Artists, more so musicians, have always been, and will forever be, a reflection of society

BY BRENDA VIOLA

Music speaks to the heart and perhaps the soul. It is a universal language that successfully unites those of different cultural and social backgrounds. 

Growing up, my parents listened to sounds of Oliver Mtukudzi, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Billia Bell, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Brenda Fassie, the list was endless. With the changing times, music changed too. A few years back and arguably even today, majority of the Kenyan population still prefer to listen to music by other artists as opposed to the local ones. 

Despite this disheartening truth, the Kenyan artists are yet to deter from doing what they do best, producing hits after hits.

The question of whether Kenyan productions were getting their rightful airplay or not has remained highly debatable for the longest time. Wouldn’t it only be logical for a country to play its music? A lot of the music played in our matatus and clubs, nonetheless, is Western and ‘Naija’ music. How many Kenyan music and local artists, for instance, do you have on your phone? How many Kenyan concerts have you attended in the past decade? 

The Kenyan Government has been in the limelight for several occasions concerning the music industry. For instance, Nishike, a popular song by the Sauti Sol, a famous boy-band in the country was banned from any local airplay, radio or TV. The ground for this course of action was that the song was too explicit for the general public. Naturally, like any curious Kenyan, my interest piqued after the ban. I took to YouTube to see just how ‘explicit’ it was. A few seconds into the song, I quickly figured out why the ban was activated. But then again, the target audience for the song wasn’t the general public and Sauti Sol weren’t trying to play role models for the general public. Isn’t foreign music with a Carte blanche on local air waives more explicit? 

More recently, a new wave of Kenyan music flooded our airwaves. These songs were mostly sang by Sailors, The Ochunglo family and Ethic, with the young adults singing to the lyrics word by word. It is arguable that their music redeemed us from the peak of Naija and Western music addiction. 

Yet again, Dr Ezekiel Mutua, the CEO of Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), censored Wamlambez by Sailors. A lot of controversies were raised whether this song promoted immoral behavior or whether it was just another hit by local artists.  Other banned songs include Takataka sang by Alvindo which seemed to promote violence against women. 

Due to Dr Mutua’s ban, these songs actually got more recognition as the claims made by the CEO of KFCB piqued the curiosity of majority of the Kenyan population. As a result, the social media handles like YouTube where the songs were posted, were frequently visited, played and downloaded. 

There’s always, however, two sides to a coin. Walking back home from the office recently, I spotted a few groups of children playing by the roadside. Some skipped ropes, others rode bikes and some played the legendary ‘kalongolongo’. Their enthusiasm brought a smile to my face. However, my attention quickly shifted to another group of children, they were singing along to one of the songs sung by Sailors. Listening more keenly to the lyrics of the songs, I couldn’t help but agree to the action taken by Dr Mutua. Perhaps, the songs were intended for an older demographic, and that’s why they weren’t played in children’s parties.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether the children understood the lyrics since a lot of it was in deep Sheng, a common slung with the Kenyan youth that varies with age and even the estates of the city one hails from, and even class of station. 

Different people have different reasons for turning to music, for majority of us music is a form of entertainment. Unfortunately, majority of the lyrics in the songs sung by the upcoming artists are more or less vulgar. The Internet and other social media networks are filled with more explicit content than the ones in these songs. 

Nonetheless, can we really blame the Kenyan artists for the type of music they produce? Artists are a clear reflection of society. At the end of the day, the music industry is still business, profits need to be made. If the vulgar tunes attract most of the consumers, then it is only natural that the artists will write vulgar lyrics. After all, we do what we got to do. .  

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