When I heard from my roommate that Sarabi was performing at Kings of the Arena VI, I decided to go. The band has a reputation for great live performances, and is a favorite among my Kenyan friends. Such a first impression was more than enough to justify the 500 KES early-bird fee, and I excitedly entered the building and sat in my rain-sprinkled chair.
Around 9pm, the band strode on the stage. Dressed in white with heads adorned in masks printed with the Kenyan flag, Sarabi delivered the night’s most captivating performance. Their Afro-funkish, rock-like sound and colorful personality energized what was previously an apathetic crowd, while Swahili vocals proclaimed the band’s fiercely democratic views. “Kelele,” meaning “Noise,” and fan favorite “Sheria” meaning “The Law,” were among the songs performed during their one-hour-plus set. Brand new song, “Koko’s Vibration,” was also unveiled during the night. Lead singer Nelson Mandela Akello described their newest single as “a song about necessary noise, about the young generation speaking in one voice.”
Mandela, Sarabi’s most influential member, is the metaphorical embodiment of the band’s values. Raised in the slums of Eastlands, Mandela founded Sarabi in 2005 with several friends and together they used music to spread messages of peace and harmony. “When I was a young boy, I wanted to be like Michael Jackson,” Mandela said, “I’ve always had this fire burning inside me- this desire to communicate with the people through performance.” Mandela oozes positive energy both on stage and off, and his passion for social activism is reflected not only in his music, but also in his Confusian-esque life philosophy of love and giving, called “Maramaso” or “Man Raise Man Society.” It’s obvious to any onlooker that Mandela loves to be on stage, and judging from the smiles in the crowd, Nairobi adores both him and his band.
Here’s a short clip of the band in action: