Babushe Maina, a Nakuru County filmmaker, speaks to The Standard on July 7, 2021. [Daniel Chege, Standard]
Babushe wishes the world to come to Kenya to experience its rich arts and culture, even if he dreams of opening an art city. The film actor and trainer comes here to reflect on his pursuit of culture and to build on his ideas.
For many, this is a tourist destination that people flock to for adventure and history. For Babushe, being here is a lifestyle. He calls it home.
His antics lead us to the iconic Sleeping Warrior safari destination at the Soysambu Conservancy and then to Lake Elementaita Hot Spring.
It is a three hour adventure that blends culture and history and reveals the riches of Nakuru County.
This has been the routine of the 66-year-old for years, which Nakuru conceived him as Kenya’s city of art.
Everything he says speaks of a man with a deep belief in his Arts City dream.
His gray hair is evidence of wisdom, the stocky man has found a formula to rewrite history. That’s his retirement joy.
Controversial for those who do not understand his actions, but a hero for his believers who have watched his struggle for the place of culture, art and the creatives behind the works for three decades, Babushe is a man who has seen it all.
And while he remains optimistic in his new quest to make Kenya the creative hub of Africa, he remembers the price he had to pay when he rubbed the government in the wrong direction by exposing corruption and other art through art has vices.
“My passion for the arts, especially plays and other forms of literature, began when I was at Menengai Secondary School, where our plays qualified but never won the secondary school drama festival finals.
Most of these pieces were disqualified earlier because the production exposed the government and the ruling class and their corrupt behavior, which the government at the time would never have been able to express, ”says Babushe.
He adds: “I used to like some of the plays that were shown on KBC as they inspired me. After high school I moved to Nairobi and became active at the Kenya National Theater (KNT) and the Goethe-Institut, where serious artists and literature lovers met for stage works and storytelling sessions. ”
Babushe recalls how artists began the drum and dance culture that later became the Drum Café. He would look for traditional dancers and represent Kenya at international festivals like the Festival Mundial.
“My main interest, however, was in the theater, where we had celebrities in the audience for Shakespeare and mystical western plays we were doing,” he says.
Political leaders also came to see our plays.
“Local plays, including The Marriage of Sigona sponsored by Matiba and the major 1998 play Professa Nyoori, the latter by Wahome Mutahi, created tension because they were highly political,” Babushe said, highlighting Sweetest Taboo as one of his . The best humor games.
In the KNT, the melting pot of Kenyan theater, tough plays with political allusions and rousing were staged in front of an audience that sometimes had to flee for fear of being arrested by the police. They feared they would fall victim to support an uprising or a political revolution.
Aside from entertainment, the theater back then was the uncensored voice advocating good governance and fighting for freedom at a time when individuals couldn’t risk speaking directly on such sensitive topics.
At that time, the Sarakasi Group was founded, and with the support of NGOs, other private groups started touring the country to raise awareness of development issues through plays.
Provoked and exposed by English and popular plays, the government struck back hard.
“In the mid-1990s, when Kenya had just become a multi-party state, a plot was forged to dispose of KNT. It was the biggest fight Kenyan artists have ever waged against the government when we protested on the streets of Nairobi and held a vigil at the Norfolk Hotel, ”says Babushe.
“We were accompanied by students from the University of Nairobi and politicians allied with us, and together we held a meeting in Norfolk, where we ate and threatened to shut down operations if the proposed takeover of KNT happened.”
No intimidation, tear gas or arrests would deter this solidarity and after about a week things cooled off and the story died, ”he says.
Aside from theater politics, Babushe faced resistance from his own family. He laughs as he remembers how family members would warn him not to mention that he liked drama when they had celebrity guests.
Branded as a rebel and outcast, it was hopeless, he says, to show them what the bigger picture was in terms of the theater and everything he advocated.
His own family, he jokes, still doesn’t care much about what he loves most.
That didn’t matter, however, as his colleagues, particularly around Uhuru Estate, Nairobi, saw him as a hero and mentor whom they could rely on to keep their artistic dreams alive.
When he turned to TV advertising, Babushe began mentoring TV stars like the late Charles Bukeko aka Papa Shirandula.
Then the world shouted and invitations to speak and perform as a Kenyan representative at international festivals and cultural conferences became the norm.
Rebel and outcast
And with all the exposure and experience, Babushe has met some of the greats in the world and says that he would rather let the world come to Kenya to enjoy the great creative stories and cultural heritage.
This is why he has retired to Nakuru, where he is working with community-based organizations and the district government to create a pilot center that positions Kenya as a land of art.
“Along with other creative entrepreneurs in Nakuru and across the continent, we are at a point where we are beginning to understand the benefits of the creative industry and how it can contribute to the economy of each country,” says Babushe.
“We know that the modern economy is not just dependent on agriculture and that developing countries are moving towards sustainable development and knowledge-based economies that speak of more inclusive industrialization.”
Babushe also introduces us to the Urukan Arts and Culture Hub project.
He says that ideas, concepts and intellectual property are never diminished or depleted and that creativity is sustainable and should be promoted and protected by favorable intellectual property policies.
“Cultural villages and producers of indigenous products will offer a market for cultural tourists. With recent developments on the continent driving cultural tourism, it is envisaged that the development of the sector can also help promote Nakuru as a unique tourist destination, ”he says.