Written by Priya Parrotta Natarajan, Director, Music & the Earth International 

Cities can be overrated. Sound pollution, air pollution, over-crowding, crises related to safety and sanitation, social isolation, removal from the natural world. Such concerns are common, and they have social as well as environmental ramifications. Urbanization is rapidly transforming the face of this Earth. It is creating deeper strains on our countries’ ecologies, and is also creating new social constellations. People are coming into contact with each other in historically unprecedented ways. Many are engaging in forms of conflict that at times reflect the past, and at times signal clearly that the world is in flux.

In light of the potential and pitfalls that they offer, cities need intentional spaces—places where people can gather for healthy purposes. Music has an important role to play in the creation of such spaces. Unlike many aspects of life in large and hectic cities, music is non-confrontational. Within a musical encounter (whether you are a listener, performer or both), conflicts can transmute into conversations. In fact, musical vibrancy often emerges out of an engagement with tricky divides and controversies. It is no coincidence that some of the world’s most spirited musical traditions come out of longstanding engagements with questions of diversity and hybridity.

Climate change, and the human crises connected to it, is a global emergency that puts such diversity at risk. If our species is to survive, cities and the explosive numbers of people who live in them must embrace environmental consciousness. Imagine, then, if you will, an approach to urban planning which seeks to correct the hierarchies and segregations that are often associated with urban life (indeed, with human life) by bringing music to the service of social and environmental dialogue and problem-solving.

Last year, Green Sun Cities initiated a project that resonates with such a vision. Climate Art—Nairobi gathered multimedia artists from Kenya, as well as from Rwanda, to create original music, poetry, and visual art to promote awareness of climate change. To paraphrase the words of co-organizer Benedict Muyale, the intention of the project was to take the issue of climate politics out of closed-off conference halls, and onto the streets of Nairobi. The initiative involved workshops, concerts, and interviews with the artists involved. It set a precedent for similar events in the future, and in retrospect, it seems an excellent example of curating urban space in ways that encourage public environmentalism.

The dynamic intersection(s) of space, music, and environmentalism in public life is of great interest to me. It is also among the core themes animating the work of the NGO which I direct. Put briefly, the mission of Music & the Earth International (musicandtheearth.org) is to promote cross-cultural environmental dialogue through music and dance. We seek to confront, and resolve, tensions and disconnects between diverse groups of people by engaging them in the listening, performance, and enjoyment of musical traditions around the world. There are many reasons why such an endeavor is helpful and needed. One of them is the fact that climate change is common to all of us—though certainly, some are experiencing its impacts more than others. At Music & the Earth, we are intrigued by the possibility that music can help us to communicate more effectively around this issue. We actively pursue this potential and events such as Climate Art—Nairobi serve as inspiration and as grounding for the research questions we ask.

Numerous questions have already emerged: what are the conditions that make events such as Climate Art—Nairobi successful? How can the experience of an event in a public space (such as a concert) serve as a gateway for long-term relationships between environmentalists and/or people experiencing the effects of climate change? Is it possible to transform these events from moments in time to established recommendations for environmental policymakers?

And perhaps most significantly for us at Music & the Earth: can robust dialogue on the linkages between diverse musical traditions and the environment occur as a result of concerts like Climate Art—Nairobi? Related to this, can cities become spaces for ongoing artistic development in the service of pressing environmental problems?

Taken together, these questions comprise an ongoing discussion, a bustling convergence of ideas, experience and critiques. Without a doubt, these concerns extend far beyond the purview of either Green Sun Cities or Music & the Earth International. They are as far ranging as they are urgent. And that is half the fun.

Priya Parrotta Natarajan is an author, singer and founder/director of Music & the Earth International
Find a link to an interview done with Green Sun Cities co-founder here .

Image of branded plastic carrier bags in Kenya (retrieved from Kenya Climate Innovation Centre website)

The plastic bag ban initiated by NEMA has been met with mixed reactions, and these mainly negative. Comments have come in from left, right and centre decrying the ban due to the economic effect it shall have on a nation that already has a high percentage of its population unemployed (and counting). With the industry being linked to over 9,000 jobs, no one wants to see it go. And don’t think that the support you see for the ban online does mean it’s supported equally as fervently offline. The masses most affected by this ban are not the individuals on Facebook and twitter retweeting every NEMA and MENR tweet with their added nods of approval. The masses are the kadogo economy dependants who get everything sub-divided in those convenient, flat plastic bags.

This plastic bag ban is the wake-up call for Kenya. A wake-up call for all developing countries really; developing countries who have been crying foul as countries globally dragged the climate change negotiations on and on when they were facing the brunt of the fall out from the warmer global temperatures. Environmental activists have been calling for action from these callous northerners. Action to slow down the effects that THEIR development is wreaking on our countries. “We are developing, we weren’t the cause of whatever is currently ailing the planet” we cry as we point fingers at the global North.

And then the plastic bag ban comes and we assume the exact same position as the constantly negotiating countries. Faced with the idea that WE, a less developed nation, have to change our ways for the sake of the environment leads us to immediately question this move, especially considering that it shall hurt us financially – All those jobs!

These sentiments may be shared by a lot more than will comment on this piece with rage but dear Kenyans, it is not the end of the world. Changes in the status quo cannot solely be carried out by the developed countries while we carry on with life(business) as usual. We may be a developing country but conversations on realising what it does mean to contribute towards sustainable change as developing countries need to begin. And one of those ways is the banning of plastic bags. Multiple views have been shared on how the government is going about this the wrong way,  and I do agree with some of those views – this ban reeks of unpreparedness and a lack of indepth analysis as to the possible alternatives for all parties involved. But we are Kenyans, we are resourceful. Once upon a time we lived without plastic bags. let us go back to that time when things were easier and our animals did not happen upon plastic on their grazing lands.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.


Written by Sande Dengal,
Edited by Gloria Auma N.

Karen is one of the much sought after leafy suburbs of Nairobi, being rivaled only by areas like Muthaiga and Runda. The Nairobi residents of this upmarket area have enjoyed its quiet and serene environment for quite a long time.


Taxis lined up waiting for customers at the Karen Shopping Center outside a makeshift extension to a building.

The Karen suburb is located within the Northern Nairobi area and got its name from renown Baroness – Karen Christenze von Blixen –Finecke, a Danish author (17.04.1885 –07.09.1962) who lived in the area from 1914 to 1931. She is best known for her book ‘Out of Africa’, which is an account of her life while in Kenya. The book was adopted into an Academy Award winning film. She also established the Karen Coffee Company.

Karen is a low-density, single-dimensional development area, characterised by large residential subdivisions, very good amenities and lower crime rates. Over the years it has been home to both wealthy and prominent people in Kenyan society.

In the recent past, however, it has attracted many a good number of people seeking to settle within its bounds. This has led to a high demand for, and establishment of shopping malls around the area. This pits the benefits to individuals against broader social and environmental concerns.

Karen Shopping Center  is located at a-round-about serving both Ngong Road and d and Langata Road. In many situations, strip or ribbon development takes place when extensive commercial development occurs in a linear pattern along both sides of major arterial roadways. Like other aspects of urban sprawl, it is viewed as ugly and as a cause of traffic congestion caused by old matatus parked on both sides of the road, mushrooming roadside kiosks, people trading second hand cloths, stagnant water in non functional drainage systems as well as  a constant barrage of disorderly foot traffic from shoppers and workers entering and exiting the street.

“This aspect of urban sprawl has led to the insecurity of the area.” Said Ronald Musengi, a Commissioner at the National Police Service Commission and a long time resident of Karen.  

The 2014 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects UN report says rapid urbanisation brings opportunities for governments to improve access to important services. “Providing public transportation, as well as housing, electricity, water and sanitation for a densely settled population is typically cheaper and less environmentally damaging than providing a similar level of services to a predominantly rural household,” it says.


Mushrooming commercial establishments have increased the foot traffic along the Karen roads.

The residents of Karen acknowledge that growth is inevitable but are asking the Nairobi City County government to intervene. The residents would like the government to address the situation by expansion of available facilities to cater to the new populations and have Karen reclaim its former glory. Would Nairobi City County take up the request and embrace this evident opportunity to improve access to the important services – public transportation, water and sanitation for the shopping center?

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