During campaigns, they appear on every template of a meeting agenda due to their influence.
Politicians fall over themselves as they seek the musicians’ services to convince the electorate and lyrically pass their discreet messages.
These are the performers on the block, and mostly those doing vernacular songs.
In spite of the next General Election being over three years away, Mt Kenya region is awash with political melodies.
As the French poet Victor Hugo once said -- that music expresses that which cannot be put in words and which cannot remain silent -- adherents of the competitive, yet extremely deceitful game of politics must certainly have taken cue.
Incidentally, nowhere else has the tactic of using music to pass raw political and emotive messages become more common than in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya backyard.
At the peak of the 2017 presidential campaigns, for instance, the President’s strategists in the region coined a phrase that would days later become the talk of town across the region. “Tumire kumira ta thuraku! (Let’s all turn out in numbers like safari ants).”
This phrase took a lyrical twist, when a group of 10 secular musicians drawn from the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities converged in a music studio – obviously under the sponsorship of political operatives – to produce the pro-jubilee political hit; Kumira Kumira (Turning out in Numbers)
“We as Mt Kenya residents will sing in one voice. That it’s none other than Uhuru,” goes the chorus of the song which cautions against voting for then Opposition leader Raila Odinga-led formidable political outfit NASA.
So popular was the song that excerpts of the chorus and catchy stanzas also found its way to Facebook and WhatsApp groups in the region.
It was no wonder then that Raila’s 2017 running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, expressed his shock “that a group of musicians have been paid to spread tribally charged falsehoods against such national leaders as Odinga and the NASA coalition.”
What goes around, as they say, also comes around. Deputy President William Ruto – a joint beneficiary of the pro-Uhuru songs of 2017 – was the first casualty of the musical agility of Kikuyu singers when the Jubilee marriage landed on the rocks.
Kikuyu Musician Kimani wa Turraco, he who once made up a song about falling in love with a Pilipino soap opera star Paloma whom he had only seen on TV, was in early 2018 strumming the guitar for Ruto with the hit song, ‘Tutiri thiri (We have no debt!)’
“The only debt we know of is perhaps that of M-Shwari or M-Pesa,” goes the song in Kikuyu. It was on the back of this song’s popularity and the online attention it drew that Ruto took to the podium at the All Saints Cathedral to announce that “nobody, or community, owes me anything.”
The lyrical discord has not even spared President Kenyatta. Kamande wa Kioi, known to have sung about almost anything and everything under the sun - ranging from his pet cat to a short he owned that had 45 pockets and his crazy appetite as a young boy – is the latest Kikuyu musician to aim his musical bazooka at the head of State.
Kio’s track, Njeshi ti Ngenu (the troops are unhappy) is already a political hit. In it, he accuses the President and his government of neglecting the Mt Kenya region. “When you told us to turn up we did so like safari aunts. But when we caught the deer, we were only given hooves to share,” sings Wa Kioi.
Incidentally, Wa Kioi’s song coincides with President Kenyatta’s push to have his Mt Kenya leaders converge and discuss matters development and shun succession politics which have split the region between the Tanga Tanga outfit fronting Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid against the Kieleweke group fighting tooth and nail to block him.
Then there is Thutha wa Hema (Let’s confer behind the tent) by Ben Githae of UhuRuto Tano Tena fame. Githae’s latest song, which rallies the community to have a secret political pact, has become a signature tone for many leaders and it has been given impetus by the likes of Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
“Israel and Judah were one community, but they broke apart after the reign of Solomon because they failed to cultivate a united front,” sings Githae.
Popular musician MC Njagi, known for political caricaturing with hits such as Yaliyo Ndwele Sipite, has recently produced an explosive song, No Peu, taking the title of the political sloganeering launched by East African Legislative Assembly MP Mpuru Aburi against the government of Kiraitu Murungi.
“No Peu is a popular Tigania phrase that literary means ‘it is a must’. When used politically, it translates to ‘must go’.”
“If you haven’t delivered in the term, we will teach you a lesson come 2022 because we remember your promises,” sings the musician. “We will crack the whip despite the noises you are making.”
Political commentator Kobia Ataya has described the upsurge of political recordings as symptomatic of political chaos in the region.
“They are belting out what the piper has paid for. No one writes such songs expecting to sell,” said Prof Ataya.
Music plays a big part in political campaigns in Mt Kenya region and it was Gatanga’s first MP John Mwangi Gachui (1988-1992) who first effectively used this machinery to harness votes in an area known as the cradle of Gikuyu music.
Popular Embu musician Newton Karish was able to dance himself to election as Member of the County Assembly (MCA) representing Muminji Ward for his second term in 2017.
Earlier, veteran musician Daniel “DK” Kamau had been elected for two terms as the councillor for Gatanga Ward in Murang’a County in the 1980s. But attempts by other musicians such as John Ng’ang’a (Demathew), Njogu wa Njoroge and Kamande wa Kioi were not always successful.
There is also a thin line between these musical hit songs and the notorious webs of hate speech easily spread through ethnic messaging that has become popular during election time.
In the run up to 2013, musicians John Demathew and Muigai wa Njoroge were arrested over hate speech claims after a complaint lodged by the National Cohesion and Reconciliation Commission (NCRC).
The two were set free after the NCRC failed to raise enough grounds to sustain the prosecution.
Prof Ataya said there will be an upsurge in political recordings in the run-up to 2022.
“A vacuum is not sustainable and eventually it gets filled up even if with garbage,” he said.
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