The soul of Nakuru town has seen much come and go as it progresses ever forward, never idle, never a dull moment, always in motion.
Even when this motion has been disrupted by political chaos during the deadly post-election violence, the town has always remained the most preferred entertainment hub outside the capital city Nairobi.
The golden years of the 1970s, 1980s up to the late 1990s were the most thrilling phase of Nakuru's music and dance scene.
Anywhere and at any time, DJs and non-professional organisations hosted spontaneous parties and entertained a whole generation of young people with reggae, pop, rhumba and secular music.
These parties and DJs rang the ears of revellers in clubs like Gitwamba, Club Sulwe, Pivot, Coco Savannah, Amigos, Lanet Country Club, Samba and Rafikiz, Summit, Club Sting, among others, with shock waves of musical force.
Nakuru's nightlife was an intense, spontaneous and liberating quest for the best and the latest sounds.
With no mandatory closing times, parties would rage on from Friday night to Sunday morning.
Gitwamba, perhaps one of Nakuru's most legendary entertainment clubs, which opened in the 1960s on Kenyatta Avenue was regarded the entertainment hub as patrons danced to the hardest beats in the Rift Valley Capital.
Club Sulwe, directly opposite Gitwamba, was another hotspot of the most established and sought-after clubs in Nakuru. There was always a line of people waiting to get in. And they were all from various parts of the country.
The town's strategic position is like a magnet, as travellers from major towns like Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kakamega, Narok, Nyeri, and Kericho made stopovers to sample the town's nightlife.
Today, Gitwamba is no longer the place to be for music lovers as its dance floor has been converted into a restaurant. The nightlife is dead.
The hefty bouncers that used to stand outside the door have vanished. The queue of clubbers has melted away.
Former patrons pass without giving the club a second glance. For many, the closure of Gitwamba Club is like a punishment.
Patricia Nkantha was a regular visitor at Gitwamba. She has had her "funniest nights out" here, she says; seeing it closed is heartbreaking".
Her story is echoed among hundreds of DJs, promoters, and artistes across Nakuru's nightlife scene.
"Gitwamba was the place to be. If you didn't dance at Gitwamba you felt like a loser. Its demise is a big blow to the entertainment industry," says John Githanga, a local fine artist.
Adds Githanga: "A town like Nakuru without a colourful nightlife and without places where a vast array of people can meet, have fun, exchange ideas, and learn from one another is a boring town."
Gitwamba is not alone. Many clubs have been forced to close. Properties and buildings that housed clubs have been sold and turned into shopping malls while others are go-downs.
Coco Savannah was the first to die, leaving teens in town bereft. Club Pivot, once a popular club, is largely deserted and rarely attracts revellers the way it used to in its heyday.
But it's not just the investors who are to blame for this tragedy that is slowly turning the lively town into an entertainment ghost town.
The commercial rent increased, and some of the clubs legally considered to be places of entertainment, turned into porn cinema halls and brothels,
-Pastor Alfred Mutuku.
He added: "Today many residents are disinterested in jam-packed clubs and are now seeking more intimate lounges, and upscale restaurants — leaving only a select few interested in traditional nightclubs."
"Nightclubs were already experiencing challenges before Covid-19, as their core market of teens began to focus more on social media for their entertainment which is gaining popularity," says Peter Odhiambo, an entertainment analyst in town.
Raise money to save clubs
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation. It has devastated the nightlife. Clubs and bars in Nakuru are vanishing into thin air and some of the latest casualties include Club 64, Club Deluxe and a host of others in Nakuru's red-light district -- Kanu Street and Gusii Road – such as Kutaniz, York star and Lules Club.
Other popular clubs that have since died are Club Sulwe, Amigos, Lanet Country Club, Samba and Rafikiz on Kenyatta Avenue, and Club Sting, Staff Lodge, Tropical, Illusions, Menengai, Silver, Mau View Bistro, Signature, and Crome, among others.
Clubs and DJs are producing DJ live streams to raise money to save clubs. These efforts can at best serve as a stop-gap measure that is not sustainable.
"From my perspective, a large portion of the nightlife in Nakuru town was already on its death bed well before the pandemic. Covid-19 is simply the outsized straw that broke the camel's back in many cases," says Githanga.
The new breed of club owners investing in the industry are having a rough dancing floor.
"In the past decade (before Covid-19), nearly half of Nakuru's nightclubs closed. Of course, this isn't all the clubs' fault. Many external forces have imposed themselves: shifts in generational preferences, the rise of engagement in social media platforms has seen even the latest clubs in town sitting empty," said former DJ John Kariuki.
While the nightlife has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, it seems nothing will totally silence the dance floors as the lights are not about to go off just yet in Nakuru's nightclubs.
There is still hope as many investors see a safe return to a more intimate nightlife in the future, and are pumping millions of shillings into new entertainment clubs, and renovating others.
One of the latest entrants is Kwetu 032 at what was formerly Club Summit on the edge of the Lake Nakuru National Park.
"Our new club can make use of outdoor space during these pandemic times. The stigma associated with packed indoor spaces is still lingering. We have embraced outdoor space. The pandemic has forced us to implement many cleanliness habits. This includes hand sanitiser, contactless payments, frequent cleaning and more," said a club manager.