Valentine's Day
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The people making a living out of love

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Making a couple's love memorable is big business. 

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First, comes love. Second, comes marriage. To most couples, weddings remain the true spectacle of a couple’s love story when they stand before their beloved and God to commit to love each other till the end of time. Through thick and thin. 

To make the wedding day the most memorable experience for the couple is a group of people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that everything goes to plan, the mood is right and the couple is the centre of attention the whole day.

 Event planners, videographers, photographers, decorators, DJs and MCs are the people who make love their business and a couple’s happiness their best form of reward.

As we approach Valentine's Day next week, we asked those who have made love their business to give us a snoop into their lives.

‘I like stripping out all the distractions and going straight for the raw emotions and feelings’

Pareet Shah - Wedding Photographer 

Pareet Shah is a photographer who specializes in weddings because he enjoys capturing raw and authentic love between newly weds.

Photo credit: POOL

Behind the lens of a camera, Pareet Shah gets a glimpse of a couple’s first day as husband and wife. The raw emotions of joy and affection.

The gaze in each other’s eyes like everything else in the world ceases to exist. He admits that he gets nervous before photoshoots.

“I think a bit of nerves is always good. It shows me that I am on edge, enjoying what I do, and pushing myself to the next level. Love is one of the most powerful and complex emotional experiences that can occur in one’s body.

For me to be able to convey that just using some electronic wizardry found in today’s extremely advanced cameras is almost an oxymoron.

Trying to translate such a primal emotion via an electronic binary device is always challenging but I believe if done correctly, it can evoke some very special and powerful feelings and sensations.

For me, that is the challenge, and my constant search of making this an art. Finding art in love is something I thrive off, something I look forward to at every shoot, and something that gets me up every morning,” he says.

About nine years ago, Pareet was asked to shoot a family friend’s wedding. At that time, he did not have much experience capturing such delicate moments since his professional background was in finance and not photography.

Even though he was a bit hesitant to take on that huge responsibility, he ended up shooting that wedding and as they say, the rest is history.

Now, he has lost count of how many couples he has photographed, but the testimonials from couples on his Instagram page show the significance his work has on making the memory of their special day live on.

Liviya and Lionel, one of the couples who recently tied the knot had this to say about Pareet.

“From posed family photos to candids on the dancefloor, we have such memories because of Pareet. He took the time to really get to know us and made sure he understood our vision for the day.”

Pareet says he has to have several conversations with the couple before taking up a shoot. 

 “This is to ensure that the couple knows that I am the right fit for them and also for me to know that the couple is a right fit for my style of shooting. To relieve heartbreak later on, I would rather be honest with a potential couple before a shoot in case our styles are vastly different,” he says.

He prefers not to pose couples as this serves very little purpose in the goal of documenting authentic love. He would give a couple a prompt and whilst they ‘play’, he clicks away - capturing them in different lighting, and angles. His overall goal is to create art from the love that exists between a couple. 

“When you challenge yourself, you will be surprised at how much authentic love you can capture without posing a couple. I like stripping out all the distractions and going straight for the raw emotions and feelings.

As a couple, I want you to be transported to that exact millisecond when we capture that one moment that will never repeat itself.

Love doesn’t always mean hugs and kisses. Love can mean the slightest touch, the briefest eye contact, a subtle brush of the hair or even tears. I try and capture all these subtle moments for you to feel giddy when you see the final photos,” he adds.

Pricing for Pareet’s services starts at Sh150,000, but he says all weddings and shoots are so different in terms of the location and the number of hours that he spends on them. 

“I love working with couples who see our time together as an opportunity to create art. Couples who want to experiment with me in the moment generally end up with the most compelling imagery.

I need space for creativity. If you have pre-determined shot lists or prefer to operate using a photo checklist, then I am afraid I may not be the right photographer for you,” he says.

“We are emotional supports, counsellors, mediators, and problem solvers.”

Salima Bertoglio - Wedding Planner - 10 years’ experience

Salima Bertoglio is a wedding planner with over 10 years of experience and is currently the general manager of Swahili Beach Resort in Diani which is a destination wedding hotspot.

Photo credit: POOL

A short while after Salima Bertoglio got married, her friends asked her to help them plan their wedding since she planned her own. Soon, friends of friends were asking for her services, and it became a full-time job.

“It was meant to be. I have been a wedding planner for almost a decade and started when wedding planners were not even in vogue yet. Eventually, it led me to get the position of General Manager at Swahili Beach Resort. It is one of the best resorts for bespoke destination weddings which I am still very much involved with planning,” she says.

She explains that a wedding planner could simply be defined as a project and logistics manager to carefully plan all the steps such as budgeting and the suppliers to be sourced and coordinated.

“In reality, it is so much more. We are emotional supports, counsellors, mediators, and problem solvers. We deal with so many personalities, family dynamics and environments.

A wedding is considered by many as ‘The Best Day of Your Life’. The pressure is pretty high but so worth it. I am a pretty simple and direct person. The first thing I tell my couples is, ‘This is your day. Not mine, not your families' or anyone else's - What do you want?’ Always respecting families and traditions, of course.

Couples are so diverse that I do not have a standard method, but I mould the wedding planning journey according to what makes them comfortable,” she says.

But Salima’s joys are simple - to see couples, families and friends smile, shedding tears of joy, dance and simply be together.

As a destination wedding planner in East Africa, she has learned about different cultures from planning countless Indian weddings (from Gujarati to Sikh) to Kenyan weddings (from Kikuyu’s Ruracio to Luo’s Nyombo) and mixed weddings, with possibly the most exotic being a Korean gentleman marrying an Iranian lady.

One of the perks of being a destination wedding planner is travelling to very interesting destinations to plan weddings, from Zanzibar to the shores of a crater lake in the middle of Marsabit National Park.

“In Kenya, to get a good wedding planner, you won't spend less than Sh240,735 ($1,500), but it could go all the way to Sh1.9 million ($12,000),” she says.

“One wrong song can change the couple's mood and interestingly, guests draw energy from them.” 

Patrick Kahuha - DJ

Patrick Kahuha  is a DJ who specialises on weddings. 

Photo credit: POOL

A wedding without music and dancing is like a restaurant without food. That is why sound teams and DJs like Patrick Kahuha are mood setters of weddings. Their song selections are the only way to get people off their seats and keep them on their feet. Similar to Pareet, his first gig as a main DJ was when he was asked to play at a friend’s wedding in 2019. 

“I was so nervous but pulled it off. I started DJing at weddings back in 2015, although I used to work under a mentor (DJ Stretch). Since then, I have played at more than 100 weddings and counting,” he says.

Since weddings are very intimate and personalised, Patrick has seen that one wrong song can change the couple's mood and interestingly, guests draw energy from them. 

“If the mood is not right, then it will show, but when you play good music and the vibes are good, you will be called for other functions. Good music makes the couple more relaxed and guests comfortable, creating an atmosphere of pure fun times and memories. Most people will remember bad sound and pathetic music more than they will remember bad catering. Music is everything. It sets the mood for a successful wedding day,” he says.

Patrick looks out for reassuring nods on the dancefloor to gauge their satisfaction with the song selection or the occasional cheer when the guests hear a song they like or when the newly wedded couple starts dancing to a specific song. He says most DJs and sound teams charge between Sh70,000 to Sh120,000 depending on the details, such as the venue and number of guests. Sometimes, a master of ceremony (MC), DJ and sound team can come as a full package.

“When handling different cultures, you get to learn so much about the couple and how different communities communicate love,” he says.

“MCing has helped me put food on the table consistently.”

James Kibunjah – Lawyer turned Master of Ceremony

James Kibunjah is a lawyer-turned-MC who has hosted over 300 weddings.

Photo credit: POOL

For James Kibunjah, becoming a master of ceremonies at weddings started purely by accident.

“A friend of mine (DJ Smaff Selector) challenged me to hype at a wedding where he was the DJ, and after that one gig, I knew I wanted to be in that space. Now, I have provided my services for more than 300 weddings. As an MC, my main role is to ensure that we adhere to the program and its timings while curating fun activities,” he says.

He says the most exciting part of his job is dancing with both the young and old, and especially teaching the older folks the latest dance moves. At the end of the wedding, he measures his success by how much the guests enjoyed themselves, the memories created and running the wedding program successfully, which would be the couple’s answered prayer - that all goes according to plan.

“MCing has helped me put food on the table consistently. On a deeper level, I have made treasured connections, and in a way, it has opened the door to corporate MCing,” he says.

The MC, a lawyer by profession, adds that he charges a minimum of Sh60,000 for MCing, but pricing depends on different packages or requests that the couple has.