Kenyan Music: As We Pick Ourselves Up and Grow

 Growing up in an urban area in Nairobi, Kenya, I was fortunate to have influence from different perspectives of music,both as a listener and a musician. Kenyan music has grown to a much diverse artistry and business over the last 15 years . Music in Kenya has also proven to be a sustainable business and source of daily bread to many as opposed to it being an outcast activity and none profitable business  to many families and cultures in the country.

Kenyan musicians have had high tides, low tides and non-supportive media for a while now and a few years back a group of musicians,producers and industry players drafted a Kenyan music policy which was in favor of ensuring Kenyan music gets proper airplay,music education and training, media advertising and  a proper  structure.Emergence of parallel royalty collection bodies like PRISK (performing rights society of kenya) established in 2009  and KAMP (Kenya association of music producers) established in 2003, has also helped in the industry's growth

In terms of quality sound and music videos Kenyans have really advanced. Back in the early 2000s, there was this weird sound I used to hear in every song produced in Kenya that kinda sounded like the music combined with white noise but all in all it still sounded good though not clean as compare to how perfect mixes for kenyan engineers sound now.In videos, every video had this very yellow tint or green depending on the director since we only had two who were recognized as credible directors. I think with growth and competition becoming stiff through out the years a lot changed to the better.

For the last 5 years, I can say the Kenyan music industry has been on a constant battle between existing and survival. From royalties and musicians making a living off their music as it should be. Piracy as is worldwide,i wouldn't agree more that it has hurt more artists  in Kenya especially with the growth of technology and high usage of internet in the country. Other than piracy, Kenya has over the last five years seen emerging of new musicians who have mostly used the internet as their playing grounds since mainstream media wouldn't play their music on air. I personally use the internet as my safe,easy to get demographics kind of media and i have grown and groomed many musicians under my label into using that same media since almost 15 million Kenyans are on the internet daily.

Marketing music online is not necessarily profitable if you are looking for sales  as it should be, but helps grow you brand as a musician and enhances visibility and with that, you start getting endorsements,gigs and brand recognition,which I think plays a small percentage compare to what is really supposed to be earned by musicians but hey, it's better than nothing.

I remember some years back when the fiber optic cables had just been installed in Kenya. I went to this house party and they really enjoyed playing music online for streaming sites like Sound Cloud and Reverbnation. The best part is they played music and when they felt it was a great song, they put it on repeat. I learnt something that day and what I learnt was, a normal person wants to have their own playlist and be their own DJ (not that am saying DJs do a bad job but what can be more personal than selecting your music own playlist at your own party) ,Why don't I use the same platforms to put out music and lots of it to help them have a hard time repeating just one? Why don't I package it professionally and present the music to them as a package so that they can  familiarize with the artist and still enjoy the music from the same platforms? Years later, i answered myself the same questions and I must say it has helped me and most of the musicians I have worked within the same platform and a whole lot of other Kenyan musicians who don't get played on mainstream media. Interestingly mainstream media gets to play music that is trending online these days.

The internet in Kenya has seen birth of BET nominees Camp mulla, Sony Music signee Xtatic , Wangechi and Just a Band just to name a few. With artists like Juliani and Just A Band using Google Hangouts to interact and connect with their fans on a personal level.Also ,projects that  connect musicians across Africa like Coke Studio Africa , which am proud to say is a TV program that is being shot and produced in Kenya, have content online to share across Africa.

I never thought I would get to write anything about the Kenyan music industry but having grown and participated as a player in it, I think its been a long way and still longer to go from where we have been as an industry especially with our fans being the most difficult music consumers in East Africa if not Africa.

However, I would always want to be patriotic and supportive of my country as much as possible. Kenyan musicians face day in day out criticism and less support from the fans/listeners of which i cant say any artist has a die hard fan base in Kenya since the " fans"/ listeners go with whats hot at the moment  not stay by one artist come rain come shine. Last week one of Kenya's top artist Victoria Kimani took it to social media and addressed the issue about Kenyans not being supportive of their own, which really caused a stir and mixed reactions.I personally thought she had great point and said it as it is because someone had to.

I believe the Kenyan music has a lot more to offer in the coming years and a lot needs to be changed especially in professional  reasoning of the media houses, DJs and personal reasoning the listeners. For us to grow an industry to greater heights and prove to the world we are as good as any other musician in the world or maybe better, we all need to put our hands together and lift our flag higher. #PlayKeMusic #PlayKe  #ArtistsUnited are  our hash tags and will always be. As my Nigerian producer friends and artists always tell me they live by the motto "Its either a Nigerian makes it or a Nigerian" which I find really intriguing.  If only we had a motto like that...hmmmmm!!!

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