Jahawi Bertolli might never have made his exquisite documentary film Lamu Archipelago which was screened last Thursday night at the Nairobi Serena Hotel.
The multi-talented Jahawi had been making films for a while before he met the young Danish beauty Elke Korschen who, like him, had been born and brought up in Kenya.
Before they met, Jahawi had been splitting his time between DJ-ing, music production, making music videos and composing music for film. He had only got into underwater photography a couple of years before they met.
“I had been making a music video in Nairobi that required my filming at the edge of a swimming pool. But then I wanted to film from inside the pool so I borrowed my cousin’s (water proof) GoPro action camera and jumped in,” says Jahawi. His whole life course changed from that point on.
Having spent a good part of his early years living with his family at the Coast, he recalled how much he loved the ocean. He had never thought of a career working in, leave alone under water. But by the time that music video was done, he was already looking for an underwater camera course, which he found in Koh Tao, Thailand.
“The course was just three months, but I stayed two years,” says Jahawi who had gone on after the course to intern and teach scuba diving and camera work with an international film production school. By the time he got home to Kenya, he stayed a week in Nairobi and then went straight back to the Coast. It was not long after that Lamu called, and there he met the granddaughter of the Danish founder of Peponi Hotel, Elke.
“After that, I wanted to find a project that would require my working in Lamu,” says Jahawi who had already fallen for the gentle young woman.
“We made the Lamu Archipelago together,” he adds, noting that she was just as quick a learner as he had been.
Jahawi admits that prior to making the film, he had felt quite hopeless about the planet’s future and the way humans were destroying it fast. “But after we went deep inside the archipelago and met so many beautiful people in villages along the water, my hope has been restored.”
What was even more life-affirming for this underwater cameraman was the discovery of so many massive schools of beautiful fish which are doing well in the depths of the sea.
Jahawi’s showing his Lamu Archipelago film on three different screens at once in the grand ballroom of The Serena was actually part of a larger programme for the night. It was to both promote his underwater photographs and to fund raise for his next underwater film project.
The 13 photographic prints on canvas covered all the walls of the ballroom, even as the film was running and guests were seated to hear from Jahawi and the Kenyan marine mammal expert who he plans to do his next film project with.
Mike Mwangombe began studying marine wildlife as an IT expert. He started working with the Watamu Turtle Watch doing data collection. Then with the Watamu Marine Association, he shifted to collecting data on dolphins. It was during that work with dolphins that he encountered the humpback whale which he discovered has an incredible history.
“In the 1970s, the humpback population had dwindled to between 300 and 600 whales. But then there was an international moratorium on hunting them,” says Mike who notes that now, the most recent study has shown there are more than 24,000 humpback whales.
“If we just give nature a chance, it will restore itself,” he says following a glowing introduction from Jahawi. “We now want to make a film on the humpback from the local Kenyan’s point of view,” says Jahawi who aims to sell his prints to raise funds for their film project. “After that we want to create a mobile cinema that will promote conservation consciousness among local Kenyans,” says Jahawi who looks forward to doing more underwater camerawork with the whales.
Meanwhile, the exhibition of his underwater photo prints, titled Submerge will be up at the Nairobi Serena for the next two weeks.