The discussion and speculation as to why every club in Nairobi, Kenya and other countries not just in Africa is playing West African high life and South African , sounds that are now being defined as AfroBeat has been going on for a very long time.
Numerous articles on this subject have been written including some of the reasons why Nigerian Music is soaring with artists such as Davido P-Square and Wizkid among others collaborating with international artists, and the reason why Kenyan, and to an extent, East African Music is not reaching such heights.
We list and closely scrutinise some of the reasons why every club, radio station and TV music show is playing songs like “Skelewu”, “Y-kjukutja” and “Khona” among others at the expense of our ‘Kapuka’ and ‘ngenge”.
Listen. http://t.co/et2tnAeVCZ When I hear this. This is a global hit by a South African band not a South African hit. There’s a formula.
— Comrade Mbasu (@ItsBuddhaBlaze) June 9, 2014
1. Paying homage to the Pioneers
Very few Kenyan artists understand or apply the phrase “Standing on the shoulders of giants” something which South African and Nigerian artists have executed to such fine detail that we place them on the same pedestal as their mentors.
The one thing that is common about music coming from West Africa is that it is heavily influenced by the 70s Afrobeat, a sound that was created and defined by the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The new generation of West African artists have not invented any new beat. Instead, they picked the Afrobeat, fused it with sounds of hip hop, dancehall to come up with a beat that is still rich yet trendy renaming it – Afrobeats.
The only effort made to fuse Kenyan older music with new beats is from JB Maina & Wyre’s sampling of ‘Tiga Kumute‘ and Just a Band’s sampling of ‘Dunia ina Mambo‘ by The Mighty Cavaliers, a song that was produced in 1976.
In a recent discussion with well known Kenyan Music producer Bruce Odhiambo on the Capital FM Jazz show, Bruce re-iterated this sentiment of the current generation of Kenyan musicians failing to appreciate or even learn from Kenyan Music Pioneers such as Hodi Boys, The Might Cavaliers, The African Heritage band and many others. Bruce opined that the gap and lack of conversation between the older and new generation of artists in Kenya is what is ailing our music which lacks authenticity or a defined Kenyan Sound.
Perhaps the best example to how a young artists owes his success to a music great is the song ‘Jaiye Jaiye’ in which WizKid collaborated with Fela Kuti’s son- Femi to pay homage to the king of AfroBeat.
2. Cultural Influences & Authenticity
Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa were all colonized by the British and in SA’s case, by the Dutch soon after, just like Kenya and most African countries. Despite this, alot of West African and Southern African countries were still able to hold on to most of their cultural traditions during and after colonisation. This can be seen in their language (Xhosa, Zulu, pidgin, woloof, Yoruba etc) which is used in their daily lives and is incorporated in their music, their mode of dressing as well their reverence to their ancestors and most of their traditional African beliefs (A good illustration of this is in the lyrics to the hit song Khona by the South African duo of Mafikizolo and Uhuru)
Nigerians love their Agbadas, the Ghanaians their Kente and the South African’s have the Geometric shape patterns and colorful costume designs.
Why this is important is because every artist is competing with billions of others on every level from their lyrics to their sound and in this YouTube age, their music video.
The music package that an artist gives has to be complete and authentic. The music makers in S.A & West Africa just tapped into the elements that are in their every day lives, the cultural influences blending African Languages with traditional and modern beats in a way that makes them stand out and have a distinct sound.
3. Language & Music Style
I was reading somewhere that Nigerian singer Flavor of the hit song Nwa Baby (Sawale) always thought Kenyan artist Nameless was Jamaican. I am not surprised. I have often confused Redsan’s music as well as Wyre’s to some Jamaican hits because the language in their lyrics and music style is not Kenyan.
Most Jamaican singers user Patois – a pidgin language just like Nigerians. Most of us have been dancing to ‘Skelewu’ and Zahara’s Lengoma remix with no idea nor caring what the lyrics say.
South African musicians have proved time and again that African Languages have the depth African artists can reach into for very soulful rich music. They carry their language with such pride in their music, its enviable and its finally paying off.
Older Music Styles such as Afro Beat, Makossa, Kwassa Kwassa and the contemporary ones such as AfroBeats, Azonto and Kwaito, are pre-dominantly African Music Styles that are defined by various African Artists. These styles are defined by fusing traditional African beats with various elements such as the Congolese rumba, hip hop and dance hall to form a new music style as the case has been with Afrobeats.
4. Industry Support & Collaborations
It is perhaps only the SA music industry as well as Arts in general that receive a lot of government support. However, despite lack of government support for Nigerians, they have still been able to beat the odds of frequent power outages, fuel shortage, political instabilities (Boko Haram) as well as other civil unrests to become one of Africa’s biggest entertainers not just in music but in Film as well. The numbers do help too.
Nigerian Producers like Don Jazzy, D-Tunes, Maleek Berry, Legendury Beats are responsible for some of the biggest hits from artists such as Tiwa Savage, Flavor, P-Square, Davido to name but a few.
Collaborations have also been a huge contributing factor to cross market appeal and enabling African Artists reach beyond Africa. P-Square’s collabo with Akon, Rick Ross and lately with T.I as well as Davido’s collaboration with Mafikizolo just to mention a few, have had such a powerful effect in spreading the music from one artist’s existing fan base to a new one that there are clubs in various part of Europe and the US grooving to these infectious beats.
5. International Focus
Artists should never have a myopic view of who they are producing their music for. In this internet age, your song has the potential of being listened to (or watched ) somewhere in Alaska and not just in your home town or country.
Nigerians and South African’s realized this a while back and learned which ingredients to use (the ones detailed in this article ) to make their music and videos stand out globally.
The bad blood between Kenyan Artists and DJs because they are not being patriotic should not be there at all. Its very simple, make good music and the rest will follow. Afrobeats might be a passing cloud, maybe its time our artists took Fadhili William’s endless hit and gave it new life that the young generation can groove to in clubs or nod their heads to on Matatu FMs.