5 problems with Kenyan “creatives”

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My stats alerted me that 35% of my readership is on Saturdays at 12 a.m. What can I say? I have established a legion of party-poopers and I’m strangely pleased with that. 😉

So, for the juice,

… I established a reserved dynamic with a handful of creatives-the newly dread-locked and inked pile that I deconstructed in the last post. ‘Reserved’, in the manner that my involvement had a hunch. One appearance to a show here, and a token purchase there, and more frequently an opportunity to observe human behavior. And with time, I even learned to just smile when wished ‘love and light’ as opposed to enquire.

This curious bunch turned out not to be a bunch so much as a colony. Every circle, every event, and every seating space I occupied was dominated by a fleet of fashionably bummed out, culturally charged, and deliberately dressed dudes and chicks each pitching a spiritual conviction and a  soundcloud link. The new (nu) face of Nairobi had a headwrap and budding locs… and a healing septum piercing.

The social observer in me was tempted to label this a case study in cultural globalization. It appeared as though the city was experiencing a hybrid shift and was struggling to negotiate global youth trends and perspectives into a homogeneous, Christianized and colonized framework. It’s replicated all over the world, but here is my specific beef with its manifestation in the creative industry where I live.

1)  LACK OF AUTHENTICITY 

Flocks of recent dropouts appeared to embrace the same inspirations, at the same time. Each cluster named itself a collective and made certain to employ spacey synthesizers, hazy melodies, a dashiki, and a breathy female voice speaking of energies and spaces mid-song in Solange’s voice. :p The women wore headwraps and face paint, while the men photo-shopped a gold crown on their EP cover, each focusing their activism on black oppression in America, “blackness” and “melanin” many of whom, have never stepped out of the continent and will never tackle the issues we face in their art forms. Of poverty, of HIV, of corruption. It’s cool. It’s all done in African American vernacular with a chance of UK grime slang. The delivery can be great, and it can be terrible. But an audience that feels that the more obscure to look at and listen to, the better, will likely snap their fingers indiscriminately.

2) THE APPROVAL OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Events are incomplete without the supporting role of marijuana. Marijuana as a fragrance, marijuana as a pictorial prop, and marijuana, of course for the state of arousal. Am I speaking out against it? No. But of course one might wonder why art can’t speak for itself, why talent can’t manifest itself, why events can’t carry themselves, and why a culture cannot thrive on its own without a substance backing!

3) THESE ARE PRIMARILY WEALTHY KIDS (THE HYPOCRISY)

This culture is informed heavily by the Internet. By kids who have the access to transmit global trends into Africa, which translates to a privileged minority leading the pack. This minority dons a culture that is highly Westernized – and by that, I mean, appropriates African American culture – upper-middle class, and inaccessible to many Kenyans, yet fronts as a counter-culture, an underground, an anti-systemic fringe. However, this underground only eats at vloggable restaurants, could never set foot in a slum (except for the backdrop of a photoshoot) and doesn’t speak it’s local patois (Nairobi sheng) and does not produce art that is palatable for consumption by its local youth; the lower middle-class. This is a case study of Pan-Africans who only drive German cars and drink European liquor.

4) ONLY A HANDFUL MAKE A LIVING 

Access to wealth leads to the accessibility of cameras, professional makeup, production systems, leads to a saturation of the expertise in this subculture. And I say ‘expertise’ rolling my eyes. Saturation makes it difficult for talent to stand out, or even be identified, clearly leading to an overall derogation of quality in these industries with this specific generation. I’ve come across so many photographers, make-up artists and music producers, that I wonder how each of them makes money! There’s no heavy money-incentive however, because these are kids who have everything catered for, and may or may not be doing what they’re doing for the long-haul. Many nu youth appear so comfortable working for exposure, or ‘art for art’s sake’ that I frequently wonder about the artists who make art for bread; and how they navigate these waters.  

5) “LOVE AND LIGHT”

Until somebody stands up to unpack it for me. 🙂

That said, I know GREAT artists in this city, many of whom curiously deviate from this prototype. However some manage to be great even within these circles. And power to you. And love and light, and whatever…

😉

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63 thoughts on “5 problems with Kenyan “creatives”

  1. trevor says:

    A scathing, yet exceptionally well written, observation of the culture/counter- culture.

    Paradoxically/ ironically obscure blogs with profound/ supposedly profound posts are very much part of said culture so its like this is a post about this post.

    All in all, a damn good read and factual.

  2. stephaniewanga says:

    Ahhahahaha. I hear you. I’m a headwrapper, yes. An almost drop out – But, life lmao 🙂
    But I really, really hear you. I was ready to get angry when I saw the title but what you have said is v. true.
    People should really go back into themselves and find out why they do what they do. The original headwrappers should stick to their headwrapping but the rest should really reexamine things.

    • stephaniewanga says:

      But also, I was to drop out for another degree. So I doni think I’m like the real deal dropout – you know, the cool type.

      • blackgirlprovoked says:

        Hahahahaha 🙂 you’re super funny. “headwrapper” lol. There’s absolutely no problem with doing you,and being yourself. Ofcourse just tackling the hypocrisy of it all, and the ingenuity in a certain generation of people who’ve suddenly embraced this!! I’m definitely a borderline dropout who wears headwraps! 😉

  3. Kevin Wang'ombe says:

    Wow. I don’t even know what to say, I’m a big part of the culture and to read something like this, someone who speaks out what people are thinking. That’s wassup! Thank you whoever you are. A reality check was needed

      • Kevin Wang'ombe says:

        The people close to me, the artists close to me. We all represent something special, including yourself. One thing that I must say is, I think your looking on the ‘outside’ in. Try come inside, get to know people. Know why people do what they doing. Fr

      • Kari Kamau says:

        For sure Kevin! 🙂 I’m sure everybody has a story and a reason! I’ve also immersed myself in some of these circles, and know a thing or two about audio production. 😉 There’s a lot of good work, and there’s a lot of phoney work, as well as massive natural talent. I’d say, continue to do you(plural) especially if it makes you happy. The wave represents something and is growing which is important and I must respect. This is just a wee little person’s opinion. 😛

  4. fadedconscious says:

    I love this, I’ve never fallen in love with “nu-wave” African creatives and everything you’ve stated is true. It’s why most won’t get off the ground, they’re building castles in the cloud.

  5. orandi says:

    It’s true. All true. What you’ve done however, is deduce a general opinion from your perspective. What you don’t realize from your perspective however is that we are in a society where creativity is not much of a priority as it is in the diaspora and doesn’t get much as attention as it should. There aren’t enough ‘creative’ role models to emulate over here. These kids will learn to be creative from their peers, the people they consider to be creative. I think it’s a start, and this generation will pave the way for coming generations whose creativity will look up to the creatives of generation. Smoke a blunt or two and chill. There’s no one way to be creative.

    • blackgirlprovoked says:

      Hi Orandi! You’re right! It’s definitely a start! I feel however, it may be off in a problematic foot! It would be amazing if this nu group of creatives could diversify and make themselves more accessible to everyday youth, because there is undeniable talent within the circle! It’s just my opinion! Who am I to even make a dent in a movement that is clearly growing and loved by many? 😉

  6. Mitteiy says:

    Strongly feel that this is a somewhat isolated view. Because 1. it limits the definition of what is Kenyan while discussing authenticity and who gets to be a creative (the danger of one story) 2. I believe there is a difference between approval, not judging and condemning. 3. Discussing westernisation without acknowledging neocolonialism makes no sense (where do I buy a high-end car made in Africa? why are there no car manufacturing plants in Kenya, the supply affects the buying culture as well as the demand) plus pan-African has a much broader definition than buying habit. 4. Plus there seems to be a warped understanding of class (when we generally discuss it), that seems to acknowledge class divide but not how class works in Kenya vs the West we constantly see in the media (for example, education, average age of moving out is mid-twenties, average age of getting a job) almost like we keep looking at Kenyan class through a western lenses.

    Perhaps, my experience in the creative space has been different but I feel like it is a lot of grey and necessarily black and white. But the clear problems in the general creative space is a convo that needs to be had (a lot so that we find solutions).

    • Kari Kamau says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read! truly and a very bright commentary.

      You’re right about the discourse surrounding class! I agree with all of the points you made. and many of my statements were more rhetoric; a great example is the one about the German cars. I was indexing at the conflict in the disdain toward ‘capitalism’ and the ‘system’ in these circles vs. their actual practises.

      and then there’s neocolonialism. Yes, can be a very layered and multifaceted discussion, and hopeully would love to address it in writing more wholesomely in the future. Or maybe you should!

      • Mitteiy says:

        Is it still rhetoric if the theories and facts used are unclear/incorrect?

        What system are you referencing because capitalism is a system, and all systems have practices, so this statement I do not understand?

        I intend to write on this, may I use your article as a reference?

  7. nairobifringedweller says:

    Love. This. Blog! How am i just finding this now? I have noticed this ‘counter-culture’ and hadn’t found words yet to phrase all of this.
    I couldn’t have possibly written this better with such insightful brutal observations. Not to mention the humour 🙂

    • Kari Kamau says:

      THanks so much! I’m practically obsessed with Nairobi and its lunacy. Such a strange strange place!! And how had I never read you blog?!! I really like your writing. I especially enjoyed your post on Kenyan traffic. We’re such clowns here!

  8. Ngui says:

    I guess you don’t know enough people. I guess you want to be a straight shooter but in reality you crave attention and so will not go deep enough into what Ralph Waldo called the mud and murk of things. I guess you don’t have the experience to observe and decipher the true reasons that the septum piercing crew is the the septum piercing crew. I guess you haven’t checked to see if the upper middle class got over its guilt of fucking over the nation. Read between the lines…Pierce thy Septum for thou represent what you think you are not.

  9. AGNES MUTHONI NDONGA says:

    My 2cents.

    You are too broad in your assesment, and this article is ill too quick in its conclusions.
    I predict that 4/5 of these points you raise will be moot in exactly a year from now. Now, specifically

    1. Lack of authenticity: Wrong. There is nothing but self expression. Borrowed+Invented+Created. You are observing creatives sythesizing the influences and developing their own individual expression. This is how humans learn. And you are right, cultural globalization is real. If you start there, your conclusion is likely to change.

    2. The approval of substance abuse: “approval” who is the approval from? To whom? Perhaps the observation is a use of substances. Querry the connection of substance use and cultural evolution across different cultures and diffrent eras eghippie movement + rock&roll…A little more research ma’am..

    3. Primarily wealthy kids? Wrong. Everyone I have interacted with, who wears the label, comes from South C, Buru, Roysambu, Umoja,KU (kahawa)
    Sure, a few of the artists come from wealthy backgrounds. That doesn’t create an advantage. Partentals are not yet on board, so its not like they have access to the money to make their art or facilitate their life…For some more research please peep these

    Odinare Bingwa is born and raised in Diani, in no money

    Raj is born and raised in Kisii. He only came to Nairobi in 2011

    4. Only a handful make a living: FOR NOW. 2015-2016 was manifestation of self. Creation. Now watch what happens in 2017. The flip is about to happen. Sharp and quick. That is what builders of industry like myself bring to the table. Watch.

    5. Love & Light: the two ingredients that constitute your whole being. You are God currently going through a human experinece. You are at your core LOVE and LIGHT. ONLY. Everything else is your invention. The phrase is a reminder from spirit to spirit. Rememember. Love and Light.

    • Kari Kamau says:

      Thanks for breaking it down for me what Love and Light is. I’m glad that there’s users who actually have an understanding and intent while using it. Now I know to steer clear of using it, and to respectufully decline the reminder, giving that I completely reject that belief system.

      I feel that the spectum of nu Nairobi you’re reffering to is totally different from the one that I have experienced. I’m generalizing based on the community that I’ve observed that actually is almost exclusively comprised by “rich kids”. Perhaps “Creatives” is the wrong word because there are many who wear the umbrella badge, myself included, without being part of the strain of it that i’m refering to. In fact none of your links point to my idea of the ‘nu nairobi’ movement. I quite enjoyed every single song, and really did not sense any ingenuity or inauthenticity

      Our vision of authenticity is perhaps different. I feel that they all costume the same, and attempt to mimick an African American “blackness” they need not to. Having experienced the height of racism in small-town North America, I really do not see any racial opression in the daily experience of a black middle class IN Kenya. I really do feel that because activism is rooted in many of their narratives, they should incorporate phenomenons that the actually experience and KNOW about. unemplyment, class issues, etc… while still borrowing global elements of pop culture, if they feel so inspired.

      I feel ‘approval’, is just a kind word. What I’m talking about is relience on marijuana in many and its celebration with most!

      I really feel we’re talking about completely different strains of the movement and I should have been more specific. Think The Alchemist bar…

      I reallly like ur comment though. It’s made me think quite a bit, and re-evaluate on some points, especially given that you identify as being more inside of it than I do. I hope that discussion inspired by this post will only build the community and better it, as opposed to create a division.

      You’ve REALLLY got me thinking and re-evaluating!!!!

      • Wainaina Kinuthia says:

        Idk I really agree wuth @Muthoni Ndonga I have the same isuues with this post, its research is wanting

  10. Busi says:

    You could replace Kenya for London, black for white and it’d be the same story. This is a global phenomena, in fact it was similar when I was growing up way back when in South Africa. It’s a well written piece, but don’t think this is unique to Kenya.

    • Kari Kamau says:

      Yeah?! I don’t think it’s unique to Kenya! Kenya’s what I’ve been observing for the past year and have interest in. I’m actually re-thinking everything post-publication. It’s actually opening me up to the music in the nu wave that i was unaware of, and the beauty that i hadn’t bothered to inquire…

  11. Damaris Muga says:

    I dont know if you know, but these are not PROBLEMS. This is actually how life has always worked since time. You would be in the 60s and going.. the 5 Problems with Hippies… Trends and styles and sounds and things must change and people adopt to those changes. From a distance they appear the same but they are not. Technically you are part of these problems you talk about simple by virtue of you Blogging, that act blogging.

  12. kariwokkid says:

    All this just makes you sound salty ,Fact is that alot of what is already African has been westernized/modernized or whatever you like to call it, its simple things like wearing suits, living in stone houses and working in offices, driving cars (any car) , there is no difference with the young generation speaking American/British vernacular and an older generation speaking “perfect” English, or praying to a christian God and spreading love and light its all foreign influence, majority of Kenyan music and culture is borrowed from outside influence even the ones in vernacular just like you and being a writer,even the food we call our national staple ,don’t knock it because it doesn’t fit to your ideal of what should be borrowed and what shouldn’t, that authenticity ship sailed a long long time ago.

  13. juuyes says:

    What I appreciate most about this article is the dialogue it’s provoked. Not enough self evaluation happens in the scene and to often we dismiss critique as “hating.” This is an opinion piece and I admire the courage it took to put your opinion out there.. Our job is to break it down and analyse. Bless!
    NuNairobian

    • Kari Kamau says:

      Awww I really appreciate your feedback, especially that you’re empathetic to my stance, even as someone who identifies as NuNairobian. The dialogue it brought about was great, and trust me, even I am beginning to shift some views as I become more educated about the scene through this! Thanks a lot! 🙂

  14. Bonnie Nduma says:

    A thought-provoking read!! However, if you look at the ‘creative’ scene in the context of whats happening in other sectors, you might get an alternative view. I think the NuNairobi wave is representative of the larger renaissance that Nairobi as a city is going through. It might seem chaotic, unstructured and not representative of the larger Kenyan or Nairobi youth at the moment, but its in that confusion that something new will be born. Think the Mau Mau collective in the 90s. These guys spoke about issues affecting the underprivileged Kenyans, and i’m sure many people could not relate. However, their influence in the growth of Kenyan Hip Hop, other sounds and the general social consciousness is indisputable. If you look at the Kenyan art scene, despite the existing problems, more Kenyans than ever before are consuming Kenyan art. Think Nairobi’s real estate sector, chaotic. Think Nairobi’s transport sector, chaotic. However, amidst all these problems why was Nairobi ranked among the 20 most successful cities globally? and the only African city in the list? I think focusing on the 5 problems (whether they are debatable or not) is a digression from whats happening in the larger creative scene as a result of the Nu face, and what the wave could achieve in the long run. The NuNairobi wave is barely 2 years old, therefore too early to make any valid conclusion. Actually, I would advice creatives to embrace the wave and immerse themselves in it. The initial steps might seem chaotic and lacking clarity but ultimately something beautiful is bound to come off of it.

  15. chekiambalwa says:

    Damn, I had to scroll way too damn much to appreciate the real on here, but ivo ndo inafaa kua. Hii uongo inaendelea Nairobi under the guise of kuchanuka sa inabore, there’s a whole stench of prententiousness about that air.

  16. Mr.ZeroFucks says:

    I don’t understand why some people are so butt-hurt,lol
    You ,my dear, have said the truth!!
    and nobody wants to here the truth,lol
    i also see this “Nu-Nairobi” bullshit to just be a trend.
    It’ll come to pass and won’t be “cool” anymore.
    I see some of these cool kids buying some camera and take a few snaps,and all of a sudden they’re photographers now,lol.
    The producers….OMG! i won’t even lie fam,their music is shit & the only compliments they get for it is from their friends.
    The rappers….lord have mercy,they’re crap!
    i don’t know why they keep lying to themselves.
    They’re end-product is generally shit.

  17. Njama says:

    This is so misinformed. And on the bit of quality, when did this country ever have quality? These guys are actually making moves churning out quality and your busy hating on your keyboard. Do you even know what it takes to make music? A simple loop? Or you just use your poor hearing? And who made you the prefect of what genre of music Kenyans listen to? If you want the same kenyan/nigerian music on repeat turn on the radio, go for niger night or something, the internet is an open space which you’re evidently using to your advantage so why can’t they?

  18. nairobi love says:

    I completely agree with this article. The issue isn’t that there is a sub culture building up. The issue is that it’s authenticity is questionable.

    On the other hand, this only applies to a small group of Nairobi artists. The thing is, this group is heavily present on social media and gigs in Nairobi so that might be the perception you get of the Art scene. And like most Nairobians do, we think Nairobi is a representation of Kenya. It’s not. At all.

    And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a step in the right direction. It opens up more possibilities of expression. And while I’m completely against romanticizing drugs, if that’s really what makes your muses sing, go for it.

  19. D A Y V O ✌ (@iamDAYVO) says:

    Well, I don’t get out that much for said events and hangouts. I don’t indulge in any substance (Unless sugar and sarcasm qualify). I make music, wouldn’t exactly call myself a creative, just a musician, because it seems to me that the term “creative” belongs to a specific group of people within the arts industry and I don’t do cliques. This piece is quite interesting. Read it, and all the comments with all the sobriety and objectivity I could muster and I have to say, well done. You have successfully pushed the ‘ON’ button on a good number of minds. those who agree and disagree alike. We will all have a few questions for ourselves(as we should) when deciding to jot down that lyric or drop those fire punchlines on that kick as acoustic jam with our friends.
    1. Who am I as a “Creative”?
    2. Why am I “Creating”?
    3. What am I “Creating”?
    I think we should not be afraid or hostile towards such articles. We should embrace them. It is a perspective we do not possess. As “Creatives”, Claiming enlightenment without an open and objective mind seems hypocritical.

    But then again I could be wrong and nothing changes :)…

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