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Banning 'dirty' music is stifling young talent

By Mark Bichachi | September 4th 2019

Kenya Film Classification Board CEO Dr Ezekiel Mutua has taken a decision to ban the song Takataka by Alvin aka Alvindo. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The reason for classifying music is to ensure that people are  protected from content their values do not allow them to consume, especially if they are too young.

However, any effort to ban music after it has already achieved massive appeal is akin to swallowing morning after pills nine months after the fact. Such knee-jerk reaction cannot achieve the intended purpose.

The truth of the matter is throughout human history, the line that demarcates what is considered moral has shifted time and again. The surge of creativity cannot be stopped by censorship and the creativity of the human mind is quite often inextricably linked with pushing the envelope of what society considers normal.

Further in the age of the Internet, it is harder to imagine that ban on any media would be effective in stopping it from being consumed. These are not the days of hard cover books and physical video and audio tapes. The content exists in a cloud in which governments have little say. It is time we then asked ourselves: Why should we try to restrain a horse that has already bolted, and what are our values, really?

Every time I hear claims that our young stars are breaking the values our parents held dear I wonder whether anyone ever heard of the free love seventies? Or whether we remember American  songs that were considered dirty.

What we don't realise is our youngsters have done something that Kenya has not seen since Nameless’ 'Ninanoki' song. They have flipped the bird–they represent a revolution. They represent their own music, lingo, culture and video production.

They have done this with minimal help from grown ups who are torn between singing their lyrics or reprimanding them for not singing “lasting music” as though music has an expiry date.

Let us all be alive to the fact that these young ones are singing about what they do. Banning a song will not stop them from doing this. Parenting will. For those who have forgotten, parenting is when you take an interest in your children, spend time with them and know who they are, what they do and who they do it with.

It is not taking your children to a better school than you went to and hoping that teachers and prefects will make them avoid the ugly side of life.

Music is an expression of oneself. Art imitates life and life soon follows art. The trick is not in banning it, it is in realising that we have been gifted with amazing talent. In a nation with high unemployment numbers we should be happy that these young ones have employed themselves. 

All they need is a Music Copyright Society that will give them more than Sh2,000 in royalty for every three million views. The music that young people make today can give them a better life than it did to Them Mushrooms.

The musicians we celebrate as great legends today sang counter-culture in their time. Their music was once considered a very vulgar, yet we now consider it the epitome of fine and comely behaviour.

The truth is policing morality is like swallowing a pain killer for someone else’s headache. If you don't like the song, there is a button called stop—press it! Leave those who love the music to their own devices. If, however, we must be a religious country as we claim to be, then classify content before it airs not after.

As things stand now the regulator can not make us not to remember the songs that we have heard. Even worse, the regulator lacks the resources to enforce the ban in any meaningful sense.

As a general rule, you should never issue unenforceable rules. The music that was banned is now more popular than before the ban was effected.

Kenya needs to understand that art is a commodity; a commodity of influence and a commodity of commerce. If we knew how to sell our music, art and other content our young people would have more jobs.

My heart bleeds when I meet my childhood friends who could sing like birds, now huddled behind  screens doing accounting, earning money while their souls and talents wither away. We owe it to our young people to ensure their talent counts for something.

It matters that they can put words together and make poetry. It should also matter that they, with minimal resources, can entertain a nation.

Let us focus on building these amazingly talented artistes who signify a welcome revolution in the Kenyan entertainment scene. Let us realise that they will grow and so will their music. If this happens Kenya will have another product to export.

If dancehall can be sang in Kenya (and I barely have any idea what they say) then Ethic’s and Sailors' music can be played in Jamaica and in New York. They are homegrown; made in Kenya. Let them play on so that one day we might stop saying 'no one can stop reggae' and instead shout no one can stop Miracle Baby's 'Huspin na mayengz'.

Mr Bichachi is a communication consultant. [email protected]

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