At around 7 Ozzy and I got up and went out to Total Vibez Studios. Something had gone down on the main road out of Kondele, so the matatu took a sharp turn onto dirt road shortcuts through the slums. The only thing more terrifying than a rasta matatu blasting reggae through the Kisumu night is that same rasta matatu barreling along uneven dirt roads as if it were a Subaru off roader and not a hand welded pseudo-Toyota with 25 people rattling around in it.
But the life threatening shortcut paid off, and somehow the matatu ended up dropping us off in a pitch black field surrounded by tin shacks, directly in front of the one shack blasting rap music. This, it wasn't hard to guess, must be Total Vibez.
Inside, a bunk bed, a desktop computer, home speakers, a handmade wood vocal booth taking up a third of the room, and the distinct smell of two MCs and one DJ in a very small, hot environment. Raw music indeed.
The rappers were Robertoz and Gill Gucci, two of Kisumu's own (in fact Robertoz lives just down the road from us in Kondele), working on their first collabo. The producer Malik worked with a pirated copy of Fruity Loops, the production software of choice out here, while the guys practiced their verses.
The general theme in Kisumu, politically, socially, and musically, is that the system is turned against the town, and that people can't get ahead the way citizens of other Kenyan cities can. Ever since independence, the Luos of the Kisumu area have felt marginalized by the Kikuyu governments that have led the country. Tribal favoritism takes on many forms, from land deals to government posts to budget allocation, and many Kisumuites blame this for the disproportionately high rates of unemployment and HIV infection Kisumu suffers.
This feeling shows up even at late night recording sessions at Total Vibez, where the vibez are so easy. "We're coming strong, we have the music, but we don't have the cash, and we can't get on the radio in Nairobi" Robertoz tells me. The same goes for live shows, "You need cash man, for security, and we can't get it, and people won't back us cause they think, 'Kisumu? No.'"
Defeatist or realist? The line often blurs in this town. In any case, the rhymes were NIIIIICE, and I was really excited to be there. One of Total Vibez's early cadets did make it for himself in Nairobi--a kid named Nebulazz, and we hope to catch him when he returns to Kisumu for the holidays.
We stopped by a grocery store to pick up bottled water for my weak microbe-susceptible self, because they don't sell it anywhere near where we stay in Kondele. These modern grocery stores, targeted at westerners and the wealthy Indian and African populations of Kisumu, work on a completely different monetary scale than the markets where average folk get their grub. While the people in our neighborhood are counting out individual shillings for matatu fare, starting prices for staple goods at the big grocery stores can begin at double the average person's daily salary. It's like two economies running side by side, but hardly ever overlapping.
At home, we ate beans and pancakes and watched 30 Rock on Kenyan public television (I don't know who decides which American TV shows to broadcast here).
It's morning now. Ozzy just came into the room. He has to take Emma to the hospital because she might have malaria, and Brian had to go down to the police station because his sister's place was broken into in the early hours. CNN showed Kenya for the first time since I was here, Kisumu in fact, but only in relation to the ICC human rights tribunal that starts today regarding the violence in this very neighborhood 2 years ago. Constant up and down in Kisumu. I hope Emma is ok.