Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature creative Charles Bodo Nyamwaya. Charles Bodo is a creative, engaged in both visual and performance arts. He runs BC Africa, an events company that puts up concerts and private functions. An award-winning singer, he is the founding member of an eclectic Afro-fusion band called Lele Ngoma, a band noted for its soulful urban sound. He has also worked as a creative for brands such as The Junction, CMS Africa, and Tuskys among others. Bodo believes that every brand, no matter how small, deserves a clean, consistent and refined touch. His desire is to empower people to embrace their identities and tell their stories. Find out more about his musical journey here Mics And Beats: Charles Bodo of Lele Ngoma.
Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I have lived in many places around the country. I came to Nairobi in class 6 and I have been around since then. I don’t know whether that counts for growing up in Nairobi. In Nairobi, I had to adjust to a different approach to different things. I don’t think I have ever quite settled in. So, there are certain traits Nairobi kids have that are still strange to me. Some I relate to because I spent a couple of years in Eldoret town so I get the raundi mwenda driving toy cars made of Tetrapak milk packets. In Nairobi, I learnt that you could have a game of football on cabro and it was okay. In Bungoma, we used wires to make our own cars (much similar to those models you see on vehicle websites). What I am saying is I had fun growing up. I played a lot.
Because of the moving and work circumstances, we did not get to spend a lot of time with our mother and there were those moments. I mention play also because it distracted us from the poverty we saw around us (my brother and I). I remember walking about 15 kilometres to our shags and thinking to myself, ‘when I grow up I want to build a road to my grandmother’s place’.
I went bird hunting with ‘feyas’, rummaged through dustbins in the estate for things to make cars with, made bows and arrows which we used to shoot at each other – Uta Ramayan style, and imitated wrestling moves in school. I remember I could do the Owen Hart kickback then. You’ve taken me back! Oh, how could I forget? In places where there are huge sugar plantations and factories like Nzoia (where I was with my aunt for 3 years) and Mumias, you can’t just pick a cane, cut it down and start chewing because it is illegal. The company has guards who patrol and guard the plantations from people like us and of course more importantly thieves who steal cane to sell. So, we used to create a cleared-out area deep inside the plantation. Those ‘maskanis’ are where we used to go after school, and binge on sugarcane before going home while scared of being found out.
What do you love about Nairobi?
Nairobi has opportunities. It has a can-do spirit which makes people innovate and push boundaries, especially for artists and musicians.
In the events aspect of what I do, Nairobi works more than any other place. There are venues that strictly offer space for events without the pressure that comes with restaurants and hotels, places like the Michael Joseph Center and Alliance Françoise. I like that people are open-minded when it comes to the arts and are willing to spend money on a concert.
What would you change about Nairobi?
A certain coldness that you don’t notice when here until you leave the city for the countryside or places like Mombasa. All of a sudden you feel like everyone matters to everyone whether there is something to be gained or not.
I would change the perception towards the arts, I would create more structures that allow even alternative music to thrive – for people to make a living off it. I would encourage smaller businesses to invest in the creative aspects of their businesses, whether through being professional when it comes to branding or by sponsoring the arts.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
It works. Whether it is getting studios or concerts or exhibitions. There is a certain pulse that feeds my creative side as well – and this includes my web and graphic design side. Nairobians tend towards a certain perfection that is good for growth.
Nairobi could learn to be open to its own – Kenyans outside Nairobi. I feel sometimes the content we expose ourselves to, whether in music or art, is very American/British-oriented. And when we try to be authentic in our African identity, we look to the south or the west. We ignore what can be harnessed from our folk artists/artisans/artistes who lack finesse but possess the soil from which we, Nairobians were created. We should be more open to mining from the content closer to home.
The challenges in my work as a graphic and web designer are a poor perception and understanding of the impact visual aspects of branding have on the business. It tells a lot when we have businesses with turnover in the millions looking for the cheapest without considering the quality offered. This has to do with a culture of mediocrity of course.
When it comes to music and events, the challenges include getting a wider audience to consume alternative content. Because then the cake becomes bigger and everyone can have a slice. The opportunities are there thanks to new media. There are artistes bringing their content directly to consumers and by bypassing middlemen. There are people whose content has ended up on national radio without them having to go through the usual hoops. In fact, they post music on SoundCloud and forget. A year later, it is playing on the radio, even without their knowledge. There is hope.
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?
I don’t go out a lot. Because of many reasons. But I would suggest they pass by Dagoretti Corner for Nyamchom, sleep at Enashipae for one night and on a night out check out some cool interiors at Berbers Oasis and Chester House (the stairs from the lower restaurant to the upper one) in town.
They should catch a concert at the Alliance Francaise or the Goethe Institute. Also, a drink at the Kenya National Theatre where artsy people hang out. Finally, they should attend an art exhibition at the Circle, the GoDown or Kuona.
I would rather recommend people than places though. What I lack in real experience, I make up for by knowing who to recommend.
If you would like to interact with Charles you can find him on Twitter at @niciaos, Instagram and Facebook.
Featured image via BC Africa – Photography Credits Wakaba.