‘Every day as I wake up in the morning
What I hear is the woman crying’…. Sings out D J Jah Spokesman, the Voice of Kwa Maji…
‘Every day as I walk in the streets, what I see is the youth man dying, Police keep on killing, killing. Kill ten people in a day. So tell me – are we free? My brothers and my sisters – are we free?’
D J Jah Spokesman is one of the many punchy and memorable characters in Eric Wainaina’s musical, Lwanda. And this is an advance notice. Because Eric will soon be taking the musical right across the country. It will be playing in fifty-two different sites, in city slums and in rural markets. An unprecedented tour, I think.
Some months ago we were making an informal presentation to Adam Wood, the British High Commissioner, about the progress of Uraia, the National Civic Education Programme that DFID and a number of other donors are supporting.
No doubt you now know about the Uraia programme, after all its media exposure on radio, TV and the press, as well as the educational activities of it 43 civil society organisations active in every constituency.
The presentation to the High Commissioner and his staff was last December, and Adam Wood had just seen a performance of Lwanda when it was showing at the Go-Down in Nairobi.
‘It is very, very good,’ he said. ‘And it touches on all the themes of Uraia – governance, democracy, leadership… Wouldn’t it be a good idea to take it round the country?’
Now Eric Wainaina is the Ambassador of the Uraia programme. Perhaps you will remember that he sang at the programme’s launch outside the KICC a year last April. He is not only a sweet singer, a great performer – but, through his art, he is committed to raising issues to do with corruption, big men politics, and social injustice. So he jumped at the idea of taking Lwanda on tour under the Uraia banner.
But, if you didn’t get the brief chance to see the musical at the Go-Down, don’t get the idea that it is at all heavy stuff. Not at all. It makes its points, yes – but in the most entertaining of ways.
The plot is a modern version of the Luo story of Lwanda, the warrior chief who seemed invincible. Until a woman sent by his Nandi enemy seduced him and discovered his secret vulnerability – his shadow.
But I won’t spoil the story for you… Except to say that the modern Lwanda is the popular leader of his slum community, Kwa Maji.
And his seductress is Anna, a woman who has learnt how to use men to her advantage.
She went to a secretarial college. But she soon learnt that typing 90 words per minute is not as useful as laughing at her boss’s jokes – and bending down to pick up his pencils and showing enough of her thighs.
Before long, the boss bought her a hairdressing salon. Then she dumped him and took up with a mzungu.
‘Soon after that I went into the NGO business,’ she says, ‘Because I had the ultimate qualification – a mzungu husband with connections to the EU.’
She became the Executive Director (in other words, the main beneficiary) of CURE, the Centre for Urban Renewal.
All good stuff. All very close to the bone.
So, over the next few months you are bound to be able to see Lwanda. The first performance will be at 4 pm on Wednesday 19 September at Kariandundu, Baba Dogo Road. But for the full schedule and the itinerary, you can check the website http://www.uraia.or.ke or Eric’s email, firstname.lastname@example.org – or look out for the adverts in the press.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation