ILRI apparently has an international “theme night” once a month (music, food, dancing, socializing, etc). This month is Kenya, and some women in the Human Resources department said they want me to be the DJ. Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into? I guess when you walk around speaking Swahili and sheng and reciting lyrics from local pop music you’re bound to get noticed!
In fact, just that morning I was wondering when they were going to ask me to be the MC for the Friday morning coffee ceremony. Every week staff meet in the courtyard around 10:30 to listen to announcements, drink tea/coffee, and meet new staff and visiting consultants, students, researchers, etc. We have a guy from Finland here to help us out with some pressing issues on our Linux cluster and research computing network, so our team is supposed to introduce him. Just before it was time to introduce the guests my boss told me he wanted me to do the honors. I don’t know if I’m funny, I certainly wasn’t trying to be, but people always laugh. I even made a comment like, “This isn’t supposed to be stand up comedy” because people started laughing right after I said, “Hey, guys” in the mic.
So I wasn’t surprised when a woman I know in the Human Resources department pulled me aside at lunch and told me she had a proposition for me, and to stop by her office later. She told me there is a Kenyan theme night next week and “we” have been thinking you should be the DJ. Hahahaha. It’s flattering, but what?! I’m from California! I don’t even speak Swahili (leave alone SHENG!). I guess I’m being modest, because obviously I know enough to get myself into trouble. She said she had suggested it to her friends and they said, “Who? Ohhhh, THAT guy!” Wow. We’ll see what happens.
About two weeks ago I moved to Nairobi to start my new job. I live in Nairobi’s Westlands suburb but I commute daily about twenty-five minutes to a small town called Uthiru. The first difference I noticed from Tala is that the predominant language is Kikuyu, whereas in Tala it was Kikamba. I’m not worried, because I’ve learned enough Swahili, and everyone speaks that one in addition to their mother tongue. The one place you’ll notice the change in language right away is in the local music. It seems that every ethnic group in Kenya has their own distinct style of music.
I never liked the music when I was in Tala, but I miss it now. Every bicycle taxi, small shop, or matatu always had these beats on the radio. I’ve heard that this music is pure matusi (literally “abuses”), but of course I don’t understand one word they’re saying! The most famous Kamba artist is a dude named Ken wa Maria, so if you wanna hear more just Google him up. I don’t know any famous Kikuyu musicians yet, but their music is easy enough to find. Enjoy!
Kenya is like a music factory, and it’s not just quantity: there is a diverse range of quality music in this country! Gospel, reggae, rap, you name it. I’m not sure if there is any local rock yet, but I’m sure it’s on the way. I’ve really come to appreciate Nairobi, though I don’t always understand it. The youth speak English and Swahili, but they’ve created an interesting hybrid, sheng, which evolves every single day. Sheng finds its way directly into Nairobi’s entertainment industry, so if you speak Swahili and you have no clue what the kids in Kenya are saying, you’re not alone!
Hii ngoma is “this music” and noma is sheng for “nice” or something like that. Basically, “this music is off the chains!” Also, if you haven’t seen Get Mziki.com‘s new music blog, you’re missing out! Enjoy these tracks from three of Nairobi’s most popular genge artists: