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.
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.