Kenyan musicians resume US Smithsonian show


Kenyan musicians on Sunday resumed performances at the ongoing Smithsonian Folklore Festival in Washington DC after abandoning the stage on Saturday to protest over unpaid allowances.

The over 40 musicians ended their job boycott after revising the contracts they signed with the ministry of Arts and Culture before leaving for the United States.

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In the new agreements that were expected to be inked Sunday night, the ministry gave definite dates on which it will pay the musicians’ perks and participation fees.

Drums thundered across The National Mall, as the artistes blew horns, strummed nyatiti and guitars, shook percussions, and belted folk and classical Kenyan tunes from 11.30am to 6.30pm.

The mercurial performances reverberated across the tented stage and neigbouring tall buildings— pulling in people in droves.

“The reason we decided to play today is because we already made our point (by striking). We believe if we push it further, we’ll not only be hurting our audience but also ourselves as musicians,” Tebu Osusa, the artistes’ programme manager, told the

“We’re not playing because of pressure from the government but because we believe our fans deserve a chance.”

The executive director of Ketebul music said they would continue to perform this week and urged the government to fulfil its pledges in the new pacts.

The team is resting today and Tuesday, and is expected resume performances on Wednesday through Sunday.

Kenya Smithsonian project manager Elizabeth Ouma said all payments— allowances and participation fees— will be done by July 4, two days to the end of the 10-day event.

In the new contracts, just like the former, the musicians will get a daily allowance of Sh5,100 ($60) and Sh127,500 ($1,500) in participation fees.

While reiterating his apologies to the artistes, Arts and Culture Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario said delays in releasing the allowances were caused by a technical hitch in the remittance of funds to the Kenyan embassy in DC.

Dr Wario said they were committed to meet the goals of the international fete, whose assessment so far he termed as “unparalleled success in Kenya’s history of the arts and heritage|”.

Kenya seeks to use the festival to woo more tourists and investors from the West— its traditional source market.

The end of the job boycott breathed new life into the event that was largely about sampling and eating Kenyan cuisine on Saturday.

Ngoma Stage, the over 1,000-person capacity venue for the live event, remained packed, with guests not only listening but also shaking to the beats with gay excitement.

Couples could be seen holding hands and dancing freestyle, with Kenyans living and working in the US trying to teach the guests how to shake hips, hands, shoulders, legs and bodies.

“Kenyan music has a good beat to it. It’s very repetitious and melodious. I’m loving this moment,” Andy Aldama,66, a businessman from Virginia, said as he nodded to the tune of Jabali Root’s Aoko song.

While many were listening and dancing to Kenyan music for the first time, some were reliving the sweet memories of their unforgettable safaris in Kenya.

“I love Kenyan music. It just brings back the memories. I love the energy of it and the dances are beautiful,” Matilde Deissol,27, a student at John Hopkins University, said.

The end of the embarrassing spectacle was a big relief for Kenyans living and working in the US, and many brought their families and friends to The Mall.

“We’ve seen more enthusiasm in terms of the crowds coming to the Kenyan section. There has been a flow of performance all day and we could hear that from far,” Shillah Mujera, an auditor in Washington DC, said.

Esther Kimani, who brought pupils born of Kenyan parents in the US to the event, said it offered them a chance to connect with Kenya.

“For them to come and witness a Maasai dance, listen to Kikuyu music, taste Kenyan food and try Kenyan lifestyle was really great,” said the resident of Baltimore, Maryland.

The Smithsonian Festival is an annual 10-day event that draws over 1.5 million visitors to the heart of the US political capital.

It will run from June 25 to 29 and July 2 to 6. Kenya is the fifth African country to be featured in the festival.

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