July 20, 2012
Inspired by the passion of young performance artists, Burhan Iman, 23, sold his business and invested in his vision of providing entertainment to the underserved Somali community in Kenya and fighting negative stereotypes against ethnic Somalis.
So, he founded Eastleighwood, a group of more than 200 young Somali-Kenyan actors, poets and singers based in Eastleigh, a populous and predominately ethnic Somali neighbourhood in the heart of Nairobi.
Most of the group's material promotes peace and sensitises youths to avoid falling prey to the indoctrination of extremist groups.
Eastleighwood records songs and produces movies, some of which can be accessed online. In addition, it organises plays, youth concerts and other entertainment activities around Nairobi.
Iman spoke with Sabahi about Eastleighwood's activities, challenges and future goals.
Sabahi: Tell us about yourself
Burhan Iman: I am the executive director and chairman of Eastleighwood. Although I was born in Kenya, I have spent a lot of time in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Yemen and Somalia. Although I am now based in Nairobi, I constantly travel to Mogadishu and other places around the world.
Sabahi: Why did you start Eastleighwood?
Iman: After watching the Kenyan media for many years, I realised that none of the media establishments featured any content for Somali-Kenyans, despite the fact that the community accounts for a significant proportion of the national population.
This triggered me to ask how I could develop Somali entertainment content. Since the Somali art form has principally been in oratory, I realised that audio and visual platforms would be the place to begin.
I confirmed this through research I conducted in Eastleigh when I asked regular residents about their preference between audio, visual or written [media]. This is where the idea of starting Eastleighwood was born.
After that, I came together with a group of friends and we organised the Eastleighwood Talent Search in Eastleigh in July 2011. Young people came from the neighbourhood to display their performing arts skills. We picked those that we felt had a potential to grow and one year later, they have not disappointed us. They have improved tremendously.
Some have already recorded songs and acted in our movies. Inspired by their desire to succeed, I sold my businesses in order to invest all my energy and resources in the Eastleighwood dream.
Sabahi: Tell us about the crew and your performances.
Iman: Currently we have around 200 actors, actresses, singers, producers. So far, we are working on two movies, "Love is Blind" and "Lucky", which are in the production stages.
We have also done many stage plays and performances that revolve around the theme of love, peace, human trafficking, integration and other social issues.
Sabahi: Do you think art can be used to preach peace among youths?
Iman: Definitely. And that's what Eastleighwood intended to do from the onset. I have actually opened an Eastleighwood office in the Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu next to the African Union headquarters, with the sole intention of distributing our movies and songs among the youth in Mogadishu.
Somalis are very lucky because they share one language, culture, way of life and most of us are from one religion, which makes it easier to use art forms in cohesion and peace building among ourselves. The only way to win the war against the indoctrination of our youth by terror groups is through information, which can be achieved through art. Therefore, as the Kenya Defence Forces leads the military front, Eastleighwood is determined to push the agenda through art.
Sabahi: What community-based activities have you been doing to ensure that you achieve the goal of eliminating the stereotypes against Somalis and preach the message of peace?
Iman: Besides the numerous platforms that Eastleighwood provides for youths from various ethnic backgrounds to come together and showcase their talent, we are also shooting a documentary video called "Midnimo" (Unity), which will have scenes from Eastleigh, Mandera, Garissa and Minnesota in the United States.
The documentary should show the efforts ordinary Somalis are making to integrate with other people to build peace and unity. I was also in Mogadishu in April to open Eastleighwood offices where I gave a talk entitled "Drop the Gun, Take the Pen".
We are also planning to organise a Somali night in Nairobi where people from all walks of life will come and enjoy Somali food, music and other traditions which we believe will help in fighting the stereotypes. Besides these, we also have several movies and songs in the pipeline, all geared towards bringing positive social change.
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