OLUOCH: ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ could be a Kenyan story

Thursday January 10 2019

R.Kelly in a past performance. PHOTO/BANG SHOWBIZ


R. Kelly is a haunted man.

At a time when the legendary R&B singer, song writer and producer should be enjoying his wealth and success, the ghosts of his sexually perverse past are haunting him.

The many sexual allegations that dotted his otherwise illustrious career have converged into one big explosion in a documentary titled Surviving R. Kelly.


Surviving R. Kelly, a six-part docu-series, reveals how the star suavely hoodwinked teenage girls into sex, in most cases with the promise of lifting them onto the big stage of America’s competitive music industry.



The piece has elicited quite an uproar on social media, with the biggest question being how these many cases of violation over a long period could escape the public eye as well as the media.

Considering that our music and entertainment industry, like many other industries, takes after the western, especially American, models, it exhibits similar dynamics including gender relations and opportunities for exploitation.


When I was an entertainment journalist a few years ago, it was common to see male celebrity musicians in near-permanent company of pretty young (not necessarily underage) girls, always dressed for the party.

These girls would be in tow at concerts, interviews and even at artists' residence.

This trend was prevalent among artists who were publicly known to be single, and it had little to do with professional relationship as this crop of girls had no role in the artist’s stage performances or management.

In the outer layer was the groupie phenomenon - young impressionable female fans following top artistes to any event and mill around them with or without their knowledge or permission.

In some instances, nosy showbiz journalists got clear signals of what should have passed for sexual exploitation, but since the practice was quite pervasive and somewhat part of a subculture, none of all that was considered newsworthy. And so, like in R. Kelly’s case, the beat went on and on with the media dancing along.


I don’t know if things are any different in the industry today. Have our musicians become more professional and responsible in the way they manage their career?

In the documentary, journalists and music industry insiders recounted finding the Pied Piper, as R. Kelly aptly called himself, in compromising situations with underage girls.

And I easily identified with many of their experiences. There was this time I was recording an interview with a local male artiste who was then topping the charts in Kenya.

Midway through the interview, which we were having in his living room, this 17-year-old-like pale-looking girl came out from the door of an inner room, stood there awkwardly before blowing a kiss at him and retreating.

To those who’ve watched Surviving R. Kelly, this is a familiar anecdote, albeit with a Kenyan twist.

Top musicians in Kenya have become strong brands and even employers.

If indeed there is sexual exploitation in the corporate world and in our universities then entertainment, which sits at the extreme end of a secular society, can’t miss its fair share.

For a young talented musician to climb up the charts first, one sure way in Kenya, just like in the US, has been to collaborate (or collabo as they call it) in a song or two with established and popular artistes. Associating with a strong brand creates visibility and catapults the newcomer at least to the industry’s middle row.

It is easy for male artists who want to sexually exploit young female talents to dangle instant stardom carrots in exactly the same way some bosses, university lecturers, and beauty pageant judges use promotions, degrees, and crowns, respectively.


Back in 2011, a very young, pretty and seemingly-naïve girl teamed up with a hip-hop bad boy and released a song, with a raunchy video to boot, that quickly became a hit and club anthem.

The two also appeared to enjoy a very close unprofessional relationship that left the public believing that the good-girl-gone-bad and her music godfather were in a sexual relationship.

One can draw parallels between this relationship and that which existed between R. Kelly and the late teenage R&B sensation Aaliyah, one of his many victims.

What of the many Kenyan girls desperate for jobs as dancers, video vixens and the likes in plum music video projects? What price do some of them who get the deals have to pay? Theirs too would be experiences worth sharing, if only to exhale, or vent, and ultimately find justice.

With the tremendous growth of the local music industry and the attendant commercial success, music celebrities have become some of the most influential personalities especially among teenagers and the youth. Such influence should be used to build, not destroy, individuals within these population categories.

If a few celebrities choose otherwise then Surviving R. Kelly could well be a Kenyan script, only waiting to be put on tape.