Music: Are We Doing It Right?

Too many times have I been told by my foreign friends that Kenyan music, the most of it anyway, is too horrible. I have agreed, and I still do. Well, I cannot blame them. As someone whose writing muse is music, whenever I write as I listen to most Kenyan music, I tell myself to stop, lean back and wonder at the gobbledegook that I just wrote.

Save for the select few – Sauti Soul, Third Hand Music, Elani, Just a Band, Dela and the others, I just have to say that just about everything else is hogwash. Harsh you might think I am, but it is the brutal truth. Music is supposed to be more than booming beats, more than rhyming words, more that trying to be cheeky with half nude women gyrating around like the Americans from the US, who are doing a perfect job at misleading us. Music is supposed to be poetry beyond rhythm. It is supposed to make us feel more than the need to get drunk, hunged-over and to get laid. It is supposed to make us feel things… like really FEEL!

Music is supposed to not only tell a story, but engage us in it, for example, Wahu’s ‘Still a Liar’. Yes, it is an old song (old is gold). Yes, it tells the story of infidelity, something that everyone watches in the telenovellas that air between 8 pm and 11 pm, in any local channel of your choice. And yes, it has a catchy tune. But there is so much more that underlies this. Here is a lady who finds herself in yet another compromising situation of infidelity. Does she run away frustrated? Does she dramatically throw herself on any stationary figure nearby and weep like a despaired Disney princess? Does she go to the salon and gossip with her frenemies?


She stands up for herself and decides enough is enough. She takes matters into her own hands (because the Kenyan government obviously won’t, especially with all this IEBC cacophony), tells herself that she has to be the best she can be, and thus selects only the best for herself. And better still, she urges the women around her to stand up and be better… and choose better. And, just like that, an entire novel about women empowerment is sung within four minutes.

I miss the songs of old (haha I sound like a character from Game of Thrones!). I miss when Kenyans used to sing Lingala and Rumba. Those kinds of music adeptly produced the culture in our beloved country which is dying… No, dying is too lenient a word. ‘Decimating’ is a better definition. Or peherps, ‘being obliterated’. Our Kenyan-ism is being obliterated by what we are tricked to perceive as modernity, and uptown-ism, as metrosexualist music and nonsense. God I miss it all, even though I was less than ten years old when the last songs of old were sung. And my soul cries out in agony. Where is the poetry? Where is the romance? Where is the beauty in sounds that used to define us so well? All that is left is the noise that haunts me all night, especially after boarding a Rongao Sacco matatu!

I could lament on and on. I could critique till the end of time, but my thumb tires as I am typing over my phone. But as a last note, please, let us not resort to the Safaricom advert songs (because they are really nice) to identify our kenyan music. Let is make music like Elani, dance like Sauti Soul, feel like Just A Band, T.H.M and every other Kenyan artist who still remembers what music sounds like.

Let us sing in the true African way and not just ‘dandia tu kama mat’.

P.S.: Gobbledegook = ‘mathogothanio’

P.S.S.: You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion.


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