This was a year of mixed fortunes for the arts in Kenya. With peddlers of contraband audio and video tapes pushing their merchandise publicly, piracy of music and film hit an all time high.
The Ford Foundation not only diversified her media, arts & culture programme into funding fine arts but also held a well attended arts critics workshop for English newspaper writers in East Africa at the 20th Bagamoyo Festival of the Arts in Tanzania. It was facilitated by Ian Herbert of the London-based International Theatre Critics Association. It is hoped that the experience gained from the workshop will strengthen media coverage of the growing interest in arts and culture in eastern Africa.This webSite is partly a result of that five-day training on the cool Indian Ocean beach of the ancient slave trade town of Bwaga Moyo.
Attempts by some government officials to phase out the Film Production Department, discontinue the historically important Kenya Newsreel that covers presidential functions and render thousands redundant were defeated, courtesy of this writer’s media highlight! Two films-Nowhere in Africa, and Survivor III-were made in Kenya by German and American firms, respectively. This was seen as a plus for Kenya for edging out her perennial rival-South Africa- as the preferred African filmimg location. On the local scene, videos reigned. Oustanding among them were The Bushfire by Worldview Kenya and The Great Betrayal by the Centre for Adolescence and Ace Communications. Both features highlighted teenage choices and sexuality. The annual Africa Cinema Week at Maison Francaise was severely hampered by the failure of two workshop facilitators-Senegalese Sene Absa and Malian Mamadou Famakan Coulibaly-to secure visas to Kenya in October.The anticipated seminars on film analysis and screen acting had to be cancelled. A film project that had been touted as Kenya’s first musical-My Warrior by director/scriptwriter Anne Mungai-failed after the casting director Nicholas Sironka differed with Mungai over the message in the film which he argued was a misrepresentation of his Maasai culture. Also cited as an enemy of the arts is the Kenya Film Censor Board which exposed its ineptitude in film ratings. Theatre owners vilified it demanding it plays the advisory rather than the censorship role.
A concert that was meant to promote Kenyan music and artistes turned out to be a shouting match between the organisers-Scoreline Promotions and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation-to the detriment of artistes who had participated and won prizes which were never given to them. While KBC insisted Scoreline pays the cost of the KBC Benga Music Extravaganza including venue, performance and winners’ prizes, Scoreline said it was KBC who should foot the costs. To date, three top winners Osito Kale, Sammy Muraya and Princess Jully are yet to receive their Sh100000, Sh50000 and Sh25000 prizes, respectively. This scandal, described as the Fraud of the Year by the affected musicians, came on the heels of another fiasco, the Music Composers Association-organised Singer of the Year where artistes felt taken for a ride. Once again, money was at the centre of the misunderstanding which almost polarised the already divided music fraternity. Thus having been taken for a ride for far too long, musicians invaded the Music Copyright Society of Kenya offices to physically eject their directors in June accusing them of inaction as their interests were violated. Elections were finally held in September at which they threw out all the directors. A positive development during the year was the promotion of local music by Worldspace and Guinness. Through Ngoma Nights every Thursday night at Carnivore Restaurant, Worldspace publicised local music via satellite. Kisumu and Mombasa residents benefited from the Guinness Festivals in December. Each gig took 10 days and was held at a stadium making them accessibl;e to people who paid a mere Sh100. The Mombasa shows were even more attractive as revellers got a free bottle of Guinness and hence appeared to have been given free music!
This was perhaps the most vibrant of all the arts although artists complained they were not gwetting any returns from artlovers who merely appreciated their work without buying it. Individuals and organisations used art as a rallying call for development, fundraising and for publicising social issues. Kenya’s first museum of art, the Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art (Ramoma), was established in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area in March and immediately embarked on a blitz of exhibitions, seminars and workshops after receiveing a year’s funding from the Ford Foundation. Its motto being”a place for all where artistic creativity is nurtured, promoted and exposed for education, prosperity and good of Kenya,” Ramoma is amassing a permanent collection of East African art in order to save it from overseas flight. The year ended well with ArtAffair01, the largest exhibition and sale of artworks in the East African region. It showcased 1190 items by 145 artists from Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo-Kinshasa, Britain, Belgium, Russia, and Hong Kong. Held for five days at the Village market and then a further five at Ndani Interiors at Ngong Race Course, it was hosted by OneOff Contemporary Art Gallery. Modeling and Fashion were similary used like fine art.
Writing and Publishing
Authors moved away from boring abstract statistics employed by bureaucrats and academicians and brought important messages home in interesting creative writing. While Africawide Network put out an interesting novel on AIDS (The Mysterious Killer), FOCCAM published a historical novel on the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya (My Enemy: My Friend). Acacia Publishers, on their part, tackled illicit sexual relations between teachers and their pupils/students. These were commendable efforts in a nation whose publishers put stress on the well selling academic books at the expense of creative writing.
Attempts for collaboration among eastern Africa artists were frustarated by squabbles among Kenyans over donor funding. Details will be in our next edition of theatre analysis.
Musicians Daudi Kabaka and Joroge Benson, guitarist Ali Makunguru, and
thespian Opiyo Muma passed on .