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Life as a Goth in Nairobi

It is a sub-culture that is mainly associated with the West. In Kenya, it has a clout among young people who are not afraid to embrace their darker side

Alphayo Onyang @PeopleDailyKE

Terry Hamida, a college student in a private university in Nairobi, is an antithesis of a typical Kenyan teenage girl.

Her sense of fashion is unique, if anything, she is eccentric  and loves dark colours. Her mascara, nail polish and eyeliners are nine times out of 10 a dark colour.

Even if it is a certain hue, it still tends to be on the darker shade of the colour. Despite being an avid fashion enthusiast, it is a no brainer that her aura is dark, and her affinity is for the darker things in life. Terry also finds pleasure in listening to hard rock music that is usually loud and filled with chants and mimes.

“Is it awkward that I am fascinated by nightmares, vampires, caskets, crosses and horror? Since I was a child, I have always had this personality, and it’s completely natural to me,” she says. Hamida is one of the people in Kenya who have embraced the Goth sub-culture.

People who follow the Goth sub-culture have no particular set of beliefs, although many seem to oscillate towards things that are not the norm, even when it comes to religion. Goths are not afraid to embrace their dark side.

“When she was around eight years old, I could tell she didn’t listen to the normal RnB or soulful music, she gravitated more towards rock and roll music. In fact, she found  ‘normal’ music annoying. Taking a closer look at the rock and roll artistes she liked, they just seemed off. I feared she was slowly joining a cult,’’ says Terry’s aunt and godmother.

Goths are always ridiculed and on the receiving end of a lot of judgement due to their “disturbing” image. In Nairobi’s Yaya Centre Mall, home to Body Shock tattoo and piercings store, one can get a glimpse of the Goth sub-culture.

A huge part of the gothic culture is body piercings and tattoos, making such a place a regular hangout spots for goths in Nairobi.

Goth clothes usually have an emotional touch to them, they may feature skulls, crosses, spikes, chains, nail polish even on men, multiple piercings and  zippers. They are generally inspired by rock and roll artistes such as Marylin Manson and Nivarna.

“You cannot be a Goth today and stop the next day. Being a Goth is part of self-acceptance, it’s an open statement, and it is not a crime to be different from other people,” says Body Shock owner and 20-year experienced piercer, Malini Vadgama.

When they began the shop 20 years ago as a family business, it was purely about piercing, but with time, the Internet came, technology got better, and people started learning more about tattooing culture. Demand got higher and they started doing tatoos. 

Their most loyal customers are youth below 25. “During school holidays we get good business as many people come with ideas for drawings they want. Right now people are big on text tattoos and tribals,’’ says Vadgama.

You may be walking down a Nairobi street and spot someone in a chocker and mistake them for being a Goth, or a devil worshipper, as commonly misperceived.

A Goth is far from just pulling an all-black wardrobe, but more of an internal acceptance that will mean not sharing similar beliefs, attitudes, or personalities and the price is societal ridicule and stigmatisation.

Most do believe in God, and some even go to churches and mosques as being goth is not a religious decision, but a personal one.

Even so, Ndihiu Njama, a music producer in Nairobi and former rock band member, openly admitted to being  a former Goth. Today, he  sees no relevance of it in his current life.

“I just grew older and realised it is usually a phase until you are 21 years old mostly. It was not a cult like my mum used to imply as she was sick of my code of dressing, especially in public, but I’m glad I went through it. It helps me treat people better,’’ he says.

Contrary to Malini’s comments, it seems as if the gothic culture is a subjective phenomenon, but is a reality and is growing rapidly amongst the Kenyan youth.

AT A GLANCE

The goth sub-culture is a music subculture that began in England during the early 1980s, where it developed from the audience of gothic rock, an offshoot of the post-punk genre.

The name, goth subculture is derived directly from the music genre. Seminal post-punk and gothic rock artists that helped develop and shape the subculture include Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus.

The subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify and spread throughout the world. It’s imagery and cultural proclivities indicate influences from the 19th century Gothic literature and gothic horror films. The scene is centred on music festivals, nightclubs and organised meetings, especially in Western Europe.

The Goth sub-culture has associated tastes in music, aesthetics, and fashion. The music preferred by the Goth sub-culture includes a number of different styles, for example, gothic rock, death rock, post-punk, synthpop, cold wave, dark wave, and ethereal wave.

The dressing code in the subculture draws inspiration from punk culture well as fashion of earlier periods such as the Victorian and Edwardian eras or combinations of the above.

The style usually includes dark attire (often black), pale face make-up and black hair. The subculture continues to draw interest from a large audience decades after its emergence.  – Internet sources

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