Dagoretti Corner has been, for at least two decades, a flurry of activity bustling with roadside industries of wood, metal, auto and hardware stores by day; and by night, watering holes along the strip are filled with patrons’ cars parked in desolate carwashes.
Although the origins of the Nairobi intersection are somewhat disputed (The Great Corner and Ndegureiti), their narratives align in the reclamation of Dagoretti for its people. The iconic nature of this pivotal trading and meeting point is not under contention.
Nestled between a hardware store and a guesthouse just a stone’s throw away from the Junction Mall is a venue of significance as great as the corner itself.
We walk past the famous Mama Oliech, enroute to Dagoz Bar.
Since the stage was set up in March last year, this artiste-run performance venue has been serving up live music most days of the week, along with their Dagoz-style mbuzi choma.
“We want to host live music at least five days a week,” pledges Stevo Kiwinda, co-founder of Dagoz Bar and lead singer of The Itch, a Nairobi-based blues band.
By day Stevo is a high-tier corporate executive, and by night the dreadlocked businessman trades in the suit for a microphone. His partner is none other than Dave Otieno, Fender wielding guitarist, sound engineer, producer and touring member of pan-African band, The Nile Project.
At first glance, Dagoz Bar looks like your typical Kenyan joint – a small entrance with a butchery window presenting lean carcasses of goat, pork and beef; a sign reiterates the availability of ‘Nyama Choma’.
We squeeze past a couple deep in conversation and into a room of dim lights and muffled rhythms. Instantly the sound opens up to reveal a jam session. Paintings and vintage frames adorn the walls leading the eye to the sunken amphitheatre-like pallet-stage.
As we make towards the stage, it is clear this is an artiste-centred venue. The seated crowd is interspersed with familiar faces of musicians and artists, from the well-known to the emergent and even the experimental.
The performance area is flanked with Dashiki and Maasai textiles in perfect contrast; spotlights shine from beneath the musicians’ feet, creating an ethereal effect akin to levitation.
A cross-generational jam session is well underway as performers are invited and compelled to join in the musical momentum. On stage are veteran musicians Dave on the rhythm guitar and Danger Shitaka on bass. Stevo sings a blues lament, while Ronjey keeps the drumbeat.
Dagoz Bar is a platform for artistes to showcase their work, share ideas, collaborate and interact candidly with their audiences.
“Dagoz is a candid venue so everyone is pretty much within reach without hurdles, this little space may be the first page in a history book living in the future. Here, you can let your guard down and drink, eat, enjoy live music and meet people,” reviews Ronjey, drummer and founder of online-zine, Nairobi Underground.
For pioneers Dave and Stevo, the space was necessitated by the lack of venues specifically aimed at promoting local music and arts.
“As musicians, we are out there looking for gigs in places that are not run by musicians, music in these venues come almost as an afterthought. So we decided to take control of what we can do for ourselves,” says Stevo. He adds that Dagoz offers a conducive environment for artistes to show their work. The venue has attracted a myriad of talented, well-seasoned, emergent and experimental artists – including musicians Winyo, Kombo and Afro Simba Band, Michel Ongaro, Juma Tutu; and a younger generation of talent comprising of Labsi Ommes, Achieng Atieno, Beraccah Kisia and more.
“We are now working with visual artists and artisans from the surrounding area, and we plan to involve other disciplines,” says Stevo.
He assures that Dagoz is an ever-evolving concept, though not without challenges, particularly in creating sustainable livelihoods.
“This is a home-grown initiative and so it needs to be sustainable in order to bring benefit to local artistes. We don’t want to be reliant on donor or corporate funding, so we are working on ensuring that artistes are paid decently.”
As for the future, the Dave and Stevo envision an arts hub, fulfilling the needs of local artists across the board. The pair has plans to set up a recording studio and arts teaching programme out of the venue.
Dagoz has set precedence for the direction of creative spaces in Nairobi, which can better support artistes, collectively growing the creative economy to be more productive, meaningful and sustainable.