Urban Legends, Colonial Myths: Popular Culture and Literature in East Africa

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James Ogude and Joyce Nyairo, eds. Urban Legends, Colonial Myths: Popular Culture and Literature in East Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2007. vii + 337 pp. Photographs. Cartoons. Notes. References. Index. $29.95. Paper.

This collection of essays is the product of a larger research project led by Isabel Hofmeyer and James Ogude in the African Literature Department of Witwatersrand University, a collaborative and innovative enterprise well worth applauding. Despite its title, the book deals essentially with Kenya, and this is to be regretted since all the "Bongo flava" dynamism of present day Tanzania is left out. However, the emphasis on Kenya brings its own reward and provides an in-depth analysis of original cultural phenomena such as caricature and satire in the media, as well as the "Matatu" visual statements. One of the most interesting qualities of this book is that several Kenyan graduate students as well as young researchers took part in the project and give a special flair to the analysis of cultural phenomena. The book is divided into three sections; the main one focuses on popular media, while the other two deal with music and fiction.

In the first section, multimedia artists seldom mentioned in "formal" scholarly pieces are given ample recognition, thanks to an approach through "popular culture." The entire approach is validated in the process, showing how these authors provide "deep commentary" into the workings of society. The "Kenyan journalist, humorist, literary writer" (to use Rimani Njogu's words), Wahome Mutahi (1954-2003), is an original Nairobi writer: for more than twenty years before his death in 2003 he wrote a satirical newspaper column, "Whispers," which (in the words of Nyairo and Ogude) became a "public space within the Kenyan social imaginary" (15, 79). "With the exception of God and disability, Wahome Mutahi could laugh at anything in life. He laughed at society, he laughed at the government and he laughed at his family - but he laughed at himself the hardest" (79), said a reviewer in the Daily Nation (July 23, 2003). …