Wednesday, 29 March 2017


BY margaretta wa Gacheru (

While ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is in its final countdown before the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical opens April 7th at Kenya National Theatre, a variety of other players were staging performances last weekend.

At the Point Zero Book Café, Mshai Mwangola, Mueni Lundi and Aghan Odero (the Performance Collective) were busy preparing fellow book-lovers for scintillating discussions next month on two hard-to-get books, Miriama Ba’s ‘So Long a Letter’ and Taiye Selasi’s ‘Ghana Must Go’. They gave both books a contextual and historical framework, assisted by Dr. Wandia Njoya of Daystar University. They also did illuminating readings from the books which compelled one to buy the books (which arrived from overseas last Saturday) and read them before next month’s Book Café session.

The performance collective launched their Book Café at Point Zero Coffee (next to Nairobi Gallery several months back with Yvonne Owuor’s award-winning novel, ‘Dust’. The two-session book readings and discussions proved so successful that the Book Café is now a semi-permanent fixture of the boutique coffee house. PZC’s Andrea Moraa also shared her expertise, giving a tasty coffee talk during each session.

Meanwhile, the Dance Centre of Kenya (DCK) staged two evenings of contemporary dance entitled ‘Tribute: Celebrating International Dance’. On Friday evening, DCK’s artistic director Cooper Rust brought her students to perform at Purdy Arms, and on Saturday, they danced again at Braeburn Theatre.

The ‘International’ dimension of the show came in the shape of choreographers since three out of the six who created dances were either Dutch (Caroline Slot Wamaya), Jamaican (Natasha Frost) or American (Stephanie Wilkins).

The other three were Kenyans. There was Michael Wamaya who co-founded the slum-based dance centre, Ghetto Exposed (GE) with his wife Caroline Slot. He continues to teach underprivileged kids and was among the top ten finalists up for the Global Teacher Prize 2017. He choreographed Leso for almost 20 DCK students.

Willy Kwach, who specialty is teaching hip hop, jazz and urban contemporary dance at DCK choreographed ‘Behind Curtains’. And Francis Muturi, a GE graduate, designed The Work Song which he also performed with fellow GE grads, hip hop dancers David Kinuthia and Elvison Elodanga.

The height of contemporary choreography came with Stephanie Wilkins’, ‘Enlightenment’, which was a four-part dance featuring practically all of DCK’s star students and meant to trace dancers’ progressive development from novice to professional.

But however exciting this contemporary dance showcase was, it was still slightly disappointing not to see even a small bit of ballet. After all, it’s Cooper Rust’s superlative ballet background and teaching skills that brought DCK into being. But then it’s also true that DCK has already transformed many young Kenyans’ lives, be they dancers of ballet, hip hop or urban contemporary.


BY margaretta wa Gacheru (posted march 29, 2017)

What better way to celebrate the Easter season than by attending the award-winning musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.

It’s been years since Nairobi had the chance to watch Andrew Lloyd Webber’s modern musical classic. But be assured that even if someone saw it years back, the upcoming rendition opening April 7th and running through April 17th at Kenya National Theatre will be a show that’s dazzlingly different.

One reason is the current star-studded all-Kenyan cast (who might not have born the last time JCS was staged) includes seasoned professionals like Dan Aceda as Jesus, Mugambi Nthiga as Judas and Mkamzee Mwatela playing Herod!

Mary Magdalene’s role is being played by a relative newcomer to the music scene, Miriam Nyokabi. And practically all the rest of the cast are students at the Performing Arts Studio (PAS) which was opened less than a year ago in October but already has more than 80 students.

Stuart Nash, the show’s producer and director is also the founder of PAS. No stranger to Nairobi’s theatre scene, Stuart initially was called to Kenya in 2014 to direct the musical ‘Oliver’ for the Potterhouse School.

He went on to direct ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat’ for Potterhouse the following year, and ‘Annie’ less than a year ago.

But now he’s got an even more fulfilling partnership with the Kenya National Theatre and its umbrella organization, Kenya Cultural Centre.

“We agreed I would stage three shows a year [for KCC] while KCC would give me and the Studio a venue for rehearsing, performing and even operating the Studio,” says the life-long thespian.

“I was performing on the West End [of London] in Oliver at age 9,” Nash recalls, noting his mother placed him in a performing arts school for both primary and secondary school training. As a consequence, he’s acted in countless West End and Fridge productions, everything from ‘City of Angels’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’ to the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ and ‘Martin Guerre’.

Nash is also an acclaimed composer of orchestral music, including the world premiere musical score for the stage production of Brideshead Revisited and Wuthering Heights.

Surprisingly, he had never directed before he arrived in Kenya, but that didn’t matter to Potterhouse people since his reputation as a West End actor had preceded him. “I’d never actually studied directing [from an academic perspective],” he says modestly. But he worked for years with world-class directors, which clearly qualified him to not only produce and direct shows, but also to start his own drama school.

At the same time, Nash works closely with KCC’s CEO Edwin Gichangi and with Kenyatta University’s Theatre & Film Department Chair John Mugubi. Plus as he arrived in Kenya just in time to remember the 400th anniversary since William Shakespeare’s birth, he was invited to liaise with the British Council to help them produce and direct the show meant to celebrate four centuries since the British Bard’s death.

Noting that most of the cast of JCS are between 20 and 30, Nash said that’s about the same age range of most of the 25 members of the Kenya National Youth Orchestra which is busy rehearsing Webber’s marvelous musical score.

One of the brightest long-term benefits of Nash being here with his professional shows and Performing Arts Studio is that he’s bound to help revive the public’s interest in the National Theatre and also offer fresh new opportunities for Kenyan youth to study and star in shows in days to come.    

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted  March 28, 2017)

If fashion photographers are few in Kenya, then there’s at least one who’s moving up and out so fast that she needs to be noted and acknowledged now among her fellow Kenyans before she takes off to do photo-shoots of ‘haute couture’ in Milan, London, Paris or New York.
Thandiwe Muriu may not yet be a ‘household name’ the same way as local artists like Eric Wainaina and Sauti Sol are. But it won’t be long before she’s more widely known, especially among her own generation of globalized Kenyan youth in their twenties and early thirties.

For Thandiwe is only 26 and yet she’s already in high demand among the country’s up and coming fashion designers and ‘fashionista’ trend-setters.

It’s hard to believe Thandiwe’s been a professional photographer for the last ten years. But it’s no wonder once you know she started to play with her father’s Nikon camera when she was barely out of a baby cradle. Her father did photography as a hobby, and didn’t mind showing his little girl how to hold his camera and even how to snap shots of any and everything.

She says she’s been doing that ever since.

All through primary and secondary school, she was snapping photographs whenever she had a moment. And once she opened a Facebook account, she started posting her best images there.

It was through her Facebook page that she gained the public’s attention, and by 16, she got a call to do a commission from someone who’d been following her posted photos and liked them so much that he gave her a job.

“I didn’t have a clue how to value my work or how much to charge, but I ended up getting Sh3000, which I was really happy about,” Thandiwe told Business Daily when we met in Yaya Centre, just around the corner from her studio.

From that point on, her destiny was sealed and she was told she now qualified to be considered a ‘professional.’

But my first encounter with Thandiwe was at an art exhibition curated by The Art Space’s Wambui Kamiru-Collymore. The show just closed at the Lord Erroll Restaurant, but in a sense, this was rather like a ‘coming out’ show for her, but not so much as a professional fashion photographer but as a funky and fascinating contemporary Kenyan artist.

Sharing the ground floor walls of the Runda-based restaurant (which is quickly becoming a showcase for ‘pop-up’ art exhibitions), Thandiwe’s brightly colored images were hung side by side of one other funky photographer, Osborne Macharia and two young award-winning artists, Elias Mungor’a and Aron Buroya, both of whose art has won recognition and a bit of cash at annual Manjano County Art competitions.

What makes her photos feel more like slightly surreal art rather than photography is the way she blends color and design with a beautiful face which, despite being subtly concealed behind sun-protecting shades, seems to be looking at you so directly, so boldly that her look seems to demand that you look right back.

At Lord Erroll, Thandiwe’s photos were too few, only about four. Even so, they were captivating and confirmed that this young woman has an eye not only for fashion but for creative expression which is bound to take her places she is soon to discover.


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted march 27th 2017)
        (a revised and improved version of a story a posted here a week ago)

    Suzanne Gachukia and Afro-Fusion artist Wyre paired up for YouTube music video

Nyota Ndogo performed to an adoring crowd last weekend at the Koroga Music Festival at the Nairobi Arboretum.

The petite Mombasa-based singer-songwriter will perform again tomorrow night at the Carnivore at the launch of Suzanne Gachukia’s long-awaited anniversary album, entitled ‘ZannaZiki All-Stars Vol. 1’.

Produced on Suzanne’s music label, Sub Sahara, the album features some of Kenya’s most popular musicians, including everyone from Afro-Fusion artist Wyre (who sings ‘Kondo Gakwe’ with Suzanne), Eric Wainaina, June Gachui, Abbi and Peter Odera to Ian Mbugua, Mumbi Kaigwa, Bwana Ngoma and Nyota Ndogo among others.  

On the album, they’ll all be singing original compositions by Suzanne, many of which have been award-winning hits over the four decades since this pioneering artist began making music.

Many of the artists on the album will also be at the Carnivore tomorrow night. They’ll be there both to sing and to support this iconic woman who assembled her classic anniversary album with ‘a little help from [her] friends’ to paraphrase the well-known Beatles’ refrain.

In advance of ZinnaZiki All-stars Volume 1’s release, Suzanne and Wyre launched their YouTube music video as a way of whetting the public’s appetite for the album.

In fact, Suzanne has been out of the public limelight for nearly a decade, She’s been living abroad with her diplomat-husband, Richard Opembe who is currently Kenya’s Ambassador to Ireland.

But according to musicians like Nyota Ndogo (aka Mwanaisha Abdallah Mohamed), Suzanne’s trail-blazing role in advancing Kenya’s music scene makes her a ‘living legend’ and a ‘role model’ who cannot easily be forgotten.

Wyre himself says he grew up listening to her music. “She was an early inspiration to me and many others in the music industry. That’s why I was excited to collaborate with her on the remix of Kondo Gakwe,” he said. It’s a sentiment shared by virtually all the artists on the album.

Nyota Ndogo, who’ll be singing Suzanne’s hit single ‘Nipe Nikupe’ tomorrow night, recalls the way she used to watch Suzanne on TV while she was still working as a housegirl in Mombasa.

“I wanted to be just like her,” confessed  Mwanaisha.

“I used to take a pencil and pretend it was a microphone. Then I’d sing along with her karaoke-style,” she added.

After the British music producer, Andrew ‘Madeba’ Busnell ‘discovered’ Mwanaisha’s musical talent and produced her first album, he brought her to Nairobi to perform at a music concert. That was when she first met Suzanne.

“I told her how she’d inspired me and how much I loved her music,” she said.

Ever since then, Mwanaisha said just the mention of Suzanne opened musical doors for her. She’s been indebted to her ever since.

So the opportunity to be on Suzanne’s 40th anniversary album is an honor for Nyota Ndogo, and all the other musicians on the remix.

‘Suzanne already has the musical line up for Volume 2 of ZinnaZiki All-Stars,” said Sarah Franklyn, a fellow musician who met Suzanne in Dublin and has been promoting the album ever since.

“Volume II should be out later this year and it will feature Eric Wainaina, June Gachui and Juma as well as the late Achieng Abura,” she added.

Sunday, 26 March 2017


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 27, 2017)

Needless to say that Dickson Kaloki has ‘come a long way’ from his humble beginnings when he was fresh out of secondary school and signing up for a studio at the GoDown Art Centre.

Kaloki’s currently having an exhibition at Kuona Trust, a place that seems to be thriving despite the former director having been dismissed, the mystery of the missing millions still unsolved, and the resident artists taking up collective responsibility for Kuona’s continuing survival.

What’s clear is that Kuona has a lot of goodwill, and artists like Kaloki know it’s a great place to have a solo show even though the gallery is relatively small.

The garden is spacious and the encircling container-studios were practically all well-lit and open-doored on the artist’s opening night when art-lovers came in droves to celebrate Kaloki’s success.

Dressed in a designer suit created especially for him, the artist may well have broken records last Friday night at his opening. But it wasn’t so much for the size, scale, stunning colors or even the strange squares and rectangular shapes that one could see in every one of his paintings. It was all the red ‘Sold’ stickers that were already affixed below most of his large canvases.

Noting that nothing had been sold before 6pm when the show technically opened, Kaloki confessed he’d received a number of calls from overseas before sundown which required those red dots to appear.

The dots were troubling to a few of the artist’s ‘collectors’ who could be heard complaining that a particular painting was meant to be theirs, not some anonymous absentee buyer’s!

But Kaloki remains humble in spite of his growing fandom. It helps that he’s exhibited everywhere from Germany, Denmark and the UK as well as in many of the popular exhibition spaces in Nairobi (from the Talisman and Que Pasa to Village Market, Nairobi National Museum and even in ambassadorial homes).

In all these places, he’s made friends and admirers of his art which has gone through countless transitions since he first startled us at his GoDown studio with his lovely ‘canal’ paintings. One couldn’t guess initially that they were sewage canals in Mukuru or Mathare. They looked more like narrow waterways found in a city like Venice, Italy.

Today, Kaloki still draws inspiration from the slums and has no shame in so doing. But now his art suggests he’s got deeper commentaries to make on people’s lives and psyches. His storytelling skills have sharpened even as his art has become more semi-abstract.

If one only looks at the way Kaloki has grown from painting mainly mono-chromatic hues to now blending glorious life-affirming shades on a single canvas, the colors could be reason enough to want to have a Kaloki painting on one’s wall.

But if someone is curious as to why every face (however nondescript) is surrounded with a geometric shape, then one may recall the advice of innovators and motivational speakers. They tell us to think ‘out of the box’ if we want to make progress and fearlessly discover and explore new vistas and possibilities in our life.

The irony of Kaloki’s show is in what he says is the most important piece of the exhibition. It’s a white box that one can easily open, only to find a mirror inside and the sight of one’s self reflected back at the viewer.

Perhaps Kaloki’s telling us to ‘dig yourself’ and check to see that you too are not stuck seeing the world from inside your own narrow box.

Friday, 24 March 2017


By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 24, 2017)

Twenty years ago, Dana Seidenberg was looking for a place to live when a friend brought her to an overgrown garden on Loresho Ridge. Nestled deep inside the garden (which hadn’t been tamed for many months) he introduced her to an old dilapidated stone house that had been deserted and apparently left to rot.

To her the house looked like a ‘shipwreck’ but to her friend, Kimani Gacheru, the place was more like a ‘tabla rasa’ that could be rehabbed and designed according to her needs, dreams and specifications.

Plus, as he was a part-time furniture maker as well as a quantity surveyor, Kimani promised to help her make the place a home uniquely her own.

Dana couldn’t resist. So over the next 20 years she not only rehabbed the house with Kimani’s help. She filled it with all her favorite things, starting with her books, all of which are carefully shelved and found in practically every room of her two-story house.

Lined up encyclopedically in polished wooden bookcases, most of which were made by Kimani, her books are just one of the many items that make her home uniquely her own.

But Kimani’s contribution to the house, besides the beautiful rehabbing of both the floors and the vaulted ceilings in solid wood, is an array of home furnishings made from wooden tree stumps and roots. They include a slew of sturdy dark wooden tables and chairs which add an earthy elegance to both the interiors as well as the ground floor veranda.

It’s in that veranda, which leads into the front hall and the large ‘dystopic’ painting by the late Omosh Kindeh, that one gets the first hint of Dana’s affinity for organic art. For Kimani isn’t the only artist whose works Dana treasures.

She’s got a special affinity for wood sculptures by Elijah Ogira and Irene Wanjiru, which one will find not only on Dana’s front patio but literally all over the house.

She’s also got one room full of indigenous musical instruments which she inherited from her late husband, Solomon…..

But Solomon’s not the only one from whom Dana’s inherited a slew of lovely things. Both her grandmothers left her beautiful antiques which she discretely displays, such as the sterling silver teapot and cutlery which come out for special guests.

Otherwise, Dana takes pride in having designed most of her sofas and bedroom sets in sleek and simple styles, assembled to her taste by carpenters in Dagoretti. For upholstery she’s used beautiful hand-woven textiles, most of which come from West Africa, such as mud cloth from Mali. The fabrics are stitched locally and shaped into cushions which enhance the décor of every upstairs bedroom and cover the wicker sofas as well.

Dana admits she’s loved shopping for home furnishings which are hand-made, be they baskets, textiles, ceramic tea sets, sisal carpets or hand-carved sculptures by Ogira and Wanjiru.

‘Having grown up in the West [the US] where most home furnishings are machine-made, I love the opportunity I’ve had to acquire items made by hand,” she says.

The one room where machines are conspicuous as well as utilitarian is Dana’s kitchen. That’s where she’s got the most modern gas stove and double-doored fridge as well as an electric blender that she uses every day to make fresh juices which are part of her daily health and fitness regime.

So while her home may not win awards for being ‘modern’ or Afro-chic, it’s a place that reflects the multiple worlds that Dana has occupied over the years. It’s also the space that her friend Kimani foresaw would be a home uniquely her own.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru

It was a little more than two years ago that Jimmy Ogongo and Michael Soi headed to the Venice Biennale in Italy to size up the most glorious global art event happening in one of the most beautiful cities In the world.

They also went to see what exactly they and other Kenyan artists had missed by not being in the 2015 Biennale. There was supposed to have been a ‘Kenyan Pavilion’ that year. But once artists discovered it was being filled with mostly Chinese artists’ works and organized by a Malindi-based Italian, they mobilized to stop the bogus ‘Kenyan’ stand which had nothing to do with indigenous African contemporary art.

It had become a struggle between the artists and the Kenya Government, [including the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Hassan Wario], since such a scheme could not have taken off without government endorsement. Ultimately, the Kenya Pavilion was cancelled. But Ogongo and Soi went to Venice anyway to ensure such a travesty never happened again.

Immediately following their self-funded trip, they wrote a comprehensive report addressed to government. They wanted to do everything professionally and their efforts apparently paid off. The government’s response was positive. It was to assure artists such a mishap would never happen again. They also promised that in 2017, there would be a Kenya Pavilion replete with Kenyans’ art.

 “It was with that assurance in mind that we went straight to work once the 2015 Biennale ended,” Ogongo told BD recently. They prepared two well-researched documents addressed to government covering everything from a history of the Venice Biennale to detailed requirements, including a budget, to ensure Kenyan contemporary art would be well represented in Venice. Even the artists chosen by Pavilion curator Ogongo to exhibit in Venice were in the second report. They were Peterson Kamwathi, Paul Onditi, Richard Kimathi, Arlene Wandera, and Kenyan-German team of Mwangi-Hutter.

They submitted both reports before the end of 2015 to ensure there’d be plenty of time to prepare the very first authentic Kenya Pavilion.

But the Government’s silence has been deafening. The deadlines for confirming Kenya’s participation with Biennale organizers passed weeks, even months ago.

“There’s less than two months till the Biennale opens in May,” observed Ogonga who has done his best to remain optimistic the Government will ultimately come through. Yet without passage of the budget, which includes everything from artists’ airfares to rent for Kenya Pavilion space, this year will become another heartbreaker and shame on the Ministry of Culture.



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 21, 2017)

Evelyn College of Design is celebrating its 40th anniversary all this year with a series of panels, guest speakers, women empowerment workshops and fashion shows culminating in a Gala event in early December.

The pioneer fashion and design College was the fulfillment of a dream for its founder, Evelyn Mungai-Eldon who from the age of 10 had hoped she could one day start a school associated with fashion, design and beauty.

But Evelyn was never one to dream without doing something about it. Having been born a few years before Kenyan Independence, there were few career paths for young women to follow back then. Yet Evelyn has never allowed limits to constrain her indefinitely.

She was fortunate to come from a family that believed in educating girls as well as boys.

Nonetheless, it was still a time when educated girls either became nurses, teachers or secretaries, not pioneers in the fields of design or higher education.

“At the time when we were starting the school, virtually no one [among Kenyans] knew about design. That’s why my first teachers at the College were practically all expatriates,” she said.

Yet before they came, Evelyn had begun teaching in a room on Tom Mboya Street where she had previously been running her first professional business. Speedway Personal Selections, the first human resource recruitment agency owned by an African.

So while the College’s beginnings were ‘humble’, Evelyn quickly realized that for it to grown it had to move. “We found a house Riara Road where the College grew rapidly over the next 20 years,” she said.

Yet from the start, Evelyn had a knack for business, especially for building a brand and venturing into new arenas of enterprise.

One arena was media. She started Presence magazine in the 1970s, using it as a platform to both promote the College and advocate for the empowerment of women. She ran to publication for a good ten years, even as the College attracted aspiring designers from all over Africa and beyond.

The other entrepreneurial arena that Evelyn got into was property development. After 20 years, she realized the College had outgrown Raira Road, especially after her expanding the school’s curriculum to include photography, interior design and art.

Coincidentally, she realized the land values along Raira Road were skyrocketing and it was time re-design her Raira land. She found land for the school in Lavington, even as she developed luxury homes where the college had previously been.

Surprising, becoming a property developer came quite easily to Evelyn. The skill has also benefited the college where she’s rehabbed an old colonial stone home, built well-equipped classrooms, serene outdoor study areas and even constructed a hostel where her non-Kenyan students can stay.

Forty years have whizzed by, but not without the local, regional and even global communities recognizing that Evelyn’s not only a pioneer in education and fashion design, but also in entrepreneurship and concern for women’s empowerment, especially African women.

The range of awards, accolades and prestigious appointments that Evelyn has earned over the years could fill volumes.  She’s been invited to become the first woman serving on several high-powered platforms, from the African Business Round Table (initiated by AfBD) to the Africa Project Development Facility of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to the International Advisory Panel of the World Islamic Economic Forum.

And locally, Evelyn became the first woman member of the previously all-male Rotary Club of Nairobi. She subsequently was elected the first woman president of her club in 2001.

So 2017 is bound to be the year that Evelyn’s pioneering leadership will be recognized not only within the global business world but also at home, among her fellow Kenyans.

Monday, 20 March 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted march 20th 2017)

Nyota Ndogo (aka Mwanaisha Abdallah Mohamed) is not only one of Kenya’s leading songstresses and one of the stars who performed to an adoring audience last Sunday afternoon at the Koroga Music Festival at the Nairobi Arboretum.

The acclaimed Mombasa-based singer-songwriter is also one of the many popular Kenyan music artists who’s featured on the ‘ZannaZiki All-Stars Vol. 1’ album being launched on March 28th at the Carnivore.

The album, coming out on Suzanne Gachukia’s new label, Sub Sahara Entertainment, is featuring everyone from Ian Mbugua, Mumbi Kaigwa and Camp Mulla to Dan Chizi, Bwana Ngoma, Abbi and Peter Odera among others.

It also includes the popular Afro-fusion artist Wyre singing together with Suzanne on the music video ‘Konbo Gakwa’ which was just released on YouTube late last week.
      Suzanne with Wyre are on YouTube. They perform tonight, March 28 at the launch of Suzanne's anniversary album

Speaking about his musical collaboration with Suzanne, Wyre said he’d grown up listening to her music. “She was an early inspiration to me and many others in the music industry. That’s why I was excited to collaborate with her on the remix of Kondo Gakwe.”

What all the artists on the album have in common is that every one of them is singing a hit song originally composed by Suzanne.

The album itself is meant to mark the 40th anniversary since Suzanne first started making music. She just turned 50 and is still going strong. Indeed, in addition to founding and running her Sub Sahara music label and assembling some of Kenya’s finest musicians to perform on ‘ZannaZiki All-stars Vol. 1’, she’s also been living abroad and playing the part of ‘diplomat’s wife’ while working alongside her husband, Richard Opembe, Kenya’s Ambassador to Ireland.

Suzanne will return to Nairobi especially for the album’s launch. She and most of the artists featured on the album will be there that night. A number of them will also perform songs featured on the album. So it should be a fabulous night.

Nyota Ndogo is one of those who will definitely sing Suzanne’s hit single ‘Nipe Nikupe’ at the Carnivore. She told Saturday Nation she wouldn’t miss this opportunity to perform with her musical inspiration, a musician she calls a ‘living legend’ and a ‘role model’.

“I used to watch Suzanne on TV while I was still working as a housemaid in Mombasa and I wanted to be just like her,” confessed Nyota Ndogo (Mwanaisha).

“I used to take a pencil and pretend it was a microphone. Then I’d sing along with her karaoke-style,” she added.

After the British music producer, Andrew Busnell (aka ‘Madeba’) produced Mwanaisha first album, he suggested she come with him to Nairobi to perform at a music concert. She agreed and that’s where she first met Suzanne.

“I told her how she’d inspired me and how much I loved her music,” she said.

Ever since then, Mwanaisha says just the mention of Suzanne opened musical doors for her. She’s been indebted to her ever since.

So the opportunity to be on Suzanne’s 40th anniversary album is an honor for Nyota Ndogo, and all the other musicians on the remix.

‘Suzanne already has the musical line up for Volume 2 of ZinnaZiki All-Stars,” said Sarah Franklyn, a fellow musician who met Suzanne in Dublin and has been a close friend ever since. “It should be out later this year and feature everyone from Erc Wainaina and June Gachui to Achieng Abura and Juma,” she added.

Friday, 17 March 2017


By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 17, 2017)

While the secondary school finalists were performing last Friday in the Nairobi Region County Drama Festival at Lenana School, one had to be impressed.

It wasn’t just 14 schools represented ten of Nairobi’s 11 sub-counties that day with immense enthusiasm, energy, focus and clear appreciation for the opportunity afforded them by the drama festival.

It was also that during the four days preceding that Friday, no less than 45 schools performed. And many of those, such as State House, Lenana, Parklands Arya and Eastleigh High among many others, acted, sang or danced in several items.

There were seven genres to choose from, including the play, comedy, narrative, solo verse, choral verse, traditional dance and modern dance. So that a school like Precious Blood didn’t just stage a narrative and solo verse, but also a choral verse and modern dance. Even a humble school like Nembu Girls in Dagoretti staged a comedy as well as a cultural dance and a modern dance. That’s how seriously young Kenyans are taking their participation in the Drama Festival.

But just imagine that in nearly all of Kenya’s 47 counties, comparable festivals were underway last week. And even if they weren’t quite as energized or enthusiastic as were the Nairobi youth, just remember that the Drama Festival now operates in both primary and secondary schools as well as in colleges and universities.

And all this energy will be focused next month on Kisumu where the National Finals of the Drama Festival will take place from April 8th through 18th.

So my simple question is why, when both the teachers and school administrators as well as the youth from say ages 5 to 25 and above love to actively participate in this annual exercise (which they don’t get graded on and don’t necessarily make money through), why is drama and the performing arts generally recognized, publicized and promoted more widely by the Government, the media and even corporate Kenya?

We can be grateful for awards events such as those upcoming in Kisumu. But also those that recognize theatrical talent such as the Sanaa Theatre Awards, the Kalasha awards and even the recent Riverwood awards which were held a fortnight ago at Kenya National Theatre.

Given that all this wealth of rich creative capacity is being developed and refined by what Antonio Gramsci called ‘organic intellectuals’, it’s seems a pity that all our performing artists aren’t taken more seriously. One way that could happen is for the corporate sector, and even the Government, got more involved in helping to finance filmmakers, thespians and musicians. After all, fortunes have been made in Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood, so why not what “wood” Kenyan artists would like to be called, such as Riverwood.

The winners of the Nairobi county drama festival included:

Wednesday, 15 March 2017


By margaretta wa Gacheru

Two of the titans in Nairobi theatre were staging shows this past weekend just across town from one another.

There was Festival of Creative Arts (FCA) staging Tit for Tat at the Louis Leakey Auditorium and Heartstrings Entertainment putting on Don’t Disturb at Alliance Francaise.

Both companies produced comedies that had similar themes, namely wooing in male-female relationships. Nonetheless, one of them (Don’t Disturb) was more family-friendly (and thus could probably have easily passed an Ezekiel Mutua ‘morality test’). Meanwhile, the other (Tit for Tat) was more frivolous (and most likely would have failed if they’d been nabbed by the not-yet-established ‘morality police’).

For those who may not know, Mr Mutua is CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board who is trying to get a bill passed through Parliament which would regulate not just films but also plays, determining if they could be staged, or not.

The reason Tit for Tat might have a challenge if somebody establishes a law regulating public morality is because the play is all about cheating, cheating by the father on his wife and vice versa as well as cheating by their daughter on her parents with her boyfriend and even the boyfriend cheats on his girl.

Don’t Disturb also has a cheater but in the case of Nick Kwach’s character, he’s only playing a game to get the girl. Pretending to ignore his god-mother’s attractive daughter, he’s secretly keen on her but wants to find out if he’ll wound her feminine ego. As it turns out, she’s not impressed by this apparently egotistic man and switches off her attraction for him. Ultimately, he’s charmed by her authenticity and their relationship blossoms in the end.

Both plays rely on their comedians to move their stories’ forward and add the levity, lively humor, charm and combustible energy that makes the shows a success. Tit for Tat relies on Timothy Ndisi while Don’t Disturb has Cyprian Osoro and Victor Nyaati playing clever fools.

All three play house help, but despite their subordinate status, all three are the characters who add the chili powder and savory sauce to make both shows deliciously funny, be they frivolous, family friend or none of the above.

Clearly Nairobi audiences have a taste for both theatre troupes and come out dutifully for their shows. It’s understandable since both produce plays that may be light-weight and undemanding intellectually, but they are invariably well-rehearsed, impeccably timed and the actors always work together as a well-oiled ensemble.

One only feels disappointed that these titans don’t put up more demanding productions, especially now that the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival has rolled around with entertaining plays that also grapple with timely social topics like corruption and climate change. But then if they did the same, their fans might very well fall away.

Vagina. Monologues thrill a Full-House crowd at Kenya National Theatre

By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 15 march 2017

Mumbi Kaigwa created quite a firestorm in 2003 when she first staged the all-female production of Eve Ensler’s ‘Vagina Monologues’ in Nairobi at ISK.

At the same time, Mumbi raised heaps of cash which she then gave away to a Women’s Shelter, a safe haven for battered and bruised women who’d run away from domestic violence. This year, the proceeds from the same production (with a somewhat different cast) which was staged this past Wednesday night at Kenya National Theatre will go to an NGO assisting some of the most destitute and dispossessed of Kenya’s female population, widows and orphans. It’s called ‘Come together widows and orphans’ (

Back in 2003, Mumbi had been reviled by some, but regaled by others who’d seen her as upholding several central aspects of freedom for women. The first was women’s daring determination to speak openly about the tabooed topic of sex, including the ‘never-to-be-named’ woman’s private part!

The brilliance of Ensler’s play of course is that it’s based not solely on her personal perspective as a feminist whose script, first staged in New York City in 1996, has subsequently been picked, performed and seen by countless numbers of women, girls and men all over the world.

The show is primarily based on hundreds of interviews with all types of women coming from a myriad of ethnic, class, religious, racial, age and gender backgrounds. For instance, one 72 year old woman confessed in her interview that she had never in her whole life experienced an orgasm. In her touching testimony, sensitively shared by Lorna Irungu, the woman revealed that her abstinence was due to a disastrous encounter she’d had with a guy while still in her teens. She’d never been ‘turned on’ before, but when it happened, his ridicule and public abuse was so traumatizing that she never got close to a man again.

Like so many women interviewed, she was terribly ill-informed about her sexuality. Others, on the other hand, were wildly experienced and included delicate details in their interviews; while others shared stories of abuse and discrimination. But the show as a whole ran the gamut of emotional agony and sexual ecstasy, pain and pleasure, all the while being extremely informative, enlightening and wonderfully entertaining.

Some of the most delicious and amusing moments in the show were shared through the testimonies of sexually well-informed women and delightfully dramatized in monologues given by Nini Wacera and Aleya Kassam.

The play itself is filled with women’s personal testimonies, which explains why the script is shared as a series of monologues. These were dutifully and dramatically read on Wednesday night by a splendidly gifted group of women, including June Gachui, Lorna Irungu, Patricia Kihoro, Silvia Cassini, Patricia Amira, Aleya Kassam, Cathi Ngugi, Mo Pearson, Hana Kefela, Bea Imathiu, Nini Wacera, Kaz, Nana Wanjau, Shazz Nderitu, Savane Kemoli, Wacango Kimani, Seroun Wang’ombe, Malini Morzaria and Mumbi Kaigwa.

Performed to a full-house crowd whose seats had been booked solid more than 24 hours before Wednesday’s dazzling performance, the monologues were staged as less of a formal production and more like an intimate conversation among women about their personal experiences, including their own sexuality. Speaking sometimes as soloists, or as trios or quartets in the front row of high chairs, the women otherwise sat comfortably behind the speakers on colorful sofas provided by The White Elephant Trading Company.

Now the topic of women’s sexuality is still a tabooed topic in many local communities. At the same time, there has definitely been a seismic shift in attitudes among women and girls (and some men) who now feel freer to discuss issues related to female sexuality than ever before. The monologues (which Mumbi has staged several times since 2003) themselves have played a transformative role in demystifying the topic which for centuries has been shrouded in ignorance and cultural superstitions, ensuring women and girls have been left in the dark about their own anatomy.  

So the other aspect of women’s freedom that comes to light in the Monologues relates to women’s ability to no longer be passive recipients of everything from domestic violence, FMG to sex. The show itself is a resounding confirmation of women’s freedom to explore and discover their limitless capacities not simply for sexual pleasures (as well as the pains of child birth), but also as human beings with the confidence to rise up and claim their agency, identity and enlightenment.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Seven Sudanese Artists in an Unprecedented Exhibition

Paintings by seven Sudanese artists on display currently at Red Hill Gallery are just a fraction of the entire collection of the Gallery’s Sudanese art.

Hellmuth Rossler-Musch first started collecting the works of Abushariaa Ahmed when he and his Dutch wife Erica were living in Kampala, and so was the artist. Hellmuth quickly acquired a taste for Abushariaa’s dreamy and colorful, mixed media paintings which are so characteristic of what’s now known as the ‘Khartoum School’ of art.

The Khartoum School was started in 1960 by three artists working in Khartoum University’s Department of Fine Art. They wanted to create art that synthesized indigenous Sudanese imagery, symbols and icons with Western art styles and trends. They succeeded in influencing several generations of Sudanese artists, especially ones who passed through the university.

All seven artists whose works have been curated by Hellmuth for this Red Hill show spent time at Khartoum University. A number of them also passed through Kenya with at least two of the seven still working here in Nairobi. Abushariaa was an artist in residence for a time at Paa ya Paa Art Centre in the 1990s, while both El Tayeb Dawelbeit and Hussein Halfava are still here. Salah Elmur spends some of his time in Kenya, some back in Khartoum and the rest either on tour or living in Cairo with his artist wife Soaud. Hassan Salim moved to South Africa, while Issam Hafiez went back to Khartoum. The only one of the seven who passed on is Noman Fari, two paintings of which are in the Red Hill show, on loan from El Tayeb.

Hellmuth only has six paintings by Abushariaa in this exhibition, none of which are for sale, since they are among Hellmuth’s most treasured artworks. Admitting to Business Daily that at one time he had around 70 paintings by the artist, but sold several so that now, his stash is short of around a dozen.   

At the time that he bought most of Abushariaa’s art, the painter was living in Kenya and selling his work through Sarang Gallery which sold art at relatively affordable prices. Today, the artist’s paintings are worth many times more than what Hellmuth originally paid. Abushariaa subsequently went abroad, studying and exhibiting around Europe and today is one of the best known Sudanese painters in the world.

Of the seven painters, only the artworks of El Tayeb and Hussein Halfava are for sale. The rest are part of Hellmuth and Erica’s private collection. But this should not discourage connoisseurs of East African art from going to see this important show before it closes near the end of March. In the past, Nairobi has had solo shows for Sudanese artists, but never has the city seen artworks by so many superb Sudanese painters until now.

Red Hill Gallery’s next exhibition opening is in early March. It will feature new art by Onyis Martin, who’s just back from Australia preceded by a major exhibition in the UK. Onyis is a rising star!


By margaretta wa Gacheru

There’s much to be said about Kenya’s thriving art scene. But one big factor that’s not always underscored is that not only Kenyan, but East African artists broadly are making an immense contribution to the vibrancy of our Nairobi art scene especially.

That point was well illustrated last month when the ‘Modern and Contemporary East African Art Auction’ drew attention to the brilliance of artists from Ethiopian, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda as well as from Kenya. Sales from the auction totaled more than KSh19 million, which is just one indicator of the growing interest in East African art.

It’s also an indicator that Nairobi is increasingly being seen as the artistic hub of the region. Another sign is the sort of show underway in the city right now. One is the group exhibition of seven Sudanese artists at Red Hill Gallery which its curator, Hellmuth Rossler-Musch says will be extended a week beyond the official closing date of March 19th. He added it won’t interrupt the opening of Onyis Martin’s solo show which will open early next month.

The other sign of regional artists contributing to Nairobi’s thriving art scene is the ‘Artist Talks’ that have been taking place over the last month at Brush tu Art Studio. The most recent one happened last Saturday when the Ugandan artist Lukwago Saad spoke about his artistic evolution. Preceding Lukwago was another Ugandan painter, Kasagga Jude, and before him was the Tanzanian sculptor Safina Kimbokotu who gave an Art Talk at Brush tu which was streamed live as part of a British Institute of East Africa program on Nairobi.

The other venue where East African artists are often exhibited is at Banana Hill Gallery where currently, works by the Tanzanian artist Haji Chilonga are on display until the end of March. Banana Hill’s Shine Tani has specialized in reaching out to invite a wide range of mainly Ugandan and Tanzanian artists, many of whom have already exhibited at his gallery. Among them are Lukwago, Kasagga and many others.

And last night, Goethe Institute also confirmed Nairobi’s status as a regional centre for the arts. With its new program, Artistic Encounters, curated by writer Zukiswa Wanner, we just saw the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor team up with the Zambian poet Koleka Putuma to shape an amazing evening of both visual and poetic charm. Chaired by Dr Wandia Njoya of Daystar University, we look forward to more Pan African events at Goethe.

Red Hill Gallery’s exhibition of seven Sudanese contemporary artists is not to be missed. It includes only a fraction of Hellmuth’s complete collection of works by painters influenced by the ‘Khartoum School’. The School itself was started in 1960 out of University of Khartoum’s Fine Art Department by three artists committed to creating artworks that synthesized indigenous Sudanese imagery and modern Western art trends.  

All seven artists represented at Red Hill studied at University of Khartoum. They include Eltayeb Dawalbeit and Hussein Halfawi, both of whom live in Nairobi, Abushariaa Ahmed who currently stays in Kampala, Salah Elmur who’s exhibited in Nairobi severally, Hassan Salim who’s based in South Africa, the late Noman Fari, and Issam Hafiez who’s back in Khartoum.

It’s Hafiez’ diptych, ‘The Liberation of Women’ that I enjoyed most in the exhibition. It wasn’t so much the title that appeals as Hafiez’s figures, blended together in muted hues of green, that express so much joy, freedom and vitality .

All seven artists have distinctive styles despite their shared background. So it’s well worth a trip up Limuru-way to see the Sudanese show at Red Hill.

Some art lovers also find trekking to Buruburu an unsettling journey. But it too was worth spending an afternoon last Saturday with a mix of East African artists who’d come to hear Lukwago Saad speak about his evolution as an artist. He and the other two artists-in-residence will have a proper exhibition from April 8th at Kuona Trust.

Both Lukwago and Kasagga have exhibited at Banana Hill Gallery as have a wide array of other East Africans. Shine has done laudable work by going directly to the artists and inviting them to come share their artworks with Kenyans.

Alan Donovan is another one who intends to enhance the regional appeal of Nairobi’s art scene by bringing works a show of some of Nigeria’s finest artists to the Nairobi Gallery. Before that happens however, he’ll curate a contemporary Kenyan artists’ exhibition featuring Boniface Maina, Michael Musyoka and David Thuku from April 18th.

Finally, the annual Manjano visual art exhibition at Village Market opens March 18th and 25th featuring first ‘professional’, then ‘student’ artists respectively.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 March 2017)

Wanny Angerer describes herself as a Dance and Music Therapist, but she is so much more.

This charming Afro-Honduran arts-activist has a knack for meaningfully mobilizing artists, women and even children to recognize their talents and share them wherever they can.

One way that she’s done this is by creating ‘Women of the World Talk and Act, Nairobi’ in 2015. That was also the year that she launched ‘Cultural Stopovers’ as a means of connecting cultural events in Nairobi and giving them a higher public profile.

Her arts-activism in Kenya started the year before when she registered ‘Moving Cultures’, the umbrella organization under which all her other social activities operate.

But her commitment to both women and girls as well as to cultural activism was best illustrated this past week when Wanny organized the Third International Women’s Week Festival which took place all over Nairobi from March 1st – 8th.

Bringing together women with a wide range of skills and cultural backgrounds, Wanny’s plan was to engage them in a special way of celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8th). It was first to expand the day into a week and then get these gifted women to mentor young girls from the slums.

“The girls were either from the Mogoso School in Kibera or the children’s shelter called ‘The Nest’ which cares for young girls while their mothers serve out their sentences in Kenyan jails,” said Wanny who already volunteers in both those places.

The women she initially brought together at the Nairobi Art Centre in Lavington on March 1st were bountifully talented. Their skills ranged from music, martial arts, yoga and tennis to organic farming, fashion, fitness and photography. Some were poets and painters, others dancers, therapists and thespians.

Their one common link, apart from their all being smart women, was their affection for Wanny. They all agree that she’s an exceptional woman who will soon be flying off to the States to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for her cultural activism.

At the week’s Closing Ceremony, held at Point Zero Coffee this past Wednesday morning, the women mentors were introduced to the basic skills of coffee tasting by Andrea Moraa, co-founder of Point Zero Coffee with Wangeci Gitobu.

After that, Wanny underscored just how valuable women mentors have been, not only to girls but also to Kariobangi women who’d been shown basic karate techniques which they found empowering.

Finally, the last event of the Week took place at King’s Spa and Gym where ‘holistic health’ was the theme. It was also a fitting message to share and celebrate on international women’s day.


Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted march 8, 2017)

            Jalada actors performed Ngugi's Upright Revolution in 8 East African mother tongues
International Women’s Day came and went this past Wednesday March 8th with only one theatre company, the Nyef Nyef Storytellers, taking note of African women artists’ immense contribution to the arts. That was last weekend when they restaged ‘A White Wedding’ at the PanAfric Hotel; and once again, the troupe (made up of Muthoni Garland, Wambui Mwangi, Maimouna Jallow and Tetu Burugu aka Neno Kali) gave a sterling performance.

Women’s Day will also be amplified March 15th when Mumbi Kaigwa brings back Eve Ensler’s ‘Vagina Monologues’ to the Nairobi stage, this time to Kenya National Theatre. Mumbi made waves when she first staged the Monologues more than 10 years ago. She shocked and amazed many, but she and her team gave a brilliant performance. We expect no less when she brings a troupe of marvelous actresses to KNT next Wednesday night, including Aleya Kassam who both MCed the official opening of the Jalada Mobile Literary and Arts Festival; she also performed part of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Upright Revolution in Gujarati.

Meanwhile, the big news this past weekend was the launching of the Jalada Mobile Literary and Arts Festival and Bus Tour. Organized over the last year by the Jalada African Writers Collective, the Festival started off Friday morning with a series of writers’ workshops and Master classes. Each was aimed at fulfilling one of Jalada’s main aims—that of inspiring and identifying new African writers who will challenge and change the stereotypic narrative about the region.

Similar workshops will take place in all 12 cities (in five countries) where the Jalada Bus will go this month. Right now, the Festival is underway in either Nakuru or Kisumu, after which it will head to Kampala and Kabale in Uganda. After that, they’ll visit Kigali in Rwanda and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then swinging back into Tanzania, the Festival will be staged in Mwanza, Arusha, Dar es Salam and Zanzibar. And finally, before they head back home, they’ll celebrate the diversity of African cultures in Mombasa.

In each town, Jalada will liaise with local creatives and literary groups so that the Festival will be grounded in the local issues, ideas, artistry and social trends.

Within the Nairobi context, that first Friday night of the Festival saw an audience packed into the Goethe Institute. So large was the crowd coming in that Security guards had to turn people away. Those who remained took part in two thought-provoking panels, one on the pros and cons of vernacular radio channels (which now number more than 25), especially in light of the upcoming General Election.

The other was on Kenya’s own Benga Music. Its history was given by Ketubul’s Bill Odidi and stories about its practice were shared by the Afro-fusion singer, Dan Aceda whose love for Benga got him spontaneously breaking into song making a persuasive appeal for the Benga beat.

In between the two was a grisly performance of ‘We Won’t Forget’. Alluding to the Post-election violence of 2007-8, the group fulfilled another one of Jalada’s goals, to tell stories using a variety of art forms. In their case, they mixed contemporary dance, spoken word poetry and storytelling.

Saturday again featured Master classes for young writers; but the evening started off as a fiasco. The two-hour wait for the official Festival launch to take off was excruciating.

But when it finally did, Aleya Kassam and Anne Moraa served as Mistresses of Ceremony, combining literary readings with the introduction of spoken word poets like Dolphin and Flow Fulani, the sweet singer and Orutu player Labdi Ommes, and the headliner of the night, a multilingual performance of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ‘The Upright Revolution’. It’s a fable that inspired more than 50 different translations, all of which are up on Jalada’s website.

At the National Theatre, Ngugi’s seemingly simple children’s story was charmingly performed in eight languages: Swahili, Sheng, English, Dholuo, Somali, Gujarati and Kinarwandese. And just as Ngugi’s short story made melodious sense several months back when Jalada staged it at PAWA254’s Mageuzo Theatre, so the actors gave what felt like a Pentecostal performance when everyone seemed to understand one another’s mother tongue.

Finally, on Sunday, it was a challenge to find Jalada’s Street Poetry since the Aga Khan Walk is one of the most congested venues on a Sunday afternoon. But once the street poets got going, they commanded the sidewalk irrespective of the skaters, hawkers, shoppers and sun bathers.

Finally, Heartstrings Entertainment is currently staging ‘Don’t Disturb’ at Alliance Francaise this weekend. At the same time, at Louis Leakey Auditorium, the Festival of Creative Arts is performing in ‘Tit for Tat’. Both shows promise lots of laughs.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


Many exhibitions, few remember the woman or the girl child

By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 8, 2017)

Kenyan artists are on a roll! (That might be partially why Alliance Francaise is currently exhibiting artworks by nearly 20 local artists in a show entitled ‘Pop and Roll’.)

The number of solo and group exhibitions underway at the moment is impressive indeed!

For instance, Tom Mboya has a one-man show at the British Institute of East Africa. Moses Nyawenda has one up at the United Nations Recreation Centre in Gigeri. Dennis Muraguri has his matatu prints hanging inside the Picazzo Restaurant at The Hub. His prints are just one floor above the mall’s new super-sized steel Coffee Tree by Peter Ngugi, on permanent display in the heart of The Hub.

Allan Githuka has a marvelous solo exhibition at One Off Gallery. Githuka had been working underground in Ngecha for several years, so his current exhibition is welcomed and quite refreshing. It also reflects a subtle refinement of his style and use of color, especially apparent is his glorious landscapes. His blend of thickly textured colors has a magical, almost mesmeric effect. His hills seem almost semi-abstract, as if they could be anywhere after rains, which sadly have been absent in the country for quite some time.

The most prominent group exhibition is ‘Pop and Roll’ at Alliance Francaise where an eclectic set of mainly paintings occupy two floors. According to Alliance’s new director, Cedric , the works have been assembled thematically, according to the Western genre of ‘Pop Art.’ But it’s a stretch to see how Michael Soi’s voluptuous maidens correlate with Alex Njoroge’s weaponized war tanks or Kerosh Kiruri’s Old Wisdom.

Nonetheless, if one looks a bit more carefully, one might see how nearly all the work reflects features of Kenyans’ everyday life.  [Ms1] For instance, a number of artists have painted iconic characters, from Msale’s Fela Kuti and Chinua Achebe, Richard Kuria’s Beatles and Anthony Maina’s exotic white women sirens to Solo’s Wutang Clan, Nduta Kariuki’s flawless portraits of local youth and Kerosh’s aged Old Wisdom covered in wrinkles and wise maxims. Then too, who doesn’t appreciate Muraguri’s Matatus, Bertiers’s life-sized Journalist, Wycliffe Opondo’s wily portraits of urban street life and even Soi’s visual exposes of Nairobi’s ‘no holds barred’ night life.

So it’s okay to take a genre straight from the States and use it to classify Kenyan art. That’s what many art critics and curators do. My qualm with Alliance Francaise isn’t with the quality of the art. It has to do with Alliance breaking with a cultural tradition that it’s established over the past few years in the month of March. This is the month when International Women’s Day used to be celebrated with art that was either by, for or about women and girls.

Alliance’s forgetting that time-honored tradition is a heart breaker to those of us who have treasured this one opportunity in a year when Kenyan women’s art gets exclusively showcased. This year, there’s only Nduta, Joan Otieno and Blaine whose art is on display. Otherwise, there’s only one solo show in town that pays specific tribute to the female gender. Jeffie Magina’s exhibition entitled ‘Butterflies’ at Nairobi National Museum focuses his whole show on the girl child.

Granted Jeffie’s been inspired by his own daughter Ella, aged 4, who’s the subject of many of his more than 50 paintings. Nonetheless, the little girl is seen in various situations, some sweet as when a big brother shares a sport with his little sister; while others are scary as when a little girl weeps while her rapist dresses up to take off.

None of Jeffie’s paintings are devoid of a salient message and even a sensitive story the artist can share if he’s in the Museum’s Creativity Gallery.

What’s most touching about this show is that Jeffie seems to understand the sensitive psyche of the girl child. His girls are either inquisitive or playful, trapped in limited gender conventions, lost in a library filled with books or imagining flying space craft in broad daylight.

Jeffie describes his little girls, not only Ella, as his ‘Butterflies’ whose resemblance to angelic figures is telling. So the Museum exhibition somehow makes up for the forgetfulness of all the other art institutions. I apologize for sounding nostalgic but perhaps next year, those same centres will remember International Women’s Day and celebrate it as Jeffie, Ella and the show’s curator Lydia Galavu have done.