(Q) Who are you?
My name is Grace Wambui Munene and I go by the stage title, Grammo Suspect- Rainbow Ambassador Kenya aka Mtetezi wa RAIA*. Most people ask what my long stage name stand for, hence am going to elaborate:
-Grammo is a combination of my first and surname.
-Suspect is what people see when they look at me
-While Mtetezi wa Raia, is what I see, when I look in the mirror.
-Rainbow Ambassador Kenya is more of a responsibility than a title.
The rainbow flag is widely used by the LGBTQIA+ movement, and I swore and pledged to fight for the rights of my community hence Rainbow Ambassador Kenya. I am a lyrical and pictorial activist.
Lyrical – I write, record and perform music, in the form of rap and spoken word poetry.
Pictorial – I take both still and moving pictures, alongside my partner of almost 9 years, then post them on social media, to show other members of the LGBTQIA+ community that they are not alone in this world that tells them that they are not normal. In a bid to encourage them, in being proud of their sexuality.
What is your motivation?
The path to greatness starts with rejection, pain, failure & even loss.
All these things have been my motivation. To stand up, and fight. To speak up against ills committed to humanity.
Music has been my therapy. Hence, despite the rough road, I feel no pain.
My concern is with those that have gone and still going through discrimination, humiliation, and harassment of every kind because of their sexuality.
The families and friends of the activists and LGBTQIA+ persons who have been killed.
Those lesbians that have been gang-raped, either by strangers, fathers, brothers, or uncles in a bid to straighten them, whatever that means.
Those gay men have no one or anything to turn to.
Those intersex persons turn to alcohol and drugs, in order to hide their pain.
Those transgenders are on the verge of committing suicide because society tells them that they are abnormal.
Have you been assaulted or attacked before due to your identity?
In 2002, in Mombasa, I was accused of planting fake breasts and forced to remove my T-shirt to prove otherwise.
In 2005, in the same city of Mombasa, but in a different location, I was stripped naked after a heavy beating by a group of men. They claimed I was a gay man, wearing artificial breasts to lure other men for sex. I then started wearing buibui*, the religious attire worn by Muslim women, covering myself to avoid earlier assaults.
But in early 2006, I was also forced to undress in Kwale’s Diani town after some women raised alarm, accusing me of being a male robber, disguised as a woman in a buibui dress. And after I was bare naked, they apologized, saying that the reason they thought I was a man is that I walked like one.
In 2006, i was abducted by more than 10 men, who were a part of Mungiki*. An illegal group that openly undertook illegal activities. They took me to a certain house within Nairobi, whereby, they mutilated my genitals. Then they released me, after saying that they would come back for me in order to take me to a man of their choice who would, in turn, be my husband. They also told me that, being a lesbian was unnatural, non-African, and ungodly.
In 2009, in Nairobi, 2 policemen who introduced themselves as Kwekwe family, a police body created by the Kenyan government to conduct extrajudicial killings, visited my house, forced me to take off my clothes, forced my legs apart, to check what I have between my legs. They then beat me up, and cut my dreadlocks using a knife.
In 2018, I was verbally harassed by several artists in a music studio. After they had learned that am a lesbian. So, the producer stopped giving me sessions, for he was threatened too.
Feb 2019, in Mombasa. As I was walking from my house, towards a nearby shop, I met the chairman of Sungusungu. A self-organized vigilante group that works for the Kenyan police. They disguise themselves as community security watchers but undertake illegal activities behind the scenes. He told me to my face that I should know that lesbians have no place in his community. He also threatened to prove to me that he has a say in everything that goes around the community. One day later, my house was broken into and ransacked. They took everything except for my mattress. Including the only copies of my play scripts and a book, I had been writing for 5 years. He then came to my house the same day, told me that it was his doing and should I try reporting it to anyone, that he would end my life. He told me that I should vacate the premises ASAP.
April 2019, I met with the Sungusungu chairman, by the roadside and he asked what I was still doing in his community and before answering him, he got hold of my both shoulders and almost threw me to a moving car, he slapped my face twice and said that it was the last warning.
“Despite all that hell, I feel no pain. Most people are going through hell, compared to my share of shit.And if I had to go through that,so that I could fight for the freedom of my people, well,it is what it is. Freedom is never free ,we all need to acknowledge that everything has made me who I am today. Stronger,courageous, and a fighter. If it were not for our ancestors, who died during the fight for freedom, our country would still be under colonization.” ~ Grammo Suspect
Wow, that is a lot of violence even for one person, what role has your family played in all this?
I was 18 years old, the first time I realized that I wanted to be a musician. It was after high school, and I was living with my brother in Nairobi. I told him about it, and he said to me, “music is an industry of drugs”. I started living alone a few months after that. I didn’t talk to anyone else in the family about it again, and I kinda gave up on it for a while. Six years later, in 2004, I recorded my first song ” Mpaka lini*“, (Till when) followed by “Mama“, a song I wrote for my beautiful, wonderful, and lovely mum, who passed away one month and 12 days ago. She loved it, and she was also featured in the video. And the video was actually shot by one of my brothers . The one who talked of the music industry being drugs actually loved it so much. I heard him sing the chorus a few times.
“Nakupenda sana,mamangu mpenzi,
Nina kutukuza ,kwa hayo yako malezi,
Ume nitunza,toka hizo enzi,
Kwa kweli MAMA,unafaa hizi pongezi”.
The one who shot the video also loved it. And he was a big supporter of my music.
Apart from shooting 5 videos from my first album ” LIVITY”, he also organized shows back in my homeland Mpeketoni , where I performed, alongside some of my artist friends from both Nairobi and Mombasa.
But after I started doing the second album “EMBRACE DIVERSITY“, an album that speaks of matters affecting the LGBTQIA+ community, he never replied or commented on it, whenever I sent him the music. Later on a phone call, he told me that music will never take me anywhere and that I should look for something else to do with my life. But I guess he was just projecting, of his own failures in the music field, for he was once a Dj, formed a music band at one time, had a music studio, and used to shoot music videos, which all flopped.
My mum was my biggest supporter. She danced to all my music, whenever I played it to her. She never cared what I was saying. She always told me to follow where my heart leads. May she rest in peace.
I came out in 2012, on social media. My dad had passed 2 years before that, so he never got to know this part of me.
Plus, he brought 37 children into this world, hence he had no time for one particular child, that’s why I didn’t mention him on my music journey. Personally, we were not close, and I didn’t think he knew about me being a musician, until when my mum told me that he once told him, ” That’s Wambui’s song”, when “Zaidi ya Onyancha“, (More Than Onyancha) one of my tracks was playing on the radio. Most of my brothers and sisters are on social media, if not all. They all know about my sexuality. Nobody can miss that, because I say it out loud, with words and pictures. But they don’t talk about it.
The only person I called and came out to is one of my sisters. She told me that it was against God’s will, and she stopped speaking to me for a while. Then I started writing on social media, and she was so mad at one of my posts. She called me about it, and after I realized that we were not getting anywhere, with the conversation, I asked her not to call me ever again, if all she could talk about was matters pertaining to that. We stopped talking, and she even refused to come to our mum’s home, when I last visited. But she reached out a month ago, after the burial of our mum. Also, another sister engaged me on the same post that made the one furious. I told her that, I was not ashamed of the fact that am a lesbian. And if she or any other member of the family was, then that’s their own shame to carry, something that has nothing to do with me, but themselves”. Our conversation ended there till today.
In the past, I have seen Christians dishing hate in the name of religion, and have felt disgusted and they have made me wanna shout in the highest voice, by telling them that their religion is invalid. Most times, I have just wanted to diss the bible, after reading verses that glorify patriarchy. But my mum always changed my mind and my heart, all the time. Not by her words, but by her actions. See, she was a true believer, and also, was almost 80 years when she passed. Although being both a Christian and old school, has never made her act like a moron. I have always had boy traits since I was younger. Am the kind of girl who never sits “like a girl”. My legs have always been on the chair that I sit on.
My mom bought me my first pair of trousers when I was around 9 years old.
And I don’t know if it is for the above reason, but what I can tell you is, I fell in love with it. I wore it every day. I couldn’t wait to finish my classes so that I could go back home and wear them. She definitely realized my love for it, and she could buy me more trousers and shorts, every time she traveled to Nairobi. Remember, those were the times when it was a sin for a Christian woman to wear “men’s clothes”. Her fellow church women were so much against it, and they always demanded that I take it off, and when I told my mum, she used to tell me ” you are my child, not theirs”.
I have never walked like a girl, and most of my characters are boyish. In Primary School, if it happened to rain during lunch or evening when the class time was over, I used to take off my blouse and run in the rain, all the way home. Every time we were seated at the compound of our home, and I happened to be sent inside the house, I never walked normally, I had to jump over every object within the compound before I got in the house and back. After high school, I traveled to Nairobi, and when I returned home, I had gained lots of weight and I couldn’t jump up and down like before. So my mama dissed me, by making it known that I wasn’t as flexible as I used to be. She never denied me love, because of being me.
She always loved me, as I am, despite society telling her otherwise. Then, I started dating women. In my life, I have been with three of them. And I have taken all the home. Fact is, I never talked to my mum about my sexuality or my relationship with them, but only a fool, who wouldn’t know all about it. And trust me, my mum was nothing close to one.
Once, I visited home with my first girlfriend. And one night, I had a scheduled show, in one of the local clubs. I was looking for a means of transport, hence I requested to use my dad’s motorcycle. One of my brothers told me that it was not in good shape, which meant that I couldn’t use it. I felt like I was being played, which made me mad. It reminded me of the fact that my dad never paid for my school fees, hence, I was more infuriated. I was angry like hell, so I started ranting and yelling. Some of the things I said were, “I have never gotten anything from this man (my father), today, I need to know if he is truly my dad”.
I went ahead and told anyone who was listening, that, they should just wait for me to die, because, they will never get anything from me, not mahari* nor children.
I said very harsh words which included, “When I die, just let me rot wherever don’t bury me”.
But despite all that, my mum looked at me, laughed, and asked me, “Who told you that we are waiting for you to get married or sire children?”. I looked at her, at a loss for words. She was smiling at me. All my anger went away, and we started laughing.
Then, in 2019, I visited her, after being away from home, for 7 years. Yes, I took my #SexyLolo with me. The reception, and the treat, are something every gay person would die for. In a manner that made us feel at home and normal. She called, left, right, and center, to inform the family and all her friends that I was home. She really loved my fiance, and they became best of friends, in the few days that we spent with her. And from then henceforth, when on the phone, the first thing she asked was, “Stella wakwa ahana atîa”? Meaning, how is my Stella? Stella is the first name of my wife-to-be.
And after my baby and I traveled to Finland, we mostly talked via Whatsapp videos/audios.
And do you know what she never failed to say, “LOVE EACH OTHER, CAUSE GOD IS LOVE, AND LOVE IS GOD.”
I love you so much #MAMA
Tell us about your music career journey?
I released my first solo album titled LIVITY, in 2009, where most of the songs talked of the atrocities committed by the Kenyan politicians towards Kenyan citizens. And after coming out of the closet, I decided it was time that I started doing music that would fight for the rights of the LGBTQI + community, with an aim to claim justice, against discrimination, humiliation, and harassment we face on daily basis. I started the journey of recording my album EMBRACE DIVERSITY, which focuses entirely on matters affecting the LGBTQIA+ community, which took years, due to different challenges that I was facing. I released the first project of the 2nd album in 2015, a spoken word poetry piece titled ” Our love is valid ”.
And along this journey of recording and releasing the songs one by one, the following happened:
1- The mainstream media stopped playing my music.
2- I was refused access to music studios, by homophobic producers.
3- I have lost money to producers, who refused to complete the work I had paid for, simply because I am a lesbian.
4- I have been, abused verbally, ridiculed, mimicked, threatened, and thrown out of studios by artists and producers, who claimed that I am bringing shame to the Kenyan music industry, for being an open lesbian, and singing about it.
5- Some producers demanded that I don’t give them credit, in the projects that I had worked with them, because they didn’t want to be associated with a lesbian, and in turn, did shady work, just because they knew that no one will be able to know that it’s them.
6 – And for 8 years now, I have not been able to secure any event to perform in, around Kenya, just because of my sexuality.
7- My partner and I have been bullied, shamed, and called all types of names on social media. Happening up to date.
But we were finally able to finish and release it, in May 2020
I would also love to acknowledge Rainbow Talent Kenya, a group that I formed years ago, that consists of LGBTQIA+ artists, who featured as vixens in my Embrace Diversity album. I couldn’t have done it without them, not forgetting the fact that they did it all for free. Since I met her, it’s been 8 years, 9 months, and 24 days. She has been my rock, my support system, my helping hand, my shoulder to lean on, my guardian angel, and everything beautiful in this world. She restored my self-esteem, pumped my courage, and has been my motivation and inspiration, throughout those years I have shared with her. And apart from the pictorial activism that we do together, she is also my manager, my director, and my music producer. Am sure you can agree when I say that she is my everything.
That is beautiful Grammo, you are both lucky to share true love. Tell us how you got residency in Helsinki with Artists at Risk?
If it were not for this organization, I don’t know if I would be alive today. They are the ones who came through for me, in 2019, when I was under death threats. They provided a safe space for me, a 3 months artist residency in Spain, and during that time, I was able to perform in more than 10 shows. They have shielded us, ever since, and they are the reason my partner and I are in Helsinki, Finland, for another residency. Where they have provided a discrimination-free environment, where we are able to work on our art.
What’s cooking in the studio?
We will be releasing the 3rd album on 11th September. A 10 track package, all mixed and mastered by my super talented partner, whose themes are love and romance. Also, all these songs are inspired by and dedicated to my Queen. Many lesbian musicians out here, have been forced to use the term “he” in there are love songs, when the message is aimed at “her”, and vice versa. I refuse to lie in my music. And under no circumstance, will my life be dictated upon.
“We all have:
The right to express ourselves
The right to love.
Right to marry.
Right to recreate.
Right to live in peace and harmony, without anyone being discriminated against, harassed, abused, or killed, for being who they truly are.
We deserve and demand all the rights that are enjoyed by our heterosexual counterparts.
And that’s why I am gonna keep on fighting, the best way I know how, till my last breath!”
Mtetezi wa Rai-the ambassador of the people
Buibui-a dress worn by the Muslim or coastal women
Mahari- the tradition of payment of the bride price to the parents of the bride.
Mungiki-a vigilante group in Kenya whose function has evolved through history.
Grammo Suspect – Rainbow Ambassador Kenya is an Artists-at-Risk (AR) Resident at an undisclosed location, coordination by the AR Secretariat is funded by the Kone Foundation. Her AR-Residency is funded by the AR Covid-19 Emergency Fund and the City of Helsinki.