The Eastleigh neighbourhood in Nairobi is better known for its enterprising merchants, hard-hitting street preachers and crowded shopping bazaars. Commerce in the neighbourhood is dominated by businessmen of Somali origin.The Eastleigh neighbourhood in Nairobi is better known for its enterprising merchants, hard-hitting street preachers and crowded shopping bazaars. Commerce in the neighbourhood is dominated by businessmen of Somali origin.
The neighbourhood has attracted negative publicity due to its ethnic and religious composition. A group of young residents wants to use art to change the perception and stereotype that the ongoing war against terror has cast upon the neighbourhood.
They have even coined a name for the movies made here — Eastleighwood. “Through music, movies and stage plays, culture can be used to change negative perceptions about Somalis and discourage the youth against being used to perpetrate violence,” explains Burhan Iman, the founder and executive director of Eastleighwood.
Born in Kenya 23 years ago, Burhan, who holds a diploma in information technology and journalism, had no intention of joining the entertainment industry.
However, he plunged into it in 2011 after realising there was a vacuum that needed to be filled.
“After watching the Kenyan media since childhood, I realised that none of the major television and radio stations offers any Somali content despite the last census putting the community’s population at around six million,” he told Saturday Nation.
Together with a few friends, he decided to stage a talent search show at Eastleigh Social Hall in Nairobi last year, where young people from the neighbourhood showcased their singing and acting skills. Burhan was so impressed that he decided to set up Eastleighwood to harness the talent.
“After the show, we picked those that we believed had potential and groomed them as the first batch of the Eastleighwood stable,” Burhan recalls. “And so far, we have produced several songs, four movies and numerous stage plays.”
One of the artistes under his label is Hassan Abdirisak Salat. He came to Kenya in 2003 after fleeing war torn Somalia. Although the 24-year-old Salat says he loved music since childhood, being a recording artiste was never on his mind when he was growing up in Kismayu.
“The idea of recording first came to me when I met a friend from Rwanda who encouraged me to take music seriously,” he says. “I struggled to get a place where I could produce my first song and even got conned in the process. But I never lost hope.”
He got help from Burhan’s outfit.
“We intend to discuss with the various television stations to see how they can air our films. All our films are acted in Somali language, but they have English sub-titles,” Burhan says.
“We work with more than 200 actors, actresses, singers and producers,” he says. “At the moment we have two movies, Love is Blind and Lucky, in production,” Burhan says.
“We have also done numerous stage plays themed on love, peace, human trafficking, integration and other social issues affecting Somalis in Kenya and beyond.”
With most of its members having been born in Somalia, Eastleighwood have opened a distribution office in Mogadishu.
As part of their community outreach, Eastleighwood is in the process of shooting a video called Midnimo (unity), which will incorporate scenes of youths from Eastleigh, Mandera, Garissa and Minnesota in the US.
“While opening Eastleighwood offices at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu, where we are located next to the AMISOM headquarters, I gave a talk entitled ‘Drop the Gun, Take the Pen,’ which was warmly received by the local youths,” he says.
“This renewed my quest to reach out to young Somalis through art since I realised they are being exploited due to their ignorance”
Eastleighwood is also planning to stage a Somali night in Nairobi, where people from all walks of life will have an opportunity to sample Somali food, music and other traditions.