The Singing Nation: Kenya Diary (Part 1)

In Kenya, singing and culture is at the heart of the education system but there is little support and training.  In an action-packed visit in March, Artistic Director, Christopher Monks, and Composer in Residence, Toby Young, piloted a choir creation programme, learned songs and music, became honorary Maasai warriors and made an emergency evacuation before coronavirus lockdown.  This is the first of their three-part diary.

Kenya Diary Part 2
Kenya Diary Part 3

Watch the video

Christopher writes: Having followed the same pathway for almost 20 years as a choral conductor and workshop leader, to have the opportunity to see the world through a totally different pair of spectacles is a gift I could not pass on.

The initial suggestion came from one of our long term supporters Tim Ingles, through his company Ingles & Hayday and the Ingles Trust to form a choir and train a choir leader at the Dagarotti Centre, an institution for vulnerable young people in Nairobi.  The project was also funded by Coventry City of Culture Trust and the Richard Cadbury Trust.  Sadly, the centre closed due to lack of funding before we were due to travel, but we asked their former director, Patricia Kwamboka to create a programme of workshops in similar centres across the region. This turned out to be an excellent way for us to learn how our Choir Creation programme translated to a different culture.

I have never learnt as much in my life as I did this week.

Day 1
Precious Blood Street Children’s Centre

We travelled through the slums of Nairobi to a children’s centre set in an oasis of calm and paradise surrounded by the chaos of poverty and disorder.  The entire school had put its day on hold, and they put on a show for us, with children lining up to show off their particular skill, singing, rap and dance.

Working with the school choir, led by Bernard, their passion was incredible, and most notable was the smiles on their faces whilst performing. We trained Bernard and some of the children to be leaders over the next hour, and the results came incredibly quickly. We agreed we’d return on our final day, as there was still much to do, and we wanted to learn more of their music too.

Toby Young adds: It was amazing to see just how supportive the whole school was of the performing arts. Whilst plenty of UK schools celebrate students’ achievements in singing or drama, to have the whole school come together (sometimes like a rowdy football crowd, with whoops and cheers) to honestly and authentically support their colleagues was very special. The performances were slightly rough around the edges, but the enthusiasm and joy with which the children sung, danced and rapped in front of these perfect strangers was a wonderful first glimpse into the Kenyan spirit.

To be continued …