Growing up in the nineties, there was a program on the government owned KBC radio titled Reggae Time. One of the signature tracks and probably the biggest hit back then was Winston Rodney’s ‘This Man.’ It is probably what endeared most of us to that kind of music. No big deal. Probably just peer pressure!
Fast forward ten…ish years later and slowly trying to establish myself as an artist at the then Museum Art Studio, another young lad came through the doors.
Straight out of high school, Evans Omondi joined the chaos that was the barely-outta-teenage posse. We all had different back stories but the common denominator was we were all young, skinny and broke. Everyone of us eventually had a nickname dictated by (the then) current circumstances. There was Red Wine – as a result of confidently ordering a presumably free glass of dry red during an exhibition opening that turned out to be for sale yet he couldn’t afford it! Then there was MaWeather – the artist who had not mastered his materials and blamed the weather for all his casting misfortunes. Shaka Zulu. Ma-Clay. We all had them and sooner rather than later, Evans had one too. Raised in the military barracks, he’d catch one of the numerous trucks to and from Kahawa. He was a lucky guy as he never lacked bus fare. However like most of us, there was still the issue of lunch and cigarettes to deal with. Kuona Trust provided (free) mid morning tea that someone intelligent suggested should be served at one o’clock to cater for the elusive lunch. Quite genius. Now the only handicap was the daily ciggy. One would be shared on a puff-puff-pass routine at designated times. Evans would come in late since the military truck would have a scheduled time table and as a result, he had to solicit for cigarettes. He playfully became known as the guy who often asked for a ten shilling coin – then known as a kinde, to sort out his own supply. Am not sure when it happened but by the time Kuona had to leave the Museum space for the Godown Art Center circa 2003, the name Evans had become just a government issue as the young guy from the barracks was in the art circles now referred to as Omosh Kindeh.
Our relationships post the Museum Art Studios took different paths. Some moved to the Mamba Village studios, others the Godown while those confident enough established their own private studios. When Kuona got its own space in 2008, there was a reunion of sorts. Some of us had had a turbulent three/four years as a result of a somewhat lack of solid institutional support. Kuona had previously spoiled us – free studio space, free regular exhibitions, periodical (well paying) outreach projects to cater for our emerging financial responsibilities etc. Leaving the nest had been tough, but most of us held on. Kindeh even attempted to join the military but he was meant to be in the arts.
The new Kuona brought back guys more mature and slightly more resilient. By this time most of us were in too deep in the arts. The Nairobi Contemporary space was opening up more. There were more opportunities. Government agencies, private art spaces and cultural institutions were setting up competitions and awards and Kindeh emerged the overall winner in Manjano – Nairobi Visual Arts Competition 2013 for his signature city scape paintings. This earned him another name – city/urban planner.
|Omosh Kindeh at his studio (September 2014)|
Away from his work, I was his second opinion on gadgets - His consultant before buying cheap consumer electronics - especially iPods. I must have helped him acquire at least four or five used iPods and his first point and shoot digital cameras from a quiet guy in downtown Nairobi whose name til now we only know as gadget boy. With every new iPod, we’d go through music and he’d select the same. Roots reggae – Bob Marley, Culture, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Gladiators, Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, Wailing Souls, Eric Donaldson, Israel Vibration, John Holt, I Jahman Levi, Don Carlos, Black Uhuru... And for this, his outdoor studio at Kuona knew no other music. Many a times we mocked him to play any other genre of music and his response would be “Kesho” – tomorrow. I never liked what was probably one of his favourite tracks – “Social Living” by Burning Spear. We disagreed on many other things too but…
When news got to us that he was unwell, I personally thought it was just one of those where he’d be in hospital for a day or two then get back to the reggae-playing love shack. But fate had other plans. It difficult to put in words how I feel. I don’t know how I feel. It easy to say how good someone was after their demise, but I won’t. People die every day but we’re very detached when it’s someone we barely knew or had no relationship with. But here goes a friend, a colleague, a beer buddy, a comrade. I think about the last conversation we had. The most recent moments shared. About the “Winter Warmer Exhibition” when I was boss and he was reporting to me. About the dark lanky dude who loved reggae music. And his smoke. Fifteen years! A lot of good times. A few bad. A handful outright embarrassing. But fifteen solid years!
|Photo copyright Kuona Trust/Anthony Wachira|
They say there is life after death (whatever that means). I hope you’re in a better place. Where there is reggae, art and the simple things you believed in – social living. I look t the last texts you wrote in your studio and one stands out, “The gods hide the beauty of death so that we can endure life.” One day maybe you shall tell us what you really meant. In the meantime, we shall celebrate your life. Enjoy your legacy. And tell your story. Many before us departed and we seemed to move on pretty fast that we let the world forget the mark they left on earth. Not you my friend! Not in our lifetime.
For now all we can do, is say goodbye with a heavy heart Evans. Fare thee well Omosh Kindeh. Omondi Peninah. City Planner.
See you at the cross roads. Mourn you til we join you OP.