The music scene in Kenya spans many different genres, including various styles from across other areas of Africa as well as influences from the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Americas.
Taarab music from Zanzibar is quite popular in Kenya. This is a style of music that is influenced by various styles from northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and India. However, the city of Mombasa has produced a few famous taarab musicians. Kenya also listens to a lot of the music coming out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially styles like soukous and zouk. Guitars were brought into the country early on, and playing styles have been adapted to incorporate the local and native rhythms. They even developed their own ways of playing the guitar in order to create different effects and sounds. As Congolese, American, Caribbean, and British music began to infiltrate their sounds, their playing styles incorporated all of these elements.
Starting in the 1970s-1990s, various types of pop began to emerge. Many of these pop musicians infused traditional and other pan-African styles into their American/British-style pop music.
Kenya also has a keen love for reggae music. Influenced by other African reggae styles as well as Caribbean reggae, there have been many DJs breaking into the music industry here promoting reggae music on the radio. Many radio stations often have specific programs just for reggae music. Kenya has also produced a number of hip-hop artists and rock bands, many which have seen some success in Europe and the Americas. They also have a few successful DJs specializing in house music, drum and bass, and other similar genres.
Because Kenya has a large number of ethnic groups living here, there are a variety of dances that are particular to a specific group of people. The Maasai are known for a type of circle dance that involves jumping up high in the air while dressed with a ton of beads. The Isukuti are known for dancing at every ceremony and special occasion. The Agikuyu are known for their dance, the mwomboko, which is characterized by slow, decisive steps similar to a waltz. The Chakasha is danced in the coastal regions and often to taarab music. The Akamba usually dance to drums and flutes while stamping their feet and shaking their shoulders.
While Spotify didn’t have several of the bands and musicians I tried looking for, they did have quite a few. The first group I listened to, which was filed under the genre called “hotel pop” is called Them Mushrooms. The name alone cracks me up. Their music, however, is a kind of a cross between reggae and 80s elevator music. Some songs are better than others. I think it has to be an atmosphere thing: if I were in an outdoor bar in Mombasa or Nairobi drinking with friends, enjoying the cooler evening breezes, and this was playing, it would make the evening authentic. Sitting in my car in Indianapolis in the parking lot of a stripmall, not so much. They do have a song (and an album of the same name) called “At the Carnivore.” Please, for the love of all that’s sacred, tell me what this song is about. It just sounds way too happy with a name like that. (To be fair, there was a Japanese song I once knew that had a great melody line but was about cutting off your arms or something.)
I also listened to hip-hop group G.rongi’s album Position Ya Power. His flow is pretty good, and the style reflects American style hip-hop, but there are also songs that take in elements of reggae as well. He often raps in both English and from what I can tell, Sheng (the creole language of mixing English-Swahili). Although the notes on the video above says that the song "Mokorino" is the first hip-hop song in Kikuyu. He’s also made some notoriety by collaborating with American rapper Nas. Another rapper I listened to was Nonini (the album The Godfather of Genge). Generally, there were several similarities between Nonini and G.rongi as far as style goes. However, Nonini is one of the artists primarily recognized with genge music. Genge is a style of hip-hop centered around Nairobi and is often sung in Sheng.
Mighty King Kong is one of the most well-known reggae bands in Kenya. Their rhythms and instrumentation are stylistically African. They do tend to sing in English more than any other language. However, from what I listened to, their style of reggae seemed more like early 1990s reggae. I also listened to Ras Naya & Free Island. I liked this one a little more. It did have more of a Caribbean feel to it. (Perhaps I have an unconscious bias toward Caribbean reggae? I try not to.)
Kenya also has an alternative/indie rock band called Murfy’s fLaw (yes, that’s spelled right). I really like this band; I listened to the album Hello Light. And another reason why I love them so much is because the lead singer is a female. And I’m so excited that iTunes sells this album for $9.90. I’m definitely going to have to buy this album. I’m not even sure I can live without it. This is some great stuff. Strangely enough, there is also a band called The Beathogs who hail from Nairobi and play a sort of mix of funk, soul, Ramones-esque early punk, and rockabilly. I kind of like it though, but it makes me feel like I should be going on a road trip through the Midwest in the dead heat of summer with the windows down and the wind in my hair, sipping on an “ice cold co-cola.”
I also listened to a band called Sauti Sol. To me, it was hard to place this band in a category. (“Afro-Pop” might be the term.) There were some slight elements of indie rock with the use of acoustic guitar, but the rhythms and percussion instrumentation was definitely stemmed from pan-African beats. They rely heavily on vocal harmonization, which really adds to the acoustic effect of the music. However, I found this video that was produced this year, and it's completely different from what I listened to. This song is pretty catchy.
The band aptly called Just A Band kept me entertained. I suppose I would put this in the house music category but with elements of drum and bass. They sometimes sample lines from other famous songs, which is cool, but sometimes I think it needs to be mixed a little better in places. It seems like the vocals were too loud in one of the songs I heard. But overall, I can get behind this. My husband really liked some of the songs off of this album. I really liked the songs "Life of the Party" and "Doot Doot," but I couldn't find the videos to them.