The national sevens rugby team head coach Innocent Simiyu gets a second bite of the cherry and a chance to right the ship after a torrid first year as the head coach.
Speaking at the team’s pre-season training session at the RFUEA grounds, Simiyu cut the image of a man at ease with his challenge and one who has the respect of his charges ahead of what will be a tough and long season.
“It was not all doom and gloom last season. We exposed several young players. I was happy with our expansive game. Into the new season it is time for the foundation we laid last season to now flourish.”
Pundits have questioned whether he is his own man or a merely lackey of the Union. Simiyu may not have the large-than-life personalities of Benjamin Ayimba or Mike Friday but in his unassuming, professorial nature there is steel that shines through.
“Biggest thing I want to do is to improve the Kenyan rugby player. When a player is dropped from Shujaa, he drops in life. If we can improve the player such that they can improve their life for good and also when they stop playing they still contribute to the Kenya sevens eco-system then I shall have achieved something. Player is key. Changing the culture and creating purpose is the way.”
Having covered the team for close to half a decade at close range I was intrigued as to what change in culture meant for the former Impala RFC captain and coach.
“Culture is how Kenya Sevens team behaves, operates and interacts with society. We have to change that. Purpose is who we are and why are we here. If cam get clarity on that then there is sustainability in what we are doing.”
The national sevens rugby team last season struggled in the World Rugby series blowing hot and cold before finishing 12th with a mere 63 points. Many questioned the ability of Simiyu who despite being a top rugby player in his day had little experience as a coach.
“There will always be doubting Thomases. It is life. For us key is to improve the player, play better, develop the game and off course win. Yes, we understand the expectations of Kenyans who want us to win everything.”
In his first season coach Simuyu despite a target of 10 points a leg, only led Shujaa to 2 main cup quarterfinals in the 10 legs of the series. He cited a poor pre-season for the team’s dismal run. This season he has had the luxury of starting early and not spend most of the season firefighting. With 12 players in camp ‘Namcos’ asserts that training has been good and that he has had 100 percent attendance.
“Quite excited. Wish we keep the momentum and energy that we have started with. I have a feeling that things will be very good this season.”
Simiyu only had Team Manager Eric Ong’weno in his technical bench for most of the season after Strength and Conditioning coach Ian Gibbons resigned early on. Ahead of the 2017/2018 season Kenya Rugby Union has promoted performance analyst William Webster to assistant coach and rehired Geoffrey Kimani as the strength and conditioning coach.
“It is reliving. I was quite lonely. It is lovely that we have a full set of management. Kim has hit the ground running. He is in familiar grounds and we are happy to have him back. As for Will, he is good in analysis and this relives the pressure on me to focus on tactics.”
Shujaa have a busy season ahead with the World Sevens Series starting in December in Dubai, the Commonwealth Games in Perth Australia in April 2018 and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Fransisco USA in July 2018. This means a happy, committed and settled squad is key and areas like contracts, health insurance have to be sorted out early.
“Contracts have been given. The players are to read then sign. The contracts are better and all the benefits are there. It is one of the best packages given. We have improved what we are offering because it is going to be a tough season. The players will tackle 16 tournaments and we require 100 percent commitment so we must compensate them.”
Last season Simiyu fell short of his 10 points per leg goal and this season he has a different outlook in as far as goal-setting.
“As management we shall be player-centric. It is not about us but about the players. Process of goal-setting is bottom up. Players set individual targets, then we set team targets. So they have the developmental forms to fill then we take it from there.”
The national sevens circuit kicked off with the Driftwood leg in Mombasa and will conclude with the Dala Sevens in Kisumu five legs later. The circuit curtain rises for the Safari Sevens which is scheduled to be held in early November while also on paper being a chance for the technical bench to pick new players.
“There is a selection committee of 5 checking out the players in the circuit. We want all the players to show what they have got. We have the core 12 in training then we pick 28 from circuit to make 40 then we whittle down to around 30. Even the 12 have to play a minimum of 2 legs. It is not a surety that they will be in the team, they have to prove themselves. They are on probation.”
For many coaches it is winning that is the bottom-line but for Simiyu there is seemingly a desire to build a legacy that can withstand the test of time at Kenya Sevens. Given that the team has had five coaches in five years ‘Namcos’ will have to deliver results on the pitch to be given time to build the culture that he envisions.
GOD BLESS KENYA!
(transcribed from an interview with Innocent Simiyu on 5th August at RFUEA grounds)
PS: All images courtesy of Google.
“There is too much materialism in the world…everyone is focused on big house, big car, beautiful expensive clothes.”
Most musicians live flashy lifestyles but Congolese musicians really live it up and thus this statement that Papa Wemba makes on his way to church holding two young boys and looking quite the deeply religious man half way into a film where he is the star made everyone watching the film at the Alliance auditorium spontaneously burst into laughter.
The film ‘The Importance of being elegant, focus on Papa Wemba’ is intense.
It captures a variety of issues and makes one pause to think. There is laughter but like the film which is shot in a grainy style there are issues which tug at the heart and not in a pleasant way.
Papa Wemba was a legendary Congolese musician. He started off with the influential Congolese band Zaiko Langa Langa in the 1960s, had a stint with Afrisa International before founding his own band Viva La Musica in the early 1980s. One of his songwriters was Antoine Agbepa now internationally known as Koffi Olomide, a star in his own right.
The film was not about Papa Wemba the musician but rather Papa Wemba as the Patron of the Sapeurs and the effect, the ‘religion’ of Le Sape has had on a generation.
Congolese men have cut a niche for themselves across Africa and Europe as men who put in the effort in dressing up and looking good. Sapeurs under the stewardship of Papa Wemba have taken this to a different level and the effort and expense put in dressing well and expensively is stunning. By the way Le Sape loosely translates to “Society of Atmosphere-setters and Elegant People”.
One of the characters in the film is Archbishop who is sapeur living in Paris. Archbishop travelled to Paris in 2001 leaving behind a well-paying sales job in Kinshasa after being inspired by Papa Wemba. After 16 years in Europe Archbishop still has no papers and has to keep renewing his temporary refuge status as he tries to get political asylum. As he eats a meal of bread and soup the Archbishop gives a damming indictment on the influence of Papa Wemba.
“We live in France but Papa Wemba is the president of an invisible country, Le Sape. How? How is a musician more important than the president of a country? Politicians are manipulators. That is how they get what they want. Papa Wemba is the biggest manipulator.”
Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the resource richest countries in the world but colonialism under Belgium, dictatorship under Mobutu and uncertainty after his toppling has left DRC divided and many Congolese living in abject poverty.
Thus being a sapeur is as much a quest to be a dandy as a quest for identity, a sense of belonging and a brotherhood. One would go as far as to say being a sapeur is a religion and Papa Wemba was the god.
Papa Wemba was accused of being involved with a network that allegedly smuggled hundreds of illegal immigrants from DRC to Europe. He was arrested, spent a couple of months in jail in Paris before being released on bail.
After his release, Papa Wemba became deeply religious. To those watching the film his religious views were in sharp contrast to his lifestyle.
At one moment he is clubbing in Paris where he was based and in the middle of drinks he preaches to his crew telling them about Jesus and how they do not need to change from the drinks, drugs, women and the good life but just take five minutes to commune with God daily.
Sapeurs in Africa and abroad are men (and women) who do menial jobs to make ends meet. Lack of education and papers makes them to operate below the radar living on the fringes of society. This however does not stop them from living it up fashion-wise. A coat for 8,000 euros (Ksh. 990,000) is a normal purchase for a sapeur. This means that forays into the illegal side happens to sustain this lifestyle.
Another character in the film is Anti-gigolo a sapeur in Brussels. He was given the name by Papa Wemba due to his monogamous lifestyle in Kinshasa. Interestingly he now lives in Brussels but on a visit to Paris he and his boys drive into the red light district checking out the Congolese ladies on display in the shop windows. Anti-gigolo delves into a monologue of how these ladies from Kinshasa have being cheated to come abroad and now sell themselves to sustain a fancy lifestyle.
Songs for pay is another theme addressed in the film. Called dedication and done by musicians across many genres dedication becomes sinister when people around Papa Wemba sell the dedications informing interested parties of their ability to have access to Papa Wemba.
With too many dedications and too little time in the songs, the hangers-on end up not delivering on their deals. This leads to Papa Wemba’s personal bodyguard nicknamed Poison to chasing hangers-on from the studio. Then he asks Papa Wemba to give him a mention but not as Poison but as ‘KGB Protector Number One.’ Cue more laughter at the irony.
Not that Papa Wemba minds the trade, he is also making money of it with a sound man stating how even cars are given for dedications. In a conversation with a woman who wants to be mentioned in one of Papa Wemba’s songs, the woman tells Papa Wemba that she can steal clothes, shoes and perfume and that can be payment.
Papa Wemba asks her to also steal underwear because he hates it when he undresses a beautiful girl and she has torn underwear. This as his wife who cuts a matronly figure prepares dinner for her husband.
Religion and a decadent lifestyle. Migration and immigration. Running away from poverty in DRC to wallow in poverty abroad. Guys working in menial jobs yet spending money like kings. A quest for identity turning into a cult following. Music as art and also a cheap base commodity. Inspiring and manipulating.
Elegant contradictions that live together side by side until they become the norm and one is totally thrown off when light is shone on the contradictions.
When a retired high school head teacher stood on the stage in the middle of a performance by five time Grammy Award winner Victor Wooten and declared “I am the reason why this is happening” my curiosity was piqued.
The retired head teacher was a high school teacher in Western Kenya in 1978 when an American showed up at the school and asked for a teaching job. The American had made a trip to Africa to find himself and the teacher helped get him a chance to teach Math and Physics.
After a stint teaching in rural Kenya, the American went back home to do his Masters and 40 years later is now the third president of the world famous Berklee College of Music.
Francis Lutomia was the teacher 40 years ago while Roger Brown was the American looking to find himself.
Four decades later this unlikely relationship has birthed an even more unlikely relationship between Kenya and the Berklee College of Music through Francis Lutomia’s son, Sam.
According to Francis, Roger gave his son a job at Berklee and Sam in 2011 went on to found the Global Youth Groove (GYG) whose mission is to transform the lives of youth in Kenya through music primarily by a cultural exchange program involving Berklee students and alumni and Kenyans.
For six years Global Youth Groove has been doing the exchange programs and after three years of planning Sam had finally managed to get the hugely in-demand Wooten and Berklee Bass Department chair, Steve Bailey to come to Kenya together with several of Berklee students and alumni.
At first glance, Wooten dressed in a bright African print shirt – that he was gifted by Kenyan jazz artiste Ricky of Ricky na Marafiki – and spotting dreadlocks covered by a black woolen cap can easily pass for a Jamaican roots reggae musician.
That is until he strums his bass guitar and magic happens. His hand motion is at times fast, at times slow and at times barely noticeable but what is constant is the brilliance of a man at the peak of his skill.
For 50 of his 52 years Wooten has been playing the bass guitar and seated at the front side row of the Michael Joseph Centre I was blown away by the melodies he coaxes out of his bass guitar. It was easy to see why Wooten who also teaches at Berklee has been named at number 10 in the Top 10 Bassists of All Time by the influential Rolling Stones magazine.
On his part, Bailey a blonde haired, wiry man who would not be out of place in a country music band run to the stage high fiving all the VIPs sat in the front row and cracked jokes with ease. He then went on to strum a six string guitar that is the hugest guitar I have ever seen.
Bailey who is 57 started playing the guitar when he was 12 and the unwieldy instrument was like jelly in his hands. Watching him manipulate it to produce delightful sound was like watching a painter produce a masterpiece from scratch.
Wooten and Bailey mastery on the guitars resulted in a sensory experience that was amazing. Imagine two guitars having different animated standpoints on a conversation that covered a variety of issues and you begin to picture the amazing chemistry.
Backing up the two musical geniuses was Martin, a second year Berklee student on the drums who played with the confidence of a professional and the abandon of a teenager.
The intimate invite-only evening of jazz was hosted under the auspices of the Safaricom Jazz Festival with several Berklee associated musicians taking to the stage.
A gentleman named Ricky who was dressed like a Southern pastor engaged the crowd in singing a catchy song which had an American south churchy-feel to it. “People make the world go round” was the audience refrain as Ricky crooned and Wooten, Bailey and Marten jammed.
Then come Leonna dressed to kill and looking so young and sweet until she began singing and her sensationally beautiful voice made a lady sat near me shudder in bliss and almost get into a trance.
And finally from the Berklee crowd was Sky Bridge band with Japanese vocalist and composer Utako Toyama backed by two other ladies of colour. Their song ‘We declare peace’ was about global unity and they also got the audience quite engaged.
Singled out for possible Sainthood by an enthralled Bailey was Elizabeth Njoroge, the brains and heart behind Ghetto Classics. The visiting Berklee musicians had visited Korogocho a day earlier and were wowed by the taking of classical and jazz music to the youth of a highly disadvantaged neighborhood.
Quest for sainthood aside, heartfelt pledges of support were made by Bailey on behalf of Berklee for the betterment of Ghetto Classics to which all the proceeds of the Safaricom Jazz Festival go to.
A special mention goes to The Don Ouko, a brilliant Kenyan saxophonist who was backed by a vocalist, drummer and a guy on keys and who was the curtain-raiser to Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and the other Berklee musicians.
I was also quite wowed by Jacob Asiyo who was a guest at the concert and who totally delivered when he was ambushed with a request to play the keys for Wooten and Bailey.
The Master of ceremony was the delightful Kavutha-Mwanzia Asiyo who incidentally is also an alumni of Berklee.
At the end of the two-hour jam session all the artistes who had graced the stage through the night went back on stage to jam in a lovely improvisation.
Quite a lovely evening spent with music that moved me.
GOD BLESS KENYA!
PS: Images via @SafaricomLtd, Google.
The Germany national fifteens rugby team won the Test match against Kenya Simbas 29-30 with the last play of the game. A superbly taken drop kick ended coach Jeroome Paarwaters’ long-running winning streak at the RFUEA grounds.
The Road to Japan Rugby World 2019 started with a stumble but that may be a good thing if questions are asked and answers got.
There were a huge number of senior players dropped by the technical bench before the start of the season. The bench stated that they were not up to scratch while word went round that they had being pushed aside for being too vocal about player welfare. What is the truth? Can a middle ground be found?
Of what value was the ten day tour of South Africa? Can a team really get good value from just a ten day trip? There are also reports that a trip to New Zealand is in the pipeline. The ‘bench-marking’ tours are great on paper but their actually tangible benefit on game day is the question. Also, should they be so close to game day such that jet-lag seems to be an issue.
The list of sponsors for the Test Series was quite impressive and every five minutes the announcer earned his pay with a mention of the long list of sponsors: Sportpesa, Tatu City, Safaricom, Tusker, Dasani, etc. The coffers are presumably quite full and it follows that within reason anything the Kenya fifteens team and the technical bench need should be availed. Is that the case? Why then are the fifteens players not on contract like their seven’s counterparts?
Kenya missed out on qualification to the 2015 rugby world cup by just one match. This time round does Kenya Rugby Union have a coherent concrete plan to see Kenya bag the ticket to Japan 2019? For starters a decision has to be made on whether to continue with the players who have worked hard to lift Kenya up in the rankings or to retire them and try qualifying with young blood.
If KRU does have a plan then it is holding it quite close to its chest. However, if I can hazard a guess, it is probably business as usual and hoping for the best. That will certainly not do.
KRU is not the only one that has to step up if Kenya is to play in Japan.
The Simbas had beaten Spain and Portugal with ease in Test matches last year and the Germans who were two slots below in the world rugby rankings were expected to be easy prey.
However, from the onset The Germans seemed to be on the ascendancy with compact defensive play, brilliant forward work at scrum, mauls and line-outs as well as explosive bursts of speed when they spotted a gap. They certainly were the better team overall throughout the match and were good value for the win.
For Kenya, the forwards looked quite sluggish and they totally outplayed and this denied Kenya a platform to build on. As for the backs they were sucked into the contact play and Kenya seemingly lacks a play-maker to switch up the game or to split a defense. It felt over and over like the same play. Either try smash through the middle and when that was stopped by the resolute Germans taking it all the way wide to Jacob Ojee or to Darwin Mukidza to run on the line. It worked twice but it certainly is not enough as the one point loss showed.
The bad news is that the Kenya Simbas are seemingly not yet world cup material. The good news is with the bubble burst so early in the season Kenya can now work at being ready to try qualify for the rugby world cup. A silver lining to the 29-30 loss witnessed by one of the largest crowds RFUEA grounds has hosted.
“Rugby is Ngong Road and Ngong road is rugby” tweeted an avid football fan who had heeded the cry to be part of the Kenya Simba’s pride at RFUEA. Heck, even Jack Oguda, the C.E.O and Frank Okoth, the C.O.O of KPL were in the V.I.P area enjoying the rugby and marveling at the huge fan attendance which Kenyan football can only dream of. Respect to whoever was in charge of the marketing effort, job very well
That Ngong Road is the spiritual home of rugby in Kenya is now beyond doubt and that Kenyans are hungry for a sporting spectacle on a Saturday afternoon is not in question.
However, as has been stated on numerous occasions, the RFUEA grounds need a total makeover.
There needs to be seating stands all round the stadium for the fans as watching rugby while standing is not kosher. Public washrooms need to be build or hired as the ones at the Quins club house are not enough. The changing rooms available may just about pass muster for Eric Shirley games but definitely not for Kenya Cup much less international matches.
Security felt quite blaze and reckon it has to done in a better way given the current realities. Parking was a nightmare and a solution to that has to be thought of and while at it a way not to clog up Ngong Road. The queue to purchase tickets was pretty long and perhaps ticket sales should be moved online and also outsourced. An aside; it was cute seeing Homeboyz RFC players man the ticket booth but it showed a lack of professionalism.
Rugby is as much about the game as the party. Quins was overwhelmed as a party destination as early as 6pm with someone tweeting at 10pm that it was “a mess”. Clearly, therein is an opportunity for event organizers.
With Safari Sevens scheduled to return to RFUEA grounds in November, KRU have a time-bound deadline to beat to fix all these glaring inadequacies at RFUEA.
Lastly, congratulations to KCB who beat Kabras Sugar to lift the Enterprise Cup for a third consecutive season. The final was played at 12pm. It was supposedly the curtain raiser for the Test Match that kicked off at 4pm. Why should a Cup final curtain raise a test match? Felt that this was unfair for the players, the fans and the neutrals. A better scheduling of games should be considered by the Union.
With local fifteens rugby season done and dusted it is now time for speed and thrills in the 6-leg national sevens rugby series. Series kicks off with Mombasa’s Driftwood Sevens on July 22 followed by Nairobi’s Kabereri Sevens on July 29 before taking a break in August for the General Election and resuming in September.
For Kenya Simbas next up is Elgon Cup first leg away to Uganda on June 10 with the return leg signalling the start of the 2017 Africa Cup that has been expanded to six teams: Senegal and Tunisia added to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya.
I am more of a books than film, movies or series kinda person. However, every year for well over a decade now I attend the European Film Festival (EFF) at the Alliance Française every May.
My plan was to watch seven films and to attend a musical performance on the week between 16th May and 20th May.
Juggling work and life managed to watch 5 films and half-attend the musical gig which I reckon is a pretty good return.
The first movie I watched was the Tiger Theory by Czech film-maker Radek Bajgar. It was a totally awesome watch that hilariously dealt with serious life issues. Premise is a man who gets himself admitted into a mental hospital to achieve freedom.
The musical performance was spoken word artist Checkmate Mido who’s gig I have never attended. It was set up at the cafe at Alliance and 10 minutes in, I had to leave as the acoustics did not quite sound right. Hope I get to watch a Mido performance soon.
The second film I watched was Notes on Blindness a British documentary based on the life of John Hull. It was an intimate and touching insight into blindness. I wear spectacles and so the documenatry touched quite close home. What if? Then what? There is a lot we take for granted as sighted folk. Quite thought provoking.
As a prelude to the screening the country director for the British Council in Kenya did the introduction with lovely British wit and humour. Joked about UK being United Kisumu while noting that perhaps that was not the best idea with Kenyan elections upcoming. Then talked of Brexit and stated that Britain has left EU but it has not left Europe.
The country director while showing off his Kiswahili fluency also hyped up the East Africa Arts program.
Under this program and in partnership with Judy Kibinge’s Docubox two Kenyan films have been made and whose trailers were shown:
The Letter – by Chris and Maia von Lekow which is about killing of ‘witches’ at the coast which is essentially about disposing old folk of their land.
Thank you for the rain – which tackles climate change from farmer’s eyes.
Looking forward to seeing their premiers.
On Saturday I indulged in an afternoon of film watching three films at a go.
Labyrinthus – when gaming and real life overlap, Diamantes Negros – football & human trafficking and These Daughters of Mine – family ties, how they are fragile and how easily they are stretched due to ill-health or death.
What strikes me every year is how European film makers have mastered the art of telling stories that are raw and real.
Methinks Kenyan film makers and content creators can learn a lot from EFF.
When you watch a Nigerian film or listen to Tanzanian music there is no doubt as to where the content is from, but when you watch Kenyan film or listen to there is nothing that stands out as Kenyan.
Kenyan film makers and content creators need to figure out what is Kenyan content. Do you know what that is? Me neither.
So maybe that is why we start…
GOD BLESS KENYA!