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Kalamashaka’s Tafsiri Hii was more than a song, it was game changer

By Oyunga Pala | April 2nd 2017
Kalamashaka in action during their heydays

NAIROBI: The socially conscious music captured the frustrations of an entire generation of young people locked away in urban ghetto squalor. It embodied their aspirations of escaping poverty to seek a better life despite being born on the wrong side of town.

Kalamashaka influenced the urban fashion scene with their military and revolutionary street wear that drew its inspiration from the Mau Mau Freedom fighters.

Their main designer Fundi Frank would launch his brand off the back of their success and grow into Kenya’s first celebrity tailor.

Tafsiri Hii placed sheng on the map as the language of the youth and created a bridge between the classes.

The youth from Eastlands who were held back by an invisible class line were invited uptown where they mingled with the middle class head bobbing to the raw poetry of Kalamashaka.

Kalamashaka mainstreamed sheng as savvy advertisers scrambled to exploit their sway over the youth demographic.

Kalamashaka were behind an award winning advert by PSI, in 1999. The famous tag line “ Uki Freak bila soks, no digidi ume trip” was the first time sheng had been used in a high budget advertising campaign.

Kalamashaka were rebels with a cause and even their hairstyle was revolutionary. They wore dreadlocks when the hairstyle represented criminality.

Their hair challenged the status quo and represented the rebellious spirit of the Mau Mau that they channelled through their music.

A decade later, Kalamashaka would be eaten up by the monster of fame.

Their decline was compounded by their own personal problems as the music industry interests shifted and they found themselves isolated and stereotyped as radicals. They made many unsuccessful attempts to replicate their earlier successes to no avail.

Kama moved to the US when he now lives with his wife and child.

Roba was derailed by an alcoholic addiction and Johnny Vigeti who released a new album Vigeti in 2016 produced by Ken Ring, would have run ins with the law and spend some time in drug rehab battling substance addiction.

Fame has its own demons and Kalamashaka for all their hopes and dreams could not out run the dark side of their celebrity lives and pitfalls of urban survival that they sought to explain 20 years ago, in that famous song “Tafsiri Hii”.

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