Paa ya Paa Celebrates Black History Month 2013 By Margaretta wa Gacheru Not published in Saturday Nation February 2013 In addition to his being the star playwright of the hour, what with his new play, Meetings, featuring at Phoenix Players for the rest of February, John Sibi Okumu also served as Life Saver at this year’s Black History month event held last Saturday at Paa ya Paa Art Gallery. Organized by the Gallery in collaboration with United States International University, the day was meant to celebrate the art and rich heritage of Africa, according to the USIU Lecturer, Dr. Dashanaba King. And so it did, with African art exhibited throughout ‘the ruins’, the nickname given to the stone remnants of the original PYP home and gallery that had survived the 1998 fire which destroyed most of the gallery’s and Elimo Njau’s priceless collections of sculptures, paintings and Africana books. And in addition to visual art, the day was also devoted to African music and dance, including performances by the brilliant blind and multi-talented musician Michel Ongaro accompanying the African American singer Denise Gordon on guitar and theBoma Tunes, a melodic new vocal group that recently graduated from the UNICEF-funded National Academy of Creative arts. In fact, the arts were well represented at PYP, but the African heritage aspect of the day did not fare as well. For some reason, all the panelists scheduled to discuss the theme of African ‘Emancipation-the Plight, Struggles and Successes’ never showed! Fortunately, Phillda Njau received the information in time to get alternate speakers, namely the African Art collector and Kenyan sugar farmer Anthony Athaide and the USIU Black history student scholar, retired Kenya army Major Githaga. Sibi Okumu came in as Moderator of the slender panel, having only learned at the last minute of the dramatic change of plan. But being such a seasoned and skillful ‘master of ceremonies’ he took the turnaround in his stride and, after brief contributions from the panelists, he opened discussion up to the audience which was a wise and wonderful change of plan. Fortunately, the audience was filled with thoughtful African American and Kenyans who had lots of constructive comments. One especially was by an African American Kenyan resident who remarked that his university professor had prophesied that Africa would rise in the 21st century, and he said that is exactly what it is doing right now. His sentiments were confirmed by both Athaide and Githaga. However both men shared cautionary notes: Athaide expressing concern that unless Africans, and specifically Kenyans, take seriously the need to ensure food security, the country could suffer a famine of unprecedented magnitude. Githaga, meanwhile, said he didn’t believe Kenya required a huge military; he even advised it be cut significantly. PYP’s celebration of black history month went well in spite of the last minute program alteration. But without a lively fielding of questions and comments from an erudite audience by Sibi Okumu, the day could have been a small disaster. Two other highpoints of the day’s celebrations were a solo performance by songstress Philipa Njau who was accompanied on piano by her mother Phillda and the exhibition of original paintings by Frenchman Louis Duval, who in addition to being an awesome painter is also the headmaster of the Kul Academy of Graphic Technology.