By Ogova Ondego
Published July 12, 2014
Though traditional music in Kenya represents a unique snapshot of the diversity and intricacy of Kenyan cultures, there is a growing trend to disregard this cultural treasure by the general Kenyan public, particularly the youth.
A workshop seeking to assess the status of traditional music in Kenya and develop a strategy for its promotion held at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi on July 11, 2014 was told that existing cultural policies and strategies across Africa do not address the problem.
“The objective of this workshop is to identify and establish measures for safeguarding traditional folk music through efficient identification, documentation, protection, transmission and accessibility for all individuals,” said Mulekeni Ngulube, a UNESCO specialist on Culture.
Organised by Goethe-Institut in collaboration with UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, the meeting brought together participants from government, international cultural institutions, Kenyan media, universities, associations for musicians, musicians and other interested people working in the field both inside and outside Kenya.
“A successful strategy should facilitate effective identification of traditional folk music, systematic documentation, conservation, transmission, promotion and presentation to the public, at home and abroad,” said Ngulube.
She said the task at hand calls for collaboration among stakeholders, backed by what she called ‘a solid policy foundation’ “to ensure that traditional folk music is safeguarded, documented, taught, promoted, and transmitted so that it becomes the foundation on which the national music genre is based. This is the basis for a thriving self-confident cultural and artistic scene within Kenya.”
Some of the traditional music in Kenya include the vocal performance of the Maasai, the Ohangla of the Luo,the the Mwomboko of the Kikuyu, the Kilume of the Kamba and the Taarab of the Swahili.
“All performances of music and dance,” Ngulube stressed, “have social meanings and transmit important messages according to the occasion and ceremony.”
Having deliberated on issues such as the archiving of music, deciding what to archive, the most effective way to archive, making archives accessible, digitisation of existing archives, getting young people interested in traditional music, and the role of festivals and cultural exchange and the media–radio, television, newspapers, the internet, smart phones–in disseminating traditional music, the conference then turned to what to do about those issues. A small group was then appointed to work with the Rapporteur in summarising and synthesising the report carrying the recommendations of the workshop for further action.
Among the documents that guided discussion at the day-long meeting were the Constitution of Kenya (2010), the Kenya National Policy on Heritage and Culture, the UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005).
And the workshop wasn’t just talk and more talk. Performing artists Daniel Muhuni and Mburu ‘Mbutch’ provided sme music from the Miji Kenda communities from the Kenyan Indian Ocean coast.
Among the institutions that were represented at the seminar that ran 9.00 AM-8.00 PM were Kenya Cultural Centre, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, National Museums of Kenya, Moi University, Kenyatta University, Permanent Presidential Music Commission, Department of Culture, Ketebul Music, ArtMatters.Info, Kenya Association of Music Producers, Goethe-Institut, UNESCO, Hivos and Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt of Weimar in Germany.