ONYANGO-OBBO: Young Africans are at war and they are using their new music - Daily Nation

Young Africans are at war and they are using their new music

Thursday August 24 2017

Nigerian singer Davido performs at the Carnivore, Kenya in 2015. PHOTO | MARYANNE MUMBI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Nigerian singer Davido performs at the Carnivore, Kenya in 2015. PHOTO | MARYANNE MUMBI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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In a fit of pan-African fancifulness, one of my 2017 resolutions was that I would watch African football with the same keenness I do the European leagues.

It became the first New Year resolution I broke. Though, to be honest, the quality of the African games they show on our screens is still low, I was able to get past that.

What eventually broke my resolve was the lousy broadcast.

Watching matches with one or two shaky cameras chasing the ball around the fields, and occasionally watching pitches with small anthills in the middle, took their toll. I gave up.

Which led to the puzzle. From Nigeria’s Nollywood, to East Africa, the quality of many of the movies and series we see on TV might be crappy, but the music videos are something else.

They are world class. Why can’t the bright minds that make African music videos bring their touch to African film, and spill into our sports broadcasts?


My personal music preference is rather narrow, and even tribal in the black sense.

I stick mostly to jazz, which I understand. In Kenya, that means Aaron Rimbui, Chris Bittok, Joseph Hellon, Lawrence Mwai, and chaps like Eddie Grey.

Not too long ago, I encountered a new outfit, Nairobi Horns, who have brought heartening old-school values to the form, in ways I am still at a loss to understand.

Forays away from that narrow lane went to destinations like Just a Band.

It was a bad day when they announced they were taking a break. Attempts by Blinky Bill to bribe me with autographed books and other things have totally failed to mollify me. How can they leave after doing Winning in Life? That’s sadism.

Then there is the lady herself, Suzanna Owiyo, and that crazily brilliant shaggy-haired trumpeter Owuor Arunga. The list is quite respectable. I had never imagined Kenya would have great jazz talent, but that is a story for another day.


But for all this, the big music in Africa is not Kenyan. I am told Uganda’s Chameleone can beat half of Kenya’s hip-hop musicians combined with one hand tied behind his back.

It is the Nigerians who seem to now have dethroned the South Africans to rule the hip-hop and African funk scene.

The thing about this is that, perhaps on account of age, fellows like us hardly listen to contemporary Nigerian musicians.

We are still waiting for Fela Kuti to resurrect. Okay, I know about blokes like Davido, Olamide, P Square, D’banj, and their “bad” girls like Tiwa Savage, and read about their exploits, but I only listen to them by accident – if their stuff comes on in the car stereo or on TV. I wouldn’t buy it.

That changed this week upon reading that the Nigerian health and moral authorities had banned Olamide’s Wo and Wavy Level; Davido’s Fall and If and 9ice’s Living Things from the state-owned broadcast media.


I had only ever listened to Davido’s Fall and watched the video a couple of times.

Now that they were banned, I went to YouTube and endured them all. They are actually good, and have racked up millions of views.

I might make a date with Nigerian hip-hop in future. In common, all these flavours of popular music, especially the videos, have one thing in common – they are a story of young Africans in rebellion.

They are quite powerful in-your-face social commentaries, mixed in with aggressive assertions of African womanhood, despite their annoyingly derivative outer shape.

In the tradition of the 2012 film Nairobi Half Time they dredge up images and backdrops of the tough underbelly of African urban life, with its violence, poverty, drugs, alcoholism, and prostitution, that the middle classes and the politicians are very uncomfortable with and would rather suppress.

Two of the Nigerian songs seem to have been banned for this reason.


The others represent the extreme: a glitzy glamorous high-society life, with big crime, too, drawn from Hollywood, and that none of the young African fans will ever live.

Its escapism but also an indictment of the dystopian realities and brutalities of daily life in Africa.

They dare construct a life where the problem is having too much, rather than nothing. It is a very subversive idea.

You have to get past the heavy twerking, but it seems that the best young people’s political and social statements are in those music videos we don’t have a lot of time for.

 The author is publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]