A second generation South Asian, my grandfather boarded a dhow from Gujarat, withstood an arduous 23 day journey across the torrents of the Indian Ocean to make a better life in the British East African Colony of Kenya. I am one of thousands of Kenyan Indians that can trace their legacy back to the turn of the last century and though it comes with great pride, I feel far more connected to this country than that of my grandfather’s.
Yet, I am well aware that it is my descent and my race that differentiates me – though it most certainly doesn’t define me. And the more you dwell on it, you come to the stark realisation that whether you’re an idealist, pessimist, socialist, anarchist, realist, capitalist or tribalist, they are have one common thread – they allow our complex minds to cope with life, permitting us to shape who we are and what we believe in.
This generation of Kenyans are on the brink of something phenomenal. With fast access to the internet and social media, increasing exposure to international news, trends, fashion and lifestyle choices, and an overall growth in our country’s GDP mean that we’re more informed and therefore more empowered than our parents.
With the elections coming up next year, all eyes are going to be on how we behave and cope as a country. Will we allow our politicians to railroad our inherent morals and beliefs and succumb to the ‘witch-doctoring’ that exposed the ruthlessness and evil that can emerge from anger and hate? What can we do to rise above it?
Incidentally, one solution lies in communication – a means to express oneself in a safe, productive manner without the finger pointing and sectarianism. The answer – ART(my bias towards this method lies in being an artist myself). Take for example the post election violence exhibition titled, Kenya Burning, at the GoDown Arts Centre. This monumental photographic exhibition exposed the atrocities of December 2007 in stark, knee-jerk reality – images of utmost beauty and simultaneous sensation, captured in a single moment. It provided us with a rare opportunity to understand the depths of our country’s despair and brought about such intense emotion, it brought me to tears.
So it’s no surprise that for me, the SAMOSA Festival this year is like a conduit and a soothing balm to the nervousness that each one of us are privy to when it comes to “what’s going to happen next year?” Spanning across 7 days in Nairobi, SAMOSA (love the tongue in cheek reference to the Indian savoury pastry) is essentially about creating cultural encounters through music, culture and art. When I spoke to Farrah Nurani, the Festival Director, “an integral part of the SAMOSA Festival this year is to facilitate this idea of social cohesion. It’s about celebrating our country’s diversity through the visual and performance arts. We’re trying to achieve this, so that we can better understand and create a dialogue between what makes us individuals but Kenyan at the same time.”
The SAMOSA Festival will run from the 22nd -29th September across Nairobi. It includes participation and performances from Sidi Goma, a community of Mijikendas who migrated to Gujurat, India over 800 years ago. Having almost fully integrated into the Gujurati population there, they still hold on dearly to their traditional African musical and dance roots, much akin to the Indian community here in Kenya.
For more information on the SAMOSA Festival Programme, visit www.samosafestival.org