On Wednesday May 17, Too Early For Birds opened its curtains in a spectacular reincarnation of Kenya’s history at The Kenya Cultural Centre.
The show, which was sold out, depicted part of our country’s history to its impressed audience. They showcased stories of Otenyo Nyamaterere, Muthoni Nyanjiru, Nyayo House torture chambers and Paul Ngei. This was so well received that the organisers, who did not know what to expect with the first show, are now working on Volume II of the production and will be staged on June 29 and 30.
The team behind the production seeks to go back into Kenya’s timeline to seek moments that built who we are as a country. Our past, they say is one borne of sweat, blood and bravery ranging from resistance against the British colonialists to standing against cold-blooded dictators. They are stories that are bound to stir awe, terror and admiration.
These stories were inspired by Morris Kiruga of variety blog Owaahh.com, which recently won the Best Topical Blog award during the Bloggers Association of Kenya Awards.
The upcoming production seeks to explore the stories of post-independence Kenya’s political dissent. The first production aspired to give names of some of the overlooked heroes of our country. Volume II, however, seeks to identify only those who have been mentioned in history books in passing through fuller and clearer pictures of their contribution to the peace and freedom we enjoy.
These stories will appreciate those who suffered in the hands of the police for daring to speak out against injustice and those who died for going against an oppressive regime to imagine a better future for Kenya. They will be narrated by a talented team led by Abu Sense and Ngartia, who talked to Karen Muriuki and gave her a better insight of the production.
Tell us more about Volume II of the production
Ngartia: It’s a story telling show based on Kenyan history, mostly, parts of Kenyan history that are not out there. We see a lot of Kenya’s political history, but we tend to forget the heroes behind it. That’s what we want to do: tell their stories. It shows the violence that was present in Kenya before the Mau Mau regime.
Abu: We know about Wangari Maathai having won the Nobel Peace Prize and fighting for our trees, but we really do not know much past that. That’s part of what we want to enlighten our audience on. Her personal life, her background, what pushed her to fight for our trees. Another story is on the Bukusu in the late 1800s where they had built forts near Bungoma and Webuye. There was a real war between the Bukusu and the British. They won the first battle, but were defeated in the next one.
Main objective of the production?
Ngartia: To have a reference point to the culture that seems to have been forgotten. It was born out of curiosity; we really wanted to know what happened before 1963, and even after 1963. We wanted to go beyond the politics.
Abu: There are a lot of characters that have been sidelined and their stories are important for us to know why they did what they did. It may sound like it is activism, but we really just want to bring the stories to life as well as to see the reference points that we are so curious about.
What inspired these productions?
Abu: The lack of detail to these events. All we knew were the stories as we were taught in Social Studies back in primary. We didn’t get to learn the side of Wangari Maathai standing up to the whole government system just to show her fellow Kenyans the importance of planting trees. Such stories and characters of courage and bravery led us to dig deeper and do our research and to bring it to life. The reason we dig into their personal lives as well is so that we can know what led them to their actions.
Abu: The stories on Owaahh’s blog are just shortened versions of what we really want to tell our audiences. The show gives more insight in character building and the details of what happened.
Who’s your target audience?
Abu: It is pretty wide. Millennials were our initial target, because we really wanted them to know about Kenya’s history.
Ngartia: The first show, however, made us realise that there are two levels to the show. Many people tagged their parents along. We realised that the Generation X category, which is the age group preceding the millennials, could also be interested in the show because they could relate to the stories and the events being depicted, seeing as they were there.
What challenges do you face in bringing the script to life?
Ngartia: We do heavy work on the research. We go through books, files in the archives, novels, biographies as well as watch a lot of film. We always need to have our facts right.
Abu: Some reference points give totally different information, which means our job is to also find balancing points between them.
Ngartia: Accessing these documents and files has also proven to be very difficult for us over time. We find pages missing and stories having been changed. Capital is also a challenge for us because we finance everything ourselves. We have no sponsors. There’s a lot of skipped lunches and close calls with landlords. (Laughs). But we’re still here.
Abu: Trying to know what to include into the script and what to leave out is also difficult. A lot of these stories are interesting that we would love to cover them all, but stage time becomes a limiting factor.
Who would you call to be part of the audience, dead or alive?
Abu: Professor Wangari Maathai, to start with. I would love her to see the story that we have cooked up about her. One of our biggest ideals was eradicating complacency, and I think the deep research we delve into can’t afford to have that word as part of our values. Our current leaders, as well as aspiring ones, should see it, so that they can remember where our dear country came from.
Ngartia: All the people we talk about in the show: Pio Da Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, Wangari Maathai... and generally the people who have been at the forefront of fighting for Kenya. People like Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Maina wa King’ati who have tried to tell such stories and got shut down. Generally, all Kenyans should be part of this, so as to appreciate our backgrounds.
You have a five-minute break during rehearsals. What do you spend that time doing?
Ngartia: Breathe! (Laughs). But wait, we have no breaks actually.
Abu: We should complain about that. (Laughs)