An American Radio Station That's Saying 'Jambo' To Kenyans There are about 100,000 native Kenyans living in America, clustered in Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas and parts of the West Coast. How do they stay connected? A radio station.
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An American Radio Station That's Saying 'Jambo' To Kenyans

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An American Radio Station That's Saying 'Jambo' To Kenyans

An American Radio Station That's Saying 'Jambo' To Kenyans

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's good to have you with us here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West - I'm Kelly McEvers. Let's eavesdrop on another radio outlet. It serves the nearly 100,000 people who were born in Kenya, but who are now living in the U.S. Kenyans in Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Dallas - that's where their Internet radio station caught the ear of NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: As Davis Maina drives his cab back and forth from DFW and Love Field around Dallas, he listens to Joseph Kamaru, pioneer Kikuyu music star on Jambo Boston radio.


KIKUYU: (Singing in Swahili).

DAVIS MAINA: We have truckers, we have taxi drivers, we have delivery van drivers and we spend our time learning by listening to what is currently happening.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Jambo radio network. (Foreign language spoken).

GOODWYN: Jambo is Swahili for hello. The station is not yet two years old, but if you're Kenyan-American, you probably know about. It streams over the Internet in Kikuyu and Swahili and multitudes tune in on their mobile phones, iPads pads and laptops.

MAINA: You start the day with praise and worship. And then you have other programs during the day where you can be able to listen to the political news scene in our country. It keeps you entertained, both spiritually and mentally and keeps you well informed.


NJUKI NDEGWA: (Swahili spoken).

GOODWYN: The star of the show is Njoki Ndegwa, founder and daytime host of Jambo Boston. Before coming to the U.S., Ndegwa was a successful radio personality in Kenya. She thought she'd be a nurse, but quickly discovered medicine was not going to be her forte.

NDEGWA: I did not come to start a radio station. When I came to the United States, it was a dream beyond realization, so I did not dare dream. I came in ready for anything. All I wanted is to be in the United States and make it like everybody else.

GOODWYN: Her friends urged her to go back to Kenya and resume her successful radio career. But in typical entrepreneurial American fashion, she thought - why not be a Kenyan radio star right here in Boston?

NDEGWA: So I talked to a friend, and he got to explain to me that we can get people to listen through their phone and we can get people to listen through the website. When I realized how it works, it was go, go, go.

GOODWYN: The station doesn't bring in enough money to pay Ndegwa's salary, but like a rural doctor getting paid with chickens, the listeners sent in contributions - money, clothes, furniture - locals would even bring by Kenyan food. While it was all very loving, it got to be a little much. So now Jambo asks people to become members and send money - who knows where that idea came from.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Swahili spoken).

GOODWYN: Jambo opens up the phone lines continuously. This is a major element of Jambo Radio's success. While discussing their nation's politics and turmoil, they're also introducing themselves to each other by way of the airwaves. And of course, Jambo doesn't just look back across the Atlantic. While at times American behavior can seem pretty tribal, compared to growing up in Kenya, the U.S. is a radically different place, especially for the women. So Jambo interprets - successful Kenyans of all stripes are on the air, giving advice about how to be a success and make everybody proud back home.

NDEGWA: Kenyan community is a hard-working community. These are people who come in and they will do whatever it is that is available for them to do. But that is just a launching pad. Most of them go to school and most of them aspire to do better than what they are doing.

GOODWYN: Jambo has become such a vital part of the fabric that the show is touring the country, giving a big Kenyan party for their listeners at each stop.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GOODWYN: This night the party is in Dallas and everyone is dressed to the nines - the women in exquisite Western and African dresses. There's dinner and singing and dancing. The place is packed with joyful Kenyans, thrilled to be a people again, if only for one night.


GOODWYN: The party goes until 4 a.m. and many stay until 6, when they decamp for breakfast at IHOP and Denny's - thank you America. Next stop for Jambo is Kansas City in August. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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