By The Black Kennedy.
Have you ever watched Magic Johnson’s executive-produced movie, Brown Sugar? It details the story of a young girl who falls in love with hip hop at the age of 10 and grows, changing with it all through the years. In the end, you realize she viewed hip hop as her boyfriend and her boyfriend as hip hop. Well, I can tell a similar story, except, am not a girl and I probably will never marry hip hop because my first love was, and still remains, Genge/Kapuka.
The first ‘local’ song I heard and fell in love with was the dynamic duo, GidiGidi Majimaji’s “Unbwogable”. It was around 2001 and Mr. Nice had just released the much famed “Kuku Kapanda Baiskeli”. This was a formative time in my life and I was still quite impressionable. Over the next few months, as we went into 2002, Kleptomaniax would release “Tuendelee” and E-Sir alongside Nameless would churn out “Boomba Train”. Mr. Lenny and E-Sir were also to record their hit single “Hatucheki Na Watu”. Rapper Big Pin then threw in the massive hit in the form of “Natafuta” while Circuit (who now goes by Sir Cute) and Joel’s “Manyake” got us singing in hushed tones. Necessary Noize duo then stole my heart with their reggae-themed tune, “Bless My Room”. Singer Amani was flying the Ogopa DJs flag. Times were good and Ogopa Djs was THE record label of the early 2000s, pushing out hit after hit, and boasting of big names that I still smile whenever I hear. Redsan sang to us in Jamaican accent and I remember Shanky Radics claiming that the mega star stole his style. Lucas Radebe ruled the coastal music scene where Sharama and Cannibal both appeared to be “Kichwa Kibovu” and Nyota Ndogo was still a just an upcoming star. As part of the culture, Fundi Frank was arguably the designer of the decade.
As the Ogopa DJs’ prominence rose, so did that of a certain California estate-based label, popularly known as Calif Records. I got hooked from the first time I heard beat ya Clemmo in Nonini’s “Haunipati”, in which he featured the mellow-voiced Daniella. Then there was “Kamata Dame” by Jua Cali and Pilipili which we could not play out loud because the lyrics were a bit too raunchy. I nodded along to those songs on a sad AM/FM radio that we were forbidden from ever touching without express permission. I remember sneakily dubbing those songs over my mother’s old Bob Marley and Lucky Dube tapes. The beatings I got still haunt me whenever I hear the word ‘record’.
Still down memory lane, I recall Prezzo teaming up with Jua Cali, Nonini, Lady S, Pilipili and the ever baby-faced Jimwat, to make Calif Records my all-time favorite label. Flexx later joined the crew as would the sassy Sanaipei Tande (who later became a member of Calif Angels trio) as well as the rich-looking Madtraxx. Beat ya Clemmo tag-phrase became so ingrained in me that I felt as though I lived in Calif when I hailed from a lakeside town, hundreds of kilometers away. I sang along to “Mafans” as if I had a whole load of fans. Before that, “Keroro” had come and I had felt drunk just because Nonini glorified the Kenyan beer. Jua Cali’s “Vile Ntafanya” stole a part of my innocence and, thus, I knew I was growing up. Kajairo made a silly remix to the Mr. Googs/Vinnie Banton song “Githurai” and Deaux Vultures‘ wowed us with “Monalisa”. We surely had fun in our early and late teenage years.
That was the early to mid-2000s, and I was still growing and it was on Genge/Kapuka genres. Hits followed one another but nobody ever did a full album. Back then, music was not as big of a commercial undertaking as it is today. Hits were made for the enjoyment of the masses and artists never really made much money for their work. They were entertainers who only provided enjoyment for the nation. There were only three or four other labels that could be mentioned alongside Ogopa DJs and Calif Records: Homeboyz, Blu Zebra and maybe, Mandugu Digital. But then Motorola came with great advertising strategies and gave artists like Abbas, Sana, Karma, Nameless, Jua Cali and Nyashinsky their big breaks with an endorsement deal that would forever change the face of the industry. Later, Dettol came calling, then Coca Cola, then Orange, then Safaricom. And even before I could say Kapuka, tens of recording studios sprouted and music became commercialized. It became more and more about the artist making money than providing us with the great entertainment. Corporate entities raided the music industry and made a commercial undertaking of it. In a sense, the music industry developed and became more competitive. That is not a bad thing per se.
Now, artistes could enjoy their work (some made immoral sums of money in the process). And the frequency with which songs were released increased dramatically while the shelf-life of each hit shortened. Focus shifted to the recording of albums rather than singles and the local charts which were always detailed on Daily Nation’s Buzz pullout disappeared. I found it increasingly hard to keep track of what all my favorite artistes were up to. Then STL came from Norway to sing with Brenda and captured us with her mastery of English, Swahili and Kikuyu. How beautiful she was (and still is)! Around 2008/2009, a certain crazy boy burst into the scene – with dramatization galore and songs that simultaneously roused laughter and thought in us. Today, Mejja is featured in Safaricom’s M-Pesa Tu campaign. With both wit and humor to boot, ‘Okonkwo’ was seen as the boy to revive Genge amidst the onslaught from Bongo where Marlaw hooted at us in “Missing My Baby (Peep Peep)” and Nigeria’s Flavor distracted us with “Ashawo (de remix)”. Our Ugandan neighbors like Chameleone, Radio and Weasel began appealing to us too with pieces like “Dorotia” and “Zuena”.
Today, I still listen to Genge and Kapuka especially during the weekends when am kicking back. Oh, those songs of old; now they are called Old School. I often let the formative years of the Kenyan showbiz industry drift me away to a time when everything was much simpler. We did not have to worry much about money because there were very few bills (if any) to be paid, and the Kenyan shilling went a longer way than it does today. Life was sweeter and Facebook was only a concept in the Harvard halls of residence. Each time I listen to those tunes, I appreciate how far our entertainment scene has come. I thank God that artists and other entertainers can now live well, off their sweat. I know the industry is still changing but please, take a few hours this weekend and listen to some old school Genge and Kapuka. You will appreciate the raw talent that was motivated by entertaining the crowds rather than minting shillings.
The author keeps an exciting blog titled The Black Kennedy.