Javier Aranzales aka Kamau has become an online sensation grooving to African jams on Instagram since October 2017. The Harvard graduate and professional ballet dancer talks with Nailantei Norari about his love for Afrobeat, Kiswahili and his future plans
Tell us about your multiheritage?
I was born in Colombia. At the time of my birth, my beautiful Colombia was plagued by violence and political instability. Consequently, my family fled when I was five and settled down in Miami.
What did you want to become when growing up?
I always wanted to be a professional ballet dancer, which came true thanks to Thomas Armour Youth Ballet that focuses on making ballet accessible to underprivileged youth in Miami.
How did you get into Harvard and what did you study?
I received a full scholarship to study at Harvard. I remember getting into Harvard and calling my grandmother who was in Colombia. She cried on the phone saying: “The children of Colombia’s presidents go to Harvard!” While there, I ended up studying Government and Kiswahili though I got in with an intent of studying Paediatric Neurosurgery.
So, is that where you learnt Kiswahili you use in your dance videos?
Let me clarify; bado sijui Kiswahili yote, lakini bila shaka niko njiani (I am not fluent in Kiswahili, but I am doubtlessly headed there). But I am very grateful to my classmates in the class of Harvard 2016, specifically my best friends (four Kenyans and one Tanzanian), who shaped my view and appreciation of African culture and African languages.
What inspired your interest in African dance or the Afrobeat?
My best friends in college shared this music with me and I fell in love with it. Also, music is a powerful way to learn a language.
Where do you find time to record the videos?
I am pretty limited to filming during the day because I cannot afford those fancy lighting sets! I always try to get time to squeeze in a jam session or two daily. I do all the editing and it’s actually way easier than it looks. But it wasn’t always easy. If I show you some of my first videos you will cringe. But I guess that’s what they say about the power of practice, it gets better and easier with time.
What do you hope to achieve with the @afrobeatswithkamau channel?
I started out hoping to get more foreigners to listen and groove to African jams. However, @afrobeatswithkamau has morphed into a community where people give me suggestions on what songs to dance or listen to. I am using the channel to promote African music and to promote the power of creativity.
How about achievements on a personal level?
I dream of the day I get asked by artistes Fena Gitu, Vanessa Mdee, Sauti Sol, Nyashinki, Nadia Mukami, Yemi Alade and other African greats, to either dance with them on stage or appear in their music videos.
How does the Kenyan dance scene compare to the dance world out there?
There’s amazing dance talent in Kenya, but we need more support from both the government and the society. The reality is that art and dance are seen as upper class and elite activities, not just here in Kenya, but in the US and Colombia as well. As creatives, we need to find ways to tell locally relevant stories in locally relevant ways that will shift the paradigm around what dance is.
Are you looking at eventually setting up a YouTube channel?
Instagram is the platform I am working on mastering for now. But make sure you are supporting our local YouTubers.
What are your plans for the coming years?
In five years time, I want to be well on my way to becoming a permanent resident in Kenya. I would also like to be part of the team that starts Kenya’s first performing arts high school. In short, being part of the force channelling the arts to tell African stories in globally powerful ways.