The Kikwetu Music Festival

‘This must be the coolest ambassador on the face of the earth!’ the Master of Ceremonies said. ‘Have any of you ever seen an ambassador with a pony tail?’

No, I haven’t. But Kenya seems to attract maverick ambassadors, doesn’t it? In my time here, we have had first the bluff, Smith Hempstone – undoubtedly the only American Ambassador of the last few decades to be sought out and cheered by a public demonstration – in appreciation of his support of those campaigning to establish multi-partyism in Kenya.

Then there was the urbane Sir Edward Clay, the British High Commissioner, who shocked a lot of people including, no doubt, some of his more diplomatic diplomat colleagues by accusing corrupt Kenyan politicians of vomiting over the shoes of the donors.

And now there is the pony-tailed Ambassador from Germany, Walter Lindner – certainly a cool man. (At least four young Kenyan women have asked me if he has a wife!) He is a lover of music and things musical. Not so much the classical music that you might expect of an ambassador – the music of his compatriots, say, such as Beethoven or Wagner – but modern jazz and rock and, since he is here, the popular music of Kenya. He has actually formed a group here called Mystique Fusion – a playing a fusion of jazz and Afro-pop.

Last Saturday night (yes it was the night, because it went on from late afternoon till two o’clock in the early morning) Walter Lindner opened his own Residence garden to the Kikwetu Festival – billed as a Kenyan pop music festival for peace and unity.

There were beers on tap, sausages and burgers on barbeques – and plenty of music. Eric Wainaina, Suzanna Owiyo, Aaron Rimbui, Jua Kali, Amani, Kidum and Boda Boda were performing. And many more…. 25 bands and artistes. Performing to 1,500 people who had paid their one thousand shillings to the good cause of celebrating the end of mayhem and murder in this country.

‘We have just emerged from near Hell’, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moses Wetangula. ‘We need to do some soul searching. We need Kenya the way we are here. I am glad to join you for a drink and a dance.’

And so he did. On stage.

But perhaps the most memorable performance of the whole concert was a stirring rendition of Kenya’s National Anthem by Kidum.

‘Really listen to the words,’ someone said:

…. Natukae na udugu

Amani na uhuru….. 

….Natujenge taifu letu

Ee ndio wajibu wetu

Kenya istahili heshima

Tuungane mikono pamoja kaziniKila siku tuwe nashukrani

‘We should really listen to the words!’

Walter Ranneberger, the American Ambassador, friend and neighbour of Walter Lindner – he, too, was caught up in the swell of emotion.

‘Kenya is back!’ he shouted into the mike. ‘Kenya is back!’

And, thankfully – after those long twenty years of little but dreary, repetitive and sycophantic choirs – Walter Lindner is helping to bring Kenyan music back. To where it was in the late Sixties and early Seventies – and better. Kenya was the hub for music of east and central Africa in those old days – with bands from the Congo and Tanzania. But now, as Saturday night showed, there is an upsurge of really Kenyan music.

There is one thing I would ask of Walter Lindner, however. The first concert of this kind he held in his garden a year or so ago was a much more modest affair – organised to bring together some local musicians. This last event was on a much grander scale. As have I said, the audience numbered 1,500.

But it was in Muthaiga. And about half those there were expats. Next time, Walter Lindner, play it in the market place. Like the launch of the Uraia programme two years ago, play it outside the KICC. For the people.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation