|[music | literature]|
This question has had diverse reflections from various people especially the artists I meet. When we mention that ‘R’ word it is rarely in reference to something African let alone Kenyan. The historical recollection of this term especially in Europe refers to the time when the autonomy of man was the basis of his value system. It was generally a reaction and what they called rebirth after an era termed as ‘ Dark Age’. The ripple effect of this age affected greatly the architecture, writings, art, music and in general the creative energy and inspiration that interpreted society by artists of that day.
It has been forty years since we got independence a local daily has been churning the landmarks of these years till now. I am eagerly waiting for the artistic landmarks and the trends that have been. Siku za mwizi ni arobaini (forty are the days o a thief’s demise), forty is the number of years we have come so far. Have we been caught pants down in our artistic endeavours? The recollection of any artistic energy in this nation seems jammed with snippets of memories and pockets of some writer or artist who did some feat and got some recognition and who would that be many would shout Ngugiiii!!, Micereee!!, and the rest of the nanis’. The boiling points of The Land of the Majitu days, or Wasi Wasi Detectives not to forget Vioja Mahakmani with such characters as Tama bin Tama, Othorong’ong’o Danger, hey I was forgetting Mzee Pembe and might you recall that song Mama Kifagio, and the Maillu book that was read under blankets titled After 4.30, not forgetting Mwangi Gicheru’s Across the Bridge. This is just a recollection though our short history earns us short memory. We seemed to have given somebody a piece of our mind unfortunately it was the only piece. We stopped! And the artistic world though present was not accorded attention neither did it have energy. Politics and economics killed culture but Tabaan Lo Liyong says Culture is Rotund and my question is, has it come round? Is there a Kenyan Renaissance?
President Thabo Mbeki in his maiden millennium speech termed it (millennium) The African Renaissance obviously he saw it in terms of economic and political pursuits. Experts tend to believe that this century will be characterized by ‘ galactic imagination artistic flowering, deep and wide connectivity, the birth of intellectual veins, exuberant creative period of artistic and intellectual exploration creating individual geniuses compared only to Europe in the 14th and 17th Century - the Renaissance’. What of Kenya? Where are we in this mosaic? Gone are the days when the Ministry of Culture and Social Services was powerful ministry. Do we even have a Culture policy? What happens when we see our Kiondo’s weaved in some other countries? A friend of mine went to New York he carried along with him some curios hoping to entice the NY folks, you guessed right he found them there but they were manufactured in Malaysia - Kenyan stuff (should I say Kenyan art) made in Malaysia!!
year was the forty years of publishing for Heinemann especially the African
writing series. On their catalogue of distinct African writers under Kenya
were Ngugi and Meja Mwangi. Two writers. Nigeria had SEVENTEEN! It is
said in 1968 Ngugi at a historic Makerere meeting went and knocked on
Chunua Achebe’s door and gave him two manuscripts. Chinua was impressed
and that began Ngugi’s writing career. Most African countries went
through the tensions of colonialism the expression of these tensions was
captured differently artistically. Writing was one of them. It was Bacon
that said Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man and Writing
a perfect man, most artistic expressions have received attention and have
been rewarded even if it is not financially but by exposure. The perfection
of men (and women) seems to be not just knocking some major writers door
in some campus but in some private confines and houses in this country,
apart from the normal writing for press, there is a rebirth of scribes,
people freezing moments in phrases. It is no longer just the normal nikishika
em I C or becoming a producer, but keyboards and pens and paper thoughts
and stories are filling the creative space. Previously these scribes were
just hideously engaged, hoping that someday someone is going to read their
story and even publish it. The courage to come out and say I write for
life let alone for a living seems to have been aroused. Why is this and
why now? Many reasons come to mind but I will only concentrate on two
was the experience of the likes of Binyavanga Wainaina while contributing
to G21 website his piece titled Discovering Home was discovered and went
to earn him an International Award. Sites like Zoetrope offer creative
space for artists to engage in creative dialogue and presentation of their
works. If you do not believe me then let me reiterate after Binyavanga
won the Caine Prize he went on to set up an online journal Kwani.org?
The contribution of short stories on this platform earned another Kenyan
Yvonne Owour this same Caine Award. The philosophical shift of self-expression
without restriction has created individual branding and gone beyond major
publishing houses who store mountains of unpublished manuscripts denying
the free flow of content. As I said earlier forty years since independence
siku za mwizi ni arobaini the old guards have been caught pants down and
nabbed sleeping while an artistic uprising seeps into once upon a empty
creative space. We might have to paukwa pakawa the literary slumber that
has been and embrace this moment of a new literary era in Kenya, after
all the only reason you have read this article is because I wrote.