The above has been a bone of contention for a while but this dragon has not been slayed yet since the stakeholders are busy pointing fingers and are not touching the core of the subject. I have been to several concerts in the country and the adage “A prophet is not recognized in his home town” is apparently sad and true for the Kenyan music scene. Our artists are not given much pomp and hype like other foreign acts who visit to grace exorbitant shows for the who-is-who in the capital Nairobi, private pool parties in the leafy suburbs or high-end clubs and lounges. It may appear a little bit stretched but the truth is that the organizers and promoters of these shows go to lengths to fulfill the artist’s fetishes and exaggerated pay demands to the hem at the expense of the loyal fans who will foot the bill in the name of expensive tickets. To add salt to the injury, many give very shitty performances, turn up late for the show tipsy and unruly and they have learnt how to get away with it. When will we demand better?
But why and when did we allow such proliferation and defilement of our showbiz scene to such meager levels? Nyanshiski addressed the bull in the industry in 4-minute monster track Now you know after being in abscencia for almost 10 years in the US, “Ita yule jamaa wa Ada Ada akuje a curtain raisie mnaija”. He was clearly fed up with Kenyan promoters treating our own as second class citizens in their own country by giving Nigerians an upper hand which caused quite an uproar but inspired a healthy debate on an issue that was often swept under the rag.
So with such negative factors already, its hard for a Kenyan artist to tip against their foreign counterparts on a weighing scale. With that said, there is a reason why the visiting acts demand such high standards. They are treated with respect and a lot of dignity fit for a King in their home countries that is why they demand nothing less wherever they go. It kills the confidence of our musicians even performing here and worse in foreign places as they are not sure of the treatment and reception. The day our very own will outrightly demand such standard treatment is the day things will change.
Coming back to the type of music we produce and play, a rich and rooted cultural flavour is missing in the whole narrative. There is a gap. Hollowness. No soul in our work. Very few artists take the time to produce classic timeless tunes, music that will outlive their lifetimes and generations. Nameless, Sauti Sol, Pascal Tokodi, Kagwe Mungai, Dela, Dan Aceda, Victoria Kimani among other traditional acts are doing a superb job. Many just want to do music for the hype and glitz of it but are not in love with the tedious process. There has to be some element of originality in our music despite the genre eg. benga strings from the lake fused with hiphop, coastal trumpet over luo lyrics or the luhya drums lased with a ragga beat. Kenya is blessed to have a wide cultural diversity and we can use that to our advantage if our producers infuse and embrace some little creativity and fun in their work. This will give us a competitive edge in the continent against the Nigerians, South Africans and Tanzanians.
Going forward let us be all be a brother’s keeper. Let us support, consume our local music and stop the name-calling. Buy an album, play their music in clubs and media, go to a concert, inspire artists with positive affirmations on social media, vote for them in awards. They are our ambassadors internationally just like our athletes, wildlife and the Maasai. Other than being critical, we are supposed to learn a thing or two from our neighbors. They may be steps ahead of the game but we can still catch up with them if we wanna.
Over to you.