Kenya’s search for authentic tune
Posted Thursday, December 31 2009 at 19:30
- Although Kenyan was the cradle for Ugandan greats such as Chameleone and Bebe Cool and formerly home to Tanzania’s Simba wa Nyika, Congolese Super Mazembe, Les Mangelepa, Virunga and many more celebrated African bands, it is yet to evolve a distinctly Kenyan sound.
The Congolese have Lingala. The South Africans have kwaito, kwela, mbube and mbaqaqa. Cameroonians have makossa, Brazilians samba and Jamaicans reggae.
Whenever music from these regions is played, be it Franco’s Mario, Yvonne Chakachaka’s Umqomboti, Fela Kuti’s Lady, Manu Dibango’s, Soul Makossa or Bob Marley’s, No woman, No Cry, music buffs from anywhere in the world can instantly recognise and locate its origin.
What about Kenyan music?
Besides Benga, Kenyan music lacks a signature sound. That hasn’t stopped its exponential growth in the past decade, though.
The volume knob was turned by, among other factors, the onset of FM radio stations, talent search competitions, producers and studios, frooty-loops digital recording technology and a fan base of callow youth.
Also, there was a patriotic wave of being “Proudly Kenyan”, at a time when popularity of Congolese music, that had dominated local music scene for ages, was waning.
The generation gap boosted local music too across age, community and class divide.
While the raging hormones of “mahewa (music) generation” found a lyrical home in Kenyanised American hip-hop; their “old skul” parents and the lyrically discerning post-teenagers went for zilizopendwa (golden evergreens), or the folksy Central Province mugithi as popularised by the one-man band craze fronted by Mike Rua, Mike Murimi and Salim Junior.
The same applied to Nyanza Province Ohangla tunes, of Tony and Jack Nyandundo.
Gospel music, on the other hand, moved from choir batons to embrace modern, catchy beats, without preachy lyrics.
This growth wasn’t without trailblazers.
Hardstone (Harrison Ngunjiri) pioneered an urban style by blending ragga, reggae and hip-hop with Uhiki in the late ‘90s. This song in Kiswahili, Kikuyu and English topped the charts culminating in Hardstone’s debut album, Nutin but de Stone, released internationally by German based Kelele Records.
Hardstone showed the latent potential of Kenyan hybrid music.
But the success of any new sound and crop of musicians, has a visionary producer behind the scenes.
Kenya in the late ‘90s had Tedd Josiah.
Besides founding Kisima Music Awards, the musician turned producer founded Blu Zebra Records in 2002. The studio recorded among other artistes; Hardstone, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Necessary Noize (Wyre and Nazizi Hirji), Ndarlin’ P, In-Tu and Uganda musician Kawesa- who all featured in compilation albums.
Tedd either turned artistes into Gold —Poxi Presha, Suzzana Owiyo, Abbi, Didge, and Achieng’ Abura— or polished them into paving way for others. Like Kalamashaka who introduced hardcore Kiswahili hip-hop into mainstream music with the hit song Tafsiri Hii.