Music and politics are intertwined, and every election cycle has had breakout stars who cashed in on the craze by politicians for a song with lyrics around which to coin slogans to rally their supporters.
And, while the songs become the signature tunes for the respective political formations, the artistes ride on the political wave with their hits among the most popular for the season.
But given the unreliability and backstabbing that characterises the political playground, the artiste must make hay while the sun shines. The sloganeering is only good for the politician for that season. And the artiste must cash in before their music fades and is no longer blared at campaign meetings.
This new campaigns season heralds fresh chartbusters. In the 2002 elections, the tune of the season was “Unbwogable”, by hip-hop duo GidiGidi MajiMaji.
The song, a mix of English and Dholuo, goes something like this: “Who can bwogo me (who can scare me)? I am unbwogable!”
At the time, President Daniel arap Moi was retiring after ruling for 24 years, and campaigns to replace him were at fever pitch.
It was also a time when the music industry was coming to a new age — using young popular musicians to woo the crowds was on the agenda of many a politician.
“We never intended to produce a campaign song, but it was adopted by the political class as it resonated with the times,” GidiGidi said recently. He and MajiMaji were at university, and he was going through some challenges as a student and had decided to temporarily quit music to concentrate on his studies.
“One day MajiMaji asked if we could do one more song after our album Ismarwa. I told MajiMaji that I was not in the right frame of mind, but I had nothing to fear, I was ‘unbwogable’ despite what I was going through. Maji then laughed at the phrase and suggested we do a song with it,” he said. “The same day, we went to Tedd Josiah and, since we did not have enough content, we started mentioning some politicians in the song because it was the political season. That is how the song was produced and became an instant hit,” he explained.
At the time, the competition was between two political sides — the ruling Kanu party and the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), an alliance created by politicians Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, and Mwai Kibaki, among others.
In 2007, Ohangla singer Onyi Papa Jey composed a song that would become the anthem for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party titled “ODM 2007 Anthem”.
The ODM party leader, Mr Odinga, was challenging President Kibaki for the top seat. What followed was one of the darkest moments in the history of the country — the post-election violence.
“I never vouch for anything I do not believe in because as an artiste, I am an opinion leader, I can never be reckless with what I say. In 2013, I decided to stand behind the Jubilee party. We were just healing from the post-election violence that rocked the country and tension was still high,” Gospel singer Rufftone said.
Rufftone went ahead to release the song “Mungu Baba”, featuring the General Service Unit (GSU). The song speaks of peace, especially during elections.
Uhuru Kenyatta was elected President in 2013, alongside William Ruto as his deputy. Rufftone admits that he made a lot of money out of the Jubilee party performances and his music being used in political rallies.
Gospel singer Ben Githae is arguably one of the most famous artistes because of his song “Tano Tena”. His previous hit songs are “Mabataro” and “Tabia Mbaya”.
“In 2013, when I joined the Jubilee campaigns, they used my song “Mabataro”. So come 2017, I knew exactly what I had to do,” Githae said.
“I went to the studio and recorded “Tano Tena”. A lot of people think that Jubilee Party approached me to record the song, but the truth is I did it out of my own volition. I was later approached and they wanted to use my song as their theme song. This gave me national recognition,” Githae said.
For “Tano Tena”, he made more than Sh5 million. He also got paid for other duties during the campaigns since he was also the lead music promoter.
The same year, Githae went back to the studio and released another song; “Wembe ni ule ule” following President Kenyatta’s re-election. Hellena Ken’s gospel tune “Mambo ya badilika” was a popular anthem during the 2017 campaigns by the National Super Alliance (Nasa) on whose ticket Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka vied for the presidency.
This year, artistes like Exray ‘Taniua’ (Tony Kinyanjui), and TK Mario Kasela aka Trio Mio famous for the song “Sipangwingwi’, Bahati (Kelvin Kioko) and Emmanuel Musindi are the top musicians who have captured the interest of politicians seeking campaign theme songs.
Deputy President William Ruto and his United Democratic Allliance (UDA) have used the clarion call hatupangwingwi as a show of defiance and to urge their supporters to reject alleged schemes by powerful figures to impose leaders.
Exray performed “Sipangwingwi” last month when Dr Ruto was endorsed as UDA’s presidential candidate while Trio Mio sang the same song last December when Mr Odinga’s publicly announced his candidature.
But Musindi’s “Lelo ni Lelo” has been taken up as the Azimio la Umoja campaign anthem.
Bahati also released a song featuring Azimio la Umoja party leader Raila Odinga. The song titled “Fire” praises Odinga for being an astute leader who has helped bring about development in the country.