Why Do Foreign Musicians Talk About Kenya That Way?

Whenever I see foreign musicians talk about how they miss Kenya, can’t wait to come back and whatnot I am often curious.

I get it, we want these celebrities to love our country and whatnot.

But doesn’t it bother us that our own musicians don’t reap the benefits of being musicians in this country?

It should.

We have heard that musicians from other countries come here, they are paid well. PAID WELL. And sometimes, them wanting to come back is not so much about the country but rather, the economic benefits they reap from coming to perform here (otherwise they would come without there being a concert).

Concert promoters often say that having Kenyan performers doesn’t reap the profits the foreign musicians do but I think that is a cop out. And that is why what Nyashinski did with Shin City is important and urgent. Those like him, with the muscle and ability to mentor and uplift other musicians.

I won’t say much about our useless government but the fact of the matter is that it is by design that local musicians aren’t as supported as they should be.


My Top Kenyan Songs 2020

I know you all read the MY in that title.

Now, to make it to this list, it is more than I thought it was a nice/fun/dope jam. It is songs that I went back to and listened to more than ten times.

Because I find, it is easy to say something is the best song but you only listen to it two times and never again.

Waithaka ft Wendy Kay & Jivu – More

I cannot count how many ways I love this song. So good.

Ayrosh – Fire EP

Yes I know it’s technically four songs but please you must listen to all four at the same time so yeah. So good.

Adasa x Benzema – Najikakamua

Her voice? Her voice???

Kemboi – Unanibamba

I really cannot wait for this album.

Trio Mio ft Renata – Niko Busy

Kahu$h x Chris Kaiga – MaStingo

Ayrosh – Nuu (ft Muringi)

Just Imagine Africa – BANGI

This song makes me so happy.

Lisa Oduor-Noah – Jahera

Her voice??? Yum.

Karun – Catch A Vibe


I’ll probably do a “honourable” mention post sometime soon.

Also, If you have been here long enough, there are certain bands/people I don’t listen to for personal reasons so yeah.

MY Top 10 Kenyan Slow Jams

Firstly, because people like to say things – this is MY list. Please make your own list with songs you like.

Don Ngatia – Solitude

Mwewe – Sema

Ayrosh – Wendo

Phy – Taboo (Taabu)

Ukweli ft Karun – Roses

Kwame Rígíi – Reke Ngwende

Jivu – Nakupenda Bado (this was hard to choose because this album is a minefield of dope slow jams)

Wendy Kay-Maybe

Valerie Kimani – Nguga ĩĩ 

Karun – Need U The Most ft. Joseph Kiwango (Prod. By Nu Fvnk)

Secondly, these are songs I listen to TILL TODAY. I wanted to give shine to songs that REMAIN on rotation.

Notable mentions

Kenya’s Gatekeeping Problem



the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.

Before I begin, let me say that I am aware that gatekeeping is not unique to Kenya so if this is your contribution to this topic, spare me. Secondly, gatekeeping exists in a myriad of spaces, from politics, to the lit world, to TV etc – I am going to be talking about music specifically.

Now onto the matter:

Late last year/ early this year, the issue of Play Kenyan Music (#PlayKEMusic) gained momentum, fueled by remarks by DJ Pinye stating that DJs shouldn’t play “mediocre music“. This issue is primarily about urban Kenyan music. Now, for someone with this platform, access to radio and TV, to subjectively make these statements while not applying the same metrics to music from other countries is absurd in my opinion. We must accept that he (and others) are industry gatekeepers. A problem.

Have you been watching Cleaning the Airwaves on YouTube? I mean, if you listen to the subtext in some of these interviews, you would see that this issue has been around for a long time.


This isn’t the first time we have talked about the issue of playing Kenyan music and why radio/TV doesn’t give it priority. From the days of Kalamashaka – the issue of gatekeeping has arisen, we look back with rose coloured glasses on how good their music used to be. However, at their peak – their music wasn’t on radio and a quick Google search will show that this was the case. I remember Hardstone in an interview talking about how his career was railroaded by DJ Pinye.

(click here to listen: https://www.facebook.com/GidiOGidi/videos/10156358086478896/)

If you’ve watched any music documentary or read music history, the issue of DJs, radio presenters, industry heads gatekeeping isn’t new. I think what makes it even more difficult for Kenyan artists is the lack of an organised industry and the fact that certain personalities have their foot in every aspect of the industry. They own record labels, are event promoters, have contracts with the largest companies, are producers, have ownership in radio stations – In such a case, having gatekeepers arbitrarily decide what makes the cut or not, coupled with a populace that likes being spoonfed and rampant corruption within ALL systems that are meant to work for the benefit of artists – we encounter a situation where breaking into the mainstream urban market is dependent on factors beyond the actual music being made. In the case of Ethic and their viral hit Lamba Lolo – it was the virality of that song that led them to being the force they are now. We (you who is reading this and I) know that they would never have gotten radio play if that video did not become the viral hit.  

Urban radio presenters and other media personalities do not need to go to other countries to find that they play their own music (Nigeria, SA etc.) as was being discussed at the time. This is a non-issue in this era of social media. They are well aware that this is the case, yet are either drunk on some power trip or they don’t care about the music industry. Simple.

Gatekeeping goes beyond radio presenters et al. It also includes established industry insiders spreading false stories about musicians/artists – and these words being taken at face value. That is another form of gatekeeping rampant in the 254. Because of their standing in the industry, if an old head producer for example says that a certain musician doesn’t do XYZ, even if this is false, it is taken as the truth – closing out that person to opportunities that they would otherwise go their way. I don’t understand why this happens but I have heard of this happening a couple of times and it fills me with a rage I cannot express in words. What is the motivation my guy?

Something else I’ve noticed and quite frankly perturbs me is lack of visible mentorship – in essence protégés. You know how you see western artists have people in their roster that they mentor and “show them the ropes” of the industry. Does that happen here? I just don’t know? (outside of Sauti Sol who frankly can be considered “new” and I respect them for this particular thing).

By the way, I know many will say that with the advent of social media, musicians don’t need radio/DJs/Promoters etc but you know this is simplistic thinking. We should firstly, have systems that work and also want the systems to work. Industry insiders should also strive to ensure they aren’t being stumbling blocks to the growth of the industry by perpetuating nonsense miaka nenda, miaka rudi.

Music Review: A Couple of Recently Released Kenyan Music Videos

Ok I have watched a couple of Kenyan and Kenya adjacent music videos recently and I decided to challenge myself to write one or two sentences about a few of them. So here goes nothing:

Blinky Bill – Mungu Halali (feat. Sage, Sarah Mitaru, Wambura Mitaru and Lisa Oduor Noah

This video is super dope. Come through SAGE, those harmonies???? Get into them. Whew!!!!!

Shinde – Presha ft BigPin, Nameless, Mwalimu & Pascal Tokodi

I would be very interested in hearing this song without the men in it because for one, I like the subject matter and she sounds nice. The men? I am not convinced.

Jerry Ogallo – Kaa Nami

The song is dope and if he gets someone better to master his music, we will have such excellent work.

King Kaka X Romain Virgo – One And Only

King Kaka doesn’t rap to the beat and it has always irked me but maybe I am not the target market. Romain Virgo has such a silky voice but even he can’t save this song.

Otile Brown – Crush

What we cannot deny, is Otile Brown’s ability to sing a song. I hope he has ceased the PR stunt of manufacturing drama a la the Wasafi peeps to get people to listen to him.

Bey T – “Bad Bad”

I like what she is doing, the space Nu Nairobi is creating.

Music Review: Wanja Wohoro – Matriarch

album cover art

This album has been out since September 2018 and I honestly am behooved as to why I only recently came across it. I read something online about Ms. Wohoro being at an event at K1 and decided to research about her. And here we are.

This is the first full length album by Wanja Wohoro (she has an EP as well) which she was able to record due to donations that she received. I was really impressed by what she did to ensure this was recorded and honestly, kudos to her. More and more as I read on matters #PlayKEMusic I realise how this industry, the government, the people/consumers and even artists fails artists.

Now onto my thoughts.
The album begins with an afro jazzy tune titled “Roots”, a song with lyrics on empowerment, a running theme throughout the whole album. “Mumbi” can be considered an ode to the matriarch of the kikuyu tribe, a history lesson of sorts and the chanting at the end was spell binding (to me), I loved it so. “Home” starts with her speaking in swahili, greetings to Nairobi – home- I am your voice and you are mine. And as you can expect, the song talks about home and what this means for her. “Mine” is a reflection of her journey “23 and I find myself clutching at straws missing life as a teenager plucky and flawed” – I know what you mean Ms. Wohoro. The titular song Matriarch, an easy favourite especially lyrically, an upbeat tempo song that embodies what she intended with the album as she says…..”story of contemporary womanhood through a personal lens.

The instrumentation on this album is excellent – everything from guitar, the songs with the sax, percussion. I am in awe to be honest. Does she do her own background vocals on this album? Anyone who knows please inform me.

I have really enjoyed listened to this album, I think it is truly great and I cannot wait to watch her live.

You can listen to the album on her website by clicking here.

Also, let me state that it is really nice to have an artist upload music to the streaming sites. Please take note other artists.

Guest Post – #PlayKE – Lamba Lolo

I was talking with BM about the conversation around playing Kenyan music since I was thinking about writing something about it. I then, as I often do, asked him if he wanted to write something about it. And he did.


Some time mid-last year someone retweeted a thirty second clip on the timeline. It was a video shot in an open field, there were people odi-ing with lollilops, it was a fun video shot by some young guys in a hood. Someone posted the youtube link and I clicked wanting to watch more. I was jazzed by the video, the lyrics, the dancing, the fashion when I watched it, I replayed it jazzed by the video.

Piga goti eh

Panua domo basi eh

Shigi shigi deh

Out of ten pewa ten

Lamba Lolo is one of my favourite songs of 2018. It was great seeing young people using the resources available to them and having fun while at it. Every time someone retweeted the video, I watched it while noticing the number of views pick up momentum, the song was being sambazwad widely and I was here to witness. All this looked like a fluke, one of those things that grip attention for a few days then pass over but there was more to it, this was nothing new, it had been there all along waiting for this moment.

The comments were varied, there were people who joked about listening to the song and checking that they had not being robbed, classism wanted to have its say. There were hilarious comments because humour is one way of surviving Kenya and there were some full of support of the song. People were saying this was something they related with. There was something reminiscent of Luche produced videos for Calif from the noughties. It was kawaida and that was part of its allure.  Acha ni wapeleke na rada.               

It’s not unusual getting into a mat and guessing the next song after listening to a few songs on the mix. Djs mixes circulate, shared by people on flash drives, sent via Bluetooth, WhatsApp, posted on Facebook and Twitter.  They are played on boda bodas, in shops, kila mahali it’s sijui, Dj Simple Simon, Kalonje, Demakufu, Kym, sijui nani. There are mixes that go back almost thirty years ago as can be found at Uhuru Radio, a small shop owned by Muturi, in an alley between Ronald Ngala and Racecourse Road. Muturi has been selling reggae mixes from the mid-nineties. Some popular reggae mixes are from Agugu Family (Agugu gaga!), one of many reggae soundsystems in Nairobi. They play every Saturday at Club Spree on Moi Avenue. It was here the late MC Patoka would hype the crowd with humour, his now-popular “Ona Uyu (anafanya nini?)” and “Leo ni kulamba lila lolo”.

For some, if not most, the idea of someone talking over a DJ set is abominable as Sonko’s Christmas decorations. As in, why is a dude talking over the music? Si they just let the music play.  It is a long tradition in reggae parties to have an MC, a mediator between the selector and the dancing crowd. They study the crowd, hype the crowd, intercede with a quick “wheel it  up mi selecta, bring it back again”, they dance, and every once in a while cause ripples in language that might lead to tremors or complete shifts in language. There is a long history of popular MCs in Nairobi: marehemu Papa Lefty of King Lion Sound; marehemu Pupa Davis; Jeff Mwangemi; MC Jahwatchman; MC Full Stop, John Maina kari ki!; Jahmby Koikai; Queen Mamji. A phrase they use in the club finds its way into daily language and part of the conscious. Lamba Lolo is one of many phrases that soon found itself on t-shirts for sale during reggae night and branded on matatus. It’s now a part of daily speech: niliwekelea bet kumbe nikulambishwa lolo tu. The song made the shift palpable.

As the DJ steers the vehicle of sound, the MC is both navigator and census taker. They map the dancefloor and acknowledge the presence of shuffling feet. People come in posses most of them affliated by neighbourhoods, safety in the comfort of people known, some for a lifetime, and the census is taken: 44 Githurai posse; Kangemi massive and crew; Kibera Namba Nane; Mathare kambi ya nare; Ololo, land of a thousand streets; Majengo Kashmir; Jericho; Salem; Umoja massive; Lunga Lunga people; Ziwani; Okongo; Bangla; Kawangware 46. The dancefloor is a map of the city and as people shift, rock, and sway neighbourhoods fold into each other. A simple acknowledgement is as simple as being told that someone sees you, you are present. It is the same thing Ethic are doing, when Rekless raps, ” Toka ghetto naeza chizi niku peleke hadi kile”, he’s acknowledging the difference of place and class but also finding ways to bridge them.  

 Thinking of this fave of 2018, I also think of the discussion that’s been going on about playing Kenyan music and what arises from such a demand, how it’s framed, who does the framing. The conversation about playing Kenyan music is not new, in fact, it’s not limited to music. Read more Kenyan authors. Watch Kenyan shows and movies. Buy Kenya, build Kenya.

Not too long ago there was some furore after Dj Pinye, producer of the longest running music show on Kenyan TV, said that there was music he couldn’t play for not meeting standards only he knows. Lamba Lolo is one of the songs he unequivocally denied. The media with its own interests and relationships (naskia inaitwa networking), has for the longest time dictated what could be played, when it could be played. Sasa hizi watu ni ku-plot form and using platforms that traditional media would not be seeking out. There is so much Kenyan music on youtube and soundcloud for anyone who is looking for a myriad of styles.

I have never ascribed to the notion of the street as a measure of realness i.e a “real” Nairobi, “real” music but I understood why Lamba lolo blew up – it was relatable, it was things heard things on a regular, the dancing was reminiscent of being in a jam session or downtown reggae night . Si kila mtu anaweza kuwa Fela. Ama Bob Marley. Sometimes we find our freedom in a love song that jumps into you and streams out as a warm sigh, we find joy in songs that make us dance and temporarily forget this world. I’ve noticed how some conversations online can easily degenerate as people defend their taste and shoot another’s down. Kila nyani na starehe yake and the same to music. I understand people who don’t like Lamba lolo, or Dundaing, or Mike Rua, or Alvino. We are different in our tastes, class, but that is not reason to be vile.

In addition to the demand to play more Kenyan music I add curiosity and generosity. If we cultivated a culture of being curious about what’s happening in Kenyan music and sharing music widely among our friends, family, colleagues we would be playing more Kenyan music and if the media doesn’t give it as much attention at first, they are bound to want to get in on it out of FOMO. There are gigs around the city like Showcase Wednesday at Alliance Francaise to go listen to dope acts. This post is not didactic nor does it have a point, it is an acknowledgement of a song I like and the thoughts it raises in its wake.


BM is a poet who lives in Nairobi. He tweets here.

(Ask Ciiku will be back tomorrow and then my post on #PlayKE will be live on Wednesday)

Music Review: Dela – Public Demand

I have said it and will repeat, Dela’s album Paukwa is one of the best Kenyan albums ever. But I am not here to discuss Paukwa. Dela released her latest album, 9 years after her first one, titled Public Demand on 30th April. The album has 15 songs and is 53 minutes long.


In an interview, Dela talked of rebranding from Afro Soul to Afro Pop and listening to Public Demand makes this quite clear. The music is different from Paukwa and some may mistakenly assume that it is because of moving from Penya to Taurus Music. But this is not the case according to Dela who says, according to this interview, that she does not want to be boxed in a category. I respect that. With that in mind, I had to listen to this album as a stand alone without the thought that this is the same person who gave us the phenomenal Paukwa (She was 19!!!!! at the time).

Dela can sing. That she is vocally talented is obvious and undeniable as you listen to Public Demand. From the first song, which starts with Dela singing the Kenyan national anthem. To be honest, I expected her to do something with it, change it up a bit but she showcases her voice while singing it in the usual way.

I think I should come right off and say that I didn’t enjoy the singles she had released prior to the album coming out – Mafeelings, Adabu and still, listening to the album, I’m not a fan.

Almost all the songs start with her “Taurus Musik” which I am assuming is akin to Darkchild and DJ Mustard having their names in their songs.

Ahadi Zako, the second song in the album is a fast paced afro pop song which is one of the songs I believe showcases Dela’s move to the genre without diluting her essence (unlike Adabu and Mafeelings in my opinion).

Paza Sauti, which starts with a snippet of the national anthem, is a call to Kenyans to speak about what is going on in the country – a song that is so timely and should be released as a single sooner rather than later.

Te Le Mi, a duet with the absolutely brilliant Adekunle Gold is a stand out song in the album, I can even go so much to say that it is my best song on the album. I wish it was longer.

Mama, the lone song almost entirely sung in vernacular is beautiful, but I’ve been known to root for Kenyan songs not done in English so I am very here for this song.

Listen to this album with an open mind and don’t compare it to Paukwa. Her voice is fantastic and I get what she is trying to do and wish her the best. I’d like to see how she does this album live. I might just attend a concert.

Standout songs: Te Le Mi, Paza Sauti, Mama, the first 34 seconds of Controle and the Africa (Salif Keita Tribute)

Music Review: Habida -I Am EP

I happened to hear Habida’s Searching and decided to look up whether she released an album since she went to South Africa. And lo and behold – I found out that she released an EP. The I AM EP has four songs – Searching, Searching (remix), I need that love and finally the titular I am.

If you’ve listened to Searching, I know you will agree with me that it takes you a moment before you realise that it is indeed her singing.

I love everything about the single she chose. Searching is a catchy song, her voice sounds dope, production is excellent and to top it all the lyrics are good. I could easily do without the other two songs in the EP and maybe that is a taste thing although I am is very reminiscent of a song which as I type this I cannot remember. If one of you has listened to it, please let me know.

The cover art is ACE.


Also, it should become more common for Kenyan musicians to have their music across all streaming and selling platforms, much like Habida has done for this EP.