Ujenzi – A musical journey through Kenya’s history

Kenya’s story of development as a nation juxtaposes nicely with the building of the railway line linking the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria. The railway was built to ‘open up’ East Africa’s interior. In 1896, construction started in the seaport of Mombasa and got to the western lakeside city of Kisumu in 1901.

In 1963, Kenya gained its independence from the British colonialists after a long-fought struggle for freedom. 2013 marked Kenya’s Golden Jubilee as a nation. The story of building the nation during its first 50 years is full of struggles and triumphs, much like the many tales told about the construction of the railway. Ujenzi is a musical reflection and celebration of these two stories.

Ujenzi is a Kiswahili word that means ‘the act of building or contructing’. The music, as with all other works by the composer, is his interpretation of the classical music idiom from a Kenyan’s perspective.

The piece starts with the image of open unchartered territory. An idea is born, gains momentum and is built upon. Melodic ideas from Kenya’s Coastal region can be heard in the flutes with underlying hints of tonality from Indian music to represent the generation of workers who came and settled in the country. The railway line gets to Tsavo, the dangers of man-eating lions and disease are a major setback. Just as with the developing nation, people pull together and double their efforts to overcome serious challenges.

A by-product of the railway was the establishment of a town that became a new point of reference as the construction braced itself for the difficult ascent up The Great Rift Valley escarpment. Nairobi was to later become the capital city of Kenya. Like the country, Nairobi is multiethnic and multiracial. Twangy guitar and matatu horn sounds blend with the city’s unique sophistication.

The railway line and country then race optimistically towards a future full of opportunities. Rhythms from the Western region of Kenya are added to the multitude of ideas collected along the way. The story of constructing the nation is narrated by a railway line.

Ujenzi is composed by Njane Mugambi

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