“What do you use for a keyboard?” The expression of genuine perplexity on my face lent a sparkle to his. “Let me show you!” Douglas chimed, eager to display his creativity. He quickly worked up a rhythm on Fruity Loops – software I later learned is the Holy Grail for amateur music producers – then lined his fingers on the blunted letter-keys of his relic computer, creating a quick melody. “If Dr. Dre were in the studio, he’d be the first to bump his head to this beat,” I thought to myself. To finish, Douglas topped the piece with a mixture of lively instrumentals orchestrated on the makeshift piano.
At twenty-three years of age, Douglas is a freelance music producer. His studio is found in Silanga, in the heart of Kibera – the same neighborhood in which he was raised. From here, he creates albums for singers looking to break into the music industry. From the 50 year old diva recovering her love for Gospel song, to the young rap artist lyricizing his delusions of fame and fortune, it is well understood that Douglas – known here by his street name, “Westpeace” – can turn the mundane into the magnetic.
Here in his studio, Douglas’ impromptu music creation hums through the airwaves. As we are talking, Douglas looks down and ruffles the surface of his dirt floor. “Most people are turned off when they see my studio”, he quietly explains, “but when they see what I can do, it’s like they’re not in Kibera anymore”. He then turns his gaze and slowly looks up, catching my eyes in the ascent. “They just want to create great music”, he finishes. A blossoming sparkle dances from his chin to his forehead, and we each let out a chuckle. Smiling, my eye is caught by the mud and corrugated tin surrounding the room; “there are few things in this world that could be more inspiring”, I think to myself, venturing to then ask Douglas his story.
“God, please help my father to know you”, were the words Douglas prayed as a child in Sunday school. At home, his three older sisters endured daily beatings as Douglas – the youngest – and his family suffered through the antics of their alcoholic dad. “I just kept praying”, he explains. “No one believed he could change, but I saw God work a miracle in his life”. God touched the heart of his father and he gave his life to Christ, reconciling with his family. “He made a complete turnaround, and was soon a ‘mzee wa kanisa’”, Douglas humbly recalls.
After witnessing this miracle, Douglas’ trust in God grew and grew. He kept praying and began to dream about the future he wanted to create for his family. After high school, Douglas joined a music production studio where he learned the tricks of the trade, astounding his colleagues with his quick-wits and knack for crafting a sweet tune. It is this same talent that now enables him to support his six nieces and nephews through school. “My aim is that they will all have the opportunity to create a good future”, Douglas explains. He only wishes his father could be there to see him today. “I know he would be proud of me”, he concludes, recalling how he passed away a few years after his conversion. It is then that I catch my feet drumming to the rhythmic melody still playing in the background, and the fullness of what is before me comes into bursting glare – a great man in the making.
~ Daniel Omondi