Category: Arts + Culture


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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 I

Look out for the continuation: How I met D’Agelo: Second Coming Review Part III

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

 

 

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

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

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

Sir Falls. Then Rises.

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

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

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

Sir Falls in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Electrafrique can throw some mean parties!

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

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

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

Project takes African film to world

Winners of Slum Film Festival headed for big screens

Why vernacular plays rule the stage

Why Kenyan music misses the cut

First local play on Westgate horror staged

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

Tales from Amsterdam

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

Tales from France

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

Tales from Turkana

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

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

Uniting with Brenna

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

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

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

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

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

In The Cottage With: ANYIKO OWOKO

MEET: Multi-talented media genius Anyiko Owoko

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish you all a Kickass New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

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

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

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.

 

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Sylvia, is that your hand? :-)

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

 

The Mona Lisa

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lift friendship

My darling sweeties: Chimano & Sylvia meet Brenna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

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

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

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

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

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

Read the series: To Paris with Love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tabu-ley-hidden-gems

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

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

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

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

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

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