Men At Work :: Matatu Culture

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You know what I miss? I miss matatus. I mean the good ol matatus. Remember the ones that had the blaring music playing the latest music? I remember some used to only play local music, others only reggae or hip-hop and you picked a matatu aka ‘mat’ based on your taste in music. The largest screen I ever saw first was in a mat, a 58. I remember this route 58 to Buruburu had some of the illest mats and there was great competition between this route and Eastleigh’s number 9. That is for the larger manyangas :). People would even force issues to get into a 58 mat and walk the rest of the way just to be in these mats. Never mind that we also used to stand in the mats those days. The Lan’gata route 14 and 15 had the coolest Nissan matatus. Loud and very artistic. How they fit a 30+ inch plasma tv in there is a wonder.

At night the mats would light up like a disco. The only thing missing most times was scantily dressed hot chics dancing up and down the isle (and I wouldn’t be surprised if some mats had this). The black UV light illuminated the interiors of the mats that had so many fluorescent stickers and photos covering the whole interior of the mats. My favorite past time in mats was to try read all the stickers in the mat. These were also handmade not printed. I thought being a matatu decorator was the coolest job then (I was in high school).

The coolest matatus were also the most expensive, about 10 shillings more or double. If as a musician your song was on heavy rotation in the mats you didn’t even need radio, you’d be a hit.

You know what has changed? Everything…I think. I miss the art on wheels that was matatus. I wish there was a way that we would have cleaned the industry (is it even clean) without it loosing it’s artistic heritage.

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Last week I took a walk photographing modern day Hoppas and KWS buses that have replaced matatus in many routes in Nairobi. This is a small part of that the matatu culture that shows a lot of what has changed. Like the printed boards that replaced the hand painted boards that the touts aka ‘kange’s’ used to hold on to. Still, I think the people in the matatu industry adapt and change to satisfy the regulations but still stay true to their rogue selves. I welcome you into a glimpse of that life at work of a kange. At least in Kencom and Ambassador stage.

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I do look forward to the day that we shall all be actively involved in protecting the heritage of this country to help steer the change that happens so that it’s a change for the better. Not to remain static but to protect what’s important and evolve that which needs to be made better. It’s not just about matatus but about everything. Architecture, open and public spaces. I think we have say on how Nairobi changes so that we make sure the development is not haphazard but that it favors the people that live in this great city of Nairobi.

Do have a conscious day.

 

If you have any thoughts into the matter, kindly leave a comment below. Let’s talk.