By Annrita Wangui Gituthu
Published September 10, 2014
Four men, accompanied by barely dressed women, flaunt their bodies in sexually-revealing scenes. The lyrics talk about having sex all night.
This is a description of Nishike (‘Hold Me’ in Kiswahili) music video by Kenya’s Sauti Sol that has since its release in early 2014, been praised and vilified in equal measures. While many female fans have praised it, their male counterparts have termed it as offensive and demeaning of women.
Having heard from a friend of how graphic Nishike was, I rushed to watch it for myself to see how much sexual and violent material it contained. And I concurred that its content leaves little to the imagination.
Responding to the criticism leveled against the video on its explicitness, Sauti Sol that started out as Sauti (voice in Kiswahili) when they participated in a music promotion of Nairobi’s Alliance Francaise known as Spotlight on Kenya Music, says, “We did not make the video for Nishike (Touch me) to annoy or offend anyone. We are sending a message that people, especially men, should work out not just to get the six-packs but for their own fitness. We were just being us. We never planned to have a song that would attract such reactions. It was just an expression of love, where there was nothing to be metaphoric about.”
I, however, would not have picked that up while watching their video. I bet if it contained scenes of the band members working out in a gym, we probably would have bought their explanation that appears to be nothing more than a public relations ploy aimed at damage-control.
Perhaps it was this explicitness that saw them nominated for best group in the Channel O Music Awards in 2014? They didn’t win, though.
But Sauti Sol’s Nishike is hardly the first nor the only explicit music video in Kenya.
Pombe Bangi (‘Alcohol and Marijuana’ in Kiswahili) by Boyjontez and Rajayjay is yet another video that ruffles feathers in this largely conservative East African country in which traditional rural African values still rule. The song is practically just about rolling blunts, getting drunk and having sex.
The artists say they made the video to create controversy and sell more copies. So, were the scenes shot live and did the girls captured in them know what they were doing during the recording?
The rate at which artists in Kenya are promoting nudity and bad behaviour is on the upswing. This lewd behaviour appears to be driven by the thirst for more publicity that brings in fame and, yes, money.
Sanaipei Tande’s song, Mfalme wa Mapenzi (“King of Love’ in Kiswahili), that was released in June 2014, got a lot of airplay in local stations. Her beautiful vocals and sensational music kept the song on top of the charts. Its video, however, got even more attention, especially from the men.
Tande, who came to national attention during a talent search initiative known as Coca Cola Pop Stars through which a short-lived three-member group, Sema, was formed, and whose music career is yet to take off in earnest, shows what may be referred to as too much skin. The theme of the video revolves around sex. Scenes of Tande in a bathtub lifting one of her legs while sipping what looks like champagne, leaves little to the imagination. The content is very explicit as viewing it only brought negative thoughts in my mind.
Sanaipei Tande uses Kiswahili well in her modern RnB music format. The lyrics include what she refers to as ‘natural love making’. But why would she sing about sex to the public? Why would she even go to the length of demonstrating it?
An up-and-coming dancehall artist, Blaqy, released a song known as Money Maker in August 2014 with the hopes of banking a lot too. Its video includes a twerking session by a Nairobi ‘socialite’ known as Risper Faith. The video’s production values are lower than expected and the lyrics are even worse. It includes the artist singing, “Shake your money maker”, over and over again. There is no art in that, is there?
Money Maker was released eight months after Blaqy’s first single, Show Me, was banned on local television due to what was described as its explicitness. But who needs traditional television while we have online TV, YouTube, social media and numerous websites and blogs for sharing content?
‘Beauty’ in Africa is mostly appreciated when the body is properly covered up. It is considered immodest to reveal certain parts of the body to the public.
It is time artists in Kenya got more conscious of the environment in which they operate and what they present to the public. Why don’t they consider using art to promote causes like peace, morality, ethics and unity as well as offer wholesome entertainment? What is wrong with performing and singing with your clothes on, anyway?
Standards of modesty that discourage exposure of parts of the body may vary from one society to another. Booty shorts, for instance, may be normal pieces of clothing in Unites States of America but not socially approved in Kenya. We need to understand and respect our Kenyan values as music is not just about business.
Artists in Kenya, like elsewhere, are expected to be role models. The rate at which Kenyan music videos are commercialising and objectifying women is worrying.
Perhaps it is skilled and well informed talent managers and mentors who are well grounded in African ways that are lacking in Kenya where artists like Sauti Sol and Sanaipei Tande are trying to mimic their western counterparts
If we do everything that westerners do in their environment in Africa, we would, like slaves, lose our identity and sense of belonging, wouldn’t we?