Uplifting vibes…Soulful music

BlackNotes is a music ensemble based in Washington, DC that offers a uniquely attractive brand of music and cultural art. With its dynamic blend of soulful singing and spoken word with insightful, uplifting and progressive messages rooted in African-American and African heritage, along with rich, full musical instrumentation that includes funky grooves, jazzy horns and spicy African drumming, plus interpretive dance, BlackNotes provides an artistically appealing music-message combination.

BlackNotes’ repertoire includes music of several different genres, including R&B/soul, jazz and afrobeat, but some of its music defies classification in a pre-existing genre, which led the group to coin a new genre label—SWARM (Spoken Word; African Rhythms; Melodies)—to describe some of BlackNotes’ unique, original compositions, such as “Living Rhythm”, a signature tune from their acclaimed CD entitled “Legacy”. Legacy has gotten rave reviews from listeners and has been in steady rotation on WPFW, 89.3 FM, since its release in the Fall of 2010.

BlackNotes has delivered audience-pleasing performances and received standing ovations at most of DC’s premier venues, including Blues Alley, The Lincoln Theatre, The Carter Barron Amphitheater, Howard University’s Crampton Auditorium, and the historic Bohemian Caverns, where they have been appearing on a regular basis since May 2011.

A few testimonials from audience members who experienced the BlackNotes performance at the Carter Barron Amphitheater headlining a 2011 tribute to Gil Scott-Heron are as follows:

  • “Your band is truly awesome, powerful, and spirited. Black music is so healing and nourishing to our spirit when done correctly. I was in the audience at the Carter Barron and I loved every minute of your performance.”
  • “Great performance at the Carter Barron. Such a powerful tribute. So glad to have the privilege to witness your artistry…”
  • “Fantastic and powerful performance at the Carter Barron…”

BlackNotes consists of the following experienced and talented artists: pianist/keyboardist James McKinney, saxophonist Antonio Parker, trombonist Reginald Cyntje; vocalists Michelle Chatman, Nina Harley, Bashea Imana and Kaba Soulsinger; bassist David White; drummers/percussionists Daruba Kenyatte, Mahiri Keita, Kofi Handon; dancer Jessica Smith, and poet/spoken word artist Lasana, who is also the group’s founder and director.

P.S.- http://www.blacknoteszone.com

A new tradition: Ancestors’ Day

So you want to start a new tradition that honours your familial ancestors? One that falls around Oct.31/Nov.1. Sweet! What are you thinking of doing? Here are a few suggestions:

– Have a potluck with a few friends and/or relatives. Include some  of your ancestors’ favourite foods/dishes. Ask your friends to do the same.

– Music. Play some! Haha. Include favourites of your ancestors. Feel free to add Breaths (Sweet Honey in the Rock), Harriet Tubman Dedication Song (Conscious Plat), African Spirit (Nasio), Times Like These (Queen Ifrica), Living Rhythm (BlackNotes).

– Build a small altar for your ancestors.  Photos, flowers, candles, incense. Start with folks you actually knew/remember. Put some of their favourite things on the altar. Ask your guests to bring items to include.

– Tell stories about your deceased relatives.  Simply talk about your memories of them.

– Watch a film about an ancestor.  Not necessarily a familial one.

– Check out mysteries ie. films, books.

Now if you choose to celebrate on Oct.31 don’t hesitate to give out goodies to those who show up at your door.

flowers

ancestors

Enjoy!!!

P.S. – Some of you may want to dress up as your ancestors. If not consider wearing something that speaks to who they were.

Celebrate the Season of the Ancestors

Celebrate the Season of the Ancestors

Nights grow longer, the air grows chill, and trees drop their leaves. It is a time of nature dying back, and it brings our own beloved dead to mind. In Mexico, the day after Halloween is the Day of the Dead, when children eat little sugar skulls, families gather to tend the graves of their departed loved ones, and feasting and celebration abound. What a lovely way to make death less frightening and alienating!

Many cultures throughout the world honor the time from around Oct. 18 through Nov. 2 as the Season of the Ancestors. Luisah Teish, an expert on African-Caribbean folklore and celebration, shares many ways to honor our own ancestors. Share the mystery and beauty of this season, and make better friends with the cycles of life by finding out how to hold a Feast for the Ancestors, do a helpful graveyard cleaning ritual, and more, right here:

The Graveyard Visit
Even if your own loved ones are buried far away, you can visit a nearby cemetery during this time of year to do a little thoughtful grave-tending. Bring two bags with you: One for picking up trash, and one for removing dead flowers or plants to compost. You may also want to bring a small broom for sweeping away cobwebs and debris, and a little offering for the departed: Perhaps a few dried flowers, or a pretty stone or shell.

Choose a grave that looks as if it needs some care and attention and do your best to tidy it up. Notice the name and dates of your chosen grave. When you have cleaned up the grave, leave your offering. Take a moment to send some affectionate thoughts or prayers to the departed one whose grave you have tended, who may have been neglected by their own relations.

Feast for the Ancestors
This is the perfect time of year to give some thought to the foods your own particular ancestors might have enjoyed. What foods do you associate with your grandparents or great-grandparents, or more distant generations? What is your ethnic background? Cait’s son is part Finnish, with many relatives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so pasties–tender little handheld meat pies–might be a food he would think of. Cait has Celtic ancestry, so potatoes and cabbage always spring to her mind.

Consider holding a festive Ancestor Feast, complete with costumes and dishes appropriate to your particular bloodline. This can become a fascinating and educational process for children, who usually get into researching, decorating and dressing up. You can set a place at the table for your own dear departed and tell stories about them, so that the younger generation can share the memories and have a deeper sense of who their people were.

Harvest Altars
At Halloween time, Luisah Teish celebrates her Afro-Caribbean heritage by decorating to reflect the connection between the harvest of Nature and her ancestors. She places an Ancestral Harvest altar on her porch that includes corn, yams, squashes, and gourds, along with Dia de los Meurtos sugar skulls. She also includes four small bowls filled with soil with a differently-colored candle in each one to represent earth, water, fire, and air.

Halloween marks a time when the veil that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living is thought to be thin, allowing for visits from the spirits of our departed ones. As Teish says, “At this time of year, when all the ancestors are roaming the streets, we pay homage to all those who have gone before us, because they truly make us what we are.” In deference to her own ancestors, she sprinkles her Ancestral Harvest altar with wild rice and wine. Think of ways you could honor your own heritage.

NOTE: http://thinkmexican.tumblr.com/post/65868918029/facts-and-misconceptions-about-mexican-dia-de-los-muerto

Halloween: The back story

Get this. Education is a never-ending process so when it comes to the week ahead it’s no different. Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to connect with three amazing women. It’s been a powerful journey and I’m looking forward to lots more. These sistahs have hipped me to the back story (ourstory if you will) of many of the mainstream Western holidays. Although I was aware of some things there was so much that I didn’t know. Talk about a humbling experience. My gosh! I am grateful and I am still digging. Heehee. Here are some clips of one phenomenal woman. Know that she is by no means a neophyte. She breaks some things down in relation to the significance of Oct.31-Nov.2. Tune in when you have some time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWQe83aAuVw&feature=youtube_gdata_player  She gives the back story

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA4fnzgbl4M         She explains how her fam celebrates Samhain/Halloween

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSBndgEYEM8      Part 2 of the above

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMCk37NhSd4      Part 3 ” ” “

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O93RxhlUf_8         Part 4 ” ” “

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReC-FzhPib4          Part 5 ” ” “

http://riverofhoney.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/halloween-is-the-devils-birthday/       Another sistah’s take on Halloween. Great stuff!

squash

P.S.- If you’d like to learn more check out this book:   http://www.amazon.com/Jump-Up-Throughout-Seasons-Celebrations/dp/1573245518/ref=la_B001HCY0QK_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382744056&sr=1-3

Our youth: Caribbean literature galore

Ooooh I’m liking http://www.anansesem.com. Although it’s been out since 2010 I’m just getting hip to it.  It’s an ezine for and about Caribbean children. Lovely! So needed!

Heard of http://www.campanitabooks.com? Campanita Books and Little Bell Caribbean are the children’s books imprints of Editorial Campana, an independent publishing company in New York. They are committed to creating quality children’s books that teach, inspire and entertain.  Campanita Books produces mostly bilingual titles (English-Spanish) that reflect ethnic and cultural diversity. Little Bell Caribbean  publishes books by writers and illustrators from the Caribbean region that speak to children in voices and images that they recognize and identify with.

Boy Reading Book in Classroom

Chapter books for our girls

Recently I’ve been  on  a hunt for chapter books for my 7 y.o. niece.  Any suggestions?  Here’s what I’ve found so far.

A variety of books:

http://thebrownbookshelf.com/2009/09/29/the-color-of-us-chapterbooks/

A bunch of different titles:

http://etfamilies.forumchitchat.com/post/many-chapterbook-series-with-african-american-girls-and-boys-4956973

A plethora of books:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/?category_id=980863

Ann Cameron’s books:

http://www.amazon.com/Glorias-Way-Puffin-Chapters-Cameron/dp/0142300233

Ruby & the Booker Boys:

http://www.amazon.com/Ruby-Booker-Boys-Brand-School/dp/0545017602

The Grace series:

http://www.amazon.com/Starring-Grace-Puffin-Chapters-Hoffman/dp/0142300225/ref=pd_sim_b_5

Nikki & Deja:

http://www.amazon.com/Nikki-Deja-Karen-English/dp/0547133626

Precious Ramotswe mysteries:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Cake-Mystery-Ramotswes/dp/0307743896

Danitra Brown series:

http://www.amazon.com/Meet-Danitra-Brown-Nikki-Grimes/dp/0688154719

Amy Hodge Podge:

http://www.amyhodgepodge.com

Anything by Nikki Grimes:

http://www.nikkigrimes.com

Welcome to the Shanna Show series

Liberty Porter series

Thea Stilton series

Anansi Stories

Aesop’s Fables

book book2

anansi

NOTE: Here are some cool reads for younger girls: 

http://www.forharriet.com/2013/10/25-more-empowering-books-for-black-girls.html

http://www.amazon.com/Loving-Me-The-Series-ebook/dp/B00E8KMXYE/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=0PCRGK1TTKF4WR7M59TW

Healthy treats for Halloween

Have you met the Switch Witch? by Catherine Burns

Uh oh, Halloween candy has hit the stores and I just can’t keep the rant in anymore! There are only so many weird ingredients and food dyes a girl can take. By the time I’d made it from one end of Phoenix to the other I was positively sweating. Seeing so much junk being sold as either “treats” or “food” makes my mind boggle.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-treats! My kids absolutely love Halloween and for as long as they would like to take part, I will help them enjoy the whole trick or treat adventure. Of course you could argue that sending kids out in the dark to ask for candy from strangers is a Bad Idea (and goes against everything we usually teach them) but I think most of us parents are able to help our kids do it safely. Of course, from a nutrition perspective, I can’t help trying to make it a bit more healthy.

If you read this column regularly you’ll know that I think sugar is the most dangerous drug on the planet. It’s a bold statement I know, but read back through the archives if you are curious. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t let my kids have sugar, but I do try and provide “better” versions.

In my view there is candy, and then there is candy. There is the sugary stuff made with natural ingredients and then there are brands stuffed full of petrochemicals (food dyes) and other things even I don’t understand. It’s the food dyes I have a major problem with, although — as is often the way — it’s a contentious issue.

The natural healthcare industry is quick to condemn artificial food dyes and chemicals in our food. Unfortunately websites, blog posts, journalism and mass e-mails often “alert” the public to “dangerous” or “cancer causing” ingredients with references to unsubstantial evidence or bad science. This allows the mainstream profession to have a field day, pointing out flaws in the research and using those flaws to discredit the concept.

There are two problems here: firstly, sometimes the science really is there (but it just gets ignored) and secondly, we have to acknowledge the monumental power and influence of the food industry when it comes to Government regulation and funding. The fact is, setting up legitimate scientific trials requires years and a mega budget. So isn’t it possible that the natural healthcare field and food industry is just under funded?

But back to the facts. When it comes to food dyes, the fact is that artificial colours are made from petrochemicals. Many are also linked to hyperactivity in children. We know that the hyperactivity issue is based in solid science because the UK has completely banned six artificial dyes from the shelves for that reason. See the list for details. Food and drinks containing other artificial dyes must have a warning label identifying them. That should be good news … and it is if you live in the UK. The problem is that although Europe has applied mandatory warning labels to items containing these chemicals, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) in the US has not followed suit. This means that many of the processed foods and drinks we buy here, contain ingredients that are illegal in other countries. How comfortable does that make you feel?

To me, if we strip it back to basics, I think it’s a simple as this. If you can colour candy with a vegetable-based dye, why do we think it’s OK to colour it with a chemical dye instead? Sure it’s cheaper — but just have less, or find other non-food treats. Can we really put a price on health?

I realise that every parent and every household will have their own views and rules. I am by no means saying that my way is the only way. But as a nutritionist and mummy, I handle Halloween with the Switch Witch, and I thought you might like it too.

The Switch Witch is not an original concept, but I wrote this poem to help my kids reduce the volume of candy and also to help them sort the natural from the artificial colours. We started this tradition last year and they absolutely loved it. The idea is that after trick or treating, your kids pick out the things they’d like to keep (you can set a limit on this if you wish) and then they put the rest — especially the more brightly coloured artificial junk — in a bucket for the Switch Witch. They can leave the bucket at the end of their bed (like a Christmas stocking) or downstairs (if they are scared) and in the middle of the night, the Switch Witch comes. The Switch Witch takes away the candy and leaves a little gift in return. It could be a book, a toy, some stickers, a few dollars — whatever your child would be excited by. As for what you do with the candy — that’s up to you, I do suggest you get it out of the house quickly though as god forbid you should be caught!

This idea is just one way to help you make Halloween that little bit more healthy, whilst still taking part in all the fun. I know it’s devious, but no more so than Santa or the Tooth Fairy. My kids listen to the poem wide-eyed and are so excited to separate everything out. But in case that idea is not for you, or if you would just like some extra tips, read on for more ideas on managing the Halloween sugar rush!

1. The protein trick

Curb that sugar rush by filling your kids up with quality protein before they trick or treat. Grilled chicken, healthier nuggets, Applegate sausages, bolognaise or a bean chilli would all work well. Even a whole-grain nut butter sandwich would help. They will be less hungry and the protein will also steady the release of sugar into their bloodstream.

2. Healthier treats

If you are giving out candy yourselves, go for the more natural treats rather than the artificially coloured and flavoured junk. These include mini Smarties (M & Ms contain artificial dyes), the Cadbury’s treat size collections (buttons, Dairy Milk, Crunchie, Twix, etc), Yummy Earth lollipops & gummy bears and Surf Sweets (Down to Earth, Peoples), Organic chocolate Bug Bites (Down to Earth) and Jelly Babies, Dolly Mixture. Whatever you do, try and avoid the six in the list at all costs. If you want to buy online or overseas, check out: www.naturalcandystore.com

3. The healthiest treats

I kid you not, last year we had kids running up our drive asking for the small boxes of Sunmaid Raisins, so consider including these! You can also decorate tangerine oranges as pumpkins with a black marker, which looks super cute too.

4. Toys not treats

Of course you have the option to give out tiny toys in your neighbourhood, instead of candy. Tattoos, bouncy balls, stickers, fun pencils, glow sticks and plastic jewellery all go down really well too.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the Managing Director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a Registered Dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda

lollipops   raisins

fruitleatherplantainchips

http://www.indoorplaysandiego.com/20-candy-alternatives-for-halloween/

African Holocaust Day

A Guyanese sistah just sent this my way:

African Holocaust or MAAFA Day is being celebrated on October 12, 2013. This day is usually acknowledged by the mainstream as Columbus Day. For us it, here in Guyana, is the celebration of the millions of Africans who died enroute to the so-called New World.

This year it is very special for me. After 15 years, I will be in Guyana for the day. In Guyana, the commemorations are national and it is the only place in the Caribbean/South America where it is celebrated on such a large scale. There are usually national statements by the President and relevant Ministers. Tomorrow morning, thousands of Guyanese will pilgrimage to the Atlantic Ocean to lay flowers, drum and host other activities to honor our ancestors who were lost at sea. Wherever you are tomorrow, please take a moment or two to reflect on and give honour to our Holocaust.
Tu Ta Shinda ( We will Win!)

holocaustday At the Kingston Seawall  as Afro-Guyanese folks paid homage to the ancestors who were lost in the middle passage. – Photo taken  in 2009

The Hidden Secrets of Halloween

Folks, I’ll be hooking up with a few folks to tune into this. I encourage you to do the same.  Naazir Ra is on point on many fronts! He will get into the roots of Halloween from our cultural perspective. Check it out!

Herbal Shop  |  Book Store  |  Children’s Learning Center  |  Lecture Hall
 “The Most Empowering Master Teacher of Our Time!”
BUILDING IN CONSCIOUSNESS!
New Dawn Transformation’s Future Home!
GET ALL YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED!
PLUS GET…
DISCOUNTED WELLNESS SUPPLIES
DISCOUNTED LEARNING MATERIALS
RESERVE YOUR SLOT NOW!
LIMITED SEATING!

One woman’s view: Halloween in Africa

Africa For Halloween? by Akua Djane of New African magazine

Why do Africans celebrate Halloween when our societies hate witches and even kill them? If Halloween had African roots, Africans today would call it “juju” or “muti” and would not celebrate it.

Halloween, as an event, seems to be growing legs in Africa, especially in Ghana, my home country. I personally noticed a few years ago that within the expatriate community in Ghana, people were beginning to celebrate this festival they had brought with them, to Ghana! So much for when in Rome do as the Romans do! Initially I did not see Ghanaians knowing about or indeed participating in Halloween. Well, all that changed this year.

Halloween (an American export) is said to have originated from a pre-Christian festival known as Samhain. According to the website, Encyclopedia.com: “It is believed that the spirits of those who died during the previous 12 months were granted access into the other world during Samhain. Thus, spirits were said to be travelling on that evening.” Do the people now celebrating Halloween in Africa know this? I doubt it very much.

Over the years, the celebration of Halloween has changed from its original roots. Today many people who celebrate it have no idea what or why they are celebrating it. All they know is that, come 31 October, they dress up in ghoulish fashion and hit the streets, trick or treating for children and organising Halloween parties for adults.

And this is where I have a problem with the Africans who participate in these celebrations. If Halloween came to Ghana from Nigeria for example, Ghanaians would call it “juju”, evil, occult. Something never to be practised! Ghanaians would have said: “What? You want me, my husband, and my children to go out dressed as ghosts, witches, and Satan? You want us to go to our neighbours and ask for a “treat” for our children? If they don’t get a treat, we should advise our children to play a trick on our neighbours? Are you crazy?” Yes, this would most likely be the response if Halloween had African roots and was introduced to Ghana from Nigeria or some other African country. But because Halloween came from “the whites”, Ghanaians and other Africans have embraced it, no questions asked! Poor Africa.

Meanwhile, in northern Ghana, for example, women who are branded witches are driven out of their family homes and sent to a camp specially set up for them at Gambaga. In fact, to be “out-ed” as a witch is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone in Ghana and in many African countries.

I personally had the unpleasant experience of dealing with a situation where a young girl (who I shall call Akos, aged only 10 years) was branded a witch by her aunt in Ghana. This girl was raped, and when I went to talk to her aunt, the aunt insisted that the girl was a witch who was out to destroy her marriage, and thus deserved to be raped, and therefore the aunt could not care a hoot about the rape.

Whether this girl was a witch or not, I did not know but I felt I had to help her. To cut a long story short, let’s just say that if I had not intervened, this young girl would have continued to live with a relative who perceived her as a witch and thus would have continued to maltreat her. At the time I met Akos, she was skinny from maltreatment, whereas her cousins (her aunt’s children) were plump, if not overweight.

Yes, this is how Ghanaian and other African societies behave towards witches. We don’t like them. We really believe the devil is alive and kicking and don’t like him either. Most people claim to be Christians, and as such they look down on ghoulish behaviour. It is just not accepted or tolerated… that is unless the white man says it’s okay.

And so we now find it acceptable to dress up as a witch or a ghost or even a devil on 31 October. If that is the case, why don’t we release all the witches at Gambaga and honour them with a Halloween-type celebration? I have always believed that if Harry Potter was a black boy, he would be called an evil wizard. But being white makes him okay and acceptable.

And so, this year, Halloween came to Ghana big-time – thanks to the actress, Juliet Ibrahim, who organised a Halloween fancy dress party for celebrities. According to Juliet, she is not introducing Halloween to Ghana but the fashion of Halloween! The fashion of Halloween? Dressing up as ghosts, witches, the devil, and the like? I find it hypocritical that in Ghana people accept this. The same country where “Sakawa Boys”, who are rumoured to sleep in coffins in order to get rich quick, are seen as evil people! Nobody wants to emulate a Sakawa Boy!

It is so hypocritical the way we are killing our beliefs, traditions and cultures to buy into anything that comes from outside Africa. Even if that thing goes against everything we once believed in, it doesn’t matter as long as it comes from the white man’s land. Our people will not only accept it but will practise it even more fervently than the originators!

Just look at Christianity. Today, there are more churches across Africa than you will find in Europe. Churches in the UK are being turned into nightclubs and apartments. The only reason people seem to go to church in the UK these days is solely to get their children into good schools. And if you do find a flourishing church in the UK today, trust me, it is more likely to be filled with black people as opposed to white people or people of other races.

Back in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa, people will tell you that when they perform a “traditional wedding” ceremony, that it is a mere “engagement”. Until they go through a Western-type church wedding, they don’t feel married. I have a Ugandan friend who is a Muslim, like the rest of her family. She met a Gambian man who is a Muslim, like the rest of his family. When these two decided to get married, they had a traditional Nikah. But they were not satisfied until the bride wore her long white bridal dress, and the man wore a suit; and they did another Western-style wedding in a church! Does this make sense?

What many people don’t realise is that Africa is seen as an untapped market for many businesses. With the celebration of Halloween comes the branded hats, costumes, and the rest of the paraphernalia you simply have to buy! From what I have observed, Halloween is not as big in the UK today as it used to be (not a single child came to my door this or last year). So Africa is the new place to take over this rubbish.

The same thing happened to Valentine’s Day, which was not known in many African countries until the late 1990s or so. Today, as Africans have taken to Valentine’s Day as ducks to water, the commercial aspects have grown exponentially. Africans are now spending so much money on Valentine’s Day like there is no tomorrow. And yet, they don’t even know the origins of Valentine’s Day. Our people. It is now time to wake up!

I wonder if any African has bothered to see any of the Halloween films available. These are not about happy people doing good things. Surely this is a clue to what Halloween has come to signify in these modern times. I am yet to see a Halloween costume of an angel.

Yes the world is a global village, and there is nothing wrong with culture sharing. Sadly, in Africa it is not sharing but rather destroying our culture, beliefs, traditions and way of life.

At this rate, the time will come when nothing in Africa will be authentic anymore. From fried rice to Halloween, it seems, if it is from a non-African country, we are more than happy to adopt it. But not everything coming from outside our continent is positive. And this is what Africans have to realise. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

P.S.- This woman makes some excellent points. Mind you there are a bunch of things I don’t agree with.  Wonder how she feels about some of our ancient celebrations like Damballah Wedo? Hmmm. If I knew her I’d encourage her to read Luisah Teish’s “Jump Up” in an effort to create a little more balance to her perspective.

Henna: Reclaiming our cultural tradition

henna

Henna parlours provide income, empowerment for Kenyan women

By Bosire Boniface in Wajir

November 28, 2012

Leila Hassan Abdille, 33, was designing henna in her parents’ home in Kenya’s Mandera District in October 2010 when her cousin told her she should turn her art into a business.  Abdille recalls her cousin saying, “Why not utilise your artistic talent to economically empower yourself and your family?” Abdille had been regarded as the finest henna artist in her Bulla Mzuri neighbourhood, but she said the idea of turning it into a business seemed strange.

“At first I found the proposal weird because many people I knew in my neighbourhood were doing it for fun. I wondered how can someone pay for this simple art,” she told Sabahi. “After mulling over the challenge, I developed a keen interest in developing the skills into a business venture.”

Two years after she started charging for the services, Abdille has transformed her work from a small home business into a larger business venture in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighbourhood.

Because many people were unaccustomed to paying for henna decorations, Abdille said she had to make her designs unique and act in a professional manner.

With the move from Mandera to Nairobi, Abdille said her client base has surged from an average of 25 per week to more than 100.

She also charges more in the city. “In Mandera, which is more of a rural setup, the charges range between 300 shillings ($4) to 1,000 shillings ($12) per person,” she said. “In Nairobi the charges range between 2,000 and 4,000 shillings.”

Henna businesses transform women’s lives

Rukia Subow, national chairwoman of the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation, a women’s-rights foundation, told Sabahi the emergence of henna parlours in Kenya over the past two years indicates that women are utilising their unique skills.

Subow said henna painting has special relevance to women in conservative communities who want financial independence while maintaining their family lives.

“Women are increasingly discovering their options,” she said. “They are creative and becoming entrepreneurs, as they feel that they have a lot to give to generate income.”

“You will find the same parlours in remote villages. It is no longer a pastime, as henna painting is feeding families and educating their children,” Subow said.

Habiba Hussein Yussuf, a 29-year-old who runs a henna business in Garissa with five employees, told Sabahi that her customers have significantly increased, translating into good revenue for the artists. Her parlour also trains at least three apprentices at any given moment, and they often go on to open their own businesses.

Henna painting is traditionally done for a bride and her maids before the wedding, and is a common practice among Muslims. But Yussuf said the increase in her customers is also due to non-Muslim women embracing the art.

Henna expands beyond traditional customs

Teresa Ontiri, a 25-year-old henna artist and hairdresser in Kitale, said the business is also attractive to women because it does not require much capital.

“Besides unique skills, it requires an eye for the best quality henna and maybe rent for the business premises,” Ontiri told Sabahi. “In most instances, one can work from her living room, back yard or front yard.”

Ontiri, a Christian, said she learned the trade from her Muslim friend. In exchange, the friend learned the art of plaiting hair from her, she said.

Mwanahamadi Mzee, a 25-year-old who runs a henna parlour in Lamu, told Sabahi that the art requires special skills that are not difficult to learn.

An artist starts by drawing with crayons before she gradually advances to decorating with henna, she said, adding that most of the designs are related to plants or flowers, but sometimes a client may want something different like an animal.

“Most of the art work is done on the legs and hands,” Mzee said. “There are others who also want painting on other parts of the body, such as the torso and neck.”

Lulu Hassan, a news anchor and reporter with Kenya Television Network, said she often gets henna paintings for special occasions.

“It is painless and it looks beautiful on the skin,” she told Sabahi. “I am often invited to be one of the bridesmaids in weddings and I feel something is missing without the painting. It is glamorous.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdrCZ-2r7-U        A Kenyan woman talks about her journey as a henna artist

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6VMqlr5OoE     Book on North African henna

P.S. – So next time henna comes to mind think of  Kemet (where it originated). Give thanks to folks in Somalia, Gambia, Kenya, Ghana kwk for maintaining  the art form. Diaspora sistahs, let’s keep it going. It’s great for puberty rites, weddings, pregnancy or just for fun.