Which is better, Kenyan or Nigerian music? That has been the big debate of the decade. The great battle between the two African giants. Right here our recently crowned king is Kenyan, whereas the USIU queen is from Nigeria.
But who takes the coveted music crown?
I can already bet your answer. You probably picked the latter, didn’t you? After all their music has flooded the Kenyan industry for the past 5 years. Jams after Jams laced with Naija beats and pidgin lyrics can be heard everywhere, from your local club to your favorite radio station. Who would blame you for not picking otherwise?
But wait a second. Does availability mean higher quality? Once upon a time, things were different. Let's go back to about 12 years ago. Back then we rarely heard Nigerian music, apart from African Queen by 2Face Idibia (now 2Baba) and P Square’s latest hits, when they still ruled Africa.
Rather, we were banging to Kenyan hits. We knew the lyrics to every Nazizi song, and E-Sir was our lyrical god (RIP). Till today, I bet many of us can still sing along to Boomba Train from start to finish.
Oh, and do you remember the time Nameless showed us Juju? Or when Nasinzia was the love song of the year 2007? Ah, good old days. When Kenyan music was great. And local artists enjoyed endless airplay.
So what happened? Did we suddenly forget how to make good music as the decade progressed? What did happen is that international music burst into the scene, and showed us how it's done outside the borders. Soon, the focus moved from us to them. We started seeing more of Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj than Didge and Amani on our TVs.
Due to our still colonized minds half a century later, we aped their ways and music. Tried this thing called autotune and adopted green screen in our videos. Soon enough we lost our Kenyan touch. Then everything else sounded better. Nigerians could sing it better; Jamaicans could shake it better. While we sank to our lowest point.
But let's not blame it all on the musicians. I mean, what would you do if 80% of the music playing on media was foreign? How do you compete with the flashy cars and high budget videos? When all you can afford is to shoot in a matatu? Sure a little humility doesn't hurt, as Wizkid taught us that in Ojuelegba. But clearly, none of us is Star Boy.
After years of being ignored, it was only in 2015 when Kenyan musicians finally stood up. They were sick and tired of being compared to foreign counterparts. And being underplayed while priority was given to the latest Nigerian hit which was played five times in a day, every day. They wanted their own space back.
Numerous hashtags and online discussions later, things have started to change. Mass media is slowly giving back the opportunity to upcoming and veteran Kenyan musicians to shine. The long airing TV show The Beat is now playing more local music, to the joy of music lovers.
But let’s get back to the debate. In my opinion, Kenyan music is no less inferior to Nigerian. The difference between the two is that Nigeria appreciates it’s own music. They love it dearly and that’s why we love it too.
Just because we were brainwashed with Azonto and Skelewu for years doesn't mean we had nothing brewing here. Our artists were putting in work and passion in their art, but we paid no attention. Instead, we were too busy learning how to do the gully creeper or the dagger for the naughty ones.
Furthermore, attention that should have gone to these passionate artists went to the wrong people. It was freely handed out to Kenyans who tried to imitate the international scene. And failed miserably.
They tainted our public image; paying more attention to the hype than the art. Recording songs with no substance, whose only selling point was the beat and nothing else. The artists whose videos were filled with semi nude girls because there's nothing else to show on a screen. That is what represented Kenyan music to the world for a long time. And somehow still does.
Meanwhile, there is incredible award worthy music stored up in this country. It is mostly by young Kenyans who create songs so original you have not heard them anywhere else. They push the creativity envelope when it comes to the content and the composition. Unlike popular music, their beats are not recycled from previous hits. This underground music is something unique; the world needs to hear it.
Then where is this music then you ask? Why don't we hear it on radio? Well, you'll find most of it on SoundCloud. Some on YouTube. Pass by Alliance Francaise or Creatives Garage on a random weekend, and you'll probably hear some of them being performed. Brilliant songs that have not reached a radio or TV station yet. Not because they don't deserve to. Nope. They are rejected simply because the artists are not famous enough. You're not there yet, is a common phrase they constantly receive. So the world never gets to hear their beautiful voices and inspiring lyrics.
Enough of the blame games. It's not too late. We can still bring back the good old days. When we play our music more than anything else on the international market. We show love and support to our Kenyan artists like we used to. When we request for H_art the Band's latest song all week long. And feature on our entertainment shows new artists who show incredible talent and promise.
Let our house parties boom with electronic dance music manufactured in Nairobi bedrooms. For your local club DJ to play Kenyan music for hours, and not just the old school hits. It’s not too late for local radio and TV shows to overflow with local high-quality songs, supporting real homegrown music.
If we don't give the chance to Kenyan creatives to show us how great our music is, do not be surprised when most people say Nigerian music is better than Kenyan.
I'm Feelin It - Blinky Bill featuring Mayonde and Muthoni Drummer Queen
Now this is Kenyan music.