By Jacquiline Mwangi
Published April 18, 2015
When comedian and mock singer Walter Mong’are, then a student at Kenyatta University, teamed up with fellow student John Kiarie and Tony Njuguna launched a stand-up comedy group to poke fun at the political class—President Daniel arap Moi and his sycophant minister, Joseph Kamotho—little did he know his mimicry would set the trend for radio presenters, actors and even gospel musicians in Kenya.
Almost 20 years after the launch of the stand up comedy group, Reddykyulass, at the turn of the 20th Century, Kenyan gospel artists have not only refrained from being creative but are trying their level best to be other people. They would rather be South African, Tanzanian, Congolese and even Nigerian than themselves. They speak, sing, dance and dress like South African Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie, Tanzanians Diamond Platnumz and Rose Mhamdo and Nigerian P-Square. They derive little inspiration from sounding like Fadhili William Mdawida, Daudi Kabaka, D O Misiani, Sukuma Bin Ongaro, Joseph Kamaru or Joseph Ngala.
Wilson Abubakar Radido, commonly known as Willy Paul Msafi, and Kevin Kioko Bahati (simply known as Bahati in music circles) are two musicians who exemplify the mimicry trend in Kenya.
Willy Paul, who apes Tanzanian Bongo Flava musician Nasibu Abdul Juma (better known as Diamond Platnumz)’s mannerisms, gained fame after his collaboration with Gloria Muliro on a gospel song titled Sitolia in 2010. Confessing to be a die-hard Bongo Flava fan, Willy Paul says that’s the type of music he has opted to perform.
Willy Paul, who was born and raised in the Mathare North slums in Nairobi, recently changed his name to Willy Paul Msafi to sound more like Diamond Platnumz whose production crew is known as wasafi. He is trying to be Diamond in every way, including copying his dance moves and pronunciation of Kiswahili words as he recently demonstrated on a popular television show known as The Trend that is aired on NTV channel of Nairobi. This young singer has no style to call his own. Watching his videos and looking at the way he poses in pictures, showing off his golden necklaces, one can’t help but see a Diamod Platnumz-wannabe.
Strange, but Willy Paul’s mimicry seems to go unnoticed even among those who should know better. For instance, how does he end up being declared Male Artist of the Year as he did in 2012 when Groove Awards for Gospel Music declared him so?
Barely two years after being crowned Artist of the Year, Willy Paul is involved in a long-standing feud with Bahati, another Bongo Flava copycat, who accuses him of having colluded with their common producer—Teddy B—in stealing two of his songs: Mapenzi and Salma.
While Willy Paul released Mapenzi as done by Bahati, Bahati says in a letter he posted on social media, the Kenyan Diamond Platnumz changed Salma to Maria before releasing it.
Gloria Muliro, who has been recording gospel music since 2005, could be said to be another copycat. She is accused of having copied the lyrics of her Follow You from I Will Follow You by American artist Chris Tomlin. Like Willy Paul with whom she collaborates, Muliro is not free from copying (or is it imitating?) Tanzania’s Bongo Flava.
Just how did Groove Awards for Gospel Music come to award copycats Willy Paul, Gloria Muliro and Bahati?
Peterson Ngetha, commonly known as Piston, stormed the gospel chats with the song, Lingala ya Yesu, a Congo-Kinshasa rumba-styled gospel song.
Artists like Papa Dennis and Lucy Wangeci have adopted Nigerian Pidgin English accent in their songs.
Obsessed with the desire to be considered celebrities, Kenyan musicians and singers appear to have forgotten that the key of a successful music and acting career lies in one being uniquely original.