They Have Broken the Silence

Gikeno Maina Issue: Section:

Went to see a play, it was a musical, my first. By Kenyans about Kenya, right in my backyard, NYC. The main reason that I bought tickets, for myself and my three children, other than to appease my guilty conscience for not raising them Kenyan enough, (they don't speak any of the fortyplus languages of the country of my birth, for Pete's sake!), was because one of the stars was a talented young woman that I knew in her early years in the theater. Last summer, I visited Kenya and was again enveloped in the warmth, generosity, and kindness of Kenyans. The more that Kenyans are denied basic rights by a government chockful of leaders more intent on lining their pockets than fulfilling the needs of their constituents, the more resourceful, generous, and caring of each other Kenyans are. Kenyans have numerous reasons to feel disgruntled: water shortages, power rationing and food shortages among a myriad of other complaints. But the smile and the giving hand is ever present.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I wanted to see what artists portrayed of the country. I was in no mood to watch some watered down musi-comedy framed to suit the ever censoring eye of the government. Besides, my kids would benefit from some Kenyan cultural exposure. So one recent morning, I roused (nagged) my groggy brood from their much treasured Saturday morning sleep-in and we trooped to Eighth Avenue and 36th Street. After missing the right entrance a time or two (the theater is on the third floor), we entered just as the characters were being introduced by a narrator in locks I would have mistaken for a Jamaican except for the down home accent. As we were led in the dark to our seats, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the theater was almost full, enough support for this Kenyan Musical! For two hours, I was transported on a wave of nostalgia as I alternately laughed and cried at the painful and familiar scenes of life in Kenya; water shortages, blatant corruption, go-getters who will let nothing stand in their way, including human life.The play certainly wasn't watered-down or apologetic in any form. Through this well written, professionally performed musical, it was clear that Kenyans have found a voice, and there-in lies the hope of a nation too long shrouded in silence. Mo Faya, the name of the musical, is in English with enough Kiswahili words thrown in to offer it an authentic Kenyan flavor without alienating a non-Swahili speaker. Even my children who do not speak Swahili had no complaints at the end of the two hours. Catch it next time, if you can.

(click picture to listen to Mo Faya)

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