I recently spent an evening dining and conversing with Radcliffe, my sister Leslie’s partner, and some friends, in Brooklyn. I was in the U.S. for a few weeks visiting family and renewing my Kenyan visa. Radcliffe, a painter, sculptor, and installation artist, was working on a series of paintings on sheet music, which he transported in an old Count Basie record cover. Brilliant. He told me that these pieces would be part of an upcoming exhibit in Europe. The work centered around a series of photographs of West and Central African sculptures. The sculptures were placed within surreal worlds, rich in color and texture. After a dinner of grilled fava beans, salmon, and ramps, I sat and watched Radcliffe work on the paintings. Later that evening, we went for drinks at a local lounge in Bed-Stuy, and then to the Eye Spy party in Williamsburg, whose theme was music influenced by the Native Tongues movement. It had been several years since I lived in Brooklyn and the changes throughout the borough were apparent – from the Barclay’s Center to the new residents who’ve moved into my old neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. Folks who have lived in Brooklyn for years will be the first to tell you – it’s not what it used to be. And I think that’s true…but somehow in my evening with Radcliffe, my sister, and our friends, I was reminded that home is where the heart is, and a piece of my heart still lives in Brooklyn.
Who are the black yogis? This is a question that’s been on my mind for a long time. Several years ago I maintained a subscription to Yoga Journal and was consistently disappointed by the magazines failure to represent people of color in its pages. It was a harsh irony that the publication didn’t do more to connect its content with the creators of the practice let alone other people of color. It was clear that Yoga Journal pandered to the same clientele that frequented the studios. I was disappointed when I considered the magazines failure to use its platform to represent a more diverse body of practitioners.
Having moved to Kenya several months ago, I rediscovered Bikram Yoga Nairobi. Upon returning, I was delighted to observe a diverse group of practitioners and teachers at the studio. Kenyans were definitely in the expected mix of European and American expats during classes. Within my first couple of weeks I met Kent, a Trinidadian teacher who had a fantastic story. Apparently Kent, who had a small frame, weighed over 200 lbs. a few years ago. Then he discovered Bikram Yoga and turned his life around. Side Note: for a long time I resisted Bikram Yoga as a regular practice. There was something about the flashiness and blatant capitalism that the founder Bikram Choudhuroy seemed to embody; what appeared to be a purely physical practice; and an uncertainty about the safety of the instruction. That being said, historically I’m not one to proselytize about the benefits of Bikram yoga BUT having revisited the practice in recent months the personal benefits have been notable. Back to Kent: during his classes I really appreciated Kent’s presence of mind and motivational style. I also liked that he was a black yoga teacher teaching a class filled with Kenyans. This was the moment that Yoga Journal had missed. I talked with Kent about the two of us doing a photo shoot to represent The Black Yogis. This is a moment I’ve been waiting for for a long time. In the future I’ll do a post on some of the amazing Kenyan yoga teachers that have emerged in recent years, many of them coming through Africa Yoga Project. But for now I start at home. Thank you Kent for being that lamp post (to use a Bikram idiom) and safari njema wherever your travels take you.
photos by Elísabet Cárdenas
@ Bikram Yoga Nairobi, Lavington Green
Blitz the Ambassador. I’d heard the name but didn’t really know his music. Mind you I’ve been on the periphery of Hip Hop music for several years. There are a handful of current artists that I listen to but Hip Hop has lost some steam from the days of my youth … at least for me. I met Buddha Blaze, the event organizer, back in ’08 during my first trip to Nairobi and I’ve since respected his work as an events and community organizer. If there’s hope for Hip Hop I think it’s folks like Blaze who hold the torch. I got a FB invite from Blaze to Blitz’ album release party and headed out to Ebony Lounge on a wednesday night. I did know that Blitz is a Ghanaian/American emcee who’s work is known for its social-political content. Over the course of a couple of hours a comfortable size crowd gathered at the venue. Blitz came through in classical African time and proceeded to rock the mic. I was thoroughly impressed with his stage presence (mind you he was standing on a bar) and his likeable personality. And of course I appreciated experiencing the full circle diaspora of Hip Hop as embodied by an emcee from the continent. For me the show was a beautiful reminder that Hip Hop is alive and well …. and in fact never died.
Check out Blitz’ new album DIASPORADICAL available on itunes soon.
Ebony Lounge Westlands Road, Nairobi www.ebonyloungenairobi.co.ke
I’m officially a fan of The Koroga Festival which is sponsored by Capital FM and takes place every other month in the Arboretum Gardens. Admittedly I’m an outdoorsy person who appreciates intergenerational gatherings … mommas and babas have to get our groove on too! The festival this past weekend did not disappoint. Sauti Sol, one of the biggest names on the East African music scene, gave a rousing performance. The highlight for me happened towards the end of their set when they invited all the youth in the audience onto the stage. The kids had a ball. There were also performances by emerging artists Mayonde and Juliani as well as jumpy castles, a food court, multiple bars and numerous fashion and design vendors. Check out The Koroga Festival facebook page for upcoming events and more pics.
Last week my good friend and Art Curator, Azza Satti took me to the One Off Gallery in Rosslyn. We drove through a well manicured compound and turned onto a thickly forested road covered by a beautiful canopy of trees that led to the front gate. The askari opened the gate, we parked the car and walked down a stone pathway, passing horses and geese until we arrived at the gallery where we were greeted by the owner Carol Lees and her friendly pack of dogs. Carol, a delightful lady with a deep appreciation for and knowledge of Kenyan art, treated us to tea and illuminated the history of the Kenyan art scene over the last 20 years. Most of the work below is currently on exhibit at the gallery which is open to the public Tues. – Sun: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. I’m told that it’s great to visit on saturday when Carol treats guests to tea and snacks. Visit the site for details.