By Sharon Atieno Onyango
Published September 14, 2015
There is no prize for guessing why South African and Nigerian musicians tend to dominate African music contests, awards and high profile international concerts while their Kenyan counterparts merely watch the action from the sidelines. But that isn’t to say Kenya lacks talented musicians. It’s the music videos that make all the difference: The videos of the former show the audience what the music is about through melody, rhythm, lyrics and performance. The latter’s performance is often short on visual delivery.
While some Kenyan videos lack in content and the audience grows tired of watching them, others lack originality and authenticity as they are modeled on the works of others, usually western productions. Kenyan musicians should learn to understand their songs and what the songs are about and consult with video professionals before producing the video. They should also learn to be original and Kenyan as their first market is Kenya. They should also learn to invest heavily in the production of their videos so as to give the consumer something worth their money.
Granted, Kenya has talented composers, singers and entertainers who nevertheless score low when it comes to packaging their music audio-visually.
‘One Centimeter’, a video by Kenya’s Charles Njagua Kanyi (aka Jaguar) that features Nigeria’s Iyanya, captures skimpily-dressed women dancing next to an aeroplane in what seems to be a hangar and Jaguar and Iyanya standing on a staircase. Throughout the performance, scenes switch among Iyanya, Jaguar and the dancers. This is a contradiction to the song’s initial video where the set-up is a church and Jaguar is marrying this woman from whom he cannot afford to be away for just a centimetre. In this initial video, the audience can easily understand the song by looking at the video; that for Jaguar not to be away from the woman, he must marry her. We also see his love for the woman when his former girlfriend tries to disrupt the wedding ceremony; Jaguar runs after the bride, leaving the ex-girlfriend at the altar.
In the music video ‘Khadija’ in which Kevin Waire (aka Wyre), an R&B and Reggae musician features rapper JuaCali, one tends to think the song is about modeling as the video has clips of several women trying out various outfits in what seems to be a photo shoot in a studio. The song Khadija is about a boy expressing his feelings for a girl called Khadija. The audience expects the video to show us this Khadija and the man expressing his feelings and scenes of him trying to woo her. But do we get that?
Why are so many Kenyan music videos trying so hard to ape western ones and in the process losing out on both originality and authenticity?
Sauti sol, Kenya’s MTV/BET Music Awards Nominees in 2015, in the music video for the song ‘Nishike’ (touch me in Kiswahili), seems to have forgotten that decency is the order of the day in Kenya’s diverse cultures that nevertheless seem to agree on what can or cannot be displayed publicly. In ‘Nishike’, that women and men are almost naked in what could be described as explicit scenes. Was Sauti Sol trying to ape western cultures where under-dressing in a music video is not a problem just to fit in the western mould?
From his dressing one can tell that Henry Ohanga (aka Octopizzo), a hip hop artist, is trying very hard to ape American hip hop artists where one puts on a lot of bling in the form of chains and somehow baggy trousers with a fitting shirt and a baseball cap. This can be seen in the music video for his songs ‘Something for you’ and ‘Ivo Ivo’ (that way in Sheng).
In ‘Mobimba’, a song by the boy band P-Unit featuring Alicious, some of the lines in the verses are done in French such as tous les monde, Africa ma cherie and the chorus itself is in Congolese Lingala. This being a Kenyan music video, why can’t P-Unit just use English or Kiswahili, the official languages spoken in Kenya?
Some singers have resorted borrowed lyrics from other people’s songs. In a video by George Muigai (aka Madtraxx) that features Kora and Ndegz, the singer has taken the old children’s play song, ‘Skamaress’, and made a music video using the same lyrics as his chorus. There is no creativity there as the song is not originally his.
While the quality of some music videos is commendable with sharp images, good lighting and colour correction, most have hitches.
Jaguar’s music video for the song ‘Matapeli’ (fraudsters in Kiswahili), has poor lighting in most scenes. Where Jaguar is sitting on a staircase, for instance, we cannot see the place clearly, even in the scene where a man is buying maize flour. As the audience we do not see the faces of the sellers of the flour to the man.
The video for the song ‘Why’ by a former Tusker Project Fame 4 contestant, Amileena Mwenesi has poor colour correction. In some scenes the blue and purple seem to dominate, for instance, in the club scene where Amileena is singing on stage, where her friends are seated as well as at the bar where the boyfriend is drinking. The lighting in the video is also questionable as some parts seem too bright while others are extremely dark.
Nairobi-based music group, Elani’s video for the song ‘Jana Usiku’ (Last night in Kiswahili) has a problem with the picture quality as the camera used does not seem to give sharp images.
Kenyan musicians would go a long way if they consulted with experienced video professionals , remained themselves instead of trying to be someone else or remained original and true to their ‘Kenyan-ness’ in their music delivery as entertainers, educators, informers and ambassadors of culture.