|You have just left work on an ordinary rainy weekday and are going home somewhere in Nairobi’s Eastlands neighbourhood. So tired are you that all you want is a peaceful evening of rest. But that is before you hear the captivating music coming from nearby. As if pulled by the alluring magical tunes from the famed Pied Piper of Hamelin, you find your feet leading you in the direction of the music.OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
And your eyes are not betrayed. On stage are sweaty bodies. Swaying energetically but rhythmically to rumbling drums as rich male baritone vocals blend with equally captivating female voices. Welcome to Pumwani Social Hall, the home of Chemichemi, a youth organisation devoted to the promotion of cultural awareness through drama, dance and talks on culture. For a whole hour, you will be treated to drama scripted, directed, produced and performed by Chemi chemi who pride themselves in original (no adaptations, please) productions.
The brainchild of journalist and thespian Evans Ombiro, Chemichemi came on stage with school literature set books in 1997 before embarking on choreographed dances. Scripting and performing in English, Kiswahili and vernacular, Chemi chemi chose to focus on health and social awareness issues. Chemi chemi–whose Kiswahili name means a fountain, worked with non-governmental organizations like ArtNet, Purple Images, African Focus, and Pathfinder in passing their messages to society through drama. Having won numerous awards at festivals, Chemi chemi is now bubbling with theatrical creativity. The group had been set to perform at the Festival of the Dhow Countries (June 28-July 12) in Zanzibar but funding problems have dealt it a blow. Besides dances, the group performs plays, comedies, narratives and poetry. Chemi chemi boasts a variety of traditional musical instruments like drums, orutu, marimba, nyatiti and obokano. Few self-supporting troupes can boast such a wide range of instruments.
Some of the Kenyan dances they have perfected include Nguno of Eastern, Aleki ya lugumba of North Eastern, Sengenya and Chela of Coast, and Isukuti and Ndumbu of Western, and Miend bul of Nyanza provinces. Consisting of 25 members, Chemi chemi performs all kinds of African dances. They do everything from Congo-Kinshasa’s Sirereyo, Tanzania’s Todi abamsakanga, to South Africa’s Luna masole and Ghana’s Doe. And no group has produced as many radio and television artists as Chemichemi. But perhaps it could be a disservice to the various members if we just lumped them together without focusing on their individual roles and talents.
Danson Maina Karenga is an accomplished drummer, flutist, xylophonist and dancer. Maina’s drumming skills have seen him rub shoulders with the high and mighty in society, including Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands from whom he received the award of Best Drummer from Africa at the annual Festival Mundial in 2002 Maina, who started dancing when aged only seven years, has grown up dancing. He later specialised in instruments like “Rimba” (Piano-like African instrument), flute and drums. Joseph Omondi is an impressive percussionist and dancer whose style often leaves audiences crying for more.
John Ojiambo is a versatile artist. One of Kenya’s top five table tennis stars, he is also a footballer of repute, traditional dancer, drummers, percussionist and choreographer. He is a perfectionist who will not be satisfied until he does it right.
Nyangiti is a man whose fingers have a magical effect on the African guitar, the eight-stringed Nyatiti. The young and the old watch him, mesmerised and thrilled, unbelieving that such a young man is capable of strumming notes of such quality. Whereas Caroline Chilo dances, sings, and acts with great skill, John Mwangi is an actor and acrobat whose body contortions cast a spell on any one who watches him in his element. John Onyango or Nyangumi is an all round thespian. Apart from excelling on stage, television and radio, he is a prolific scriptwriter, director and producer.
Nyangumi is an experienced actor who has been an artist all his adult life. Starting with a television drama at 17 in 1979, he participated in numerous plays on radio, TV and stage. He has also acted in five international movies. For instance he was appeared as a guerilla leader in one of the films, After War. Onyango is one of the leading actors who feature on the national Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s TV and radio drama programmes.
He has starred in many KBC soap operas like Njia Panda, Burden of Proof, Radio Theatre, Ushikwapo Shikamana, Vioja Mahakamani, Vitimbi, Theatre Special, Play of the Week, Mila na Desturi, Katili Smart, Mlimwengu, Shida and currently, Broken Vows.He has recorded more than 1,000 plays with these programmes and written more than 500 scripts. Ombiro, a drummer, playwright and actor, first came into the limelight in 1990 when he featured in a Kenya Broadcasting Corporation TV drama programme, Play of the week. He continues to be active in this genre. Other programmes he has participated in include Burden of Proof, Mila na Desturi, Theatre Special, Radio Theatre, and is currently starring in the radio soap opera, Tembea na Majira. Ombiro has written hundreds of plays for television, radio and stage production and directed many of them. Besides art, he writes for East African Standard newspaper on science and health issues.
Samson Otieno is the group choreographer, dance researcher and lead percussionist. Besides producing dance, he beats drums, dances, and plays Obokano, orutu and flute. A talented footballer and table tennis player, Geoffrey Odhiambo is a cool traditional dancer who often soloes many songs. John Mwangi Irungi is a percussionist and exponent of both traditional and contemporary African dance. Rachel Ayugi’s trademark ululation when getting on stage is well known and respected in Nairobi.
The mellifluous voice and rhythmic dancing of Millicent Achieng Danna are her strongest assets. She took up dancing while in secondary school and decided to pursue it as a career Another agile dancer who takes her career seriously is Mineh Wanjiku. While Amir Hassan (“Junjuu”) is a long time KBC comedian who has participated in popular TV programmes like Vioja Mahakamani, and currently features in Vitimbi, Jackline Karimi is a seasoned traditional dancer and actress who is a darling of the audience. Martha Muswahili, a pre-school teacher, is a veteran radio actress and traditional dancer. She features in Tembea na Majira radio soap opera. Tom Anyangu is one of the most versatile performers at Chemi Chemi; he dances, acts and writes plays and poems.