Kenya’s pioneering music industry-Here is what it had which we lack in today’s industry.

Kenyan artists-The late E-Sir and Nameless (Image courtesy of nairobinews.nation.co.ke)
Kenyan artists-The late E-Sir and Nameless (Image courtesy of nairobinews.nation.co.ke)

It is almost impossible to talk about the inception of Kenya’s music industry without mentioning names such as E-Sir, Krupt, Nameless, Amani and the Longombas. (You might be a bit too young to be reading this if you do not know either of the artists mentioned). While some may not be in the limelight as much today, their contribution back in the day has played a major role in shaping today’s local music industry. Evidently, there has been noted progress over the years which can be attributed to various factors but on the other hand, regression in some aspects of the industry is a fact that cannot be ignored. Yes, we might now be using more advanced technology to shoot music videos and produce better quality audio tracks, but Kenya’s pioneering music industry was a step ahead in invaluable ways that go beyond material investment.

Reminiscing at how popular Kenyan songs like Boomba Train, Tukawake and Liar brought us all together gives me hope for Kenya’s music industry. Back then, no one cared who did the music and which hood they were from. E- Sir constantly sang about South C, Googz and Vinnie Banton, Githurai while Nonini and Jua Cali represented California yet still, we all identified and sang along. As long as it was good, people supported the music and we were all proud to be associated with it, unlike today when some of the available music is divisive separating the “up- towners” from the “down- town” individuals.

Kenyan artist- Amani (Image courtesy of www.sde.co.ke)
Kenyan artist- Amani
(Image courtesy of http://www.sde.co.ke)

Pioneering artists banked on authenticity and everyone was out to curve their own niche in the music industry. Amani sounded very different from Kalamashaka’s Nazizi and yet both of their styles were lovable and with originality. Things have changed today, with most artists attempting to be more global and while it might seem to sell them more, it is getting harder for the local audience to identify with Kenyan artists.

Then there were the popular song books- exercise books dedicated entirely to song lyrics (most of which were Kenyan) and even with cut out pictures our own artists from newspapers and magazines. (What were you doing with your life if you did not have a song book of your own?) Knowing the entire lyrics to a song was more like an obligation and even when one did not know a few of the lines, the song books were in great circulation just to ensure everyone was up to speed with the latest and most popular Kenyan songs.

I love the fact that we even had day concerts that were embraced as the ideal family fun day out, with Kenyan artists performing live. Such concerts cost an average of Ksh. 500 per person (which was money of value back in the day), and yet such events were still packed to capacity. There were no selfies then and one’s attendance of the concert was proven by personal autographs from Kenyan artists. (My first from was from Prezzo and Nazizi on a brand new white top which I ensured wasn’t washed for an entire month, until mum decided to have it “washed by mistake”)

Flash-forward 2015 and our support for our local artists is simply a far- fetched idea. It is easier for people to show up for a concert with an international artist as the main act and a Kenyan artist as a curtain- raiser, as opposed to paying for a ticket for a concert exclusively having Kenyan artists perform. “I don’t listen to Kenyan music” is one of those common statements that break my heart and especially when from a Kenyan. One would think that with the growth of the internet and social media being what it is today, Kenya’s music industry would be at the top of its game, but sadly not so. I however still believe that Kenya’s music industry can still be pushed to realize its full potential, if everyone including the artists, DJs and the local audience plays the part that they ought to. We have all it takes, we just need to believe in ourselves and give it our best.

Share your thoughts on what more pioneering artists had that we lack in today’s music industry, making us not realize our full potential.

The Flavour in African music.

Nigerian artist Flavour N'abania (Image courtesy of buzznigeria.com)
Nigerian artist Flavour N’abania (Image courtesy of buzznigeria.com)

I was recently privileged to have met Nigerian artist Flavour N’abania during a recent press briefing courtesy of Coke Studio Africa. Currently signed to 2Nite Entertainment, he is amongst Africa’s most sought ought artists, with more than 10 awards to his name.

He will be among the performing artists on Coke Studio Africa Season 3, this being his second time to be featured on the show. Flavour describes Coke Studio as a great opportunity that contributes to increasing his musical knowledge, through interaction with different artists from Africa. According to him, the platform is one that helps to widen his fan base, having gained more than 6000 followers on-line, following his first appearance on the show in its second season. This is in addition to his Ada Ada performance with Victoria Kimani being the most watched video on YouTube from Coke Studio Africa, with more than a million hits.

With a video of Rihanna dancing along to his hit song Ashawo doing rounds on-line, Flavour describes it as an indication of the growth of African music. He adds that such a renowned artist dancing along to a song done in a language she barely understands only opens up more doors, not only for him but even other African artists.

The use of local dialect in Nigerian music has played a major role in re- defining contemporary African music and Flavour has not been left behind. According to him, the use of an artist’s native language while expressing themselves through their music helps to engage the audience and to identify the artist and their origin. Flavour points out that artists do not make songs wondering if they will be acceptable beyond their borders, but rather think of a song and its ability to resonate with locals.

Nigeria's Flavour (Image courtesy of stargist.com)
Nigeria’s Flavour (Image courtesy of stargist.com)

Flavour has performed in different places all over the world among them New York, Houston and Abidjan and one would wonder which of his musical tours he enjoyed most. He however describes every place as unique and every audience as different, making it impossible for him to single out a specific tour as his favorite.

Without initial support from his mother for his music, Flavour moved away from Nigeria for about eight years and promised himself to return only after proving that music was a powerful tool that he could use to better himself. He did and through him, it is clear that unlike before, art and particularly music when taken seriously can be taken up as a career. While Ashawo was a major hit and one that helped to elevate his music career to greater heights, Flavour says that he cannot stop there as he needs to keep making more music. He attributes his believe in himself to his understanding of his power to win.