Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kenyan Music: There's More to It Than You May Think

"On the Beat - Tapping the Potential of Kenya's Music Industry"
WIPO Magazine (July 2007)

"The modern musical landscape of Kenya is one of the most diverse and vibrant of all African countries. But under-investment, ineffective management of intellectual property rights, and rampant piracy have prevented the industry from realizing its economic potential and left its artists struggling to earn a living. Following a recent visit to Nairobi by a team of WIPO's copyright and outreach experts, this article takes a look at what makes Kenya's music great, and at some of the elements which have hitherto stunted its growth.

"With more than forty different regional languages, the country's musical panorama is rich and remarkably complex. Driving through Nairobi's streets in your matatu, you will hear songs in Luhya, Luo, Kamba, and Kikuyu on every street corner. Music has traditionally been a distinctive feature of Kenyan ethnic groups, such as the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic community, and the Luo people of the Lake Victoria region, who have always been particularly well known for their musical culture.

"In addition to its entertainment value, Kenyan music has always been, and is still today, a major vehicle for sharing information and educating local populations. Opondo Owenga, a traditional Benga musician, was well known during the colonial era for his use of music to convey the history of the Luo people. Such musical riches are under threat, however, since traditional music rooted in oral tradition is disappearing at an alarming rate...."

"...Despite its vibrant creativity and boom in production, the Kenyan music industry is nowhere near realizing its potential. 'Nobody knows about Kenyan music,' says Suzanna Owiyo, 'and that is because we lack proper networking in terms of distribution.'

"Paradoxically, the very diversity of Kenya's musical scene represents a key challenge to developing a sustainable industry. In particular, its linguistic diversity has fragmented the market and made it more difficult for artists to develop unique and recognizable sounds that can serve as currency for access to mainstream global markets...."

If you hadn't heard about Kenyan music before, you have now. That "diversity" is a bit of an understatement. I didn't find anything worth posting here, but it's pretty clear that, besides a still-awesome array of traditional music, there's everything from reggae and hip hop to pop being performed in Kenya.

From other sources, including my second-oldest daughter, I've learned that music being "performed" isn't all there is to music in many parts of the world - including Kenya.

Euro-Americans tend to think of music as something a musician performs, that an audience listens to. Or as something you do in the shower. That's music, but it's not all there is to music.

Music can be functional - a part of the processes of life. Europeans had sea shanties (or chantey, chanty, or sea chantey) that helped sailors coordinate their efforts. Folks at the other end of the Eurasian continent did the same sort of thing, I understand.

Anyway: the article's a pretty good introduction to Kenyan music as it is in the 21st century.


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