By Ogova Ondego
Published June 16, 2004
Kisima Music Awards, presented on June 19, 2004, was meant to publicly recognise and reward music merit in 2003. However the event–like a dead relative not sent off with due honour–has remained around to haunt its organisers ever since. OGOVA ONDEGO contends that the Kisima awards nomination process should either be streamlined or the entire charade done away with.
Derived from the Kiswahili word that means “a well”, Kisima was first held in 1994 to publicly acknowledge and reward the wealth of music talent in Kenya. As such, it is difficult to tell when this Kenyan event became East African. When they embraced East Africa in 2004, were the organisers simply trying out a clever regional marketing gimmick? No wonder they goofed and presented the Best Female Artist in Uganda and Tanzania award to Ray C and not Saida Karoli whose music is found all over the East and Central African region.
Despite the fact that the former’s music is virtually unknown among music dealers in Uganda and Kenya where her recordings are unavailable, she beat the latter who is a household name in East Africa. To compound the problem, Ray C’s music could not even be played during the awards ceremony as it was unavailable!
And as if surprises never cease, Kisima Awards founder Tedd Odongo Josiah was declared the Best Music Producer of the Year!
Music producer Tabu Osusa and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation DJ John Obong’o Junior dismissed Kisima as not being representative of Kenyan music; that it was a ‘class thing belonging to young people with mobile phones for voting and motor vehicles to drive to and from Carnivore for the awards presentation’.
In a write-up preceding Kisima Awards presentation, Emmanuel Mwendwa had noted in East African Standard: “…thinly veiled doubts are being cast over the process of naming winners. The bone of contention hinges upon the premise that skewed radio airplay may have likely influenced voting patterns. There is the question of ‘well-connected’ rappers’ songs, which have become anthems owing to lop-sided radio airplay-enjoying an edge over the music of lesser-known artistes”.
Mwendwa had quoted Absalom Nyinza (Abbi)–who was to later emerge Artiste of the Year and Most Promising Artiste–who had said that musicians were expected to enter an album or single track and its video in the competition which would be assessed by “a panel of judges drawn from the local entertainment scene” who would then decide into what categories the various entries would contest. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
Another contentious issue was the categorising of the Benga style of music into Western, Eastern and Central. Why was this done; was it to live up to regional and ethnic balancing that Kenyan politicians are often accused of?
Speaking to freelance writer Angela Kamanzi in 2003, Lydia Achieng Abura had said the concept of Kisima was noble but that there should be no “Kenyan music hip-hop award” as only adolescents would participate in it. That only young people vote.
Abura had said the decision as to who wins should lie with the jury and not young people who vote through short text messages (SMS) sent via their mobile phones.
“We want an award that shows that we Kenyans are good. Popular doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a good artist. We want an award where the good artists are recognised,” Abura said. She observed that many hip-hop artists can neither play with bands nor play musical instruments. That they rely on back up tracks produced for them by producers in studios.
As predicted, Necessary Noize–consisting of Nazizi Hirji and Kevin Waire (Wyre)–scooped three statuettes (Best Overall Group of the Year, Ragga Group of the Year, and Music Video of the Year awards–with Wakimbizi hot on their heels. The Wakimbizi trio grabbed two awards for the Hip-hop Group of the Year and Song of the Year for Hallo Hallo.
Mercy Myra won the Best Female Artiste of the Year as Nameless scooped the newly created Bumba pop Artiste of the Year.
While Jomenes won the Western Benga Artiste of the Year award, Kenge Kenge ran away with the Traditional Group of the Year as Didge took the R&B Artiste of the Year prizes.
Uyoga–formerly known as Them Mushrooms–were declared the Coastal Group of the Year in what critics saw as the organisers’ pandering to tokenism. Why, they questioned, should any one win an award just because they are based in a certain location?
Contemporary Gospel Artiste of the Year and Afro Benga honours went to Catherine Mweni and Zippora Muoso, respectively.
Kayamba Afrika won the Central/Eastern Benga award with Yunasi and Deux Vultures winning the Fusion Artiste/ Group of the Year and Best Group of the Year Uganda/Tanzania, in that order.
Amric Singh and DJ Gupz Nakhra won the Bhangra Artiste of the Year trophy.
Nairobi-based Uganda gospel singer, Wycliffe Wamala, otherwise known as Ambasada in music circles, scooped the Best Music Video (East Africa) award for his Watoto Inkane, a song that champions children’s rights.
Penknife, a cartoon pullout in Sunday Standard, compared Josiah’s winning of the Producer of the Year Award to the travesty the CNN African Journalist of the Year awards would become were Cable News Network founder Ted Turner nominated and declared the Journalist of the Year, leave alone Media Mogul of the Year!
Calling for the streamlining of the Kisima awards nomination process, Penknife said: “If CNN’s founder, Ted Turner, was to be nominated for the CNN Journalist of the Year Award, who would dare challenge him?”
Deux Vultures, voted Best Male Group of the Year in Uganda and Tanzania, received the award and then went to the Press to declare they are in fact Kenyans!
Another strange development was the one in which Kenge Kenge Orutu System performed at the Kisima awards and left without ever being told they had been nominated for Traditional Artists Group of the Year award and that they had indeed emerged victorious. Princess Jully received the award on their behalf. Who is to blame for this gaffe?
“Despite being the biggest and best organised Kisima music awards ceremony so far,” Penknife noted, “the 2004 event’s voting patterns were skewed in favour of musicians who belong to either the Blu-Zebra stable or those who have had previous dealings with Alliance Francaise and Samawati.”
While Blu-Zebra and Samawati Productions belong to Kisima founders Josiah and Suzanne Gachukia Kibukosya, respectively, Alliance Francaise is a major sponsor of Kisima and artists like Yunasi and Abbi whose albums and videos it funded.
Yunasi, Abbi, Necessary Noise and Didge’s music albums were recorded at Blue Zebra while Mercy Myra is a Samawati artist.
Kisima publicist and spokesperson, Joy Owango of Going Out Guide, defended Kisima awards saying they had been carried out transparently.
Although the information Owango sent out to the Press presented Josiah as being the winner of the Producer of the Year award, Owango now says Josiah in fact gave his award to Japheth Kassanga, a Kisima judge.
Why? Could it have been out of a guilty conscience?
No, Owango says. It was in recognition of the great role Kassanga had played in providing vital information to Kisima, by bringing older generation musicians to the awards, and by helping in collecting nomination information.
“Kassanga not only provided information and advice but he is also a well respected Afro-benga artist whose music sells well. Josiah’s action was a gesture of good will,” she sums up.
Owango insists Penknife made what she terms ‘wrong conclusions’ for lack of understanding of the awards. She says voters–not Josiah–awarded Josiah the Producer of the Year victory. Owango however concedes that Kisima will in future consider if Kisima founders should be eligible for nomination.
Abbi Nyinza’s scooping of the Best Male Artist of the Year and Most Promising Artist of the Year awards was as interesting as it was contradictory. Abbi has been in the music sector over the past 11 years; since 1993, to be precise. He began with an a cappella outfit named The Boyz before it changed its name to Safari. Together with Abura, Abbi toured Kenya and Spain in 1996. He recorded an album with Safari in London in 1997 before following this up with tours of Wales, Scotland and Germany. He then joined Abura in 2001 after leaving Safari. He started his solo performances a year later, in 2002. Then, how can a person who has been in the music arena for more than a decade be considered ‘promising’ as compared to Gidi Gidi-Maji Maji (Joseph Ogidi and Jahd Adonijah) and Nazizi Hirji who came on the scene in 1999?
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Kisima publicist, Joy Owango, does not see any contradiction here: “Ten years from now,” she says, “Abbi will be a great musician. That is what is meant by being Most Promising Artist. Abbi may have been around for some time, but he only started recording his music in 2001 and started selling last year. He has great potential.”
As for the Artist of the Year award, she says, “Abbi’s music sells in Africa and Europe where he is well known. When he goes to concerts his credibility draws crowds.”
Why did the organisers have to use CPJ and Associates Certified Public Accountants, described by music critics as ‘a little known auditing firm’, to tabulate the results when the country boasts credible firms?
“Sometimes small is big,” says Owango. “This firm has credible clients. It is not a funny-looking firm on River Road.”
The judges of the much discredited Kisima Awards 2004 were music distributor Al Karim Absi, Kameme FM radio presenter Joseph Kiratu, filmmaker Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Television producer Flavian Mbusi, Kiss FM radio presenter Muthoni Bwika and Nation Television producer Alex Murungi.
Although each Kisima trophy costs more than Sh20, 000 (about US$250), the awards do not come with any cash prize.