Art

Iconic image of Ayub Ogada singing 'Kothbiro' goes up in Kahawa West

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Ayub's image with its photographer Lin Qi at Kahawa West on March 11, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • Ayub Ogada died a little more than three years ago. In his heyday, he was renowned as Kenya’s most acclaimed nyatiti player and leading singer-songwriter.
  • Yet already, he has been forgotten by a younger generation of musicians, poets and lyricists.
  • It’s something Lin Qi wants to rectify with street art.

Ayub Ogada died a little more than three years ago. In his heyday, he was renowned as Kenya’s most acclaimed nyatiti player and leading singer-songwriter.

Yet already, he has been forgotten by a younger generation of musicians, poets and lyricists. It’s something Lin Qi wants to rectify with street art.

The Chinese photographer was living and working in Kenya more than ten years ago when he met Ayub and took the iconic photograph of the musician that he is currently turning into ‘street art’.

“I took the photograph of Ayub in 2012 at the African Heritage House where he was performing one weekend,” says Lin whose Canon camera and sharp and beautifully framed with Nairobi National Park in the background.

The plan, as he tells BDLife, is to turn his black and white photo of Ayub into a gigantic wall mural in Kahawa West just next to a usy Quick Mart grocery store.

The process has already begun as we met Lin last weekend near the scaffolding on which his crew has been working for the past week, first to smooth the wall’s surface, then to start putting up the 54 large tiles which, once assembled will memorialize (or is it immortalize) the artist from now until who knows when.

‘Nairobi is changing so fast, no one knows how long buildings will be standing. But ceramic tiles are capable of lasting for centuries,” says Lin who recalls the famous terracotta (ceramic) army which was unearthed by archeologists in Xi’An, China in 1974.

“They are said to have belonged to China’s first Emperor,” Lin adds.

ayub mural process (2)

AVIC construction workers putting finishing touches on Ayub's mural at Kahawa West on March 12, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

How he came up with his plan to create a wall mural with dimensions as large as 3.6 metres wide and 2.4 metres tall is a story unto itself.

First off, he says Ayub is important to him for many reasonsone of which is that the musician performed at his wedding in 2014 which was also held at African Heritage House.

Currently, wife is working in Mogadishu and Lin had to stay behind. So to keep himself busy and challenged, he’s created several unusual projects for himself.

The first one was buying a camel and walking on foot to Lake Turkana. “After that, I attended a 10-day meditation session where silence was integral to the meditation process,” he says.

Admitting that wasn’t easy, he confessed, “I like putting myself through tough challenges.”

Fortunately, he’s acquired three sponsors who enabled him to proceed with his dream. First, he researched and found the Kenyan company that makes the largest tiles in the country.

“Keda is the biggest ceramic tile factory in Kenya, based in Kajaido,” Lin says.

“I met the [lead[ engineer who upon hearing my idea, offered to donate the tiles,” he adds. Coincidentally, the engineer is also Chinese.

Then he found support from his former employer, AVIC International, who’s assisting him with the labor who are helping him, first to smooth the surface of the wall and then, to carefully put up the tiles.

“The thing about ceramic tiles is they are both fragile and durable, so I’m grateful to the Kenyan fundis who are up on the scaffold, putting up the tiles as we speak,” says Lin.

Finally, he had help finding a free wall from the internet service provider, Konnect. “They work in Kahawa West, providing affordable internet to low-income neighborhoods,” says Lin.

Konnect has also promised to assist him by highlighting the mural on social media and possibly even putting a video on YouTube to let people know about both Ayub and about the mural.

“I’d love to work with other Kenyan artists to create more ceramic tile murals,” says Lin who worked closely with Kenyans who took part in the creation of the annual Kenya Arts Diary.

“He helped us a lot, taking photographs of the artists and the artworks that featured in the Diary from 201—through ---,” says Lyne Were who worked closely with the Diary’s founder mother Nani Croze until the project ran out of cash in 2020.

“Lin donated all his photographs to the Diary during the years he worked with us,” Lyne recalls.

In that same spirit, Lin says he feels the gift to Kenyans. “Art should belong to the people, which is why I wanted to create public art,” he ads.

By the end of last weekend, more than half the ceramic tiles (40cms by 40cms) were already up.

“The mural will be done before the end of the month,” he says confidently.