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Cultural Production and Change in Kenya

Building Bridges

Kimani Njogu

Publication Year: 2008

Art, Culture and Society Vol 1 is the first in a series of books to be published by Twaweza Communications on the relationship between art and society, with special reference to Kenya. It is part of a cultural leadership initiative being undertaken by the organization through a reexamination of the arts as they are produced and studied. This volume brings together important reflections on the arts and is a major step in encouraging dialogue on the relationship between creativity and the human condition in the region. Significantly, it creates a space for university-based academics to engage in dialogue with artists and writers based outside institutions of higher learning. The conversations will bridge the gap between the two domains for knowledge production and enrich creative enterprise in Kenya, in theory and practice. As the essays in this collection show, the present global situation demands a way to conceptualise and theorise an ever growing cultural interconnectedness, sometimes manifested in art; and interconnectedness that draws from a myriad of cultures and experiences. Through the bridges of contact and cultural exchange distant images are mediated and brought closer to us. They are reinterpreted and modified. In the final analysis, culture is shown to be an important aspect of human creativity but separateness and boundedness is contested. Instead, culture is shown to be malleable and fluid. The essays bring in a new freshness to our reading of the creative arts coming out of Kenya.

Published by: African Books Collective

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. 1-4

The Art, Culture and Society series brings together important reflections on the arts in Kenya. It is a major step in encouraging dialogue on the relationship between creativity and the human condition. Volume I is a consideration of cultural productions and social change in Kenya. Creativity...

Part One: Music

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pp. 5-59

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1. Music, Identity and Swahili Networks of Knowledge

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pp. 7-26

The multicultural nature of Swahili identity has consistently defied any attempts to categorize the Swahili into a distinct ethnic or tribal group. In Kenya today, however, they have had to struggle to be part of a nation-state where ethnic identity is publicly amplified to fit a system that rewards ethnic...

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2. Joseph Kamaru: Contending Narrations of Kenya's Politics Through Music

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pp. 27-45

While discussing Gikuyu popular music in postcolonial Kenya, a detailed study of musician Joseph Kamaru is almost unavoidable. Through an analysis of his songs, which touch on most facets of everyday life in Kenya, Kamaru also demonstrates how popular songs are webs of ambiguity, which can support...

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3. "'Is Marwa!' It's Ours": Popular music and Identity Politics in Kenyan Youth Culture

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pp. 47-59

Intended to serve as a rallying point for patriotism, the import of the slogan cited above, and issued by the Public Communications Office, formed a subject of intense contestation between July and September 2006. A national debate emerged around two issues...

Part Two: Youth

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pp. 61-147

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4. Kenyan Youth and the Entropic Destruction of a Hopeful Social Order

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pp. 63-74

There is a fascinating phenomenon manifest in the reaction one gets from a lot of friends and relatives alike upon coming back to the home country if one has spent a couple of years in the West. On the one hand, it is the excitement of welcoming a returnee, but on the other, it is the disillusionment...

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5. Behind Bars: Ngugi, Women, and the Rite/Right of Passage

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pp. 75-88

This Chapter attempts a reading of Ngugi’s treatment of Wanja of Petals of Blood (1977) within the gender dynamics of Gikuyu culture. It problematises his notable ambivalence towards his women- in-transition, as they negotiate status from well-established cultural...

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6. Mchongoano Verbal Duels: Risky Discourse and Sociocultural Commentary

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pp. 89-109

Mchongoano is a ritualized genre of verbal duel popular with the Kenya youth where one antagonist insults another or members of his/her family. Though ritualized, the topics involved mark it as a risky discourse that oscillates between verbal play and aggressive slurs depending on the context and...

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7. Sports and Games in Kenya and their Role in Society

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pp. 111-128

The Collins English Dictionary describes society as “a system of human organizations generating distinctive cultural patterns and institutions and usually providing protection, security, continuity, and a national identity for its members” (Sinclair, 1994 p.1, 466). This definition clearly implies...

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8. Building Bridges through Trichotomous Youth Identities in Kenya: Evidence from Code Choice

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pp. 129-147

This chapter illustrates how the youth in Kenya build bridges in their language use. It argues that the youth are stakeholders in reversing the polarised political and inter-ethnic relations in the country. Besides engaging in debates of national cohesion and pulling...

Part Three: Electronic Media

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pp. 149-166

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9. Reading FM Radio Stations in Kenya: Opening a Pandora's Box

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pp. 151-166

According to Debra Spitulnik (1993:293), it is only recently that anthropologists have struggled to define what falls within the legitimate realm of the study of a “culture” and within the privileged purview of a “discipline.” This has in turn generated a dramatic interest in the study of mass...

Part Four: Art and Space

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pp. 167-213

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10. The Story of the Godown Arts Centre: A Journey to Freedom through the Arts

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pp. 169-186

While it is too soon to properly locate the GoDown Arts Centre within a cultural/historical framework, the centre has, nevertheless, in its brief existence from concept to reality over the last four years had several salient experiences along the way, which foretell its potential and influence...

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11. Art and Health Promotion: Creativity against HIV ad AIDS

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pp. 187-213

Geoffrey Cowley (Newsweek, 8 December, 2003) tells a story about how cartoons and soap operas are being used across the world to promote public health. A muppet, Kami, was used to tell the story of HIV positive children in South Africa and to fight stigma. The five year old HIV positive...

Part Five: Leadership

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12. Reflections on Intellectual Life and Knowing as a Problem in Alamin Mazrui's Shadows of the Moon

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pp. 217-242

In a recent article in the Daily Nation, controversial Sudanese scholar Taban Lo Liyong berates preeminent Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui for holding that the intellectual is someone who is fascinated by ideas. Lo Liyong maintains, “It is when ‘fascination...

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13. Political Culture and the Prospects of Multi-party Democracy in Kenya: Lessons from the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy-Kenya (CMD-Kenya)

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pp. 245-258

The arts have contributed in the development of accountability and the pursuit of democracy through encouraging community dialogue. In the recent past they have encouraged into the country a new era of multiparty democracy. Musicians...


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pp. 259-260

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9789966151070
Print-ISBN-13: 9789966974372

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008