There are artistes who are unknown nationally but are so popular in their area that there’s a near riot every time they go on stage. BONIFACE NYAGA takes you on a journey to discover some of the biggest names you may never have heard about.
In this digital age, fame is often equated to social media popularity; how often one trends or is covered by the media. In Kenya, accurate data about music consumption is actually very hard to come by. Consequently, fame and popularity are often measured by publicity rather than actual fan base numbers. There is a class of performers who are in a league of their own, they move crowds with their music and demand a near cultic following in their spheres of influence. Promoters depend on these low-key heroes to draw in crowds when they visit their counties, because you can’t have a concert without them. These are the artistes who command such a strong following that the first time you see them on stage, you are left wondering “Who is that and why don’t I know about them?”
Considered the reigning King of Ohangla, Musa Jakadala hits the stage with unparalleled velocity. Backed by a full band and a troupe of dancers, Jakadala holds his audience hostage for the entirety of his set. His iconic Benga vocals and rhythmic songs will keep you dancing and yearning for more after he is done. At his performance a few weeks ago, during the Chrome Mega bash, there was a near riot when his set came to an end. Though he had already performed for almost a whole hour, fans wanted more of his Ohangla flavour.
Alphonce Kioko Maima
Currently touted as the Michael Jackson of Kamba music, Maima is conquering hearts and minds with his iconic guitar licks and captive vocals. In his repertoire “Carol”, “Kamain Switch” and “Tuendee Nesa” are some of his biggest hits. Together with his ensemble, Kithungo Boys Band, Maima keeps a very busy schedule, performing at different entertainment spots in major towns and cities. When performing in his home turf, the reigning king of Kamba Music is known to even upstage very big artistes.
Before winning the 2018 Groove Award for Eastern Counties song of the year with “Kiwango Kingi”, Wilberforce was relatively unknown in the mainstream industry. With about 17,000 subscribers and almost 5 million views on YouTube, Musyoka is a force to reckon with. Fans across the country, listen to his songs on repeat, many of whom use his song as a ring back tunes. His topical and very well done songs have made him a major force in the Kamba gospel sector. Ranked 7 in Eastern Region as per MPAKE’s recently released logs, Wilberforce is really big in his neck of the woods.
The undisputed king of Bango music is a crowd puller at the coast. Though well known, he doesn’t receive the legendary status that his 64-year career deserves. “Kisulisuli”, “Mama Emmy”, “David na Vera” and “Utanichoka” are some of the timeless hits that have kept revellers dancing for years. Mzee Ngala's song "Bango" is the originator of the name for the title of the genre. The resilience of the name, bango, is testament to the genre he created. Some of the groups he has played with include Hodi Boys and Bahari Boys, as the founder and band leader of the 1960s and 1970s groups, respectively.
In the ever changing Rift Valley music scene, Mwalimu Kendagor is currently flying high. Applauded for his fidelity to the Kalenjin culture, Mwalimu is known for his educative and insightful songs. His songs address various social issues and he frequently emcees weddings where he advices couples on marriage. Cutting across all age groups, Mwalimu’s songs are huge in Rift Valley, and his influence in the region is undisputed. Deejays in the area know all too well that a party is never complete unless you’ve played one of his hits.
Mike “Sweetstar” Rotich
He is the Diamond Platinum of Kalenjin music, lording over his kingdom with swag and melody. Popularly known for his hits “Nono” and “Material Molo”, Sweetstar is the darling of Kalenjin music. As a leading figure in his region, both political and commercial events are not complete without him. Deafening screams from excited fans announce his arrival every time he gets on stage. He is also quite the performer, often hitting the stage with dancers and rocking the crowd every single time, whether backed by a band or on play back. Unlike other areas, the Rift Valley music scene is very well developed and popular Kalenjin musicians often go home with very healthy performance cheques. The leader of Sweetstar is reported to be making very good money.
Rising from selling soup in Nakuru to becoming the top selling Kikuyu gospel artiste in Kenya, Sammy Irungu has come a long way. Known for his weekly show on Kikuyu radio station Inooro FM – a gig he has held since 2010 – Irungu is a powerhouse in this vernacular music scene. Some of his biggest hits include “Njira Ciaku”, “Maithori”, “Ndi Wira Wa Moko Maku” and “Menyerera Gucenjanirio Irathimo”. He was nominated for Groove Awards 2018 Central Counties Song of the Year for “Ngita ya Daudi”. His songs can be heard blazing from barbershops, kiosks or matatus, especially where Kikuyu music is popular. You may not find him on Instagram and maybe a little bit on Facebook, but on the ground crowds go crazy when his songs are played. His humble and simple demeanour has endeared him to a multitude of fans.