Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature Tonny Muchui. Tonny Muchui is a video editor, occasional writer and all-round bizarre guy based in Nairobi. He is one of the people behind Storyzetu and a cast member of Too Early For Birds. He lives for well-told stories in music and film…. But mostly film.
- Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I was born in a place called Makande, Mombasa but I spent most of my childhood in Mtopanga, again in Mombasa. I don’t consider myself as having grown up in Nairobi since I came here in my teenage years and I am still struggling to come to terms with the city.
Mtopanga was an interesting place to grow up. I had mostly older friends surrounding me and most of what we did was sit around and listen to or talk about Hip Hop. We would also discuss murals people had spray painted or basketball. I had few friends my age since most of my age mates were girls. To this day I suck at what society considers manly sports like football but I can beat anyone at Kati.
Once in a while, I’d join the older boys at bike races. I became so good at it that I was nicknamed McCormick. McCormick was a TV series about some guy in a red sports car – I think it was a Ferrari but I am not sure. But all that matters is that my bike was red and I was fast… Until the day I knocked down someone’s mum. To this day I haven’t done any bike racing. Who knows I could’ve won tour de France for Kenya.
Coming to Nairobi, well Nairobi gave me the best “welcome to Nairobi ” that typifies the city. See, we had moved to Buru Buru phase 5 and teenage me was interested in a girl that went to the same church as we did. I showed off with my Motorola c118 (back then it was okay as long as you had a phone) and she invited me to her place. Long story short, one month into moving to Nairobi I was mugged of my shoes and Motorola in Jericho. Nothing says welcome to Nairobi like that, right?
In spite of that welcome, I love the city. It’s versatile, and its artistic styles and access to anything make it a wonderful place to work, I can’t vouch for living in Nairobi though. Life here is a game of chess. If you aren’t rich, you are a pawn. You live in houses that might collapse any day, water is like wishing on a genie and how about having to be a pedestrian in this city? It’s hectic. All I want is a city that actually functions. Water is available, and security works and systems that bring order to the city.
- What do you love about Nairobi?
Nairobi is like Nakumatt in its glory days; you need it, this city’s got it. I just love how the city provides you with options from cuisine, arts, and education to healthcare. Plus, you don’t have to send someone to Bungoma for car spares.
I work in film and specifically as a video editor and depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or half-empty person, Nairobi is the main town for film in this country. It’s where there are more companies I can work with, more film facilities and equipment. While it is not New York or Hollywood, being in Nairobi has provided an extensive network of like-minded individuals. Individuals who can push my work around and allow me to thrive without feeling like this line of work is a lost cause. The only downside to being a video editor in this city is the “we don’t have a budget but it will give you exposure” type of mentality. Everyone assumes that film is a hobby that we just do to get a little pocket change yet for most of us it’s what pays our bills, and buys the editing software and all related stuff. But despite that, there are people in this city who genuinely value our work. People who give you all the necessary support needed to achieve your goals, and for those few I am grateful.
- What would you change about Nairobi?
The disorder. If it’s peace and order you’re looking for then you won’t find it in this city. There is no distinct structure or order in this city. You could be planning a quiet peaceful day then someone places a small crusade of five people, mostly family members, and starts screaming away your peaceful day. I would just love to get from one place to another without always having to look back and forth for Boda Bodas on pedestrian walkways, Kanjo accosting you for the pettiest things and a pickpocket following you.
It would be great if it was possible to shoot without harassment from the city council, film commission and local thugs. There are so many people to pay off to shoot something that nobody feels they should pay you for. It’s crazy. I just wish Nairobi was a safer city for a filmmaker. Many stories have been told of how film crews have been trailed by criminals or even taxi drivers robbing people of their cameras and computers.
Safety. It’s not much to ask to be a filmmaker in this city. Otherwise, if another town or county comes up with an aggressive film plan then maybe, just maybe, this city could lose out on filmmakers.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
It’s better than if it were in another town. You get to network and meet people who can help your career grow. The only disadvantage is that you can never dare shoot film in some neighbourhoods or the CBD without paying off the city council with its numerous licenses and a local “youth group” for security services.
The challenge is in terms of growth, getting to that level where we are the go-to people instead of hiring out the job to a South African or American crew. Opportunities abound though, there are numerous collectives like the Mau Mau collective, the NEST and many other collectives in this city.
I wish there was sort of an iHub for filmmakers to come together and push boundaries on what Kenyan filmmakers can do instead of having their creativity limited by the old school, stuck in the 1960’s nature of TV stations and corporate clients. There is a future in this and who knows, soon Nairobi could be the centre for film in the region too.
- 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?
1. That Nairobi is a wonderful place for business.
2. It’s a place where they would feel right at home with the franchises they’d have at home and heck our internet speeds are probably better than theirs.
- They should get into our matatus. It’s like going bungee jumping in a Rolls Royce coffin.
If you would like to interact with Tonny you can find him on Twitter at @bzartony, Instagram and Facebook.
Man Around Nairobi: Sam Mwangi