Written/ Interview by Anne Wanyoike.

The Talanta na Kazi Project funded by the US Embassy Nairobi saw 200+ participants graduate from the Talent Management Course at the Coastal Counties of Kilifi and Mombasa. Mostly due to unsuspected challenges such as the pandemic; it was a journey full of surprises, ups and downs, but most of all, a huge breakthrough. For more information about the project visit our website https://sarakasi.org/talanta-na-kazi/

Since its conclusion in June 2021, we have been following up with some of the participants from the project, to find out how it impacted them, what they have built with the knowledge they have gained from it, and how their lives were transformed as a result. Sit back as we take you on a journey full of stories of hope, impact and transformation.

Ali Abdalla Mawazo, AKA Bella Classic says that he won’t stop at anything, until he actualizes his dreams of becoming a top artist in the continent of Africa and beyond. He recounts his experience at the Talanta na Kazi training, as he shares with us some of his highlights from the training and the impact that it has had on him, his musical career and his community.

Anne: Briefly introduce yourself to us…

Ali: My name is Ali Mawazo, AKA Bella Classic and I am a 25-year-old professional musician from Mombasa.

Anne: What is the most outstanding thing that you learnt from Talanta na Kazi?

Ali: I appreciate the fact that the curriculum was largely centered around the artist and not just the art. I was exposed to some personal work, where I had to take the time to know and understand myself as an individual and from this, I have been able to dictate how I show up to the world. This would not have happened, if I wasn’t enrolled at the program.

Anne: Is there anything else that you picked up from the training?

Ali: Oh yes. I also learned a lot about branding and social media marketing. I have to admit; I was never keen on the way that I chose to use my social media platforms prior to the training. This drastically changed when we were taken through the basics of how to leverage on digital capital, reaching potential audiences and clients in curving out a market niche for myself.

Bella Classic at a studio session.

Anne: How is business looking like so far?

Ali: I can’t complain for now. From the knowledge that I got from the training, I was able to secure a loan where I bought a boda boda, through which I have employed my brother as a rider, and I am also able to get some income from the same. Musically, I realize that I am getting more shows, all thanks to the networking and negotiating skills that I got, during my time at Talanta na Kazi.

I am optimistic that by the close of the year 2022, I shall have launched a cloth and shoe selling business. I am saving up towards that, so that I can employ others within my community and invest more in quality music production.

Anne: Are you involved in spreading the knowledge that you gathered from the training to your community?

Ali: Indeed! As an artist, I believe that the community has raised me, and so it is my job to give back to it, in whichever way possible. During my free time, I teach youth in my community music and poetry writing. As you know, the Coastal region is widely plagued by the drug abuse menace. A lot of my peers are in crime and drugs, yet they are so talented. I have found out that using the arts to educate and sensitize them from these vices is such an effective method. I have some who have pledged to turn away from the vices.

Anne: How sustainable is this initiative?

Ali: I am glad that you ask. I book some shows for the very talented youth within the community, who don’t have any means to get around the industry; and thus I am able to extend the impact to the community. Most of my work also involves sensitizing the community about emergent issues. When the Pandemic hit, I was contacted by the County Government to work with them, to create music that sensitizes the community around safety and awareness for this project, which opened up opportunities for the youth back in my community.

I hope to set up structures where I can lead them in creating more art. Thankfully, the Course also prepared me for active leadership roles, I am glad that I have somewhere to begin.

Anne: What are your future plans?

Ali: For now, I hope to keep building my businesses. I also have some exciting projects that I am working on at the studio. I am looking forward to big collaborations this year, quite frankly I am excited to see my musical horizon expanding beyond Kenya to the rest of the world.

Anne:Any final remarks…

Ali: I am so grateful to the US Embassy and Sarakasi Trust for bringing Talanta na Kazi to us. I have been exposed to so much possibility throughout the program, and hopefully me succeeding in my art business, will be proof that I understood the concepts taught to me at the program.

Thank you once again!