U.S.
5:05 pm
Sat July 19, 2014

An American Radio Station That's Saying 'Jambo' To Kenyans

Originally published on Sat July 19, 2014 8:40 pm

There are about 100,000 people born in Kenya who are now living in America. Over the last 50 years, there's been a growing number of Kenyans immigrating to America. In fact, the number is doubling.

They live in clusters in Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas and in parts of the West Coast. They stay connected through a mix of old and new technology.

"We have truckers, we have taxi drivers, we have delivery van drivers and we spend our time learning by listening to what is currently happening," Davis Maina says.

Maina drives a cab back and forth from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Love Field around Dallas. Like many of his fellow Kenyans, he listens to Jambo Boston Radio through the day.

"Jambo" is Swahili for hello. The station, not even 2 years old, streams over the Internet in Kikuyu and Swahili, and can be heard from a mobile phone, iPad or laptop.

"You start the day with praise and worship. And then you have other programs during the day where you can listen to the political news scene in our country," Maina says. "It keeps you entertained both spiritually and mentally and keeps you well-informed."

The star of the show is Njoki Wa Ndegwa, founder and daytime host of Jambo Boston. Before coming to the U.S., Ndegwa was a successful radio personality in Kenya. Once here, she thought she'd be a nurse, but quickly discovered her future wasn't in medicine.

"I did not come to start a radio station," Ndegwa says. "When I came to the United States, it was a dream beyond realization. So I did not dare dream. I came in ready for anything. All I wanted was to be in the United States and make it like everybody else."

Her friends urged her to go back to Kenya and resume her successful radio career, but Ndegwa thought, "why not be a Kenyan radio star right here in Boston?"

So, she talked to her friend, James, and he explained that radio can be accessed through a mobile phone or a website.

"When I realized how it works, it was go, go, go!" she says.

The station doesn't bring in enough income to pay Ndegwa a salary, but like a rural doctor getting paid with chickens, listeners have sent in contributions, like money, clothes, furniture and sometimes, even Kenyan food.

Nowadays, Jambo seeks monetary donations and suggests listeners become members.

Jambo continuously opens up phone lines to listeners, and that's a major element of its success. While discussing Kenya's politics and turmoil, listeners can introduce themselves to each other through the airwaves.

Of course, Jambo doesn't just look back across the Atlantic. The U.S. is a radically different place than Kenya, so Jambo often interprets, putting successful Kenyans on the air to give advice on making everybody back home proud. The Kenyan community is a hard-working community, Ndegwa says.

"These are people who come in and they will do whatever is available," she says. "But again, that is just a launching pad. Most people aspire to do better than they are doing."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's good to have you with us here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West - I'm Kelly McEvers. Let's eavesdrop on another radio outlet. It serves the nearly 100,000 people who were born in Kenya, but who are now living in the U.S. Kenyans in Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Dallas - that's where their Internet radio station caught the ear of NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: As Davis Maina drives his cab back and forth from DFW and Love Field around Dallas, he listens to Joseph Kamaru, pioneer Kikuyu music star on Jambo Boston radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH KAMARU SONG)

KIKUYU: (Singing in Swahili).

DAVIS MAINA: We have truckers, we have taxi drivers, we have delivery van drivers and we spend our time learning by listening to what is currently happening.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Jambo radio network. (Foreign language spoken).

GOODWYN: Jambo is Swahili for hello. The station is not yet two years old, but if you're Kenyan-American, you probably know about. It streams over the Internet in Kikuyu and Swahili and multitudes tune in on their mobile phones, iPads pads and laptops.

MAINA: You start the day with praise and worship. And then you have other programs during the day where you can be able to listen to the political news scene in our country. It keeps you entertained, both spiritually and mentally and keeps you well informed.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMBO RADIO)

NJUKI NDEGWA: (Swahili spoken).

GOODWYN: The star of the show is Njoki Ndegwa, founder and daytime host of Jambo Boston. Before coming to the U.S., Ndegwa was a successful radio personality in Kenya. She thought she'd be a nurse, but quickly discovered medicine was not going to be her forte.

NDEGWA: I did not come to start a radio station. When I came to the United States, it was a dream beyond realization, so I did not dare dream. I came in ready for anything. All I wanted is to be in the United States and make it like everybody else.

GOODWYN: Her friends urged her to go back to Kenya and resume her successful radio career. But in typical entrepreneurial American fashion, she thought - why not be a Kenyan radio star right here in Boston?

NDEGWA: So I talked to a friend, and he got to explain to me that we can get people to listen through their phone and we can get people to listen through the website. When I realized how it works, it was go, go, go.

GOODWYN: The station doesn't bring in enough money to pay Ndegwa's salary, but like a rural doctor getting paid with chickens, the listeners sent in contributions - money, clothes, furniture - locals would even bring by Kenyan food. While it was all very loving, it got to be a little much. So now Jambo asks people to become members and send money - who knows where that idea came from.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMBO RADIO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Swahili spoken).

GOODWYN: Jambo opens up the phone lines continuously. This is a major element of Jambo Radio's success. While discussing their nation's politics and turmoil, they're also introducing themselves to each other by way of the airwaves. And of course, Jambo doesn't just look back across the Atlantic. While at times American behavior can seem pretty tribal, compared to growing up in Kenya, the U.S. is a radically different place, especially for the women. So Jambo interprets - successful Kenyans of all stripes are on the air, giving advice about how to be a success and make everybody proud back home.

NDEGWA: Kenyan community is a hard-working community. These are people who come in and they will do whatever it is that is available for them to do. But that is just a launching pad. Most of them go to school and most of them aspire to do better than what they are doing.

GOODWYN: Jambo has become such a vital part of the fabric that the show is touring the country, giving a big Kenyan party for their listeners at each stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARTY)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GOODWYN: This night the party is in Dallas and everyone is dressed to the nines - the women in exquisite Western and African dresses. There's dinner and singing and dancing. The place is packed with joyful Kenyans, thrilled to be a people again, if only for one night.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: The party goes until 4 a.m. and many stay until 6, when they decamp for breakfast at IHOP and Denny's - thank you America. Next stop for Jambo is Kansas City in August. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.