Kenya’s music history is filled with several mixed and all boy groups, but one has to really scratch their heads to find an all-girl group that has really stood the test of time.
Some of the all-boy groups that have graced the music scene include Kleptomaniacs, P Unit, Sauti Sol, Deux Vultures, Kelele Takatifu, Christ Cycos, Amos and Josh, Gospel Fathers, Kymo and Stigah, just to mention a few.
Other groups that have made a name for themselves include the gospel group Recapp, Adawanage, and chat topping groups like Necessary Noize, Camp Mulla and Elani all of which are girl-boy bands.
In contrast, all-girl- bands are very few; though there is no shortage of girl groups that sing in churches and entertainment venues, very few break into the mainstream space.
Some of the few that have made an impact include the classical triplets of the Moipei Sisters, the Afro soul queens of KIU music and the legendary Tatuu.
Band Beca and Linda are some of the latest entrants who have made an impact in the industry and all eyes are on them to see how their story will end.
Band Beca were relatively unknown before they featured on the break out segment of Coke studio earlier this year. The dynamic duo of Becky Sangolo and Carol Kamweru have hit the ground running with their hit singles Toka, Brathe, Tonight and Maua. They attribute their success to a common vision; having known each other since 2014, Band Beca is a more of a sisterhood.
“Sometimes we finish each other’s sentence, that’s how much we know each other,” Carol explains.
“We spend almost every day together to point we are beginning to think the same way. I can’t even think of doing music without Becky; we really complement each other in the studio.”
Their bond goes well beyond the music and that is what keeps them strong.
They admit that a lot of girl bands break up because of a lack of vision.
For the duo it’s their dream to be the biggest girl band in Africa that keeps them moving. Typically many girl bands have broken up over petty quarrels, personality differences and shifting career priorities.
She says: “It’s best to start these things when you are young before responsibilities come knocking. Music takes time to commercialise and if you start a group when you are young it will be stable by the time guys need to get married and settle down.”
Her advice to girl bands that are trying to keep it together is to “Respect each other’s opinion and let everyone focus on their strong points to avoid unnecessary conflicts.”
She adds: “Forming a band is like getting into a relationship, so don’t cheat on your partner; don’t do projects without consulting.”
Legendary girl band Tatuu was a force to reckon with in the golden age of Kenyan music.
Their 2003 hit song Teso is a Kenyan classic, and so is Comeback to me featuring Ulopa which they dropped after a long hiatus. Since then the trio has all ventured into various corporate positions, some gotten married and are raising families.
Angie “Shinde” Mwandanda admits that it does get harder to keep the same laser-like focus when each person has their own individual career goals and priorities that they’d like to explore.
She contends that there should be a balance between the need for individual growth and the continuity of the group.
“It is the same way a sole proprietorship compares to a partnership, each comes with its advantages and setbacks. It also depends on why the girl band came together in the first place – if there’s a common goal with all girls involved then there is some sort of longevity,” she says.
FRIENDS LONG BEFORE TATUU
They were friends long before the formation of Tatuu. They first met at Phoenix Players in the late 1990’s to early 2000.
Their friendship grew through spending time together in rehearsals, performing in plays etc. That experience also helped them develop a passion and desire to perform together.
By the time they formed Tatuu years later, they already had a solid friendship, and knew each other’s families.
The group is not active today but they are all still friends and talk of a comeback is always on the table. Currently, Shinde is a Business Development Manager for MyChoiceTV, a Video on Demand service. Though she is no longer in the music business she admits her time in the industry helped shape her into who she is today.
“There are several transferable skills I learnt in the music industry that have helped me to succeed in a formal work place. These include hard work, dedication to the craft, making presentations, relating with people, communication and networking. My career path as it is would not have been if I didn’t acquire first-hand experience in performing earlier on,” says Shinde.
The Afro fusion scene has really given a platform for various girl bands to emerge from the underground niche. Linda is one such group; their Swahili covers of classic 90’s hits have struck a special chord with audiences across the board. The name Linda means “protect” in Swahili, though they aim to protect the Swahili culture it seems they also carry the dreams of girl bands in Kenya. The trio of Raych, Beryl and Alexis, has made a name for itself with flawless harmonies and captivating lyrics.
“Jelousy is what breaks a lot of girl bands, especially when everyone feels that there is a lead singer who is the crowd favourite,” Raych admits.
“The music industry in general has way too much competition; people spend too much trying to outdo each other instead of focusing on making great music. Our group doesn’t have a lead singer so no one really stands out and that helps us jell,”
Their manager Grace Masha contends that though the group is young they have been intentional from the get go. They hope to show that it is possible to have a young, diverse, competent, inspirational and professional girl group.
“Many bands break up because they lack strategy, honesty and discipline. The corporate world does not take artistes seriously because they do not take themselves seriously. Many have a “make it now” mentality and when that doesn’t happen, frustrations set in and they go in search for greener pastures,”
Globally all girl groups like Destiny’s Child, Spice Girls, TLC and the Supremes made headlines in their heydays and are today a critical part of world music history.
It is not for lack of trying that we don’t have thriving girl bands in Kenya, but the insurmountable challenges that often bring them down. We can only hope that the few that have made it to the top will stay there and do us all proud with some good old girl power.