The ‘uptownisation’ of reggae in Kenya
- Reggae music in Kenya has for long been mentioned in the same breath with thuggery; but not anymore as promoters change tack, writes JOHN MUCHIRI
Reggae music concerts, especially in Kenya, have been branded as a hub of hooliganism, theft and harassment of the highest level in the entertainment industry.
Most people who go to the concerts with their valuables often go home without them after having being forcefully relieved by hooligans calling themselves reggae fans.
But last weekend, the Tarrus Riley and Etana concert held at the Carnivore grounds opened another chapter of reggae history in the Kenyan entertainment scene. Expensive phones, iPads and digital cameras were all up during the concert, filming and taking photos of performance after performance, something that almost never happens.
The revellers who walked into the grounds were not your regular hooligans smelling night club violence in downtown clubs but those who frequent uptown clubs. With over 3,000 people attending the concert last weekend, the Tarrus Riley and Etana show passes as one of the best organised reggae concerts in Kenya in a long while.
The question is, was this influenced by the fact that reggae has moved from downtown clubs and the slums to up-market or did the organisers just decide to take the necessary measures to make the event worthwhile?
Tarrus and Etana
According to Big Tunes Festival of Music, the Australia-based promoters and event management company that brought Tarrus and Etana to Nairobi last weekend, there were 258 security guards manning the event. Other than the normal club bouncers present at the venue, there were a total number of 40 police officers, some with sniffer dogs, traffic police and others who maintained general security in the place.
“As we organised the event from day one, the most important thing that we had in mind is the safety of every person who will attend the event,” says Otieno Makochieng of Big Tunes Festival of Music.
“We have organised many events in Australia, and we have always maintained that the very first thing to take care of is the safety of the person who will come to support our event and the musicians we bring on stage. They must be comfortable and enjoy the show without fear.”
Other safety measures included the provision of fire engines and ambulances, which is normal in many events. “But another important thing that we had to make sure is the fact that we were on the same page with the owners of the venue, the Carnivore,” Otieno notes.
But with the high gate charges, the event could also not attract the trouble rousers that harass people in most reggae events. A regular ticket was selling at Sh2,500 while the VIP one was double that amount.
Kriss Darlin of the Dohty Family DJs says that this is the kind of reggae audience they have been targeting.
“When we moved our reggae nights from downtown clubs like Monte Carlo and Nyanza House, lots of people dismissed us saying that the uptown clubs don’t have reggae fans. They said our shows will fail because reggae fans are in downtown clubs,” Kriss recalls.
But to date, Dohty Family, which also has DJ Moh, DJ Steve Junior, DJ Tsunami and MC Jahwatchman, have been booked seven days a week in the up-market clubs.
For instance, they play every Monday at Tamasha Hurligham, an up-market club before going to the even upscale neighbourhood clubs in Westlands like Changez, on Tuesdays.
On Wednesdays they move to Florida (Mad Houz) 1000 on Koinange Street and then to K1 KlubHouse, located in Parklands on Thursdays. On Fridays they play at Tamasha clubs in Lang’ata and Nairobi West on Saturdays, before finalising their week at Florida 2000 club on Moi Avenue on Sundays.
“We were afraid that people would not come to our reggae nights in these clubs but we were shocked. There are many reggae fans in offices and from rich neighbourhoods too. They just couldn’t find anyone to play good reggae music for them, that’s why Monday reggae nights are always full,” says Kriss Darlin, who heads the Dohty Family DJs group.
Other up-market clubs that have reggae theme nights include Club Click on Mondays and Club Legend on Thursdays, both on Baricho Road. Reggae legendary DJ, JahKeyMalle plays at Club Click, while dancehall reggae DJ G-Money plays at the Club Legend during the UpTown Thursdays night that started at Rezorus Club in Westlands. In the CBD, other notable clubs that play reggae include Tribeka Club and Club Mojos, both on Banda Street.
While the downtown clubs like Monte Carlo, Nyanza House and Achievers, all on Accra road joining River Road, still playing reggae and attracting crowds, it would appear their stranglehold on reggae is no more and that the up-market clubs will maintain their reggae theme nights as they have proven to be a hit with the people who deem Accra Road to be too dangerous.
“The promoters at Big Tunes did their homework well to put high gate charges and improve on security at the event last weekend. I was impressed to see iPads taking photos of the performers very comfortably and that’s the market that we have been targeting in our events,” says Kriss Darling.
On the other hand, Otieno says that this was just the beginning. “We are looking at doing more events, better than the one we had last weekend. We have very good relations with these Jamaican reggae artistes and I know we shall eventually change the bad image of reggae concerts” he says.