Why 'play Kenyan music' drive is going nowhere
Kenyan music is just as good, if not better than the trendy hits of Afrobeats and the sounds of the Wasafi Records stable.
Until the ordinary Kenyan music fan realises this and the government imposes strict rules and regulations on how much Kenyan music local media must play, the industry will stay stifled.
Our government needs to invest more in the creative sector and in mentorship programmes that facilitate education in the arts.
In January, Kenya’s music scene was awakened by the viral “Play Kenyan Music” campaign in the form of a protest by artistes against media personalities who were not playing enough Kenyan music on urban and pop radio stations.
The uproar simply stated the facts — that sounds of Nigerian Afrobeat music and Tanzanian bongo flava have taken over Kenyan urban radio stations and DJ mixes; and its time our industry changed to secure more airplay for Kenyan music.
While a hit song on Nigerian or Tanzanian radio lasts about two weeks before another hot track comes out to rival it, Kenyan hit songs last about six months on the radio.
My take: Kenyan musicians need to be more prolific, like their major competitors elsewhere on the continent. This will saturate our industry with our own content and ensure we do not rely on new songs coming in from other regions.
At the moment, a majority of our radio stations play it by the ear. A Kenyan song gets local airplay if the gatekeepers — DJs, radio programmers and presenters — feel obliged to add it to the playlist. They will decide what’s hot or not, hence leaving listeners with little choice when it comes to a varied selection of Kenyan music that they can request on radio.
Some media personalities have since taken the conversation haywire by passing the blame onto music fans, vilifying them for their taste in music. Many questions like, “Why aren’t Kenyan songs topping Kenyan charts on platforms like Boomplay Music and the Apple Music app?” have arisen.
Kenyans have a broader approach to entertainment and the music industry. The issue here is not laying the blame on Kenyan music fans and their vast and diverse palette in music taste but finding solutions to the problem.
Kenyan professionals in the creative sector interested in working with brands, projects and artistes around Africa must make a conscious effort to be present, in one way or another, in each and every one of Africa’s key markets in the creative sector so as to catch up with emerging trends, apply winning models and ensure our industry standards are at par with acceptable international standards.
This is part of the reason I took part as a panellist at Kenya’s fourth Eastern Africa Music Summit (ONGEA 2019) in February on brand building and the PR industry — why musicians are missing out on the big money. This was followed by a work trip to Lagos from April 15 to 24, where I attended two of Nigeria’s most respected entertainment industry gatherings — the second edition of the Midem African Forum and the seventh edition of the Nigerian Entertainment Conference (#NECLIVE 7).
I had a keen eye and ear while there because I knew that discussions and conversations at such events many times end up influencing and shaping the industry as a whole. All the conferences had digital marketing, data and the interpretation of it as a common theme and centre stage for the future of entertainment and marketing. They were brilliant, eye-opening and great for networking.
However, it occurred to me that most of the panellists in the Lagos events were many times referencing Nigerian artistes and referring to the West African music industry in conversations like Midem's Panel 1: Changing the Narrative of African Music on the Global Stage that were meant for the broader industry.
To travel all the way to Nigeria for these conferences and not hear any of the industry stakeholders mention music or artistes from my region or other parts of Africa, let alone other issues that don’t only concern their industry, was disappointing. It was a wake-up call for me, to come back home and let my industry peers know that there is a level of selfishness and self-centredness that our industry, country and people require and need for us to push our own industry to the next level.
There is so much potential in the creative sector and the faster promoters, investors and creatives realise this, the faster we will rid Kenya’s economy of setbacks like unemployment.
According to a PwC report, Media and Entertainment 2016-2022, Kenya’s music industry is projected to attain a 9.3 per cent compound annual growth rate, driven by revenue from mobile music and live performances. The report estimates that the total music revenue is set to rise to $29 million (Sh3 billion) in 2020. Our government needs to invest more in the creative sector and in mentorship programmes that facilitate education in the arts.
To industry critics and pundits approaching the “Play Kenyan Music” conversation as a one-off, the subject is here to stay. Kenyan music is just as good, if not better than the trendy hits of Afrobeats and the sounds of the Wasafi Records stable. Until the ordinary Kenyan music fan realises this and the government imposes strict rules and regulations on how much Kenyan music local media must play, the industry will stay stifled.