Baiskeli, and nothing

Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, is a book I have read more times than my niece can count. The memoir was recommended from blogger Joey (of Joeytales. God bless this dear). Joey recommended the book on 8 January, at 12.47PM. I downloaded the e-book at 12.49PM. I started to read it at 12.51PM. I haven’t put it down ever since. (Hey, anyone know where I can get the paperback locally?)

King gives grandfatherly advice; stern and sober, honest and humorous. He addresses me like a little girl sitting on his lap while at the same time, like a young and naive writer trying to find his way. King makes it okay to want to write.

This book was my map and mentor, my compass and companion. Yet also my lantern and lighthouse. It was the hand that reached out when I was drowning in the rigorous routines of work. It was my escape when my one-eyed angry boss was throwing his hands in the air, droplets of his spittle landing on our foreheads as he crucified the manager and I for a ‘weak audit strategy’. I didn’t nod my head in mumbled agreement. Or fix my eyes on my fidgety and sweaty palms, like my manager did. No. I opened King’s memoir and read about his childhood adventures in Maine instead. I looked up only when the room fell silent and he (the boss) took a moment to sip from his Lock & Lock water bottle. And then, re-energized, continued the withering feedback.

I remember also the e-book was once open in my PDF; sitting snug between signed financial accounts and a research paper on risk management. Three documents representing the present, the desired future and the ideal future. Three options, one path.

I am still reading the book, seven months and counting. It is still as refreshing and as witty as when I first read it in January. It’s one of those books whose strength and relevance is revealed as life unfurls.

There is a chapter of the book where King talks about writing routine. King says there are some writers who churn out a gazillion books in their writing careers. And there are others – like James Joyce, James Agee and Malcolm Lowry – who wrote under five books. Which is okay, King says. What is not okay is what they were doing the rest of the time they were not writing.

King asks, and this is my point of focus. King asks: If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?


East African Breweries takes the liberty of putting together Tusker Project Fame (TPF) East Africa. TPF is five seasons in since its inception in 2006.

Let’s be honest, TPF really isn’t all that. But we follow it closely anyway. We relish the thigh-slapping humour in the auditions. We tune in every Sunday at 8PM to catch the live recording on Citizen TV, during a season. We sit through an hour of mediocre performances. We text in our vote to save our favorite evictees; the least baddest of them all deserves to stay, we say. We cross our fingers and hold our breath when that over-dressed cat from PwC graces the stage to deliver the envelope.

And once the winner is announced, all the fun ends with it. The show is many things, most of them not good. But, it is essentially a platform for talented young artists to springboard their way to producing an album. Ain’t it? Valerie Kimani and Ruth Matete bagged the trophy in 2006 and 2012, respectively. And they became five million shillings rich.

So, what happened once they left the Star Academy? What became of them?

Ruth Matete is everywhere but the studio. Word on the street was that she was working on an album due for release in early 2013. It is July now. Where is this album? Did I miss it? Have you heard it? I saw her last performing at Galileo. Then she appeared elsewhere after that and after that; still performing covers and never her own original compositions.

Valerie Kimani spent her win more wisely. She travelled down to South Africa, and worked with producers Universal Music Group to produce her first album, Baiskeli. Did you ever listen to this debut album from 2008, Baiskeli? I believe this album is the reason TPF should not be shut down for good.

Baiskeli was a simple album: no bells, no whistles, just a talented Kenyan girl who wanted to sing. 13 tracks. The album cover is of Valerie seated on a plastic maroon crate (the ones for Akida bread), dressed in a metallic dark silver dress. Her legs have been stylishly sprawled in front of her and they end in a pair of red peep-toes. The look on her face is of practiced and manufactured thoughtfulness. Where was the baiskeli in all this?

In Baiskeli, Valerie tried her hand at a Spanish ballad (Besame mucho), incorporated her vernacular Kikuyu into several of the tracks (Nguga ii/I will say yes, Kouo (Fever) and Hoi Hoi). She got schmaltzy on Too late now and Feels so good. On repeat, I sang along to Ndoto Langu (In my head), which became my favorite track on the album.

Baiskeli did not get the publicity and recognition it deserved.  The track that got regular airplay on mainstream radio was my least favorite – Village Girl – a duet with Ugandan artist, Maurice Kirya. Maurice’s vocals were not able to match the powerful croons of Valerie, and his attempts to hit the high notes were wonting. He had Valerie making up for his inability to meet her half-way, as is required on a duet. And it was because of this that the image of a city boy – a lad full of charm and chutzpah – was eroded on several instances in the track. Actually, he sounded like the village girl.

Baiskeli painted the picture of girl who spends her mornings in the shamba ploughing the fertile terrain, her afternoons down by the river and her evenings around a fire that boils githeri in a monstrous pot. And as she stirs away, the girl smiles to herself as she thinks of her lover many miles away. Her city boy. The album is of lovers frolicking as they run through the maize fields, the leaves slapping against their face and thighs as they seek for a quiet moment to themselves; their sexual naivety hangs in the air. It is of lovers silhouetted against the setting sun, as the boy brushes a blade of grass across the girl’s cheek. Her pot dutifully discarded at the river side and his tie loosened.

Baiskeli catapulted TPF to a glory that has since been lost following the album’s release in 2008. It was something no TPF artist been able to match and, I doubt they will.

Listen to the album. I won’t send you to YouTube because the tracks there are at an embarrassingly low quality. The thrill would be ruined no doubt.

Nonetheless, its magic, ooh that magic. It never gets old.

Sing it with me…”Nipeleke na baiskeli…”


Listen girls, mine is a refined and unified voice of all your fans out there.
Valerie, we need a sophomore album. Being a mom and a rumored, ahem, means you have plenty of material to work with. You have the talent and skill to make it work in your favor. How about it?
Ruth, all this hem and haw with the odd performances is not enough for you or the fans. We want an album. No, we need an album. TPF needs that album.

If my appeal doesn’t work, then remember what Stephen King said: If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?

Where to next, dear sinner?
At the altar

Comments (13)

  1. CAA

    And….you did it again with this one….;-)

  2. cyndi

    Interesting piece. ‘Village girl’ is my favorite in that album….but true that….Valerie needs to chuk another album

  3. Apple Tamu

    You write deliciously Fra : ) Proud of you sana!

  4. Shi

    love it! love Baiskeli too .. love Village girl more….:-)

  5. Joel

    Being a lazy Friday, I was hoping to quietly and unobtrusively tip-toe through blogs and until I came across my name up there. “On Writing” is such an inspiring book.
    I enjoy your writing.

    • fra

      Thank you Joey (of Joeytales :-) )
      I am eternally indebted to you for this inspiring book.

  6. SmileyKimwana

    That you speak to how SK’s writing resonates with you, rather than plough through a review, is quite refreshing. Thank you for that. Oh, I think it’s spelt ‘Akiyda’ :-|

  7. Hobbit

    totally agree with you. well put! how you linked that to Stephen King is just awesome,now off to you tube…hehe

    • fra

      Cheers Hobbit. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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