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.