Monday, October 15, 2018
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Questioning the Role of Musicians in Fostering Change in Kenya

Koigi wa Wamwere, in an interview that made part of the documentary which Ketebul Music compiled and included in their findings of a study on protest music in Kenya which they titled Retracing Kenya’s Songs of Protest-Music as a Force for Change in Kenya, 1963-2013, remarked that ”when a struggle takes a music form, it becomes impossible to stop.”

Music is a very powerful genre. It can be change invoking, as it can be entertaining. Most music items are short and can be listened to even when someone is busy at something else. The message therefore reaches larger audiences as compared to books.

Music of people like Poxy Presha, Okatch Biggy, Majimaji, Gidigidi, Juliani among others are music I find interesting to listen to. Apart from the protest these musicians display in their music, the lyrics are so clear and fit for (even) family consumption.

Certain Kenyan music items cannot be listened to and worse still watched by an entire family. The musicians are praising curvy ladies and their butts. It is an embarrassment for parents should a family settle on a couch to watch television and such music is played.

I am not condemning music that has ‘no message’. Neither am I arguing that all music should be of protest. We all know music can be made for its aesthetics.

My argument is that at such times when corruption has eaten into the nation, to a point of achieving the status of a virtue; when negative ethnicity is the first name we go by; when the leaders we elect oversee looting sprees of the poor, struggling taxpayers’ money, the only thing we can do is call for a revolution.

This revolution can start by a simple piece of music and a short poem that can be recited.

We cannot enjoy aesthetics when we are suffering and [being] oppressed.

It is high time every musicians prioritized writing music that touches on what is going on in society; music that addresses concerns and complaints from citizens.

Compose several music items condemning rise in prices of maize flour; condemn smuggling of harmful sugar and cooking fat or oil.

Compose music mobilizing people to come out and call for overhaul of the Kenya Power and Lightning Company, National Youth Service. Compose music mobilizing people to call for justice in our Judicial System.

We need more of Eric Wainaina’s Nchi ya kitu kidogo; Juliani’s Utawala and Mashifta’s System ya Majambazi. We need music that will agitate for social and political reforms.

I tend to ask myself what purpose music of the likes of Meja and Timmy Tdat, Msupa S., and Bobby Mapesa play. I ask this because these are the songs the youths mostly identify with. It is a worrying trend because the youth are the ones who should be at forefront, championing for change.

Instead of listening to music that only entertains; instead of listening to musicians blathering vague lyrics, we should promote music that questions our nation’s leadership or that which provokes us to correct social evils. Some impoverished musicians only wait until election seasons so that they are paid to praise politicians, something that does not even raise their stature. One major player in the promotion of these music is the media.

Broadcast media should give space to such music by airing them frequently. Controversial music (especially those directly attacking leaders) is known to encounter problems getting airplay. It is time we re-looked the place of music, as an agent of change in society.it does not have to be criticizing the government, music can as well be used to call on society to correct social evils.

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OCHIENG' OBUNGA
Critic; Writer; Editor.

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