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Kenya's Remix Revolution: Arbantone takes over, but is it stealing the show?

 Arbantone trendsetter Gody Tennor. (Instagram/@gody_tennor__)

Kenya’s music scene is witnessing a fresh wave with the rise of Arbantone, a genre capturing the attention of young audiences.

This innovative sound, crafted by Gen Z artistes and producers, blends new elements with familiar beats and lyrics while others are original compositions. But the genre is mostly associated with often remixing old songs.

“Arbantone has kicked out Afrobeats, Bongoflava and Amapiano from the airwaves and this is unheard of. It is morphing into something that Kenyans have come to accept and embrace. These Young ins are rewriting history,” says artiste promoter Presta.

“We have taken our Kenyan traditional percussion instruments and drum beats and added some favourite melodies, then modern bounce to create original juice that will uplift the fans and transform the lives of these artistes” says Motif Di Don.

The Arbantone movement quickly took over from their predecessors, Gengetone and is shattering the mould of Kenyan music while at it. 

“(People) tried to talk a lot of trash about me when I was trying to save the industry, saa hii wamekuwa top fans. Never disrespect me again boy I am never wrong. Arbantone to the world!” posted producer Motif di Don in IG earlier in the year.

This trend, however, has brought about different views from different industry players who believe that this crop of artistes lacks creativity. 

A while back, award-winning singer-songwriter and actress Habida expressed her thoughts against the same.

“Arbantone artistes have not produced hits, they have just produced remixes of hit songs. They are controlling the web but they are not getting shows. To get a show do an original song,” said Habida. This saw her get backlash from artistes and fans alike who went ahead and demanded an apology from the singer.

This is not an isolated case as a fortnight ago, Tanzanian singer TID sent a stern warning to Arbantone artistes cautioning them from using his music without permission. 

“Aisee nitakufunga polisi usifanye hiyo kitu. Ukishika wimbo wangu, ukipeleka unafanya hiyo Arbantone yako, without my permission you are in trouble my young brothers, and I will hate you for the rest of my life,” he says.

Well, while most will call it recycling old beats, these Arbantone stars believe they are recreating a clever dance between nostalgia and innovation where they are recreating songs that resonate with a generation raised on digital remixes.

“This mastery of our style has propelled Arbantone to the forefront of Kenyan music. But I stopped sampling these old beats since December last year. What most people don’t understand is that most Riddim producers especially from Jamaica allow artistes to jump on their beats for free. So majorly, when it comes to monetisation of the reworked projects, Kenyan artistes can make money without flinching,” says Arbantone trendsetter Gody Tennor.

“Kenya needed an identity in music. We can all agree that there has never been a generation of stars that have blown up as quickly as this generation’s musical stars,” says Soundkraft, a record producer, composer and mix engineer. 

“Simply because some songs have sampled beats does not mean that that is what Arbantone is all about. Looking closely at Gengetone versus Arbantone you can tell the difference from the word go. For Arbantone, we mostly work with instrumentation rather than the drums and bass,” says Soundkraft.

This trend has had many upcoming artistes going over and beyond on matters of sampling music. Once in a while, you may hear a familiar tune or hook, but in an entirely different song. As an artistic technique, sampling allows for creative reinvention of existing works, but it also raises legal issues regarding copyright and intellectual property.

Sometimes last year, KECOBO executive director sent out an advisory warning artistes from reworking other peoples’ work without proper permission.

“By virtue of a person who purports to re-record a sound recording without the authority of the producer and author/composer commits an act of infringement as defined under Section 35(1) a of the Copyright Act,” reads the advisory in part. 

When done legally and creatively, sampling can be an art form, but it also raises questions about copyright law and artistic integrity. To understand the complexity, you must first comprehend how sampling is utilised in songs.

A producer selects a portion of a song to sample, such as a drum beat, bassline, melody, or vocal. They may sample multiple layers from the same song or different songs to create an entirely new musical work.

“When I use samples, it usually comes across two ways. Either I am referencing the original song or I’m making something completely different out of it. I think the best place to draw the line is when the original composer can’t tell that it’s their work,” says producer Ianobeats.

“I use a lot of sampled stuff off of YouTube but I only post beats and stuff on SoundCloud, and you can usually get away with a lot on there. The risk of a copyright strike isn’t huge if you are an underground artiste.” 

Soundkraft still believes this is not the case with Arbantone. “I have seen a couple of people saying how we lack creativity and originality while others saying we don’t get gigs. As an Arbantone artiste myself, I can tell you that we are never short of shows as we are always booked.

All those people yapping out there are not privy to the booking agents and have no idea what is happening behind the scenes,” he says while rubbing off the fact that most Arbantone stars are not mainly seen on major stages like what happened to Gengetone.

A statement signed by  Goddy Tennor, YBW SMith, SeanMMg, TipsyGee, Parotty and Soundkraft seen by this writer, encouraged people to believe in them. 

“To mahaters; why break something when we can build it pamoja? To mafence sitters, why doubt your own when others are loving it? To mabelievaz, thanks for taking us back to a million views. To mafans na masponsa ni time ya kuchukua ArbanTone To the world!” read the statement in part. 


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