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Just How The Ailing Kenyan Music Industry Can Be Saved



Sauti Sol Band

Sauti Sol Band

By Nicholas Olambo

Kenya is home to over forty different languages meaning its music panorama is wealthy and involved, but the international music still controls the Kenyan airwaves and universal joints. Artists struggle to make a living through music, and it has for many proved an impossible avenue to tap revenue, many end up changing careers or copying foreign sounds attractive in the market.

With all its vibrant creativity and boom in production, Kenyan music industry is still nowhere near realising it’s potential. “Nobody knows Kenyan music”, says Suzzana Owiyo. The stunted growth of the industry is blamed on lack of proper networking and distribution, the linguistic diversity of the nation has also fragmented the market making it difficult for artists to develop a unique and easy to recognise the sound that can serve as a currency in the mainstream global market.

Sarabi Band

Sarabi Band

But bands are emerging every other day with unique and fresh sounds accompanied by sweet instruments. Sauti Sol must have inspired many, after their success, many are coming up with different styles and a recognisable sound that if nurtured will become the Kenyan music. Hart the Band, Sarabi and Red Acapella are some of the fast-rising bands to fill the void when Sauti Sol is gone. Red Acapella, for instance, is a perfect team of two young men in their mid-twenties who are astonishingly good at their job. They call their music ‘Rhumba today’; the pair handles all instruments with a little help from a friend when they play live. Their vocals are powerful, mellow and harmonise well to create a brilliant, luscious and iconic layered vocals. Their song ‘ka gava’ is already a major hit to cement their popularity.

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More should be done, and Kenyan music may be dwarf at home, but it had also attracted international attention when singer Ayub Ogada’s work was featured in a 2005 award movie “The Constant Gardner”. This is the direction the industry should take; Kenya is home to some of the finest producers and sound engineers in the continent. Ted Josiah, R Kay, MG and Ulopa just to name a few are household names in production; though old they still have skills to roll out of their sleeves.

Artists also need to make music that relates to their culture and environment. Music is rich in history and is also a vehicle for sharing information and educating local populations. Copying Nigerian or Tanzanian music is not good for growth; big artistes like Suzzana Owiyo, Eric Wainaina and Ayub Ogada have just packaged what should be considered traditional music in the manner that can sell globally.
Not all must be like them but cutting a nitch is necessary.

Artistes like Camp Mulla were accepted for representing urban or rather uptown hip hop and gained recognition across Africa and beyond to being nominated for the prestigious BET Awards though they quit the stage before the show was over. Their sound was entirely different from that of the pioneers of hip hop in Kenya, Kalamashaka. Kalamashaka made hardcore and revolutionary hip-hop which evolved to soulful hip hop with electric sampling and quirky lyrics like in ‘angalia saa’ hit single. Nowadays rappers hardly make sense say for Juliani, but the rest have excellent delivery and no lines that ring in the listeners head. If bands get it right like Sauti Sol did, the industry will be out the death bed.

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