Our Man Around Nairobi today is musician Kenn Njoroge. Kenn ‘Biggie’ Njoroge is a drummer, and a creative entrepreneur. He is a Founding Director of Shamsi Entertainment LTD, a vibrant start-up that seeks to be a leader in quality content creation and distribution. He also serves on the management team of Shamsi Music, an eclectic afro-jazz fusion band that is currently taking Nairobi by storm! His heart beats for music and how music can be used to bring life, healing, love and cause change in the society, if used in its original and purest form, music from the heart. This passion made him quit a career in Engineering to pursue one in music.
In his free time, ‘Biggie’, as he is most commonly known, enjoys travelling, hanging out with friends and family and enjoying art. He is also a member of the Kinyua Ngeera Education Foundation, an organization whose mission is to be a catalyst for the transformation of society by providing quality education to bright needy students developing their leadership skills and sustaining collaborative partnerships that support its goals.
- Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Yes! Or at least Nairobi and its environs. I am the quintessential ‘born tao’ guy, born and bred. I am told my first years were in a place called Banana, in what is now Kiambu County. Our family then moved to Uthiru for about 6 or so years before relocating to Kahawa Sukari, Thika Road in 1997. My family has lived in ‘Shuge’ ever since, but I moved out about 2 years ago when it was time to start my own family. I now live in the quiet neighborhood of Kikuyu, again, in the outskirts of Nairobi. I think it is then more appropriate to say that I have grown up around Nairobi.
Having no other reference, other than the occasional upcountry visit, I think I enjoyed growing up in Nairobi. The 90s were cool. 90s music especially RnB – I probably had no business listening to this kind of music back then, but hey! I think they were more discrete and artistic in talking about love and bedroom matters, so I never struggled, cartoons (Captain Planet, Kimba the white lion, Ghost Busters, Gargoyles etc), TV music shows (Kass Kass, Rastrut, Jam-a-delic etc) formed a good part of my growing up in 90s Nairobi. I have good memories of hanging out with friends ‘kwa plot’ playing the usual games, bano, cha mama, riding bikes in the streets and finally the era of ‘Terminator’ and ‘Sega’ games, when all we knew was 2D graphics, forget Xbox and PlayStation. I vividly remember on one of our bike riding adventures, I got electrocuted by the perimeter fence around the Brookside Plant near Ruiru, as I was trying to prove to my friends that electric fences are not live during the day. Luckily, I lived to tell the tale.
Insecurity in Nairobi CBD was probably at its peak in the 90s and early 2000s, so going to town was on a need to basis, but the crammed ‘boom-twaf’ matatu rides (Buju Banton route 45), chips and sausage at Masters Fish and Chips are memorable to say the least.
- What do you love about Nairobi?
My love relationship with Nairobi has seasons. Currently, I am in love with the arts scene, particularly the musical renaissance that is bubbling, waiting to blow up. I believe art has a huge role in defining culture and as artistes, we have a significant role in shaping the culture of the day with the art we put out. I love that I can attend a musical gig on practically any day of the week and find some really cool cats throwing down.
I also love the fact that you can find anything you put your mind to, or at least find someone who can get it for you – this is both good and bad though, because vices abound in this dear city of ours.
- What would you change about Nairobi?
This is probably cliché by now, but traffic. I think the traffic jam in Nairobi can be too much, and it’s an impediment to economic growth in a way. I think the bigger problem is poor planning, or folks not adhering to plans as they should, lawlessness and disorder. These are my pet peeves in this here city in the sun.
With regard to my area of profession, music, I would push for a more united industry. The sooner people realize we’re better together and that our industry is still too small for trivial competitions and cliques, the sooner will be able to grow in leaps and bounds.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is CUT-THROAT! You’re most likely not going to get anything on a silver platter and this brings out the hustle in you. As I mentioned earlier, there is a musical renaissance bubbling and this means that opportunities to grow as a musician, make good music and put out good content abound. There is a lot of good music out there, and guys are working their heads off to put out quality content. This grit is what makes me believe that it can be done!
However, on the downside, there is still a lot of mistrust in the industry, a number of people with a sense of entitlement and basically some growing up that needs to be done. Don’t get me wrong, the pioneers have done a great job in setting the foundation on which we’re currently building upon, but I feel like we have a lot to learn in terms unity of purpose. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can agree on the fundamental issues that affect every professional in the industry and work towards building a more conducive space for the future prosperity and posterity of the industry.
- If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.
The Matatu Culture is one definitely worth experiencing.
The cuisine in Nairobi, from the savory nyama choma – ugali – kachumbari in a smoky, noisy ‘kibanda’ to pristine dining in the city suburbs, the cuisine in Nairobi is life!
Experience the art scene in all its forms.
If you would like to interact with Biggie you can find him on twitter – @kennbiggie, and Facebook. You can also find follow Shamsi on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.