Kenyan Music Industry Is Lagging Behind
Compared to Nigeria (Naija music) and Tanzania (Bongo music), Kenyan music hasn’t made an impact in Africa
It’s highly probable that in Kenyan living rooms, ‘Kwangwaru’ by Diamond Platnumz is played more times than Sauti Sol’s ‘Short and Sweet’ at the moment. Diamond Platnumz is a Tanzanian musician while Sauti Sol is a Kenyan boy band known for their witty lyrics, catchy tunes, and controversies. A spot check across reveler’s joints in Nairobi will reveal your worst fears; Nigerian music is a staple for DJs and Kenyans.
The Kenyan music industry has always been compared to Africa heavyweights such as Nigeria. Before we examine how Nigeria is beating us in the game, let’s do some self-introspection of why we are failing.
Industry stakeholders have raised concerns about the composition of Kenyan music. The quality of music is wanting according to publicist Anyiko Awoko who has worked with the revered band, Sauti Sol. Music, songs, and composition forms part of a national identity and cannot be reduced to individual pursuits of a musician. This is often referred to as the ‘beat’. Mostly you’ll hear mentions of the Naija beat;that’s a definition of their type of music irrespective of the artiste.
The poor quality of music not only taints the image of the artiste but of the whole nation. A song says a lot about a nation and its people hence the blame not only lies on the artists but the society as well. Some quarters have come out to pronounce their love for foreign music, mostly Naija (Nigeria) and Bongo (Tanzania). This is a clear denunciation of local talent. It is wishful thinking to expect the music industry to compete with Africa bigwigs if we don’t play our own music.
Radio stations play a central part in this worrying trend. Some radio stations do not play local music citing lower standards hence more foreign songs receive airplay compared to locally produced songs. If artists such as Nyashinski have produced stimulating music then we can’t generalize that all local music is poorly composed. From this argument, it is evident that the difference sets in when our Kenyan music is measured again by its own standards versus when it is compared to international music.
The current generation of Kenyan artists haven’t acquired and mastered the requisite skills that would produce an international hit. Artistes need to invest their time to engage in professional music production and song composition, songwriting, song arrangement, production and engineering skills. Most local musicians use pre-programmed sounds created within the European context and blending these sounds with local messages proves to be difficult.
Local sound engineers haven’t mastered the trade. They fail to give each song a distinct sound hence the mystery behind one-hit wonders. In other countries, sound engineers strive to produce high-quality songs. Lack of equipment and skills is also a problem in the Kenyan music industry.
Kenyan DJs also don’t give precedence to local music. In nightclubs, it’s common to listen to plenty of Nigerian and Tanzanian songs while Kenyan music is seldom played in the mentioned countries. At one time, the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) and the Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) announced that DJs will pay a fee to play music but the disk jockeys insisted that they promote the artistes hence they will stop playing Kenyan music if the rule is enforced. Kenyan musicians have always blamed DJs for lack of support.
In recent times, Kenyan musicians have expressed frustrations with the Music Copyright Society of Kenya over royalties. Elani, a three-member band detailed how they received Sh 31,000 only for songs played on television and radio for a duration of one year. Lack of a centralized body to regulate the production, sale, and consumption of music is a contributing factor to the slow growth in the industry.
But why is Nigeria ahead of us? Apart from the fact that Kenyans have professed their love for Nigerian music including artists, they have the numbers. It is the most populous nation in Africa with close to 200 million citizens. With such a number, the production of music is high because the consumption is rate is higher. Nigeria has diverse cultures with a mix of over 500tribes. With unique cultures and different styles of music, their artists have a vast resource of content and styles.
The innovativeness of Nigerian artistes is no secret. Back in the 1990s, they started copying American music then blended it with their style forming a fusion of Western and African. This led to the birth of Afro-pop. Afro-pop became a thing and up to now most of the music played in Nigeria is locally produced. It’s worth mentioning their charisma and Nigerian swag from the mode of dressing to the way of talking which has catapulted most of their artists into international stardom.
Back home, our neighbors, Tanzania with their bongo stars from Diamond, Alikiba, Rayvanny to Aslay have been stealing hearts with their catchy bongo music. Bongo music is lauded for quality content, something that Kenyan artistes are accused of lacking. It is common in the streets to hear Kenyan ladies profess their undying love for bongo musicians. Tanzanians appreciate their music more than anyone else and this why they carry the East African music heavyweights title.
Nigerians love their own artists. Internationally acclaimed artists such as Wizkid first made it big in their country before rising to stardom across Africa. Kenyans need to stop bashing local songs and appreciate local talent. Local artists need to rise, smell the coffee and up their game quality-wise because we are lagging behind and we shouldn’t be. We don’t belong at the tail end of things.