A founding member of one of Africa’s most popular bands has come out as gay. 

Willis Austin Chimano, a member of the Kenyan band Sauti Sol, told  Kenyan newspaper The Standard on Thursday, there was “no hiding  anymore.” Chimano, 34, came out while promoting the band’s new single Friday  Feeling

“It is the first time I am expressing myself in a song. You really get to know  who Chimano is and that is a heavy crown to carry. It is just a representation of the underground ballroom culture within the  queer community… which I am part of,”  

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“So, I am just laying everything bare; from now on, hakuna kujificha  jificha (there is no more hiding). Sexuality does not define you. It is just  about me putting myself out there, my creativity and living my truth. Figure  out what your own happiness is most importantly with yourself. Gather  your own life,” Chimano said. 

Music Star Hailed For Coming Out

Chimano’s coming out is a significant and brave move as gay sex in Kenya is still criminalised and can be punished by up to 14 years imprisonment, though the law is seldom implemented. A 2019 campaign to overturn the  law failed. 

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“Young people are saluting him and are seeing him as an icon who comes  out to celebrate his life and his sexuality. It’s a good thing, it shows our  diversity as a country,” Kenyan gay activist Kevin Mwachiro told the BBC

Sauti Sol, an Afro-pop band, which formed in 2005 and has since released  five studio albums, has a massive fan following not only in Africa but also in  Europe and the USA.  

Sauti Sol was the winner of the Best Group award at the 2016 MTV Africa  Music Awards, won Best African Act and was nominated for Best  Worldwide Act at the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards, and was also  nominated as Best International Act: Africa at the 2015 BET Awards.

The band’s 2019 album Afrikan Sauce, won Album of the Year at the 2019 All  Africa Music Awards. 

‘I Felt Like An Awkward Child’

“As I get older, I have a bigger perspective of life and who I am supposed  to be. It is not about what everybody else thinks I should be,” Chimano told The Standard

Chimano has been open about his struggles growing up and told The Standard in a 2020 interview, “Growing up I felt like an awkward child,  making friends felt like a laborious task. I felt like it was something I could  do without. I just loved watching other kids play,” Chimano said.  

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“I try to challenge toxic masculinity which says a man should dress a  certain way. Why does society have to tell you how to dress or how to  behave? Be yourself,” said Chimano. 

LGBTQI People Face Challenges In Kenya

LGBTQI people who live openly in Kenya are often rejected by their  family, amid the deeply conservative attitudes of the country. LGBTQI  people, however, are still more accepted in Kenya than they are in  neighbouring nations like Uganda and Tanzania. 

The increasing acceptance has led to a number of other well-known  Kenyan celebrities to publicly come out, including former BBC journalist  Chris Njeri Makena.

In September, Makena said in her TED Talk, “I am happy, I  am free and I am bold. For a very long time, I could never introduce myself  like this but somewhere along the journey, I started to discover what it  meant to live your truth. I started to discover who I was and I decided to  be loyal to my authenticity.” 

Chimano, also retweeted a statement by Fatima B. Derby, a Ghanian  feminist writer, who said, “I want the best for queer & trans Africans. I want  us to live a life free from violence, discrimination & shame. I want us to  experience love that affirms who we are & who we can be. I want us to be  able to unapologetically make art that reflects who we are. I want us to be  free.”

 

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