“Does music reflect society, or does society reflect music?” Anonymous

Well, folks, if there was ever a time that Kenyan music could be said to be at its peak, this would probably be it. The amount of local music that’s being produced is quite a lot and no only that, there are a number of platforms that exist now for an artist to gain exposure. Television and radio stations still hold the lion’s share of the public’s attention but with YouTube, music sharing sites like Sound Cloud and social media sites (for marketing), there’s a whole new level of exposure to the music industry.

Musician Ayub Ogada

With technology, it is said that the world is becoming a global village and if there was ever a great way to illustrate this perfectly, it would be by looking at the music industry. There no longer seems to be any barrier where one would say, ‘That’s Nigerian music, I don’t need to listen to that.’ The internet has revolutionized the world such that all music from different cultures are brought together in one place, leading to the rise of a new class of international music, where two different styles of music are married into one.

The Kenyan music industry has perfected this art. Turn on the radio and you will hear music influenced by hip hop, R&B, dancehall, reggae, bongo, lingala and this new genre whose popularity I fail to understand, riddim music. On one hand, this is a good thing, as it guarantees a variety in the music industry but on another level, is this the death to creativity in the music industry?

Kenyan music just seems to be going with what is trending in the world. It moves from one trend to another, hoping to milk as much profit out of it as they can. As a result, we get music that will only last temporarily, while the current fad is on the rage, but once the trend changes, the songs are forgotten so completely that they might as well never have been written or have existed in the first place.

But what about Kenyan music? The Kenyan sound? I get that we are a generation influenced by global trends but that does not mean we should not come up with our own authentic sound that captures our cultural context. Artists like Mejja and Jua Kali do this by telling Kenyan stories that all of us can relate with. Ayub Ogada, famed for the Constant Gardner soundtrack, Kothbiro, is one such artist that I believe to have found a perfect middle ground. Using traditional instruments, he creates a sound that appeals to all across the board.

I’m not saying that Kenyan music should sound the same, rather, there should be some authenticity to it that can be identified to its Kenyan roots. Looking at the rise of afro-fusion in Kenya, artists like Atemi Oyungi, Chris Adwar, Ma3, Sarah Mitaru and even Eric Wainaina have been able to bring a Kenyan flavor to their own individual style that compels people to listen since they can relate to it.

Music does not arise in the absence of society; it mirrors society, but it can also change it. Music gives us a chance to rejoice in our diversity, making it our strength rather than our weakness.

What are your thoughts on creativity in the Kenyan music industry? Tell us in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Kenyan music: An identity crisis?

  1. If music mirrors our society…the inability to find “roots” in the music means that there is a whole generation growing without roots…they are the Caribbeans and Americans/Europeans who just happened to have been born in Kenya to Kenyan parents…The roots in being Kenyan has been lost to them…somewhere along the way :/

  2. I think even that generation that may be 2nd generation Kenyans should add to the variety of our culture and make it more diverse. Roots are just what we can relate to and associate with our culture.

  3. I think the lack of roots is an opportunity just as much as its tragic. Today we have large swathes of the population that are illiterate in their mother tongue. At the same time we have kenyanized english and swahili with all sorts of local language infused in it.

    Maybe this can be used as a stepping stone?

  4. The reason to do music has substantially changed over the years and for kenyans, the people that are coming up with new records are mainly more of music lovers than makers.A song carries a whole lot of personality from the singer. We have forgotten that there was music before there was all this western influence and it used to be enjoyed just as much..the African story is completely fading and that is sad.

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