One-man guitarists have revolutionised entertainment in Kikuyu Music, leading to a new craze that has hit the mountain region.
The craze has been popularised by leading guitarists like Waithaka wa Jane, who is nicknamed Karaiku Master after he covered an old Kikuyu song by SK Kimani, a song that was done many years ago.
So popular is Waithaka that his ability to cover old Kikuyu songs and inject new life into them has seen him rub shoulders the wrong way with the original composers, but the issues were arbitrated outside courts, giving the guitar wizard a new lease of life.
The new one-man guitar craze has seen little-known Kikuyu artists rise to stardom in the recent past. Some of the artists that have risen to stardom because of guitar prowess and covering classics include Samido Muchoki, Tonny Young, Waithaka wa Jane, Ka J Salim, Justin Muchane and David Karanja commonly known as Raj Banema and Lawrence Njuguna commonly referred to as Dj Fatxo and David Mwangi, alias Kamoko.
Each of the above names has covered an old song that has hit the airwaves with unprecedented levels of acceptance.
The acceptance of one-man guitar music in the region has also seen local TV and radio stations jostle to have them in their weekly shows.
A spot check conducted by The Nairobian across numerous establishments along Kiambu Road, the Bypass, and various pubs along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway revealed a significant demand for one-man guitarists. Many of these venues are opting for upcoming artists because the established ones have such high demand.
Raj Banema covered Airitu a Ndeiya (Ndeiya girls) a song that was recorded ages ago with a box guitar by Super Ndeiya band and in a record one month, Banema's bookings hit the roof.
“I have been covering gospel and secular music but the moment I covered airitu a Ndeiya fortunes and luck came my way. If I am not in a radio station I am performing at an entertainment joint,” Banema said.
So popular is this style of singing that Kamoko and Dj Fatxo have been invited to perform on national holidays in the central region, with their Mwomboko cover, where they play the accordion in a modernised way and accompanied by a guitar.
On a particular Thursday, one may be forgiven for thinking it’s a Friday or a Saturday at Muthiga area in Kinoo and along Nakuru-Nairobi highway as hundreds of revellers troop to the entertainment joint to dance and listen to one-man guitarists.
Waithaka wa Jane, one of the entertainers, said their approach to singing and entertainment has garnered significant acceptance and support from the region. He noted that his weekends are consistently busy with bookings.
“We redo old music using a one-man guitar style, and we also delve into new-age music. It’s a trend that has swept through Central Kenya and beyond. I begin my weekly schedule on Thursdays when I perform in the Muthiga area, and the venue is typically packed to capacity, indicating the strong support and appreciation for this style of singing,” Waithaka said.
Waithaka further added that Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are his peak performance days, during which he entertains audiences in high-end establishments across the Central region.
“I don’t know why this method of singing and playing the guitar has gained popularity. Many of us who do this have not composed our own songs, and those who have their own songs are too few. Therefore, they cannot sustain a show of over one hour. We rely heavily on redoing old music and enhancing it with guitar and drums,” Waithaka said.
Waithaka added that it represents a complete paradigm shift from the traditional Kikuyu music scene, where various artists would perform to revellers, usually with machine backup or a live band.
“The only available selling point for music is live performance and YouTube channels, where one must amass a huge following to generate any meaningful returns. CDs no longer sell; people would rather pay a hefty entrance fee than buy CDs. The urge to dance alongside performers has reached new heights.”
The guitarists secure a meeting with the original composers, and they have agreed, out of respect and honour, that they will perform their music and offer them a small token of appreciation.
Justin Muchane, an emerging Mugithi maestro who performs at Makuti Gardens in Ndeiya, Limuru, shared that as a one-man guitarist, he has been able to explore his talents to new heights.
“I begin my performances on Friday and continue through Sunday at Makuti Gardens. It’s truly remarkable that revellers never seem to tire of listening to a blend of old and new-age music. They keep requesting songs well into the late hours,” Muchane said.
Muchane, like Waithaka, said it’s a new trend that has swept through central Kenya, enabling many artists to make a fortune by playing the guitar and reviving old music.
“Unlike the traditional way of producing music, which was and still is expensive, being a one-man guitarist is not a costly venture once you possess the talent. We either create or purchase programmed beats for various genres like Benga, country music, Caribbean, and Lingala beats. With these beats, you can endlessly perform across all genres of music,” Muchane explained.
James Kinyua, a fan of one-man guitarists, expressed his fondness for their music because these artists perform a wide range of songs in a single show. He particularly enjoys the old-school music, which they enhance with humour and modern instruments.
“I find great pleasure in listening to the music I grew up with, the tunes I used to hear on my father’s small radio, as played by these young men who add a touch of modernity to it. I adore their vocalizations along with the music and their ability to seamlessly transition into gospel and various music genres,” Kinyua said.
He added that he ensures he sets aside time during the weekend to listen to a one-man guitarist, whether they are an up-and-coming artist or one of the big names like Samindo Muchoki or Waithaka wa Jane.
Trouble for event organisers
However, this new trend has left experienced event organisers in a difficult situation, as it has significantly impacted their business. These organisers lament that one-man guitarists require minimal organisation, as they perform without a band, backup singers, or the need for large stages.
Steve Ndeto, one such event organiser, said the one-man guitar craze gained momentum when the Covid-19 pandemic severely affected the entertainment industry, leading to the cancellation of major shows. Clubs that were operating under limited conditions could only afford one-man guitarists.
“What began as a cost-cutting measure evolved into a significant trend. Even after Covid was contained, people remained accustomed to this new form of entertainment, and that’s how we found ourselves out of business. Our usual role was to source artists and organize shows. Typically, artists would come with a live band, including a drummer, several guitarists (such as bass guitarist, rhythm guitarist, and lead guitarist), and multiple backup singers. This setup required a podium and a heavy audio system. In contrast, a one-man guitarist does not require all of the above; they perform alone with programmed beats, with the exception of some seasoned ones who may include a drummer,” Ndeto said.
Ndeto, who had been in the entertainment industry for over 10 years before the Covid-19 wave, expressed his amazement at the one-man guitarist craze in the mountain region. He said even prominent and established entertainment venues now prefer one-man guitarists over organising large shows with renowned artists.
“This trend has brought numerous talented guitarists into the scene to meet the soaring demand. Many have recognised their potential. It’s also worth noting that even big names in the Kikuyu music industry, such as Samido Muchoki, Jose Gatutura, Sam Wa Kiambo, and Kamoko, have had to adapt by going solo in major shows both within the country and internationally. This shift has posed a challenge to our business, and we’ve had to rethink our strategies while respecting the preferences of our fans,” he said.