One of the most commercially successful artists in Kenya, Nani Croze, has lived a life few could dare to
The journey to the Kitengela Glass estate begins like any other from Nairobi. Traffic is often heavy and there is frustration on the roads. But as you pass through the last of it, a different world unfurls. The road is murram (gravelly) and a new settlement is unfolding around it, overlooked by a new railroad track for the high-speed train to Mombasa, recent signs of development consuming the old Maasai plains.
But no less than a mile away, cushioned by the narrow gorges of the Nairobi National Park, is the entry into a wonderland where the life and work of German-born artist Nani Croze has concentrated for over the last 40 years. It is an eccentric paradise with a lush covering of indigenous trees and shrubs, canopies over stunning and colorfully outrageous architecture that announce the artist in her territory.
However, her life in Kenya was a gift of fate. Croze first came to East Africa with her first husband, the animal behaviourist, Harvey Croze, and their children at the end of the 1960s.
“I came to Africa in 1968 to study elephants in the Serengeti and four years later, the study was finished and we decided to go back across the continent back to Europe. I filled a VW van with my three kids, safely in the back, and we got as far as the Kenyan border. The car broke down and we stayed…and that was that,” she tells me in the aviary area outside her house as birdsong echoes around generous foliage.
Mother Nani, or ‘Mama’ to the community of artisans and their families that also call Kitengela Glass home, is a matriarch in this setting. Her hair is pinned up in a loose bun revealing tanned cheeks and piercing blue eyes.
A formidable painter and muralist, Croze is an artist of many mediums. However, a little-known fact is her life in science. As a young woman, she convinced the Nobel Prize-winning biologist and founding father of the science of animal behavior, Konrad Lorenz, to work under him. Her earlier works depict this scientific knowledge in lively wildlife motifs.
Nonetheless, she is perhaps most known, these days, for her work with glass. Her estate is testament to this; colored glass panels of all shapes and sizes line the structures at the entry of her world. The winding walkway is flanked by sculptures accented with thick glass. The outdoor seating is dalle-de-verre.
The workshop and furnace are open for passersby to see. Its products, ever-present at every corner of the estate, also decorate the balustrades of the estate’s gallery, roof to her personal studio, intentionally constructed around a formidable mogumo (African fig) tree, a souvenir from the early days. She found it growing on the barren plains of what would become estate when she arrived in 1979, a genus local legend claims can never die.
By this then, a single mother of three, Croze stumbled in to the glass arts out of economic necessity. She had purchased the land from the Maasai community of the area and was, at the time, a working muralist.
“My architect [told me] ‘you can’t pay school fees with murals, you better start something new, what about stained glass?’” she recalls.
An influx of Christian missions meant that stained glass windows were crucial for finishing new churches and, as an art, they were more profitable. This has since expanded to a wide-range of recycled glass products from blown glass to beads, mosaics, murals, sculpture and, of course, dalle de verre. However, the stained glass studio, the first on the estate, still remains, busy and peopled, tucked away in a quiet corner of the gallery building.
Croze, perhaps one of the most commercially successful artists in Kenya, is often credited for introducing this new craft to the region. She herself is self-taught and along with her son, Anslem, trained by glass-blowers in the South of France and Holland, built the first furnace in East Africa. He eventually took over the glass-blowing side of the business and now runs his own studio next door along with an eponymous retail brand in Nairobi selling decorative glass vessels, furniture and lighting.
In her own right, Nani is responsible for training the first Kenyan glass artisans, initially in stained glass and then in glass-blowing and mosaics.
“We started together, my first [assistant] was a man called Omondi. We started on stained glass-making and how it works and it’s quite a process but once you’re in it, like all my guys here… you get quite good at it. It’s a traditional and weary process but once you have [the finished window] you have something beautiful that can never be undone,” she says.
Of the things that cannot be undone is Croze’s legacy not only within the community of the estate and the industry she has created around it but in the lives of many in East Africa.
Kitengela Glass is home to more than 50 artisans and their families, many of whom have gone on to build independent careers in and outside of glass art. An example is Edith Nyambura, formerly the resident mosaic artist, who began her career at Kitengela and eventually wrote a book about her work in 2010.
There is also the young Patrick Kibe, colloquially known as ‘Mr. Dudu’ (Mr. Insect in Kiswahili), who arrived as a student at the estate almost a decade ago and is now carving his own niche, creating figures and sculptures of indigenous flora and fauna from recycled materials.
Then there is the school Croze founded, not far from the estate, often billed as the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. Her motivation was to introduce to the country the creative education she had received as a young girl in Germany, which she regretted that her own children did not have attending local schools.
“We have such terrible schools in Kenya that are so bad for children! A child should grow up free, they should have music, art, new movement and environment,” she laments.
The Rudolf Steiner School started with a class of 10 in Nairobi’s leafy Karen suburb, popularly known as the setting of Out of Africa, Karen Blixen’s pre-colonial odyssey.
“It took its time. We had a very good worldwide sponsorship, especially from Germany. We’ve had our ups and downs but now we have two in Karen and the other one in Kitale [in western Kenya].”
In addition to her contributions in education, she is also a key campaigner for young artists across Kenya. She is the founder of the annual Kenya Arts Diary, a weekly calendar and catalog of up-and-coming contemporary artists in the country.
The ninth edition was released in November with an exuberant exhibition at the Nairobi Museum and since its founding has been produced by a group of passionate volunteers. Every year, she picks up two artists featured in the diary and invites them to a residency at the estate. The inspiration for the project, she says, was her father, the acclaimed German woodcut artist HAP Grieshaber, who also took a similar interest in his students.
“He would always help his students. Art is very expensive most people can’t buy it so you either make it yourself or you make sure it happens. The diary is just a venue to make sure people buy it and see it every week,” she notes.
Although the next issue of the arts diary will be her last, Croze remains ever passionate about her adopted home and community and hopes to continue giving back to it while she is still alive.
“I was the first mzungu [Caucasian] in Maasailand…we had a really good relationship and we still have with the Maasai community but my Ma is still not very good, I must say. I feel very much a part of the community,” she says.
Croze is a focal point at the Nairobi National Museum, from the dalle-de-verre mural that welcomes museum-goers at the main exhibition hall, to her mosaic path that snakes through the museum gardens to the goliath metal and glass sculptures that mark the way through the complex. She remains one of the few living artists in Kenya to have such a permanent and public showing.
Even away from the whimsical glass oasis that she has built, echoes of her are littered across Nairobi. Her commissioned murals on major commercial buildings such as the American Embassy in the city’s diplomatic district. She was the first to color the walls of the newly-established United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, in 1972. Her art is also at the Times Tower in the heart of the old city, home to the tax authority. There are also pieces dotted across the region, a recent commission at a call center in Eldoret, in western Kenya, and the windows at the Serena Hotel in Kigali.
“I just want to make sure that it all keeps going. There are always problems here and there, all the time, but I want to keep it going,” she says.
Croze, true to her word, is still going with plans for a vocational school to train a larger population of recycled glass artisans in the nearby township of Tuala. Plans are also underway for a devotional school to replace her personal chapel that was lost in a land dispute and, of course, more commissions while she is still able to work on them.On the future of the world around her, a life’s work, she is surprisingly indifferent. “I leave it to the Gods,” she ruminate
2010 all over again: a musical extravaganza to honor Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s centenary brought together headline-grabbing A-listers and pledges of over $7 billion towards pressing global issues. Though for some, it didn’t end well.
It was exactly 10 years ago when Australian humanitarian Hugh Evans, along with his friend Simon Moss, launched the Global Poverty Project, committing to end extreme poverty by 2030.
That dream launched Global Citizen, and with that, an eponymous festival in 2012.
“Over 5.65 million actions led to 58 commitments and announcements worth $7,096,996,725, set to affect the lives of 137,368,628 people,” summed up the Global Citizen Festival, held in December 2018 for the first time in South Africa, hosted at the FNB Stadium, in the historic township of Soweto, in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary.
On a hot Sunday afternoon that also saw looming rain clouds, thousands wearing straw hats and shades, trooped into the stadium, some arriving as early as 5AM for what was billed a mega concert.
Presidents, delegates, CEOs, activists, musicians and more gathered for the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100.
Among them, a galaxy of international and local celebrities such as Beyoncé, Trevor Noah, Oprah Winfrey, Naomi Campbell, Usher, Danai Gurira, Bonang Matheba, Nomzamo Mbatha, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Bob Geldof, Ed Sheeran, and dignitaries such as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Amina J. Mohammed, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, former South African First Lady Graca Machel and many more were all gathered for the one-day spectacle.
The Daily Show anchor and host of the event, Noah said: “This is 2010 all over again,” referring to the euphoria in South Africa when the country hosted the FIFA World Cup that year.
“Everybody is here in Mzansi to celebrate the work of Nelson Mandela,” he added.
More than 75,000 people were in attendance at the stadium.
On stage, dignitaries committed actions taken to end extreme poverty, achieve gender equality, and ensure food security, education and global health.
“Everyone is a global citizen and how you want to take action in helping others using your voice, reaching out to a representative and holding rallies, coming together, uniting to make a change is wonderful. Everybody has a voice now today,” model and activist Campbell who was on stage told FORBES AFRICA on the sidelines.
“To have a 20-year with the great man, President Nelson Mandela, is something I will treasure for the rest of my life and it’s an honor to be here and see everyone come together, and to see the young generation understand what this man Mandela stood for, what he sacrificed and what he wanted to achieve. And we are still trying to achieve what he wanted to, which is to eradicate poverty by 2030,” added Campbell.
Nigerian musician Femi Kuti, son of the legendary Fela Kuti, who performed and got the crowds dancing, told FORBES AFRICA some of the issues he holds close to his heart are equality, poverty and the importance of accountability by all leaders worldwide.
“Every citizen must take responsibility for tackling these problems,” he said.
“My father is a really good example of this, Bob Marley is a good example of this. If musicians did not talk about such issues, we would probably be naïve.”
One of Nigeria’s best-selling musicians, D’banj, agreed.
He performed his hit song, Oliver Twist, wearing his hallmark dark shades, a pair of metallic gold pants and jacket.
“Before I went on stage, I was so glad that this is Africa, I have performed everywhere in the world but this is my home, and my people are here,” he told FORBES AFRICA.
“Getting out here and seeing my generation, the next generation, the millennials, and everyone coming out, I am just so humbled. I can just say that, from here, the future is going to be bright because the message of us stars coming together will leave a mark.”
The Nigerian artiste is not new to the Global Citizen scene.
In 2015, he performed alongside Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am at the Global Citizen Earth Day in Washington D.C in the United States.
“Global Citizen coming to Africa meant a lot for me… Because after we leave here, we are going to leave a mark that is going to awaken them and everybody is going to want to challenge our leaders to give us the right change,” he said.
Back on stage, the host Noah addressed the crowds about why Africa should indeed be celebrated.
“When it comes to resources, Africa is the richest place on earth,” he said.
“We have more booty than any other continent on the planet. Men and women… The point is, Africa has a lot of natural wealth. But what’s crazy is that even with all this wealth, 40% of all children across the continent are stunted due to lack of access to food. Tonight, we are calling on African leaders to commit three percent of their countries’ budgets to nutrition by 2020.”
All through the concert, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals were unraveled.
The now former president of the World Bank, Dr Jim Yong Kim, said it was important to contribute to issues related to health because, “the crisis is much bigger”. As a result, the World Bank Group invested an additional $1 million to health and education.
Other celebrities and global leaders not present made their own pledges through pre-recorded videos screened at the event.
Businessman and philanthropist Richard Branson pledged a $105 million joint commitment to end the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced an investment of $4 billion made at the G7 Summit towards education for vulnerable women and girls globally.
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Angela Merkel, pledged €63 million ($72.2 million) to Global Citizen over the next three years.
From a South African perspective, the Motsepe Foundation, a hosting and presenting partner of Global Citizen, committed more than $104.4 million towards education, economic inclusion and equality of women and girls, as well as the current debate on land reform in South Africa. Entrepreneurs Patrice Motsepe and his wife Precious received a rapturous applause when they appeared on stage.
President Ramaphosa committed R2 billion ($144 million) for youth in South Africa, and announced the government’s intention to spend R60 billion ($4.3 billion) to provide free access to schools for poor children in South Africa.
But with all the pledges announced, the biggest question remained, what next?
The Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who was in attendance, weighed in on this.
“What I’d really like to see is we coming up with an integrated action plan so that it is not just raising the money but we absolutely identify how is this money going to be utilized and how we can work together better to support one another and to make sure that it is more likely that these issues will be delivered,” she told FORBES AFRICA.
“What I hope will come out of this is concrete action which will make a difference to the lives of the people who are so desperately thirsting for change.”
At the end of the day, what the 75,000-plus in the stadium had really come for was the culminating act by Beyoncé, one of the world’s highest-paid musicians listed on FORBES.
In one of the outfits on stage, Beyoncé wore a sequined body suit, thigh-high boots, and a dramatic cape that paid tribute to Africa’s 54 countries. It was designed by Mary Katrantzou, who said in an Instagram post: “Her coat has the 54 countries of Africa mapped out and on each country there is a different embroidery representing its diversity.” Beyoncé also wore a colorful beaded mini-dress with an elaborate back-piece, which according to her mother Tina Lawson, featured “one hundred thousand African beads”.
Some of the other designers the artiste wore during the visit included South African designers Enhle Mbali Maphumulo of Manual Rossa Apparel, Rich Mnisi, MmusoMaxwell, Senegalese designer Adama Ndiaye’s label Adama Paris, Sarah Diouf’s line Tongoro Studio and Ivorian label Yhebe Design.
Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z brought Africa to its feet to their tunes for the first time. It was a breath-taking, epic production which saw them perform hit songs like Halo, Perfect, Bonnie & Clyde, Formation and Forever Young.
But despite the success of the Global Citizen Festival, it was a chaotic end to a beautiful night for some.
While heads of state and celebrities were escorted back from the concert venue, some festival-goers were left stranded in gridlocked traffic at midnight to face attacks by criminals.
Many took to social media to explain how they were mugged at gunpoint and were victims to violence.
One of the attendees, 23-year-old Kayleen Morgan, who witnessed the attacks, told us: “What was upsetting was for something like this to happen at an event organized on such a huge scale. People’s experiences were not taken seriously…”
A month after these unfortunate incidents, some suspects have been arrested and investigations continue.
It was a night Beyoncé stole, and a night some audience-goers will never forget, for being stolen from.
Cairo Book Fair’s Gleaming New Site Opens Far From Historic Market
The annual Cairo International Book Fair opened this week in a shiny new venue far away, literally and metaphorically, from the city’s historic book souk – and many of the old market’s merchants stayed away.
Marking the prestige of the event, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the fair’s 50th edition at the Egypt International Exhibition Centre in the affluent New Cairo area on the outskirts of the capital.
Back downtown, among the teetering stacks of mostly second hand tomes at Azbakeya, a book market that dates back more than a century, merchants complained they had been sidelined.
Dozens of them used to exhibit at the fair’s former home in Nasr City, a district easily accessed, including by metro. This year only six were allowed to sell books at the fair after agreeing to stringent conditions.
“We did not cancel the Azbakeya wall, but we set a booklet of conditions to participate in the fair which all publishers committed to,” said Haitham al-Haj, head of the General Authority for Books, which organizes the event.
Authorities are keen to prevent the sale of counterfeit books, which were rampant in the Azbakeya section of the fair last year, including best-sellers such as Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”.
Also at issue for the Azbakeya merchants was the cost – around 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($67) – of participating, and rules on how they must display their books – stacking them up in high, disorderly piles is no longer acceptable.
“When people are selling old used books, they have a thousand titles rather than one, so, they are unable to display them in any other way, unlike a publisher. A publisher has probably a hundred titles,” said Harby Hassan, a 63-year-old Azbakeya bookseller.
The Azbakeya merchants announced their own month-long book fair from Jan. 15, competing with the international event that runs from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5.
Attendance at both was sizeable.
‘Fifty Shades’ author is back with a new title
Customers flocked to New Cairo to avoid the crowds and squeeze of downtown, while others preferred Azbakeya for its highly competitive prices. -Reuters
-Sayed Sheasha, Mohamed Abdel Ghany and Yousef Saba
Tribute To Oliver Mtukudzi – Zimbabwe’s ‘Man With The Talking Guitar’
Musician Oliver Mtukudzi, who died at the age of 66, was a great cultural ambassador for Zimbabwe. Known to his fans as Tuku, he was a cultural icon for the southern African country. His aura and presence had a global resonance with fans around the world, yet the man remained humble and magnanimous.
I once boasted to some international colleagues that he was Zimbabwe’s gift to the world. But on closer scrutiny, he was the perfect gift for Zimbabweans especially during their tumultuous times.
Mtukudzi died in Harare after a long battle with diabetes, ironically enough on exactly the same day as his friend, the musician Hugh Masekela, who passed away on 23 January 2018.
READ MORE | Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66
He was also a businessperson, activist, philanthropist and a goodwill ambassador for Unicef in the southern African region. But it was his innovative music that made him deeply loved. Dubbed “Tuku music”, it was a blend of southern African music traditions, including mbira, mbaqanga, jit and the traditional drumming styles of the Korekore.
Tuku released his debut single in 1975. As a solo artist, Mtukudzi had his first successes shortly after Zimbabwe declared its independence in 1980. His debut solo album, Africa. The prolific Mtukudzi released his 67th album in 2018 – Hanya’Ga (Concern), saying it was “meant to share a message of introspecting and I’m hoping people learn a thing or two from it”.
Celebrated as “the man with the talking guitar”, Mtukudzi learned by experimenting: I looked for a sound the guitar couldn’t make in a guitar – that is how I learned to play the guitar. Professional guitarist at the time use to laugh at me. I used to look for a mbira (music instrument) on the guitar strings. I’ve always been experimental. But it was a blessing in disguise because I went on to pioneer a sound that was later labelled Tuku music.
A wide canvas
But Mtukudzi was more than just a popular singer. In his song “Todii” (What shall we do?), Mtukudzi reflects on the challenge faced by communities as a result of the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The song gives cadence and sympathy to those who provide care. At the same time it magnifies how despicable those in positions of authority are for violating their responsibility.
He ends the song with a solemn appeal for help and for ideas in view of this challenge. This is Mtukudzi, the social activist.
In another song “Mabasa” (The works) Mtukudzi paints a dire picture of how young people are the first to die, leaving the elderly to fend for themselves. For me this song attests to Mtukudzi reminding us all to be cognisant about how we live.
Mtukudzi also acknowledged the existence of deity and spoke against the attribution of success to luck or happenstance as he did in the song “Raki” (luck).
Conversely, in “Ndagarwa nhaka” (Inheriting) he brought attention to a Shona cultural practice of a widow being married off to the late husband’s elder or young brother. In this song Mtukudzi, using the voice of the widow, appears to praise the status quo as enabling the widow to get solace and protection given her loss.
A stark contrast, though, is found in the movie “Neria”. Mtukudzi crafted the soundtrack detailing the tribulations of a widow trying to survive past patriarchy in all its forms.
In the song “Dzoka uyamwe” (come and suckle) Mtukudzi bemoans the experiences of a person suffering prejudice based on how they look. Given this sad experience, the mother urges her child to come back home and suckle. The song then becomes philosophically charged, reminding us all that the core of all prejudice emanates from the mind and the heart. This theme of a concerned parent appears to reverberate in the song “Chengetai” meaning “to keep”.
This time, a role reversal: children are being urged to take care of their parents.
Some of Mtukudzi’s songs were sources of contention and deemed anti-establishment. For instance “Wasakara” (You are old) was interpreted by some as a reference to former President Robert Mugabe, given that a character in the song was in denial of age creeping up on them. In later years as a consultant, I would use the song in driving home the importance of succession planning for effectual and efficient organisations.
Mtukudzi also continues to give the same admonition to the elderly in the song “Mkuru mkuru” (the elderly leader).
Mtukudzi would also pen “Mutserendende” (the slide) and draw comparisons between two generations. From the first generation, Mtukudzi idolises how life was easy and pleasurable for children, a stark contrast to his generation’s life of toil and hardship in climbing the mountain. The solace, as argued by the song, is continued perseverance and determination.
In “Magumo” (the end), Mtukudzi raises some poignant life lessons on the importance of ideals such as humility. The most important question we should ask in everything we do, Mtukudzi argues, is: what will be the end of this that I am doing?
In the song “Kunze kwadoka” (the sun has set, it’s dark), Mtukudzi presents the questioning parent and the precarious situation of a child who has stayed out on a date for a long time. Giving advice to the boyfriend, “perekedza mwanasikana, perekedza bhebhi iro zuva ravira kunze kwadoka” translated “accompany the girl, accompany that babe the sun has set, it’s dark out”.
Now the sun has set on Oliver Mtukudzi. He leaves the world his greatest prized possession, the gift of song. Thank you, maestro par excellence.- The Conversation
-Willie Chinyamurindi: Associate Professor, University of Fort Hare
-Chinyamurindi is an avid narrative researcher. This piece was written using Oliver Mtukudzi’s Greatest Hits album – The Tuku Years (1998-2002).
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