Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Year ends on a high note for Kenyan musicians

Three of the musicians whose stars shown brightly this year. From left: Jua Cali, Eric Wainaina and Wahu. Photo/FILE 

By TIM KAMUZU BANDA

The political turmoil at the beginning of the year put paid to most Kenyan artistes’ efforts to rediscover themselves in readiness for 2008.

However, you have to admire the way they rallied Kenyans for a return to peace and tranquillity through music, even as the post-election violence threatened to tear the country apart.

Eric Wainaina’s peace song was adopted by non-governmental and and other organisations helping in fostering peace in Kenya.

Producer R-Kay spearheaded another initiative bringing together more than a dozen musicians for a peace song. The initiative rightfully earned him an award through the British Council in Kenya.

The grouping of artistes, known as Afro-fusionists, is growing in stature by the day, thanks to the annual Spotlight on Music talent search held at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi.

A long way to go

However, the new artistes have a long way to go before they catch up with their established counterparts.

Afro-fusionist Suzanne Owiyo had one of her best years yet. She was the only musician to represent Kenya at the Nelson Mandela birthday concert in London. There, she shared the stage with the likes of Will Smith and Madonna in what was one of the biggest music shows on earth.

Call it being at the right pace at the right time, but upon her return from London, Owiyo was again invited to perform at the world’s biggest music expo, Womex, held in Seville, Spain. This was a perfect opportunity to network with the key players in the industry, and the songbird says she did just that.

“There will be greater things next year, that is for sure,” she promises.

Wainaina had a big boost to his music career when his song was adopted as the theme for the Orange mobile phone network. Despite not releasing an album this year, he still dominated shows locally and abroad.

Iddi Achieng’ launched a compilation DVD of her music journey. It was a flashy launch at the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi that was graced by Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wife Ida, who says she geatly admires the diva’s works.

However, Iddi has great love for theatre and she soon retreated into producing vernacular plays.

She also released an album, but she downplayed it, knowing well that she would use it as an entry into next year.

“I have been working on my studio and things are in place, but watch the entry next year,” she says.

Makadem proved to be a smart artiste when he released a song on US President-elect Barack Obama just when the world was looking for such a song, especially from a musician, where the new leader’s father was born.

The song’s kapuka/genge genre, Kenya’s popular music style, has had a lot of activity this year, but very few emerging shakers.

Just like last year, Jua Cali has a phenomenal climb in the music industry this year, and this despite he fact that Ngeli ya Genge was his only release.

He won best male artiste at the CHAT Awards and at the PAM Awards in Uganda. He was also nominated for the MOBO and MAMA awards in London and Nigeria respectively.

But two events particularly boosted Jua Cali’s popularity. He clearly outshone US rapper The Game at the recent concert at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.

Jipange concert

At the Jipange concert at the city’s Uhuru Gardens, he raised for visiting Jamaican artiste Mr Vegas.
Wahu released only one song, but it revived her career and propelled her to being the best female artiste this year. Her song, My Sweet Love, which was composed in honour of her daughter, saw her clinch a deal to make a video sponsored by MTV Base and Shell.

However, her greatest moment came when she won the best female artiste title at the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) in Nigeria. “I feel blessed; it has been a good year,” is what Wahu says of the latest development.

Nameless, Amani, Redsan and Karma were all expected to make a mark this year, but were overshadowed by Jua Cali and Wahu.

The gospel music scene has also been very vibrant. Although one never really knows whether or not to classify one as a secular or gospel musician, Kanji Mbugua had one of the biggest and probably most expensive album launches this year.

The crowds turned up in large numbers — an indication that they support the Kijiji Records producer. Hopefully, they will also buy his music in large numbers.

MOG and Daddy Owen led the way in performing gospel music the “secular” way. They say this is a way to reach out to young people in a language they understand.

MOG has beguiled music lovers with the songs, Zing Zing and Let Him Go, while Daddy Owen is flying high with Randaranda.
The traditional Kenyan music scene was also very vibrant. In benga from western Kenya, Musa Juma and Dola Kabarry continued to shine without much competition. Riding high with his Wololo album, Kabarry had a successful tour of the US.

Coming at a time when the North American country was rallying behind Obama, any Kenyan music had to be received well in the US.

Promising musician

However, this category lost a very promising musician in Omondi Tonny, who died in a road accident in June.

But it is in Ohangla where competition has been most stiff. Tony Nyadundo refused to fade away, but there is no doubt that Onyi Papa Jay and Osogo Winyo overtook him in popularity, especially in his western Kenya.

Queen Jane, JB Maina and Mike Rua still dominated central Kenya, while Ken Wamaria aka Mutongoi remains the king in Eastern province. And old hand Hebel Kifoto released a compilation of some his best songs over the years.