As multiple award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Eric Wainaina and his band hit the final keys of their last tune at The Elephant, Kanjata Road, on September 27, the curtains came down on a six-year musical voyage.
The Elephant was originally and informally called Kifaru because there was a rhino painted on the gate, and then Eric Wainaina got involved in conservation work around elephants and renamed the venue The Elephant.
Then came “Live at the Elephant”, a monthly live music event that had enabled performers to make money from gate collections, food and bar sales.
The performers had to make money after Eric paid Sh100,000 in rent when he started using the premises in 2007.
TYING THE KNOT
After tying the knot with Sheba Hirst at the same venue in February 2008, and after one of his former business partners recommended holding concerts there, “Live at the Elephant” was launched in 2012 as a regular event.
Since then, the Kanjata Road address has been host to many shows, from the Cool Waters Jazz and Roots Festival, ‘Tis The Season a Night of Kenyan Carols, Jamhuri Sessions and Oktoberfest to Tinga Tinga Tales a New Musical, the Sondeka Festival and even a special night for the all-female cast of Too Early for Birds the Brazen Edition.
The Elephant has been a place for entertainment as well as enlightenment and empowerment. International acts like Emmanuel Jal, Keziah Jones, DJ Shadow, Jiko Man, and local acts like Blinky Bill, Nina Ogot, Sage Chemutai and Tetu Shani have used this platform at least once in their musical careers too.
For “Live at the Elephant” performances, initially the stage faced the fans. In the last year, however, they broke it into different platforms to create a “concert in the round,” which would allow the audience to come in between and around the instrumentalists and vocalists so that the audience could be “absorbed” in the music. They also curated music in a way that allowed musicians who were unknown to shine.
“It is more fun playing with different types of talent at the same venue,” Eric says.
He says that neither Nairobi County nor the national government does much to support the creative industry.
“They are not making it easier or providing space to make it easier for people to come and experience creativity. We can’t say there’s a county or nationally sponsored festival that could be considered a culture of this city. Sometimes they even try to frustrate your efforts,” says the musician.
He recalls incidents when officials of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) stormed the venue after complaints about noise pollution. In February, neighbours filed a complaint, saying a show at the venue was too loud.
Eric says they had dealt with it and even apologised for it, but on July 12, the Nema people stormed the venue, claiming to have been responding to a call about complaints on noise levels.
Eric says the message the officers showed them was from the February incident. He says they were looking to get bribed.
“They arrested members of the audience for noise pollution. Tell me what that is; there is nowhere in the regulations where they are allowed to confiscate equipment — which are other people’s livelihoods — without having given a warning about complaints and the warning being ignored,” he says.
Eric says his goal is to ensure that events are policed in an agreed framework. Nema should be there during sound checks with the meters, since they give out the permits and know where the events are.
There was a big turnout for this last show featuring Eric, Atemi and TeleVision, and memories to savour. Eric played his classics “Selina”, “Adhiambo” and “Ritwa Riaku”.
Next up is an out of town-type, multi-day, camp-in, family-friendly festival with only original music being played, and which Eric says “has been in the pipeline for a few years”.
“When you get a shock to your sense of security, it only accelerates other plans as you aim for bigger and better things,” he says.