Music is one of the most mysterious and universal phenomena in the world. Music is as old as mankind. It is a natural phenomenon man has indulged in for various purposes—including entertainment, worship, education and mobilisation.
But for whatever purpose music is put to, it is something that, like love, is often emotive. If music is such a magical thing, why has the industry become such a political thing in Kenya?
Mid this month, the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts launched the National Music Policy, which was developed with the aim of achieving the following stated goals: guide and regulate all industry players; protect the industry rights holders against any form of illegal exploitation; and enhance the development of the industry.
For many years, local musicians have complained of all manner of abuse and exploitation. From being shortchanged by producers, promoters and managers to piracy of their work, it has been one thankless job for the melody makers. In fact, it is instructive that the policy launch was snubbed by most artistes—the key stakeholders.
Now, could this imply the ministry and the industry are not striking the same cord, musically speaking? The question begs, does the industry strictly need any policy guidelines? Do we need any music police or should we let the industry regulate itself, just like advocates of media freedom lobby for? There are two sides to the coin.
On one hand, yes, we do need regulations to safeguard the commercial interests and integrity of the work of artistes. This includes aspects like protection of music copyright, setting and payment of minimum royalties on proceeds of sales and performances, and creation of incentives for talented artistes. For me, however, the flip side is the most important.
We need to ask ourselves why Kenyans are not playing world class music. The answer to this question will go a long way in answering why Kenyans do not buy local music as much as, say, Ugandans, Tanzanians, Nigerians and South Africans do.
While Kenyan artistes have perfected the art of make-believe, top colleagues in Uganda such as Chameleone and Tanzanian Diamond are stars in their own right, both nationally and internationally, with hard cash to show for it! Similar to other lifestyles like fashion, Kenyans’ taste for music today is at par with global trends.
This is something artistes in other regions such as West Africa and South Africa realised years ago and have successfully worked towards achieving.
For instance, Lingala and reggae music were the mainstay of the club scene in the country before the entrance of hip-hop and rap music. Ask any Kenyan his or her favourite musician and, most likely, it is not a Kenyan.
Therefore, promoting local music should go beyond an academic exercise of defining its role in society. It takes raw talent to be a great musician. Most of the world famous artistes started out long before they could read a musical note.
Some were picked by equally talented producers from church and school choirs, even from the streets and then refined to world-class status. That is a good place to start from. Let us begin by appreciating, nurturing and investing in talent.
While musicians need a lot of goodwill from all players, they must be authentic. The culture of aping foreign musicians has been the bane of the industry.
We have so many one-hit burnt-out wannabe wonders posing as celebrities, which has stunted the development of aspiring artistes. Ultimately, musicians must be patient and do all it takes to perfect their act. The writer is a communication strategist and current affairs analyst—[email protected]