1. Blinky Bill, the DJ
Blinky has been at it for a minute now, the singing and the songwriting, but as DJ, he hasn’t been around that long. As the former, he carved his place, with his band, JAB, in the hearts of music lovers the world over with hits such as Ha-He , among others. But you haven’t known Blinky till you have heard him deejay.
Blinky is largely enthusiastic about African sounds, and hip hop, and rhapsody, and…well, let’s just say music. He knows his stuff. He plays what he loves, and who loves passion more than a reveller? His mixing and weaving of African hits or African inspired hits conveys an understanding of the music that could easily make him peerless, especially among his generation. As an artist, his music is hard to pin down to a particular region. His appeal is wide and diverse, and has seen him and the band play in cities and places that other acts can only hope to.
That appeal transcends medium and manifests itself when he changes his tools of trade from vocals to turntables. The music he plays may not be Nairobian, heck it may not be all Kenyan, but the way he does it is definitely Nairobian, because he, himself, is.
Feature image: Darlyne Komukama
2. June Gachui Live
It is not a person, it is an experience. June is a thespian and performing artist, aspects she seems to employ to huge positives outcomes when she sings. However, you won’t understand how wonderful a singer she is until you attend any of her quite few live performances. June Gachui Live events are not about a singer performing, they are about experiencing a wide range of vocal abilities, and unintrusive storytelling, seamlessly weaved into the song. She performs through her voice, taking you through journeys that jump casually from Nairobi to Mumbai to New York.
She performs covers of various artistes and interestingly, you may get the feeling that her
covers are better than some of the originals. In all these global journeys, she still manages to maintain that local feel, managing to be a global superstar and the girl next door at the same time. You may have experienced culture in Nairobi, but your experience will definitely be richer with a June Gachui Live experience.
3. Pawa Festival
“The cool thing about today’s edition is that people didn’t know how it will unfold, so they did not come with expectations.” Sam, one of the organizers of Pawa Festival told me last year. Well, that may as well be the past because after the show they put up the first time round, people will be showing up with a lot of expectations.
Pawa Festival is an emerging street festival; the only public festival in Nairobi. It focuses on visual and performing art. There was a wide range of artistes, and performances that saw some artistes join fellow artists on stage for their individual acts, and as fans. The rota of acts basically catered for most musical tastes. Sarabi had a show stopping entrance in a restored old school car.
This is arguably the only free festival in the city. It takes place along K-Street, shutting down Nairobi’s most infamous road, and adjoining roads, for more than twelve hours. Initial plan was to have it quarterly but it now seems like the focus is to make it annual.
Image: Pawa Festival.
4. Nairobi National Park.
This cannot be said enough times; it is the only national park you will see within a city. When it comes to magical things, Nairobi is in a league of its own. You can randomly run into a pride of lions grooming themselves in the middle of the road, or having your evening drink at a balcony while watching a herd of buffaloes grazing nearby. Or, if they get bored enough, the lions can just come to you, and end up making every reputable media outlet hysterical.
The Park is home to a rhino sanctuary, a breeding facility that features the endangered black rhino, an animal orphanage that serves as a shelter for rescued, wounded and orphaned lions, cheetahs, baboons and buffaloes.
In short, it is only in Nairobi that you can walk out of your house, go for a game drive and be back after three hours.
Sadly, not many Nairobians take time to enjoy this great and rare gift from nature in their city.
5. Blankets and Wine
It started as a simple get together where guys could just meet up in one place on Sunday evenings, perform, dance and generally have a good time. This was in a bid to give Nairobians a nice thing to do on Sunday evenings and provide artists with a space where they could perform and interact with other artists.
MDQ, literally grew a unique concept to such heights that it soon got the highest form of flattery, imitators. The idea has been replicated in Mombasa, Nanyuki and even in Uganda to great success. They took a sabbatical but luckily, Nairobians are back to their shuka carrying and wine favourite afternoon event. Some local events are even built on the groundwork laid by Blankets and Wine.
Anyone that loves good live performances can have a good time at Blankets and Wine. In the five years it has been in existence, BW has evolved past being just a musical and picnic mash up; It led to one of the best international cultural exchanges in the recent past that saw some greats like Oliver Mutukudzi, Mi Casa, Liquideep, Zahara, and recently Aloe Blacc, among others perform.
Many agree they are a way of artistic expression for the city’s youth. Whatever you think of them, they are an experience, and a uniquely Nairobi one at that.
Having a matatu that is considered cool in Nairobi is no cheap affair. They never stay that long at the helm. The rate at which new matatus are released off the oven is weekly. Most have screens on literally every seat, because having one TV screen is so 2001.
For some, the front part of the passenger side has been converted into a VIP section.
Drivers rely on CCTV cameras connected to the passenger side to monitor passenger movement. They move fast. They rarely wait for passengers as they usually find die hard fans, mostly young people, waiting for them. Despite their fares being slightly higher the the rest. Their artworks are a homage to things that the owners like. If you want to get somewhere quickly, they are the better option as they seem to disobey every traffic rule.
Unsurprisingly, they are never detained by the cops, perhaps lending credence a common assumption that most of them are owned by police officers.
Way before, people used to come to Nairobi for the matatu experience, or they never considered their Nairobi experience complete till they took a matatu ride. Even Wyclef Jean, the Grammy winning artiste drove one to Kasarani when he was here to host the MTV MAMA awards.
They have a website, YouTube channels and even instagram accounts dedicated to them. They seem to be a permanent part of the youth and urban cultures, occasionally undergoing ups and downs depending on the moods of the powers that be and how close to a general election we are.
7. David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust takes care of elephant calves whose mothers have been killed by poachers or succumbed to other factors such as habitat loss. A visit to the place will allow you feed, hug, pose for photos or simply gawk at them. The Trust has saved, reared and rehabilitated more than 150 elephants and many rhino calves before releasing them back into the wild. They also run a fostering programme in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service. It is probably one of a kind place in the world; you can rarely find a place taking care of elephant and rhino calves before re-introducing them to the wild. This kind of conservation is not cheap and is very demanding. ( You can contribute to the saving/caring of a baby elephant orphaned by poaching by adopting your own for as little as US$50 per year. Or, you can can directly donate to Save the Elephants . The charity supports projects aimed at stopping the killing, the trafficking and ending the demand for ivory.).
The place is considered a unique experience that it is included in the itineraries of visiting global figures. Ani elephant poaching champion Lupita Nyong’o is among the notables who have passed through the place.
8. Nairobi Safari Walk and Giraffe Centre
The Nairobi Safari Walk is a conservation based recreational facility. It is just 30 metres from the entrance of Nairobi National Park. It gives a visitor a clear picture of what to look forward to at Kenya’s National Parks. It seeks to make visitors appreciate Kenya’s natural diversity by providing an experience of the country’s three ecosystems; savannahs, forests and wetlands.
Although it cannot replace an actual visit to the parks, it offers a chance to those who cannot make it to the parks to get a sense of what is out there through a walking tour. Animals to be found there include antelopes and gazelles, gnu, impala, buffalo, warthog, cheetah, hyena, leopard and lion.
Barely half an hour drive from the Safari Walk, is the Giraffe Centre. It started as a rehabilitation project to rescue the Rothschild Giraffe. Here, you get onto a platform and stand eye to eye with the giraffes, and if you’re lucky(which is, basically, all the time), you will get kissed by a long-tongued giraffe!
Every photographer worth their salt has taken a photo of Nairobi from the helipad at KICC, well, almost. The view from the top of KICC is a stunning visual of the city and its environs.Not only do you see the city from a totally new angle, you also get to alter your perspective. On top of that(pun unintended), the once tallest building in the city is a historical landmark. If the revolving restaurant that also calls this building home makes a comeback, the experience here will unrivalled within this city.
10. Safaricom Jazz Festival
The Nairobi Jazz Festival has emerged as the foremost experience for the Nairobi Jazz aficionado. The festival, which started small, being held in different venues and under different hours has grown to necessitate a move to a larger space. It is now family themed, takes place during the day and attendees can carry their own food and drinks.
The festival has grown from a few acts to feature an impressive list of performers, both local and international. It has brought closer to the Nairobi Jazz fan global acts that one could only fantasize about, starting with our next door neighbour Isaiah Katumwa, Salif Keita, Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Dludlu, Kunle Ayo and Jonathan Butler. All proceeds are channeled to a musical out in Korogocho called the Ghetto Classics.