One of my favourite stereotypes is of the demographic referred to as ‘creatives’.
If you want to be thrown into this group at a glance, here is a quick guide. You only need to do something about your hair. Cut it short and go natural. Then dye it a colour like red, blonde or even green. The bolder the better. The last person who will be stereotyped as a creative is a woman with relaxed hair. Because perhaps the relaxer burns the all of the creativity away or something like that. No, those ones belong in finance or pharmacy. Or, get dreadlocks. Make sure you colour them too. If neither of those is for you, get an afro, preferably with a side part. Remember, bigger afros exude more artistry. And if your hair is in braids, try as much as possible to avoid kawaida braids. Marley extensions are very popular. Also, colour. Are you beginning to see a theme here? You can also do baby locks or shave half of your head and let the other half remain with natural coloured hair. A word of caution though, don’t go all out because then people begin to group you with the high school kids who stand in the middle of the street in groups to take selfies. Hapo Galitos on Moi Avenue. You need to be bold, but like, in an artsy way, you get?
Also, wear a lot of African fabrics and jewellery. Large earrings and Ankara blazers…that kind of thing. You’ll be set.
So when I was walking to Desmond Tutu Conference Centre earlier today to attend MatchMentor: Creative Economy, and I saw in front of me a lady with short natural hair dyed blonde, and who was dressed in Ankara, I was like, ‘Yep, she’s definitely going for this gig too.’ She was. Turned out to be one of the mentors actually, Ng’endo Mukii, an independent film maker. Intrapersonal high-five.
I went because one of my resolutions this year was that I would try to attend more events. Homebody problems. Because I realized that the community I want to engage with and learn from is out there; nobody is going to come looking for you in your bedroom, as a fantastic lady I met today said. Which is a huge inconvenience to my lazy ass. I would much rather idle a whole day away than go through the trouble of showering and dressing and getting into a matatu to go wherever it is that people are, only to remind myself how socially inadequate I am, which is precisely the reason I don’t go out much in the first place.
I am so bad at this thing, networking. God. I mean everybody who is considered successful enough to have their opinion sought after says something about my network being my net worth, which means that I am currently not worth very much. I simply don’t understand how I am to meet a complete stranger and begin to pour out all my ambitions in the hope that they will help me. What usually happens whenever I meet someone who might form a part of my network is that I stammer, smile nervously, and then back away quickly because… I honestly don’t even know. And that’s on the good days, when I’m feeling my own vibe. Other days, I simply don’t talk to anybody and exit the scene before the event is even over. And this is on the very few occasions when I do venture out into the world. It’s just so much nicer to stay at home. Are there classes where people are taught how to network?
Anyway, so I went for this event because I am still determined that 2017 is my year, becoming a better person and all that jazz, and I was late, despite the fact that I live twenty minutes away from the venue. The snooze button is both a blessing and a curse and time-keeping is not one of the areas of my life that I am still hopeful will change for the better. Some things we just let them be. I got there, gave myself the usual pep-talk about how it won’t be so bad and how I really need to mingle with people for a change. Leila, who was my company for the day, arrived a few minutes later and began fan-girling on Patricia Kihoro the moment she sat down. I don’t blame her, the woman is amazing. Of course a majority of the people in attendance fit the creative stereotype, with the colour and the natural hair and all, much to my amusement.
We had a talk by Liz Lenjo, an advocate of the High Court, on intellectual property. She had a Powerpoint Presentation and everything. Then a panel discussion on monetizing your art and Abigail Arunga, a writer, one of the panelists, and pretty much the main reason I was there, arrived late. I took it as a sign that I’m on the right track with the lateness thing. And then guys. There was lunch. Every time I attend an event where lunch or refreshments are being offered I find myself among a very small group of people who head for the food immediately it’s announced that it’s time to eat. The rest like to kill a bit of time first. Why? Why do people like playing these games where we pretend that food is not a priority for us because we are much deeper than that and sijui what. People were over there lagging behind and delaying so that they are not among the first ones to get to the food and Leila and I were there with a very different set of priorities. Guys. Just go get the food. I know that part of the reason you paid to attend was because you saw that lunch would be served, and we all know that this our generation has an obsession with food so please. Take your pretences elsewhere. Na vile they surpassed my expectations and provided a buffet. I was expecting sijui samosas and juice and I got proper food, with chicken and everything. I am not above admitting that it was one of the highlights of the event for me.
After lunch, we had the speed mentoring session which turned out somewhat disappointing for me because Miss Arunga apparently has other things to do with her life than wait for me to go and badger her with questions. So she wasn’t there. Can you believe that? The nerve. But the room was full of people who are doing incredible things with various forms of art so while I still complained to anybody who would listen about Abigail Arunga’s absence, I did take advantage of the chance to talk to people like Mufasa Poet, who was very friendly, and Wambui Kamiru- Collymore whom I was kind of awe-struck by. It was amazing to listen to all these people who’ve worked at their art talking about their experiences and views on how the industry works. And it was so helpful. Stuff like that makes you know that you won’t be floundering forever. It’s always nice to get a little hope, yeah?
Before this event, I hadn’t even thought of terms such as ‘creative economy’. I just knew that there was a bunch of stuff that I wanted to do with my life and that I had no idea how to start or how to meet people who would give me an idea on how to start. Floundering, you see. I hadn’t thought about how art translates into currencies or about the place of the arts in the economy in general. There is a tendency to assume that every artist is doing art as a side hustle, and has a ‘proper’ job which is now the main thing that they do. And today, at MatchMentor, many of those myths were shattered. Both Wambui and Mufasa were very clear that their art is what they do; it is not a supplement to something else. And suddenly there is a whole world of possibilities that has been opened to me because now I know that these things are possible.
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the lack of mentors for young people today; how there is nobody willing to take a young person by the hand and say, This is how you can do this, and to invest time and effort into moulding him or her into something greater. We are all constantly pointing to contemporary gospel artistes in the country and shaking our heads as we say that this is all the younger generation has to look up to. Guys. They are not. I mean, if Willy Paul is your role model then that’s all good, but there are other people in this country who are doing amazing things and the fact that they showed up at this event means that they are willing to serve as a guide to somebody else. The greatest things that I took away from MatchMentor were both said by Ms Kamiru. One, it is not your job to prove to anybody that you are an artist, it’s your job to be yourself and create and then let your art speak for itself. Two, nobody is going to come look for you in your bedroom; you have to find people, find a space where you can create and learn and grow. And organisations like The Arena Kenya who organized MatchMentor recognize this and are willing to help introduce you to these spaces.
Put yourselves out there, guys. Even if you prefer to stay at home in pyjamas all day. Even if you don’t know how to network and you always seem to make a terrible first impression. Even if you don’t want to look dumb or face rejection. Even if you don’t have that much confidence in your work. Acknowledge that and then put yourself out there anyway. If nobody will come looking for you in your bedroom then you have to get up and get out. A huge inconvenience, I know. But assuming that what they say is true—those people who are successful enough to have their opinions sought after— it will be totally worth it. And you don’t even have to cut your hair and dye it grey.