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When Kapuka and Genge gave Kenyan music true identity

By Stephen Adol | October 11th 2016

Gone are the days when Kenyan contemporary music rocked and ruled East Africa and even the whole continent of Africa.

A song could be played and one could easily know that it was from a Kenyan artist, or from a Kenyan production house.

Ogopa Deejayz and Calif Records created identities for their music that came to be popularly known as 'kapuka' and 'genge' respectively. The major kapuka artists included the likes of Nameless, Big Pin and The Kleptomaniacs, while genge had Nonini, Jua Cali and Jimwat.

Kenyan music was taking Africa by storm and Big Pin went ahead to bag a Kora Award, while Eric Wainaina and Suzzana Owiyo were invited to perform in mega concerts all over the world.

Some Kenyans could not even tell whether Chameleone, Bebe Cool and Lady Jaydee were our compatriots or not. They were doing their music the Kenyan way and we were proud of our music.

There was Poxi Presha, Gidigidi-Majimaji, Ndarlin' P and Mighty King Kong. After them were Lady S, Pilipili, E-Sir, Amani and Wakimbizi. Then we lost the plot.

Kenyan artists started copying music from other countries. We had young musicians trying to copy Tanzania's Professa J and TMK's Chege. We had our boys imitating South Africa's Mafikizolo and Brenda Fassie. We had our brothers copying West Africa's P-Square and Akon.

The wandering of Kenyan artists in the wilderness has gone a notch higher for the past three years and they are headed to the middle of the desert as things stand. As per now, upcoming and even established artists are imitating as they compare themselves to Tanzania's Diamond and Ali Kiba, Nigeria's Davido and Yemi Alade, and South Africa's Mafikizolo.

Instead of our evergreen Sauti Sol trying so hard to sing the Bongo beat, they can make us more proud if they did a kapuka song with P-Square. On the other hand, Akothee could make us equally proud if she did a genge beat with Mafikizolo.

If only the top artists of the late 1990s and early 2000s could have been in their peak, our beats could have been sweeping through Africa. Diamond could have imitated Nameless, Davido could have copied Poxi Presha while Yemi Alade could have tried out Rat-at-at's style.

Those who have tried to stick to the original Kenyan beat, like Kenrazy and Welle Welle’s Timmy, are few and we take our hats off for them. 

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