I still can’t get over the fact that Chris Brown made a whooping Ksh 90 million for 90- minute performance from the recently concluded Mombasa Rocks festival. The much publicized concert in Mombasa reignited a quiet discontent that has been troubling music stakeholders in the country, especially this particular year. Booking Nigeria’s Wizkid, Tanzania’s Ali Kiba, Vanessa Mdee and Uganda’s Navio as the opening acts for Chris Brown exposed our promoters’ unending snobbish tendencies that has troubled our artists for years. Nazizi, a respected pioneer act in the country didn’t get equal poster presence compared to the rest of the opening acts. Kenya’s coast region is home to majority of Swahili speaking natives and lovers of bongo music for years, the move was obviously commercial but nonetheless traitorous. Kenya is very diverse market, always open and welcoming to foreign sounds like Tanzania’s Bongo, South Africa’s House to Nigeria’s Afrobeat, but maybe that has been our undoing.


Coastal artists like Nyota Ndogo, Ally B, Susumila, Tiera Gee, Dazlah deserved a chance on the biggest stage ever to grace their backyard however they were reduced to mere spectators just like a dozen of other Kenyan acts who would have not only appealed to the local community, raised the event profile but would have put on international – standard performances. A combined fee for Wizkid, Vanessa Mdee and Ali Kiba is enough to source any top talent (s) in Kenya unless the promoters intentionally locked them out. So why do Kenyan premier festivals and concerts continue to snob Kenyan talent? Over the same weekend, Fuse ODG and Flavour headlined the FOMO party at Waterfront Park. The event is bankrolled with Nigerians residing in Kenya had plenty of local faces gracing the stage from Dela, Ndegz, Everlast Band, Dj Kace, Dj UV Kenya, DJ Syd, DJ Mo, G – Money and DJ Kafi but again no headlining act!

Long years of glorifying foreign music at the expense of local talent is finally hurting Kenya. After a couple of editions, Koroga Festival‘s commercial model lately includes one local artist as one of three headline acts that grace the often sold out showcase. Gilad, Dela, Makadem, Ken Wa Maria, JB Maina are some of the local artists who have graced the showcase but never has the festival had a Kenyan act as the major headline act.

Blankets and Wine, a perfect definition of growth has always featured local artists especially those in the underground scene but it’s founder Muthoni is always by default the opening act for the international artists she flies in. It seems that all these premier events feed off the same notion that Kenyans prefer foreign music to local tunes and the idea is passed on from one promoter to the other. We simply can’t have all the top premier events in Kenya only featuring foreign major headlining acts, it creates an unhealthy competition, it’s becoming monotonous, kills morale, creates a traitorous depiction of our country and fosters a bad relationship between event organisers, promoters and local acts.

We consume more foreign content, that’s a fact! In March, You Tube enabler Richard Aster Njau shared a troubling You Tube report showing we have a consumption of 83% – 17% in favour of foreign content despite having 2 million You Tube users monthly, totalling to over 100 million views a month. Ugandan and Tanzanian music videos are recording groundbreaking figures despite Kenya having more internet users than any of the two countries. The reason of course has always been loosely blamed on quality. Part of this maybe true but when Sauti Sol’s  latest hit  ‘Kuliko Jana’ is still under 1 million mark a month in whereas Diamond’s ‘Salome’ records 5 million views in just 3 weeks then the difference becomes even more worrying. This year has seen the biggest import of foreign acts to Kenya for events and this too, plays a big role. I’m sure the numbers for Chris Brown, Estelle, Aloe Blacc, Uhuru, Mafikizolo, Koffi Olomide, Fuse ODG, Navio, Wizkid, Flavour, Davido, Chameleon, Chronixx, Roman Virgo, Diamond, Ali Kiba, Vanessa Mdee and many more shot up during their visits to Kenya. Headlining an event comes with a lot of media exposure that brings a lot of attention to your catalogue from millions of viewers and readers across the nation.

Changing this will of course take a collective effort. Some of the most booked artists like Sauti Sol, King Kaka, Khaligraph Jones, Elani, Dela, Kagwe, Hart The Band, Jaguar, STL and Octopizzo deserve more headlining spots in Kenya. They are releasing more music than ever and more quality videos by the day. But as we wait for this, a wave is quietly sweeping  Kenya’s music capital. That of young patriotic Kenyan acts and budding labels putting up weekly showcases that they get to headline themselves and share with fellow artists while at it. Muthoni’s Blankets n Wine featured Sage and Jarel, EA Wave and Friends headlined by EA Wave had 18 artists, For The Love concert was headlined by Kaz, Sage and David the Hunter with an opening performance from Janice Iche. Atwal Aduok premiered his Trap festival at Trap Heaven with more than 10 acts.

Hart The Band’s had a solo concert Shoe_Kran earlier in the year, MicRobbery All Star headlined by The Posse had 16 artists, Skill Factory & Bare Roads by Vice Life Entertainment showcased over 10 acts. Jamhuri Festival and Sao Safi spearheaded Tom Olango has showcased pioneers like Wyre, Jua Cali, Mr Lenny to young talent like Wangechi, Shappaman, Zonda, Skeme Music and many more. Kalahi and Serro jointly headlined Kasha a few months ago while Blinky Bill is gearing up for his fast solo show next month.

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Prisca Ojwang’s Hand Me Down slated for November will feature Tetu Shani, Trina and Miss Kuria while Yellow Light Machine’s The Lounge will feature 7 artists, going down this Sunday. While most of these artists are still on the rise with majority only putting their projects up for free on Soundcloud, they are attracting quality crowds often selling out the midsize venues like The Alchemist, Tree House, Creatives Garage, Michael Joseph Centre and The Elephant. The ticket prices go as low as Ksh 500 to as high as Ksh 3000, every penny always worthy of the explosive performances they give.

It’s only a matter of time before they start doing bigger venues and attract bigger sponsors & partners. Kenya’s leading act Sauti Sol are perfect definition and proof of this type of growth and model. More artists are picking up the model even in the mainstream scene now. These mid sized events will be the future of Kenya’s live scene, attracting big sponsors and eventually force commercial premier concerts and festivals to cough up crazy figures to book the same artists they sidelined for years. One needs to look at South Africa and Nigeria to know it’s coming.


Featured Image via : MicRobbery Allstar

Words: Oyaro