On the steps just before you get to the main stage at Alliance Française, I was sat with Ngartia, talking about Gufy, poetry, the Nairobi art scene and the power that lies in young people collaborating. Ngartia is soft-spoken, and has rugged hair to go with those big, curious wondrous eyes kids have before society dims their shine. I like that it seems like he never lost his shine, he gives the rest of us hope that we can reclaim ours in more ways than having a house plant whose vase looks like its death bed, a yoga mat that is never used for yoga or a gym subscription that goes to waste every month. Ngartia speaks slowly, but you remember every word he says, and because a lot of people know him, your conversations in a night out in one of Nairobi’s creative meetups will be play..pause..play..pause because people want to stop and say hi. I don’t mind, gives me more time to think about what I’ll ask next and to people watch. I like people watching, it’s fun, the couple on their first date, the guy nervous to even place his arm around her shoulders, the overdressed person that keeps standing in between performances so we see the drip, the person that got stood up but doesn’t know it yet, so they keep staring at the entrance longingly, the always-recording-never-in-the-moment type, people watching is fun.
Before I was sat on the steps, I had arrived at Alliance hot and sweaty, having walked all of the 1,700 metres from Kencom (I confirmed later on Google Maps), and I looked like it. It helped that Dove means that ’48-hour powerful protection slogan’ they slap on their deodorant cans, or else the ushers would have had me at the back as we filed into the performance arena. My arms fidgety as I avoided eye contact with everyone that had their noses pinched..luckily for me, my taste in deodorant is better than most of my other life choices. On this night, Nairobi had showed up to watch Gufy’s latest poetry offering: Black Boy Love, and I wanted to find a vantage point that I could watch him from. If you don’t know Gufy as a poet, you might be forgiven because he’s talented in a lot of other things (he’s a photographer/videographer who is constantly traveling and also a model who helps keeps stylists that dye hair in business).
I especially remember the point about collaboration vividly, because organizing a show in Nairobi, as Ngartia (alongside his talented collective at Too Early For Birds) and Gufy are constantly doing, involves paying rates for the spaces, compensating the artistes on stage and those off it, the set designers, the ushers and logistics. Expenses that would bankrupt most people unless they come from old money, sigh. Against the din of old friends chatting, wine glasses clinking and the shutter sound of cameras capturing memories to post later, Ngartia told me about bell hooks (she spelled her name in lower case so it would not take away attention from her message), and how much we need to read her if you want to start your journey towards self-love. Talking to Ngartia, while covering Gufy’s event was interesting for me, because I saw them when they were starting, during sessions at StoryMoja ideagasms in 2014, and now, they’re providing the canvases from which Nairobi, or a section of Nairobi, marvels at, questions itself and uses to catch up with long-lost friends.
After Ngartia had to leave, because that’s how conversations with creatives end, they are led away with someone who wants to talk to them as badly as you did, I listened to Dorphan’s set. He was the first on stage, and as someone that is familiar with the art scene in Nairobi, his performance is both impressive and infuriating. Impressive because he speaks about his grandmother back home in Meru, and how she never lets him leave without a basket packed with farm produce, and I was especially impressed by this quote, “You need the food more than I need the money”. It is infuriating because he’s performing it in a space provided by the French government, and that our own government doesn’t have people who think that art, and the infrastructure and ecosystem it needs to be powerful, is important enough to invest in. In another lifetime, Ngartia, Gufy, Dorphan, Coster Ojwang, Watendawili, The Babaz, Sly and anyone that took to stage that day shouldn’t have day jobs to sustain their art. But here we are, and we have to work with what we have.
Working with what he has is something that Brian Babu is used to, and because he styled Gufy’s outfit of the day, I ask him a beaten-to-death question that will hopefully bring up a never-before-heard answer; what the inspiration was for the fit. Flowery pants, a flowery jacket and a green, silk shirt. He tells me it’s about regeneration, and new beginnings. I nod my head like I understand it at a deeper level, and say something along the lines of him being second only to Virgil Abloh as a stylist. I’ll work on my small talk in 2024, I have to.
This was probably Manyo Pesa’s performance. The girl I like is under Coster’s spell temporarily, I was probably somewhere looking like a hater, googling how fast I can learn how to play guitar.
In between Dorphan’s set and Gufy’s final coming on stage of 2023, The Babaz, a band that has dad jokes but god-level mastery of the instruments they play, Maureen Kunga from Elani who has the men shouting that she’s thicker than frozen peanut butter, Watendawili and Coster Ojwang play. There’s seats for most people, although we are sat at the back with this really interesting girl that I met at Nyege and who surprised me by showing up on the day. She looks like the smiling emoji when she smiles, and I feel like she deserves a picnic and handwritten letters. Beside me, Charlie Ogada, who wears silk scarfs, rolled up beanies and shiny leather shoes is here too, he’s a poet, ice cream vendor, mixologist, fashion consultant and social critic (surviving Nairobi means that most people in the audience wear more than one hat, literally and figuratively).
Maybe the audience sees themselves in Gufy, whose arrival on stage, with a mic adorned with roses, and lights that shine on his emerald green fit, with dye the colour of the sun at 6:30 pm on his hair (I wasn’t kidding about Gufy single-handedly keeping hair dye food chain in business) is met with cheers. He’s not nervous, which I always think is impressive, I’m a mess internally when I have to present or audition something I worked on, and it’s impressive to confirm that he’s a star. The first time I realized he had what it takes for stardom, was in 2022 in Naivasha. In the race-car-filled dusty bowl that was Naivasha, charging ports were scarce and this influencer chic, the ones who would rather lose a pint of blood than stay offline, asked for his powerbank. Most guys would have looked at the wagon on that chic and handed over their entire bag to her, but Gufy said no, that he doesn’t lend out his powerbank because if he does, and his battery drains, he’d be up Shit’s Creek without a paddle. I knew my boy was destined for stardom, because with the talent and dedication he had, only nyash was going to be his Achilles, and now that he had overcome nyash, he was at home with the stars.
Speaking of creeks and paddles, at this point, two hours into the gig, someone I recognized from Twitter, (it’s always someone from Twitter) said that outside of the married couples, there are a very few, dry pair of panties in the audience. I agreed with him to an extent, because most of the women looked like they would have had Coster and Gufy right there on the concrete floor, ripping his silk shirt and digging their talons into his cocoa-buttered body. Gufy likes talking about moisturizing, even those parts that people don’t see, and self love. He has women who are crazy about men in touch with their emotions in a chokehold, and if I didn’t have a girl I was interested in, in the audience, it would have been funny to watch.
On stage, Gufy could have worn a white ‘kanzu’ and the shrieks from the women would have been just as loud. He has this running joke about having six girlfriends and it still doesn’t stop the girls from going nuts and collectively asking, demanding even, that he gets topless. Madness, the rest of make a joke about having ONE other girlfriend and she leaves, Gufy talks about SIX women, and they cheer him, smh. It doesn’t help that he is performing unedited poetry, a piece that is the lovechild of him worshipping his woman and innuendos about her getting back-to-back orgasms just from his mouth. He is a nasty chap, and the ladies love it.
If I was a man who doesn’t satisfy my woman, I’d hate Gufy’s guts. Standing there on stage, four buttons undone (two was one too many, three was scandalous and four is just him being immoral and slutty, but nothing will happen to him because he makes women snap their fingers gleefully while having very sinful thoughts about him). On that stage at Alliance, he was not just a man, he was a Black King, whose scepter was his flower-adorned mic. If he weighed 75 kilos, 5 were the lotion he spoke so passionately about, speaking to the Kenyan man to love himself more, to invest in himself, to travel, to cry, to laugh at silly things, to devour his woman’s privates with the gentleness of a man that knows how the tongue-finger combo works. For the hour he was on stage, he was a teacher, he was a poet, he was a fashion icon, he was an embodiment of the crowd’s dreams and needs, he was a Black King, and the 1,700 metres to Alliance were worth it.