Peter Kinyua counts himself lucky to be alive. As part of a criminal gang, they trawled Nakuru‘s crime-stricken low-income neighborhoods. Rumours of their presence would send residents into panic.
“At the age of 12, I was already good at mugging pedestrians in the streets of Nakuru,” Kinyua, now aged 34 years, says. “By the time I was 16, I was running an elaborate and well networked drug peddling syndicate. It operated well partly because my parents were alcoholics and abused hard drugs.”
In 2013, Kinyua relocated to Free Area Estate in Nakuru where he rented a single room. At night he would engage in criminal activities and pose as a laborer during the day. “One day, at 7pm I was called by some people from Industrial Area,” he said in an interview. “They told me that officers from the Flying Squad had gunned down my best friend after a botched robbery. I rushed there and found him lying in a pool of blood. He was a member of a gang I once belonged to.”
His death had stunned Kinyua, who saw his fate not so dissimilar and so he decided to change. “For me to reform, I had to completely detach myself from the friends. Unfortunately, I have lost almost all of them. I can now confirm that crime only destroys one’s potential and wastes their youth, and if not lucky, their entire life,” he adds.
After facing the music
Kinyua decided to set up a music recording studio to help youth in Free Area Estate, not only avoid the allure of easy money presented by crime but exploit their talents. “I had to look for lawful means to earn a living. I enrolled in a driving school and landed a job as driver. I did my job with the zealousness of a reformed criminal determined to break from the past,” he explains.
He use some savings to set up the music studio. Free Area Estate is weighed down by crime and the studio is increasingly becoming an oasis of hope to youth struggling to free themselves from this bondage.
Studio Mtaani, though without sophisticated equipment, boasts functional electronic gadgets capable of facilitating rehearsal, recording and production of music. It is anchored in a humble three-square metre room sandwiched between modest commercial enterprises.
An ordinary desktop computer, a partially broken set of headset phones and a recording microphone have kept the ingeniously designed Studio Mtaani always humming.
At the studio, we meet Joseph Omondi alias Omera and Evans Kariuki alias Nyota Mfalme. Both aged 26 years, they are recovering drug addicts who had been hooked to hard substances for over five years. They dropped out of school in primary and have found solace and hope at the facility.
Omondi confesses to having been involved in petty theft and drug addiction, while Kariuki says he had been reduced to a zombie by drugs. Both maintain that they are clinging on the studio to avoid slipping back to ” a violent past.”
The former criminals and drug addicts turned exuberant crooners now theme their music on crime, governance and inequality – issues they say should be the society`s focal concerns.
Kinyua says the free music recording studio gives a new lease of life to youth who were previously rejected by the society due to their criminal activities or drug addiction. He is optimistic most notorious members of criminal gangs will disband and join the venture.
A day with the studio’s musicians
Business begins everyday at 10 am when Kinyua helps budding musicians put together their lyrics on paper before they take to the microphone for a series of drawn-out rehearsals.
With modest skills and technical knowhow in the art of music production, Kinyua has slowly learned the ropes and to his credit produced his first song titled “Niseme au Nisiseme” that cautions youth against insincere politicians and calls for accountability among elected leaders at all levels.
Beneficiaries of the studio have been able to reintegrate into society, while some have resumed school or ventured into various gainful activities.
On the studio’s sidelines, Kinyua has established a workshop where reforming criminals are equipped with skills to make handmade loudspeaker casings for sale. “The day long tasks which are interspersed with counseling sessions are tailored to preoccupy their minds, leaving them virtually no time to contemplate criminal activities or engage in abusing hard substances,” explains Kinyua.
Omondi, who is reeling from rejection by his family, has been using the studio for three months now and has managed to produce his first song ”Aki Wewe” articulating the plight of youth who indulge in crime and other vices.
Kariuki was raised in a dysfunctional family. He he says his parents were chronic addicts to alcohol and heroine. He has also managed to release his first song, calling on parents not to abdicate their sacred responsibility to their children.
All three hope to venture into competitive singing to effectively stimulate debate on matters pertinent to society. While they use their talent to effect meaningful change among others, they hope to make money and recover time they have lost in crime and pursue their dreams again.
Kinyua says beneficiaries of the studio have been able to reintegrate into society. Some, he states have resumed school and while others have ventured into various gainful activities.
Kinyua and other beneficiaries are appealing to well-wishers to come on board and support their bid to reignite hope in lives where crime and poor governance have conspired to dim it.
[written by Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto / KNA]