Joseph Kiige: I thrive in dance and acrobatics

Joseph Kiige, popularly known as Jose Contez.

Joseph Kiige, popularly known as Jose Contez.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Joseph Kiige, popularly known as Jose Contez, thrives in creativity. The 30-year-old is the assistant choreographer, assistant project manager, lead photographer, and videographer at Sarakasi Trust, a group that seeks to develop and promote culture, performing arts, and entertainment in East Africa, focusing on acrobatics, dance, and music.

The initiative, established in Nairobi in 2001, strives to empower its trainees and contracted artistes (most of whom originate from slum areas around Nairobi) creatively and economically by giving them tools to manage their art, lives, and careers more effectively and successfully.

Jose Contez spoke to Margaret Maina about his journey.

Who is Contez?

I wear many caps: acrobat, director, gaffer, editor, acrobatic show designer, photographer, filmmaker, teacher, mentor, and artistic entrepreneur.

I was born and brought up in Nakuru. In 2011, right after high school, I had the privilege of being trained by Dance Into Space (DIS), a dance company majoring in African contemporary dance. I then joined The Theatre Company of Kenya (TTC) in Nanyuki, where I focused more on being an all-round performer and also learning how to develop and script, direct, produce, and manage shows and artistry, created a solid foundation in my theatrical dance.

I joined Sarakasi Trust in 2018 and got certified as a professional trainer. Now I am in Creative Art Spaces in Kenya (CASIK) training in a programme sponsored by the French embassy. I majored in lighting (stage, concerts, light design, and electricity). We graduated in November 2022, but I went for further studies in Reunion Island in March.

Joseph Kiige, popularly known as Jose Contez.

Joseph Kiige, popularly known as Jose Contez.

Photo credit: Courtesy

How did your passion for dancing come about and what type of dance do you engage in?

I loved dancing from a young age. I was a very active member of our high school Salsa Club. I can say the idea of pursuing dance as a career came by when I was first paid after dancing at a certain church in Nakuru. As a group, we were paid Sh700; after transport deductions and lunch, the team leader gave us Sh30 each. This was motivation for me; if I could get paid doing what I love then why not? I joined Nakuru Players Theatre under Sawwa Dancers- Repacted Kenya; the rest is history.

Hat juggling is an act I saw back in primary school when acrobats visited schools and we would pay Sh5 to watch the show. So it was not a new thing. One time I was working on a production at Nakuru Players and I got to work with acrobats. The concept was to do a full production with acrobats, poets, dancers, and singers. During the rehearsals, we noticed that dance and acrobatics felt like two separate shows because dancers would be on stage followed by acrobats. We wanted to solve this issue so that audiences would not feel the gap, and the solution was to incorporate dancing with acrobatics. That was how I found myself doing acrobatics on a professional level. 


What is ‘Sarakasi Amani Lazima’ about?

Sarakasi Amani Lazima was a one-year training programme in Nakuru, from 2017 to 2018, conducted by Sarakasi Trust with the aim of training young people to dance intertwined with community outreaches on peace. In 2022, we did another one dubbed Sarakasi Talanta na Amani which also ran for a year; this was tailored to different talents, focusing more on gang violence/organised crimes which was a big issue in Nakuru then. It was fully sponsored by the American Embassy, and we had over 100 participants from all over the county. The training also incorporated soft skills such as communication, entrepreneurship, and networking. I was the assistant project manager.    


What inspired the project?

The project was inspired by the 2007 post-election violence. Sarakasi Trust started training young people from Mathare and Korogocho in Nairobi then over the years the project opened up to other places: Kisumu, Kiambu, and Nakuru.


Is the initiative a source of income?

Sarakasi Trust has over 200 artistes now and all are paid for dance and acrobatics as a result of the training programmes. One of the pillars of the initiative is to help young people earn a living and when we perform at events and fitness studios, the money is divided among the team members. These gigs are our main source of income and help sustain the initiative.

Any accolades you have won so far?

Yes, from the 2011 G-pange festivals, they are so many. We won Kenya’s best African contemporary dance choreography in 2022. We have an ongoing show dubbed Circus: Mother Nature sponsored by Creative Art Spaces in Kenya (CASIK) under the French Embassy. The production was nominated in two categories: Best dance theatre and best costume design. Circus: Mother Nature is a circus production highlighting global warming and climate change issues. 

What’s the largest crowd/platform Sarakasi Amani Lazima has performed in?

Sarakasi Trust has performers around the world and this year we had a chance to perform for Pope Francis for the second time in Rome. We also performed for the former US First Lady Melania Trump when she came to Kenya, and Queen Elizabeth in the UK. Locally, our biggest crowd must be during the SawaSawa Festival with over 120,000 people at Kasarani Stadium.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered?

There’s a huge interest in training programmes. Whenever we lock in a number during the programmes, we end up having more than we budgeted. For last year’s training we had a budget of 100 participants we ended training 146. One of the biggest challenges is that most people who can help want something in return. The question has always been ‘what will we gain when we help these people?’ And when that is not met, all goes quiet.

How has the initiative impacted society?

Sarakasi Trust draws inspiration from the youth. We are passionate about working with the youth. We have had inspiring success stories since our inception. Some of the participants have performance contracts now in Europe under the Sarakasi Trust.

Your advice to youth seeking employment?

If your ship does not come to shore, swim to it. Take risks in life; if you win you can lead, if you lose you guide.

What’s next for Sarakasi Amani Lazima?

We already have ongoing training for both acrobats and dancers at Sarakasi Dome every day from 6am to 4pm. We also have Sarakasi Kids Club every Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Apart from training, we are getting ready for our first production this year and tickets will be coming out soon. Check our Social Media platforms for more @sarakasiTrust.