11 March 2016, I received a friend request on Facebook from a face that I could barely recognize. But that friend request was followed by a small, naive and innocent inbox message. “Uncle, siunifunze dj’ing”, translated in English it means, “uncle, could you teach me how to Dj?”
Of course this took me by surprise, and so I looked through the profile of the newly acquired contact and realized it was actually one of my nephews, who recently completed high school and now wanted to venture into the world of art.
I grew up in an environment where being an artist was and is still not taken seriously. Even today, when people have vivid and valid examples of how artists have had greater influence than presidents, earned more than professors, treated the emotions of the world than all doctors combined, shaped the world view of several generations, art, and artists, in most cases, attract the worst stereotypes.
The stereotypes are propagated from various angles, depending on what lens is at play -be it social, political, economic, the list is endless. For parents who desire security of tenure for their kids, they view it as an insecure occupation. For the religious conservatives, they associate art with fun, devil and death by secular. For those who have no clue what art is about, they categorize it as entertainment.
Since childhood, many of my peers will remember that I was always somewhere on stage either reciting a poem, writing another or organizing a group to perform. After high school I went to university and focused on developing a career. I tried forgetting the artist. God knows I tried. Satan too. I thought that this was just a habit of the childhood, it was meant to go away, to be forgotten with time and I needed to focus on more important things – a job, family, property – such like.
I scaled jobs ranks in no time, but feel into depression at some point in 2011, occasioned by a deep sense of non-fulfillment. 2012 was one of the lowest years of my life, with a good job on one hand but a deep sense of fulfillment eating at me on the other side. In 2013, 10 years after I penned my last stage play, I picked myself up and went back to producing art.
It is then when I came to terms that being an artist is a calling. However much you run away from it, it will still find you. And when it calls you, just like death, you have to answer. Some thought it was a mid life crisis that had set in, because when I went back home to tell my family – hey guys, am now a Dj – they wondered “instead of bringing home a wife and kids, you now bring decks and speakers?”
Now, this request sent me thinking about my own journey in the arts, and the more I thought about it the more I asked myself the question, in the same spirit as the good old saying charity beginning at home, could we say, and so does art?
One of the things I missed while growing up was uncles. I don’t know how it happened, but one day I questioned this phenomenon and asked my mom “Mama, uncle ala aseo komaendie naku?”, it loosely translates to “Mum, where did the good uncles go to?” I don’t know about you, but my image of uncle was that guy who spoils you, with good intentions at heart.
Uncles, hook you up with your first girlfriend. You drink your first beer at their party. They kinda introduce you to the real world, away from your parents nest. They redefine the concept of freedom, achievement and responsibility. You often look up to them to take you where your parents wont.
This, combined with the innocent request from my nephew, has sent me to interrogate the role of the immediate and extended family in building or destroying budding artistry.
In most cases, the family is the first audience that an artist ever knows. It is to them that they play their first song, or show their first painting. It is the family that either gives or takes away the first instrument an artist ever plays. In a supportive environment, it is the family that comes to the first concert an artist ever organizes, and sits at the front row – and claps loudly to every mistake.
Depending on the response of immediate family, budding artists acquire or loose confidence to venture further into the field. In the absence of family support, one has to fight it on their own. Running away from the family nest to pursue own interest is the first instinct, and becoming the laughing stock of peers and family is also guaranteed if that strategy backfires. And when you become an international icon, family, friends and relatives, without shame, claim your fame and wealth.
Back to the subject at hand. Will the family be supportive of this call? Will I be that uncle I desired to have? What am I gonna do differently to inspire this teenager to make the best out of their interest? How do I let them learn from my mistakes? How do I maximize on their potential? How do I teach them how to use a condom while not encouraging them to be promiscuous? How do I provide them the opportunity to become what I couldn’t be?
And so, am setting off to mentor some 3 young DJs from my village, not sure where this path leads but am gonna share it with you as it goes by – Their first mixtape. Their first gig. Their first remix. Their first solo show.
And may this story be found in the annals of history.