Name: Grandmaster Masese aka Dennis Dancan Mosiere
Occupation: Musician, poet, writer, actor, comedian
Face book fan page : Grandmaster Masese
He assumed the name Grandmaster instead of grandfather because he was young when he started playing the Obokano, the harp lute like traditional instrument of the Gusii, traditionally played by the elders. While in high school, he used the title master because the students and teachers kept saying that he was he master in literature, drama, music, history, handball and volleyball which he excelled in. by then he wasn’t playing Obokano as much. Masese is derived from his clansmen name.
Grandmaster Masese and his Ritongo Afrika band is a contemporary traditional musician who plays the Obokano, a Kisii traditional eight stringed harp. He’s a cultural music consultant in Nairobi and in Tanzania. He’s Fahamu Pan African Fellow (FPAF) 2011, for Social justice alumni and a trainee Human Rights Educator as an alumnus of the 2nd East African Human Rights Training Program, 2012 in Mukono, Uganda. He is a cultural activist using folklore and traditional instruments to advocate for change. As a base for his avctivism tpo preserve the languages and cultures of Africa.
He has been published in local newspapers in Kenya and online globally, publishing features and poems. He recorded his first album and it was released in Arusha, Tanzania on May 25 during the African Liberation Day 2013 called Chaminene, Urban Griot’s Word.
He has been featured before in three other compilations. His music has been has been used in a short film and short documentaries as scores.
I was born in 1983 at the then Kisii district hospital in Kisii district, before Kisii was split and I belonged to Nyamira District. So, precisely, I come from Nyamaiya sub County of Nyamira County. I lost my second born brother and youngest sister, then, when I was in lower primary in the same morning. It was the first time I had witnessed death so close.
When I was young, my mum says that I was witty and made people laugh at what I said. I entertained them and drew and sang. We were a very poor family and I spent most of my life living with relatives, some closely related and some not, attending five different primar schools in different areas within Nyamira. My family separated twice and I ended living and attending high school under my mother’s care.
While in early primary school, there was this boy in our school that played the Obokano so well and was admired and was in demand in many places. I admired him and my desire was that one day I may be able to play like him. He came from a poor background and not doing very well in academics but he was revered in music. I had similar experience. I did well in academics but outside that, I was bullied. All in all, it is the sound of the Obokano that stuck in me and I was eagerly waiting for a chance to play one day.
I was nine years when my grandmother sent me to her sister’s place that I found a home with Obokanos being made and played and all the children dancing. We were so many, every evening we danced. It was played all throughout. We watched and also tried even with warnings. We were happy, the history of that family’s musical heritage was well known. I knew it, but now I was in it. I could not stop attending every school holiday. At some point, we even stole an Obokano from there to practice far away. We returned it.
I did not play for the next ten years as circumstances forced me to go to school away from the area. I was one of the poorest players that I even hated myself for not playing beautifully like the rest of the peers. I was never good until I turned twenty. Then, I could play and sing and people could listen. At that time, as a young boy, I was an active memory verse recite in the church. Going to too many different schools and living with different families shaped my thinking and my personality. After high school, I worked as a casual laborer in carpentry, building and tea picking. I made some money and enrolled in high school twice in hope that I would pass to join university, which never happened. I was still performing in small events as was in high school until 2004 when I decided to go to Nairobi. In my short visit to Nairobi, I realized that there were many types’ of arts. When I went back home, I was prepared to come back and do traditional music as well.
I frequented Kenya National Theater, Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise among others where I saw many artistic disciplines. I participated with the group that I had formed and we appeared on KBC. Of course not everyone stayed and not long, I was alone. It was Binyavanga Wainaina and Kwani? Who gave me the first contract in their Open Mic in mid 2005. That somehow gave me a foothold in the arts scene.
I saw opportunities in learning to play the Obokano and learning traditional dance. The fact that the my uncles from this family were very well known in playing the instrument up to national level and appearing on TV inspired me so much. I wanted to be like them. Also in school, I started taking Kiswahili and English compositions seriously and I did well and started to like them as well in the absence of the Obokano. I started participating in creative arts activities in school. But the main challenges were, advancing it beyond school as I did not know how to do it. It was in reading in newspapers that I discovered there were avenues like the Kenya National Theater and others and I wanted to go. But nobody knew them and hence there was no support and help as well as someone to help me.
In the year 2004, I made my two weeks maiden visit to Nairobi to check out the scene. I later re turned determined to hit it big, but was disappointed. I stayed. I started participating in almost all artistic events like music, dance, acting and writing and started doing collaborations and slowly opportunities started to come. I started getting small contracts in shows and more opportunities opened up for me. I involved myself in acting, writing, dance and music to survive. I got opportunities for workshops and competitions where I earned certificates and exposure and I also got a network. It included attending hip hop events.
In the year 2008, I went for my first international outing in Accra, Ghana where I performed in the opening of the Pan African Literary Forum and studied poetry and creative non-fiction. Locally, I had attended the Summer Literary Seminars where I performed and I took a course in basic fiction in 2005 and the following year I studied performance poetry and advanced fiction.
In the 2009, I was cast as a musician in Sitawa Namwalie’s poetry play, Cut off My Tongue as a musician which had many local shows and we participated in the prestigious Hay festival in the UK. In 2010, I was awarded a one year fellowship on Pan African and social justice till 2011. I attended the Mwalimu Nyerere Intellectual festival, The World Social Forum, Dakar, for music and African studies mentoring in India at Mahindira United World College and a placing in Arusha at the United African Alliance Community Centre where I worked for three and a half years teaching theater English language.
In 2012, I won a scholarship to study human rights education in Mukono, Uganda during the 2nd East African Human Rights Training Program. In 2013, I was the volunteer in the 3rd East African Human Rights Training Program.
In 2014/15, I was the cultural music consultant and tutor at Global E-Schols Communitry Initiative’s (GeSCI) African Knowledge Exchange (AKE).
My vision is to be a successful contemporary musician with abilities to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary folk music and modern music by collaborations, entertaining, educating and preserving culture and fostering unity in our diversity.
To start initiatives in recording, awareness, teaching of African music and instruments and folklore producing the next generation of cultural practitioners locally and internationally.
18 month plan
June 2015 – Sept 2015
– Registration of Grandmaster Masese and Grandmaster Masese and Ritongo Afrika University of Performing Arts (RAUPA) comprehensively
– Rehearsals for an album, launch and possible performances and a launch
– Start of applications at festivals
– Teaching in folk instruments
October 2015 – January 2016
– more teaching in African instruments
– Art markets
February 2016 – June 2015
– More shows and festivals
– More students
– Structures a festival
– World tours
June 2015 – June 2015
– World tours
– Structures towards a traditional music festival