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I’m not quite ready to let the inauguration of President Barack Obama be in the past, so this week, I’ve been looking into the music of Kenya, home of Obama’s father.
First up: Ken wa Maria, headliner of the Yatta Orchestra International Band, a popular Kamba act. wa Maria seems to be a bit larger than life, attracting as much attention for his controversial lyrics and his will-he-or-won’t-he-run political ambitions as for his music.
Kamba has a more traditional feel than the rap, hip hop, and reggae that tops most of the popular charts. I searched for information on the instrument used to generate the twangy sort of washboard sound you can hear in the background, but came up empty. You’ll have to search for yourself. In the meantime, enjoy the dancing.
I love reggae, but when asked, I energetically deny enjoying any form of hip hop or rap. I believe I have, on occasion, threatened to start bleeding out of my ears if forced to listen for one more moment.
In truth, there are some hip hop and rap artists that I can stomach without throwing a temper tantrum, but none of them speak English as a first language. The subversive element in the hip hop and rap music coming out of other countries appeals to me. I’m sure there is some of that in domestic rap music as well, but all I hear is “bitches.” It's very distracting. When I’m unable to understand the words, I can concentrate on the music and sometimes, I even like it. (Please don’t tell my rap-loving friends.)
In Kenya, the hip hop and rap lyrics are a mix of English, Swahili, and sheng, a hybrid urban street language. Here’s a live rap of Unbwogable by two guys who call themselves Gidi Gidi Maji Maji. As with many other songs in the genre, Unbwogable is a political protest song.
Eric Wainaina is another popular singer who is all about the protest. His songs are a little too slow for my taste (and his lyrics a little too trite), but Kenyans love him and his music is filled with political and social indignation, of which I completely approve! This song is called Who is to Blame?
The final two songs are my favorites. The first is a group called Deux Vultures singing Adhiambo, which I gather, from the English parts of the song, is about a smokin' hot babe.
The second song is another political anthem of sorts about urban Nairobi, sung by a pairing of two popular artists, Mr. Googs and Vinnie Banton. It's called Githurai. Enjoy!