Bishara Hamo underwent forced Female Genital Mutilation as a child, and will live with the scars all her life....
I was locked up for two months for taking someone's computer, but it felt like two long years
You have publicly admitted that you had a messy upbringing; can you tell us about it?
My mother passed on when I was 12 years old. Life became difficult for me because I did not like my father owing to the terrible things he put my mother through when she was alive. The worst part is when he married a second wife and brought her to our family home when my mother was very sick and on her deathbed.
How did you cope with her death?
It was very hard, made worse by the fact that my father and step-mother did not like me at all. Eventually they could not accommodate me and I had to leave and fend for myself.
How did you end up in prison?
Life became very hard after I moved out of home and many times I was not able to feed or fend for myself. I ended up being a petty thief, snatching people’s handbags, phones and personal property then reselling to other people. Unfortunately one time I stole a phone and while reselling it to a client, he stole it from me too!
What did you do?
I went to his cyber cafe in Eastlands and forcefully took one of his computers to replace my phone. Unfortunately he raised the alarm and in the commotion, police came and arrested me. I was later arraigned in court and charged with demanding money by malice with an intention to steal. Since I couldn’t raise the cash bail, I was remanded at Industrial Area Remand Prison for two months, but it felt like two years. Life in prison is hell.
What was your turning point?
The two months I spent in prison changed my entire view of life. I promised myself that if given the opportunity to get freedom, I would do my best to never step there again. After I was released from prison, I got straight into music and I have never looked back since. It was by sheer stroke of luck.
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After leaving prison, I came back to an empty house as all my household goods had been stolen. I sought refuge at a nearby music studio called S-Bar International Bizi-B studio. I took advantage of the situation and started practising my musical skills. The owner of the studio noted my change of attitude and decided to incorporate me in his video shoots. He also signed me up in other studios where I would work and get paid.
Was that your big break?
Not exactly. My big break happened one day in 2013 when I had visited the Kenya National Theatre. I met a great dancer who had been kicked out of the house where he was staying. I offered to host him in my single roomed house, but little did I know that this small gesture would be a blessing.
Well, it turns out the guy was a professional dancer who used to travel around the world performing. Two weeks after meeting him, he introduced me to his sponsor who had jetted in from Netherlands. The sponsor immediately signed me up to his art programme and that is how I ended up in Europe. That’s how my breakthrough came.
What else do you do besides performing arts?
I am the founder of Umoja Talanta, a product of G-empower na Talanta. It’s a community based organisation that works with youth who want to nurture their skills. We give them an opportunity to explore their potential as well as a platform to air their voices. For now the programme is active in Mathare and Umoja where we hold monthly activations.
How do you deal with pain and loss in your life?
After grieving any loss, I always pick up and start again. For instance immediately after my father died, my girlfriend also passed away. It was so painful and devastating. She was a great girl from Netherlands with big dreams for her future. She had started her own organisation that was based on nurturing artistic talent in slums. I took over the organisation to continue what she had started as a way of honouring her memory.
What do you like most about performing in Netherlands?
For starters, art outside pays better than at home. What’s also unique there is that they value music and embrace it as a major tool of communication.
Do you think you have done enough for your community?
I can’t say that it’s enough, but I believe that I am on the right track. I’m happy that at least I have started a ripple and now other communities can do the same.