As I write this article, I’m trying to picture myself as a parent. 15 or more years to come, I might be the one faced with the dilemma of convincing my son/daughter to choose a science course or something different from what she’s passionate about which might be performing arts. They may want to pursue music, hoping to be the biggest artist of their time or even Deejaying just like their father and regardless of all the tactics I might use to convince them otherwise, chances are very high that their minds will be set on performing arts. I once asked my class if years to come they would support their sons to pursue Deejaying as they were and I was surprised by the long pause which made me ask of their reasons to pursue the much criticized career.
Some were honest enough to tell me that they wanted to help themselves out of a bad financial situation and their passion for music made them choose deejaying and not singing because clearly, not everyone can hit notes. Others, it was more like satisfying their curiosity and you can identify the difference in these two groups. In Africa, our parents or the system rather has made us believe that you cannot be successful by pursuing performing arts. You either be a doctor, lawyer, pilot, socialite- wait was that funny? I bet it was.
I remember well in school I was meant to understand that good grades, amount to success and as a bright student, this was well potrayed because I got some sort of respect from my village mates. If you had asked me what I wanted to be then, my answer was clear that I wanted to be a pilot which was true but no one mentored or told me the reality of the aviation industry. I just knew with good grades I would automatically be a pilot but then things changed. I got into high school and I started understanding myself better. As much as I hated the school I got into, I cannot deny the fact that it helped shape the person I am today. I can recall the exposure to music through our school band and how I wanted to rap every minute and jot lyrics during boring physics sessions then rap them to my peers during night preps. Oh boy! Music felt like home. I knew for sure I had to be a rapper. Fortunately, my parents had no issue with me singing or rapping and they even paid for my talent shows entry fees and through this I felt like my art was accepted but they still insisted on good grades. I totally respect them for that because I have no idea of what else I would have done but wait- piloting? Aren’t I doing it now? That’s a story for another day.
As I was going through articles on the internet trying to understand why the society is very skeptical about performing arts, especially with African families, I came across one written by an Australian author- Peter Tregear and he was talking about the allocation of around $6 billion dollars to the arts and culture in Australia and I cried for home. Apparently this was a reduction of the budget and it was now of public concern because just like the allocation of budget to health, education and social welfare, core creative arts like music, literature, performing and visual arts also helped in defining who they are. His argument was valid to me because as much as we might not see it, we are significantly influenced by- and reflected in-our music, painting, dance, sculpture and so on.
I tried arguing the same back here at home with some influential government officials as I was seeking licenses for the academy and I remember well some elderly woman said and I quote “You are the type of people that are straying our innocent children.” It made me wonder what was wrong with performing arts but I later understood that this was just another old fashioned idealism. Truth is, it will take time before art is accepted as a career especially by African countries but we are slowly getting there.
Now without diverting further from the crucial argument of this article, I confidently state that there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a career in performing arts. However, no one has ever experienced success without proper discipline and determination. Not just in performing arts but also in every career. One needs to understand their reasons for pursuing the career and set goals that they should dedicate themselves to achieving them. You realize that no one cares about your story or struggles till you make it? You have to be very strong hearted to pursue art in Kenya.
We are now experiencing massive growth in arts due to the growth of internet and Kenya is now more connected to the world than it was a decade ago. Artists have now sought for recognition from other regions that tend to appreciate art more and its influenced the Kenyan consumer and we are slowly accepting arts. I am no longer surprised when parents call the office number and to enquire about deejay classes for their sons/daughters. This was not the case 5 years ago. This shows that eventually art will get the full recognition it deserves and may be this will also influence our government and ever greedy politicians to allocate $6 billion to the ministry of sports, art and culture and we can compete with countries like Australia too. May be with time it will recognize the economic benefits of cultural activities and of course help bolster government’s spending. I pray that some day this will not be the ultimate reason but the society will also acknowledge that “core creative arts” of literature, music, performing arts and visual arts, should be valued, first and foremost, as public goods in themselves.
Let’s fight for Arts recognition.