Who is killing Kenyan music?

Hip Hop Artist Khaligraph Jones aka Papa Jones performing on stage during the United Sounds of Africa concert headlined by Nigerian Artist Runtown held at the Carnivore on 14th October 2017. PHOTO| FILE

What you need to know:

This past week the Internet witnessed possibly the worst public war of words, in Kenyan showbiz history.

However, it was Khaligraph Jones’s Instagram post that lit a wildfire of accusations from all corners.

Jalang'o stated that radio presenters don’t choose playlist, but management decide what is to be played based on data collected from consumer preferences research.

The facts of the matter are not new; complaints of foreign music dominating local airplay have always been a topic of much discussion. However, it was Khaligraph Jones’s Instagram post that lit a wildfire of accusations from all corners.

The controversial post was uploaded while the self-proclaimed OG was in Lagos for the Sound City MVP Awards where he had been nominated for the Best Hip Hop MVP Africa. He said:

“I am planning on Bringing at least 10 big Kenyan media personalities/Radio presenters to Nigeria for a 10-day trip which I shall cater for. I want to see if some of you will be recognised by your Nigerian fans or if you even have fans at all here. It would be very sad if you don’t though #respecttheogs.”

Endless arguments

What ensued was possibly the biggest Internet tiff of all times pitting deejays, journalists and other media practitioners against the artistes. On Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp timelines, endless arguments erupted with different schools of thought taking hard-line positions.

One of the most notable responses was by Jalang'o, who was rooting for the media personalities. In his defence, he stated that radio presenters don’t choose playlist, but management decide what is to be played based on data collected from consumer preferences research.

“The other day we were involved in making our playlist, I posted it here asking you to help us and the results were shocking almost! 50 percent Bongo 40 percent Naija!” he said on his post.

He added: “Today on Apple Music there are only six Kenyan songs in top 100 Kenya! So hata hiyo pia ni ma presenters na DJs wamepanga? If you are still depending on radio and TV to make you big, then you have nothing in this industry.”

According to him, local artistes remain behind because they are not taking full advantage of digital platforms to push their music. He asserted that Nigerian and Tanzanian artistes are more aggressive and employ better marketing strategies than their Kenyan counterparts.

“The other day @thekingkaka launched his album, they didn’t even show up, and the other day saw them begging selfies with Diamond just like they did with Neyo instead of asking for collabo!” he added.

Similar exchanges were witnessed all over the Internet as industry players and fans alike took to social media to defend their turf.

Nyashinski took issue with a video that Willy Tuva posted where the radio presenter was interviewing Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja.

When asked to name his favourite song, the governor said "Kwangaru" by Harmonize featuring Diamond and went on to sing it word for word. The clip however ended before the governor could name his favourite Kenyan artistes. To this Nyashinski reacted:

“@mzaziwillytuva mbona hiyo video inaishia hapo? Hakuwa anajua msanii wa Kenya hata mmoja? Kuna utiaji flani hapa. Bado home ni Kenya boss. Utarudi tu. Shout out to @thenaiboi @sautisol @khaligraph_jones @thekingkaka @octopizzo @otilebrown and all other Kenyan artistes who made major moves in 2018. The fans see y’all working. #love.”

Please stop complaining

In his defence, Tuva stated that this was just a teaser and the rest of the interview was available on YouTube. He went on to enumerate all the artistes that he has supported and mentored over the years.

“Please let’s stop complaining and come together to build Kenyan music even as we unite East Africa, musically,” he added.

Though a lingering topic in entertainment circles, the dominance of foreign music on Kenyan radio is an issue that is yet to be addressed.

Despite numerous discussions, several questions remain unanswered: Whose job is it to promote the artistes? Do radio stations play music because it’s popular or to popularise it?

Do artistes also have a responsibility to promote themselves, and if so, are they doing enough? Do media have a social responsibility to promote local artistes and how do they balance that with their commercial interests?

Is the media deliberately sabotaging local acts or are they just following music trends? Is Kenyan music as good as foreign content or is there room for improvement? Is there a way that the industry can have a constructive conversation about issues without descending into a war of words?

“If you start a new radio station today, you will really struggle to access Kenyan music. We don’t have an effective record pool and many of our artistes don’t have content even on the digital platforms which is something we need to look into,” Dan Aceda said.

“It’s true radio stations need to make money, but they have an obligation to grow local talents. We need to protect our upcoming industry from unfair competition from established foreign acts. Nigerians grew their market by blocking out competition and that helped them incubate and grow their market,” he added.

No intense research

The marketing debate featured prominently in this heated exchange, with many claiming that Kenyan artistes don’t do enough.

Historically, Music Pluggers are a subset of public relations people who specialise in getting clients' music played on the radio, clubs and various outlets.

Beyond just networking and building bridges with media, they handle the logistics of supplying the music in the correct format to the radio station, deejay or club. A growing perception is that Tanzanian and Nigerian artistes are paying big bucks to get their songs played.

“I work closely with Wasafi and I can assure you they don’t pay to get played, but there are many who do,” Slahver Kinangoi, a talent manager, deejay and publicist told Buzz.

“Unfortunately most radio producers don’t do very intense research. They just pick what is trending online and use that as a basis to create their playlist.”

Starting out as a street deejay back in 2005, Slahver claims that the lack of unity among grassroots deejays is to blame.

He says: “In 2008 when Bongo was taking over, just 10 grassroots deejays pushed back the trend by working with Kenyan artistes. Maybe we should start a forum where radio producers and music pluggers can share new releases and pick just 5 Kenyan songs every week that we can push.”

No matter which way you look at it, deejays, journalists, radio presenters, entertainment media, artistes and everyone in the showbiz ecosystem are all in the same boat. Through rocky seas and endless quarrels this boat will either sail or sink with everyone on-board.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.


Where are things now?

On Thursday, Jalang’o loosened his stance and seemed to appreciate that a way forward would only be found through dialogue. He wrote on his Instagram account:

Presenters and DJs are now ready to meet with Artist(e)s and within a week the date will be announced … Venue is @kicc_kenya thanks to @nanawanjikugecaga! But then again even if we meet and agree on the way forward another big stakeholder is the FANS!


We can play Kenya Music even 101 percent but without your support very little will change!

1. A Tanzania or Naija does not struggle to get 1 million views on YouTube, actually they do it in hours! And in the comments are Kenyans asking for likes from 254!

So a song is released and within hours before even DJs and presenters have it, it is at 1 million views! FANS!

2. DJS can tell you that they don’t like requests because as a DJ you have your set but what happens? DJ booths are full of lists requesting Bongo and Naija songs! Or they just camp there until their songs are played!

3. Concerts and events! I swear I do events all year through and it is a struggle to even sell tickets to a full Kenyan concert! MASHUJAA festival, Sawasawa festival, Jamhuri festival are all struggling!

And when they decide to come, a Kenyan would rather ask for a complimentary ticket but spend 20k on drinks. See the Naija events and BONGO events are sold out before even the event! So ask yourself ‘what are you doing to support?’