In our Man Around Nairobi segment we feature men who live, work and play in Nairobi and nobody epitomizes this like Dan Aceda who paints the town red with his musical notes. Dan Aceda is a Kenyan singer songwriter known for his penchant for sweet melody and unique storytelling. So far he has produced three studio albums and has played at concerts all over the world including the US, Europe, East Africa, Malawi and more. He is the Founder and CEO of The African Bonfire, a multimedia production company based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a member of the prestigious Global Health Corps Fellowship Class of 2013 and also a member of the UN Global Accelerator network of entrepreneurs. So far Dan has won two Kisima awards, one for best male urban fusion artiste and songwriter of the year for the hit song Shamba la Wanyama. In 2012 Dan won a Kalasha Award for best sound for film for the sound track and music on Simiyu Samurai. He also won the artiste of the year in the 2008 Groove Awards. If you would like to find out more about his musical career check out his interview for Mics And Beats.
Dan was a member of the cast of Mo Faya, the first Kenyan musical to be staged in the off-Broadway New York Musical Theatre Festival. In 2011 he begun work in films, providing the musical scores for films such as Clearing the Air produced by Maina Kiai and InformAction, Afrodite Produced/Directed by Charles Ouda, Simiyu Samurai produced by Robbie Bresson, Sumu La Penzi and Jane and Abel both produced by Speilworks Ltd amongst others.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I grew up in Nairobi. I started off in the grounds of Kenyatta National Hospital since my parents both worked there. So staff housing was the thing. Then we moved to Ayany namba nane.
It was great to be honest. Every person older than you had a say in your life. All adults were your parents and could beat you to a pulp if necessary and the law was our parents. It probably didn’t help that all our parents were essentially colleagues at the hospital so very little could be kept secret. Insult one guy here and the entire system came down on you like a truck. Also, much of the hospital land was not developed at the time so we had a lot of spaces to explore, go fishing (for tadpoles) and even hunting for rabbits and dush mwitu.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
It’s hard to pick just one thing. There’s the vibrancy, the relentless pace, the do it well or go home attitude. But there’s also the village feel in some parts, the everyone knows everyone but not really. HAHA!
Nairobi has an interesting entertainment scene. There’s something for everyone. If you want to watch some lift your nose high dramatized dance stuff you will likely find shows doing that even on a Tuesday night. Same time maybe 20 minutes away there’s seedy bar where you can go listen to a 60 year old lady sing songs from the 60s backed by a 2 piece band. It’s a large industry but largely informal so that makes stuff very interesting.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
Oh geez I am an architecture and urban design major… my list is long! But if you asked me for just one thing it would be our roads. Too much land grabbing and bad governance so we haven’t built enough access to places and things. We need to be brave and knock down some buildings, maybe whole estates and detangle our city.
I wish I could document all that happens in Nairobi. I think this is the biggest issue, when you go to NYC there will be many magazines about what to do when and such. In Nairobi you just have to know and that’s hard to do sometimes. Even for us who’ve been working here for the past decade.
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
It’s a big city so no nothing is open to what anyone does here. It’s cut throat and ugly, every day! This is why we come here and why we stay. If it was easy we would not stay. Could things be better? Yes. I’m sorry to repeat but the government is really too far behind us. The people of Nairobi are in 2016 and reaching forward but everywhere you look you see a government struggling to get out of the 60s. They still close the roads on weekdays to paint the lanes. They need help and I hope they get it soon.
I work in content production and I went over to pay a business permit for my studio. There’s no section for such a thing. They simply say we are general merchants of a specific floor space ha ha. So I like to say my permit allows me to sell you content, do Mpesa, photocopy and even cut keys while you wait. But when they come to inspect their permit, they count the number of computers and declare us financial services! That is just hilarious.
What could be better? We need a new Serikali. This one we have is broken.
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.
Well, people can either go to Hong Kong and fill their lungs with smog or go to Lagos and buy microwaves in traffic or come to the great city in the sun; where you can see the lions in the morning, do a deal over lunch at a 5 star restaurant then see good proper nightlife on a Monday evening before one gets a flight to literally anywhere at whatever time you want. And oh by the way… we have the best weather of any city in the world. 23 degrees and a cool breeze every day.
If you would like to interact with Dan Aceda you can find him on twitter at @danaceda.