Celebrating East African Writing!
My cousin Oluoch thinks he is hip. He prefers hip hop to ohangla – the punchy percussion-driven beat that has its roots in Nyanza, along the shores of Lake Victoria.
To Olly -as he loves to be called- Ohangla is raunchy, and the dark skinned tight arsed girls that gyrate to its beat- rustic. He’d rather the sleek catchy moves of: 50cent and Beyonce, than the racy steps of ohangla performers.
Clutching his crotch as he hums an Akon song, Oluoch struts around in hand-me-down, canvas trousers that sag midway down his butt. On his feet are shin length imitation sneakers imprinted with the logo-‘NYKE’.
“I’m a player,” he says.
I ask him what he plays.
Puzzled he looks at me, shrugs, and mutters “You know, I’d like to live in south central LA, because that’s where the players are.” He says it like he is referring to some football team he’d love to play for.
“ Man, isn’t they cool!” he continues, mimicking the American movies he soaks in each night, inside the smoke filled, tin roofed, video hall, at the market centre.
Olly has no time for the catchy tunes of ohangla greats like Tony Nyadundo and the diminutive Osogo Winyo. He says Osogo comes from – just across the valley.
“All the more reason you ought to listen to his music.” I argue.
“Can’t stomach that shit.” he counters.
Convincing Olly that ohangla is -in, is a tall order. He does not believe that his kin, Osogo – from across the valley – is pulling in the crowds. I remind him that osogo’s ‘hood’, is also his ‘hood’.
“His lyrics are more relevant to your situation” I reason. He dismisses it as- bush music.
Reaching into his pocket, Olly pulls out a crumpled piece of paper which he does not allow me to read. “I’m going to apply for a green paper.” he whispers.
“It’s called a Green Card.” I interrupt, reaching out for the soiled paper, which he snatches away and quickly shoves into his hip pocket.
I ask if he has heard of – Kwaito; the cheeky beat that has lit up the townships of post-apartheid South Africa. He shakes his head puzzled.
“What of – genge, the style that’s rocking Nairobi. Ever heard of it? Or even- Bongo flava, from neighboring Tanzania. Surely you can’t have missed all that?”
Olly is now convinced I’m not speaking his language. He starts to say something, but changes his mind.
I get into a long winded explanation about rap being the face of hip-hop, and deriving from the griots (poets) of West Africa. I remind him of his late father, who was a Nyatiti (eight string instrument) player and poet of no mean repute.
Un-impressed, Olly mumbles something, opens the door and steps into the night. For a brief moment the punchy beat of an ohangla drum carries through the moonlit, windless night, and into the room. I listen a while before shutting the wooden door, and with it the beat.
“Morning Olly,” I say, walking up to him the next morning. He is tethering his mother’s goats under the huge mango tree. Spotting a red Manchester united shirt- with the name Rooney emblazoned on the back- he deftly knots the sisal ropes, around the wooden pegs, hammered into the ground. He is yet to forgive me for yesterday, and only nods in response.
“A red devil fan, are you?”
His face suddenly lights up “This year Man U will win, mpende msipende. (whether you like it or not)” he announces, juggling an imaginary ball.
“I support Mathare United,”I announce, throwing him off balance. “Did you know that it has its roots in the neglected Mathare slums on the banks of the polluted Nairobi River?” I continue.
“What‘s up with you! Why can’t you- like any normal person- support a normal club?” Olly shouts out in exasperation. “Why can’t you support Arsenal or Liverpool, or even the blues for Gods sake?”
“But those are English clubs,” I protest. “We have our own homegrown football clubs like Gor and AFC.”
“Oh! Come on. This has nothing to do with country. Its soccer man, just plain soccer.” he responds, as he uses a stone to hammer in a loose peg. “Tell me,” he continues, sly smile lighting up his face, “does a skillfully taken free kick lose its luster because it is executed in the old Trafford stadium? Conversely does a mediocre performance assume brilliance by the mere fact that it is homegrown?”
“We must support our teams; our artists; our people. Buy Kenya build Kenya. That’s the only way we will get anywhere” I say.
Ignoring me Olly pulls out a pair of miniature headphones from his jacket and plugs them into his ears. And as he dips and bobs, left hand on crotch, it’s obvious he is not listening to Ohangla, or any beat close to home.