I fell in love with art on wheels
For 10 years, Brian Wanyama alias GRAFF has been promoting and showcasing the unique Kenyan matatu culture.
Adalla Allan @Adalla_allan
Since President Uhuru Kenyatta authorised graffiti and art on matatus back in 2015 as a way of creating jobs for youths and showcasing their creativity, investors have been confident to expend millions of shillings just to spruce up the exterior of their public transport vehicles, to attract passengers.
For Brian Wanyama alias Graff, a spirited Kenyan matatu industry enthusiast, he saw a gap in this area 10 years ago and decided to start up Matwana Matatu culture, a platform which preserves, promotes and showcases the unique Kenyan matatu culture through events, workshops and offering services such as matatu education, and arbitrating between the public and matatu crews.
“Matatus form part of Kenya’s rich cultural fabric and pop culture. The artwork and graffiti displayed on Matatus are usually used as a form of communication and a way to create awareness in a wide number of topics ranging from political issues, trends, fashion, design, public figures from local and international entertainment industries to the infamous, religious themes, African heritage, football themes and so much more,” Graff says adding this gave him the motivation to set up the platform.
Even during this Covid-19 pandemic, graffiti is being used in matatus to create awareness about the virus.
Raised in Buruburu, one of the Nairobi’s most vibrant hoods when it comes to the success of matatu culture from early 2000s, the millennial developed a passion for graffiti while still in secondary school.
That is when he was nicknamed Graff since he loved Graffiti art. “Buruburu has moulded me so much when it comes to the love for the culture since it used to be the best route for 29-seater manyangas back then.
Since I was in a day school, I used to carry my dad’s antique VGA camera and take pictures after school,” the Matwana Culture founder recalls.
After completing his secondary education, Brian joined college and undertook a certificate in graphic design.
He then pursued a two-year diploma course in hospitality, but got humiliated by the inability of getting a stable job since all the opportunities that were coming his way were on short contract basis.
He then decided to take his passion for matatu online making it full-time job, which he says was not a walk in the park.
“I had a big challenge when I was beginning this platform—the finances that I had saved from the previous job did not even last a month.
During that period, smartphones were costly, so I had to carry a daily call to the cyber to update my social media accounts,” Graff confides.
Before he founded the online platform, Graff was so upset by the impression of the public towards matatu crews.
They were hated for all the wrong reasons including theft, harassment of passengers, drug trafficking, untidiness, et all.
“For years, I was thinking of how I would arbitrate the terrible relationship between the public and the matatu crews.
Through our social media platforms, we have managed to handle these cases.
Nowadays, the public gets to interact easily with the matatu crew through our active social media platforms,” he says.
“Also we have had cases where a passenger raises an issue about a certain matatu crew through our influential social media platforms and when the information reaches the crew, they have no alternative, but to improve,” he adds.
Graff also tells how the Matwana Matatu Culture has influenced the behaviour of the unruly crew members changing the matatu industry to a hospitable environment.
“Matatu crew were unruly and often turned wild if they saw someone taking pictures of them.
They knew they would be used for negative motives unlike these social media days where the Matwana Matatu Culture has brought a change in the industry, now every crew yearns for publicity,” Graff confides.
Celebrating 10 years this year, Matwana Matatu Culture has achieved more, not only locally, but also taking the Kenyan matatu culture to the global map as it has featured in CNN and BBC. Currently, Graff has managed to start up Matwana School of Arts where graphic design and sound technology are taught.
There is also a cloth-line, which has Matwana Matatu Culture as as the brands logo. Further, he has clinched several awards such as the Kalasha Award for the best TV documentary that was aired on K24 TV.
Currently, most Nganya have a Matwana Matatu Culture logo sticker, which has certainly popularised the platform.
His advice to the youths whom life has given lemons? “I would tell young people to get out of their comforts zone.
You see when you feel you are comfortable, or has achieved, or you are afraid to risk, there is no room for growth.I followed my passion with the little equipment that I had such as my dad’s VGA camera.
Reaping first fruits through this job took me a whole five years. So, when you want to start something, it does not matter what you have, just begin.
I used to save the few break time money and use it to go to the cyber cafe. The best way to achieve this is through sacrifice,” he says.