Music has always been a medium with which to challenge the establishment—from Miriam Makeba’s warning to the apartheid government to Fela Kuti’s rebuke of wayward postcolonial leaders. The trend won’t stop any soon and today the beat moves a digital generation, sending it even further. GEORGE D. MWENDWA looks into artists who’ve successfully taken this lane.
Sauti Sol & Nyashinski
Sauti Sol and Nyashinski have made their name in Kenya and beyond with party bangers including Short and Sweet in which they successfully collaborated giving the world a feel of Africa’s dance culture. However, a while back both parties felt they could no longer stay silent about the corruption and populism threatening to derail the country’s progress. Releasing Tujiangalie, meaning “self-reflection” in Swahili, they questioned whether the country is really as stable as it seems from Nairobi’s trendy rooftops. Sauti Sol was questioned for waiting this long to speak up, and for not addressing politicians directly, but the song has brought a much need conversation the airwaves.
King Kaka, also known as Kennedy Ombima, a month ago released a song titled, ‘Wajinga Nyinyi’ to point out that the hurdles we face as a country are a result of the voter’s ignorance in electing our leaders. He questions the silence of the voters and the judiciary over big scandals that rocked the nation in the past.
The song went viral almost immediately and was widely shared on social media today garbering over 2 million views on YouTube.
Most politicians chose to refrain from commenting on the song. However, those who felt like they were attacked in the song found ways of fighting back. Woman representatives Zuleikha Hassan (Kwale) and Esther Passaris (Nairobi) were among the first to react to the song as they took to Twitter to defend themselves.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru as well did not take the song too lightly and three days after the official release of the song. She was mentioned in the song with an allegation of having been involved in the NYS Scandal. Waiguru posted a defamation suit notice on her Twitter account if King Kaka didn’t apologize and pull down the song from YouTube. King Kaka was defiant on this asking the public to stand with him as he stood for the truth.
Top lawyers in the country vowed to back him up should the case proceed to court. However, a week later Governor Anne Waiguru withdrew the suit citing that he wasn’t ready to engage in a tussle with a confused youth and an attention seeker. The message from King Kaka was however home.
Way back in 2001, Eric Wainaina sang ‘Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo’, in which he was referring to bribes that were, and in many cases still are, the driving force behind government machinery in the Judiciary, police, the then CID, immigration and registration of persons, the health sector and almost any other government services that were essential for Kenyans.
The song hit so hard on a nation had sunk into a lake of social evils that this song was an instant national hit that resonated well with the experiences of the general public. Almost without exception, Kenyans were affected by corruption at the time and no common citizen wasn’t feeling the heat.
With the chart success of ‘Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo’, Wainaina received international accolades. Transparency International (Kenya) supported him as an artist who would help educate people on the negativity of corruption, appointing him an ambassador. He was also appointed Ambassador for the NGO MS Kenya, Kenya Human Rights Commission and by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights for his commitment to fighting the abuses to justice through music. This anthem against corruption (Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo) was not so highly appreciated in all quarters, however, with the government of the day putting up resistance to it by refusing to air it on the national broadcaster. In one instance several attempts were made to keep him from performing at a national event, the Kenya Music Festival, including intimidation and attempts to switch off his microphone.
Julius Owino alias Juliani penned down one of the greatest anthems of our time dubbed Utawala to mean governance. The song was a snapshot of the problems in Kenya that appeared to emanate from poor governance. Inequality, injustice, power, corruption among many others. The song hit across the country easily becoming an anthem and through it, the message on inequality hit home.
The most important thing that he wanted to communicate was that people have more power than they think they do. He also did awareness of human rights, pushing people to be involved in politics and fighting the inequality they see in this country. Since Juliani was keen enough not to name names in his song, the government remained mum on reacting to this song that continues to rent the airwaves to date.
In Uganda, musician Bobi Wine’s popularity among his fans was enough to catapult him from self-styled “Ghetto King” to an elected lawmaker. Last year, Wine beat out the ruling party and opposition party candidate to win his seat. Moving from stage to parliamentary benches, Wine’s message has remained the same, speaking out against corruption, social media taxation and the 73-year-old Yoweri Museveni’s continued grip on power. This has seen him brutally tortured by the police and at times spending nights in the cold cells. He aspires to ascend to power when the incumbent’s term comes to an end.