Extra Golden Members Stranded in Kenya When violence erupted after the disputed elections in Kenya, the turmoil has disrupted business and food supplies. Two Kenyan members of the international rock band Extra Golden have been severely affected by the riots, and now its American counterparts and fans are trying to help.
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Extra Golden Members Stranded in Kenya

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Extra Golden Members Stranded in Kenya

Extra Golden Members Stranded in Kenya

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

It's been more than two weeks since the streets of Kenya erupted with violence, following a highly contested presidential election. Charges of vote-rigging and election fraud led to riots and hundreds of deaths. The turmoil has disrupted daily life for thousands there with businesses shut down and food supplies interrupted.

Three members of an international rock band are among those affected. Now, the group's American members and their fans are trying to help.

Joel Rose has that story.

JOEL ROSE: When violence erupted in Kenya, much of the country ground to a halt. Singer Onyango Jagwasi and his band were supposed to play a gig in Kisumu, the country's third-largest city.

Mr. ALEX MINOFF (Vocalist/Guitarist, Extra Golden): They had gone there thinking they would play elections celebrations. They didn't.

ROSE: That's Alex Minoff. Jagwasi's friend and sometime musical collaborator who lives in Washington, D.C. Minoff says Jagwasi, who is from the same Luo tribe as opposition candidate Raila Odinga, was stranded 150 dangerous miles from his family in Nairobi. Finally, after 10 days, Jagwasi says he was able to get his family on the phone.

Mr. ONYANGO JAGWASI (Vocalist, Extra Golden): When I got them, all of them are crying, telling me, oh, dad, where are you? Can you come back? It was really painful time. It forced me to come back to Nairobi whether it was bad or good.

ROSE: Jagwasi made the trip back to Nairobi on Sunday, only to find that his wife and children had fled to safety elsewhere, and his house had been looted.

Mr. JAGWASI: What I found was a chair there without cushions. A bed there without mattress and bed sheets. They took my TV, radio, clothes. Even what I found there I could not carry to anywhere because they break the bed, break the chairs. They destroyed everything. So now I have to start a new life.

ROSE: His old life had been as a musician, entertaining listeners and dancers in restaurants and clubs, playing a style of music called Benga that's popular with many Kenyan bands.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: Five years ago, American Ian Eagleson went to Kenya to research his dissertation on Benga. That's how he met Onyango's older brother, Otieno.

Mr. IAN EAGLESON (Guitarist/Vocalist, Extra Golden): When I got there for the year to do that research, he was my main collaborator and contact to meet other musicians. And I spent a lot of time with him. So we got to know each other's ways of playing music.

ROSE: And they decided to make a record together. Eagleson's partner in a band called Golden flew to Nairobi for the session. Guitarist Alex Minoff says there was no time for rehearsal. They taught the drummer the songs the night before.

Mr. MINOFF: We had tracks of drums from things that Ian had recorded prior to that. So we played him these recordings of our music with his drumming on them. And he kind of listened to each song and he kind of — he had a couple of pencils and he tapped them on the table. And it was like, okay. So I'll see you guys tomorrow.

ROSE: Minoff says the studio was the nightclub where Otieno Jagwasi sang in the house band.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MINOFF: There was sort of a concrete slab that was sort of outside. It was loosely covered by a tin roof. And it was right between sort of the restaurant area and then the restrooms. And they were open for business. And we set up the stuff there, set up all our recording equipment. And about three hours later, we had it all torn down and we were gone.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: The band called itself Extra Golden and named its first album "Ok-Oyot System," after a Luo phrase that means, it's not easy. And except for the music, it seems like nothing for this band has been. Before the CD came out, singer Otieno Jagwasi died of liver and kidney disease when he was just 34 years old.

Still, the music gathered enough attention to get Extra Golden invited to the Chicago World Music Festival. But none of the Kenyan musicians had passports, let alone visas to get into the U.S. That's when Minoff put out a call for help to Illinois senator Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan.

Mr. MINOFF: And I spoke with a woman named Jenna Pilot. And I went through my whole rant. I must have had, I don't know, 400 cups of coffee. And she didn't say a word. I finished and there was a pause. And she said, okay, I think I can help you.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: With help from Obama's office, the band members made it to Chicago for the show, although just barely. They recorded a song of gratitude called "Obama" on their second album.

(Soundbite of song "Obama")

ROSE: Alex Minoff says the band's second recording session was very different from its first.

Mr. MINOFF: We had five days to record, and we did it in a house in the Poconos. And it was just us. There's no one there. So 24 hours a day, we could just do what we wanted. We ended up recording 20 songs. Those guys did not want to lose this opportunity and they made the most of it. We all did.

(Soundbite of song "Obama")

ROSE: The band members have seen each other only once since 2006. In the weeks after post-election violence erupted in Kenya, singer Onyango Jagwasi says he's been communicating with Eagleson and Minoff by phone and text message.

Mr. JAGWASI: When I was in Kisumu, Ian and Alex, they used to SMS me, to call me,to give me some morale because I was really in pain. And due to their calling, my heart was cooling down.

ROSE: But Ian Eagleson says heart alone won't be enough. With nightclubs closed, he says the situation for his colleagues is desperate.

Mr. EAGLESON: Since they're out of work, there's no way to get food. Their children are getting sick from drinking dirty water. And what I wanted to do was just to be able to help them some way. And cash is the way to do that.

ROSE: So Eagleson and Minoff turned to Extra Golden's fans for help. They posted a message Monday on the band's Web site and MySpace page asking for $5 donations. The message spread through e-mail and blog postings. They say they have received hundreds of responses and raised thousands of dollars. But for now, Onyango Jagwasi is keeping a low profile with relatives outside Nairobi.

Mr. JAGWASI: It's not safe for me, but I have to stay of course. I have nowhere to go to. So I'm just praying to God, so God can guide us, because we don't have good security there. There's no security. So we're just in the hand of God.

ROSE: Jagwasi says he wants to start playing music again, but he doesn't know when that will happen.

Mr. JAGWASI: Nobody can enjoy music because they're really worried with what is going on in Kenya now. So they don't enjoy music. They are just watching news.

ROSE: For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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