#NuNairobi – A RENAISSANCE, WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT

Wise-Two-JKIA
from cloudfront.net

Gregg Tendwa published a piece called ‘#NuNairobi; a cultural or creative renaissance or premature teenage ejaculation?’ In this piece the creative entrepreneur shares his position on the #NuNairobi culture. This piece prompted me to respond so I’ll get right to it and break down the piece highlighting the areas that I feel need to be addressed.

‘Somewhere in 2016, a term emerged in Nairobi. #NuNairobi was coined and it is not clear what it exactly means. Some say it represents the rebellious break out from the old guard to a new guard especially within the contemporary cultural and creative ecosystem.’

In the July 2016 issue of UP Magazine, music writer Camille Storm published a piece called ‘#NuNairobi, More Than Just a Hashtag’ where she dives into the rise of a movement. She describes it as a ‘new wave of energy, creativity and imagination flowing through Nairobi […] by artists who aren’t bound by norms, genres, or traditional methods of creating, spreading or accessing art.’ Hiribae Wanyoike, 1/5th of the EA Wave collective, goes on record to say that it is encompasses what the new generation of artists has to offer and can be used by everyone who deems themselves a creative. Over time the phrase has evolved to be more inclusive; rather than restricting it to those who can express themselves artistically, the tag is used by lawyers, engineers etc… there is no membership fee or committee to approve your adoption of the tag.

Describing it as a rebellious break out from the old guard seems particularly apt, seeing as ‘old guard’ refers to a conservative reactionary faction that is more unwilling to accept new ideas than their peers are. It probably also explains why the old guard feels a need to rip apart and pathologize every single aspect of a teething movement that steers away from tradition.

This article’s tone is very similar to the dozens of millennial hit-pieces published daily blaming us for everything that’s going wrong in the world. It’s also no coincidence that #NuNairobi is a millennial run movement. Just like the ‘millennial are ruining X’ pieces this post follows a similar pattern by digging into a movement for and by young people while drawing long-winded [and often times false] parallels with older more established projects.

‘The foregoing narrative suggests that there has been a constant pursuit for a new cultural and creative Nairobi, one that seeks to find the ever-elusive identity and create a reference point for newness, discovery and breaking off from a past that they might not want to identify with […] this actually seems to be the problem that eats up efforts to innovate the cultural and creative scene, because each new discovery seems to suggest that the past was bad and should be buried with its bath water.’

I’m very curious to know how ‘new discovery suggest that the past was bad’ because as it stands I strongly disagree with that statement. While I do agree it’s important to be aware of the strides that Nairobi and Kenyan music as a whole have taken, Mwalimu’s conclusion threw me off. The history lesson that precedes this paragraph actually doesn’t indicate that new discoveries destroyed past genres, if anything it shows that there can never be one sound, one identity or one movement. Ukoo Flani is still in existence, benga still pulls crowds, and kapuka even managed to transcend borders and has a great following in Southern Africa.

Kenyan music industry failings are not a Nu issue [see what I did there] but goes back way into the 60’s. There are dark clouds in our history from the days of Poxi Presha fighting piracy to MCSK stealing royalties from artists for several years. This, I feel, is the past that Nu artists are breaking away from. Why push for a song to be played on radio when 1. Most likely you’ll be ignored [or in the case of Smalls Lethal asked for a sort of tribute before sitting down] 2. Even if your song managed to get played on said station, you won’t get what’s owed to you. Any complaints of not earning your dues are quickly met with disparaging comments of your perceived entitlement. That’s a culture I would not ever want to be a part of, and seriously side eye anyone who seeks to be a part of or protect it.

‘The convenient amnesia and apathy to seeking wisdom and knowledge beyond the excitement of a reinvention leads to self crowned kings and queens, and ‘movements’ that do not tap into the experience set before them, learn from mistakes made before and enhance milestones attained previously. ‘

The claim that the movement does not tap into the experience set before them cannot possibly be true. No artist creates in a vacuum; they have influences, inspirations, mentors etc. Now if the issue is because they aren’t necessarily Kenyan influences, I’d like to point out that Nairobi is a cosmopolitan city, with an ever growing community. The world’s a global village, and if someone identifies with Katyranda and Daniel Haaksman before they can identify with Tedd Josiah that’s really them being a product of their diverse environment. I do understand the sentiment of learning from other’s mistakes however this feels like a projection of sorts. On one hand it’s great that those that came before grew up and also don’t want you to make their mistakes but also who said we were going to make them? As for the milestones bit, I totally understand anyone who doesn’t want to enhance someone else’s achievements. Why should they? There aren’t limited legacy spaces, anyone can leave their own, and shouldn’t be made to perfect on something that’s not fully theirs.

So in 2017, #NuNairobi notion suffers the same lethargy, inconsistency and rejection from a wider section of the [upwardly mobile and connected] creative fraternity that doesn’t naturally identify with it.

Too fucking bad for them. Must everyone in the world identify with something for it to be seen as valid? Not everything is made for your consumption. If you don’t like something you can move on. You cannot please everyone and the minute you base your art on an audience that doesn’t give a damn about you, you have failed. #NuNairobi is for those who identify as #NuNairobi, period. There’s no membership fee or head office to report to. And there’s nothing stopping those who don’t identify with it from building their own. It’s more than a hashtag, but it’s still a hashtag. Create your own.

In my view, proponents of the current #NuNairobi wave don’t describe, represent or propagate anything new about an everlasting cultural and creative renaissance, but are often caught up in emotional outbursts similar to those experienced by teenagers when they discover they have been sitting on a phallus for over a decade…

Infantilizing and gaslighting is often met with hostility, whether you’re a part of #NuNairobi or not.  First they are not teenagers on the cusp of puberty, these are adults and you will address them as such. Secondly, I too would have an ‘emotional outburst’ if a movement that I had found a home in was accused of being a premature teenage ejaculation. Thirdly, you cannot possibly be able to gauge the shelf-life of a movement that is two years old, I don’t care how seasoned you are. If anything this post seeks to bury the future by shitting on a baby birds wings before it even has time to take flight. Give people the space and freedom to create without imposing old laws and ways of thinking or making comparisons and you’ll be surprised at what they’ll have to offer. But this, this is stifling creation.

‘[…] it quickly escalates to become the nucleus of gratification, power, influence, even conquest. But the worst that seems to be happening is a passive aggressive gate keeping attitude and arrogance…  

If anything, this post reeks of the passive-aggressive-gate keeping attitude and arrogance that is being projected onto the Nu scene. Behind this weak attempt to educate and elucidate others on a growing scene is a message of great condescension that can be felt as soon as you read the title.

‘This length is partly the privilege experienced across the belt between Karen, Kilimani, Kileleshwa, Westlands, Runda and Muthaiga…’

I’m glad that privilege has come up. Denying its existence and play into several factors would be incredibly false. That these events are held in upper class locations with an entry fee that some aren’t willing and/or able to pay is definitely something worth examining. [Interestingly enough, there is not as great an emphasis on privilege when discussing events like Art at The Bus, RVF, Sauti za Busara, Nyege Nyege and others, events that require more money and logistics than a causal #NuNairobi gig.] The proximity to whiteness and a debate on whether it is necessary or not is worth looking into. These and other more pressing issues keep being swept back under the rug because arguments of ‘what does this even mean? That’s not a real renaissance’ require redefinition of basic terms and does nothing for the artists who are trying to get shit done.

‘My suggestion is that they need to research themselves and the concept and their ideology further, wider and deeper, and identify that which has led to lack of everlasting ownership of any one thing in particular, or the grounding of Nairobi cultural and creative space, that which drives Ugandans and Tanzanians further ahead in their creative pursuits.’

The audacity of telling someone to research themselves and something that they themselves came up with [yet YOU are the one who doesn’t know what it is] is really rude. I can’t even go into that.

Everlasting ownership of one thing…you mean a monopoly? Why would anyone want to have a monopoly over creativity, doesn’t that beat the point of creativity itself. There isn’t even a desire to do so, all they have done is announced that they are here, they are creating and there aren’t going anywhere. But even before they can get a seat at the table, before even being recognized as a legitimate movement, they are being sent to other countries to figure out how they thrive. You can’t possibly miss the irony.

‘Until a time when the Eastlando [the cultural and creative engine of that which is globally considered Nairobian, from matatu culture to music to graphics to fashion] stands out to defend and propagate #NuNairobi as a movement that they understand and own, please let us all join in gratifying premature teenage ejaculation featuring Camp Mulla 2.0’

Eastlands is not the gatekeeper of Nairobi culture. Is it responsible for a shit-ton of it?  Of course and no one of sane mind would deny that. My issue is why we must wait for it to be accepted by them to give it legitimacy? I understand the issues of access and class privilege that come with the territory but let’s be real here, class issues were existent before most members of #NuNairobi were born and they shouldn’t be tasked with dismantling it by themselves.

Until a time the old guard relinquishes this idea that everything must be done with or for their approval, #NuNairobi will still continue pissing folks off. So simmer down and let people do what they want.

Olivia Kidula is a writer, editor and co-founder of Will This Be A Problem

Cover Image by Wise-Two-JKIA from cloudfront.net

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