|Article by Ogova Ondego
Published February 8, 2007
Kenya will host a music festival in February and August 2007 to fundraise and sensitise the public on conservation for good health and posterity. However, OGOVA ONDEGO writes, questions are raised over the definition of conservation by event’s organisers.
Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess musical, Swan Lake & The Nutcracker ballet, choral music, and jazz are some of the genres of music the organisers promise to serve to the public at the fourth annual Kijani Kenya Music Festival that will bring together performers from South Africa, United Kingdom and Kenya.
While some festival events will run in February, others will be held in August with the objective of raising funds for HIV/ AIDS and conservation in Kenya.
“Porgy and Bess”, a story of threatened love between able-bodied Bess and crippled Porgy, will be performed by the Cape Town Opera on February 24 at the Arboretum in Nairobi and Hell’s Gate in Naivasha.
Marcus Desando, who plays “Sportin Life” in the musical, gave a rendition of It Ain’t Necessarily So during the launch in Nairobi on November 24, 2006.
Also to be held at Arboretum will be a Jazz evening led by local artists performing timeless classics and contemporary solos. It will comprise instrumentalists Henry Saha, Otieno Wakake, Aaron Rimbui, Donald Otoyo, Isaac Mugunda, Mathew Shitakha, Manaseh Uzele, Nimrod Hellon, Grant Chamberlain and Dixon Awour and vocalist Ian Mbugua, Carole Atemi, June Gachui, Juliet Opondo and Chris Bitok.
Guidhall Ensemble of the UK will also enact “Proms in the Park”, a performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Come March 4, a Gospel Choir event led by the London Adventist Chorale (LAC), will be held at Nairobi Pentecostal Church in Lang’ata to mark the 50th Anniversary of the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) in Kenya.
Kijani Kenya Music Festival will return four months later, in August, with a Ballet Spectacular by the Royal Ballet Company of the UK. Principal dancer Mara Geleazzi and her colleagues will perform The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.
“These performances,” says Claire Low, the Kijani festival fundraising manager, “will take place on August 2 and 4 at the Nairobi Arboretum and at Fort Jesus in Mombasa.”
Set up in 2004 with the aim of bringing to Kenya internationally-acclaimed music and cultural events to raise awareness and funds to support conservation and HIV/AIDS in Kenya, Kijani Kenya Trust is a Kenya and UK-based non-profit organisation whose directors are Lis Woods (Chair), Miriam Haynes and Charles Njonjo.
The patron of the Kijani Kenya Music Festival is Kenya’s vice-president Moody Awori.
Among groups that have graced Kijani Kenya Music Festival since its inception in 2004 are Conjunto Sabroso Salsa band, the London Adventist Chorale, the Garden Opera Company, Elena Riu, Guarav Mazumdar, Japan’s top pianist Noriko Ogawa and Lucia Alverez Flamenco Group.
Kijani Kenya Trust directors say they have raised Sh13 million and entertained more than 10,000 people over the past three years.
But Kijani Kenya Music Festival is being dogged by controversy over its announcement that they plan to construct an auditorium in the Arboretum that marked its 100 years on January 28, 2007.
Saying that Safaricom Foundation had given them Sh35 million for the project, director Njonjo lamented in November that the chief forester had declined to approve the project though the ministry of lands has given it a nod.
Vice-President Awori promised in November 2006 that the trust would get the approval but, speaking to ArtMatters.Info on January 29, 2007, fundraising manager Clair Low confirmed the approval is yet to be granted.
Many people interviewed over the planned construction are against it saying Kijani Kenya Trust appears to negate its own mission of conservation. They say one cannot conserve the environment by turning it into an artificial concrete jungle as Kijani plans to do.
One wonders what would happen if a person of the stature of the Nobel Prize Laureate and conservationist Wangari Maathai who in 1989 managed to prevent the regime of the then President Daniel arap Moi from constructing a skyscraper in Uhuru Park in Nairobi, were to rise up against Kijani Kenya Trust’s designs on what is described as the “Prettiest place in Nairobi” and as “one of Nairobi’s few remaining green spaces with shaded walkways, picnic lawns and jogging trails”.
According to Friends of Nairobi Arboretum, FONA, this park near State House came into being in 1907 when the then assistant conservator of forests, Battiscombe, was allocated 65 acres of “a dry, stony, grass-covered slope with a few scattered flat-topped thorn trees.” It was here that fast-growing soft-wood exotic tree seeds “from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Mexico” were experimented on. However it was not till 1947 that Gardner, chief conservator of forests (1928-1947), turned this trial ground into an arboretum that stands in Nairobi today. It boasts an estimated 350 species of trees and 100 bird species.
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Below are excerpts from a verbatim interview with Kijani Kenya Trust’s fundraising manager, Clair Low:
Why is your trust called ‘Kijani’ (‘green’ in Kiswahili)?
Why has the festival been split–February-March, and August–instead of
By serving opera, ballet and jazz that have no mass appeal in Kenya,
How accessible is the festival in terms of location, time, and ticket
Some members of the public have raised concern since your announcement on November 22, 2006 that Kijani planned to build a permanent auditorium in Nairobi Arboretum. Is this concern well informed? How do you conserve the environment by turning one of the few green parks in Nairobi into concrete jungle?
Is Kijani Trust using ‘conservation’ and ‘HIV/AIDS’ merely as buzz words to appeal to donors for funds?
Why can’t Kijani Trust use available creative space–Kenya National
How does Kijani Trust select its beneficiaries?
Does Kijani Kenya plan to host any easily-accessible, inclusive, popular
A line is often drawn between critical and escapist art. In which category do we place Kijani Kenya Music Festival?
Which black Kenyans sit on the board of Kijani Trust?
Will there be any collaboration between local and international artists?