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Obama’s Nairobi Music Guide

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Photo: AP

President Obama will be on a tight schedule when he arrives in Nairobi, Kenya this week, but if he has time to take in some music, there will be plenty to see. To find out what’s happening on the ground we talked with Robert Njathika–the editor of Nairobi Now, a leading arts and culture blog in the Kenyan capital. Look no further, Mr. President: Here is your weekend music guide.

If Air Force One makes good time, POTUS might just be able to catch a regular Thursday night set by Kenya’s leading country star, Sir Elvis, who was recently featured in the New York Times.

For more of a local flavor, Obama can head to the GoDown Arts Center on Friday for a festival celebrating the city’s many neighborhoods (explore them yourself here), where he can also check out a mural of himself, and one of Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o

2015-07-17T160747Z_01_AFR125_RTRIDSP_3_KENYA-OBAMA-17-07-2015-20-07-05-640Photo: Thomas Mukoya, Reuters

While Obama rests up and preps for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit on Saturday, he might want to study up on the track “Fuata Sheria” by Sarabi Band, featuring Juliani. The title means “follow the law,” and it address the prevalence of corruption in Kenyan society—a subject that is sure to come up in his meeting with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.

At the second day of the summit, we suggest the president take part in the Creative Economy Workshop—and bravo to the organizers for recognizing the value of arts, fashion and entertainment as “sources of revenue, jobs, and wealth creation.”

And to round out the weekend, the president really ought to catch the Sunday matinee of Obama: Dreams of A Father, a musical adaptation of Obama’s 1995 memoir that premiered at the Kenya National Theater this month. It features new music by popular artists including Suzanna Owiyo and Makadem, whose style is rooted in the benga music of the Lake Victoria region of western Kenya, where Obama’s father was born.

According to director George Orido, the musical celebrates the president’s ties to his ancestral homeland. But even as Obama makes his first visit to the country as president of the United States, many question his commitment to the African continent. We will have to wait and see if this trip proves to be as politically significant, or personally transformative as his first trip in 1988 was. As you can read below in an excerpt from Dreams From My Father, that first trip to Kenya left the 26-year-old future president conflicted about his connection with his Kenyan roots and with Africa in general. Hopefully a little music can put the president’s spirit at ease.

I watched these nimble hands stitch and cut and weave, and listened to the old woman’s voice roll over the sounds of work and barter, and for a moment the world seemed entirely transparent. I began to imagine an unchanging rhythm of days, lived on firm soil where you could wake up each morning and know that all was how it had been yesterday, where you saw how the things that you used had been made and could recite the lives of those who had made them and could believe that it would all hang together without computer terminals or fax machines. And all of this while a steady procession of black faces passed before your eyes, the round faces of babies and the chipped, worn faces of the old; beautiful faces that made me understand the transformation that Asante and other black Americans claimed to have undergone after their first visit to Africa. For a span of weeks or months, you could experience the freedom that comes from not feeling watched, the freedom of believing that your hair grows as it’s supposed to grow and that your rump sways the way a rump is supposed to sway. You could see a man talking to himself as just plain crazy, or read about the criminal on the front page of the daily paper and ponder the corruption of the human heart, without having to think about whether the criminal or lunatic said something about your own fate. Here the world was black, and so you were just you; you could discover all those things that were unique to your life without living a lie or committing betrayal.

How tempting, I thought, to fly away with this moment intact. To have this feeling of ease wrapped up as neatly as the young man was now wrapping Auma’s necklace, and take it back with me to America to slip on whenever my spirits flagged.

But of course that wasn’t possible. We finished our sodas. Money changed hands. We left the marketplace. The moment slipped away.

—Barack Obama, from Dreams From My Father

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