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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Charles Sekano and the Food Of Love

Amongst my ancestors I have a long line of English country parsons, writing this blog begins to remind me of the weekly sermon where the hapless pastor struggles to reconcile personal events of the week with biblical passages.

I don’t wish to stray too far from the topic of this blog, but parson-like, I may work in some extraneous material. And for better or for worse, there is no one to stop me.

Last night I went to a good friend’s family gathering. My friend is a “Kenyan Asian” from a liberal Muslim family. The occasion was his nephew’s twenty second birthday. It was the first time I had met his extended family and we gathered at a Taiwanese Restaurant in Westlands, Nairobi. This is in itself a typical urban Kenyan situation – third and fourth generation Kenyan Asians gathering in a more recent immigrants’ restaurant.

The food and service was excellent but what was even better was the good humour and teasing that went on during the meal, amid the customary friendliness of the Kenyan waiters. Then came the cake and a small but beautiful ceremony from my friend’s brother in law to his son – blessing him and inviting blessings from all present. This ended in a gentle chorus of Amen or was it Amin? (in truth I think a sort of universal mixture of both). This was followed by the young man being fed the cake by all of us in turn with a fork – again a serious gesture but not without the inevitable application of cream to the cheeks by some of his cheekier siblings.

This of course has nothing much to do with Charles Sekano, a South African jazz musician and artist who lived in Kenya during the eighties and nineties in exile from his, then apartheid, home country. Except, and there are always connections to be made, Sekano, like my Kenyan Asian friends, and no doubt the Taiwanese restauranteur and family, had made a home away from his original home in this most hospitable of countries.

I have not yet found much information about Charles, who is now back in South Africa. My friend, Mary Collis, founder of the Ramoma Gallery, tells me that he loves women. This comes as no surprise when one looks at his work, which is almost exclusively dominated by beautiful women and music. I know that he is a Jazz musician, a pianist and I believe, a saxophonist – if anyone, including the man himself, has more information I would love to receive it. What I do know is that his work is superb. Unpretentious, sure footed, if you will pardon the metaphor, and important in its way. It documents the era of the eighties and nineties in Nairobi, in a Kenya in the grip of Moi’s tyranny, but nevertheless a place where anyone who wasn’t an avowed enemy of state and who had enough Kenya shillings in their pocket, could enjoy the glittering prizes of a truly multiracial Nairobi at night. In a city, partly known for its squalor and crime, redeemed for many by its nightlife.

For me, Charles Sekano is one of those rare artists who has what one might call effortless talent. I can imagine him working quickly and without fuss, and never failing to catch the specific expressions and moods of his subjects and scenes.

You can find his work in the Contemporary African Art Gallery in New York and it is in major collections in Europe and elsewhere. Charles Sekano was one of Gallery Watatu’s Ruth Schaffner’s key artists. Collectors and art lovers should take note.

As always happy to hear from anyone who might want to collect Charles Sekano and any of the artists featured on this blog. Also, any comments always welcome.