Friday, December 10, 2010

The Star of the Show

We Love Sinbad from Village Beat on Vimeo.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life as Unusual

Friends in angry fruit costumes, friends multiplying, red peppers needing love, the Fall on the best coast, mornings waking beside Our Mother Pacific, scrambling around like hermit crabs for a shell, wild rivers and music. After a month inside the kaleidoscope, we're back to work, getting ready to tell a grand story.


Search me. You'll find more than you can handle.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our very first music video, shot for the boys of the K.M.U. underground hip-hop outfit in Nairobi's Kiamaiko slum over two days in their neighborhood of tunnels and slaughterhouses. Fyetux (a.k.a. Will-O) was our connection to the otherwise impenetrable Kariobangi street kid crew. In return for his introduction, we shot a video for their new track. "Polisi" tells the story that not every cop must be a "fisi" (hyena/corrupt mo-fo). Real exposure for musicians in Nairobi is when your video hits the "big screen" circuit of the bumping matatus (taxi buses) that transport thousands of people every day to and from the city and slums. From Lil' Wayne/ T-Pain to Elephant Man to local heroes, the DVD medleys are non-stop. Village Beat gets up in the mix.

KMU- POLISI from Village Beat on Vimeo.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Beat is coming home

tO mAkE a VILLAGE iN the StrEETs.

Goodbye for now beloved Kenya! Goodbye friends. Thank you for letting us be changed by your lives. Thank you for naps in your living rooms, on skins under your stars, for your bravery in new places alongside us, for chapatis and philosophy, for your trust in us that could only have come from the look in our eyes. We'll be back to go further, to give and to receive even more. For now, let's tend our own gardens and prepare for the next celebration.
Tough Bond. Coming soon.


Some of us are lucky enough to have one. This is Echumu, Andrew and Awatchi. Brothers. Seeing them in town, you'd have no idea they are related. It's only when you lower your head to stand with them, awkwardly inside the tiny shack where their mother drunkenly rages, that you see the common origin, the forces that make grave their youthful eyes and drive a fault line of necessity through their family.
Here they lie on the pile of wood that- with the help of neighbors, two lead carpenters, a gaggle of imperfectionists sharing one hammer, the moral support of their lazy but always affable father, time and a bit of determination- we hope, will become their home. We built the place. Painted it. Even put beds inside. But they've never known what a home looks like, or how it works. We'll find out what happens when we come back next year. A year off of the street. A year away from their mother. A year to explore their bond under one roof.

I'm a simple man.

Just give me my miraa and I'll give you this smile all day long.
Baba Echumu- enjoying the show as the bones of his boys' new home go up, a stone's throw from his doorstep.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's the password?

The American behind the bullet-proof glass looked at his monitor and grabbed the snaking microphone, "Mr. Julius? Window 9". His warm-showered, gelled hair looked like plastic in the fluorescent office light. His accent was Jersey.
Outside they had cued for hours in the purple darkness. Men on the left, women (and shouldered babies) on the right. They had emptied their empty pockets. Held their arms up, turned around. Embassy security was tight after a bomb ripped 400 people there in 1998.
No more chances.
First 20, then 50, then 100 dreams tentatively walked into the waiting room, looking around for clues of how to act, how to better their odds. Their verdicts would come in only a few hours.
Kenya: I want to attend my daughter's wedding. Please.
America: Your application is denied. Outdated bank statement.
Kenya: But...
America: That's all for today, sir.
Kenya: I will not leave this place without a visa.
America: Call security. Next, please. Lemuya, Julius?
Kenya: Yes, sir!
America: Why do you want to go to the US?
Kenya: I am a Pastor, attending a conference for Pastors in South Carolina. I am invited by so-and-so.
America: What do you do for income, Mr. Julius?
Kenya: I am a pastor.
America: I suggest you save for a few years and come back, Mr. Julius, your ties to Kenya are not particularly strong.
Kenya: I have a family-
America: Yes, I understand, but your ties to Kenya are weak.
Kenya: Weak? I am a Pastor with a Parish.
America: Do you own land? A business? You have no money. How will you support yourself in America?
Kenya: You mean for the one week conference?
America: Yes.
Kenya: The church is paying for everything, it says right here-
America: I'm sorry sir, that's all for today.
Human: Excuse me, I am a friend of Mr. Lemuya here, we've worked together here for 2 years doing various community development projects. He's my main man in Kenya. I trust him with everything. What's the problem?
America: His ties to Kenya aren't particularly strong.
Human: What does that mean?
America: No money, no business, he could make so much more money in America, the risk is too high that he'll stay for us to admit him.
Human: He's a pastoralist. A nomad. They own nothing but cows and goats.
America: Nomads don't get visas. Come back again in a few years.

What are we doing? In those years, must he shed his identity? Must he go to school, get a job, open accounts etc? Money. Our password is money. I am so ashamed.

Until this peaceful warrior lands on American soil, you'll have to come to Kenya to be his friend, to hear his stories and his laugh, to dance with him and to feel the supernova that is emitted from his heart.


Friday, September 10, 2010


I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll sleep on your house.

Sinbad. Bad to the Bone.

This kid makes it really really difficult to think of leaving Kenya in two weeks. Our relationship started six months ago, divided by a camera, as we documented his existence as the notoriously most glued-out street kid in Isiolo. After a few months, the camera disappeared and we became friends rather than working partners. He's now left glue, left the streets, and has beat all odds by entering a boarding school where he will finish elementary school and startle his teachers with his enormous bursting open heart and, somehow, still-intact, genius brain.


Mary Poppins


This is Akai. We've been following her for one year now, from the streets, to her new home with her husband's family. She's 15. She's beautiful. In the time of 15 minutes, every afternoon, she transforms from a young, playful housewife in the farm hills to a tomboy addicted to huffing glue at the 'base' where all of the street kids gather in Meru town. She's thinking of having children. She's an incredible pancake cook.


Pepo la Tumaini. 'Winds of Hope' Elementary School in Isiolo. "There may not be much, but what we have is enough."


We jumped off rocks and swam in our undies. The village snuck over to see the pale creatures in the buff. I'm not sure which was more exhausting--fighting the chest-stopping cold water or the anxious attention forming a spotlight on us. Afterward, the sunlight starched us dry and we paused to feel the love. Thank you, Mr. Sun.

"Turkanas eat everything..."

"...but we do not eat that", said our good friend and house guest Julius Lmuya.
"I have seen this kill cobra".
Little did Julius know that for three days prior to his overnight visit to the Fursa Children Center, a hedgehog had been loose in our house and was last seen under his bed. We would have been happy to help him find the door, but the little fella only made mysterious midnight appearances, hiding during the day. At about 4am the first Night of The Hedgehog- a full moon midway through the Ramadan celebration- after hours of rolling around in shallow sleep, I heard a snorting noise. I opened my eyes to find an unidentified thing 6 inches from my face, arms up, claws entangled in my UNICEF mosquito net, two black eyes looking at me angrily. He wrestled himself free as I jack-knifed up and sat motionless, eyebrows raised. A clumsy chase ensued by headlamp, but he escaped. I was unprepared.
The next night, he appeared again, this time in the adjacent room, snorting, rooting, big prickly butt swaying as he searched for an exit along the cement wall. We surveyed his mood, his speed, devised a plan and moved some furniture. Moments later, we advanced on him, like skittish children, stuck to a dare- pot lid and sawed-off water jug in hand. The cobra killer waited, having made himself into a ball, an ideal choice for fending off would-be biters. As he lay there, tucked, smiling his nosy, lipless little smile, anticipating our first strike, he was instead confronted with bravery, human ingenuity, plastic and aluminum. He was documented and released without losing a quill.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Down the road...

...came a man with a book and a megaphone.
A2 to Marsabit at Ngaramara, Isiolo District.

From the plastic forest...

...came a man with a goat.
Sokoni (Marketplace), Isiolo.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Neighborhood kids

This is your face on glue.
Clockwise from top left: Oscar, Isiolo. Terror, Nairobi. Sinbad, Isiolo. Bling, Mombasa. Annifer, Isiolo.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Radio Flyer

(Best movie ever filmed in Novato). This bike had a radio attached somehow to the handlebars connected by wires (tied together) to one functional speaker down somewhere by the knee. Even in Archer's Post- the end of Kenya for most Kenyans where towns give way to a simmering, hot sea of sand, thorns and scampering fantasy-animals called dik-diks- Rita Marley's "I want to get high" was on the dial and quickly became the best thing in town.


The only remaining Mitsubishi part on this Mr. Potato-car was the hood ornament. I had always scoffed at the sight of nails, welds, re-bar, and duct-tape holding Kenyan automobiles together. But I've come to realize that it isn't deterioration or neglect. It's adaptation to an unforgiving environment. Besides the unspoken driver-passenger "we're in this together" bond, it's tiny adjustments made over time that allow cargo trucks like this to stay on the road and go where no heap has gone before... Add the fact that nobody minds when a 12 hour journey turns into 3 days.

Why trains are cool

Early morning on the way to Mombasa.


We can't help it. Echum and Abdi go for Usher and Montell Jordan while I've just summitted Mt. Dork. Every photo. It's embarrassing.
Anyhow, we're in Thika doing a bit of research with the old "boda-boda" gang (Kenya's finest bicycle taxi crew). With these two Isiolo characters, trained as operators and team managers, we hope to bring the business to new territory and generate some income for the elder street kids.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sponsor this Child

...for only $1 a day...or else.
This is Echumu (or Paul), our friend and a character in the film, pictured here, resting after 2 hours of uninterrupted wood-chopping for the Fursa Children Centre kitchen. It's the first odd job we've been able to offer him. He's been off of glue for several months, in school, passing his classes. As Isiolo jobs go, chopping wood pays alright and now he's actually saving a little. Last week he asked about starting a bank account so he could save up for the soccer shoes he's demanded that we give him 487 times. Mwaaa-ha-haaa!! Our plan is working!!!!
*He doesn't normally look like a killer. He's a gifted actor with a sense of humor- which has certainly helped him make friends and survive throughout his 18 or so years.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

art day under the tree

Freedom Square is where the street kids of Isiolo pass most of their time. It's a small family of Acacia trees, rooted directly in the center of town. Under its fractal shade, the kids cook, sleep, fight, tease their dog and do glue. Anneliese had the brilliant idea to bring some art supplies into the den, to encourage a bit of expression other than the usual antics they perform when we have the camera around. I predicted a riot as soon as the paper and colored pencils were to be revealed, ending in similar fashion to the many attempts we've made to distribute food. It's a sad and desperate thing to watch. Each time we swear we'll never do it again. And of course, we do. This time however, there was a moment of paralysis as Anneliese pulled out the sketch pad, pencils and crayons, handing them over to one of the older, bigger boys. They didn't immediately know what to make of the offering. Edible? Valuable? Which color do I want? The pencils- pink, blue, whatever- were snatched without preference. Most haven't been to school and are even less likely to have ever been given a chance to do some coloring on a big sketch pad. After quick skirmish, about 20 boys were prone on their mats, silently coloring. 10 minutes later, kids started coming over to proudly present and describe their drawings. Most were simple homes. Lots of lions, snakes and cars. A couple were pornographic.
Anneliese got a nice, Renaissance-style portrait (see above). After they were satisfied with their drawings, the kids voluntarily handed them to us for safe keeping- each with a smile, most saying thank you quietly, before affixing the glue bottles back to their lips as they spiraled away.
Then a strange thing happened. As our cameras came out, they went back to their usual business of rolling around laughing, passing out, cooking, trading collected copper scraps for glue, etc. but for once, they paid us almost no attention. Some sort of peace and acceptance settled in beneath the tree. Our acknowledgment of their creativity, of their potential, of their existence as something other than a disturbance seemed to release some pressure. And it lasted until sunset.

Friday, June 4, 2010

chutes and ladders

Kariobangi is a slum outside of Nairobi. Its dense, Byzantine network of tunnels and dwellings might be the most feared place in Kenya. Through a process of introductions that began last year, we came to know the right people that would allow us to bring our cameras in. After getting the nod from the street kid crew, the price of some amazing footage was reduced significantly. The regular rate of robbery or worse was reduced to a mere accidental double poop-shoe. "Footage"...Village Beat-style.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hair Did

Classic moment at the kinyozi (hair salon) next door to our friend's music studio in Mombasa. While there may be a shortage of art, vegetables, and comfortable beds in Kenya...the country's definitely replete with cell phones and wigs :)

One More Time

ARV and Erik in the dungeon recording studio as we get the chorus for a talented musician, Tar fum, a man of late 50's we found here who jams hard on the electric guitar while belting gorgeous Congolese lyrics with his rusty, goose-bump-inducing voice.

Sinbad's Ladies

We finally ventured to the home, or that which is left and can somehow resemble a 'home' for one of our greatest friends and central figures, Sinbad. He sleeps tucked away from the night winds outside the local supermarket, directly in the center of Isiolo, a dusty 6-street "town" where we've spent most of our time digging into Kenya and her street children. Sinbad is possibly the town's biggest glue-user. Each day- and night- the 17-year old is higher than jet trails, yet somehow he's also the most respectful, well-mannered, intelligent, and handsome little dude I know. After months following his story, it's become obvious and understandable to us why he spends his time in town, away from this 'home', family, school or any support system we can recognize. His home is a dung shelter...actually quite beautiful... for his mother (just 11 years older) who is passing with Aids, her second child (also sick with HIV), his step-father and grandmother who is going blind and can barely walk anymore. Mom's second husband (classic Kenyan step-father story) is the only bread-winner, and doesn't actually most nights comes home desperate and drunk and beats and neglects the family and Sinbad cannot resist defense, thus its better for everyone he remain out of the 'house'.
Pictured here is Mom and lil sis (actually named Mom). I love them.


AP soaking in the light as we break from the dungeon where we've been recording incredible Kenyan musicians for days on end.

Amazon Woman

A goddess of the Amazon, a tiny slum along a Mombasa Bay inlet, cleverly named after the lush foliage eating into the mud and metal-walled shacks as well as the unpredictable wildness that ravages its dwellers. In day, Amazon is (generally) peaceful and lazy. The tide washes up and creates a personal swimming pool and bath (if one is eager enough to backstroke through floating plastic bags and feces floating atop what looks like an ocean of cloudy veggie juice). The sun peaks through the dense jungle and plumeria wafts down from the hilltop, gracing each little home with some much-needed aromatherapy. At night, Amazon turns into a drunken Disneyland. Dizzying, volatile, and as safe for whiteys (and it's inhabitants) as sharing needles found in the public dump. Pictured here is one of the Amazon's ladies, at peace and gorgeous, and in her lap is the newest addition, little Darling.

Tough Guy

Echum: A central figure in our film, demonstrating his shy, quiet, contemplative demeanor.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hi. Hi.

Marianne: Gone. Erik: Gone. Suat: What's a Suat? Village Beat is back to the basics and back to our roots. Imaginary friends are only fake to others... Anyone wanna come? Please? Kenya's RAD!!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Photo of the Week #1: Cast Your Vote

We're a bit behind in posting our weekly favorite shots, but we're more ready than ever to show you our best. Here's a brief catch-up:
1. Face CLAP
2. Bohemian Club
3. "I haven't shat in 3 hours!"
4. Missing You

Photo of the Week #2: Cast Your Vote

1. Melon Therapy
2. DJ "Oh, I didn't know you were taking my picture"
3. Determination...hours and hours of determination
4. Austin's biggest smile in a photo yet...hmmmm.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Isiolo Soldier

"He is mad", says a jostling onlooker who peddles calendars from 2009.
The decorated "Colonel" of the Isiolo streets was once a cop. His grip on the bleak reality shared by most everyone else around town became slack and he's drifted into another plane. Although retired, each morning he reports to the police station and stands in salute as the young officers hoist the flag. Slowly making his way through a chaotic town that moves like it's frying, he keeps a rare, contemplative ease, smiling and nodding to everyone, surely taking it all in a bit differently. For the past few years, his friend (our ex-mechanic) has been taking care of the Colonel's late-80's Buick Regal, which sits on blocks in the garage yard, doubling as a tool shed until the Colonel feels like driving it again.
In a place like this, madness is a gift.

Bulapesa, Isiolo.

Thanks Kelsy

A very thoughtful Christmas gift: super-stylin-thermal-wicking-socks, meant to fend off the Brooklyn chill, put to good use in Mombasa as sweat receptacles under my anti-glue-kid armor.

Let's Hear It

The talent search continues...
After Mombasa gave our soundtrack some soul, we're back in Nairobi looking for knuckles.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All Grown Up

We found Simon. He's about 4 inches taller, voice deeper, and...he's been nominated as Village Beat's first grant recipient. En route to Jomo Kenyatta National Airport last year, minds full of memories and hearts exploding, we received a final phone call to our Kenyan cell phone. It was Simon (Kalibo), borrowing a phone from the street, letting us know he made use of the cooking materials we donated to him in hopes he would fulfill his immediate dream: selling hard-boiled eggs on the street as a way to get up and out of Barachi Field, off the streets and closer to his goals of becoming a cafe owner. "I've sold eggs today! I made enough to buy for tomorrow." --Perhaps the best phone call I've received in my life.

Upon return to Mombasa almost one year later, Kalibo has sold enough eggs to get himself into a vocational school (he paid the first semester and a government org affiliated with Unicef picked up the second and third) where he is learning the craft of catering and is housed and fed. He's finished now, and in effort to be competitive (or have any chance of a job) and keep a roof over his head, he must enroll in a specialty course- 'cake decorating'. It's a 2 month-long practice, meeting 4-7pm, where he will learn to create the best frostings, fillings, and colorful lion and Kenyan pop-artist faces and designs you've ever seen. (Picture coming of my birthday cake in 3 months.)

To participate in the course, Kalibo needs 9,000 Ksh tuition, 200 Ksh registration fee, 4,000 Ksh ingredient materials, 1,700 Ksh kitchen utensils, and 1,200 Ksh uniform expenses. That's a grand total of 16,100 Ksh which roughly equals $206 US dollars.

Taking the course allows him meager room and board until December 1, an internship at the local hospital's kitchen, and the prospect of a job come Christmastime. Smiles and updates will be frequent.

Please consider helping us with this project. Kalibo will bake you a cake. :)

Big Red

Jeans In Your Dreams

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Parasites to Pink Eye

This trips been a little more rough on the body, to say the least. It's especially wonderful when the hotel is out of water for 3 days, your eyes are pussing and burning, and all you can do is roll around like a caterpillar aware of butterflyhood while taking in the sound from Mombasa's two tv channels: Aljazeera and Bollywood TV. As a wise man once told me...take a deep breath and say, "Oh, Kenya."

The Wishing Well

Backstroke in a slow, golden river.
Skating aloft, across a tabletop of raindrops.
Striding through grasslands of arms and hands in the impenetrable suede of a lion.
Grateful with each day, to be carried through the dark.