David Lith is a tattoo artist working out of Nakuru, the third largest urban centre in Kenya. On weekends he embarks on a two-hour journey on a minibus known as a matatu to the capital, Nairobi. There he works extra shifts in a couple of larger tattoo parlours that service the city of over three million people. In both the capital and in his hometown, David sticks out.
I meet him at The Goth Shop, a clothing store and tattoo parlour housed in a mall in the affluent Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi. The very existence of this shop is noteworthy – it is fairly unusual to hear rock music in bars or shops in East Africa, much less experience anything related to goth culture. For some, old Dolly Parton and Jim Reeves cassettes in supermarkets remain the closest thing to even “rock culture” available in the mainstream.
David is acting as my guide, taking me on a tour of the awkward little tattoo parlours, shops and bars that occasionally host the itinerant goth population of East Africa’s regional hub. A profile in local newspaper The Star estimated that Nairobi’s goth scene extends to about 300 people. Clothed head-to-toe in black and adorned with multiple piercings, David attracts many stares from passersby as we walk around the centre of town. Most are curious or entertained, a few fearful or openly hostile, but whatever the reaction, David does not seem to mind too much.