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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my review of Black Messiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued …

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

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote songs of freedom in the name of women

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

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

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

Meeting Madiba 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She explains her mission in Africa to Black Roses …

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

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

Awards and accolades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_1000

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

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

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

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

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

In a world where we all circle the fiery sun

With a need for love

What have we become?

Tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run

Till it’s done

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon:

Where do we belong? Where do we come from?

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon

Till it’s done

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

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

How D’Angelo Funxed with our Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full series here:

How I Met D’Angelo Part I

How I Met D’Angelo Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III

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

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

How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

DSC00121

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history.

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

So I wait.

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

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

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

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

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

In the continuation, check out:

How I Met D’Angelo Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III

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

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

How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V

 

 

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

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

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

Sir Falls. Then Rises.

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

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

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

Sir Falls in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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