The members of SWAN Day Kenya’s “Make It Happen” team have outdone themselves this year with a free all-day festival this Saturday, April 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Mathare Youth Sports Association headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.
This is their 16th annual Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day festival. Their theme is Art Inspires, and they have assembled a truly awe-inspiring group of over 100 singers, spoken word artists, dancers, crafts people and more. There are too many artists to include in this article, but here are a few of this year’s highlights.
Wangui Kimani, Spoken Word & Fashion
Wangui Kimani is a major new voice in contemporary Kenyan poetry. Based in Nairobi, she uses poetry, music, and fashion to explore themes including identity, memory, mental health awareness, women’s empowerment, peace and social change. In 2019, she was a finalist poet in the Kenyan TV show “Talanta Mtaani” where the judges praised her “unflinching honesty” and “beautifully crafted language.” She has won many other prizes since then.
Here is an excerpt from her poem, “I Can, Cancer Can’t”:
“I see you looking in the mirror and seeing a fighter, a survivor.
I see not your weakness but your inner strength.
I see how weak and dependent cancer is-
It doesn’t have a body.
You’re the strong one here.“
Maj Kiambi, Singer
Many SWAN Day Kenya musical favorites such as Lydiah Dola, Iddi Achieng, Pizo Dizo and Meryer, will be on stage for this year’s event, and there will also be new voices.
Maj Kiambi defines her sound as a bold and mellow reggae fusion.
She started her musical journey in church when she was 6. Music puts her in a state of contentment, “and that’s what I try to make everyone feel when they listen to my music.”
Her songs show her versatility. In the melodious Simama Imara (“Stand Tall” in Swahili), Kiambi calls on people to hold strong to their roots and beliefs, and to live in peace with humanity.
Her song “Gimme Dat” shows that she is equally at home with Afro-dancehall reggae sounds and it has become a big hit with her fans. Kiambi plans to write a special song for the SWAN festival this year.
Warembo Wasanii – Girls Make Clothing from Recycled Materials
Eco-feminist artist Joan Otieno, founder of Warembo Wasanii, works with 25 young women from the low-income Kariobangi region of Nairobi and shows them how to make clothing out of recycled materials gathered from the neighboring Dandora landfill, one of Africa’s largest unregulated dumping sites.
Otieno trains the young women to be environmentalists, concerned about cleaning up their garbage-strewn city, and she shows them how to be tailors and fashion designers. The girls make dresses, skirts, tops, hats, handbags, and shoes out of recycled wrappers from condoms, sanitary pads, and cookies, as well as from straws and other materials. They will be displaying their works at SWAN Day Kenya. You can watch a video of them on YouTube by clicking here.
DJ Wiwa Follows Her Dream
Winfred Wanjiku is a Kenyan disc jockey, also known as DJ Wiwa, who will be working as a DJ at SWAN Day Kenya. Although she was born with cerebral palsy, her mother encouraged her to follow her dream of becoming a DJ.
She faced challenges when she enrolled in college to learn her craft. It was hard to walk from her house to the school, and it was hard to get used to the music turn tables. But she learned to operate the turntables and mixing machines using her feet and toes, and she has become a popular DJ at weddings.
Wanjiku wants to encourage other young people to turn their passions into skills. You can watch a video of her on YouTube by clicking here.
Dance Groups – Afrocure Kids and Nairobi Folk Artistes
The young dancers from the Afrocure Dance Academy in Kibera were a huge hit at SWAN Day Kenya last year, as you can see from the video below. The Afrocure Kids will be back this year with a group of 30 girls. You can see more samples of their dancing on the Afrocure Kids Kibera channels on YouTube and TikTok .
There will also be a group of 40 traditional dancers from Nairobi Folk Artistes led by singer, dancer, and nyatiti player, Judith Bwire.
Judith Bwire is known as a neo-traditional and Afro-fusion music maker. She has worked as a dancer and a professional choreographer, in addition to being a frequent performer and recording artist as a singer and instrumentalist.
She often composes and performs with the nyatiti – an eight-stringed lyre commonly used in the Luo community. Her album, Mama Afrika, can be heard on Bandcamp.