The Goth movement has spread all over the globe and, like any major city worth her lights, Nairobi now has a Goth scene. It is not big — fewer than 300 people currently identify themselves as Goths in a city of three million. However, the scene is growing and it already has an impact on fashion and other life style aspects among young people. “The Nairobi Goth scene is growing. Before Choices closed for renovations we would host the Kenya Metal Head ‘battle of the bands’ every two months and that had a good turnout. When the club re-opens we will go back to that,” says Taz the 24-year-old creator of Tazworx, a Kenyan fashion line with a clear Gothic aesthetic.
The stereotype is that Goths wear black and venerate death and the macabre. They are rumoured to drink blood, spend time in cemeteries and worship the devil, but that is not the case.
Mao Mukuria, a radio producer who has identified himself as Goth for the last five years says he wears black to express his inner darkness and to keep himself aware of it. “Most of my clothing bears the sign d2saic which means ‘death to sin and alive in Christ’. I understand that people think being Goth implies that I am not a Christian but I am a Christian Goth in search of enlightenment. I am living my life with the full knowledge of what I am doing,” he says.
The Goth movement began within the gothic rock music scene in England around 1980. Its imagery is influenced by horror movies and gothic literature such as Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. Walpole is thought to have invented this type of literature and its attendant interwoven themes of romance and terror set in a gloomy and frightening castle or monastery. Other notable authors include Bram Stoker who gave us Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe who invented the macabre detective fiction genre and more recently Anne Rice who revived vampires and made them so sexy that many of us wore ‘vamp’ nail polish in the late 1990s and had fantasies about being devoured and immortalised by Brad Pitt’s character from the movie Interview with a Vampire.
What are Nairobi’s Goth’s up to? Are they creating great literature? Is there music? Are they simply wearing black to announce that they are ‘different’ and have anti-establishment leanings? Are Goths political?
Mao says he does not vote because he does not adhere to any political system. He does, however, advocate individual rights of self-expression and would like to see an attitude of ‘non-judgment’ become pervasive. “‘I do not get the need to judge others constantly and to point fingers. Christ asked that we do not judge and I would like to see more people practising that. Goth is a lifestyle and a state of mind where you see beauty in the so-called dark aspects of humanity.”
So is there a Goth meeting place? “We do not have meetings per se. I just hang out with like-minded people,” Mao explains. Sometimes we talk philosophy, sometimes we have some beers, play video games and watch movies. We are friends, not pushing some political agenda.”
Asked what industries they work in given their noticeable dress code and ghoulish accessories Mao says: “We are everywhere. There are accountants, lawyers and even bankers. Goth is more than fashion. We are non-conformists who do not want to be judged and are not interested in judging others. There are Muslim Goths, Christians like me and atheists. We might not look Gothic on weekdays but we are Goth every day of the week.” Mao says he was attracted to Gothic art and symbolism while still in high school and started incorporating it into his clothing. That’s when he met Taz. “Goth is about choosing your life and then living it fully. Goths are thought to be bizarre so you have to be prepared for that if you choose to express yourself this way. I am a Christian and for a long time my parents could not reconcile my dressing and Christianity. They looked at the skulls on my clothes and thought I was joining a cult. They tried to restrict my dressing especially at family functions. They were concerned that I would be ostracised by society and not be able to earn a living but Tazworx is six years old and I think they have finally relaxed. They think I am being ‘artistic’,” says Taz.
Taz says he knew he was a Goth when he was going through a rough patch a few years ago. He started listening to horror music soundtracks and felt that it really expressed what he was going through at the time. “I was depressed and the music made sense. It really got me to look at myself and what we call ‘our dark side’ clearly and to come to terms with the fact that I am not always happy. Sometimes I am angry. Without darkness there is no light, we cannot escape the dark aspects of humanity, we should look at them. The colour black says we are ready to address and accept this dark side and we are not afraid of it. The darkness exposes who you are. Do not fight it; it helps you and others see the light that shines from you.”
Taz explains that he has always been artistic so it was only a matter of time before he started creating his own Gothic designs. “It is not just Goths who are customers. Gothic style is fashionable so people will buy accessories if not a full leather and lace outfit,” he says.
Toni and Tonia Matunduraare, 31-year-old twin Goths opened The Goth Shop at The Mall in Westlands in 2008. Tonia says: “Like all businesses we have had our ups and downs. Goth clothing is expensive and at first black people were not too willing to try it. Our clientele was mostly Asian but that is changing. Some high school kids are into it, so are college students and the market is growing. I like the Goth aesthetic — the art, symbolism, rock music and also the emphasis on accepting individuals as they are and as they choose to express themselves. We could all benefit from that. We started the shop as a hobby and we are optimistic that it will continue to grow as more people understand what Goth means.” Tonia stresses that they are not interested in preaching any kind of gospel. “Goths are not into labels or uniformity. Either you get it or you don’t.”
The Goth subculture is marked by introspection, the pursuit of a personal philosophy or creed and the sartorial expression of that journey and creed. The growing presence of this subculture in Nairobi indicates that Kenyans are thinking more about self-expression and creativity, that we are willing to spend money on it and that we are slowly growing out of survival mode. Yes, we are still a developing country with a long philosophical journey ahead of us, but just as our new constitution marked the beginning of us forging a national identity, subcultures such as the Goth scene indicate cerebral awakening and that we are ready to put our stamp on the planet through more than our hunger and perennial neediness.
Globally, Goths are known to be non-violent and apolitical, the movement being more about the individual, human rights for all and freedom of expression for ourselves and those around us. You may be tempted to dismiss the Goth subculture as post-adolescence angst because it seems rebellious in nature and like all rebellious movements it requires society, establishment or conformists in order to exist. However a closer look highlights that we could all use some Goth sensibility in our lives. We could all benefit from a candid look at our humanity — its violence, anger, jealousy, hate, cruelty and other aspects of our ‘darkness’. Psychology tells us that these aspects of us must be expressed, if we are to be healthy and functional. So take a look at this side of you, if only so you can craft the life you really want and allow others the space to express themselves as uniquely and as wonderfully as you do.