Young Kenyan slum dwellers find solace in music

Kenyan ballet dancer Joel Kioko, 16, exercises in the courtyard of a school where he teaches young dancers in Nairobi’s Kibera slum. Photo: IC

When Moses Kimani and his two childhood acquaintances formed the music group Cyplez in 2013, they never imagined it would later become a sensation in the slums of Mathare, located on the eastern outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. .

“Wait, don’t give up. Keep your head up.” Words have always been a motto for the inhabitants of the slums of Mathare. Through music, the group encourages a growing number of young slum dwellers to stay upright.

Determined to grow

Music has become a source of comfort for Kimani. The 26-year-old singer was born and raised in the sprawling slum at a time when the dreams of so many young people died prematurely in harsh living conditions defined by poverty, crime and drug addiction.

Nonetheless, Kimani and her trio of singers found their inspiration in music and when their paths crossed as a teenager their bond grew even stronger, leading to the formation of a band that made waves in one. of Nairobi’s oldest informal settlements.

Sitting on a makeshift bench on the banks of the Nairobi River that winds through the slums of Mathare on a balmy afternoon, Kimani and her band mates were in their element as they sang a signature tune titled “Haly “.

The aria according to Kimani, was composed after a long introspection by the trio whose lasting bond is informed by the desire to use the music and to sow seeds of hope and inspiration.

“Our music is so unique because it seeks to unite, give hope and inspire people of all ages in the slums of Mathare amid difficult living conditions,” Kimani said in an interview on Tuesday.

Adjacent to the Nairobi River which is choked with garbage from household and industrial premises is the Sanaa Center, an open space where Kimani and her band mates honed their vocal, dancing and songwriting skills.

He said crowds usually gather at the Sanaa Center whenever the Cyplez group puts on a performance, adding that the graffiti on the nearby stone walls has also inspired upcoming artists.

“When we have a concert here, it floods,” said Kimani, who also makes a living from photography.

So far, the music group Cyplez has released four visual musical works and eight audio works, but they are working on an extended set (EP) of seven songs and slated for launch towards the end of 2021.

Mike Njoroge, the group’s 30-year-old manager, said the musical journey has been an exciting one for the past eight years, save for the occasional shocks from financial constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, insufficient capital derailed the group’s plans to record quality songs or organize mega-concerts.

“Other challenges we face include connecting with established artists for collaboration which can increase our visibility. We are unable to stage shows due to restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic,” Njoroge said. .

Despite the current setbacks, the group is determined to grow and produce quality songs that can resonate with international audiences. According to Njoroge, the group does not derive enough income, so members have been engaged in side jobs to earn enough to get by.

Positive story

While hope, inspiration and collective good remain the group’s founding credo, its young founders like Zawadi Joshua, a 24-year-old singer who was also born and raised in the slums of Mathare, have retained a sunny optimism. despite their difficult environment.

Zawadi was instrumental in founding the band, believing it would help him fulfill his dream of becoming an accomplished singer and inspire the young people of Mathare to rise above their situation and prove their worth.

“At the start of our band’s formation, we composed a song called ‘Emergency’ which was well received at Mathare because it was inspiring instead of spreading sadness,” Zawadi said.

Despite its proximity to a polluted body of water, central Sana’a, whose graffiti-filled iron sheet walls provide an ideal backdrop for filming music videos, has been a popular destination for emerging artists from the slums of Mathare.

It is this impromptu step that Cyplez member Moses Ambani found staying in the midst of the quest to improve his ability to speak inspiring words.

The 24-year-old Mathare native, whose parents make a living from casual jobs, said he started singing at a tender age and his mother’s nudge prompted him to continue. this long-term vocation.

“We have addressed issues related to Mathare slums like crime, pollution, unemployment and poverty through our songs,” Ambani said.

“Our goal is to promote a positive narrative as we inspire the next generation to be agents of positive change in this locality despite the challenges they may face,” he added.

George Nakami, a 24-year-old construction management student who was also born and raised in the slums of Mathare, confessed his love for the lyrics composed by Cyplez.

“Thanks to the band’s songs, I came to look at life in a positive light,” Nakami said.

In the slums, music brings more than notes and melodies. It is moonlight in the dark night of life.

“There are so many children who grow up looking at us. When we give up, we kill their dreams. So we keep pushing,” Kimani explained.

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