Sunday, July 11, 2010


These Arms of Mine – Otis Redding

Dust My Broom – Fleetwood Mac

(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Me And Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin

Skeleton – BLK JKS

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye

Say A Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin

Dedication (Daddy Trane, Brother Shorter) – Kesivan And The Lights

Eclipse – Babbu

It’s A Family Affair – Sly & The Family Stone

Otis Redding was the go to guy when slow melancholic soul ballads were what one was looking for. He died unceremoniously in a plane crash in 1967 before his magnum opus (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay was released and therefore like many artists (including Janis Jolpin) he gained unprecedented posthumous fame. Both the songs in the playlist are easy listening numbers and like many of the songs I listen to are nostalgic, tinged with sadness and much like Mr. Redding, a tad fleeting as if on a journey to the heavens.

Now ask any South African who is the country’s premier drama and you’re more likely than not to hear “Kesivan Naidoo!” He is undoubtedly the country’s undisputed King of Jazz Percussion. I have followed his career informally whilst a friend of mine – a Turk follows him excessively so I have pretty good idea of his career. In person he is a rather unassuming albeit large Indian guy with a cheeky glint in his eyes. In front of a drama kit he is a monster. Mad Genius is what I call him but yet there is a method to his madness. Friends of mine who are play the drums find his particular tempo and technique otherworldly. He plays with the style and grace of a Superman, at some point during the many gigs I saw him in you couldn’t even see his arms move, it was all a blur! Above are two lovely songs from two of his innumerable bands Babbu and Kesivan And The Lights. His other band the experimental Restless Natives are not bad either. They all play jazz of course. Not bad for a twenty something year old* Cape Town native.

*Real age unknown, though most would agree that he’s barely touched 30.

With God On Our Side

Recently I took a trip with my friend Tony. It wasn’t just the two of us but I didn’t care for the crowd I was travelling with. Now somewhere during the trip Tony went from Agnostic Libertine to Religious Fanatic and has been the same ever since. Now first thing first, Tony is a Muslim albeit not a very serious one. A lot of people who know him find this fairly hard to believe because he is a serial flirt and notorious womaniser and he drinks like an Irishman.

Of course all this changed during the trip, the town we visited was awash with Pretty Young Things and endless distractions so somewhere among all this sin and debauchery he suddenly had an epiphany, realised the error of his ways and decide to become good as the Quran clearly states. For some reason I felt uneasy with this sudden change of heart (and the fact that he was close to flogging himself in penance) so I decided to pick a fight with him.

For one thing Tony can be a cocky, sanctimonious ass – like most religious fanatics and worst of all a hypocrite (all Muslims are like this according to him). Here is a boy who really doesn’t mind getting head from a willing female but would never return the favour because of his machismo (if I was a girl I’d be pissed!) he clearly partakes of other ‘vices’ but sees nothing wrong with judging and condemning others. I was brought up in a faintly Christian background and I have a superficial understanding of the bible but I know one of the most important teachings is to love others – unconditionally. Another is to never ever judge another human being. Jesus was a genius and he’s teachings are profoundly simple. Tony obviously disagreed with me. He told me my worldview like Jesus’ was simplistic, unrealistic and narrow (I’m a humanist you see). Islam unlike Christianity is not a religion but rather a way of life. It is therefore full of complex rules governing the most mundane aspects of human life. I said God has bigger things to think about than minute, insignificant details like whether a woman’s hair is covered. He said the converse is true.

This went on and on for a long time. Each of us getting more and more agitated by the minute. His problem appears to stem from the felling that he is disrespecting his parents by being who he is. “Muslims” He said “are supposed to be better than everyone else”. I told but your human and you make mistakes. According to him that was another one of my simplistic arguments. He said that Muslim parents often don’t want to know what their kids are up to because they are supposed to be perfect. A good Muslim child obeys their parents and questions nothing. He obviously had failed at this and he was trying to redeem himself. “Even if it means lying to your parents about who you were.” He said yes. Apparently God could forgive his lies because he did it in the interest of his parent’s wellbeing.

Islam it seems is a religion of keeping up appearances rather than seeking truth. According to Tony that is. I told he should be a Christian since he wasn’t making a good case for himself or his religion. Since it was late I had to leave but I was unsatisfied with the outcome of the debate because it seems that Tony was debasing himself or his character in favour of an idealised persona and ideology. At some point I told him that he would be the kind of person who would throw out his own daughter if she fell pregnant. He didn’t deny it because in God’s eyes that’s the right thing to do. I guess that’s where our two religions diverge. Christina’s are obligated to forgive and love unconditionally. Muslims I seems condemn and enact punishment on any transgressors. I asked him if he thought this was right. He told me it didn’t matter as long as he had God on his side.

Obviously the both of us have made gross omissions in our pseudo-theocratic debates and that readers should forgive this especially since the both of us are not theologians of any description but rather disillusioned youths.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Watu Wengine Wana Tabia Mbaya:

When Tabia Mbaya burst on the scene it was perhaps K-South’s most seminal and maybe even sentimental number of their debut album Nairobbery. It had all the frills of The Great Kenyan Number; a catchy hook and chorus, gorgeous background vocals that invoked the 90s, musical arrangement that betrayed the self-conscious New Sound of the early decade and at its heart was a humorous yet pensive thesis; poignant yet self-evident; a social commentary that was and still is original, authentic and Kenyan. A song for the ages and one I play over and over again.

Now music is no longer made the way it was or rather people do not listen to music the way they did. The same could be said for a lot of things in Kenyan popular culture. There’s no more 5 Alive but then Sauti Sol burst on the scene with impeccable timing. Now somebody should tell them enough with the concerts, I know all your songs by heart! Yes, definitely. Kenyan writers are still in a sort of limbo, a slowly creeping glaucoma that is disappointing and disconcerting. I was about fourteen when I read Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road. It was lying conspicuously around the house and had materialised apparently from nowhere and once I was done reading it vanished just like that. Meja’s work painted the dreary urban landscape of the 70s Nairobi. And just like that I found Kenyan literature; rude and unapologetic. None of that Government Issue set-book crap but real literature. But where are they now? Sure the African Writers Series collapsed but what happened to Kenyan readers? Of course some may point to Kwani? But I have a long-standing grudge with them; the work published in the journal is of adequate quality, some read like my Standard Eight compositions full of obtuse and tedious metaphors; products of an education system that has failed so badly it will take generations to undo its engrained impunity. Some however are brilliant, edgy and groundbreaking but those are rare and fleeting like a good Kenyan MP or food security. The point is there is no Kenyan for the Booker, Orange Prize, Commonwealth Writers Prize, or even recent winners of The Caine Prize. Lets not talk about the Nobel Prize

In my opinion there was a time when Kenyan adverts were something; memorable, well scripted, beautifully shot and creative. In the 90s we all remember the famous add for Knorr soups “…Light up the stove…” I forget the of the jingle I could then of course there were the KQ adds with the jungu man pulling a typical English face and spitting out “Keniiia Airways?!” to the rather smug looking young fellow (now a radio personality) or in the early noughties the unforgettable Tuzo add “The cow has refused!” and then there was the liberal sprinkling of Tusker adds that fostered greater patriotism then the new constitution or the famous Smirnoff ad with the leggy and sensually enchanting Joy Mboya even the trust ads had their own particular glamour (Sema Nami!). But these days we have thirty-second ads with ludicrous scripting and abominable acting for everything from rice to soap. Admen in Nairobi get away with monstrous ad contacts while delivering shoddy pieces of copy or television ads.

It’s a shame. Some say that you can measure a nations health by its culture. If that is true we’re doing terribly. Nobody goes to the theatre anymore and our artists languish in perpetual poverty unless they are fortunate enough to be blessed with a sympathetic European audience, yes you Sauti Sol. Meanwhile MPs raise salaries.

I hope one day all this changes but until then I’ll relive the past in all its shimmering glory as I wonder just how we lost the good old days but then again they never existed...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Look, Think, Stay Alive!

A pre Club Kiboko Jimmy Gathu - a song that both teaches and entertains!
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