The founders of Too Early for Birds had been friends long before they began Too Early for Birds. Abu and Ngatia occasionally met at the Kenya National Theatre and at the Phoenix Theatre in Nairobi where each of them pursued different artistic goals.
This was in the early 2010s. Ngatia was a college student performing at spoken word events on the side and Abu was still finding his voice in the spoken word industry. After high school, Abu had pursued several professional paths, even having 40 hours of training as a pilot under his belt before he pivoted from that professional direction.
Fast forward a few years to 2017. The founders are now working in the same advertising firm. Ngatia as a Brand Partner & Strategist and Abu as a Community Manager. Abubakar Majid and Ngatia Bryan continued their friendship while at Scanad and it was here that they sowed the seeds that gave birth to an idea; an idea inspired by the stories written by Morris Kiruga on his website where he told stories about Kenyan history. This idea laid the foundation for what would become Too Early For Birds (TEFB).
Too Early for Birds is a series of theatrical storytelling productions that retell stories from Kenya’s history with more pizazz. The stage shows take Kenyan history and use it to weave stories that help Kenyans and the world in general form accurate perceptions of historical heroes.
Origin of the Name
The name Too Early for Birds has an interesting origin. When the collective team were working on the first show, a member of the team suggested the name Too Early for Birds as a play on the name used by Morris Kiruga’s website (Too Late for Worms).
The name also adds a new twist to an old tale about how an early bird catches the worm. In the TEFB world, a really smart worm comes up with a plan to evade the early bird by waking up even earlier than the early bird to do its business. The worm is able to survive because he has special knowledge. Special knowledge which helps him make better decisions. Hence, Too Early for Birds.
When the founders decided to start Too Early for Birds, they were tired of hearing the same three heroes being mentioned in conversations about the the fight for the liberation of Kenya from colonial rule. Usually with erroneous details. The knowledge was stale and shallow. The history taught in Kenyan schools was vague at best and terribly inaccurate at its worst. History books available failed to offer any substantive details about most of the individual heroes involved in the liberation of Kenya from the clutches of colonialism.
The First TEFB Show
And so Ngatia and Abu dug deeper to find the many other heroes beyond those mentioned in the official Mau Mau narrative. They wanted to tell triumphant stories about everyday Kenyans who had gone beyond expectations; stories that would inspire everyday Kenyans to dream new dreams.
They called their friends and created a team that would help them fulfill their vision. Abu and Ngatia enlisted Anne Moraa, Eddie Kagure, Brian Ogola, Tony Muchui, Wanjiku Mwawuganga, Morris Kiruga, Gathoni Kimuyu, Ian Arunga, Miriam Kadzitu, Zosi Kadzitu, Production Designer Siteiya and Janet Haluwa to bring to life the first TEFB stage production. The collective group was made of young, ambitious artists each pursuing their own dreams in theatre, TV, production and other different forms of artistic expression. On May 17th, 2017 at the Kenya National Theatre, Too Early for Birds premiered to a full theatre with an audience of more than 300. This was no small feat, in a country where stage production attendance is mostly a middle-class affair. Up until the Brazen Edition, all Too Early for Birds productions were reliant on ticket sales and the investment of team members in kind.
The past determines the future
In a country where the electorate has become docile, apathetic and unemotional about the state of their political lives, Ngatia and Abu hoped to jolt people back to their senses through the power of storytelling; a skill they had both honed over time. They felt the need to remind the Kenyan citizenry about the power they held over their political leaders. They wanted to emphasize the role Kenya’s history played in creating the present conditions of life for Kenyans.
Celebrating Lesser Known Heroes
At the same time they also wanted to celebrate the unmentioned heroes. Those who did not get songs written about them or tales told about them. The duo had heard stories about outlier heroes and heroines that would inspire many generations of Kenyans and yet these stories were little known. Ngatia and Abu understood the importance of understanding the past. After all, to know who you are, you need to understand where you come from. It helps you define what you stand for. Knowing the past also contextualizes a people’s present culture. By knowing the sacrifices made by those who come before us, we appreciate the freedoms we enjoy today.
Storymoja Festival Edition
Due to the popularity of the first and second productions, the collective brought Too Early for Birds back in September 2017 for the Storymoja Festival at the Kenya National Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium. The Storymoja show was a fusion of the first and the second shows. It was heavily political and largely inspired by stories from Morris Kiruga’s website.
Related: The Double Life of Nicodemus Arudhi
The third Too Early for Birds show was based around a series of stories told on Owaahh.com about acts of courage by various people from Kenya’s past. Like this excerpt from a story told at the Badassery edition of TEFB:
April of 1999 was a ballsy month for Kenyan Criminals. A Deputy Commissioner of Police was shot in his shop on 2nd and as if that wasn’t enough, on 24th, a home was broken into and robbed… It belonged to Noah Arap Too – the then CID director…
The show was called Too Early for Birds: The Badassery Edition.
Tackling Societal Issues
Too early for Birds tackles topics such as corruption, heroism, police brutality, extrajudicial killings, music, gender equality and more. In doing so, the shows highlight those parts of society which many would prefer they wouldn’t.
It may have started from a point of political curiosity for Ngatia and Abu Sense but the duo’s intention was always to go beyond the politics and tell stories about the Kenyan people and their cultures. According to Ngatia, the team takes every production seriously. They spare no costs during preparation to bring their productions to life. “We go through books, files in the archives, novels, biographies and we watch a lot of films to make sure we get our facts right.”
In 2018, the collective put out a show dubbed the Brazen edition. The show would feature stories of brazen Kenyan women told by women.
The Erasure of Women
The TEFB Brazen show recognized the fact that colonialism reduced women’s’ status to child bearers and homemakers. Not just in Kenya but across the world in all places where the evils of colonialism went. History has been written and rewritten with total disregard for the huge contributions made by women in the fight for independence in Kenya. Women’s contributions beyond the kitchen and motherhood were erased. Women were denied their place in the archives documenting the struggle for Kenya’s independence. The Brazen edition tapped Aleya Kassam, Anne Moraa and Laura Ekumbo to tell the stories of the brazen heroines who came before them.
Tom Mboya Edition
In 2019, the TEFB team organized yet another edition. Five shows spread over two days at the Visa Oshwal Community Center Auditorium. This time, they focused on stories from the life and death of Kenyan trade unionist and politician Tom Mboya.
The Tom Mboya edition is possibly the most successful TEFB edition. It received positive acclaim by fans of theatre and media alike, paving the way for several sold-out reruns that year.
The 5th edition of Too Early for Birds was to be held in April 2020 but the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 necessitated the cancellation of all performances. The Beats Edition focus would have been on stories from the history of Kenyan music.
With the pandemic largely behind us, a new Too Early for Birds production is underway. Details about it are still scant at the moment. One thing we are sure about however, is that we’re all buying tickets once they start selling. See you at the next show!
I attended the Mboya edition and tbh I learned a lot about my country’s history. Great show
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