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

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

— Roses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look out for:

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

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















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
















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
















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
















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
















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
















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

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

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
















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
















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life of a Slave

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

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

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

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

The Great Escape

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

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

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

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

America’s Dark History Vs Redemption

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

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

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

Unsung Heroes


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my 10 Mins with Erykah Badu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full D’Angelo series below:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my review of Black Messiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued …

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

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote songs of freedom in the name of women

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

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

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

Meeting Madiba 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She explains her mission in Africa to Black Roses …

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

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

Awards and accolades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

In a world where we all circle the fiery sun

With a need for love

What have we become?

Tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run

Till it’s done

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon:

Where do we belong? Where do we come from?

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon

Till it’s done

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

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

How D’Angelo Funxed with our Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full series here:

How I Met D’Angelo Part I

How I Met D’Angelo Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III

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

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

How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V

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