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Seattle, with help from Macklemore, celebrates Madaraka Day to boost Kenyan poor

You never know what part of the world you’ll run into in Seattle on a given day.

Madaraka celebration at the EMP, 2014
Madaraka celebration at the EMP, 2014

What does Macklemore, the poor in Kenya’s slums and Seattle’s Experience Music Project have in common?

It turns out June 1 is Madaraka Day, when Kenyans celebrate gaining independence from Britain in 1963. On Sunday, a sold-out crowd gathered at the EMP to do likewise, to sing, dance and celebrate Madaraka – and to help support a small non-profit organization called One Vibe Africa.

Simon Okelo
Simon Okelo

“We want to bring Seattle and Kenya closer together,” said Simon Okelo, who grew up in a slum in Kisumu, Kenya, and moved here in 2010 with his wife Rebecca.

I ran into Okelo at the EMP after attending another globally oriented event, at the Space Needle next door, hosted by Quartz magazine and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Quartz is in town for its Next Billion event today, which is focused on bridging the digital divide and expanding – by one more billion – the number of people empowered by the web.

Okelo believes in that kind of thing, but perhaps more in the power of music and art to fight poverty. He started One Vibe to specifically help young people engage in music, poetry and art – to find a positive means to express themselves, and as a first step to feeling empowered, and celebrated.

Okelo, who has also written for the Seattle Globalist and Yes! magazine about life in Kenya’s slums, believes that emotional inspiration and building community must come first in the efforts aimed at helping the poor in Africa. Poverty and inequity are caused by material circumstances, he knows, but helping young people believe in themselves is as critical to fighting these problems as any material assistance.

“Young people are the engine of any community and they need to have positive activities to make for a positive community,” Okelo said. “Our goal here tonight (at the Madaraka EMP festival) is to make that connection, to help create global community.”

One Vibe is a small organization, one of literally hundreds in Seattle created to fight poverty and empower the disenfranchised in poor communities overseas. Okelo operates the non-profit on about $40,000 a year and the EMP event was put on to help raise money to keep going, to continue to launch music and art programs in the poorest communities in Kenya.

An impressive collection of local musicians and artists performed at the Seattle Madaraka event, from rappers to poets to jazz musicians. Africa was celebrated alongside African-Americans like the late Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King Jr. One of the hosts of the event was the renowned trumpet player Owuor Arunga, who also happens to play for Macklemore. Below is a clip of The Physics, a hip-hop group from Seattle’s south end.

Macklemore
Wikipedia

Seattle’s top rapper Macklemore did make an appearance at the Madaraka event and wowed the crowd. You’ve probably seen him before so there’s not much point in playing my phone video of his performance.

But what really seemed to wow the folks at the EMP was the sense of community Okelo had created. All these people, a sold-out crowd, came together to support One Vibe and Okelo’s goal of bringing a bit more joy and celebration to the youth of Kenya. Pretty impressive. And just another day in Seattle.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.