When I was young, I was an incorrigible Mall Rat. Now that sort of baffles most acquaintances which is no wonder because the culture of youngsters hanging out at malls is quite alien to these shores. Besides certain of my detractors are quick to wonder what mall I prowled because the closest we got to a Mall in my neighbourhood was a Softa Container and a Coke kiosk against which mama Oti leaned frying and refrying last week’s Omena while Oti, ochieng, Omollo… O- whoever, hang around peddling roast groundnuts; kicking a polythene ball or, as baby Okumu (and baby Onyango and myriad baby O’s after them) was wont to do- swimming in the stygian effluent nicknamed
But all that is besides the point because Mall or no mall within a twelve kilometre radius of our house, I still found myself one to hang out at.
My Mall prowling escapades were obviously resultant from the blatant misinformation and misrepresentations that Western media sources occasion on Third world Urban Youth. (Conscious of the my growing number of semi-literate readers and wanna be fans, I am avoiding such words as: hegemony). In those days my outlook to life was informed by earlier Black American teen magazines like: Right on and Black Beat that we got from I don’t know where. Later when I started hanging out at the malls, the affluent yoyo crowd introduced me to Vibe and The Source and wasn’t it awesome. …Like awesome, America... awesome!
I mean, all those Pop-stars in full colour. It was surreal, yeah and not forgetting AWESOME! And the conversations as we flipped through those magazines: “You mean Brandy Norwood can get uglier than in her I wanna be down Video? All delivered in a wavering Mid- Atlantic accent.
When I wasn’t at the mall, there was always the Now magazine that came with the standard and the Sunday Nation’s Lifestyle all courtesy of the butcher boy from Sector II. Even in those days, we didn’t have a TV but we were a minority so there was always the option of strolling into one neighbour’s or another’s house to catch jimmy Gathu on the hot new Channel 62. (Aside: Jimmy grew up, aged rather gracefully I must say. Matured. I sincerely hope Talia willl too some day and oh… whatever happened to Esther Mbondo?)
The thing I was picking from all these glossies and the not so glossy and Jimmy-Jam-a-Delics was that Pop-stars aren’t born, they are discovered. Discovered as they hang out at the Mall! Wasn’t that not the Toni Braxton story? Yes, that Toni Braxton who went broke from buying hair extensions. Yani, hair extensions and vile Koki from Sector II, with her 30 bob cornrows, was infinitely more gorgeous than Toni Braxton. Even when Koki had matutas and a dress with a hole that a rat- not Neiman Marcus- put there.
But hair or no hair, Toni could sing. And at the mall, the glossies tell me, she was discovered. (Was it by Baby Face or the other half of LaFace, L.A.Reid? I cannot seem to recall and someone pinched that magazine from my bedside. Pinched it and they will not even read it. Not even use it to light it a charcoal brazier unless it is in their pants.) Anyway, the point is, I believed that by hanging out at the Mall, I would be discovered.
Discovered, yes but not by some mzungu with a King James bible on one hand and a king size gun on the other, like China or Mount Kenya as though I wasn’t always there but by a talent scout.
Frankly I couldn’t sing- though I thought I could- but something inside me burnt with an artiste’s fervour. Maybe I could act or model. Certainly, I wasn’t going to insist on being on a chocolate commercial, my looks would stop sales, but there really was a spark in me a good director could use. Hey, like wouldn’t one need a convincing beast for a rendition of beauty and the Beast?
This was the thinking that carried me all those kilometres to the Mall. The sheer conviction that I was an artist of sorts even though my stick diagrams were uglier than my Primary school’s Arts teacher’s frown. In my heart I was a performing artiste even though the only time I had been on stage was to sweep it. Uhm, well there was the time though when I got on stage as an actor but being a sheep in the Sunday School Nativity play doesn’t count.
But we live by hope. I believed that talent has to be nurtured. I knew that the greatest of them all were apprentices to the maestros at some point. And maestros weren’t thumbing papier mache in stadi wan, or approving the discordant screeches of Sunday school babes.
It is no wonder then that my talent hadn’t been discovered. So far I hadn’t met the maestros. No Readership! The maestros were at the mall having themselves a jolly upper middle class time and occasionally stumbling on talent. And you had to be there for them to stumble on you, right?