When he moved to Nairobi from Colombia three years ago, Javier Aranzales was a difficult name for many to pronounce. The professional ballet trainer and content creator was then given the nickname ‘Kamau’, which ended up to be his pseudonym. 

‘Kamau’ is now his brand, and one that his 100,000 followers know him as. The Harvard graduate has since learned to speak Swahili fluently, made parody videos of Kenyan songs shared on @afrobeatswithkamau on TikTok, and taught ballet to children in Mathare and Kibra.

He was born in Colombia, moved to Miami as refugees and worked in Seattle. He now lives in Nairobi.

‘Kamau’ tells us how his passion for Afro beats came about, the dance culture in Kenya and Colombia, his creative process, and more.

Photo courtesy of Javier ‘Kamau’ Aranzales

KAMAU The first time to come to Kenya, I was on a development program. I was also studying Swahili through it and I was teaching dance in Mathare. The organization which brought me here combines all of these things which I am passionate about.

NAFSI What has stood out for you when it comes to the art of dance in Kenya?

KAMAU The African dance is already established like the way salsa has been in Colombia. When I teach ballet in Spanish-speaking countries, it is going to be questioned. There is that stereotypical thinking that it is for the European elites. How can a Colombian, a refugee for that matter, a man, dance and teach ballet?

Ballet is still very much new where I come from. From my experience, ballet is embraced in the places I have taught in Kenya; Mathare and Kibra, and in several dance schools. I have seen many professional productions and children pursuing ballet. My main focus is on children from underprivileged backgrounds.

NAFSI How did your passion for Afro beats come about?

KAMAU It all started when I was in college. I became really close with many Africans, and particularly with Kenyans and Tanzanians. We formed friendships and exchanged cultures. When I studied the Swahili language, I fell in love with the East African music. And since no one around me was playing the music, I began promoting it. My first platform was Instagram.

NAFSI The College you referred to was actually Harvard University. Let us just get that out there. Now, how did TikTok happen?

KAMAU My little sister told me about it when it was initially called Musical.ly. There were very few content creators from the African continent at the time. I shared content on Instagram for nearly a year and then received a message from TikTok who brought me on board as one of their content creators.

I can be the most authentic version of myself on TikTok. My experience has been organic too. The number of followers has grown very fast too. The numbers are important to me since it gives access to opportunities.

Now the challenge is to balance both Instagram and TikTok. My sister told me she thinks the content and strategies should be different in the two platforms.

Photo courtesy of Kamau

NAFSI It can get demanding to regularly share content and keeping your creative juice pumped up all through.

KAMAU I take it a day at a time. I do not plan my content in advance. My content is very short-term and when I say that, I mean tomorrow-kind-of short-term. I post three videos a day. I just want to have an overflow of content. I am part of the TikTok creative program. The managers send us trendy ideas.

NAFSI How do you earn money off content creation?

KAMAU Through marketing campaigns. I also do freelancing work on Upwork as a TikTok expert. I have just spoken to a producer in United Kingdom for a marketing campaign. This is my full-time career.

NAFSI Who are your favourite Kenyan musicians?

KAMAU I really like Nadia Mukami. I like her especially for her lyrics. I like Sauti Sol too. I did a Suzanna challenge on my platform.

NAFSI What has social distancing during this unfortunate pandemic taught you?

KAMAU Right now many people are online. It is the right time to post. I am taking advantage of that. I am staying at home. I thought I was an extrovert since I like being in the spotlight and creating content, and I am confident. But I enjoy working from home and being alone. I am an extrovert but I need to spend time alone.

NAFSI And how do you spend your alone time?

KAMAU I schedule it at night. I disconnect from social media. I pick my journal, sit on the bed, and write how my day has been like. It is important for me because the creative process is not only online but offline too. I am a huge believer of journaling. It is something I want to do, I do not force it. I write down my weekly goals every Sunday. Right now I display them in a place where I have to see them every time. I also reflect on my experiences.

NAFSI We think that having a reflective routine like this is why you have been able to polish your craft each time. Would you say that too?

KAMAU It is important for me to spend some time alone since a creative needs to be fully charged like a phone to give their best.

NAFSI What do you do immediately after you wake up?

KAMAU I write down my dreams if I can remember them. If I wait any longer, I may quickly forget them. I pick my phone without looking at the notifications and type my dreams. A glass of water then follows. I have a banana, read the Holy Qur’an, open my curtains and have breakfast. When I go online, I first check on what my family and friends are up to on WhatsApp.

And then I begin my day.

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