It is a haunting image, one that calls to mind the story of Ham, the mannerless son of Noah who mocked his naked father....
Music died when fellas stopped singing in the rain
Love in the late 90s and early 2000s was a strange, beautiful thing. Well, a lot of things were strange and beautiful in that period. If you’re an elder millennial, you remember some of the madness of that era.
There was a robot that challenged you to a breakdancing competition if you wanted to withdraw funds from a Barclays bank ATM. Kids were going around shouting ‘Nimechill’ and throwing up gang signs. Married president and fisi pioneer Bill Clinton was in trouble thanks to his ‘shortcomings’. There was a haircut that was sweeping the nation, where you grew your hair out for a month and then an angry barber ironed the top of it. You could even request him to carve out a little trail right at the corner of your forehead that looked like a panya-route into a maize farm.
They were the best of times. They were the worst of times. For me, the most prevalent memories of that era are those of its music. Specifically, the heart-wrenching, soul-snatching ballads that defined RnB. And love.
You see, those gentlemen back then believed in the kind of love you shout from a rooftop. Or a helicopter. Or a Cadillac with the top down, wind whipping through. The kind that leads you to join a boy band and start rhyming ‘heart’ with ‘apart’. The kind which, when it was gone, led to top-charting hit after top-charting hit.
I find those men fascinating.
They wore leather pants, or denims with enough material for another two pairs. They wore size 11 Timberlands. They rarely bothered with shirts, because they had lost count of how many abs they possessed. They only ever wore shirts if there was going to be a gentle breeze later, and they could flap those things and set them billowing behind them. They had cornrows. And an assortment of tattoos that would drive a Kenyan mum to drink.
When these fellas sang, they did it with their hands. Open palm, outstretched when the love was new and all-consuming. Closed fist, tucked tight to the body, when it was unbearable and possibly unrequited. If you saw a man singing with his hand on his chest, which everyone agrees is where the heart is, then that man was smitten beyond belief. If those hands were on his head, and he was slumped on a floor, on some stairs or in front of a grand piano, it was time to call his family.
They were not afraid of emoting. They sang to the clouds, spinning on the spot. They danced in the streets, recruiting four of their friends to help them chase and serenade that flighty lady with way too much ‘chemical’ in her hair. They could shed a tear on command, but it never affected their voices. They could falsetto like the best of them, which was important for authenticity. Are you even in love if you’re not squeezing out the last puff of air from your lungs?
They dropped to their knees. They waited for a good downpour then went out and wailed until they got drenched to the bone. Do you know how heavy jeans get when they’re soaked through? Do you have any idea how hard it is to walk in wet Timberlands? Think about that the next time your bae refuses to trap their hand beneath your body while cuddling. Real men were risking pneumonia for love back in the day and that idiot you’re sinning with can’t risk nerve damage for you?
I think the death of this era of RnB coincided with the death of romance. Nobody was calling men trash back then. Coincidence?
You just don’t see that kind of commitment these days. I can understand the logistical challenges. In Sonko’s Nairobi, if you go out to sing in the rain, you might get swept up and find yourself floating on a flooded highway towards the CBD with some cabbages and supermarket-branded shopping bags. There’s also no point risking man flu, which everyone knows is devastating. You don’t have India money, so you’ll have to take your illness to one of our hospitals. All because of love. Si it’s safer to just buy her a new pair of doll shoes and call that a day? They’re 50 bob anyway. Win-win.
In the time since the likes of NSYNC, Boyz II Men and Usher (the audacity of that man, singing about cheating, is still unrivalled), we have gotten increasingly passable music. Increasingly sexual, which I cannot bring myself to complain about. But still. What happened to singing in the rain? Can the ‘real men’ please stand up?
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