The Kings’ Story

Throughout the world there’s no shortage of money being invested by the western world community, private concerns, official NGOs and governments alike, to support feeding programs to help end hunger, provide mosquito nets to stop malaria, advocates and workshops to educate women on their rights or to provide low cost medicine for Hiv/Aids sufferers. Still many remain who are walking the grounds of Kibera are simply “off the grid”. Many live within ear shot of investors and well meaning individuals alike, yet they personally survive, remain, far beyond the benefit of programs meant to raise a communities standard of living.

“Kings of Kibera” is a small collection of images, some in BW and some in colour, which presents a series of young men who while resilient, are without hope, money, education or opportunities…theyre so close to programs within the Kibera slums of Nairobi Kenya and yet they most likely will remain trapped within slum culture if you will, for the rest of their lives.

These images are the result of my spending a bit of time with an ad hoc group of hip hop dancers who use dance as part of their way to deal with the strife, poverty, anger and the dashed promises uttered from the lips of the well meaning. Missionaries, faith based and government leaders of all kinds and visitors for a day, when they come face to face with the immense struggle and the vile living conditions, anyone with a beating heart in their chest wants to make a difference, wants to extend words of hope. It’s just that for these young men, the “great ideas” or the “chance of a lifetime” or “the aid for everyone” simply didn’t make it to their doorstep. Still proud, humble really to the man, they came together for me through friends, for a chance at being seen, of being heard, a chance to be chosen for a project that would later on, have a “change of heart” or the “creative direction changed” and with this, it would become another one of those sincere, yet well meaning “hollow promises” made to be broken.

No one had any money for a boom box to play their music on, so they had to dance to sounds from a trashed car radio with ripped speakers with their dance lit in the dank concrete garage by a only single broken headlamp, yet the colours were surprisingly warm, dramatic and proved perfect for us. It wasn’t long before the battery started to die and the light began to flicker to dark, so we had no choice but to shut down with security making sure we “understood” that it was time to leave. As an aside, throughout Kenya there’s been an unrelenting drought, the worst climate since the 50’s that’s wrecked havoc across the country with many struggling to survive and yet this night, this one night for the first time in months…it rained like cats and dogs in Nairobi with thick droplets bouncing off car roofs – and stinging you as it hit bare skin, forcing all of us to huddle under the eaves of the tenement building…waiting for a break, for it to slow.

For a moment, we all stood there, silently looking to the unrelenting skies with more than just shadows forming on everyone’s frozen faces, all etched with disappointment, failure, the guys are all used to losing. Used to people giving up on them. Used to false promises and dashed hopes. We exchanged a few nervous looks, and so I stepped out into the cool rains alone and I pointed to them, yelling over the din of the rain on the metal rooftops, challenging them to come out in the rain with me, demanding that they try, that we both let go of the restraints around our spirits and try…to make something happen.

While the rains never did let up, and the car radio finally grew silent, without dance training or professional hip hop workshops to show them how it’s done, with their raw, “unrefined pure cane sugar spirit” their resilience and sense of pride would steel their spirits through. With the rains bouncing off their shoulders, they smiled at me, and while they may not have been the best dancers in town,”The Kings of Kibera” proved to be the best show in the slums of Nairobi, who without question, had no equal that night. The light soon evaporated and with it, all of the handshakes and the smiles, soon to be just part of the memory we created together. And yet what remained in me, from the experience, is the hope we all shared that I will bring something good to them some day beyond mere hollow words.

That I make good on my promise…a promise meant to be kept.

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