From the irresistible performance techniques, one can tell that their skill is a product of months, may be years of dedicated practice.
I am talking about a group of artists who while prying on the attention of their audiences, have perfected in convincing victims to willingly sink their hands into pockets, wallets and purses.
They are not the kind that tag at your arm or cloth asking if you have any change left or remind you that “they too need to eat”. They believe in giving value in return for your money.
No, it is the other way round; you giving money for their value. It is their business to comfort troubled souls and get rid of frowning faces in public spaces.
The unsolicited service preceding a stretched arm is technically a transition of art into begging.
The most entertaining artist you are likely to encounter while traveling around Nairobi is an African fiddle player. The man (and they are many) and his instrument are perfect companions.
The two engage in a call-response game. The player asks a question and plays a tune in response to the question. Everyone in the bus is always in stitches and those who don’t laugh, grin.
After a number of trips on different days, you might note the trend. The conclusion of this game between the player and his instrument is the most hilarious. Their conversation usually go like this:
“You have played for so long, making them laugh. Aren’t you hungry?” followed by a tune in concurrence.
“But even if these people decide to give you money, how will you take it? Should I ask the tout to collect it for you?” then the tune plays a ‘no’.
“Why?” then tune in response followed by a confirmation.
“He will mix it with the fare?”
“Then I will take it on your behalf, alright?”
The artist collects what he can from ‘well-wishers’ and jumps off the bus at the next stop.
Wait until you travel in a bus with a preacher on board. Theirs is a simple three-prong strategy.
They know where to sit; the vantage conductor’s seat. Or at times, they offer to be the illegal, excess passenger.
He or she waits till the bus gets moving, stands, thanks the passengers (for they do not count as passengers as most won’t pay fare) for their time and like a bombshell, the word of the Good Lord rains down people’s ears.
THREAT, HOPE AND TITHE
The strategy is threat, hope and tithe. The preacher reminds travellers that they are alive while others died on a road accident, and for that they have no reason not to thank God.
They have a good grasp of working threats. What follows is prompting people to trust in the grace of the Lord. Of course, in between are numerous anecdotes, a few verses from the Holy Book and their interpretation.
Their conclusion, “if you are touched, you may want to bless the servant of God.” They grab the supposed tithes, coil back in the conductor’s seat or hang on the rail and remain mum as if nothing has happened.
No city is short of these artists. Walking along the streets you will not miss a guitarist, occasional dancer, and a singer of hymns and a player of a church drum.
What differentiates these beggars with the one in rags is their presumed decency. They are a group of beggars who opt for cunning methods to remain decent.
In their trade, they are artists as they are beggars in equal measure. It is a mistake to think that these people are out to entertain or preach the word of the Good Lord to the public.
The bottom-line is that they are beggars masquerading as preachers, guitarists, fiddle players or hymn singers.