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Lucille Nyikuri: Creating Distinctive Jewellery From Cow Horns for Markets Worldwide

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Lucille Lukagwa in one of her masterpiece necklace

Lucille Nyikuri repurposes cattle horn into elegant, distinctive jewellery and her striking craftsmanship is seeing her jewellery snapped in luxury markets worldwide.

Charles Wachira, bird story agency

What would a vice president at SC Johnson Business School at Cornell University in the United States, an interior design ambassador in New York, and an associate professor at America’s first research university, have in common?

Wamwari Waichungo is Vice President for Global Safety Assessment and Regulatory Affairs at SC Johnson, Patti Carpenter is based in New York City and is a global trend ambassador for Maison et Objet, a prominent French trade fair for interior design, while Marlene Williams is Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The answer is that despite not knowing each other and operating in entirely different sectors, all three exclusively purchase jewellery from Lukagwa African Art and Jewellers Company, a 14-year-old Nairobi-based wearable art business boutique.

“Lukagwa’s jewellery is appealing to me because of its design and its handwork. There is texture, weight, subtleties of colour and intricacy that is always fresh and can complement a variety of outfits,” said Carpenter.

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Lucille Lukagwa being creative with the beads

Lucille Lukagwa doing her thing.

“I feel I can discover a new bead or trinket each time I wear the necklaces because they are so dense and layered. I prefer the short, multi-strand versions and constantly get compliments on them each time I wear them,” she added.

Carpenter said she discovered the brand when Lucille Nyikuri, the sole proprietor of the business, was marketing her products at NY NOW – the largest home and gift wholesale trade show in New York.

Williams also discovered the brand at a conference where Nyikuri was vending;  “I loved the unique jewellery and continued to purchase.  I get compliments all the time,” she said of her discovery four years ago.

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Art & Entertainment

Abel Mutua: Mastering Storytelling

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Abel Mutal aka Mkurugenzi

You could consider Abel Mutua part stand-up comedian, part hype man, part voice actor (in the great Kenyan tradition of Maina and King’ang’i); or you could look at him as someone offering a new take on traditional African storytelling to deliver a disruptive voice in African entertainment.

Either way, there is no getting away from his influence; he is a top Kenyan Youtuber and the top Kenyan storyteller on the platform. And he brings a unique – and curiously addictive – delivery to factual storytelling.

By Anne Ndung’u, bird story agency

After debuting on local TV in a popular drama series called Tahidi High, back in 2007, Abel Mutua’s acting career had developed to the point where he’d become one of the “kings” of regional soap operas. He was a recognisable face in homes across East Africa and he’d also branched out into movies. Then, “Covid”.

“When COVID-19 set in, my colleagues and I could not continue shooting movies because the exercise involved physically socialising with people, which was unacceptable at the time.

“I was idle at home for almost three weeks. I spent the time telling stories about my eventful life to my wife and daughter. And they found the stories very interesting. Then one day, my wife innocently asked me why I was being selfish; “go share the stories with the world as well,’ she implored,” he explained from his production company’s offices on the outskirts of Nairobi.

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Now, in addition to his other ventures, Mutua is a storyteller. And one of Kenya’s rising Youtube stars.

Mutua manages to tell gripping, factual stories, in fantastic detail, using visual and audio aids in the process. He regularly revisits historical events that occurred long before his audience was born and that are considered milestones in the country’s history. For example, one story fixated on an attempted coup in Kenya, in 1982.

“He brings out the story to almost actual visuals… he makes the character look good at what he does…he is one of the best storytellers around,” said one fan, Karen Koech, explaining the attraction.

In 2020, Mutua won the coveted Silver Plaque YouTube Award, just months after embracing the platform. The award is handed to individuals who draw in 100,000 subscribers on a personal channel.

The following year he was named Kenya’s top YouTube influencer. He has produced several successful shows through his channel, including Celebrity First Encounters, Stories of My Life, Young and Stupid, and Headline Hitters.

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Today, the 34-year-old commands a youthful audience of loyal listeners and viewers who connect with him primarily through live storytelling sessions held at the Kenya Cinema and through his videos posted on YouTube.

In all his YouTube episodes, Mutua is unafraid to show the world that he’s human, delivering in a “warts and all” style and in so doing appears to have remained true to himself. He’s modest about the space he has carved out for himself.

“I am just doing what God intended for me to do in the land of the living. I am proving that if you set your mind to doing something that you are passionate about and you do it exceedingly well, the hand of God will direct you to places you have never thought of,” he said, during an interview at the offices of his production company,

While Mutua is a household name across East Africa, it began with small steps

Abel’s journey

“In 2005. I was a student at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC). Two years later, I got an internship at Citizen TV. At the time, Tahidi High was airing. I ended up joining the production team in 2009,” explained the entertainer, who specialised in film production while at KIMC.

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In mid-2021, as the restrictions imposed by the COVID- 19 pandemic eased, Mutua took his shows live. There, he engaged his young and active audience through narration and sound effects.

Interestingly, Mutua has found that his Gen Z and Millennial audience continue to prefer stories about past events of historical significance – particularly events that shaped the country’s socio-political history. However, some of his narratives go well beyond East Africa’s shores; one tells the story of a Mexican househelp, Miriam Rodriquez, who took on one of the country’s famous cartels, and another the story of Holocaust survivor, Tova Friedman.

His first live performance at the newly renovated Kenya National Theater was a sellout, with many of those who were unable to attend requesting a larger venue for the next performance. This compelled him to conduct the subsequent story session in the larger Kenya Cinema Theatre.

“That background is awesome; we as wakurugenzi (Swahili word for directors) want a live show,” said Daniel Maina, another fan, in response to one of the Youtube shows.

“I don’t like how I’m becoming addicted to Headline hitters,” said another follower, Vinnie Macelo.

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Teachers now request that Mutua visit schools to narrate historical events to young students, as narratives are memorable and easily retained by the students.

Those requests might find favour, given Mutua’s own background as a child.

Growing up in one of Nairobi’s Eastlands estates under the care of a single mother, Mutua said he ended up in his current line of work through curiosity.

One day, after seeing a Mercedes Benz pull up in the estate in which they lived—a rare occurrence—he was tip-toeing to see what was inside when a former head of Kenya’s Presidential Press Unit tapped him on the back.

“When he alighted and entered one of the houses, I quickly ran to see the interior of the car. I was impressed, and I got deeply engrossed in admiring it. I did not notice the owner coming back until he tapped my shoulder, warning me that it was bad manners to peep into other people’s cars,” Mutua recalled.

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Abel Mutua

Abel Mutua- Mastering Storytelling

“After noticing my fright, he asked me if I would love a ride in the car, and you guessed it, I quickly said yes!”

When Mutua learned that the man was a journalist, he decided to pursue a field in communications so that he, too, could enjoy such niceties. Today, the actor, screenwriter, content creator, comedian, storyteller, and co-owner of the Nairobi-based Phil-it Productions Ltd looks well able to enjoy some of the finer things in life, too.

A visit to the production house, located in Kahawa Sukari, some 20 km northwest of Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD), where Mutua works with three co-founders of the company, revealed a beautiful bungalow that houses the production house seated on a well-manicured lawn on a half an acre of land. It’s a tranquil environment with a driveway paved with pavers leading to the building.

One, two, three, four, and five shiny high-end cars were parked strategically in the compound. Later it emerged that two belonged to the top managers at the firm, while the other three belonged to business acquaintances paying a visit.

“Mutua is a natural TV scriptwriter. Whatever he works on resonates with a large proportion of Kenya’s population. It might sound cliché, but the truth is that his scripts, regardless of the platform of choice, encapsulate the daily struggles, victories, and hopes of that anonymous person found in a generic Kenyan locale,” said Philip Maudu Kioko, a senior lecturer at the local Kenyatta University’s Department of Communication Media, Film and Theatre Studies.

Abel’s finesse

His portraits of real people may power his performances but what is also clearly a hallmark is his ability to market his product brazenly while having fun. The Grand Little Lie is testimony to that.

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A day before the film premiered, the world watched in awe as Mutua, together with two of his colleagues, walked unabashedly on a busy Nairobi road in the early hours of the morning with placards announcing the arrival of the movie and encouraging people to purchase tickets.

“Please, buy our film… Inaongeza urembo na nguvu za kiume (it will increase a woman’s beauty and a man’s virility),” the placards read, echoing those offering questionable remedies, often seen on Nairobi sidewalks. The tongue-in-cheek ads got noticed by local and regional media.

In October 2021 the film grossed KSh4 million (over US$34,000) in ticket sales within five days.

“He’s the epitome influencer of content that runs in Kenya’s Television ecosystem today. His stature answers to being Kenya’s poster boy for acting, directing, and producing blockbuster TV soap operas, including being the local bellwether Youtuber,” says David Mbugua, formerly a cameraman with the Cable News Network (CNN) based here in Nairobi and currently a budding film-maker.

Mutua’s artistic output reads like a litany of local content routinely streamed online and on local television.

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It has included award-winning TV drama series including Tahidi High, The Real Househelps of Kawangaware, Mother-in-Law, Crime and Justice, Hullabaloo Estate, Hapa Kule News, Sue Na Jonnie, and MaEmpress, among others.

In his YouTube channels, Mutua styles himself as “Mkurugenzi’, Kiswahili for “director”—a word he uses as his moniker, while his fans are known as “Wakuregenzi, “ or “directors”.

Recently, he transitioned his broadcast presence from being shown on free-to-air TV, to pay-TV in collaboration with Maisha Magic East. Channel 158 is DSTV’s flagship local channel and is a 24-hour entertainment channel targeting the mass market.

Asked if Kenyan-owned production houses could make money, Mutua answered in the affirmative but said the elephant in the room remains distribution.

“There are many Kenyans both here and in the diaspora looking for quality local content. And with video-on-demand and online access, distribution is improving, but we as a country have a long way to go,” says Mutua.

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The East African nation is currently engaged in a heated discussion over whether to increase the percentage of local content shown on local television. In 2014, the Kenyan government passed a broadcasting regulation requiring broadcasting stations to ensure that 40 per cent of content broadcast on TV and radio was locally produced.

It has not been lost on key TV pundits that Mutua’s scripts are delivered in fluent and easily understood Swahili, devoid of the dense Sheng lingo associated with Kenya’s urban street smarts. Sheng is popularly defined as an acronym for ‘Kiswahili-English slang.’ It originated in the early 1950s in Nairobi’s Eastlands area. It is mainly used by the youth and is part of popular culture in Kenya.

A consequence is that his work has found traction with a wide variety of viewers, across the Swahili-speaking region, and beyond.

If nothing else, Mutua has proved that social media, if used creatively, can transform one’s personal income. In this frontier economy, the platform has turned into “that-thing-that-everybody-wants-to-be-part-of”.

In his stories, the Kenyan 2018 Entertainment Industry Award talks candidly about his personal experiences, including how he proposed to Nyawira, his wife. He talks of the hiccups he has encountered in his line of work, for example, how they played gullibly with his co-director, Philip Karanja, and lost millions of shillings to scoundrels in a business deal.

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“To be honest, during the initial stages, I just set out to have fun. I didn’t think that I would end up moving the proverbial needle in the industry. But over time, I’ve realized that the market, in this ecosystem, responds positively to work that is educative, entertaining, and inspirational,” Mutua explained.

“For us, it’s often said, if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” he said.

 

 

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Kenyan Rapper: King of Urban Poetry Does Not Mince His Words

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“My goal is not to change the world but to inspire the mind that will change the world,” Willie Oeba as he is popularly referred to in the local artistic ecosystem says prophetically.

Willis Oebah

                                  Rapper Willis Oebah behind the mic

Wilson Oebah is rewriting the handbook of conscious rap in Kenya by brazenly calling out the duplicitous tendencies associated with the country’s political class including that of the general populace.

In his telling, the 27-year-old Kenyan Rapper who has so far lived exclusively in Nakuru defines himself as an urban word poet.

Beginning in 2019 when Willy dropped ISM as his first album, which was solely an in my- hood inspired artistic work, the trajectory of his craftsmanship has grown organically to presently encompass a plucky national pedigree.

Exemplars abound.

Take for example the duo tracks of Dear Mr. President and Dear Mr. Deputy President, which are formatted as letters and addressed to the country’s two –top most politicians.

Here Willie calls them out ostensibly for double-dealing, particularly with their political base and Kenyans in general.

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 Using the local creole language of sheng which is idolized by urban Kenyan youth, the two tracks arguably strike an immediacy chord with a potent demography in this East African state where 75 % of the population is under the age of 35 .

The letters are verifiably contagious for their satirical candor including the baritone voice that Willy uses to deliver his essence.

Says he: Mr. Deputy President:

Wapi stadiums? (Where are the stadiums?) Ama umeamua kufanya kazi na hutaki mchezo? (Or you decided to work and you are not interested in sports)

The same students ulipromise (you promised) paid internships in 2017, the same graduates unaoffer  (you are now offering) wheelbarrow empowerment 2020. Zima hiyo kitu (Do away with this shamming)

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Dear Mr. Deputy President, get this clear ma (the) youth hawataki (do not want) handouts, wanataka (they want) wages.

It turns out the country’s former Deputy President William Ruto won the presidency in 2022  with his former boss Uhuru Kenyatta not defending his seat because of term limits.

Also, Willie’s art reflects on generic themes that affect the youth including what it takes to be a patriot and what traits a grounded woman should aspire for as evidenced in the track These girls.

Indeed just listening to his vibes is akin to taking a journey in the existential lives of generally Kenyans but with a singular emphasis on the youth.

For his poetic lyrics strike a chord with this demography, which faces homogeneous crises key being unemployment, political exclusion, and moral decadence .

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Kenyan Rapper

 Willie Oebah doing his thing.

And if you thought Willie is a wannabe when he aptly refers to himself as the local King of poetry you will be disappointed.

In 2017 he was recognized as East Africa Spoken Word Battle King and Blaze Safaricom Music Champion in a contest that attracted more than 1000 contestants.

In a country where authorities routinely take a hardline stance on artists who dare critique the social, political, and economic malaise wrought on the Kenyan populace by arguably a corrupt, crooked and cheesy leadership Willie stands out as an outlier.

It turns out his alter ego and mentor is Kenyan rapper Kennedy Ombima popularly known by his stage name, King Kaka who has faced real threats to his life for releasing songs with heavy political undertones.

 Presently Willie, an alumnus of the local Moi University where he studied Media Science taking literature as a unit, believes the subject had a seminal effect on what he’s currently doing.

Hear him speak: “ There’s so much to learn and harness as a creative by just being in that literature space. Be it actively or passively. With literature I have learned oral, listening, writing, and communication skills. I have learned that what you write is as important as what you say, how you say it, and when you say it. That’s what poetry is.”

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 Adding that literature enables him to classify himself “ as a niche Artist because, at the end of the day, you can’t appeal to everyone. You need a niche to tap into if at all you want to be effective.”

The strapping 27-year-old lost his father to cancer in 2013 and being the eldest child in a family of five he subtly took over the responsibilities of catering for his siblings and ailing mother.

“ Growing up we did not have everything we needed and that built the resolve in me to fight for what I believe in. I have been raised in a God-fearing family set up and this has influenced my art,” he says.

Soon after completing his secondary education, Willie did odd jobs that included selling tea at the bus terminus in Nakuru. He also worked at construction sites so as to raise his university tuition fee.

“ At the University I started actively doing art so as to get paid and the monies that I received sustained me at the university. This move paid of for it saw me being nominated while in my second year as the official university Mcee and I performed in all the graduation and orientation ceremonies thus sustaining myself at the Uasin Gishu County-based institution.”

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Adding: “ I knew the moment I stepped out to go to the University, it was expected of me to give back to the family because at that time my Dad had succumbed to cancer and mum had been struck by a stroke.

“ So the idea for all four years while at the university was to give back to society and stay away from trouble. In my 3rd year, I won the Blaze Music Champion by Safaricom, and in my fourth and last year I was the most influential student in Moi University.”

 

 

 

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