Watching ‘Music Is Our Weapon’

29 February of 2016 by

Last week, I was pretty enthusiastic about watching Music Is Our Weapon and I was bursting with anticipation by the time I got to Century Cinemax, The Junction.

The documentary traces the lives of the members of Sarabi and follows them in a year of touring and performing. It is beautifully shot, with candid shots as the band members speak to the camera and tell their stories. For obvious reasons, it also serves as a mini-concert, taking us on a musical journey as we see how the band we know came to be.

In the post I wrote before the screening, I asked a few questions around the way the film would present Kenya and if the humanity of the band would shine forth. The screening did a good job of answering those questions and, in all honesty, I have spent the weekend trying to figure out how to articulate my thoughts. Here we go:

The members of Sarabi band come from difficult backgrounds and the word that came up as I spoke to members of the audience afterwards was moving. That they would rise from poverty, from such desperate circumstances, was a testament to the power of people to transcend their roots. These roots are a hige influence on their social justice message and they made it quite clear that their hope is that no one else has to experience what they did.

The documentary also showed the work they are doing giving back to their community and one would have to have a heart of stone not to feel inspired. I was impressed by the director’s focus on their lives without the now almost compulsory ‘Africa Rising’ narrative that accompanies African tales.

The character who stood out the most was Nderitu, the band’s mentor and first manager. With footage from the past, with the men of the band just boys, he took us through the days before large concerts and tours.

Here’s the rub: the Western gaze is very strong in the film. Over the year that the band is followed, one sees no shows at Kenyan locations. This struck me as odd; if this band has such a strong message in Kenya, why do we not see Kenyan audiences responding to their tunes? Strangely, we see a music promoter speak of their performances at Choices but see none.

There is a lot of meat in this documentary and it still leaves a few questions unanswered. We may yet get another look at this interesting, young, band and if Music Is Our Weapon is anything to go by, you’ll be in for a treat when it is released.

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