The odd thing about the 2017 election season was the absence of protest songs, given the state affairs in the country. We are in the midst of serious social strife, a depressed economy, toxic tribalism, corruption on steroids, institutional failure and extra judicial killings just to get started. It cannot be too much to expect a bit more reflection in the popular music of the day.
“Who is next” is the title of a report by Mathare Social Justice Centre ( MSJC) launched on 30th of May at the British Institute in Eastern Africa, in Nairobi. It documents over 50 cases of young men arbitrarily executed by alleged rogue police force members in Mathare. The majority were between 14 and 20 years old. It poses the loaded question, why have extrajudicial killings become accepted as normalized incidents for inner city urban youth in Kenya?
The story of Mathare’s extrajudicial executions of young men is a story repeated in Kibera, Kayole, Dandora, Eastleigh, Majengo in Mombasa and Obunga in Kisumu. It is the reality of been born into hardship and violence in a society that criminalizes youth and poverty.
What is in a song? Over the years, certain songs have influenced and had a major cultural and political impact on societies and served as catalysts that brought widespread change and defined historic moments. Kenya has its fair share of songs that helped define its national image and introduced the Kenyan sound to a global audience.
The Kenyan hall of fame contains Fadhili Williams, Malaika, Daudi Kabaka’s Harambee, Harambee, Them Mushrooms, “Jambo Bwana, Ayub Ogada’s Koth Biro and Eric Wanaina’s “Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo”. They were songs associated with patriotism, a new identity, safe to some degree even as they pushed musical talent to new heights but in 1997, 20 years ago, one song emerged that would radically change Kenya’s urban music scene forever.