Zarina and Zahid, the directors of the festival were used to taking some measure of risk but were unsure about exposing the Samosa team, partners and audiences to it. A decision had to be made. After much discussion with the SAMOSA team it was decided to drop the Kibra idea and try and have the Festival in a more secure area within the middle class areas of Nairobi. And then the ‘Peoples President’ was sworn in on 30 January 2018 and Kibra became even more of a remote possibility - we thought ‘we have made the right decision’! But fate has its own way of mutating the best made plans and so it was to be. Meanwhile we continued with our informal telephone and email conversations with the team as we geared up towards our first formal full SAMOSA team meeting on 12 March.
And then the ‘handshake’ between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga took place on 9 March and everything changed! There was light at the end of the tunnel – at least the Festival would happen we reckoned – ‘in what form and where’ were all details to be worked out. We were assured of some kind of political stability to make a Festival happen.
And so on 12 March we had our first full SAMOSA 2018 meeting. Almost the entire original team attended the meeting – Sadia Ahmed, John Namai and a new member Mdogo – the Kenyan cartoonist who had attended the 2016 festival and become a friend of the festival with Zarina and Zahid of course. Narissa had gone to Nepal on a journey of self-discovery and we missed her presence. Apologies were received by Ubax Abdi, Reema Doshi and Lakhvir Singh – the designer of the original AwaaZ Magazine published in 2000. And so the planning began in earnest.
The theme of ‘Beads of Hope’ was adopted to reflect the hope the Kenyan people felt as they lifted themselves out of the sense of hopelessness and despondency that the 2017 bungled Elections had imposed on the nation. Sadia proposed ‘The Alchemist’ as the main festival venue which was perfect in many ways and was quickly adopted by the team. It offered ready audiences, a stage with sound and lighting, security and food from various vendors. Almost a dream venue – thank you Sadia! Other events would take place at other venues as always. Dates of Sunday 10 June to Saturday 30 June 2018 were locked in (due to pre-bookings at the Alchemist we had to launch the Festival in the last week of Ramadhan).
A list of the various events were agreed along the lines of the 2016 Festival with two additional new items being identified as a launch of the Book on the life of Joseph Murumbi, Kenya and Africa’s renowned art and culture enthusiast and puppetry. The entire branding was to be handled by ‘Kenyan Kalasingha’ namely Lakhvir Singh (fondly referred to as ‘Lucky’). The show could now begin in earnest. Another problem we had faced in 2016 was the weakness in our Marketing strategy but now Sadia, Reema and Ubax formed the perfect team to make our outreach effective and expansive.
At the next meeting on 27 March things began to fall into place. The three films were identified, the topics for the three public forums were discussed and the Murumbi book was in its design stage. Questions remained on the organisation of the final concert night. We were determined to have a fusion event with an orchestra but contact had yet to be made with potential music makers. A decision was made to drop the Indian classical act and concentrate on the fusion event backed by Murphy’s Flaw and perhaps a hip hop performance. And then Mdogo suggested a puppetry show by his group - this was received very enthusiastically by the team and so it was adopted. Earlier Mdogo had been instrumental in getting a buy in from the theatre group ‘Heart of Arts’; Ubax and Sadia had offered to organize an ‘Open Mic’ session. We were set.
At our next planning meeting on 10 April we were joined by Asif Rashid who brought in fresh energy into revamping the SAMOSA Festival. It was the one area which Zahid had neglected and hoped that he could simply update the present site as it stood but suddenly the whole scenario changed. And was a complete revamp even possible with the time frame available? Zahid was in the throes of putting the events together and fundraising and was sure it was physically just not do-able. Both Asif and Lucky felt that revamping the site was important. So with just about two months to go a herculean effort would have to be made. But then Asif had to suddenly travel and Lucky was busy with the main SAMOSA branding and both became unavailable. A new theme was identified and procured and not everybody on the team was happy but there was no going back. So Zahid roped in the SAMOSA webmaster and using the wonderful graphic designs that Lucky had developed cracked the website which went live on 13 June 2018; three days after the formal opening and the first public forum on the ‘Handshake’. A comprehensive data base of all partners and past subscribers to the old site was updated and regular announcements of the festival starting going out which have been much appreciated by all. It kept us in the public eye – we could not believe that it had happened! Together with this was the incredible effectiveness of the social media platform that Sadia maintained and updated so well. The whole team in their own way, in their own time and space made the festival happen.
As the planning progressed members expressed the desire for the festival to live up to its spirit of working with communities and so it was agreed to have the public forums in Mathare, Eastleigh and Kibra in that order respectively. We had never worked in Kibra before and it would be a new learning curve but we were up to the challenge. Our partners in these forums namely the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) and The Katiba Institute were very supportive of the these forums and played important roles in not only funding the activities but also providing the vital human resource needed for the forums; as the stories which follow will explain.
There has been so much goodwill and support that ensured the success of the Festival ranging from the magnanimity of ‘The Alchemist’, the partnerships with all the producers of the films that gave us free screening rights and helped with the panelists for the discussion forum, the generosity of the African Heritage House in hosting us on the last of the three-day bonanza and the solidarity support from the Theatre and Puppetry groups. And then a magical moment happened when the Ghetto Orchestra agreed to be part of SAMOSA 2018 – and with just over a month to go the task was gigantic but they pulled it off! And how could I forget the organization that birthed the Festival – The Godown Arts Centre? They once again came through with the ‘Nai ni Who’ events and Joy Mboya was our Guest of Honour at the opening of the Festival. Thank you – you all embody the spirit of the Festival. We shall not forget this Festival in a hurry! You all formed the ‘Threads of Inspiration’ that bound it and made it the live entity that it became!
The book launch of ‘Joseph Murumbi – A Legacy of Integrity’ certainly provided the highlight of the Festival. We were honoured to have Karen Rothmyer request AwaaZ to publish and launch the book during the Festival. In a three day bonanza not only did we launch the book but had related activities (which we expound later in this issue) that highlighted the sterling role that Joseph Murumbi, our second Vice President, played in the formation of modern day Kenya. The issue of ‘Integrity’ resounded with our audiences who asked as to when did we lose this important attribute that should have been the moral guiding compass of Kenya? Indeed the morass that we find ourselves in at the present moment is due to the corruption and impunity that has eaten into our moral fabric.
As Festival Director for 2018 my deepest gratitude and thanks go out to the small band of committed members who literally put much of their personal lives on hold as they shaped the Festival. My particular thanks go to Sadia Ibrahim and Ubax Abdi (the deputy festival director) who held my hand when things went wrong as they invariably do. I recognize the silent but solid support of Mdogo who played an important role in bringing on board the play in liaison with Kimani Wa Nyoike of Inuka and the puppetry – Asante sana! The branding played a very important part of the visibility and feel of the Festival and for that I would like to thank ‘Kenyan Kalasingha’. And finally if it was not for the love and understanding of Zarina who held fort at the family level with our son Raahat during the entire endeavour the festival would have not been the success that it was. And what about the future? Well time will tell…