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Abstract Omega, Dan Muchina

Abstract Omega, Dan Muchina

…is the creative name of Dan Muchina. He’s twenty-eight years old and makes a living as a freelance filmmaker and film editor. The day after we speak he will be filming an all-day musical event at a racecourse, featuring Aloe Blacc. Dan is short, thin, looks about seventeen and wears a hoodie that holds down a broad-brimmed baseball cap. I admit, I mistook him for someone much younger, and worried a bit that he could have achieved much to write about. How wrong I was.

Dan started writing a lot of poetry in high school and that evolved into rap. “Then I started creating visuals to go along with the things I was expressing. I fell in love with photography and that evolved into video. A lot of people called what I was doing experimental but I wasn’t analysing, just shooting it, not labelling it experimental or SF. I wasn’t interested. It was the media I fell in love with for what I could learn from it.”

He writes, directs, and shoots his own films.  Recently completed are Monsoons Over the Moon, two short films in a series. Both can be seen on YouTube: Monsoons Over the Moon—Part One was released in June 2015 and is eight minutes long. Monsoons Over the Moon—Part Two is ten minutes long and was uploaded in November.

“People tell me it’s about a post-apocalyptic Nairobi. The characters are trying to find a way out of the system and find joy and peace of mind. It wasn’t my intention to do a post-apocalyptic story; it was just what I did at the time.”

“My new project is called Eon of Light and I’m hoping it’s about new life generating where a star fell to earth in a place called Kianjata. Particles from it mix with soil and air and the plants growing there are genetically altered. People eat them and the plants affect human DNA. People begin to be able to communicate with birds and nature. These people are outside the system so a Rwandan-style genocide results. The hero sees this on the TV news and realises he is the third generation of such people, raised in the city. He is able to read information in his own DNA.”

I say that touches on a number of African stories: the move from the rural to the city; government violence and inter-communal violence; and the loss of contact with forebears and a connection with something integral.

“That’s the thing with African science fiction. You say SF and people expect spaceships and gadgets, but it’s full of symbols. Africans have always told stories with lots of symbolism. We have always created magical worlds in our stories that symbolize.”

Eons would be a series of short films that stand independently but would be set in Kianjata and the city.

I talk about how the Jalada collective have made local African languages a key topic again. I ask him what language his characters speak.

“They speak a hybrid of odd English, Swahili, and Sheng so they don’t use any pure local language. It’s more authentic.”

My eyes widen. “Authentic” is a word you’re supposed to avoid in discussions of African fiction—it’s often used by people imposing their own expectations on writers.

“I haven’t met any young people who don’t speak Sheng. It started with the first generations of people who came to Nairobi and is a mix of languages that developed more in the informal settlements than the suburbs.”

Until 2015, Dan worked with the Nest Collective, which produced a feature film The Stories of Our Lives, written and directed by Jim Chuchu. Dan is the credited cinematographer. The sixty-two-minute film opened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was warmly received. The Huffington Post called The Stories of Our Lives “one of the most stunning and triumphant films of the year.”

The trailer for Stories of our Lives shows Dan’s luminous cinematography.

The link also leads to the range of other activities by the Nest, including the lovely soundtrack to the film.

The film is banned in Kenya. The rumour is that the makers escaped prosecution on the understanding that the film will never be shown there. The film, which tells the story of a number of queer Kenyans, is not, according to the Kenyan Film Board, “in line with Kenyan cultural values.”

He didn’t mention any of that when we talked. Later I Skyped him to make sure I had the facts right. “The filmmakers were in danger of prosecution. The Executive Producer (George Cachara) had been arrested on the count of filming without a license. He was however set free on cash bail. The case was later dropped.” Before coming out as the creators, the filmmakers took out insurance and found secret safe houses in which to hide.

Change of subject.

My Leverhulme grant is to study the sudden rise of African science fiction and fantasy—its roots. So I always ask what people read or saw to interest them in science fiction. Dan lists two cartoons: Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea and the series Johnny Quest.

“I loved those when I was a kid. They created other worlds through space or time through which to escape and live in that world.”

I ask him what he’s reading now and he hands me his smartphone.

Some books on Dan’s iPhone:

  • Wilhelm Reich, Murder of Christ
  • Carl Jung
  • Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
  • Poetry of Saul Williams
  • Gurdjieff
  • Dante, The Divine Comedy
  • Edwin Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell
  • The Kabbalah
  • Nicolai Tesla
  • Machiavelli, The Prince

Dan studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Kenya Polytechnic University College, and interned for seven months at Kwani Trust as their in-house photographer.

“In high school I listened to hip hop, but of a particular type, spacey, dreamy, about travelling between worlds, crossing astral boundaries. Aesop Rock, El-P, Eyedea, Atmosphere, and C-Ray Walz. Those rappers are white so you probably can’t call them Afrofuturists, just Futurist. But I relate very much to a kid in the boroughs of NYC wanting to travel in time and space, nothing to do with him being American and me being African.”

“I wanted to meet someone from a completely different time. Maybe a future generation will stumble on my work and be able to communicate with someone from a different time.”

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Geoff Ryman is Senior Lecturer in School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester. He is a writer of short stories and novels, and science fiction and literary fiction. His work has won numerous awards including the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award (twice), the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award (twice), and the Canadian Sunburst Award (twice). In 2012 he won a Nebula Award for his Nigeria-set novelette "What We Found." His story "Capitalism in the 22nd Century" is part of Stories for Chip, edited by Bill Campbell and Nisi Shawl and published by Rosarium.
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