It is always a tough job compiling music lists considering the vested interests but someone had to do it, you know! So I decided to rank the top 20 greatest Kenyan musicians and bands.
1. Daudi Kabaka
A Benga musician born in Kenya, Daudi Kabaka is best known for the songs Harambe Harambee, Western Shillo and African Twist. His song Helule Helule was covered by The Tremeloes and became a hit in the UK. Daudi Kabaka is also known for his Kenyan classic “Harambee Harambee” which largely reflects the aspirations of post-colonial Kenya to build their nation. He collaborated with John Nzenze on three songs: Masista, Bachelor Boy and Nyumba za Tobacco. These songs were released by Jambo Records and became hits. Kabaka released the album “Pesa Maradhi Ya Moyo” with Maroon Commandos in 1986.
2. Ayub Ogada
He got a breakthrough when he was playing his Nyatiti in England and was soon to sign with Real World Records, where he released his debut “En Mana Kuoyo” album in 1993 and was able to tour extensively, including performing in front of the Roman Colosseum in Rome and later recorded “Tanguru” album. His best song is the “Koth Biro” which has been covered by many bands all over the world.
His music has been featured on Soundtracks of movies like I Dreamed Of Africa(2000), The Constant Gardener(2005), Samsara (2011) and The Good Life(2014). Also, his music has been used in the Soundtrack for BBC series “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” as well as “The Philanthropist”, an action drama series by NBC.
In July 2005, Ayub Ogada performed at the Live 8 concert Eden Project as the opening act with his band, Union Nowhere. They released the album Tanguru in 2007, the year Ayub moved back to Kenya. His third album, Kodhi: Trevor Warren’s Adventures with Ayub Ogada, was released on Long Tale Recordings on April 20, 2015.
3 Les Wanyika
The Band has some of the best songs in Kenya. Afro and Amigo are two of the most popular hits by this band.
4 Fadhili Williams
Recorded one of Kenya’s best love songs “Malaika” with his The Jambo Boys Band around 1963.
5. Them Mushromms
The band has released several hit albums with Kenyan nit single “Jambo Bwana” being their creation.
6 D.O Misiani
His prophetic lyrics hidden within riddles makes whim one of the best. The Tanzanian born artist sang in Luo and Swahili and was aised by his Shirati Jazz band. His influence on the socio-political environment was huge and his death in 2006 was a huge blow to his fans in Kenya and Tanzania.
His death in 2003 was a big shock to the country and to date industry enthusiasts hold annual anniversary to remember this artistic-genius. His debut album, and his only offering was “Nimefika” and it became a super hit with virtually all the tracks in it becoming hit singles. The album included Moss Moss, Saree, Leo Ni Leo, Boomba Train among others.
8. Maroon Commandos
Is a Kenyan military band with several hit albums.
9. Eric Wainaina
With a KORA Award and Kisima Award to his name plus other nominations, Erick Wainaina remains a very relevant figure in Kenyan Music industry. He has three studio album, singles and a musical to his name.
10. Suzanna Owiyo
“It was while preparations were being made for the centennial celebrations of the city of Kisumu, that Suzanna was requested to compose a theme song for the opening ceremony. In front of a capacity crowd of 60,000 people “Kisumu 100” was born and immediate success followed; a prolonged applause and a standing ovation.
Suzanna then decided to work on an album with Kenyan music producer Kora Awards. The album, which received great success on the radio, won her a nomination in the Kora Awards 2002 in the “Most Promising Female Artist category”. The same album won her a Kisima Awards for the Most Promising Female Artist of 2003. Her new single “Sandore” and the video clip with a powerful message on child labour was also a success.
In June 2003, she represented her country at the Kenyan Festival in Paris organized by Alliance Française, in August the same year she represented East Africa at the Pan-African music Festival in Brazzaville where she sang alongside other African greats and in December she performed in Djibouti.” She released another album in 2011.
His professional career began during World War 2, when he performed for East African troops in South Asia. Returning home to Kenya, he made some of the earliest recordings from the region, including the hits “Mama Sowera”, “Majengo Siendi Tena”, “Kipenzi Waniua Ua” and “Jambo Sigara”. He continued to perform and record until 1963, when he retired until the early 1980s, when he began singing, composing and producing again.
12. Sauti Sol
They are, at the moment, the best act from Kenya and the band released their third album Live and Die in Africa which was a great success and are currently on a tour to promote the album sales.
13. Just A Band
The group was formed when their members were studying at Kenyatta UniversityScratch to reveal. They went on to release the song “Iwinyo Piny” accompanied by a self-made animated music video. Initially the song received little airplay due to its unconventional musical style, but with time they started to gain popularity through underground channels. Their debut album Scratch to reveal was relatively successful.] They released their second single ‘Ha-He’ on 17 March 2010, accompanied by a music video featuring a character known as Makmende. The video has subsequently been described as Kenya’s first viral internet meme by the Wall Street Journal, CNN and Fast Company. Also their track “Huff + Puff” been heard over the 2012 movie “House at the End of the Street.
As of time of writing of this article, the information on their website says they have taken time off to do solo projects but are definitely not splitting up.
14. Achieng Abura
An Afro-fusion and Afro-Jazz musician who has won a KORA award and toured extensively including shows in Europe.
The late Musa Juma was the founder of Limpopo International Band and has inspired many more artists including John Junior who is currently the biggest Luo-Rhumba artist in Kenya. He also worked with the likes of Prince Kassam and his brother Omondi Tony, who are both deceased.
His best works include among others Maselina and Christina.
16. Mercy Myra
In 1996, she joined the Calabash Band but left it the next year to join the R&B group Destinee and in 1997 she joined a band called Black Ice. She turned solo and released her first single “Sitaki” (featuring K-South) in the end of 1998, produced by Samawati Studios. Her song “Tie Dero” is a classic and was recently remixed by Rapper Wangechi.
Mercy Myra was part of the Divas of The Nile supergroup, that featured four Kenyan female musicians. The others were Suzzana Owiyo, Achieng Abura and Princess Jully. The group performed at the Festival Mundial in 2007.
in 2016, Mercy Myra signed a new deal with Atlanta-based label, Nu Royal Records.
17. Angela Chibalonza
She was a Congolese-Kenyan Gospel musician who has become an influence, even post-humously.
Jua Cali formed Calif Records together with Clemmo in 2000 and use this label to release three albums including numerous hit singles. He popularized Genge as a genre and as a result has been able to amass a large fan base.
He has won enedorsement couple of big endorsement deals like the deals with Motorolla, Orange Kenya and Pamoja Mtaani video game.
19. Ken Wa Maria
The artist who sings in Kamba also has fans from Kenyans from other communities due to his powerful voice. His naughty “Fundamentals” song became overly popular in Kenya.
He is a well decorated artist who remains to be an influence on the others. He has worked with E-Sir among many other great musicians and has many great hits.