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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "DRESS AFRICAN" FOR THE RED CARPET?

Gerald Langiri
March 27 / 2015

The dressing memo for the 2nd Riverwood Academy Awards red carpet was “Elegant African wear”. But what comes to mind when you read African wear?  What does the term dressing AFRICAN really mean? Are Kenyans the worst dressers when it comes to the Red carpet?  The “national dress” to some level has been reduced to anything that resembles Maasai shukas or Blazers and pants that have leso material printed on it. Is that enough to qualify it as African?

Nominated Mombasa Senator Ms Emma Mbura once had a rant about the need for Mijikenda women to go back to their traditional and cultural way of dressing which included wearing a traditional dress known as mahando. Even though her sentiments was as a result of trying to answer the “why there is a slump in tourism in kenya?”, Kenyans in a habitual “lets focus on the negative” attitude singled out the fact that dressing traditional also meant being bare-chested for our coastal women, a different topic all together that Mheshimiwa Emma wasn’t even trying to bring out.

There are few “Modern Kenyans” who know what their dress culture is. Culture in the African set up was passed down through generations through stories by the fireside late in the night. Dressing was mainly ceremonial and knowledge of what to wear and when, was instilled to the younger generation via this ceremonies and meetings.

Modern day designer’s fusion of western clothing with “African” elements to make African attire, whether by adding beads or African textiles, is commendable, but it’s not here nor there.

The concept of proper dressing with regards to Kenyan Culture in the 1900’s centered on minimal clothing! So if we were to “dress African”, then tokens of hides together with paint and adornment of plaited fiber, beads, wire and carved bone would suffice. Men should show up in bearded cloaks of goat/leopard skin, headdresses of Ostrich feathers with sandals on red carpets where the dress code is African or at least replicas of that.

Perhaps the fault is with organizers of such events where attendees are asked to come dress African. I mean the same movies being awarded are being shot in fancy Living rooms, kitchen, bar/ school/Courthouse. I was in awe when I saw Davido’s – Aye clip. The locations, costumes even props were phenomenal. Same goes to H@rt the Band – Ndakhuyanza video. Kudos to the director for giving those an African feel.

My point? Do we really have African attires in this day and age or a so called “Kenyan brand” that doesn’t emulate something western?  Because really, when it comes down to it, dressing African is literally just covering your genitals and ass while you sit on your heels.

All in all, I feel like our culture is being lost day by day with only the Monikers remaining. I believe “Elegant African Wear” simply means cover you naked bodies while still looking exotic, fuse that with some traditional adornment depending on where you are from and Voila, otherwise, let’s not use “dress African” in vain.

By Ronald Kelehi

kelehi@gmail.com

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