Category: Reviews


Wu Tang 2Been wondering, how can music as an art, be equated to visual or tangible art. This is obviously something legendary hip hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, have had on their minds for a long time. News emerged last month that they are planning to sell just one copy of a new album. Their main muse is the fact that this century has seen music become way commercialized than any other piece of art. And sometimes, it doesn’t come back to the singers.

Art always seems to have an appreciating value. A few years ago, Intelligent Life announced that Andy Warhol had sold the most pop art than any other artists, dead or alive. But why is it the case, that for some music groups like SWV and TLC, one of the biggest selling girl-groups of all time, despite having reached the height of their career, at some point in their lives, their music continued to play on the radios and royalties were sent to ‘someone’ not sure who, but the singers themselves went broke, some even bankrupt.

Recently watched an Ashanti interview on Arsenio Hall, she was very serious while saying that most musicians are not making money off music anymore, and you are lucky if you receive royalties for song-writing like she does.

“The Wu – Once Upon a Time Shaolin” is a 31-track double album that the band is said to have worked on for the last six years. The album will be packaged in a hand-carved nickel box by Yahya, British-Moroccan artist. According to the album’s website, it will be “available for purchase and ownership by one individual only.”

After touring festivals, museums and galleries, for fans to catch a glimpse of the box and hear Wu’s music, the album will be ready for sale. However, the album’s website does not list an expected selling price, but the group are determined that shall they sell it to any one individual, they will be responsible shall it be exposed it to piracy and distribution.

Now that’s a tricky situation, hope they can earn several million dollars. In the mean time, closer home, I am really digging the fact that you can buy art work online in Kenya. Interested in sharing some of the awesome things you don’t want to keep and save us all from waiting eagerly for Tuesday and Saturday Maasai Market. Post ads free here What are your thoughts about selling a music album as if it were one piece of art? Leave your comments.

IMG_5481Dust is a strong literary sign of a new breed of Kenyan writers to reckon. The sophistication with which Yvonne writes is not for English-starters. She’s got many great quotes like, “To name something is to bring it to life”; and melodic lines like, “Selene returned to Kenya in tears, just as the Nandi flame trees were in Crimson blossom.”

Well-articulated and intricate, Dust comes off as well thought out and thoroughly edited. It’s another feat for Kenyan writers, and Kwani Trust (publishers of the novel). Winner of Caine Prize for Africa Writing, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor released her debut novel in a mighty cool event hosted by Kwani Trust in December of 2013, just as Kenya was about to celebrate her 50th anniversary. Dust wouldn’t have come at a better time as the book’s storyline revolves around various sociopolitical issues that Kenya has faced in the past 50 years.

Moses Odidi Oganda, a middle-aged brilliant mind turned thug, is shot in cold-blood by police after a cat and mouse chase on the streets of Nairobi. The sudden death shocks many and leaves his family left with a great loss. The general election results are announced and a president declared despite harrowing evidence of rigging. Odidi’s family gather in Wuoth Ogik, in the outskirts of Northern Kenya to bury their son. It’s a journey that takes the characters and readers into another world, of discovering untold stories, secrets and a family’s heritage that includes Kenya’s history.

Straight from the Mau Mau uprising, to the promise of a new nation, Dust’s climax mainly revolves around Odidi’s only sibling Ajany. While the nation struggles with untangling herself from challenges of development and modern-day struggles like corruption and devolution, Ajany is searching for her brother’s lost life. “My stories sip from rich human repository, and also cater to my obsession with guessing reasons for human choices and their consequences—particularly the bad ones,” says Yvonne of her love for featuring history heavily in her literature.

The beauty of how Yvonne’s storyline is intertwined is phenomenal. Every character the reader encounters is a link to another. And through their lives, the reader is enthralled by the history of a coral-coloured house and all kinds of love, including the forbidden. Through the book, the reader is introduced to magical Kenya. From the terrains of Naivasha, all the way past the deserts of Turkana, Kenyan destinations have never been painted as marvellously.

By the time Odidi is finally laid to rest, so is the weight most characters in the book carry. I really want to expound on this but if I do, I will spoil a major one. Let me just put it this way—I really enjoyed the strength of Yvonne’s characters. They were the essence of grit and strength.

Dust is highly recommended for literature buffs and those who want to discover a new writing style. And the best past of it all is, Dust starts on a high note and ends in an even higher and dramatic one. A must read!

BONUS: Dust was first released and published by Kwani Trust in December 2013. It’s available for sale via Amazon or in any leading bookstores or Kwani offices in Kenya.

Quirkology  ImageHow can you tell that someone is lying? What do you know about the psychology of love and attraction? Is February the 13th really doomed? Is the world really as small as many people refer to it? Does it matter that he is tall? What’s the true measure of a real smile or a funny joke? And what’s the secret to cooking the perfect cup of tea? The book: The curious Science of Everyday Lives, details Professor Richard Wiseman’s social experiments and some by psychology professors and psychoanalysts. They all tackle all these questions among other fascinating aspects of everyday lives.

1. How to tell someone is lying

The more information you give away, the greater the chances of some of it coming back to haunt you. As a result, liars tend to say less and provide fewer details, than truth-tellers. On the contrary, some liars tend to talk a lot and exaggerate details. Instead of only looking at information given, check out for body language signs like how comfortable do they look while talking? Are they trembling, shaking or sweating. In the end, there is no conclusive research that has specifically discovered how to tell a liar from a truth-teller.

2. Secret to perfect tea making

The water in the teapot has to remain between 180 – 190 degrees Fahrenheit. It has to stay eight minutes in the tea leaves. This and the right proportion of Ketepa, milk and water mixture will save you from angry guests and spouses. Tea really is everything to me.

3. What’s the measure of a true smile?

Lifelong success and happiness can be predicted by the simple crinkling around the sides of the eyes. It’s that simple.

4. Is the world really smaller?

“People often develop magical believes about the world because they have experienced something seemingly weird. With the concept of coincidences, events appear to coincide in a way that both seem meaningful, and defies the odds.” It turns out that most people who tend to see the world as small know lots of people, and so are, without realizing it, making their own good fortune by constructing, an especially small world. This idea funxed with my mind a good one. I honestly think, this world is really small.

5. Does height matter?

“Although height no longer offers physical advantage, our primate brains hold onto their evolutionary past, and so still associate tall people with success. The psychological relationship between height and status works in both directions. Not only do we think that tall people are more competent, but also that competent people are tall. That’s why people are often surprised to discover that some Hollywood stars are below average height. Perceived height of a person can change with their apparent status.”

6. Ghosts and other weird feelings

Infra sound or low-frequency sound is deeply strange and can be produced from ocean waves, earthquakes, tornadoes and volcanoes. Animals are said to detect these sounds, they are said to be possibly the reason why animals fled the 2004 tsunami in Asia. These sounds can sometimes be produced during concerts or at church depending on a building’s acoustic. So the next time you think you saw a ghost, it might be the building’s lighting, ventilation and acoustics coupled with your wildest imaginations clouding your mental judgement. The next time you think a singer’s voice takes you to heaven or you were touched by the angel while at church—it could have just been infra sound or low-frequency sound waves. Very Freaky!

7. Psychology of compatibility

Do not meet someone on your first date on a high bridge or in an area above normal sea level. These kind of heightened environments makes the heart generally beat faster, so that fools the brain and you will tend to feel like you are more attracted to your date. Avoid overly soothing experiences like smooth music, country and wind chimes. Your best bet will actually be a horror film, a roller coaster or a rock concert. They will generically draw you closer.

If you’re a follower of Psych Today, this book is literally a longer version, complete with several chapters and sub headings. Everyone should read this book for some amazing and quirky life lessons, including why bad musicians always win at competitions and how comes incompetent politicians always get elected. This book asserts the wise words of the psychologist Arthur Conan Doyle: “Life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.”

BONUS: Professor Richard Wiseman is Britain’s only professor for the public understanding of psychology. There isn’t anything true about Friday the 13th being a bad omen, despite many recorded incidences in history of bad and freaky things happening on the date. That said, avoid road trips and being anywhere an accident could happen on Friday the 13th because the fact that people are conscious of the day’s said bad omen will most probably make them nervous and thus suffer cognitive dissonance, making them cause accidents or mishaps. Sharp ey?

Toni + BabyfaceThe coming as one of Toni Braxton and Babyface is such a sweet thing. Who doesn’t want to hear two legends of olden R&B in a joint fresh album? I guess there isn’t a feeling as strong as experiencing love, marriage or divorce. It must be so strong that despite Babyface and Toni having had irreconcilable label differences back in the day, they have clearly put all that behind them to collaborate in this stellar album (released Feb 2014), dedicated to the life and times of their real life personal relationships.

They both shine is solo tracks. Babyface’s “Hope That’s You’re Okay” is a smooth as a The Tony Rich Project modern-day tune. Toni’s “I Wish” is bitter-sweet. Her operatic and sensual voice comes out sweetly, cursing an ex and wishing upon him nothing but hell. Guys. Make peace with your exes. Off the album’s 11 songs, every single song is replay material. Don’t miss out on the hauntingly beautiful lovely and poignant divorce song: “D- Word” and the well-written “Reunited.” – Back to the business of love, the duo sings. This album is a must-have! If it doesn’t win a Grammy in the song writing category next season, it’s okay – it already won my heart.

1. Roller Coaster 04.24

This is such a lovely intro to the album. Such a funky R&B beat laced with some sensual piano chords, mellow drums and a nice kick! It’s amazing how the people you love most, are the ones who will, sometimes, make you most mad. “Today I got so mad at you, I couldn’t control myself. I was done with you, but I knew that I couldn’t love somebody else”- goes Babyface in the opening verse.” Indeed, love is a roller coaster. One day, you feel like you are on top of the world, another day you’re down under hurting. Guess what will matter is how well you bounce after the roll has left you all dizzy and tingly.

2. Sweat 04.28

Sometimes in relationships, you find that you get tired of fighting or talking or solving issues and the only way out is hopping into bed. “If you really wanna fight, let’s take it to the bed tonight …” goes the chorus. This one is a good makeup sex song, plus the smooth R&B beat is for keeps, all night long.

3. Hurt You 04.11

Anyone ever realised how similar heart you and hurt you sound, yet evoke very different emotions? That’s exactly how thin the line between loving and hurting someone is. Tricky thing is, most times, no one really sets out to break anyone’s heart– “God knows I never meant to hurt you…” This one is for all of us; we’ve been hurt in one way or another by a life experience. 20 years ago, this is exactly how Toni and Babyface’s sound meant to unfold in the future. Just enough.

4. Where Did We Go Wrong? 03.37

This is it, my favourite song from the album; R&B reminiscent of 90s music. We all have been through that perfect (for a moment) relationship that ends flat on our noses, leaving us wondering – what the hell went wrong? This is the message of the song. Sometimes, the love you give will never be enough for somebody else and vice versa. When you find that it’s not working for you, just move on. At some point however, find out where it all went wrong. I love that the ballad is stripped down and is acoustic for most of its running. The guitar is lovely and exactly a continuation to Babyface’s “Every time I Close My Eyes”.

7. Take it Back 04.06

“If we do not like our story, we could write it just the way we want” – Toni sets the pace in the song’s opening. How powerful is that line? If there’s something you don’t dig about your life, nobody will change it other than yourself. Something about the guitar chords sound like the hands of Sade’s guitar Juan Janes. Oh what a sweet and groovy jam! The song is about one longing for the olden good days of a relationship now gone bad. “I know we can get it back to where it was,” sings Toni in first chorus. Then Babyface comes on in the second verse talking to Toni more than singing, “There are many things that will Test—Us.” Love this one, replay material. It makes me wonder if these two can’t just fall in love already. No for real, they are both divorced.

BONUS: Babyface discovered Toni Braxton, back in the day. What a lovely story. Check their super cute interview on Arsenio Hall.

You might also dig my review of Kameron Corvet’s new EP: Darker Than Gray

 

 

 

photo (34)Where are my manners? Last week, or the last one before that, Black Roses was chosen by Travel Start Kenya as one of 25 Great Kenyan blogs to follow. Someone mentioned to me yesterday, that in the compilation, Black Roses was the only blog that specializes in arts and culture. Isn’t that dope? And I must be blind to have let that pass my eyes.

I thought it would be great to share with you the article, read it here and take this space to say, I was so elated and I am so thankful.

You know what that means, there is no stopping. Don’t want to spoil or jinx anything but just so you all know, forget about the Train Ride from hell, there might be a couple of interesting Safari  Tales to share this year.

I just want to say thanks to all the followers of this blog, you are genuinely awesome. Sometimes, I feel like I write gibberish, things only I would understand but then I find that some of you have liked such posts or just read. I am very glad that this blog is serving me well. This was supposed to be the ultimate expression of my deeper self that few really understand and I am happy that I feel understood and equally get inspirations from stuff you write me, see these powerful comments on the Natural Hair debate. Shit like this makes me alive and aware of the fact that we are not as solitary as we think we are.

THANKS for reading, keep it here.

bmj 3What’s not to love about Gabrielle Union? She’s gorgeous. She’s also the star of BET’s most successful original series to date: Being Mary Jane (BMJ). I really love black series (the likes of Martin, Soul food, Girlfriends and The Game) because I find them extra soulful. I relate to them.

The soundtracks in BMJ were excellent! They even played Lianne La Havas “Elusive” and Jessie Ware’s acoustic “Night Light”. Also loved that most of the songs were by black artists. When I tweeted that, someone called me racist on Twitter and added *Trevor Noah voice*. Now I didn’t know whether to argue with them or just move on, but just to set the record straight I am not a racist and I am not ashamed to declare that I am naturally inclined to drum beat towards black stuff, as the famous saying goes, Black Don’t Crack.

There were a couple of times, when I felt like the whole professional egotistical crazy black woman persona in BMJ was going a little far and was making me feel exhausted, but in the end I really loved how ordinary yet dramatic the love life stories in BMJ were, among other themes. Here are my five lessons from the series that I felt everyone could pluck a piece from.

1. Never Ever Fall In Love with a Married Man

The problem with love is that you don’t know, and can’t avoid who you will love. And in Mary Jane’s case, she started falling for Andre (played by the yummy Omari Hardwick) before knowing that he was married. But she continued to pursue the relationship anyway. Such scenarios will always end up badly. And every woman should consider sacrificing a man she loves for the sake of the togetherness of an entire family, including kids. Just get your own single man. Side note - why do they always give Omari Hardwick the suffering roles? BMJ. The Last Letter. For Coloured Girls. Dark Blue. Why oh why.

2. Check Your Sex Game but Don’t Steal Sperm

BMJ takes the crown for the steamiest premiere. The first 10 minutes of the first episode, with Andre and Mary J making out to Rihanna’s “Cake” creates a thrilling anticipation for more. Through Andre we get to know that men don’t like lazy head and care that women aren’t generally lazy in bed. By the time Mary Jane gets the balls to face her ex boyfriend David (played by the yummy Stephen Bishop) and talk out bottled up issues, like why she stole his sperm—she’s literally nothing but just another crazy black woman, drunk and a nuisance. When you want to talk to an ex, wait till the feelings have subsided, avoid it if you just hooked up with them, and lastly – don’t be under any influence. Finally, do not steal their sperm. As David says, “If you want a baby, just ask.”

3. Forgiveness Is Key

At first, Mary Jane is blinded by her own version of perfection and impression of how people should live their lives. It’s until Mary Jane is able to forgive her weakness and see her faults that she can apologize to those she hurt along the way. It’s another of life’s little rules. Forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness and then you will find closure, and later on – what’s you’ve been praying for. I really loved what her momma said when she found out that she was having an affair with a married man. “Cry tonight because tomorrow is a brand new day to make it right.”

4. A Job Isn’t Everything –Success Is

Mary Jane is a local celebrity and a recognized face among many Americans. This makes it very hard for her to socialize with everyone. This makes it harder for her to allow herself to fall. She is constantly under scrutiny, at work, at home and even on the streets. It’s very unfair that her extended family is lazy and she has to foot nearly everyone’s bills. She is caught up in maintaining people’s lives. Her pregnant niece asks her, “Where’s your man? Where is your baby and happy ever after” She realizes the importance of taking time for the self. A job is what pays the rent but we also need to align a lot of things that surround us. Take time to relax and enjoy yourself away from work. Make living your life and cherishing moments also part of life. Part of the reason why Mary Jane breaks up with her former boyfriend is because she was so caught up in the mindset of having to find an ideal man who makes as much or more money than her. Although money means a lot, appreciate other life’s simple pleasures like love and happiness.

5. Black is Beauty

No matter what anyone says about black skin and black girls, black girls will always be viewed and reviewed in relation to black identity. That’s because black is diverse and the skin also comes in different shades. We can’t help that other people associate black with ugly or weak and it’s unfortunate that some black girls have taken it the wrong way too. Whether you are in Kenya, America or abroad, your black skin is beautiful. Be proud. Let it not define who you but you must identify with it. Be your best person. If you don’t succeed, as Mary Jane says, “Stay at number BMJ 4two position. You are almost there but not yet.” Here, there isn’t as much pressure. Be patient and take time to learn and you will make it to the top. No matter how men or the society take professional women, or women who have everything a man has, or can do everything a man can, that doesn’t matter. Be respectful to all sexes but most importantly, don’t forget to do you.

P.S: Adored the male casting and fashion/styling in BMJ. Can’t wait for Season Two!

BONUS: It’s a little interesting that Gabrielle Union really is a Mary Jane in many aspects. It’s been widely reported that her fiancée Dwyane Wayde cheated on his ex-wife with her and still cheated on her (Gabrielle) with another woman and even got a baby. I don’t want to judge, but that’s messed up. Now watch this video of Lupita Nyong’o talking about Black Skin and Beauty.

You might fancy my article on What Hollywood and Kenya Thinks of @Lupita_Nyongo (Patsey)

KameronCorvettDarkerThanGray“Focus on your working, don’t allow yourself to be distracted theoretically with women.” Best intro to any EP, hands down! Additionally to that sexy falsetto, Kameron Corvet gets major points for pulling off Common’s swag by featuring his Dad, and mum in 3 interludes, in between the 10 songs in Darker Than Gray EP (released March 4th 2014).

Any artist’s nightmare is living up to their last work of art. If that’s anything to go by; Kameron’s new release is masterful, well written and a solid sequel to his 2012 EP: F_uck Love! Via an exclusive interview with Black Roses, Corvet says, “I like to make sure my work has a certain relevancy to who I am, what I’ve been through and my search for that understanding.”

Self-produced with the expert collaboration of producers: Pierre Medor (has worked with the likes of Usher, Mario, Mary J. Blige, Brandy and Monica) and Kennard Garrett (has worked with Cee-Lo and Sean Garrett among other artists), Darker Than Gray, stands out as a grown and mature sound.

Through Kameron’s simple yet deep lyricism, his songs tell a continuation of F_uck Love!; a relationship’s challenges, from the good, to the bad, and memorable. The EP is packaged in ballsy productions, and beautifully intertwined vocal arrangements. This one will hit R&B fans real hard, the Miguel kind of alternative and cool way.

There are four excellent must-listen R&B productions here, starting with Help Me (The other Side). Then check out: Remember How, Bad For Me and Led Me To You.

1. Complicated 03.54

The bravado with which the first lines of the EP’s first song are delivered, prepares the listener for a grown and sexy R&B experience. “Let me look at you, turn around, it’s so hard to choose how to take you down” … and we thought TGT’s Three Kings was Adult Music - definitely a favourite off the EP and replay material. It has that feel-good laid-back yet up-beat R&B instrumentals complete with a sick bass. Relationships, sometimes, become complicated. “I love how you feel when we make love … I know it feels right but it’s not real … Don’t forget am messing with you …” – Kameron sings in the chorus. At the end, Paps, advises: ‘That sex thing is tricky though.”

2. No Love Allowed 04.09

Such a soulful R&B jam. This is exactly what happens when complicated relationships are left to grow. One person finds themself deep in a race fit for a duo, but solo. “It’s a dangerous game we’re playing every time we are laying, no love allowed.” The falsetto on this one is simply – everything!

3. Take it Back 03.21

Listen to this song. It’s got that avant-garde yet traditionally edgy R&B vibe. I love it so much and can’t exactly point out why. It’s got that Usher Caught Up vibe. Brilliant!

Something awfully lovable, funky, edgy, risqué and bouncy in two songs: Round Of It and Take it Back. “I’d like to get a rapper or two on Round Of It, the right type of flow would add another element,” says Kameron, I agree. This one has no limits, at all.

5. Loosen Up 03.48

After Help Me, this is it! Probably heard this song 30 times already, it’s everything. Pierre kills it in the production. Funk. Rock. Futuristic. All in the name of R&B. I picture the video of this song having some sexy dancers, somewhere in a street party, out at night. It could also use a rap, would have loved to hear a laid back rapper like TI on this one.

Kameron11. Did It For You

This is my stand out most beautiful track of this EP. Sometimes, you look at the phone, wishing someone would call. But then sometimes, you are forced to be over that sort of roller coaster ride. You end up alone and in this instance, like many others, after losing a close relationship/person; Kameron sings, “If anybody asks me, I am gon’ tell them – I did it for you.” Sometimes, we do sacrifice our love, for those who we love to be happy. It’s a little twisted. Such a deep song – this would be usher’s favourite song.

Never had such a grand problem settling on favourite songs and reviewing any album; it feels great to know that Kameron shares my sentiments. He says, “Hoping everyone has the same difficulty deciding as well,” throwing in a hint to the inspiration behind the EP’s title: “Between love and lust is a ‘Gray’ area that I’ve lived in at several points in my life. It’s murky but, it builds character.”

Ladies, what’s better than an honest man, with a falsetto, who can craft dope songs inspired by real life? Though we are bad for him, this one’s for you. And for all, like my good friend Nruff says, “R&B is still alive.” Thanks Kameron for the exclusive interview and such a great record; a rich addiction to the genre’s collection of 2014.

BONUS: Kameron’s latest EP was released (March 4th 2014) and is available on iTunes.com, Amazon and Sportify.

You might also like my review on TGT’s debut album: Three Kings

Image (1)We all have secrets. Bravery is what makes the difference between all of us, and those who recounted their real life stories in the book by Kevin Mwachiro: Invisible – Stories From Kenya’s Queer Community. “Being gay is not a crime in Kenya. However, there is still the penal code that outlaws homosexual acts or acts against the order of nature between men,” notes Kevin in the prelude.

In just 18 chapters, the reader is welcomed into a world unimaginable, but one that we live in and is a reality. From the corners of Turkana, the shores of Mombasa to the big bad Nairobi city, this book cuts across different regions in Kenya, painting faceless figures from all tribes, professions and of varied religions; telling stories we’ve heard before, but not like we’ve heard them before.

Many people will relate to these stories. I related with the narrators as many times as I despaired with them. I guess that’s because experiencing up and downs in all sorts of relationships, and being able to share compassion and empathy is only humane. However, these stories don’t leave the reader in pity but in awe at how some gay people have dedicated their lives to the struggle of understanding and fighting for their rights, sexuality and their relations, despite societal prejudice and discrimination.

“I can only be who I am and be the best that I can be,” reads a passage in a letter titled Dad, from Your Son. I enjoyed Qat’s poems and most accounts, especially that of Jackson, a bisexual living in Nairobi, whose experience in digging both sexes has brought him scrutiny from both from the straight and gay community. “I guess I have to fight this on two fronts. It is easier being gay than being bisexual—though people believe it is easier to come out as bisexual.” The story of a Turkana boy from an ordinary family, growing up with feelings of liking boys, even without knowing that the term ‘Gay’ ever existed, among other earlier discoveries of queer feelings among the narrators from both sexes, indicate that being a homosexual isn’t really a luxury, or choice, or a western phenomena, or city thing, as some people insist it is. I randomly wrote down the following 10 things and themes I felt emanating from the book as I was reading: selfless, brave, strong, letters, freaky, naughty, information, insightful, interesting and myths.

ImageThere are many quotes that I want to share from the book, but I also want to hoard a lot so you can all read it. Nevertheless, will share some: “There are lots of Kenyans who are gay and all we want is that our rights be respected, be granted freedom of association and have easy access to basic amenities.”- Yash. The letter, “To the Father of my Sons” was charming. Here’s an except, “The things I want to do to you will make you spineless with pleasure …  I think you are the one.” It’s almost like while reading it, you want to hide, as some stories make you excited or very sad.

Kevin Mwachiro’s first book is powerful and can’t be put down until completion (I read it in hours). Whether straight or not, trust me – you will enjoy this book and reaffirm your faith in the notion: information is power. Voiced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Kenyan individuals, this book really is a queer compilation and not like anything you’ve come across, in reading.

This book couldn’t have come out of Africa at a better time; with the recent Ugandan anti-gay bill, Kenya’s Maendeleo Ya Wanaume protest among other anti-gay campaigns across Africa. I am not an activist but a firm believer in love, respect and equality for all human beings. Plus nobody but can really dictate or direct who or what you love, and want to be with.

BONUS: I am having one of those “Proud Mama” moments, looking at how my big-hearted buddy Kevin used his journalistic skills to help people, otherwise shunned by the society, tell their story and have a voice. That is selfless and part of making history.

You should also read my review on Harper Lee’s classic: To Kill a Mocking Bird

 

Train StationThe only other thing worse than having nobody wish you lovey-dovey sweet nothings on Valentine’s Day (V-Day) is taking a Makadara Train. Trust me. Despite coming across dashing red outfits, rose flowers and disgustingly in love couples, my V-Day had been awfully ordinary. For a spicy ending and to dodge traffic and rain, after work, I decided to take a train accompanied by a colleague (Debrah).

Setting out to relish every second of this short ride, I marvel at the cheap tickets (KES 30 for one passenger). The ticket sellers are swift as they pass change and tickets back and forth, to the mob of people, all hurrying in. My heart skips a beat in excitement and anticipation as I hold onto my ticket. We rush into the Railways Station and leisurely settle on the stone benches. As we wait for our train to arrive, Debrah tells me train stories; some nostalgic and some tragic. She recalls childhood train games, playing cat and mouse chase together with her brothers to avoid paying for rides from school. A sign at the station reads ‘Give Yourself Time to Catch Train’. I read it aloud and Debrah tells me of a childhood real horror story. An elderly woman missed the train’s steps and unfortunately tripped under. She didn’t make it. “Haven’t you ever taken a train?”  She asks. The last time (about three years ago) I took a train was to Molo accompanied by my sisters; and then I really wasn’t keen on the journey’s features, note to self.

Several people, including Europeans carrying humongous back packs (of Amazing Race calibre), walk helter skelter in all directions. At the far right end of the station, is an old restaurant, half-filled with tourists drinking chai, probably marvelling at how old school the Kenyan train station must look. I like it. “In all those years, this place has never changed one bit,” notes Debrah as we take the stairs down to our train’s terminal. She freaks out at the sight of an already half-full train, “Shit! When did all these people get in? We’ll have to sit near the door so you can easily alight.” My stop should be before hers.

As soon as we get into the train, I see so many eyes on me and no space to sit. After walking through several booths, we finally get separate seats, mine being closer to the door. Time is approximately 6:05 p.m. The train leaves in 25 minutes.

The Long Await

photo (17)Times seems to move so slowly, as I eagerly wait for the choo choo to go off and the rocky motion to set. Several hawkers (all women) are parading the alleys selling sim sim, tooth paste and snacks. Some are singing, others are shouting, others have a rhythmical way of peddling, as their waists and voices sway: “Haiya bas sim sim hapa! Sim sim? Haya bas, hii hapa!” I really wanted to buy sim sim, but I felt like everyone was staring at me. Maybe I was just nervous. I took my phone back into the bag because as soon as I got it out for a photo – everyone stared even harder. 6:10 p.m. and passengers are still trickling in. Some are already standing as all seats are taken. I wonder if they won’t fall at the journey’s onset.

The cabin’s seats are designed in the ‘Face me – I Face You’ style. People standing take any space available, even between groups of five or six people sitting facing each other. That annoys me so much because I am not sitting next to the window, and so I will miss to see passing scenery. Soon, I can’t even see where Debrah is sitting. Though we are in the same train, we start to text each other. It’s 6.22 p.m. I ask: “What time do we leave!? Do the lights in the train work?” She responds: “6:30 p.m. They don’t work, why?” I reply: “Because it’s getting dark. Just can’t wait to leave.”

Two train staff members get in and start ordering people standing, to move inwards to reduce the number of people crowded at the door. Those sitting, including me, are suddenly smashed like meat in between buggers. The lady standing beside me has a box-shaped hand bag that keeps bumping into my head. The woman standing among three other people in between the six of us sitting at a booth is offered a seat by the man sitting next to me. Quite the gentleman! “Kwani nyinyi ni avocado hamuezi songa? Ama mmepandwa kama mti? Msonge ndani!!” The guys who check tickets have arrived, uncourteously, with their Nokia Mulika Mwizis.  It’s starting to get dark. After several verbal exchanges with passengers and rearranging them like books in an already-full shelf, at about 6.44 p.m. they give the captain a go-ahead and we finally set off.

The Miserable Ride

By the time the train leaves, I am so tired of the commotion, I can hardly breathe; my head is constantly being hit by the box-shaped handbag; it’s dark; am clutching on my handbag, afraid that someone might pick pocket me; I can’t see outside and I can’t read my book (even if I wanted). I start to daydream about bus rides. They always allow me to read my book. I can’t wait to alight.

About six minutes later, the train breaks down for a minute or two. People start to murmur while some close to the door get off to join the crew. “Isn’t this a stop?” I ask the box-shaped bag lady, after which I offer to carry it, to relieve my head. “No stop here, there is a problem.” Suddenly, the train jerks forward. One must feel differently while in motion, when in a space full to capacity or in a spacious one. When I last took a train with my sisters, we had a private cabin and not one single push or throw wasn’t uniquely felt. Now all I feel is a wobbly left and right sway.

It’s a few minutes to 7:00 p.m. and it feels like I have been in the train all my life. In the other cabin, a preacher bursts into a sermon. “Haleeeeeluyah!! Amen!?” He shouts, after every testimony. “What have I got myself into?” I contemplate. Soon after the preaching, he starts to sing as a soloist, “Baraka za Mungu kweli … Ni za??” Nearly half the train eruptions into a thunderous reply in unison, “Ni za ajabu … kwenda juu … kwenda … chini …” I find myself and the bag lady joining in the choir. Debrah texts: “I didn’t know there was a church group in the train. Be ready, you are alighting after the Makadara Station” I respond: “I am even singing. Sawa, I will be fine thanks.”

The Real Nightmare

When we get to Makadara Station, hardly anyone alights. It is stark dark and I can’t even see the newly-opened and lighted up station. So many other passengers with heavy luggage are added into the mix. By now, some women standing are already wailing from the cramming and jamming. We will be at Mutindwa stop in about three minutes. I am afraid that I won’t find space to alight in the nine-minute break train stop. And there is no way in hell or heaven that I am finding myself in Kariobangi (the stop after the next). Sijui leo tutashuka na dirisha!?” I yell, as passengers standing near us quarrel with a man who entered the train with a sack as large as life, that he put on top of the rails, and now is a danger to life, if it falls on anyone’s head. Someone has also farted.

I try to stand to force my way towards the door but the woman sitting next to me warns, “You will suffocate! Wait till the train stops; I am also alighting at Mutindwa.” A few seconds later, we have arrived. I don’t even realize that the train has stopped. She commands, “Stand! Force your way out, now!” As I fight my way through the darkness, it becomes apparent that those standing near the door are at the same time fighting theirs, towards taking our sitting space.

Somehow, I finally get to the door but the distance from the top to the ground seems longer. I can’t see the steps or hear the woman’s voice direct me. My heart is beating terribly fast; terrified of the chance that the train might start to move any time or that I might jump and fall.

I jump!!

As I walk home, I look back only once. My legs are numb. After a few steps, I notice that I am limping and have a stitch on my right knee. It’s 7:08 p.m. As soon as I get home, I text my mother: “Today I took a Makadara Train to avoid the rain and for some change. We paid KES 30 but it was a nightmare. Cheap is expensive.” She calls laughing, and after our conversation she comments on my Facebook status: “Haha! That was how the 3rd class train system worked in the 90s, from Nairobi to Kisumu—very interesting that you will never wish to board it again.”

I mean, how can such an efficient time-saving mode of transport be as horrendous? Not again, especially on Valentine’s.

BONUS: My 7 Must-Dos of 2014 (Ride in a Train is No. 4)

Lupita has baffled Kenyans and the world at large. The actress and film director has made history as the first Kenyan and pure Black African to win the coveted Oscars and garner critical acclaim and numerous awards from one film. Her role in 12 Years a Slave, a film based on the true story of Solomon Northup (an American free man who was kidnapped into slavery where he spent 12 years in captive) is celebrated. Because of that, she’s now brushing shoulders and taking selfies with the biggest of American celebrities; from Kanye West, Oprah Winfrey to Leonardo Di Caprio. She’s a darling of this season’s red carpet fashion and film critics. In the film she plays poor Patsey, a strong-willed yet broken pretty little thing born a slave. Patsey is caught in between a cruel and masochist master and his jealous wife, who makes her life even the more, a living hell.

Lupita-Nyongo-MustardHollywood isn’t only wowed by her extraordinary performance in the film but everything she represents inside and out. Her skin has got that very dark shade that clearly represents the black race, a very authentic look in the casting for a film on slavery. Her roots are particularly intriguing. Born in Mexico of Kenyan parents? And how to pronounce the name: Lupita Nyong’o? Sometimes they just call her Luppy. Few women are confident enough to cut their hair short and Lupita’s natural do flaunts her effortlessness and confidence. It’s a declaration that Black Girls Rock. She’s a role model. In fact, the hard-to-impress Joan Rivers, host of E!’s adored Fashion Police called red-hot Lupita in a Ralph Lauren gown “the first African super woman”, right before declaring her Best Dressed from Golden Globes. Her surreal beauty and bold fashion sense intrigues Hollywood. An unknown artist even made an animation of Cinderella Lupita.

A lot of Kenyans watched 12 Years of a Slave from late January 2014—quite the pity that they didn’t get to share in the conversations about the film and Lupita with the rest of the world as soon as it premiered worldwide (last quarter of 2013). However, to catch up, many (like me) have been forced to first watch pirated copies. So to those busy critiquing the film and Lupita before watching it – just shut up.

Nevertheless, the collective response on Lupita’s performance and acclaim in Kenya is varied. I’ve come across unhappy Kenyans claiming that by not mentioning Kenya and Kenyan art in most of her interviews, she doesn’t support Kenya. Soon after Golden Globes, another troupe on Kenyan social media started an anti-international designers crusade, cross-examining why Lupita hasn’t yet worn a Kenyan designer on Hollywood red carpet. Others have come out to disregard or rubbish her performance in the film, citing it overrated. Others admit that they are adamant to celebrate her; afraid that she might be a one hit wonder while speculating that all the attention from Hollywood is because she starred in a racism-themed film. They suppose that had she acted as a normal, free and better person (not a slave) in the society, then she wouldn’t have gotten all the acclaim. Others claim that she’s been identifying herself as a Mexican more than a Kenyan and they don’t like that.

The other group (a majority) is generally very proud of Lupita. From her role in the film and everything it presented to her like the awards, nominations and meeting the crème de la crème of Hollywood. They appreciate that for once E! News and American entertainment is not obsessed with the Kardashians and celebrity babies but the Kenyan girl who leaves a fashion stamp on any red carpet she graces. Many admire her acceptance speeches, charisma, eloquence and humility.

Lupita critics; give the girl a break. It’s no mean feat trumping legends like Julia Roberts in any kind of nominations. It’s any actor or actress’s dream to be as successful in a debut film. No matter what anyone says, this is Lupita’s time to shine and she deserves it. Having featured in a largely celebrated film makes it no miracle that she reached that status. The film and its cast have been leading with nominations in various awards and categories all season. It’s your prerogative to think she’s overrated but also note: she is just a supporting actress. The film is not about Patsey but Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (another actor with nominations as many as Lupita’s). Having been adapted from a memoir, the film’s directors and producers made sure the story was balanced and every character supported the main protagonist – Northup. With such constrains, I agree with some critics that Lupita’s role of Patsey in the final parts of the film is minimal. However, I still find it remarkable. Together with Chiwetel, the duo’s portrayal of how Solomon and Patsey share solitude, suffering and pain is heartbreaking. From apathy, empathy to sympathy; their joint performance evokes all sorts of emotion; I really really really sobbed when they hugged goodbye.

Poor PatseyLupita is getting a lot of credit for her role in 12 Years a Slave because she’s a first-time actress in Hollywood, from Kenya yet she gets the American accent correct. She’s very learned. Yale School of Drama is no joke. She acts out a silent emotional wreck. She’s a slave. Slaves don’t speak unless spoken to. She is thrown at bottles, raped and burnt with objects but doesn’t speak. Its how she begs Solomon to take her life for her; how she begs for mercy; how she cries from whips and the pain their wounds bring. It is how one woman, without talking much, acted out the part of another suffering woman, bringing the original Patsey’s spirit alive.

To Kenyans blindly critiquing Lupita negatively, recognize and respect that she’s the first Kenyan to reach Hollywood’s highest peak. Whether or not, she is being awarded for being black or acting a suffering role, she acted it pretty damn well. About rocking Kenyan designers, have they tried to contact her? I believe there are plenty of fabulous local designers like Poisa and Blackbird that she could wear to a red carpet. Shall the hook up can happen, that’s a guaranteed great exposure for Kenyan fashion. In the meantime, Lupita can wear whatever designer she fancies plus it’s part of showbiz and a formality.

Through Lupita, Kenyans now eye Hollywood differently. Because of her, Kenyan actors and actresses like Melvin Alusa, Nick Ndeda, Sharon Mina, Dennis Amunga, Mkamze and Nini Wacera, must believe, now more than any other time that they can make it to Hollywood and reach a world audience. Through Lupita, Hollywood eyes Kenya differently. “Are there other amazing actors back in Kenya?” Jimmy Kimmel (American Talk Show Host) asked Lupita in an interview. We are not just the fastest marathon runners and the home of Africa’s largest wilder beast migration but also a wealth of talented artists, who can produce bonafide film stars. Because of Lupita, another African breaks through into Hollywood.

Lupita Brad v2Whether or not, she is cast for more films is nobody’s business but hers. And even if she decides to retire and return home, she has already done many proud. If she didn’t mention Kenya in some interview, so what? Most international press like any other will edit information to fit whatever their audiences want. They probably don’t care much about Kenya, but Lupita—the striking fascinating creature with a great sense of humour and fashion beneath a brilliant actress.

In reverse, the Kenyan audience craves to see Lupita home. They want to hear her talk about Kenya and how it’s where she started out. They want her to talk to them, maybe dedicate an award or two to them. Let’s not alienate her or act too clingy just because she is living her dream, Far Away. She’s forever our ambassador just by the virtue of being Kenyan. Let’s learn to be inspired by our very own while appreciating them. She was born in Mexico, belongs to the world but at the end – she’s OURS.

BONUS: Her Oscars Acceptance Speech was everything!! Everything.

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