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Is Kenyan music really that poorly composed?

Friday June 2 2017

Nigerian artiste Wizkid performs at Carnivore

Nigerian artiste Wizkid performs at Carnivore Grounds on October 19, 2014. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU 

There are several platforms in Kenya supporting local and East African content, but few keep it real, exclusive and strictly Kenyan. Some Kenyan radio stations do not play Kenyan music at all. They blame it on poor quality.

This has, unfortunately, spilled over to the audiences, some who insist that they cannot stand Kenyan music. Yet beyond the pop stars of today like Sauti Sol and Nameless, we have plenty of undiscovered talent.

I just spent two weeks in Nigeria recently on a cultural visit. While there, I only heard six East African songs playing on radio and at the club. They were Mayonde featuring Stonee Jiwe with Nairobi, Sauti Sol’s Nerea, Sura Yako and Shake Yo Bam Bam, Vanessa Mdee’s (Tanzania) Hawajui and Juliana Kanyomozi’s (Uganda) I’m Still Here.

This, compared to the Kenyan scene where we give Nigerian content 50 percent of airtime.

Once back in Nairobi, I asked the taxi driver to tune in to some radio station that was counting down Kenya’s Top 5 songs and, guess, what? None were Kenyan. They were actually American. The other stations were not playing local songs either.

A Kenyan artiste’s biggest chance of making it is right here at home, yet the radio stations and fans have no time for them. To bring change in Kenya’s music industry, we must introduce new artistes to audiences.


Nigeria has the biggest music market in Africa and their radio stations are inclined to play their own music.

Kenyan fans need to stop bashing local songs and artistes at every given opportunity. I am a music pundit and a stern critic, but I also know that music is in it self a form of art and expression. Let us give the artistes room for growth.

Kenyan artistes also need more collaboration beyond social media fronting. Artistes who have penetrated beyond the East African region need to collaborate with their counterparts in Kenya and across Africa more often. Diplomacy will guarantee radio rotation.

Wizkid is a perfect example of an African artiste gone global and who can show the world the talent in his own country. Before his big international break, he had done many local collabos (paid or unpaid). The collabos overflowed and overpowered his own space, so much that the world (read major labels) took notice and wanted a piece of the action.

Local artistes also need to ensure that they produce quality content. They should get good management and PR and be consistent. In turn, we critics should give constructive criticism.

At the same time, the relationship between fans and the artistes they adore is like partners who fell in love blindly. Nothing matters to them. If they love controversial artistes like Burna Boy, Davido, Willy Paul, Jimmy Gait and Jaguar, nothing can change that fact.

This does not cover traditionally infused genres but focuses on modern day music that defines the urban Kenyan beat and pop culture.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to write home about stations promoting vernacular music, and platforms allowing the popular artistes to perform their music live. This has successfully empowered the artistes make a lot of money even from album sales.

Maybe artistes in the pop genres should try to engage themselves in other platforms and avenues that will connect them to their fans, apart from only media and radio.