the last time I saw my family alive.” I am crying writing this because it pains me. At the memorial, however, I only shed one tear because there was a big voice of reason that asked me to remain strong for these poor people. Another woman recounts how her family’s beloved neighbours turned against them during the genocide, ending up murdering her siblings and parents, retorting that she will never trust a friend. At the end of the film, all the survivors praise the memorial as the place where they unite with the loved ones they lost.

11909735_10153422837432559_398114512_nWe then head over to the mass grave, situated in the garden area, to lay a wreath of flowers – the first thing done for anyone who comes here, states Bonheur. I haven’t even gone into the memorial yet I am so overwhelmed by the spirits here. I deeply empathise with their families and hope that they have found rest. The black and white colours on top of the wooden coffins represent “mourning and commemoration designed to reflect where the country has been and the brighter future that we are working towards,” says Bonheur. We all hold hands as Bien leads us in prayer.

Rwandan Genocide history | Role of Colonialists

We then head inside the building into the memorial’s archive where Bonheur takes us through Rwanda’s history before the wahala. It is eye-opening to peak into pre-colonial Rwanda when Rwandese people had no tribe and spoke only one language: sharing peace, love, unity, collaboration and one culture. Trouble began when the white man came to divide to rule. German and Belgian colonialists wearing anthropology masks in disguise were on a mission to split Rwandans. “Colonialists used social and economic stratification as their strong points of dividing Rwandans.” By 1932, the first Rwandese ID cards were introduced. Identification was based on physical features including height, length of nose, colours of the eyes, and wealth. “If you had more than 10 cows, then you were a Tutsi and it meant that you were rich. Hutus had less cows. Long noses indicated that you were a Tutsi and the short ones made one a Hutu.”

What this means is that you could be in a family with siblings who were half Tutsi or Hutu.

Over the next couple of decades, Rwandans go through a series of fascist governments and propaganda filled media to an extent that social revolution becomes a basic need. By the time the French colonisers take over Rwanda from the Belgians, there was already distinct animosity between the two tribes. From the 50s, Tutsis were singled out from the country’s system – it was total segregation. By the early 90s many Tutsis had fled the country and were ready to start a civil war against the country. Anything and everything that went wrong in the country would be blamed on Tutsis. “You are a Tutsi, you are a cockroach and you are a snake ” –Tutsis had to be reminded. “If you were Rwandan and you didn’t attack the Tutsi, then you were going against nationalism. This is the process that led to the institutionalism of the Genocide of Rwanda,” says Bonheur, adding, “This was taught in schools and every level of the country.”

The Genocide

“The country smelled of death, dogs were [mauling human remains]. Everything was dead, physical or otherwise.” – Bonheur sets the scene. “Families were completely wiped out without anything to document them. The country smelled like death, it was total turmoil and chaos. For 100 days, that’s what we woke up to – killing people. People looked for hiding places.” We are taken through the tools and weapons that were used to kill people. They included machetes, clubs, chains, bricks, stones and classic guns. Rwanda’s ministry of agriculture then imported clubs from China to facilitate the war. In schools, children were given assignments to make tools to facilitate the genocide, unbeknownst to them.

Mass raping of women was prevalent during the genocide. The chosen men to rape had been prior identified as HIV+ This was to ensure that women were left permanently scared had they survived the genocide, and the ordeal. “The genocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than anyone would have dared to believe. Rwanda was dead”– writes the memorial.

Pictures in this part of the memorial are very graphic.

BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. A huge thanks to my Kigali connect: Bruce, Bonheur and Nelson. For more, read the Genocide Memorial’s site

Read last part of my tales on Visiting Kigali Memorial Centre here.

If its true that cleanliness is next to godliness, Kigali is heaven! Oh la la! This city is as clean as European streets. I don’t spot a single paper or heaps of garbage anywhere like is the case in certain parts of Nairobi. I am super bummed that I only have 24 hours in Rwanda, but super psyched that I am finally going to Kigali Up Festival, where Sauti Sol are headlining in the fest’s 2015 edition. My initial 72 hours in Kigali turn into 24 thanks to an impromptu call from State House, for Sauti Sol to perform on Saturday night in honour of President Obama (blog post for another day). Nevertheless, on arrival in Kigali, I am ready to not sleep and discover and experience as much as I can.



8:20 a.m. – Arrival Kigali International Airport

I am once again accompanying Sauti Sol, as their publicist and tour manager, to a festival I always wanted to attend and a country I always wanted to visit. Rwandese men are handsome and the women are beautiful. Kigali’s scenery is picturesque. The roads, built on steep mini hills, are winding and sliding – just like in Kampala.

You might enjoy my Ugandan tales about butts, matoke & music

The Wi-Fi is on point right from the airport – very impressive! The weather is nice and warm, unlike Nairobi’s current gloomy situation. Our hotel Gold Crest Hotel is pretty decent and very close to where we are performing – the Amahoro Stadium.



11:00 a.m – Brunch/Soundcheck


With my colleague at SS Entertainment – Kelvin. Off to check out Kigali City. No makeup.

After making sure Sauti Sol and their full band are all checked into the hotel, I have a quick brunch and then head to Amahoro Stadium to check out the venue and oversee soundcheck. The drive down to the stadium makes me have a closer look at Kigali. I am astounded by the cleanliness of this city. There are no flying banana peals off moving vehicles on Kigali roads like is the case in Kenya. There is not one person littering Kigali like there are several foolish Kenyans throwing things around our cities. Our host Bruce Twagira tells me that every last Saturday of the month is a cleanliness day – where everyone, including President Kagame, comes out to clean. Standing on the massive Kigali Up stage, I can’t believe I am in Rwanda, I remember Mos Def asking me a few months ago about Kigali Up and why I hadn’t been there – but now I am right here. It’s such a gratifying feeling for me to be right at the place I always wanted to be and at the right time. Rwanda has been on my mind.


1:00 p.m. – Return to hotel


I had you just for a moment 😂😤😥😭 This calls for a return even before departure.

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I only have a few hours in this hotel room, made for a queen. It reminds me of the fact that I need a king. Nway I clean up nicely, do a couple of emails and press releases before mobilising my team to head to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Read my blog post on Visiting Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre


8:00 p.m. – Dinner/Discussing African Music


11840174_10153392459782559_1069900193_oI have been starving the whole day, mainly because for the past few months I’ve been on a strict diet due to health complications. However, I can’t wait to eat up some local treats. But our host takes us to a restaurant serving none. I am so bummed. My starter – an avocado salad at Select Hotel & Restaurant is to die for! How brilliant that I gobbled it faster than I could take a pic. We all sit on a table of about 12. They get us the best spot right at the patio. The restaurant is located somewhere above a hill. We are overlooking city lights atop hills and mountains – it looks like the sky’s shiny stars are inverted.

We have great conversation about music in Africa. Our hosts Bruce and Nelson tell us about how much more Rwandese musicians need to pull their socks but Bien tells them, “Your artists are at the best place. Sauti Sol – we are well-known in Kenya but so are other artists. An artist based in Rwanda has a bigger space to fill and fans to satisfy, we’d like to come here more often and even volunteer our songwriting services at Kigali Up’s workshops.” I agree. I am also willing to volunteer my PR services in Rwanda. Bruce and Nelson tell me that a lot of Rwandese artistes don’t see the value of PR and networking, or so it seems. They tell us that about a decade ago Kenyan music used to rock Kigali. Somewhere along the way everything changed and now they only rock to Tanzanian and Ugandan music from East Africa. “We now like a few Kenyan artistes like Jaguar. But we only listen to Sauti Sol – you are breaking boundaries,” says Nelson. A few steps from where we are sitting, a merry table breaks into a bday song. One of the ladies sitting on the table is celebrating their birthday – she’s lucky she’s got Sauti Sol singing her Happy Birthday :-)


10:00 p.m. – Showtime


Sauti Sol are the headliners, literally shutting down the 2-day festival. I really love the outfits the guys have on – all white everything. For the first time, I didn’t know what they were going to wear. The vibe is awesome, the crowd is singing to Sauti Sol songs word for word. Apparently all public shows must shut down by 11:00 p.m. in Kigali – we didn’t know. When they are just half way through their full set, the boss of the fest tells me that this show must end in 15 minutes, as the police are already at the concert to shut down. It’s a little past 11. “Tell them to only sing Nerea and Sura Yako.”

This messes with the guys concentration and dejects them a little.

When they get to the part where the lyrics go, “ … huenda akawa Kagame … Atawale …” – I see the cops talking to the fest’s boss. He comes up to me and says, “Tell Sauti Sol we’ve added them enough time, they can continue however they want.” Wow! Power of uttering the name of Kagame in Kigali!

Sauti_Sol-Kigali-23The best part of the show however is meeting Ishimwe Daddy at the backstage. The organisers bring me this young artist who made a portrait of Sauti Sol and wants to present it to them. This is really touching. He is young and so shy, I literally force and push him onto the stage just when the concert is ending, to hand it over to them himself.

By the time we leave the concert venue, I have had the toughest time at any backstage in our touring career. There were so many girls in the backstage screaming, shouting, begging and crying to take pictures with Sauti Sol. At some point the organisers bar them from Sauti Sol but it breaks my heart. I insist that Sauti Sol must do all interviews and take pictures with all the fans. I somehow manage to handle the madness!


1:30 a.m – Hotel/Packing


You must wonder what’s there to pack when you’re in a city for 24 hours with no sleep – I am chief diva. As the rest of Sauti Sol clean up and head out to the club, I spend a couple of hours with Bruce and Chimano at the hotel, bonding and eating while reminiscing on stuff. We have had a great show so everything we talk about evokes laughter.


3:45 a.m. – Kigali International Airport/Boarding


I am so sad to leave Kigali but I have to. Work has to be done on the other side. I am so fatigued, when I get to the airport I don’t want to talk to anyone or any hostess in the plane. I just want to sleep. I will cover my head with my shawl until I hear the captain saying that we are descending into Nairobi.

5:30 a.m. – Arrival Kenya


Jomo Kenyatta Airport is damn cold, and my taxi driver overslept. 30 calls couldn’t wake him up. I am forced to grab a random taxi, to go through atrocious post – Obama Nairobi traffic, and finally to a crazy work-filled day ahead of me.

While departing Rwanda, I finished drinking a bottle of water just as I was passing Kigali airport customs. A policeman walked up to me and said, “Hey – I will throw the bottle away for you.” If I don’t get married to a King, I don’t think this will ever happen to me in any other place in the world. Kigali – je t’aime.

BONUS: Thank you Bruce and your awesome Kigali UP Team, we must return soon!




I always wanted to visit Uganda so as to see the famed big butts, eat nice Matoke and experience the party zone. In recent months, however, I was craving Uganda to witness my No. 1 band Sauti Sol’s premiere show there, and dine at The Sound Cup – one of the most loved restaurants in Kampala owned by one of the artistes I also rep in PR – Ugandan soul musician Maurice Kirya.



If the beauty of Kampala and Nairobi cities were to go head to head, Uganda wins hands down. While Nairobi is a concrete jungle, Kampala has that Kitisuru green all over town, and a perfect view with winding hills and valleys smack in the centre of everything.

I finally find myself heading to Uganda this July with Sauti Sol as their tour manager and publicist. We are excited to be in Uganda for our first Ugandan media tour and debut concert. Sitting in the plane trying to read my new Hermann Hesse book is a waste of time because I can’t stop thinking about what I will discover in Kampala. I am appalled at my ignorance. I didn’t even know that Kampala is only 50 minutes away from Nairobi. Before I know it, the captain is beckoning us to check out the hills of Uganda and Lake Victoria.



Uganda’s first tease starts at landing. The idyllic Entebbe landing strip is located smack in the middle of Kampala’s competing beauties: the seven hills and Lake Victoria. Landing is like a dip in the ocean that never was – such beauty! I have been told that the trip to Kampala from Entebbe can be atrocious. The Mith tells me to be careful not to miss our flight back while returning. We are however lucky the drive to Kampala tonight only takes about 25 minutes. I wonder why Uganda’s international airport is that far from the city. Entebbe was once the seat of government for the protectorate of Uganda and historically remembered for the dramatic rescue of the 100 hostages kidnapped by the resistance group of the PFLP-EO and Revolutionary Cells (RZ).

It’s interesting that our hotel: Arcadia Suites is a former university space, and very impressive that the space has been transformed into a super homely and chic spot.

11774834_10153369119092559_2058944245_nOn Friday night, I dine with Maurice Kirya at The Sound Cup. It’s an experience I want to re-do over and over. While sitting across this gentleman, I can’t help but appreciate life’s little pleasures. For many years, I have admired Kirya, loved his music and thought him to be the classiest of all from Uganda. Earlier on this year, a surprise call from Uganda was Kirya asking for my services as a Publicist. It didn’t work out at first, and during our second meeting but like they say third time’s a charm, it is our meeting at Coke Studio Africa (where I work as Music/Entertainment Publicist) that officiates everything. Meeting and working with Kirya is such a pleasure because we are both workaholics :-) Our evening is everything to write home about. And Sound Cup’s ambience is to die for!

Saturday afternoon after sound check, our chaperone takes us to Shaka Zulu restaurant to have some authentic Ugandan dishes. Fish in peanut sauce is served in banana leaves. I am absolutely blown away by the detail. The Peanut Fish and Matoke is what call meal of Life. Just writing about it makes me so hungry. My cousin Kevin meets me here, and later at the concert with his Ugandan wife to be. See – there are many reasons why I have to be back in Uganda.


As all the men I am with are dying for Ugandan women – I am dying for the food. Just look 😋😋😋

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on


Our Ugandan media tour starts on Friday till Saturday. We visit Urban TV, X FM, Hot 100, Radiocity 97, Capital FM and NTV Uganda. It’s been such a great and rewarding experience. Discovering that I have been in contact with 98% of all the media contacts I meet in Uganda makes me so happy. “Ooooh you’re Anyiko! We get your emails,” they all say. They finally put a face to the emails and Anyiko PR. Radio and TV play some really dope local raggae songs, most of which haven’t crossed over into Kenya. I love Radio & Weasel’s new “Juicy” song.

Since our arrival, I’ve been talking to Ugandan musician Eddy Kenzo – the 2015 BET winner for Best New International Act Viewers’ Choice Awards. On Saturday just before our show, Washington – one of Uganda’s top producers, and Kenzo come to pay us a visit at the hotel. Kenzo has got an entourage of almost a dozen people with him. On reaching the hotel lobby, I wonder where today’s crowd came from. Kenzo says, “Greet everyone, they are my people.” Don’t even ask how all those men fit in Sauti Sol producer Savara’s suite – I leave them setting up a studio.

11749815_10153369157892559_1541836352_nThe Sauti Sol Live in Uganda show at Kampala Serena Ballroom is totally sold out and absolutely beautiful. 99% of all the ladies (even super publicist) at the concert are wearing dresses. Straight from the airport, in town and now at the concert – all female booties I see are well curved. All the TV presenters I meet are as adorable as dolls.

Ugandans paid a shitload to see Sauti Sol, without complaints unlike how it would be if it were in Kenya. Every time I’ve been to Tanzania and now Uganda, I ask myself why I had to be born in a country where a majority of concert goers don’t see the point of buying premium tickets to see our own musicians. This problem pierces my heart deeply. However, many Ugandans tell me that the kind of show Sauti Sol put up isn’t ordinary and Ugandans expected nothing short. “We are a particularly choosy audience. We either like you or criticise you,” my main Ugandan contact – Just Jose, tells me after the concert. We later head to Sky Lounge for the after party.

If my first Ugandan virgin experience is anything to go by – I want to relocate to Uganda. We leave behind glowing reviews but carry with us fun times, warm hospitality and a reminder of why we do what we do. Uganda – Weebale!

BONUS: To Aly of Talent Africa and your team, Kirya, the awesome Sound Cup team, Uganda’s Definition Africa Store, my cousin Kevin and every single person I met – Thank you for making my time in Uganda awesome!









From left: Digital Diva – Waithera, me, Cobby and Queen Ipaye

Before meeting Nigerian musician, producer and songwriter Cobhams Asuquo – I hear a lot of awesome things about him and his work. I am particularly curious to understand how he works around his equipment and production – being blind – yet – hands down one of the best producers hailing from Africa.

When we finally meet in Nairobi during his time as producer at Coke Studio Africa season III, I start to understand that things actually aren’t as complicated for him as I feared they’d be. Like most professionals, he’s got a manager and an engineer – Sola (who also doubles up as his right hand man) – I discover that things work for him, pretty much the same way they work for most of us with the gift of sight, if not more seamless.

Cobhams is a jolly good fellow. There’s almost always an air of laughter around him while on and off duty. For the first two days, I am keen to introduce myself to Cobhams every time I meet him. But on the third day, he says, “I know its you.” Of course he does. It’s rather silly how the human ability to see deceives us to think that everything must be – because we see in a certain way.

By the second week working around the same production – we’ve become buddies and constantly enjoy exchanging opinions on cultural topics. Cobhams’ mind is beautiful. If you are shallow, he’s the type of person you could never have a conversation with. No offense. I am taken aback by his sentiment that he hasn’t experienced Nairobi’s pulse properly as he had “expected more and heard amazing things about this city.” I know Nairobi is all that and more, and I am also curious to know what ticks Cobhams. “I like great food, fine restaurants, events where things are happening just like acoustic sets and great company,” he says.

I immediately set up an upcoming evening for dinner for his crew to meet mine. I have invited a few of my close friends, most of whom are musicians, writers and colleagues at Coke Studio Africa. We dine at Karen’s Que Pasa. It’s the best thing to dine with Cobhams – trust me. Small conversation turns into important life lessons. Some of the topics we discuss change the ways I have been thinking and end up inspiring me big time.

Cobhams has got so many genuine qualities that I wish every human being possessed. For instance, he’s open speaking about his blindness and greatness (unbeknownst to him), all in modesty. “I don’t wish I could see or feel that things would have turned out differently if I did because things might have actually been different for me. I think that seeing can also sometimes be a distraction. At this point in my life I am passionate about empowering people to realize that they can be,” he tells me and my assistant Tracy.

Cobhams is the writer and producer of the phenomenal song “Jailer” by Nigerian French singer, songwriter and recording artists Aṣa. “Jailer” finding a life of its own in this big saturated world of music, has left Cobhams more than content. “Wow!” He marvels when we explain to him how big that song was/and still is, to us and in Kenya. He explains how he wrote the song out of frustration. He supposed it was an irony that those who deny us opportunities and chances are just as much denying themselves as much, just like a prisoner and jailer are both inmates – “depending on how you look and them and where you are looking at them from.”

Somehow we end up talking about the debate on who needs to be empowered more. The boy child or the girl child? Cobhams says, “Men need to be taught to be leaders and take responsibility. A man needs to be taught to take bullets for his family,” directly telling me, “It is important for your cause as a supporter of the girl child to support the boy child. For in order to give the girl child the attention and the positioning that she deserves, their needs to be real men … It’s in the place of empowering the boy child and to make him understand the power of a woman’s intuition.”

This guy is deep. I’ve sared.

We also talk about books and I discover that we share some things in common. We both love to read and we both recently made a conscious decision to read an African author after every book by a random author. I tell him about my love for George Orwell, Hermann Hesse and Zukiswa Wanner.


The Epic Union, Honourable Raila meets top producer Cobhams and his engineer Sola.

In the last hour of dinner, former Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga happens to sit on a table close to ours. These things only happen when you are dining with Cobhams. Cobby insists that  he has to meet Raila so I work my Publicist magic. We end up being the only peeps at the restaurant who take pictures with Raila. They end up discussing music and African politics. It was really cool.


Two of my Fave People in the world. True story

In the last 40 minutes of dinner, another one of my great friends – Blinky Bill makes it! He just came in after a studio session. They talk studio time and musical notes with Cobby. “Do you love Franco?” Asks Blinky. “Like who in Nigeria doesn’t listen to Congolese music?” They start to sing out Lingala tunes as we head out of Que Pasa, way past 11:00 p.m… “Kekekekeke Gala Mingeli …”

“I have to stop or people will think I am crazy,” Cobby says as we get to the parking lot. But in the real sense I am the one looking crazy dancing to no music :-)

BONUS: Coke Studio Africa TV Show represents a great wealth of music from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique and Uganda. For the first time 29 artistes from these countries will in the new season collaborate in a unique format of mash-ups. The show will feature performances and collaborations from popular artists who have made a mark on their local music scene.

Notice I haven’t really talked about his music production? Look out for the continuation of this post: Talking Music with Cobhams Asuquo

Coming back up

I don’t want to fall in love with you, or to be down with you.

I want to stay floating in this feeling of renewal.

I want to stay filled by this ceiling of contentment.

I want to feel this sunshine, when you’re here or not.

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.



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)















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.
















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.
















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.
















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.
















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.”
















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.”
















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.
















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


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.


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.


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


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




“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.


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.


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

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!


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 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.



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.


“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!”


“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)


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


My mac loves it too!

For a self-proclaimed music lover like me, discovering new music is like the shopping of shopaholics. I am an addict. So when in 2011 a friend introduced me to one of the world’s leading music websites (, 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 in France, I decided to take the trip down to Amsterdam and 22 tracks was 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. He 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 right person the wrong 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.


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)

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