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Elusive continental fame for Kenyan celebs

By | September 25th 2009

Stevens Muendo and Caroline Nyanga

It was a rare phenomenon when three of Kenya’s top musicians Nameless, Wahu and Amani flew to Mombasa for a special meet the fans tour.

The trio were at Black Havana where hundreds of enthusiastic fans had thronged for a treat of a lifetime. And what a breathtaking concert it was!


The celebrities and their entourages arrived at the North Coast entertainment hub shortly after 1pm to a thunderous reception by enthusiastic fans.

Ironically, as it would be in such a high profile concert, the three celebs were not on a usual money making weekend. They were in Mombasa to urge their fans to vote for them in the various categories they have been nominated in in the continental event.

Amani was the first to perform. And as Wahu sauntered on stage, a projected screen beamed Nameless, Wahu, Amani and STL’s voting numbers behind her. Mid her performance, the Sweet Love singer posed, then made the passionate plea:

"People, you have to vote for Nameless and I who are here seeking your support to win the MTV Awards.

"And I also plead with you to vote for STL who should be here with us. The voting numbers are on the screen now. Vote now."

The same call was repeated by Nameless as fans flashed out their phones to vote. And generously, the artistes — who were also joined by three nominees listed in the My Video category — sang their hearts out.

And in a last day effort to garner more votes, the MTV Awards vote campaign heads to Kisumu this weekend, then back to Nairobi. Voting officially closes tomorrow midnight.

As the MTV nominees and the team from Zain frantically criss-cross the country seeking for votes, Channel O Video Music awards nominees, Cannibal and Risasi, are hustling at the coast distributing fliers to fans in a door-to-door campaign in hope of encouraging votes.

Nominees like STL have decided to take the battle to Facebook and Internet blogs where a showdown between her and her fellow Best New Act nominee MI is in pursuit.

The voting rush has literally hit various cities and towns across the continent. And knowing the uphill task they face, excelling against other continental stars, the Kenyan nominees have also crossed the borders to chase for more votes.

Over the years, Kenya’s bid in continental music awards as well as reality TV shows such as the ongoing Big Brother Africa (BBA4) and Survivor Africa has been futile. And it is in this quest for the elusive awards that for the first time ever, Kenya got a breakthrough with Wahu winning the much-coveted Best Female Award during the inaugurual MAMAS awards.

Besides Wahu’s last year glory, Kenyan artistes have only managed dismal success in the Kora Awards dating back to Henri Mutuku and Eric Wainaina’s celebrated win in 2003 followed by DNG who won Kora’s Best Male Gospel Artiste Award (Africa) in 2004. There could be other wins scored by Kenyan groups but only in lesser-celebrated awards.

Even in his best year which saw him turn one of the big name in Africa’s showbiz music, last year, Jua Cali could not break the jinx in his back-to-back Music of Black Origin (MOBO) and MTV Awards nominations. It was the same fate for Nameless who despite his continental recognition merely added to the numbers with no continental trophy coming his way. And after years and years of nominations, Amani too failed to excel during the Channel O Music Awards held in South Africa late last year.


Compared to South Africa and Nigeria who have been dominating the continental music awards, it is believed that Kenyan artistes still have an uphill task before they can break this trend.

"Kenyan remains the pride of East Africa. But our artistes are yet to conquer Africa. We have numerous nominations in the MTV Awards and maybe this is our time to prove that we have come of age. It would be humiliating to have our stars beaten on home turf," says Steve Ogesa, who has been behind MTV Awards with Zain voting activations all over Africa.

"I have been around Africa and I can tell you that people respect the Kenyan nominees. But even then, how do we expect them to ever win if we don’t vote for them," he notes. "Artistes in other countries like Nigeria have loyal fans who vote for them in large numbers. We need to notice that the more wins in continental awards, the more the continental recognition and growth in our industry."

Curving their niche into a wider voting block and music market, the Kenyan nominees argue that they have done everything necessary to win that much needed continental voting appeal. The top three have recorded hit songs with artistes from Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa a thing which has popularised them all over Africa.

"I think awards in general are a hoax. They are usually controlled by a certain group of people within the entertainment industry who know nothing about music and are just out to put food on their tables at the expense of good artistes," argues Abbas, laying the blame squarely on individuals made to sensitise the public on the voting criteria. syas Genge artiste Nonini.

"In my opinion, no matter how hard Kenyans may try to vote they will not compete fairly with countries like Nigerian or Congo due to population," add Nonini.

MTV Kenyan artiste representative Arthur K disagrees.

"That is how people have been looking at it and I think that is where we have been going wrong. The fact that Nigeria has a population of 150 million compared to Kenya’s 30 million can work for Kenya’s advantage. If our voting has a higher percentage in terms of our population as compared to Nigeria’s, then we stand a better chance of winning.

"Lately, Kenyans have been voting in big numbers and Wahu’s win has been a great inspiration. We have been advertising and spearheading voting campaigns. We stand a high chance of winning awards this year," he concludes.

However, Nonini still refutes this fact.

"Kenyans are not used to the culture of voting when it comes to international awards. Some people think the nominations are biased. Seeing the same names being nominated year in year out despite immense talent out there is discouraging," he says.

Another singer, Chizi goes on to back some of Nonini’s sentiments saying:

"The fact that Kenyans don’t keep up with the voting criteria makes it difficult for them to vote. Meanwhile, I strongly believe we are yet to get our best representatives as far as artistes go to do us proud by putting Kenya on the world map each time they are nominated."

Gospel Ragga artiste Rufftone thinks that most artistes have failed to create a fanbase of loyal fans. Such a fanbase would come in handy when the need for votes arises.

"Most of our fans don’t feel the personal connection with artistes and when it comes to voting, they don’t really feel obligated to do so," he notes.

That not withstanding, Kenya’s music industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the last five years and local stars have been getting recognition from all over the continent.

It however remains the prerogative of Kenyans to decide whether our nominees will carry the day when the big stage comes home in two weeks time. Over to you voters!

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