Every year it seems, we have this discussion of Kenyan music being played on radio and TV. And every year media personalities seem to make the resolve to play Kenyan music. And then the cycle repeats. A cycle.
This year, I’ve been passively following the conversation because it seemed like it would be a regurgitation of the same story. But I feel compelled to write something, as a consumer of Kenyan music. With minimal information on what happens in media beyond what I’ve read and heard.
Right off the bat, let me say that any consumer who says Kenyan music lacks quality is a lazy consumer. A consumer who repeats what they’ve heard and what’s been said about Kenyan music for eons. There is nothing unique about saying this, no thinking involved in saying this and it’s been said for as long as this conversation has happened and furthermore, it isn’t true.
Is there music that isn’t good? Yes. But that’s true of every single country on this planet – bad music exists. I say it now, Kenyan music is good. Especially the ones that don’t get play, views and hype. And that is the issue I have with this conversation. The music on SoundCloud, Reverbnation, YouTube. The music your radio people are not playing.
Let me talk about the Kenyan consumer for a bit first: like many other things Kenyan, generally speaking, we like to be told what to do. You only have to listen to politicians to know I’m right. And this also shows in what we listen to. And how some have this conversation. Those who say there is no good Kenyan music are rehashing what they’ve been told because if they really listened, they’d see how wrong they were. Those who refuse to listen to what the artists are asking for not only lack empathy but are again, doing the bidding of the puppet masters. We all know that Kenyan music isn’t getting as much airplay in Nigeria as Nigerian music is getting here and you can’t convince me it’s quality related. Much like the Mexican soaps and Afro cinema but today isn’t about that. It is because someone somewhere is controlling that content and telling you that this is what you must watch/listen to.
Let’s not forget how Kenyans GENERALLY conflate (mostly western) foreignness with better quality etc. When it comes to music, before the rise of Nigerian, South African and Tanzanian music – it was black American music, Congolese Rhumba etc. I am not sure if it’s low self esteem but really it’s puzzling to me. That’s why an unqualified foreigner will be paid much more than local workers. That’s why people view white people as saviours and treat them better. A colonized mindset if you please. This counts not only for why people believe Kenyan music isn’t good quality and the incessant need to copy how foreigners do music (I had to slide this in here since its pertinent to my point).
If you haven’t yet, Mwafrika talks about it on this Facebook post. Yes, radio/TV has gatekeepers – they refuse to play Kenyan music, want to be paid to play the music – etc. However, some burden has to fall on the consumer of the music. The songs on this post I have not heard on radio, I found some, I was told about some – the point is, the music is there.
And yes, we know the stories of musicians who have made it despite the odds, being blackballed and not played on radio. We know them. However, we shouldn’t be happy with this tokenism. What should be more acceptable and what we should be happy about is that people have access to this music via radio stations and culminating in artists being able to make a living from their craft. So my fellow consumers, let us support our artists, let’s listen on soundcloud, youtube – let us follow them on social media, let us go for their concerts, let us give feedback (hopefully the artists you love are open to this – i know how it come be sometimes).
As for the conversation on gatekeepers in media, it definitely needs to happen and more than happen, something needs to change. And that’s that on that.