PAMOJA TUNAWEZA: TOGETHER, WE CAN
This is our motto: unity is our central value. Our team is our family: we support each other both as artists and as people, sharing the good times and the hard times.
Photography credit to Sabine Skiba.
Safari “Barro” Beja is one of the group’s two chairmen. He was born in Mtwapa in Kilifi County and started his acrobatics career when he was only 10 years old, as acrobatics ran in his family. He would balance his time between school and practicing acrobatics. He came to Ukunda at the age of 18. He stayed with three of his brothers and some of his friends and continued training for his career. He was very successful and hired to tour internationally. For two years, he performed in different cities in China, then came back to his home country, Kenya. Barro’s role in the group is that of a mkandaji, that is, he is usually positioned at the top of the pyramid.
Shukrani Kachererwa Mato
Shukrani Mato is also known as “Dume,” which means “man.” He was born in Shariani in Kilifi. He has been practicing acrobatics since he was young and was taught by his brothers and friends. He came to Ukunda when he was 21 and joined his friends, who were performing as acrobats. He is a cousin of Josphat and Charo. Shukrani explains that he was happy to see his dream of working as an acrobat come true. He is positioned at the center of the pyramid and is also skilled in the Chinese pole show. Shukrani has performed in local south coast hotels, including Diani Sea Lodge, Neptune, Pinewood, and Leopard Beach.
Dickson Charo Kazungu
Dickson Charo Kazungu, nicknamed “Badizo,” was born in Shariani village in Kilifi. He is the secretary of the group. Dickson discovered his acrobatic talent as a young student in school, just as his brothers did. He started performing in hotels on the north coast, such as Mombasa Beach, Northcoast Beach, Nyali Beach, and the Mnarani and Casaurina clubs. Later on, he came to Ukunda to join his friends, and due to his previous experience, he was quickly able to perform in the area. Dickson works as both mkandaji and mtu wa pati za kati kati, the center man. He is the brother of Tetez.
Michael Chengo Kombe
Michael Chengo Kombe, also known as “Micha,” was born at Mtwapa in Kilifi. He came to Ukunda when he was 22 and is identified by many as an artist by nature. He is a brother of Barro. His talent in performance is characterized by his body shape and charisma. Michael has toured China for two years and has performed in hotels along the coast. His role is that of a mkandaji.
Fitina Mramba Katana
Fitina Mramba Katana, also known as “Yela Yela,” was born in Shariani in Kilifi County. He is one of the group’s treasurers. He was unable to finish school as a result of the passing of his father, who was the breadwinner for the family. He came to Ukunda at the age of 20 having already practiced acrobatics. He joined up with his colleagues and finished his training. He then began practicing acrobatics locally and internationally. For nine months, he performed acrobatics in Iran. Yela’s role is that of a “beba,” the man at the bottom of the pyramid who provides stability to the formation. His brother, Fikirini, is also part of the group.
Douglas Tunje Kilimo
Douglas Tunje Kilimo was born and raised in an artistic family: Both his parents were traditional dancers. While he was a young boy, he embraced and loved the culture, and his parents performed in hotels to earn their living and pay for Douglas’s school fees. He used to practice with friends, and when he finished school, he joined them in Ukunda to practice acrobatics, performing in many hotels and other venues. He is Willy’s cousin. He performs mostly as a center man and sometimes also as balancing man.
Erestus Kazungu is also known as Tetez. He was born in Kilifi and came to Ukunda when he was 19. He identifies as an artist through and through. His parents were also artists, specializing in traditional drumming, dancing, and cabaret. He thus grew up surrounded by and exposed to music and performance. “It came to me automatically; it is part of my culture,” Tetez explains. After he finished school, he joined his brothers in Ukunda. They were making a living there as both fishermen and performers in hotels. Tetez has toured internationally in Mexico, Israel, Peru, and other locations. Tetez is also a mkandaji, positioned at the top. He is also skilled in the Chinese pole show.
Fikirini Mramba Katana
Fikirini Mramba, also known as “FK,” was born in Shariani village in Kilifi and is the brother of Fitina. Like his brother, he was affected by the passing of his father. As the firstborn in the family, he searched for small jobs to help his mother and siblings. One day, he came across an acrobatics team performing and admired the way they displayed their different skills and styles. After the show was over, he approached the members of the group and asked them to give him a chance to join. “That was brilliant, and I am interested in this work!” FK said to them. Because of that moment, his passion for acrobatics was ignited, and he now enjoys performing. He moved to Ukunda in 2010. He has performed together with his friends in different hotels including Palm Wood Hotel, Leopard Beach Hotel, and Diani Sea Resort, among others. His role is that of mkandaji, always positioned at the top of the group, and he also performs the Chinese pole show.
Kadenge Shida Ngonyo
Kadenge Shida Ngonyo was born and raised in Malindi, Kilifi. He later moved to Ukunda when he was 10. He realized his talent in acrobatics when he was in school, participating in games like the high jump. This helped him to create more time to practice gymnastics. His friends convinced him to join their group because he was a talented performer. Thereafter, he started performing in hotels such as Neptune Hotel, Diani Sea Resort, Papillon Lagoon Reef, and Leopard Beach Hotel. He toured internationally in Nigeria. He performs in the role of the “balancing man.”
Charo Rua Kalama
Charo Rua, better known as “King Aloz,” was born in Kilifi and came to Ukunda when he was 16 years old. There, he was exposed to acrobatics and watched young people practicing. He was inspired by what he saw and longed to join the crew and become an artist. “I chose this career because I love the work and it provides me with opportunities to realize my goals,” he says. Charo is a center man and a balancing man, assuming roles in the middle and at the bottom of the pyramid. He has toured India and Turkey and many locations in Kenya, including Nairobi Westgate. He is a cousin of Josphat and Shukrani.
Josphat Kazungu Kalume
Josphat Kazungu, also called “Elephant Man,” was born in Kilifi and came to Ukunda at the age of 20. Josphat grew up as an artist as his parents were also artists specializing in traditional dancing and cabaret. After discovering his talent, he joined his brothers, who were performing in hotels as acrobats and also working as fishermen. Charo and Shukrani are his cousins. He has performed in different hotels locally such as Leopard Beach, Diani Reef, Papillon Lagoon Reef, and Neptune. Josphat is a balancing man in the pyramid.