Azimio la Umoja

From left: Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, ODM Party Leader Raila Odinga, gospel artist Ben Githae and Nairobi Governor Anne Kananu on stage during the Azimio La Umoja campaign at the Thika Green Stadium on January 15 2022.  

| Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

The music genre likely to dominate 2022 political songs

As the General Election approaches, with politicians shaping their manifestos and building coalitions, musicians are humming tunes that will spellbind voters.

Fifty percent plus one is the goal but music will spice up the numbers for whoever ultimately takes the top seat.

An analysis by the Nation on music as a political campaign tool shows that it goes beyond the dance that comes with the sound of the tunes.

A study conducted by Gordon Omenya and published in the East African Review says: “Popular art is an effective medium for expressing individual and collective representations and aspirations. It helps to share experience and captures the contradictions and dynamics prevalent in society.”

Music evolves and each year different genres come into play. Every election cycle goes with the flow of what’s trending and while some artists are contracted to create songs that can move the crowds, some jump at the opportunity and sing tunes to please an aspirant of their choice.

Mobilise voters

In his study, Mr Omenya cites observations by other researchers in an earlier study that showed how political party Kanu, which ruled Kenya for decades, was removed from power in the 2002 General Election because of the power in artists’ hands.

“The national desire for change in Kenya was brought forth by artists. Two musicians, Joseph Ogidi and Jahd Adonija, under the name Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, performed Ting Badi Malo and I am Unbwogable to the great delight of voters,” Mr Omenya says in his article.

“Unbwogable became the song used to mobilise voters in support of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). Since then, members of the political class have consistently hired artists to sing their praises and support their political platforms.”

The influence of songs on politics did not start recently. It started way before Kenya gained independence. The book Songs and Politics in Eastern Africa cites another book by one of Kenya’s freedom fighters who was part of the Kapenguria six - Bildad Kaggia - who asserted that songs were pivotal in the struggle for independence.

“Songs carried messages of unity, agitations, frustration, hope and determination. They were a rallying call for the masses to unite and engage European colonialism,” said Kimani Njogu and his co-author Herve Maupeu.

“Although the songs made reference to land as the central bone of contention, they were in fact, statements of pursuit of freedom and liberty. Reference to the alienation of land in songs is a political statement on the ills of colonialism.”

When Kenya first President, Jomo Kenyatta, was tried in Kapenguria, mobilisation songs scared the wits out of colonisers.

Unfortunately, as the unity and power in songs grew, the authors say, the colonial government noticed their stimulus that had kept the spirit of liberation in check and banned them.

New era in music

In present-day politics, every election has different contenders who find a new era in music. Just as the positions they vie for, the old music goes as the new sets in to fill the space.

“Music is not a mere monolithic reflection of a society at a given time, nor is it a static marker of identity. It is also an integral part of the daily activities that constitute individual subjectivity,” Mr Omenya writes.

That is why we should not be surprised that the 17-year-old musician Trio Mio was featured at the launch of Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja.

In Kenyan music right now, millennials are making waves with their gengetone tunes.

No wonder the top two top aspirants – DP William Ruto and Mr Odinga - have associated with words derived from gengetone music.

While Mr Odinga invited Trio Mio for his Azimio la Umoja launch, Dr Ruto used “Sipangwingwi”, a chorus in Trio Mio’s song, at one of his campaign rallies.

In the last General Election, there was a battle of language in the use of songs and each blended well to the aspirants’ advantage.

Jubilee had Ben Githae compose the “Wembe Ni Ule Ule” to indicate Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Ruto’s preparedness as they ran for office for a second time, while the Nasa coalition had “Bindu Bichenjanga”, by Amos Barasa to show the change that was coming in the promised land, Canaan.

Other songs that featured in previous elections include “Nasa (Tibim)” by Onyi Jalamo, “Tano Tena” by Ben Githae, “Jubilee Emet” by Florence Chepng’etich, and “Jubilee Tosha” by Marion Cherotich.

No musician or aspirant has come out yet with a new tune for the forthcoming General election, but whatever it is, the odds are gengetone hit makers could have a say this time.

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