From the moment I stepped foot on Lamu, a fascinating island off the east coast of Kenya, my yearning for a raw, hedonistic travel experience was fulfilled. Finally, a place that is kind to the senses – the tropical air, the distant calls to prayer, the absence of cars or motorbikes, the beautiful villas built by those drawn to a place where the mind and eye can travel. ‘What problem couldn’t be solved here?’ I asked myself. ‘Particularly when lying back on a traditional white-sailed dhow gliding through the mangrove channels.’
For the next few years, I familiarised myself with the island’s beauty and its contradictions. I instantly appreciated its remoteness and relative inaccessibility – no direct flights, few hotel beds, and a short season thanks to weather, tides and winds. Lamu and storytelling felt synonymous to me, so two editions of the Lamu Writing Retreat followed – the perfect way to explore a ‘full expression’ of Littlegig Lamu. But who did I want to attract, what would they need from me, and how could I give it to them?
At its most elemental, event design is about an audience being entertained by a musician or speaker. A spectacular setting helps. But what if we did something different? What if – inspired by festivals like Burning Man that radically pushed back against the idea of the passive audience – we put entertainment (and food and shelter) entirely in the hands of the people?
The answer was unlocked at last year’s Lamu Writing Retreat when I asked guest and filmmaker Mugambi Nthiga to speak about his work. He was utterly captivating, prompting our headline talent Ruby Wax to request a screening of his movie Supa Modo, which we did. And just like that, I was struck by the incredible power that comes from blurring the line between the audience and ‘the talent’.
Littlegig has always worked hard to attract interesting people. By nature, these people – most creators in some way or form – are intriguing, have exciting stories, and have novel ways of telling them. I concluded that Littlegig Lamu is for creatives and problem solvers who make things better by finding new ways forward. They may be writers, designers, actors, musicians, activists, teachers and leaders with a story to tell. They are the voices and makers of what’s now and what’s next. And that’s how Littlegig Lamu 2023, a three-day micro-festival, was born.
This year’s headliners are some of Africa’s best minds and talents, including queen of African literature and activism Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), visual activist and celebrated photographer Zanele Muholi (South Africa), and star filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya). Music headliner is Grammy-nominated Valerie June (USA), hailed by the New York Times as one of America’s ‘most intriguing, fully formed new talents’. While Dutch trend forecaster and renowned futurist Li Edelkoort, who advises global fashion companies and brands, will launch her latest book Proud South to Africa at the festival.
Performances, headline talks and art will be showcased in and around some of my favourite places in Shela, from The Bunny Allen House (a contemporary chic villa with incredibly lush gardens owned by gallerist Pascale Revert of African Art Gallery, 50 Gouldbourne in London) to Kinooni House, a true oasis and beautifully restored villa with traditional Swahili design and craftsmanship that was once the home of the Governor of Lamu. Or Jannah Lamu, a svelte sequence of three apartments restored and decorated to spectacular effect by fashion designer Anna Trzebinski. Hands down best interiors and views from the roof terrace, the highest in town.
A walk through the old town, soaking up the sights and sounds of this ancient place that dates back to the 14th century, is intermingled with a performance and coffee tasting by Coffee Queen, Vava Angwenyi. Or come with us as we jet off on a speedboat to a pristine eco-lodge in Kipungani for a jam session and a panel talk before lunch – swimming obligatory. And, of course, wellness is an everyday part of the festival, starting with your choice of an early morning swim through the mangrove channels or a yoga session at Banana House. While world-class Lamu masseurs, herbalists, acupuncturists and energy workers are to take the experience to another level.
Little Gig Lamu runs from 21 to 23 September 2023; littlegig.co.za