Archives for July 2016

Kenyan duo Amos and Josh sang about death: I fell in love with them

Being a health journalist, there is the immense feeling that comes with people letting you in on their struggles. That look of trust in your ability to tell their stories of pain and victories and let the world feel it as they are in it. With permission from the subject of topic, let me tell you about an experience I had. Early this year, some prominent woman approached me, seeking my story telling skills to help her put up some literature of the struggles of an older woman she loved who was “terminally ill”, she told me. “This book will be read by many generations to come”, she emphasized. I sensed an urgency in her voice but I was too excited to think much of it. I considered this as another chance to learn something about another country, another culture. One evening in that country, I lay in this palace-like setting. Skinny and disheveled –I was just too skinny in January— I wondered what it felt living in this opulence, surrounded by body guards and servants. I thought about my assignment. I had five days to put into words, a history of a matriarch of a family of a culture that deeply contrasted the one I grew in. My twenty page book would explain to her grandchildren who she was, her values… Deep.

The following day, I walked into my assignment. When I saw her, I understood why this was so important. She was in her last days of battling cancer. I sat there talking to her, taking notes, recording, and with using every ounce of my energy to remain composed. For the three days, walking back to my room after spending hours with her, just the two of us, I was acutely reminded of how little I am as a human being. That evening, on the rooftop where my breath was taken away, I said to myself “even all the money cannot save me some time”… Truly life and health is a gift.

She loved what I wrote. Just a couple of days ago, I went to attend her burial. It broke my heart. Not one to display vulnerability in public by crying and stuff like that, I went to my room and processed what I was feeling over music. I listened to various artistes who had penned down fall-down gorgeous and emotionally devastating masterpieces about their own grief. As a lover of country music—you know there is a very interesting history of me spending a portion of my teenage near a 54-year old Dutch who played the guitar and loved country music— I found Darryl Worley’s I miss my friend quite consoling. The song made me cry a lot, and it got me curious about the structure of sad songs. Why would it make me cry and yet soothe me at the same time? While at it, I was surprised that while death is a very big part of human life cycle, contemporary artistes in Kenya rarely draw inspiration from death. There are musicians who have become famous by letting people mourn through their sings like British Robbie Williams’ Angels , Diamond Rio You’re gone . … the list is as long as your interest in music.

So I took three days looking at playlists in local radio stations, YouTube and music programmes in TV in Kenya sampling the subjects that many Kenyan musicians sing about. I discovered that while loss featured prominently, it was about heartbreak or failed relationship. Then I stumbled on “Baadaye” by Amos and Josh.

Finally something about death from a Kenyan. You will read the review of the song on our weekend paper Saturday Nation this weekend, and I will update this blog to reflect that. Kenyans may remember Amos and Josh from Tusker project fame, giving a Kenyan touch to KCI and Jojo’s single “Tell me its Real”.I asked Cedric Kadenyi who produced “Baadaye” about the structure of the song and true to what I suspected, the piece adhered to a widely held— albeit vague and disputed by composers— notion that sad songs are written on minor keys, and have a slow tempo. So I decided to check Amos and Josh other pieces and I just fell in love with them, for many reasons which I am about to mansplain.

One, there is nothing as musically intoxicating like an artiste with a great command of his voice and has a great vocal range. I love it that Amos and Josh can sing along tunes that you play on the piano at this end of piano and still be comfortable when your hands move to the notes on that extreme end of the scale. Two, lyrics—the poetic flow, rhyme, choice of words—set each musician apart. Music is “shallow” when the words do not connect with the feelings it is trying to evoke in you. I am a very sensitive human being and the fact that I can sense happiness in this duo’s music, is a big plus. From the lyrics in their single Moto Moto , I gather the two may have grown up in the church, read the bible or are Pentecostals: The similarities of certain verses in the song from the book of psalms or normal Pentecostal statements are notable. The song’s bridge goes like “Jua likiwaka niwe nawe, mchana kutwa, jioni likitua jua, usiniache (As the sun rises I will be with you, the whole day, in the evening when it sets, don’t leave me) … very close to Psalms 113 verse 3…from the rising of the sun to its setting The name of the LORD is to be praise”

Amos and Josh, I got my eyes on you. Well, if you release a crappy piece, I will come back and nail your asses on the cross

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I will marry and have sex when I want

Sex. Begin any topic on the exchange of body fluids and see how passionately opinionated Kenyans get. I have written about HIV and the counties with high prevalence and I get questions like “you mean to say we have more sex than others?” Do you see how fast Catholics oppose polio vaccine when they imagine it will stop women from giving birth? Don’t look at me like that! I know what day it is. It is… you will read this on Monday even though I am writing it on Sunday and scheduling it on my blog. I am certain you must have borne this subject in the morning radio shows. You know I should have just developed a deep baritone and joined radio and after a few failed singing competitions and nude pictures—my godfather who is a pastor would have a heart attack so I won’t do that— I would be a “relationship coach”. This is Kenya, you can be anything you want, including a “marriage counsellor/coach” … with no standing marriage or raised children.

How are you, reader? How unAfrican of me. How can I begin talking to y’all without greeting? I missed y’all. While we are at the pleasantries, I would like to flaunt my very “mature” boubou dress. My very own design, tailored by my buddy Sally.boubou3

I could pass for pastor/prophetess Verah right now, right? You know, I derive so much joy in being African. How else would I wear that on my sleeve if I don’t wear tribal outfits?


Let us get back to our topic. At 28—God I am aging fast— a Kenyan woman is forced to think about sex for two reasons: one, where she falls in this “sponsor” debate… like is she using her sexual organ to get herself the high life? Or two, why she has not gotten a man who will have sex with her every day for the rest of her life with whom she can make babies. I am not worried about the first option because try as I may, I have not mastered the art of getting morsels of their time. I am an artiste, a sentimental neurotic clingy bastard. There are days I wake up dressed like a Goth queen and sing along Bon Jovi’s You give Love a bad name word by word. The following day, I would be Prof Kairuki the microbiologist telling you in detail how the Tuberculosis bacterium has mutated to become drug resistant. I mean you get to have free entertainment watching me switch from one to the other of the 500 personalities that live within me. No, you do not get to meet women like me. So you either love me devotedly and obsessively or you get sublime into oblivion.

Now the second one. This is really creasing my brow. When my age mates are marrying right and centre, women my age are tired of hearing questions like “When are you naming someone after me?”, “Where is our in-law?”. Nobody ever asks us when the master’s degree is coming? The mark of a successful woman in Kenya is the one who is getting married, even to a bohemian savage. Be a graduate with dreadlocks like me with a few tattoos on your body and ride bike to work like me and you will hear statements like “She smokes weed”.

Before we get into the reason why I find the pressure to marry downright annoying, let me stop with the emotional bastardy and wear my objective hat of a journalist. Take my hand, let us take a walk through my mind. There are no official statistics, at least none that I know of, but the rate of separations and divorce are at an all-time high in Kenya as is globally. Professional counsellors tell me so. It would be difficult to explain the tragedy of a broken marriage because we are a society that has clichéd anecdotal quotes and remedies for everything. “Take the high road, change your wardrobe, work out and you will feel new”… and other shallow pieces of advice you will hear being told to men and women hurting from a broken union. Go to YouTube and there will be some cheesy video on “How to forget your ex in 5 seconds”.

You have heard break ups of long term relationships being described as ‘devastating, painful”. Here is something about pain. It is hard to describe a positive emotion, such as happiness or lack thereof, when you are happy. I have fallen in love once—or twice…? — And when in that state, I was busy loving and being loved I couldn’t write any song about love. When all went awry, I took my bleeding heart, placed it on my hand and analysed from all angles and put those thoughts into a memoir. So unless you have gone through it, you cannot possibly know a thing about divorce. It is all personal and unique it makes you emotionally, and sometimes physically, sick

Then there is a very interesting statistic that nobody has come across: the divorce is alarmingly high between age 25 and 30. Let me tell you why. My age mates know what they want in their “ever after”, the A to Z but have not the slightest clue about the B-to-Y of that process. We are told of the happily after. We are not informed of how saying “I do” is the beginning of another complex process of trying to fall in love with and normalize annoying behaviour like the snoring, lip smacking of a grown ass human being. The thought of a snoring husband…let me get on my knees and pray harder. The society pushes women to marriages when they, and the men they are going to marry, may be at the point where they base everything on fairy tale promises. Marriage is made in Heaven and by God, you say. So is thunder and lightning. You pray about it, they tell me. No amount of praying will fix a wrong choice of a partner.

I heard in one of those many Ted Talks I tune to that one of the greatest battles we fight as a human being is with our egos. You make peace with it either by having a sense of grandiosity (superiority complex) or an unhealthy modesty (inferiority complex). The society wrongly interprets superiority complex as boldness and inferiority complex as humility yet these are people who are so affected by what the world thinks about them. We should instead celebrate the one who falls in the middle, a man or woman who is independent enough to resist the obsessive clutch of the world which tries to fit you into a box when we are all different. This person is the one who will have mastered the three traits that psychologist and researcher Joanne Davilla spoke about: Insight, an awareness of who you are, why you act the way you do and what emotional and spiritual needs you have in a relationship; mutuality, the ability to know that the other human being has needs too; and emotional regulation, which is the strength to weather very difficult situations like a grown person…say a break up.

So stop with the pressure. When we bow down to it, women marry men they are not compatible with and the two end up destroying each other. It gets messy when there are children involved. You know if you give a 10 year old man a shaver, they will hurt themselves. Give it to them at 30 they will find it useful. Allow people to grow. There are women who will find love in men who earn little than they do, or are disabled. There are men who will find love in women who are older than them, or from a different race. It will look so socially disjointed but they will be so happy and fulfilled. Yes, I will marry and have sex when I want.

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