Heavy Emotion and Ranking T's Kisumu Rasta Walking Tour / by Cyrus

The Yawa Nairobi fundraiser was a shocking success. In about 24 hours, friends of Raw Music raised over $750 for the young dancers Ozzy teaches, most of the money coming in the last 6 hours. I’m amazed, and I can’t thank you enough.

Ozzy and the students had been out hustling for money on their own and had managed to raise 5000 shillings (~$62), still an impressive sum in Kisumu, by taking the video Angela put together around to shops and businesses and pleading their case. Ozzy didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t tell him about the fundraiser’s success until he came home at 9pm last night, exhausted and slightly dejected from running around town. I had to tell him several times for him to believe me. He could barely eat dinner. “20 minutes ago, I didn’t know if we could keep the group going, and now this?”

Ozzy told the group this morning, and the reaction was even bigger. Many of his students broke down crying. They couldn't believe the amount we had raised. I thought I was lacking in serious human empathy, but even I teared up a bit. They're on their way to Nairobi now, and Ozzy has big plans for the rest of the money. We'll have a short clip about that up soon. Thanks again for all the generosity.

In other news, I finally met up with the legendary Ranking T yesterday (proper Kisumu pronunciation is “Rankeeeeen T”). I met Rankeen 3 years ago when I was a confused and cleanfaced young man working for an NGO in the villages surrounding Kisumu. Rankeen was the DJ at Basement Club, and the deep Reggae jams he played, distorted by human size, blown out speakers, shook me in ways uncommunicable. We hung out regularly, along with my friend/brother Jason, and his Rasta-eye-view of Kisumu first got me thinking about what would eventually become Raw Music.

Although Kisumu is a small town, people get lost. I didn’t have Rankeen’s current number when I landed, and I asked every dreadlocked or stoned looking person (an overlapping population) where I might find the man. Everyone knew him by name, but only Ragged, the fierce rastaman with the penchant for knitting, had a working phone number.

It turns out Rankeen lives about 5 minutes walk from Ozzy and Emma, where I had been staying for the last month. We agreed to meet at Sunspot, the hood’s local 24/7 butchery/bar/O’hangla club, where you’ll always find hoards of people, many of them serious candidates for alcohol-related hospitalization.

I wondered if I’d recognize him. Word on the street was that he’d cut off his dreads, and it had been a while. Luckily, I knew he would recognize me. Not too many nervous looking white dudes sitting alone at Sunspot.

But even without dreads Rankeen, with his high cheekbones, extra dark skin, and hustler's smile, is a distinctive figure, and recognition wasn’t an issue. It was great to see him, and he was happy I’d looked him up. He’d heard tell of a white man searching for him, which is never a good sign, and I guess he was relieved it was just me.


Before we could grab a drink Rankeen wanted me to meet his family, so we set off through the mud roads (a result of the day’s afternoon thunderstorm) to his family compound. It felt almost wrong, meeting the elderly father of a person you only know as the most fearsome DJ in town. Pops invited me in, offered me and Rankeen each one of the two plastic chairs in the dark concrete room, and asked if I was a Christian. I nodded in agreement with suspicious overenthusiasm and wondered where this was going. Luckily, at that moment, a small child brought in a fat screaming baby of indeterminate gender and passed it off to Pops, who promptly passed the chunk on to Rankeen. Rankeen held the thing with a tenderness that made it instantly clear--the world has been bequeathed another rasta-baby.

“His name is Nestor,” Rankeen told me with pride, “he’s one.”

The great Rankeen T, a father and a son? I guess I was looking for the human side of music.

We stopped by Rankeen’s sister’s place before making it back to Sunspot. I was saddened to find that, after a week in the relative luxury of our 2nd home, I had already lost all the ghetto-walking skills I’d refined during my time in Kondele--avoiding refuse, children and barbed wire while staying upright on slippery paths was once again a challenge.

Finally we could talk. Rankeen had been traveling with a mobile soundsystem, playing big shows all over western Kenya during the month of December. “December everyone has money and the students are out of school and really want to rave,” he told me. On his most recent DJ tour he had taken his hustle to the next level, painting childrens' faces (a popular holiday-time activity) for 20 shillings a piece during the day while on the road. “I paint the first two kids for free, and then all the rest want it and I can charge” he told me. Ingenious. The hustle never dies.

I’d been hoping Rankeen could help me with a shot I was missing for the show--the mass, grimy hectic party. The man did not disappoint. He has promised to take me to see a guy with Kisumu’s biggest “sound” tomorrow. “Sound” is short for “Sound System,” the mobile speaker systems pioneered by the early Jamaican DJs. People couldn’t afford club entrance on the island so the old Jamaicans would set up huge sound systems in vacant lots and fields and charge a tiny bit for entrance. Competition between different sounds fueled the glory days of Jamaican rocksteady and reggae, when DJs vied for new, exclusive, deeply funky cuts and bands pumped them out at a hectic pace.

I’m surprised and excited to hear that Kisumu, with its scant resources and general lack of musical equipment, is home to a proper sound, and I can’t wait to see it. What’s more, Rankeen has plans to throw a big party at the end of the month with either that sound or another one. We discussed the notion of Raw Music partnering up with him and publishing posters advertising a party that will be filmed for American TV. Rankeen is excited about the idea and promises a good turnout. He had actually heard about Raw Music International from people, but he didn’t know that I was the one behind it. “It’ll be a great party,” Rankeen told me, “People know me here, and they always come.”

People definitely know him. Walking through Kondele, people called out every few steps-- “Rankeen! Rankeen!” Sometimes they got a wave in return, and sometimes Rankeen would leave me and approach his callers to conduct some business.

Rankeen put me in a matatu for the 2 minute ride to Ozzy’s house, recommending I not walk alone, and we made plans for tomorrow. At Ozzy’s, we made plans for the entire future, riding high on the wave of support from you all. I can’t thank you enough.