Can Gengetone maintain its notoriety for a couple more years?
No doubt, the most consumed genre of music in Kenya over the past year is Gengetone. The genre, populated by youths from Nairobi and its surrounding towns, has been in the scene for not so long, as a result, the main concern is whether the genre will continue to be the main genre of music in Kenya or not.
So far, the music has been caught up with legal issues (especially from the chief executive of Kenya Film Commission Board, Mr Ezekiel Mutua aka “the moral policeman”. Also, some of the more established artists in the Kenyan music industry (such as KOT the rapper) has criticised Gengetone for not being diverse — the artists are talking only about sex and drugs.
At the same time, some more established music artists have supported the Gengetone music, and have even collaborated with them. For example, Octopizzo, a legendary hip-hop artist collaborated with The Sailors Gang, a Gengetone band on Wakiritho, a hit song that has garnered 1.9 million streams on YouTube so far.
The above two scenarios make it hard for most people to extrapolate where the genre will be in 2, 5, 10 years time.
Let’s try to relate the story of hip hop with Gengetone.
Hip-hop music started in the mid-1970s in Bronx, New York. During its early years, it was a medium for African-Americans to pass the information about inequality, race discrimination, policies, and police brutalities. While trying to achieve their goal, they experienced a lot of opposition from America’s legal systems as well as the “native Americans” who didn’t believe in police brutality, race discrimination, and inequality.
Hip-hop really struggled to make it to the mainstream media. Beside the unapologetic language of hip-hop, the energy and personas of the industry participants made it hard for the majority of Americans to welcome the music. However, the consistency and boldness led the music to the mainstream — radio stations couldn’t resist playing the music as that’s what the ghetto kids and young people listened to.
As we speak, hip-hop is the most popular genre of music in the world! Who knew that the music genre that originated from black Americans in the ghettos of the Bronx would be the most popular genre of music in the world? A multi-billion dollar industry.
Can Gengetone follow the same route? Well, that depends on a lot of factors.
Some of those factors are:
What the music is meant for. Generally, music is meant for entertainment, passing out information, and/or expression of oneself. Hip-hop represented for entertainment (house parties and neighbourhood block party events), rebelling against police brutality, and race discrimination.
What’s the intention of the Gengetone artists? We’ve been discovering new Gengetone bands and solo artists almost every week. It seems a fair amount of them are coming into the scene just for fame (not even for the money in this particular niche). They seem to enjoy being called for interviews in local radio and TV stations and the chief executive of KFCB tweeting about them.
Gengetone music needs to be clear on what specifically they’re representing for. They need to research and make clear their “why”.
Diversity. Currently, Gengetone isn’t diversified at all. All of the artists are talking about sex and drugs using almost the same beats and dance styles. For the genre to survive they’ll need to start singing/rapping about other topics as well.
People need to hear Gengetone artists singing and rapping about politics, ghetto life, health, among other topics. The same way Kendrick Lamar raps about mental health and gang banging in Compton whilst J. Cole is warning the mumble rappers about splurging money on chains and drugs. There are not many music genres that talks about material ownership as hip-hop — be it chains, watches, cars, etc, and still, there is no genre of music that has warned and impacted the youths than hip-hop.
So far Gengetone is one-sided — people are only hearing about immoral and vulgar lyrics. Does this mean that the thoughts of most Kenyan youths are those of immorality and sex?
Relatability. Music is really a powerful tool. It stimulates the listener’s deepest feelings and emotions, the more a listener relates to the content of the music.
The connection a listener gets from music has a huge impact on both his/her short and long-term actions. If a musician is talking about ghetto change (as Gengetone should) and the listener is living in the ghetto, he/she would relate with the content of the content much more than someone who doesn’t live in the ghetto. Hence, the ghetto inhabitant listening to Gengetone music done by a ghetto inhabitant has high chances of getting motivated to get involved in making a change in his/her community.
Most of the Gengetone artists are talking about sex and drugs. Some of them might be practising what they’re talking about, however, a percentage are just talking about things that they’re not practising. Some consumers might not have time to double-check whether an artist is using drugs to increase the minutes he can have sex with his girl or not?
In conclusion, Gengetone has the potential to grow and continue to fill the Nairobi clubs’ airwaves. As we’ve seen, the popularity of Gengetone has strengthened Kenya’s music industry — its popularity led to a lot of Kenyans turning away from Nigerian and Tanzanian music and start listening to our own. However, the genre needs diversification and the artists themselves need to start rapping/singing about things the slum dwellers could easily relate with. Also, sometimes it’s good to fool the system by abiding by their laws – especially the government systems – because you’ll lose a lot battling them. A lot of consistency and boldness is needed in the Gengetone music genre as well.