A simple Google search of the top Kenyan artistes will tell an intriguing tale. The names that pop up are the likes of Nameless, Willy Paul, Jua Cali, Daddy Owen, Wyre and Jaguar. The same goes for performance contracts; shows are often headlined by the same old faces. The case is the same for South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria where males artistes like Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool, Wiz kid and Davido dominate the air waves. In Tanzania at least names like Vanessa Mdee, Saida Karoli and Rose Muhando feature prominently in their music scene, but ladies there face the same challenges too.
In contrast, a Google search of American top artistes will bring up names like Beyonce, Madonna, Taylor Swift and Rihanna right up there with all their male counterparts like Eminem, Jay Z, Michael Jackson and Kanye West. In the UK Adele rules the airwaves alongside a host of other female artistes who ably compete for the slice of the pie.
This leads one to wonder; where are all the Kenyan female artistes, is the industry just too harsh for them to survive or are they purposely discriminated? Is it a lack of talent, effort or opportunity, why do we have so few female artistes at the very top of our local industry?
TOUGHER FOR GIRLS
Having been in the industry for many years, Avril admits that it is tougher for a girl in the game because the industry is undeniably a boys’ club. She contends that women have to work three times harder, to create networks and stay ahead of the game.
She says: “If you have good management you do get paid just like everyone else, treat your brand as a business and it will reward you as a business. You cannot be emotional because the moment you do, you forget why you do what you do. No matter what happens keep your head in the game.”
Yet even in this tough environment artistes like Muthoni the Drummer Queen have defied the odds and are taking their craft to the world stage. Beyond starting and running the Blankets and Wine platform successfully for various years, MDQ, as she is popularly referred to, has really come of age as an artiste. With a thrilling live band set and an energetic show to match, MDQ is taking the world by storm. She is due to headline several festivals in Switzerland this month. Over the years MDQ has set herself apart with a unique sound and breath taking performances.
Fena Gitu and Mayonde have also managed to cut a niche for themselves in the local industry. Though they are not necessarily pop sensations, they command a strong following in their neck of the woods. By localising and specialising these two Kenyan queens have broken the boundaries and gathered a solid fan base across Africa.
After many years in the cold, Mercy Masika burst into the scene a few years ago with her smash single Mwema. Since then she has become a permanent fixture in just about every major show in town.
“Everything is challenging and many times women can get overwhelmed balancing work, family and the ministry,” she admits. “Sometimes even finances meant to grow ones music can be channelled into other places but where there’s a will there is a way. I don’t feel discriminated. I win my battles in prayer and I don’t allow it to affect me. I know my value. Having a manager helps a lot and yes we are paid well. I don’t know much about others but for me, I am okay.”
It is also a fact that scandals affect female artistes worse than they affect male artistes. It is ironic and almost hypocritical that the smallest whip of impropriety brings down female artistes while their male counterparts literally get away with murder.
Femi One has been on the war path with female MC’s castigating them for not doing enough. Her diss track “Pilau Njeri” opened a pandaros box that led to an all-out war as female hip hop artistes responded to her song.
In her defense she claims she did it to nudge female MC’s into action because they had been too quiet. Though she admits that ladies especially in the rap game have to work 10 times harder, she contends that they are not putting in enough effort.
“I think ladies give up too easily and we get distracted easily. Some of us get into relationships and put our boyfriends first. We have to be consistent if we want to be relevant,” she says.
According to her the lack of solid labels in Kenya also adversely affects female artistes more than it does their male counterparts. She argues that many of them chose to take more secure career paths to sustain themselves.
Gloria Muliro’s public divorce took quite a toll on her career which took a dip for a while. Betty Bayo on her part was also adversely affected by the “310” scandal involving her ex-husband Pastor Kanyari. Though she was not adversely mentioned in the story that was aired, the public still lashed out at her. She was thrown under the bus for being an “accomplice” and for not seeing it coming.
Eunice Njeri’s almost perfect reputation was equally tainted by the emergence of details of her cancelled wedding. The annulment of her wedding barely a week after marrying fellow gospel artiste Izzo affected her reputation more than it did his. Yet, male artistes have been caught up in baby mama dramas, rumoured to be gay or conmen and lived to see the next day like nothing happened.
Kenyan showbiz is a tough space to operate in for anyone but especially so if you are a woman. It is not for a lack of effort or talent that female artistes are missing from our hit list. Yet there are those who have made a mark for themselves in this jungle and blazed the way for those who are behind them.