Archive for Novellas

NOIZEMAKERZ

NOIZEMAKERZ

by Denis Kabi

Three teenagers, two boys and a girl, were students at a high school in Nairobi. The school was called City High School and had a population of about 700 students. It was a day school; meaning that students commuted from home to school (and back home) everyday. The school uniform consisted of navy blue sweaters and trousers and white shirts for boys; and navy blue sweaters and skirts and white blouses for girls. It was mandatory for all students to adorn this uniform when in school.

The three teenagers were in form four, the final year of high school, and were therefore preparing for the KCSE final exam. The grades attained by a student in the revered KCSE exam were used by the administrators of public universities to determine whether the student would proceed with their studies or not.

Students who scored high grades in the KCSE exam were easily admitted to prestigious public and private universities while those who attained low grades in that exam had to make due with village polytechnics and other low level tertiary institutions.

So it was imperative for every form four student to study diligently in the hope of scoring high grades in the KCSE exam.

The three teenagers were aspiring musicians and had formed a band which didn’t have a name yet.  They were still searching for an appropriate name for the band. 3T, Teen Trio, Teenz, Mateeny, were some of the names they had considered for the band.

The three students’ names were Joe Wachira, stage name Shira; Linda Mathews, stage name Linda; and Geoffrey Githinji, stage name GG.

On one sunny Friday afternoon all the teachers of City High School were suddenly summoned by the school’s principal to a hastily arranged staff meeting. One of the teachers was sent around the classrooms to inform the teachers about the impending meeting. The meeting was to be held in the school’s hall.

The teacher of the class that Shira, Linda, and GG attended left in a huff for the staff meeting after instructing the class prefect, a slender girl named Pamela, to write down the names of the noise makers – students who talked in class and disturbed others instead of concentrating on studying.

When the teachers were away, the numerous students in the multi-storey blocks of classrooms settled into a cacophonic din of animated banter. Some students wrote and passed notes amongst each other; some students fished out their mobile phones and made phone calls and sent text messages; while some students pulled out their multi-media gadgets – MP3s, MP4s, iPods, Blackberries, et cetera – and listened to music and watched music videos and surfed the internet.

Shira sat at the back of the classroom and was bobbing his head in time to the music playing in his iPod. His eyes were glued to the two-inch screen of the gadget, engrossed in watching the music video of the song that he was listening to.

He occasionally clasped the tips of his fingers to his ears to stop the white-coloured earphones from falling off his ears. He was so imbued with the music and its video that he didn’t realize that he was audibly singing along to the popular American hip-hop song.

Students in the classroom began to turn to stare at the tall, eccentric boy named Shira. Shira had the uncanny ability to cram the lyrics of the songs that he liked. He could thus sing along, word for word, to most of the popular songs, both local (in Swahili) and international (in English.)

As the song which was playing in the iPod reached the chorus, and Shira began to sing the chorus, the students who’d been watching him also joined in and they collectively sang the song’s catchy chorus.

GG was seated at the front of the classroom and he turned to look at Shira and the other singing students. Abruptly GG got up and went to the back of the class and plucked out one piece of Shira’s earphones and stuck it in his own ear. As soon as he heard the song, he too began bobbing his head and joined in and sang along to the well known words of the chorus.

Pamela, the pencil-thin class prefect, immediately got up and went to the front of the class and began to angrily bang her hand on the teacher’s desk. “Stop!” she yelled above the two dozen singing voices. “Stop making noise!”

As she uttered these words, the song that Shira and the animated students had been singing suddenly came to an end and the class was suddenly quiet. It was so quiet that one could hear an eye blink.

Pamela, the scrawny prefect, held her hands to her tiny waist, seeming proud that she’d brought the class under control. She then narrowed her eyes and winced at the classmates who had meanwhile turned their attention to her. She raised her forefinger and wagged it at them. “If you make noise like that again, I’ll have no choice but to write your names down and hand the list to the teacher for punishment. Do you understand me?”

A few hushed murmurs of dissent resonated from various corners of the classroom.

A boy seated at the middle of the classroom ignored the prefect’s terse warning and turned to face Shira. “That was fun,” the boy said elatedly. His name was Albanus but everybody called him Albo. “But do we really need to keep copying Western artists? Their lyrics are alien to our situation in Africa. Why can’t you write and record your own song? A song with lyrics that capture the hopes and dreams and experiences of the urban Kenyan youngster.”

When GG heard this, he gently punched Shira’s shoulder. “Why don’t we perform to the class one of the songs that we recorded during the last school holiday?” he suggested.

Shira seemed eager to perform for the class. “We could perform one of the songs that we wrote and recorded recently, but sadly we don’t have an instrumental to accompany our vocals,” he said regretfully.

When Albo heard this, he instantly turned to his wooden desk and began to bang the top of it with his open right hand and his clenched left hand. This action produced a four bar hip-hop sounding beat.

Shira got up and began to bob his head in time to the thumping beat as he strode to the front of the classroom. Pamela, the class prefect, watched in ire as Shira climbed on top of the teacher’s desk and began rapping in time to Albo’s beat. The lyrics of the rap were in Sheng’ (Swahili slang popular amongst Nairobi youngsters.) In the poetic rhymes of the rap, Shira extolled the curves and grace and smile and beauty of an imaginary girl.

As he rapped, making appropriate gestures and facial expressions, some of the female students who found him attractive catcalled him and made other suggestive noises and gestures and facial expressions.

Two male students, one called Chris and another Charles, yawned loudly and exaggeratedly. The two students didn’t seem to be enjoying the performance.

Pamela, the class prefect, was so incensed by Shira’s performance that she threw her hands up and strode back to her desk and sat. She helplessly watched as indiscipline reigned in the classroom.

Shira was about to complete rapping the first verse of the song when he jumped down from the teacher’s desk and strode the aisle between the desks to the middle of the class and grasped Linda’s hand. He gently prompted her to stand up and then guided her to the front of the classroom.

Just as Shira was rapping the last line of the verse, Linda tunefully joined in and began to sing the soulful chorus.

“…Songea karibu, songea karibu,

Nishike mkono, uwe wangu,

Nikupeleke chumbani mwangu…”

She repeated these lines twice and accompanied them with the appropriate facial expressions and gesticulations. These Swahili lyrics simply appealed to a supposed lover to move close to her, hold her hand, and take her to her bedroom.

Boys in the class who found Linda attractive whistled licentiously. They were obviously inflamed by her suggestive movements and throaty, sensual tone variations.

Linda was bi-racial (her mom was African while her dad was a white Briton) and was light skinned and had long, curly hair. She had a lithe rounded figure that fascinated the boys. Whenever she walked along the corridors of the classrooms, and happened to pass by a group of boys, the male students would suddenly go quiet and gawk at her. She was considered one of the hottest girls in the school.

Just as Linda was about to complete singing the chorus, GG got up from his chair and bobbed rhythmically to the front of the classroom and began rapping the second verse of the song.

The students in the class cheered him on with chants of, “go GG go, go GG go.” GG’s lyrics were also in Sheng’. In the rhyming poetry of the rap, he comically tried to woo an imaginary girl to go out on a date with him. The students in the class laughed out loud when they watched GG’s zany facial expressions and gesticulations.

Most of the students, both boys and girls, were now bobbing their heads in time to the beat of the song. They were evidently enjoying the performance.

Pamela, the prefect, was wincing and had crossed her hands over her chest and was breathing heavily in frustration and anger.

Just as GG rapped the last sentence of the verse, Linda joined in again with the soulful chorus and sang it twice. As she was about to sing the last line of the chorus, she gestured at Albo to stop beating the desk. Albo stopped beating the desk and glared at Linda. His face was flushed.

In a slow, sensual, throaty voice Linda finished singing with the words, “…Nikupeleke……… chumbani mwangu…” and trailed off and stopped.

Five seconds of complete silence engulfed the classroom, all eyes on the three talented performers poised at the front of the classroom. Then the students burst into a wild round of ecstatic applause, some even jumping on to their chairs and desks and whistling and clapping and catcalling.

Chris and Charles didn’t applaud but winced hatefully at the trio.

Pamela sat tight and writhed in annoyance.

Shira, Linda, and GG began to stride along the aisles of the classroom, grinning and giving high-fives to their cheering, adoring fans.

Pamela got so incensed by the noise that she hopped onto her chair and yelled, “Stop making noise! Stop making noise!” But her high-pitched yelling was drowned out by the cacophony of three dozen voices loudly showering praise on the trio.

Pamela gave up and sat down, crossing her hands over her small heaving chest. She began to wonder why she was always at loggerheads with the rest of the students. Though it was considered prestigious to be a class prefect, she had come to realize that that prestige only impressed her parents. Not the students. Pamela had always wanted to be popular amongst her age mates. She wanted everyone to like her. They didn’t.

But the teacher had picked her out amongst three dozen students and given her the responsibility of being the class prefect. And with that responsibility came sacrifice. It was her duty to maintain silence and discipline in the class when the teacher was out of class. Pamela grudgingly acknowledged that she had to sacrifice her opportunity to be popular.

She reached into her desk and pulled out an exercise book. She tore a page from it and grasped a biro pen from the top of her desk. At the top of the page she wrote in capital letters the words NOISE MAKERS and underlined these words using a ruler. Under the underlined title she scribbled the names of the students whom she charged with responsibility of creating the indiscipline reigning in the classroom. The three names were Joe Wachira, Linda Mathews, and Geoffrey Githinji.

***********************************************************************

A leading mobile phone service company called K-mobile was eager to tap into the vibrant urban youth culture and market. The company soon launched a music talent search competition.

That Friday evening Shira was seated in the living room of his house on an armchair watching TV. The nine o’clock news was showing on all TV channels. Shira’s mother was seated on another armchair in the living room keenly following the news broadcast.

Shira couldn’t stand watching news broadcasts. But his mom, like most adults, was a fun of news. Yes, news! An endless and depressing reel of government corruption intrigues, comical but destructive political wrangles, grisly automobile accidents, chilling sexual crimes, terrifying landslides and other natural disasters, et cetera.

Shira’s mom was a single mother and lived with her son, Shira, in a two bed-roomed apartment in Westlands area of Nairobi. A passing love affair with a charming but ageing lecturer at a local public university where she had been studying left her pregnant. The lecturer, who was married with grown children, disowned her on learning of the pregnancy. But she ignored her friends’ advice and chose to carry the pregnancy to full term. She eventually gave birth to a son whom she named Joe. Her late father’s name was Joseph Wachira. Shira’s mom currently worked as a personal assistant to the managing director of a local corporation.

As she was watching TV, she happened to peek at her seventeen year old son seated beside her. Shira was reclining on the armchair with his long legs stretched to their full length. His hands were flung lethargically over the arm rests. His eyes were almost closed and he seemed bored. He kept sighing loudly and yawning.

Maybe it’s the news that’s boring him, the mother thought. But the news broadcast only lasts 45 minutes. After that he’ll be free to watch whatever TV show, or VCDs, or DVDs that he wants.

Or maybe I should buy him his own TV and DVD player so that he can watch whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in the privacy of his bedroom, she thought.

The K-mobile music talent search competition advertisement suddenly came on the TV screen. The mother watched in astonishment as Shira abruptly sat up and opened his eyes wide and gawked at the TV screen.

According to the colourful and vivid audio-visuals of the advertisement, the talent search competition was inviting all music groups (and not solo artists) who have not previously had their music recorded and released and those not signed to a music production company. Registration of the contestants would begin the next day on Saturday morning at the K-mobile’s headquarters building in Nairobi CBD. Only the first 500 bands to arrive at the registration office would be registered.

The grand prize for winning the competition was a million shillings in cash and a fully paid one album recording contract with a local music production company called Hits Factory. Hits Factory only produced electronic pop music and steered cleared of acoustic folk music.

The music competition would have ten heats spread over a ten week period. Competitors found lacking in talent would be eliminated during each televised heat. The public could vote using SMS for the acts that they wanted retained in the competition. The groups with the lowest votes would be eliminated. The final performances of the competition would be televised live on TV on the night of October 13. The winner of the one million shillings grand prize would be announced on that night. A grand party would then be held in honour of the winning band.

Sadly, the KCSE exam would begin the following day – in the morning of October 14.

As soon as the advertisement ended, the mother watched as her son hopped to his feet and trudged briskly out of the living room. The characteristic bang of his bedroom door confirmed that he had once again retreated to his bedroom.

Maybe he needs brothers and sisters and, most importantly, a father – or father figure. A father (or father figure) would know how to communicate with the moody teenage boy, she thought. Maybe it’s not wise for a single mother to raise a boy on the verge of manhood as an only child.

Once in his bedroom, Shira hopped onto his well-cushioned, comfy bed and lay belly up. On his hands was his Nokia mobile phone handset. His thumbs bobbed rapidly on the lighted keys of the handset as he drafted a thriftily-abbreviated text message. He then sent the text message to both GG and Linda, his bandmates and classmates.

In the text message, he inquired whether they (GG and Linda) had watched the ad for a music talent search competition screened on TV during the nine o’clock news.

Ten seconds later two beeps sounded confirming that his Nokia had just received two new text messages. He swiftly opened the inbox of the handset and proceeded to read the new messages. Both GG and Linda confirmed that they too had watched the ad on TV about a music talent search competition sponsored by the leading mobile phone company K-mobile.

Shira’s thumbs bobbed rapidly again as he drafted another economically-worded text message. In the text message, he urged his two bandmates to meet him in Nairobi CBD, at the Ambassaduer bus stop, the following morning at 8:00 a.m. Once they met, they’d go together to the K-mobile building where they’d register for the music competition.

Shira knew that a lot of Nairobi youngsters nursed dreams of becoming musicians and so the turn-out for the music competition could be staggering. Shira wanted his band to be amongst the 500 to be registered.

Both Linda and GG sent text messages confirming that they’d meet Shira in town at around 8:00 a.m. the following day.

Shira’s mom was still watching TV when she saw her son walk into the living room and sink into the armchair that he’d been sitting on earlier. He reclined and stretched out his long legs. She heard him sigh deeply as he resumed his half-closed-eyes impassive stare of the moving images on the TV screen.

“What’s disturbing you, son?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said without looking at her. He then added, “I need some money for bus fare. I have to go to town tomorrow morning.”

“And what are you going to town to do?” she inquired suspiciously.

“To meet some friends,” he said.

“Does this ‘meeting’ have something to do with music?” she scowled. “You do remember that you are in your final year of high school. Your priority should be your studies and the KSCE exam; and not music.”

“But music is my life,” Shira countered hotly, now turning in his seat to face her. “Music is not drugs!”

The mother ignored these remarks. “The school principal telephoned me today,” said the mother flatly. Shira immediately looked away guiltily. “You and a couple of your rogue classmates have been suspended from school for singing loudly in class when the teacher was away. Your music is interfering with your school work, isn’t it? Music is bad.”

Shira sighed dismissively and stood up. “Am tired. Am going to bed. Don’t worry about me; I’ll soon find a way to make money; lots of money.” He then walked out of the living room. A familiar bang of a door confirmed that the boy had for umpteenth time that evening retreated into his bedroom.

The mother shook her head in dismay; not knowing what to do with her moody unpredictable son. Later, before she retired to bed, she got some money from her handbag and slipped it under Shira’s bedroom door.

The next day, on a glorious sunny Saturday, the three bandmates met in town at the Ambassaduer bus stop. It was 8:30 a.m. Together Shira, GG, and Linda threaded through the streets of Nairobi CBD, chatting animatedly about the prospects and possibilities of participating in a major music talent search contest.

Shira and GG were donned in their quintessential rapper regalia of oversized, sagging blue jeans, striped collared T-shirts, Timberland boots, oversized chains and medallions, crooked baseball caps, and iPod earphones in their ears.

Linda was dressed in a long faded blue jeans skirt and brownish block-heeled open toe shoes and a white spaghetti top. She also wore large loop earrings and a red bandana on her head. She carried a small leather purse.

On Kenyatta Avenue they found a long queue stretching from the front of the multi-storey ultra-modern building that was the headquarters of Kenya Mobile Telephone Company, or as it’s colloquially called, K-mobile.

Shira and cohorts stood behind the last person on the queue along the pavement. There must have been at least 500 youngsters on the teeming queue. A clash of hairstyles, scents, fashion senses, personalities, and egos festooned the pavement. Some of the aspirants even had guitars and drums.

“It’s going to be a long, long day,” Linda said upon gazing at the stalled, crooked queue.

“You can say that again,” said GG disappointedly.

“It’s going to be a long, long day,” Linda repeated, mocking GG. The three of them chuckled at the joke as more flashily dressed youngsters joined the queue behind them.

A rectangular, conical-roofed white marquee had been erected near the entrance of the K-mobile building. The white marquee had plastic tables and chairs arranged within it. The registration of the contestants of the competition would be conducted in that tent. A dozen or so officials of the company could be seen seated and conferencing in the marquee.

One of the officials soon got up and stood at the front of the tent; exactly where the queue of the youngsters began. The official had a clipboard on one hand and a megaphone on the other. He held the megaphone close to his mouth and began speaking through it. His amplified voice could be heard two streets away. Such was the stridency of the megaphone.

“Good morning, everyone. Thanks for showing interest in this talent competition,” he said and then gazed down at the papers on the clipboard. “There are three rules to be observed before your band is registered. One; you must have proof of identity – a national ID or passport will do. Two; you must have a name for the band – a name that is pronounceable and marketable. And three; you must be able to sing or rap. We don’t want magicians, acrobats, or stand-up comedians.”

Upon saying this, a sustained murmur resonated from the queue of youngsters.

“We can sing and rap; but we don’t have national IDs or passports,” said GG worriedly.

“…and we don’t even have a name for the band,” added Linda.

Shira reached into the back pocket of his jeans and fished out a blue-coloured folded piece of hard paper. “I have my school ID card. But am not sure if we can use it for registration.”

The official brandishing the megaphone heard the voice of a young man speaking from the back of the queue. “Can we use school ID cards to register? Some of us are below 18 and so don’t have national IDs,” the young man yelled confidently. It was Shira.

The official scratched his head and walked back to the marquee where he briefly consulted with his colleagues. When he came back to the front of the queue, he held the megaphone to his mouth and spoke. “Yes, you can register for the contest using school ID cards; but only if they are genuine and have the school’s logo, address and phone numbers, and the holder’s picture.”

A worried murmur resounded from the queuing youngsters. Some of the youngsters stepped out of the queue and stood in small groups discussing this new information. Some of the youngsters hurried away and disappeared down the avenue, presumably going to retrieve their identification documents. Other youngsters who’d been on the queue walked away slowly, seeming angry that the officials hadn’t announced the three rules earlier. Maybe they were acrobats or comedians or magicians, or didn’t have identification documents, or perhaps, imponderably, they’d failed to come up with a pronounceable, marketable name for their band.

As a result of the departed youngsters, the queue shortened and Shira and friends strode forward to take up the empty space. Nearly a third of the original queuers had left.

GG reached into his pocket and he too fished out his school ID card. Linda too reached into her purse and pulled out the blue folded hard paper. “Thank God we all carried our school ID cards,” sighed Linda gratefully. “But we still don’t have a name for the band.”

“We need to come up with a name fast,” GG added. “Something simple; something that defines us.”

Shira’s eyes widened and lit up with animation; the kind of look a cartoon character has when a light bulb goes off in a bubble over his head. “Why were we suspended from school yesterday?” Shira asked mysteriously.

“Because we were making noise in class………,” answered Linda, trailing off and exchanging a curious glance with a baffled GG.

Shira spoke again. “And what is the title of the list that the prefect wrote our names in?”

The three bandmates exchanged wistful knowing glances and then in unison blurted out, “Noise makers!”

When they got to the front of the queue, and were summoned into the marquee, they registered the name of their band as NoizeMakerz, spelling it as one word, with Zs instead of Ss; emphasizing their artistic quest to detour from the highway of the norm.

************************************************************************

That Saturday night, Linda busily criss-crossed the kitchen of her house as she helped her mother prepare supper. Linda’s mom was also a single mother. They both lived in a three bed-roomed maisonette in a housing estate in the expansive Lang’ata suburb of Nairobi.

Linda’s mom worked in a travel agency as a personnel manager. She earned a decent salary and therefore could provide a comfortable life for herself and her only daughter. Sixteen years ago, when she was just starting out in the hospitality industry, she had a brief love affair with the owner of a travel agency, a British expatriate named John Mathews, who soon returned to his home country upon expiry of his contract. Linda’s mom only realized that she was pregnant three months after the man left Kenya. Since she was already working, it was an easy decision for her to carry the pregnancy to full term. When the baby was due, she took leave from work and soon enough delivered a baby girl whom she named Linda.

The scrumptious aroma of the cooking food wafted richly in the house. Soft music was playing from a stereo in the living room.

“The food is almost ready,” said the mother. “Help me carry the plates to the dining table.”

Linda took two plates and spoons from a sideboard and went through a doorway to the adjoining living room. She placed the cutlery across from each other on the round-shaped dining table just as her mother carried a porcelain pot of food and set it in the middle of the dining table.

“So how was your day?” the mother asked as they sat down to eat supper.

“I and some friends of mine from school registered for a music competition,” Linda said excitedly before scooping a spoonful of pilau rice from her plate and stuffing it into her mouth. She proceeded to chew.

“Really?” said the mother interestedly. “And what’s the prize for winning the competition?”

“A million shillings,” said Linda, transporting more food into her mouth using the spoon.

The mother too began to eat. “Are you sure you can afford to enter music contests at this period of your life. You do remember that you have a major exam at the end of the year?”

“The music contest will only be on weekends,” Linda said as soon as she swallowed a mouthful of food. “So I’ll have plenty of time to study during the course of the week.”

The mother seemed satisfied with the girl’s answer. They kept eating and the mother smiled as she gazed up at her daughter. “What if you win the grand prize of a million shillings!” she asked animatedly. “What will you buy your poor old mother?”

Linda set her spoon down and a contemplative look came over her face. “We are three members in our band and so the million will have to be split three ways. Each one of us will take home three hundred and thirty three thousand and thirty three cents – hopefully if we win,” she grinned and picked up her spoon again and dipped it into her plateful of fried spiced rice. She again transported a spoonful of the food into her mouth and chewed vigorously. When she swallowed, she looked up at her mother who was gazing expectantly at her.

“What will you buy me?” the mother asked again and smiled indulgently.

“The amount I’ll get is too little to buy you a new car; it’s too much to spend on clothes or a holiday at the coast,” Linda said thoughtfully. “So I’ll simply buy you the new laptop computer that you’ve been talking about and have been saving for. The rest of the money I’ll deposit into a bank account and help you in paying for my up-coming college fees.”

“Wise decision,” the mother said happily and proudly. “And I hope and pray that you and your bandmates win the music contest.”

“Thanks, mom,” Linda blushed and tinkered with the food using her spoon.

~*~

The first heat of the music competition was to be held at the Plenary Hall of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, or KICC as the cylindrical-shaped building is colloquially referred to as.

At 12:00 noon the following Saturday, Shira, Linda, and GG arrived at KICC. There were banners and posters and other paraphernalia bearing the blue-coloured logo of K-mobile hanged on every available space leading to the landmark skyscraper.

Throngs of flashily dressed youngsters loitered outside the venue. Some of the youngsters were huddled in groups loudly discussing some inconsequential subject while others rehearsed their songs.

Once inside the plenary hall, Shira and his two bandmates strode through the aisle looking for a place to sit. Rows of stackable chairs had been arranged on the entire length and width of the vast hall’s floor. A single aisle separated the rows of chairs.

Throngs of youngsters sat in the rows of chairs and the hall was almost full. Shira, GG, and Linda soon found empty seats near the front of the hall and sat down. Linda sat between her two bandmates.

At the front of the hall was a raised dais. On the dais was a band that had been hired by the organizers of the competition to provide the back up instrumentals to the contestants. There would be no deejay playing prerecorded instrumentals. All manner of musical instruments were packed on the dais. A tower of large black speakers stood on either flank of the dais. There was lots of room at the front of the dais for the performing artists to move about.

On several platforms on the hall amongst the rows of chairs were mounted TV cameras. Cameramen donning large headphones stood on the platforms behind the TV cameras busily moving the cameras to film the animated youngsters in the brightly lit hall. At the front, just beside the dais, was a large screen on which the live footage captured by the TV cameras was shown.

Youngsters stood up and waved and gesticulated elatedly at the camera as soon as they saw their image on the large screen. An up-beat, expectant mood hang over the teeming hall.

On the front most seats were the officials of K-mobile who would coordinate and moderate the music contest. One of the officials, the same guy who’d addressed the queuing youngsters with a megaphone the previous Saturday on the pavement of Kenyatta Avenue, stood up. He was holding a clipboard and a wireless microphone. He raised the microphone close to his mouth. Suddenly the lights of the hall were dimmed and a spotlight illuminated the official.

“Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the much anticipated premier of the K-mobile music talent search competition,” said the official while facing one of the TV cameras in the hall. He went on to recite a lengthy monologue about the mobile phone company’s repertoire of services and its range of charitable activities. He kept repeating that K-mobile was committed to nurturing the musical talent of Kenya’s youngsters.

But it was common knowledge that two thirds of Kenya’s population consisted of youths (persons, presumably, between the ages of 15 and 35.) It would spell doom for any profit-seeking company to ignore this vital demographic.

After the boring official was done speaking, he sat down and handed the microphone and the clipboard to another man who was seated amongst the officials on the front most seats.

As soon as the bespectacled burly man stood up, a round of applause erupted from the youngsters seated in the hall. The bespectacled man was a well known master of ceremony and was a regular at most of Nairobi’s entertainment spots.  His name was Big Fred. Big Fred was the most sought after MC for product launches and exhibitions and road shows. He seemed to enjoy his job and people generally liked him.

“Good afternoon and welcome to the K-mobile music talent search competition,” said Big Fred into the wireless microphone. He was facing one of the cameras and his smiling face was now showing on the large screen at the front of the hall. After reciting some promotional material about K-mobile’s products, services and commitment to nurturing musical talent in Kenya, Big Fred went up the steps before the dais and strode onto the dais. The competition proper was finally about to begin.

Big Fred grinned indulgently and held the microphone close to his mouth and spoke while facing the camera in the dark hall. The lone spotlight shone on him.

“Each of the registered groups will be allowed five minutes to perform their song. After performing, the group members are free to leave the hall or they can take seats and watch the rests of the performances.

“The live band behind me on the dais will play any instrumental that you ask them to; be it hip-hop, benga, R&B, lingala, reggae, rock, et cetera. The first twelve groups to perform are the following….,” Big Fred went on to read a list of band names from the paper on the clipboard he held.

Shira, GG, and Linda waited in baited breath for their band’s name to be called. But the NoizeMakerz weren’t called out. Instead a group of five trendily dressed young men got up from seats in the middle of the hall and, in affected walks, went up the aisle to the dais and briefly spoke to the members of the live band.

Judging by their baggy clothing and gaudy jewelry, the five young men on the dais must’ve been rappers, Shira thought, sitting up to get a better view of the now brightly lit dais. The rest of the hall remained dark, the revolving light fixtures on stage flashing with multicoloured lights.

Big Fred held his microphone close to his mouth and spoke in an animated comic voice and held his hands out to the five youngsters on stage who had meanwhile grasped a microphone each. “Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for the Eucalyptus…,” Upon saying this Big Fred hurriedly left the dais and took a seat amongst the aloof officials.

Linda chuckled and stared at the young men on stage. “Who in their right mind would name a music group Eucalyptus?” she thought mockingly.

Sporadic claps resonated from various corners on the vast hall. A few condescending boos were heard. More youngsters kept streaming into the hall and took seats.

The members of the live band began to play a hip-hop beat, the most prominent sound being that of the drums and the baseline, laced with interludes of the rhythm guitar and blasts of the saxophone. The Eucalyptus began to agitatedly move about the dais. One of them held his microphone awkwardly between his fingers, its end tilted to the roof, its orbed head to his lips as he recited rapid rhyming lines in English.

His poetic rhymes were rendered in a difficult attempted Black American accent. Clearly the young rapper had been spending too much time listening to (and imitating) American hip-hop artists. His four friends rapped in the same annoying tone, twang and agitated manner. In their brash lyrics they bragged about their skills in rapping. A smoke machine belched clouds of smoke onto the stage.

“Are they joking?” Linda chuckled derisively. “They have no skills at all. They’re just copycats. They’ve been watching too much MTV.”

GG nodded in agreement with Linda’s remarks. “And we can’t clearly hear what they’re saying because they’re holding their microphones too close to their mouths,” GG said irritably.

“But you have to admit that they are enthusiastic and energetic on stage,” Shira added helpfully.

The Eucalyptus members ended their five minute act by posing on stage and making all sorts of gang signs using their bejeweled fingers. Subdued clapping resounded from the numerous youngsters seated in the dark packed hall. There must have been at least 2,000 youngsters in the hall.

Burly Big Fred, the MC, straightaway went up the three steps onto the dais and grinned and said encouraging things to the five young men. The young men nodded and replaced their microphones on the microphone stands and then went down the steps and strutted modishly down the aisle. As they walked down the aisle, they grinned amongst themselves and knocked each others elbows in glee. They didn’t leave the hall but took seats where they’d been sitting before they were called up to perform.

Big Fred, the MC, laughed genially and said kind (but false) things about the Eucalyptus’s performance. Big Fred then called out another weird-sounding name from the clipboard. “The Ghetto Sisters!” Big Fred gazed into the darkness of the hall to see who would stand up to claim that name.

Four young women in black scanty booty shorts and tops and extravagant jewelry stood up from seats near the front and made it to the aisle before strutting modishly up the steps onto the dais.

Linda cringed when she saw the four young women on the dais picking up the microphones from the stands and begin to yelp loudly and crudely in fake Caribbean accents.

After consulting the live band, a fast paced reggae beat began to be played.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Big Fred said comically and dramatically. “Give a round of applause to the Ghetto Girls – I beg your pardon – Sisters; the Ghetto Sisters,” he corrected himself upon consulting his clipboard. He then hastily departed from the dais.

Though the applause was much louder than that accorded to the Eucalyptus, it wasn’t elated. Most of the young men in the hall sat up and cocked their necks to get a better view of the feisty Ghetto Sisters whose scanty dress would surely make for an interesting stage act.

One of the four young women on stage began to rap agitatedly in patois – which is Jamaican slang fused with hints and traces of English, but mostly gibberish. The multi- coloured stage lights flashed and the smoke machine belched clouds of smoke onto the dais, creating a concert-like ambience.

After the first verse was done, the four young women lined themselves on stage and collectively sang the chorus of the song as they began to do a creative, spirited, well-rehearsed dance routine. One of the other girls rapped the second verse followed by the singing of their chorus twice. Their bottom shaking soon inspired licentious wolf whistles and catcalls from the male audience. How could girls barely out of their teens possess such ample bubbly behinds?

An ecstatic burst of applause resounded from the hall when the Ghetto Sisters finished singing their song and bowed severally before the appreciative standing audience. Holding hands and blushing, the four young women walked down the steps and strutted down the aisle and took their seats.

Linda was coerced to clap by the people around her who were all clapping, though she thought it was the booty shaking that had impressed the crowd. Not their singing.

The Ghetto Sisters had just set a standard that was so high that it would be difficult to march or even outdo it. Now the audience was hungry and eager to watch the next act. If the next act’s performance didn’t ignite the crowd into a frenzy, they’d surely be booed and jeered off stage. Such was the eagerness and urgency of the young audience for an explosive, high octane performance.

Big Fred went up the three steps and onto the dais. He was holding the clipboard and the wireless microphone on each hand. “What an explosive performance!” he said jubilantly into the microphone. “Another round of applause for the Ghetto Sisters!”

The plenary hall shook with a roaring burst of sustained applause. One of the cameras swung and trained on the four seated girls and the image of them was shown on the big screen at the front of the hall. The four girls waved and grinned and ululated elatedly, happy to see themselves on the big screen.

When the applause subsided, Big Fred called out another name from the clipboard. “CO2,” he said wonderingly and gazed into the dark hall to see who would stand up to claim that name.

From the same row of seats that Shira, GG, and Linda sat, two young men in baggy attire, crooked baseball caps, and oversized chains and medallions got up and had to walk sideways to get to the aisle because of the series of legs of the seated audience members.

When the two young men passed by Shira, GG, and Linda, they roughly brushed against their feet and knees and even stepped on the toe of Shira’s new Timberland boots. Shira got up angrily to grab the rude boys but GG and Linda restrained him. Shira muttered a vile curse under his breath and sat down.

When the rude pair of young men got to the brightly lit stage, Shira sat up abruptly. “Look!” he said in shock. “It’s Chris Okumu and Charles Ogot from our class.”

Linda stretched her neck to look intently at the cocky young men on the dais. “Yes it’s Chris and Charles from school. But I didn’t know they were musicians,” she said in bafflement.

“Remember the day we performed our song in class and they kept yawning loudly?” said Shira.

“And they didn’t cheer for us after we finished,” added GG. “I don’t think they enjoyed our song.”

“It’s called professional jealousy,” Shira said tensely. “They consider us as competition. And not fellow musicians.”

Big Fred’s booming voice cut short their conversation. “Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for CO2,” he said before leaving the dais for his seat.

After the CO2 duo consulted briefly with the live band, a benga sounding beat began to play. The two young men on stage grabbed microphones from the stands and began to sing a chorus before one of them cut in with a verse of Sheng’ rap.

The audience was somewhat jaded by the slow movements of the two male rappers in baggy attire. The aftertaste of the Ghetto Sisters’ gyrations hadn’t worn off yet. The audience was yearning to gawk at a curvaceous lass.

A subdued round of applause resounded in the hall when the CO2 boys finally finished their bland, improvised act and replaced the microphones on the stands. After strutting affectedly down the aisle, the two young men again had to walk sideways to move past numerous feet and knees and get to their seats.

Again the CO2 boys roughly brushed against Shira, GG, and Linda’s knees. One the CO2s, the one called Charles, even stepped on Shira’s new boots.

Incensed by this, Shira shot up and forcefully shoved the boy named Charles. Charles stumbled and tripped on the leg of a chair and fell amongst the laps of the seated youngsters. The seated youngsters pushed him away and he fell to the floor but managed to scramble to his feet. A fuming Charles then turned confrontationally at Shira, a savage sneer creasing his face, and they would have exchanged blows had Shira not heard Big Fred’s booming voice calling out the name NoizeMakerz.

GG and Linda had to pull an incensed Shira toward the aisle and away from Charles who was still standing and seething and sneering furiously at Shira.

Charles’s mate, Chris, pulled the young man to his seat as the three members of the NoizeMakerz made their way down the aisle toward the dais. When they went up the steps, a plethora of wolf whistles and catcalls resonated from the audience as soon as they got a glimpse of the curvy, light-skinned, young woman.

Shira and GG were donned in their typical baggy denims and T-shirts and baseball caps while Linda was clad in figure-hugging white hipsters and a spaghetti top and open-toe high heels. Linda had let her long obsidian black hair down over her shoulders.

After briefly consulting with the members of the live band, Shira, GG and Linda grasped a microphone each from the stands.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Big Fred dramatically. “A round of applause for the NoizeMakerz!” He then hastily departed from the dais as a mid-tempo benga sounding beat began to play.

The exaggerated yawns and boos of the embittered CO2 duo, Charles and Chris, were drowned out by the incalculable wolf whistles and catcall and claps resounding from the hall as Linda began to move her body in time to the beat and rhythm of the instrumental. The male audience members were blissfully blind to Linda’s pair of bandmates.

Shira began to rap the first verse of the song. It was the same song that they had performed in front of the class a couple of weeks prior. The poetic rhyming lyrics were in Sheng’ (Swahili slang) and each time he mentioned a word praising the beauty and sensuality and grace of a young woman, the female audience members cooed and catcalled appreciatively. The multi-coloured disco lights kept flashing and blinking.

A cameraman with a hand held camera knelt in front of the dais and filmed Shira as he rapped. The footage was transmitted live on the big screen beside the dais. Just as Shira was rapping the last line of the verse, Linda joined in and crooned the soulful chorus.

“…Songea karibu, songea karibu,

Nishike mkono, uwe wangu,

Nikupeleke chumbani mwangu…”

Same as she’d done on the day they performed this song to their class, Linda repeated these lyrics twice and accompanied them with the appropriate inflections, facial expressions and gestures. The smoke machine spurted gusts of blue smoke which enveloped the sexy young singer. The colours of the flashing disco lights reflected on the undulating clouds of smoke.

Linda moved her curvaceous body alluringly in time to the beat and rhythm of the instrumental. The cameraman with the hand-held camera knelt on one knee in front of the dais and filmed Linda’s arousing performance. As she sang, Linda happened to turn back and see her image portrayed on the big screen beside the dais. She smiled and turned forward and gazed directly at the camera held by the cameraman who was kneeling before the dais.

Linda blew a kiss at the camera when she finished singing the chorus. Her image on the big screen blowing the kiss sparked a flurry of wolf whistles and catcalls from the inflamed male audience members.

A good number of the enthralled young men in the hall had by now stood up to take in Linda’s performance.

GG then joined in and rapped his comical verse (also in Sheng’). The standing audience members sat down and watched the zany antics of the rapper on the big screen. Bursts of laughter erupted amongst the amused audience members.

Just as GG was rapping the last sentence of the verse, again Linda joined in with the soulful chorus “…songea karibu…”

She sang it twice and accompanied it with her suggestive inflection and gestures and body movements. As she was about to sing the last line, she turned and gestured at the live band members to stop playing the instrumental. They acquiesced.

In a slow, throaty, sensual voice, Linda finished singing with the words, “…nikupeleke…chumbani…mwangu…” An echo of the last syllable ricocheted poignantly within the walls of the dark hall.

As it had happened in class when they’d performed this same song, a hypnotic, awed silence descended on the plenary hall, all eyes trained on the young gorgeous woman on stage and her two compatriots who were striking a thuggish pose on either side of her.

After a couple of seconds all the members of the audience rose to their feet and burst into an ecstatic roar of sustained applause. The image of the NoizeMakerz trio was portrayed on the large screen bowing gratefully to the appreciative cheering audience.

After the NoizeMakerz’s thrilling performance several other acts were called to the stage and performed their songs in front of the audience. Most of the latter performers were teenagers and thus lacked experience, skill and refinement. Most of the rappers, with exception of a few, were only used to rapping along to pre-recorded instrumentals playing from a machine. Performing with a live band thus became a major challenge. Some rappers and singers routinely sang off-key and MC Big Fred had to step on stage and stop their terrible performance under a hail of harsh boos and jeering from the incensed audience.

************************************************************************

A week later, on Sunday night, GG sat on the sofa in the living room of his house watching TV. It was some minutes past nine o’clock and the first of a series of the K-mobile music talent search competition TV shows was about to be screened right after the end of the nine o’clock news.

GG couldn’t wait to watch the highly anticipated TV show. He yearned to watch himself and his bandmates on TV rapping on stage in front of a live audience.

GG lived with his father in the three bed-roomed house located in the South-B area of Nairobi. GG’s dad was single.

GG’s mom and dad had divorced when he was only a toddler. GG’s dad had been a student in a local university studying for a law degree when his then girlfriend, a fellow student in the university, announced that she was pregnant with his child. Their parents forced them to get married just before GG was born. But they divorced just two years into the troubled marriage. They just couldn’t tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies.

GG had lived with his single mother until he was ten years old when he decided to move in with his father. His mom’s new boyfriend had moved into their house. GG hated the noises he heard coming from his mom’s room at night.

GG’s dad was a lawyer and was a partner in a law firm in Nairobi. The man had chosen not to marry again after divorcing his first wife. GG’s father was inclined to partying and club-hopping and he loved getting drunk. After work, the man spent most of his evenings in up-market pubs together with his friends, most of them young professionals, drinking beer and eating nyama choma (roasted meat) and chatting animatedly and laughing loudly.

GG’s dad was a flashy dresser and drove a BMW car. He, the father, treated GG, his son, as if they were age mates and always encouraged the seventeen year old boy to be outgoing and sociable.

On several occasions the father would take GG to a pub and encourage him to try beer. GG would drink half a glass of it and switch to soda. Beer, he thought, was bitter. After leaving the pub, father and son would hop into their BMW and drive to another entertainment spot in another part of town. GG mostly enjoyed the loud music and the mood of revelry in the clubs. After visiting several other pubs and clubs, the father would be so inebriated that he could not walk himself to the parking lot where their BMW was.

On such occasions, GG had to throw his staggering father’s hand over his shoulder and drag the man from the pub to the parking area and into the passenger side seat of the BMW.

GG would then hop into the driver’s seat and drive himself and his sloshed, dozing dad home. Though he hadn’t gone to a driving school, and didn’t have a driving license, GG had learnt to drive a car when he was twelve years old. His dad had taught him the basics of operating a car (this is the gear; and this one the steering wheel; and those three

the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals respectively) while GG had taught himself the modalities of navigating through the dark deserted roads of Nairobi nights.

Upon arriving home, GG would park the car in their compound, drag the semi-conscious man from the car, guide him into the house to his bedroom, and put him into bed.

GG spent most of his time at home alone and unsupervised. He could easily get money from his drunken dad’s wallet and therefore was never in short supply of cash.

At exactly 9:45 p.m. the K-mobile talent search competition TV show came on. Three of the leading national TV channels were simultaneously airing the pre-recorded show.

K-mobile must have bought expensive prime time space on the TV stations. Clearly no expense was being spared to market the show to its target audience – the urban youth of Kenya.

K-mobile’s approach was simply to portray itself as a hip and modern brand; the preferred network for the cool, upwardly mobile youngsters. But the company’s main aim was to sell lots of air-time (minutes, they’re sometimes called) to the millions of vibrant, talkative urban youths. Only the bulk sale of air-time would boost the company’s profit margin; and not the silly charade about promoting art and music.

GG felt thirsty and slipped out of the living room to the fridge in the kitchen. A second later he came back into the living room with a can of chilled beer and sat on the brown leather sofa in front of the large flat screen TV. With a hiss of escaping fizz, GG opened the beer can and tilted it over his mouth and took a swig from it.

“Ahhh,” he sighed upon swallowing. He smacked his lips appreciatively and gazed tenderly at the can. “I love beer,” he thought. It didn’t taste bitter today. He wondered why this was so. Maybe it’s because he was excited about the prospect of watching himself and his bandmates performing a song on national TV.

A K-mobile official, the same guy who’d spoken at the KICC plenary hall before the start of the live recording of the competition, came on the TV screen and spoke for a while.

“I saw this guy speaking live,” GG thought in amusement and took another swig of the cold delicious beer. GG sat up when the official ended his monologue and MC Big Fred’s bespectacled face came on the TV screen.

The genial MC laughed as he introduced the viewers to the music talent show and briefly explained how the rules of the competition worked.

GG’s mobile phone’s ringtone sounded. He abruptly fished out the Motorola handset from his jeans’ pocket and peeked at the lighted coloured screen. He’d just received a new text message. Upon opening the message, he read it. It was from his bandmate Shira inquiring on whether he, GG, was watching the K-mobile talent search show on TV.

As GG was hastily drafting a reply text message, his handset’s message ringtone sounded again. Abandoning the draft, GG opened the new message and read it. The new message was from Linda, she too inquiring whether he was tuned in to the TV channels airing the talent show.

GG’s thumbs bobbed rapidly over the keys of the Motorola handset as he finished typing the reply draft and swiftly sent it to both Shira’s and Linda’s phone numbers. In the message he confirmed to them that he was indeed watching the talent show and was even sipping a cold beer and was all alone in the house.

Both Shira and Linda sent thriftily-abbreviated text messages expressing their envy of GG’s independence and lack of parental supervision.

After Big Fred’s introductory speech, he proceeded to call out the first band and the cameras zoomed in on the five cocky rappers. The interludes where the contestants consulted with the live band were edited out. Different shots from different cameras were fused to make an exciting music video-like show.

“Urgh! Not the Eucalyptus again,” thought GG in consternation. He took yet another sip of his beer.

After the Eucalyptus performed, then came the Ghetto Sisters followed by the CO2 boys.

GG finished his beer and went to the fridge to get another can. As he walked back into the living room, the CO2 boys were just finishing their bland performance. GG went close to the TV and gently knocked his clenched fist on the area of the screen where the two boys’ heads were. “I hate those guys!” he seethed.

When GG sunk into the leather sofa, Big Fred finally called out the NoizeMakerz. GG’s Motorola rang and he picked up the call. The name Shira appeared on the lighted screen.

“We’re on TV! We’re on TV!” Shira yelled elatedly before hanging up.

As GG eagerly watched their performance on TV he dialed Linda’s number. Linda picked up the call after half a ring.

“We’re on TV! We’re on TV!” GG yelled elatedly before hanging up. GG then tilted the beer can over his mouth and poured all its frothy contents into his mouth. He swallowed the beer with a loud glug and burped and stood up to watch his bandmates and himself on TV rapping on stage in front of a live audience in the plenary hall, and, also, the TV audience sitting in their homes.

This was the stuff daydreams were made of! This was the highest point of GG’s musical career.

In the last fifteen minutes of the TV show, when most of the bands had performed, Big Fred came on the screen severally and appealed to the viewers to send text messages to a short code number and vote for the contestants that they wanted retained in the competition.

In the last two minutes of the show, when the text message votes had been tallied, Big Fred came on the screen and read from a list on his clipboard the names of the bands that had been eliminated from the competition.

The Ghetto Sisters, Eucalyptus, CO2, and the NoizeMakerz were not amongst the bands eliminated.

The original number of 500 bands that had been registered for the competition had now been narrowed down to 100. As the TV show ended, the innumerable credits rolling up the screen, Big Fred thanked the viewers for tuning in to the show and requested them not to miss the show the following week. “Same time, same place, same channel,” he laughed before a large blue graphic of the K-mobile logo covered the TV screen.

GG jumped and punched the air in glee. Excitedly he began to do a spirited dance around the living room until he was out of breath and consequently sank into the sofa.

In another part of town, Shira’s mom watched in amazement as his excited son happily jumped up and down in the living room after they’d both watched the TV show.

“Mom, did you see me on TV? Did you see me on TV?” Shira kept yelling elatedly. “I told you I’d be famous someday!”

Shira’s mom was happy that her son had appeared on a TV show, though she didn’t see the need of jumping around the living room like an inebriated kangaroo.

In yet another part of town, Linda and her mom hugged each other and briefly hopped around the living room before sinking into the sofa.

“My baby is famous! My baby is famous!” the mother kept saying in delight while holding Linda close. Tears came to their eyes. Joy reigned.

Every Sunday evening after the screening of that first episode, the one hour long talent search show was routinely aired on the three leading national TV channels.

Also running simultaneously were the live recordings of the performances by aspirants to the prize. The live recordings were staged every Saturday afternoon at the KICC plenary hall. Throngs of flashy youngsters attended the live performances.

Viewers were encouraged to vote for the bands that they wanted retained in the competition.

Weeks later, with only a month to go to the grand finale, only three bands remained in the competition. These bands were: the boisterous Ghetto Sisters, the CO2 duo, and the gifted trio called the NoizeMakerz.

The TV show soon became the most talked about issue in the Kenya media. Some FM radio stations ran call-in programmes to discuss the intrigues of the TV show and the bands participating in it. This call-in radio shows were especially aired on the Monday morning following the Sunday evening screening of the show.

The weekend society pages of the mainstream newspapers were awash with photographs, interviews, and articles of the contestants, both of those voted out of the contest and those still in contention.

A page was even created on Facebook, the popular social networking internet site, by the fans of the music contest. Initially upon its creation, the friends totaled 106,250. hourly updates were posted on the Facebook page, mainly speculative discussions about which band seemed likely to be eliminated; who was the hottest girl in the TV show (Linda and the lead singer of the Ghetto Sisters were the fans’ favourites); and which rapper had the most refined rapping skills (Shira and one of the CO2 boys were the fans’ favourites.)

~*~

One weekday evening early in October, Shira and his ubiquitous mother sat in the living room of their house. They’d just finished eating supper and were now watching the nine o’clock news bulletin.

Shira was stretched out on his favourite armchair impassively gazing at the flashing images on the TV screen. He hated news bulletins and everybody who watched them.

Shira’s mom sat on another armchair, her eyes glued to the TV screen, keenly following the news reports. When a series of advertisements came on, the mother turned her attention to her son. “And how are your studies coming along?” she asked.

“Fine,” Shira said indifferently. “Just fine.”

“It’s less than four weeks now to the start of the KCSE,” she said seriously. “Shouldn’t you be busy studying instead of wasting time watching TV?”

“I spent the whole day in school studying,” Shira said without looking at her. “Now that I’ve come back home, I need to do other things except study.”

“What degree course do you wish to pursue if you get into university?” the mother asked brusquely.

Shira sat up and interestedly stared at his mother. “Fine art degree course,” he said brightly, hoping that she’d say that she had connections to help him get into a university without having to score As and B grades in the KCSE.

“You need to score As and Bs in KCSE in order to be admitted to that degree course,” she said raucously.

Shira looked away to the TV screen and sat back with a disappointed sigh. “Why is it important that I get a university degree?” he asked demurely. “There are lots of successful, respected, wealthy people in the Kenyan society who don’t have university degrees.”

“Without a university degree, you won’t be able to apply for jobs,” said the mother matter-of-factly.

“I don’t want to apply for a stupid job,” Shira said gruffly. “I just want to pursue my music career; make money, lots of money.”

The mother was infuriated by the boy’s naïve words. “Music career?” she gasped scornfully. “What music career? This is Africa. Music doesn’t pay. Poor people don’t spend their meager earnings on CDs and concerts. If you go the music way, you’ll be poor all your life.”

When Shira heard this emotive declaration by his angry mother, he sat up and stared at her. The truth hurts, he thought, now beginning to realize that his fascination with music might just be a waste of time – a pipe dream, some call it.

If music doesn’t pay, then I’ll surely need to find another source of income, he thought. I’ll need to apply for jobs. I’ll need certificates, diplomas, and degrees for my CV to be marketable.

Now I see why she insists that I study diligently, get the required grades in the KCSE, and proceed to university where I’ll work more diligently till I graduate with a degree.

Shira’s mom watched her son stand up. The boy smiled meekly at her.

“I’m going to my room to study,” he said before walking slowly out of the living room. She soon heard the familiar bang of his bedroom door as it shut.

“Good,” she grinned smugly to herself and then grasped the TV remote, changed the channel, and busied herself watching a Mexican soap opera.

“Ooh, Antonio, I want to kiss you,” said the actress in the popular soap.

“Ahh, Racquel, your kiss tastes like wine,” replied the actor.

~*~

That same evening in early October, Linda and her mother sat opposite each other on the circular dining table in the dining room of their house eating supper. Smooth soothing music was playing from the hi-fi music system.

“I’m full, mom,” said Linda, putting her spoon down on the empty plate and proceeding to pat her tummy. “I’ll help you clear the dishes and wash them.”

“No, no, my child,” said the mother concernedly. “Don’t worry about the dishes. Just leave them to me. You need all the time you can have to prepare for the exam.”

“Okay, mother,” Linda said, getting up and replacing the chair neatly under the dining table. “I’ll be in my room studying.”

“What degree course did you say you wanted to pursue once you get into university?” the mother asked after chewing and swallowing food. She set her spoon down in the plate of pilau rice. (Pilau rice was their favourite meal.)

“A law degree,” Linda said. “I hope to set up my own law firm once I graduate and get my practicing license. I’ll specialize in entertainment industry laws and cases.”

“That sounds ambitious – but attainable. Do remember to take a break from studying and rest once in a while,” said the mother concernedly. “Scoring high grades in an exam is a good thing; but it’s not as important as your mental and social wellbeing.”

Linda smiled at her mother. “Can I, therefore, take a break now and watch TV? There’s a Mexican soap opera that I like. It’s airing today…”

“Of course you can take a break now. Sit down and watch your soapie,” smiled the mother, gesturing at the living room where the wall unit containing the TV set was. “Is the soap opera the one starring Antonio and Racquel?”

“Yes!” said Linda excitedly. “That’s the one.”

The mother abruptly picked up her plate of food, stood up, and hurried to the sofa in the living room and sat. “I love Antonio. Switch on the TV. I can’t wait to gawk at his handsome moustached face.”

“Ohh, Racquel, you don’t know the things I want to do to you,” said the actor.

Ahh, Antonio, hurry and do these things to me. I can’t wait any longer,” said the actress.

~*~

In another part of town, GG was seated next to his father in an up-market pub. The table before them was crammed with beer bottles, some full, others half empty, and yet others were empty.

Loud pop music played from large speakers mounted on the wall above them. GG’s dad was inebriated and kept laughing out loud as one of his friends said something funny. His dad’s friends sat around the table.

GG tilted the bottle of his soda over his glass and then took a sip of the soda. He’d developed a strong craving for beer. He desired to gulp down some beer but didn’t want to do it publicly and embarrass his dad in front of his mates.

And, anyway, GG needed to stay sober since his dad seemed too drunk to drive. His dad perennially used him as the designated driver whenever he went on drinking sprees.

“Isn’t your son in form four?” one of the intoxicated friends of his father asked.

“Yes, he’s in form four,” said GG’s dad, raising his glass and taking a swig of beer from it.

“I heard somewhere in the news that the KCSE exam is just around the corner,” said the man. “Shouldn’t he be at home busy studying?”

“No, no, no,” laughed GG’s dad. “These days you don’t need to pass the KCSE to get into university. They’ve invented something called the parallel degree program. All you need to do is pay the administrators of the university stacks of money and your kid is in! No stress!”

************************************************************************

The Saturday after that, the three remaining bands performed to a packed crowd at the plenary hall of the KICC.

The hall was so packed with cocky, flashily dressed youngsters that throngs of them had to be turned away because there was no space inside the hall for them to sit.

Undaunted by this, the youngsters congregated outside the KICC building and listened to the music and euphoric cheers coming from inside the hall.

The show and side shows at KICC were all filmed and later edited and slated to be broadcast the following week.

The Sunday after that, in the evening, millions of Kenyans congregated in front of their TVs in their living rooms, others in pubs sipping beers and sodas, others on the internet’s YouTube, and others on their hand-held wireless gadgets, all eagerly waiting to watch the second last episode of the K-mobile talent search show.

Fans of the show, millions of them, yearned to watch which band would be eliminated from the contest and thus leave only two bands to fight it out for the grand prize of a million shillings.

The fans also kept their mobile phones close in anticipation of MC Big Fred’s appeal to the viewers to send text messages and vote for the bands that they wanted retained in the final duel of the hit TV show.

The mainstream newspapers devoted at least three pages each in their society and lifestyle sections to articles and pictures of the remaining bands.

FM radio stations devoted several hours of call-in shows to discuss the eagerly anticipated finale of the enthralling talent search competition.

The Facebook page devoted to the talent search show was inundated with new posts on the discussion board. The number of friends had jumped to 901,370.

~*~

The signature intro music began to play and the affable, bespectacled, burly MC named Big Fred finally came on the screen and a loud, euphoric cheer erupted in the background. (Big Fred had by now become as popular as the TV show.)

Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans watching the TV show braced themselves for the scheduled performances of the three remaining bands – the Ghetto Sisters, the CO2, and the NoizeMakerz.

MC Big Fred laughed, a signature, open-mouthed, genial “ha ha ha,” and for the umpteenth time that year introduced the viewers to the TV show using the same scripted lines. He was holding the ubiquitous wireless microphone and clipboard.

Shira, GG, and Linda characteristically grabbed their mobile phone handsets and drafted and sent (and received) text messages from one another inquiring whether they were tuned in to the show.

In the text messages they also expressed their apprehension about being voted out of the music competition and thus missing out on the grand prize of a million shillings.

After the introductions, Big Fred called up the NoizeMakerz to the stage to perform their song. The camera zoomed in on the trio and they were shown on TV getting up from their seats near the front of the hall and strutting along the aisle to the dais. A different frame of a different camera showed the trio on stage holding wireless microphones as the live band began to play a slow benga-sounding instrumental. The crowd went quiet.

Linda began to sing the chorus of a song – a different song from the one that they’d performed in front of their class a couple of months back. The new song was much slower; mellower in its rendering and mood. It was a love song. The coloured revolving lights flashed and a cloud of smoke wafted from the smoke machine.

The crowd in the plenary hall erupted in a cheer of appreciation as Linda’s melodious voice crooned the chorus closely followed by the slow, mellow rap verses of Shira and GG respectively.

A euphoric cheer erupted from the crowd in the hall when the NoizeMakerz completed their performance and bowed theatrically to the audience.

Big Fred went up the steps to the dais and proceeded to thank the NoizeMakerz trio for their titillating performance. Big Fred then read from his clipboard and called up the Ghetto Sisters to the stage.

The four feisty young ladies were shown getting up from their seats near the front of the hall, the crowd ululating and clapping and whistling. They strutted stylishly to the aisle before going up the steps to the dais.

Rapid edits and fused camera shots showed the four tastefully dressed lasses in different angles as they grasped wireless microphones from the stands and stood in form on stage. They were clad in long, flowing, figure-hugging, red, silky evening gowns.

A slow, melancholic reggae instrumental began to play after which the lead singer of the Ghetto Sisters raised the microphone to her mouth and began to sing. It was yet another love song. The multi-coloured stage lights flashed and the smoke machine belched out clouds of smoke. There was a concert-like mood in the hall.

At different intervals, the three other girls of the group rapped a few mellow lines blended in by the lead singer’s harmonized hums and emotive choruses.

The song was a great departure from their typical fast-paced, energetic, agitated beats and raps and scanty stage attire.

A wild cheer erupted when they finished singing and held hands and bowed dramatically to the ululating and clapping audience.

A grinning Big Fred went up the steps on to the dais and heaped praise on the Ghetto Sisters’ classy attire and performance. He then read from the papers on his clipboard and called out the last group to perform that day, “CO2!”

The two young men in baggy denims, T-shirts, crooked baseball caps, sneakers, chains and medallions were shown on TV getting up from their seats near the front of the hall and swaggering confidently along the aisle, up the steps, and onto the dais.

Rapid edits and varying, blended camera shots showed the duo grasping microphones from the stands. A slow R&B-sounding instrumental began to play upon which both of the performers’ voices harmonized to sing the opening chorus. This was closely followed by their individual rap verses. They ended the performance by singing the chorus again. Theirs too was a love song.

The excited crowd rose to their feet to clap and cheer for the CO2 boys who had built a reputation as hardcore rappers. Their switch to a love song greatly pleased and surprised their fans and the general audience. The CO2 boys bowed dramatically to the crowd.

Big Fred went up the steps as soon as the CO2 boys had left for their seats. He instantly recited the scripted lines appealing for the audience at home to pick up their mobile phones and send text messages to a short code number with the name of the band that they wanted retained in the contest.

During the last two minutes of the one hour TV show, when the text message votes had been tallied, Big Fred came on the screen, the camera zooming in on his bespectacled face, and he announced the results of the eagerly awaited tally. (This final clip of Big Fred was being aired live from a film studio set. The previous clips of him were the ones filmed a week earlier at the KICC performances.)

The Ghetto Sisters had received 20, 006 votes; the CO2 31,772 votes; and the NoizeMakerz 25,232 votes.

“It saddens me to say this,” Big Fred confessed to the TV camera, genuine remorse in his voice. “But the Ghetto Sisters are no longer in the running to become the finalists in the K-mobile talent search contest.”

The credits began to roll up on a segment on the left side of the screen, the signature music playing.

“The NoizeMakerz and the CO2 are the finalists of the K-mobile music talent contest. These two bands will fight it out for the grand prize of a million Kenya shillings next week on Sunday, October 13th at the KICC’s plenary hall. The final show will be aired live; same place, same time, same channel.”

Big Fred turned to face another camera. “Bye bye for now,” he said as the large blue-coloured K-mobile logo covered the TV screen.

~*~

A minute hadn’t even elapsed after the TV show ended when Shira’s mother began to yell. She was angered by Big Fred’s declaration that the finals of the competition would be held on Sunday, October 13th.

“The KCSE exam begins on Monday, October 14th,” she ranted. “There’s no way that my son is attending, let alone participating, in a stupid music contest the night before he sits for a major exam. Only if am dead and buried will I let that happen!”

“But, mom,” pleaded Shira desperately. “I love music. I and my bandmates, GG and Linda, have worked so hard to achieve this. We’ve been writing and rehearsing new songs and stage routines since the competition started. You have to be heartless to bar me from participating in the finals!”

The enraged mother stood up and towered over her seated son, her hands held menacingly akimbo. “Uh-uh, Wachira, I said that the only way that I’ll let you participate in that final contest is if am dead and buried! You’re not going to KICC on that Sunday, do you hear?!”

“You can’t do this to me, mom!” Shira cried, gazing up at his writhing mother. “If I don’t show up, my bandmates will be disqualified. We could lose out on the grand prize!”

“I said you are not going to that stupid music contest,” the mother screamed defiantly.

Shira rose to his feet and glared angrily at his panting, enraged mother. Mother and son were about the same height. “If KCSE is that important, then I’ll re-register and sit for it next year. Will that make you happy?” Shira asked with a sly, mirthless grin.

“Don’t be sarcastic with me, boy,” the enraged mother growled threateningly, her face wrinkled into a savage sneer.

Shira threw his hands in the air and sighed heavily before turning away from his mother and headed for his bedroom and banged the door shut and locked himself in.

~*~

Within that first minute after the TV show ended, in another part of town, Linda’s mom rose from the sofa and stood over her seated daughter. “Let me make it clear to you, young lady, that you are not going to the final of that talent show the night before you begin the most important exam of your life. Do you understand me?”

“But I love music, mother,” Linda pleaded desperately. I and my bandmates, Shira and GG, worked so hard to get to the finals. We’ve been writing and rehearsing new songs since the competition began. You can’t deny me this opportunity of going to the finals!”

The peeved mother wagged her forefinger threateningly at the seated girl. “Listen, young lady, and listen good; I’m your mother and as long as you live in my house, my word is law! You are not going to that silly music contest.”

Linda tried to smile. “Remember that I promised I’ll buy you a new laptop computer with the prize money?”

The mother sneered at Linda menacingly. “I don’t want a stupid laptop,” she hissed coldly and bended to glare at the bewildered girl. The mother then mellowed her voice to a maternal tone. “What I want is for you to spend the eve of the start of the KCSE preparing for it. No music, no parties, no competitions. Just study and have a good night’s rest. Do you understand me?”

“Why are you getting so worked up about the music contest?” Linda suddenly yelled and stood up to face her mother. “You’ve been supporting me all through the weeks since the beginning of it. This is a nasty side of you that I’d never seen before. I don’t like it, mother. I don’t like it.”

As Linda recited this last sentence, she backtracked slowly away from her stunned mother and went into her bedroom and banged the door shut and locked herself in.

~*~

In another part of town, the respective parents of the CO2 boys, Charles and Chris, harshly scowled the boys and warned them against participating in the eagerly awaited finals of the popular music contest. Charles’s and Chris’s impassioned protests fell on deaf ears. “Concentrate on KCSE!” the set of parents hissed coldly to their shocked sons.

~*~

That same night in yet another part of Nairobi, GG was reclined lethargically on the sofa in the living room of his dad’s house, sipping a cold beer from a can.

“Long live East Africa Breweries,” he burped while appreciatively gazing at the logo of the brand of beer.

He’d just watched the K-mobile talent search show on TV and was elated that him and his bandmates had made it to the finals.

GG’s dad was, as usual, away from home. He’d travelled the previous night to the United Kingdom to visit his brother who was graduating from university that week. GG’s dad would be gone for a whole week and he’d hired a maid to take care of his son and the house.

GG’s dad had assured his son that he would be sending him money through Western Union money transfer service whenever he was in need.

The message tone of GG’s Motorola handset sounded and he swiftly placed the beer can on the coffee table before sifting through his denim’s pockets for the phone.

Upon retrieving the handset, GG swiftly pressed the keys and opened the inbox to read the text message. The text message, he saw, was from Shira. Shira was inquiring whether he could come over to GG’s place and live there for a couple of days till the finals of the music contest were over.

GG’s thumbs bobbed rapidly over the handset’s keys and he drafted a text message asking Shira why he didn’t want to stay at his home with his mom.

Shira replied to this text message saying that his heartless mother had barred him from participating in the finals of the talent show. “Cn u blv it?” he ended the abbreviated message.

“Ok, tmrw u cn pck ur thngs n cm ova,” GG wrote, informing Shira that once he packed his things he could come over to his house.

As soon as he replaced the Motorola handset into his pocket, it rang again. GG irritably pulled it out and gazed at the lighted screen. “Linda,” it said. It was an incoming call and not a text message.

GG pressed the green ‘receive’ button. “What’s up, Linda?” he said, clasping the handset over his ear.

“Hi, GG,” Linda said, her voice lacking its characteristic vibrancy. “Can I come over to your place and stay there for a couple of days till the finals of the competition are over?”

“Let me guess,” GG said and chuckled. “Your mom has barred you from participating in the competition?”

“Yes, exactly,” said Linda in distress. “How did you know?”

“Shira contacted me just a minute ago,” said GG. “He’s in the same fix. His mom won’t let him participate in the finals of the competition. Ati he should be preparing for the next day’s exam. Kwani, what’s wrong with moms these days?”

“I don’t know what they’re smoking,” Linda said. “My mom said the same thing as Shira’s mom. She’s acting weird. I mean, the KCSE exam is not the end of the world! We can register again and sit for it next year. And how come your dad doesn’t meddle in your life, GG?”

GG laughed smugly when he heard this last sentence. “Me and my dad are buddies. He understands that I need my space to do my own things.”

Linda sighed heavily through the phone. “I wish I had a dad like yours,” she said. “So, can I come over and stay for a while at your place?”

“Of course,” GG said. “Pack your clothes and things and tomorrow you can come over.”

************************************************************************

The next day, a Monday, GG didn’t wake up early in the morning to go to school. Instead he slept in till midday and woke up to watch Cartoon Network in the living room’s TV while munching on brunch prepared by the maid.

Later in the afternoon GG took the car keys and hopped into his dad’s BMW and drove out of the gates to the local bus stop where he picked up Linda and GG who’d just alighted from a matatu. Linda and GG both carried large suitcases and a knapsack each.

GG then drove them back to his house and showed them where they’d be sleeping – a double-decker bed stowed against the wall on one side of his bedroom.

The trio spent the rest of the day lounging carefreely in the living room watching videos and eating snacks served by the maid and chatting animatedly.

During their animated chats they developed a plan of winning the music contest. They agreed that they needed to spend at least six hours of the remaining five days rehearsing their songs and dance routines. They also agreed that they needed new costumes for their final performance – for Linda something similar to what Janet Jackson wore when her bosom was exposed (black leather motor-racing gear) and for Shira and GG black costumes to complement Linda’s.

Though he didn’t have a driving license, GG took his bandmates and drove them to Nairobi CBD where he parked the BMW and they spent a couple of hours in the clothing shops buying outfits, shoes, and jewelry.

To pay for the stuff that they bought, GG used the money that he’d been given by his dad.

That Monday night when Linda’s mom and Shira’s mom, respectively, arrived home from work and found that their son and daughter had ran away from home, they were so shocked that they telephoned the police and informed them of the disappearances.

The police officer on the phone asked the worried mothers to first contact all of their relatives and friends and inquire whether the teenagers had been seen.

If the two teenagers were not staying with any of their relatives and friends, the police averred, then investigations would swiftly be launched to track down the boy and girl.

It was during the series of telephone exchanges between the police and the worried, distressed mothers that a meeting was arranged at the Central Police Station in Nairobi CBD.

Shira’s mom and Linda’s mom hastily arrived at the police station in their respective cars and were introduced to each other by the officer commanding the police station.

“Hello, I’m Mama Shira,” said the mother, extending her hand to greet the other woman.

“Hello, and I’m Mama Linda,” responded the other woman, she too extending her hand to shake Mama Shira’s.

“Like my son, your daughter too is in the K-mobile music contest, isn’t she?” inquired Shira’s mom.

“Yes, my daughter, Linda, is in the K-mobile music contest,” responded Linda’s mom. “I think they’re in the same group – the noise makers – though am not sure I’ve pronounced it correctly.”

Having established rapport, the two thirtyish women began to talk about the disappearance of their children.

“Recently in the media there have been reports of kidnappers snatching kids and demanding hefty ransoms for their return,” said Shira’s mom. “Maybe that’s what happened to my Shira and your Linda.”

The OCS (officer commanding station) walked out through the front door of the Central Police Station building and hastened towards the two tastefully dressed women.

“Good evening, ladies,” he said, extending his hand to shake theirs. “I am Sergeant Kiptoo, the OCS of this station. I am at your service and will assist you to find your missing children. Follow me to my office.”

The two women locked their cars and followed the uniformed sergeant through the front doors of the police station building, and through the corridors, to his little crammed office.

When the OCS had sat behind his desk and asked the two women to sit on the visitors chairs in front of his desk, he spoke to them.

“I am starting to think the disappearance of your children could be a case of kidnapping. I suggest that you keep your telephones close because the kidnappers could call you to make a ransom demand,” said the OCS gravely. The two women anxiety increased and they fidgeted in their seats.

“Your children, I have just been informed, are celebrities, and regularly appear on a popular TV show. Is this correct?” asked the OCS.

“Yes, for a couple of months now they’ve been appearing on a music contest show on TV,” said Shira’s mom.

Linda’s mom nodded in agreement with these remarks and both women gazed expectantly at the OCS.

“This being the case,” said the OCS pensively, “the ransom amount demanded by the kidnappers could be very high. Perhaps running into millions of shillings.”

“Millions of shillings?” both women gasped unitedly in shock.

“We don’t have millions of shillings stashed away somewhere just waiting to be withdrawn and paid to a bunch of criminals,” Shira’s mom said in indignation. “We are just regular people struggling to earn a living and raise our children in these difficult economic circumstances,” added Linda’s mom.

A prolonged silence ensued and was only broken by the OCS’s sullen voice. “There are three of them in the singing group – the noise makers. The other boy – the short funny one – has his parents reported that he too has disappeared?”

The two distressed women exchanged bewildered looks before Shira’s mom spoke worriedly. “I believe he is called Githinji. But we have not received any information from his parents indicating that he’s missing.”

“Could you have his or his parents’ telephone numbers; or know where he lives?” asked the OCS. “Maybe your son and daughter could have gone to visit him at his house.”

In their distress the two moms were not thinking rationally.

“No, that can’t be the case,” said Linda’s mom. “Whenever my daughter, Linda, goes visiting her friends, she always informs me exactly where she is and whom she’s with.”

“My son too does the same,” added Shira’s mom on noticing that the OCS was gazing inquisitively at her.

“We are left with no other choice but to conclude that the mysterious disappearance of your children was caused by kidnappers,” said the OCS pensively before getting up.

“What do we do?” Shira’s mom asked in desperation. “Our children are missing!”

Her voice was breaking and tears flowed freely down her face. Linda’s mom too teared up and she reached out and put her hand around Shira’s mom’s shoulders.

“We have to be strong,” Linda’s mom said. “Let’s have faith in the police. They’ll find our children. We have to hold on to hope.”

The two women hugged each other and broke down and wept and snivelled together.

The OCS had to turn away from them and clandestinely wipe away a stray tear when he became overwhelmed with emotion.

~*~

The next day was a Tuesday and the front page of one of the leading daily newspapers carried the banner headline reading, ‘Youthful TV Stars Kidnapped.’

Under the front page headline was a photo – a caption from film footage of one of the performances at KICC plenary hall – of the NoizeMakerz trio striking a modish pose; Linda in the middle flanked by Shira and GG.

A smaller headline at the bottom of the page read, ‘Parents of the Singing Trio the ‘NoizeMakerz’ Fear for their Childrens’ Lives.’

Both of the headlines were followed by speculative articles that lacked the slightest hints of facts.

On that Tuesday, Nairobi-based FM radio stations devoted their morning programmes to call-in discussion shows about the missing trio. Callers in the radio call-in shows voiced all kinds of wild ideas about who kidnapped the NoizeMakerz trio. The weirdest theory was that a British record company had offered the NoizeMakerz trio 10 million shillings not to take part in the finals of the competition ,but instead sign a recording deal with them.

One caller even suggested that the NoizeMakerz trio’s dead bodies had been spotted floating in the murky waters of the Nairobi River. The caller went on to speculate that the CO2 duo’s parents had hired hit-men to eliminate the NoizeMakerz from the competition.

The Facebook page created by fans of the TV show was inundated with posts on various discussion boards – all posts either offering condolences to the families and friends of the NoizeMakerz trio or more wild speculations about what might have led to the trio’s sudden disappearance.

The local TV stations too ran reports on their daytime news bulletins, all reporting the same thing – that the NoizeMakerz trio had disappeared.

One TV station even managed to interview both Shira’s and Linda’s moms. The teary mothers were showed talking in the living rooms of their respective houses. They both stuck to their original story that their children had been kidnapped.

Shira’s sobbing mother even gazed into the camera and appealed to the kidnappers to, “please release my baby. He’s my only child…boo hoo hoo…”

During the same news bulletin, the commissioner of police was showed banging his fists over his desk, swearing that all resources at his disposal were being directed at tracking the missing teenagers.

A related news report on the same TV station showed one of the officials of K-mobile saying that the NoizeMakerz trio would forfeit their chance to win the million shillings if they didn’t turn up at the dais of KICC venue before the 7:00 p.m. deadline. (The final performances were scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., Sunday October 13th.)

The K-mobile official gazed at the camera and appealed to the viewers to tell the NoizeMakerz trio to present themselves at the KICC plenary hall stage by 7:00 p.m., failure to which the one million shillings prize money and other prizes would be awarded to the CO2.

When the CO2 boys, Charles and Chris, heard this, they and their sets of parents jumped up in glee and hugged each other. It would be the easiest million shillings that the two young men would ever earn.

Chris and Charles swiftly exchanged a flurry of abbreviated text messages agreeing to split the million in two halves. They also speculated on the various things that they would spend their share of the money on. It was the happiest day of the two young men’s lives. They just couldn’t stop grinning.

~*~

On Sunday October 13th at dusk, some minutes before 7:00 p.m., the KICC’s plenary hall was already packed with noisy, flashily dressed youngsters; all eagerly awaiting the suspenseful outcome of the long-running K-mobile talent search competition.

The live band members were already poised on the brightly lit stage grasping their musical instruments, waiting to belt out instrumentals.

Cameramen wielding cameras and donning large headphones were busy turning their cameras this way and that way, filming the goings-on in the packed hall. Multi-coloured disco lights flashed across the bodies in the hall.

A battalion of K-mobile officials were seated pensively at the front seats just below the raised dais. Big Fred, the bespectacled, burly MC sat uncomfortably next to the officials, shifting repeatedly in his seat.

Charles and Chris, the CO2 members, sat grinning pleasurably behind the officials. Almost everyone in the hall kept raising their wrists and mobile phones to check the time.

At exactly 6:55 p.m. one K-mobile official stood up. It was the now familiar official who had held the megaphone and addressed the queuing youngsters on the day the registration of contestants was launched. The official now held a wireless microphone and went up the steps onto the dais and faced the noisy restless crowd of youngsters.

On seeing him, the youngsters in the hall who’d been sitting facing each other or away from the stage began to move and sit properly and face the front and turn their attention to him.

The babble in the hall had subsided a little when the official raised the microphone to his mouth and spoke. It was 6:58 p.m. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began pensively, turning his head from side to side to take in the crowd’s reaction to the announcement he was about to promulgate. “The rules of this competition stipulate that if one of the bands in the finals fails to make it to the stage by a certain specified time, in this case 7:00 p.m., then they automatically forfeit their chance to participate in the final competition.”

A babble of murmurs resounded from the crowd of youngsters. The official raised his arm and checked his wristwatch. “It is now 6:59 p.m. and one of the two bands that made it to the finals – the NoizeMakerz – has not showed up. The CO2 are seated right there in the hall. I have no choice left but to declare the CO2 the winne…..”

He suddenly stopped talking when he spotted three dark figures in sleek leather outfits strutting briskly up the aisle towards the dais. Heads and eyes and cameras began to turn to gawk at the three phantom-like dark figures making their way purposefully to the dais.

Soon the three figures went up the steps and onto the dais and stood in front of the stunned, blinking official.

“The NoizeMakerz?” gasped the official in shock, his eyes closely gazing at each of the three figures. “Is it you? Where did you come from?”

The three youngsters were donned in sleek, black, leather suits and dark, over-sized, designer sunglasses.

Shira, Linda and GG grabbed a wireless microphone each from the stands. Theatrically they raised the microphones to their mouths and spoke in unison saying, “Yes, it is us. The NoizeMakerz!”

The crowd in the hall burst into a frenzy of rapturous applause. The whole KICC building shuddered.

The bewildered CO2 boys, Chris and Charles, grimaced spitefully at the three black-clad, stylish figures on stage. Their broad pleasurable grins were no more. A cloud of fear had come over their wide eyes. The million shillings that they’d so frugally planned for had suddenly sprouted wings.

~*~

Both Shira’s and Linda’s moms were seated on sofas on their respective living rooms watching TV when they spotted the three black-clad figures on the screens. Both mothers simultaneously sat up and gazed closely at their TV screens. They identified two of the black-clad figures as their missing son and daughter respectively.

Shira’s mom swiftly grabbed her Motorola handset and restlessly dialled Linda’s mom’s number. “My son is alive! My son is alive!” she screamed elatedly as soon as Linda’s mom picked up the phone.

“My daughter is alive! My daughter is alive!” Linda’s mom screamed in response.

Both women then spoke and agreed to meet at the KICC plenary hall in twenty minute’s time. Soon after disconnecting the call, they both locked their respective houses and hopped into their cars and raced crazily toward KICC.

By the time the two moms arrived at the KICC plenary hall, the two bands, CO2 and NoizeMakerz, had each performed three songs on stage in front of the frenetic crowd of euphoric youngsters.

The two mothers walked into the packed hall when the NoizeMakerz were on stage and performing their last song. It was the same song that they’d performed in front of the class many months ago. The stunned mothers walked down the dark aisle of the hall as Linda sang the last chorus.

…Songea karibu, songea karibu,

Nishike mkono, uwe wangu,

Nikupeleke chumbani mwangu…

She sang the chorus twice. She gestured at the live band to stop playing the instrumental and in a slow, throaty, sensual voice she finished with the words, “Nikupeleke …chumbani …mwanguuuuuuu……

She blew a kiss to the audience. Five seconds of complete silence descended on the hall, all eyes on the three talented performers poised on the dais.

The audience then broke into a wild round of orgasmic applause, some jumping onto their chairs and whistling and clapping and hollering.

Shira’s and Linda’s moms rushed onto the stage and embraced the trio.

Big Fred, the MC, laughed and happily appealed to the audience in the hall and the viewers at home to send text messages to a short code number and vote for the band that they thought deserved to win the grand prize of a million shillings.

In the last two minutes of the one hour live broadcast, when the text message votes had been tallied, Big Fred stood on the stage and read from the paper on his clipboard.

The noisy frenetic audience suddenly went mute, all eyes on the burly MC. Adjusting his spectacles, he raised the wireless microphone to his mouth. In a slow, deep voice he looked at the camera in the hall and said, “The winner of the K-mobile talent search contest 2009 is…….” He paused for dramatic effect. The tension in the hall grew to impossible levels.

“The NoizeMakerz!”

© Denis Kabi 2009

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