Nairobi: A Portrait of Kenya’s Capital through Music
YouTube made what would have been otherwise an impossible task doable. Nonetheless, undertaking a project such as this one whilst restricted to digital music, no less a single repository, has its pitfalls. Most obvious of all being that not all songs about Nairobi are readily available in digital format and online. All that considered though, it being that YouTube’s content is user-generated, chances are that musical pieces that are of most value to its global community can safely be assumed to be representative of global tastes and acclaim.
Painting My City’s Portrait With Music
Moreover, it’s precisely these types of handicaps that got me excited about this project – the painful realization that there was a significant chance that all my scouring , scraping and digging would still leave some gems hidden. That even with the support of the team here at MMIMMC, I could still turn up short. This imperfectness means that there can only be one outcome. That you, dearest reader, will hit us up with song titles that we’ve missed.
With you working with us, our shared resfeber will surely answer to the insistent tug of our wanderlust. Together, we will voyage in search of those songs about Nairobi, that will lead us to knowing the city’s soul. In this journey, like in any trip, the dividend of a chance at colliding with kindred souls is ever a welcome possibility.
This is because discovering new music is always a process of self discovery. First the listener wallows in the Yūgen of the world revealed to us by the artiste. Then, the listener gets to know the musician, savor the genre, decipher the song’s message, and cap it all by juxtaposing all that against the spirit of the times. What a feeling that is, I tell you!
With Kenyan music — the chunk of songs about Nairobi that we will sample here — this couldn’t be especially true. Confucius must have been talking of Kenyan music when he proclaimed: ” Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Such is the jungle of Kenyan music out here.
Nairobi City Guides
The music that features here lyrical content and music videos give the audience a real feel of Nairobi. These songs are essentially Nairobi City guides but in the non-traditional sense. They are about stuff that we do. Stuff that any tourist to Kenya’s capital needs to partake to be Nairobian. The tell of the different divides within the city – whose face visitors are likely to patronize depending on the type of tourists they are: budget travelers, business traveler or service corps types. Sometimes we will give you that taste and feel of Nairobi through I’d describe as less ghetto than Scarface’s On My Block. At times we will fall somewhere in the midst of a scale that has Jay-Z + Alicia Keys Empire State of Mind on one end and underground street anthems on the other. The music may assume a continental feel, be proudly ethnic or go after the heart of the world.
Nairobi State Of Mind
Take the case of folk musicians who envision Mugithi and Kenyan Hip Hop as a good idea. Through the struggles of these adventurous types experimenting with fusing genres, we see how Nairobi is like that. Alike to New York, Chicago, Cape Town or any other metropolitan city in the 21st century – modern villages.
Spaces of tribal existence loosely sewn together by brittle bridges of urban culture. The taut strings that barely hold cities together are in the form of urban lingo, street food, shared vanities and for Nairobi, the unique phenomenon – matatus.
We learn that Nairobi is a fragile equilibrium of modern hedonism, postcolonial relics of existentialism and the communiterian ways of our ancestors. In deed, some artistes whose songs we feature, attest to what unfolds when this delicate equilibrium gets upset. These underground group just do not feel the love and unashamed sing about not feeling the love.
With their awakening lyrics, they conscientise us that the city is cruel to some. They empathize with those who feel that Nairobi is not their city in a somewhat reverse KeNako paradigm. Their songs (dirges? conscious music?) showcases the Nairobi chapter of the global story of a widening wealth divide.
They too have an anathema group. Artistes who in keeping with global Hip Hop trends, offer an ambitious, aspirational, largely fantastical take on the same phenomenon of income inequality. An increasing majority of the younger hipper ones who boast of not only running the city, but are also so in love with city life they are that they belt out ballads.
What Is Nairoberry?
What is Nairobbery? A common refrain would be Nairobbery is a song. A title to a song and album made famous by a dynamic, legendary Kenyan hip hop group. We start this journey that takes us to a delectable spot in the evolution of Nairobi’s urban culture from this spot. This edition of our series on knowing Nairobi through its music goes deep into the genesis of an African urban culture, in search of the most complete answers to the question: What is Nairobbery?.
Nairobi Music: The Sound of Nairobi
In this musical voyage of discovering Nairobi through its music, you will be meeting Kenyan artistes who’d want their music to be classified as Kapuka, Kenyan bubble gum pop, for what it’s worth.
Then there are the anathemas who release dis-tracks that play on subtle stylistic deviations, seeking to profit from the dividend of brand differentiation by distancing themselves from being labelled a Kapuka aka Boomba artiste. From this group we will sample music from Genge, Kaya Hip Hop , Afro neosoul, Afro fusion and Kenyan underground hip hop artistes.
In discovering Nairobi through its music, we need to appreciate this tag-of-war in identities for it is an important strut in understanding the architecture of Nairobi’s soul. Because in this musical journey, will unearth some of the roots of identity politics in Kenya’s capital. We shall also come to appreciate that, with Nairobi, it is not always about sharp cultural divisions. There are strong assimilationist, arguably appropriator, types roaming Nairobi streets. They too have sang songs about their view of the city.
“Different Shades, Different Songs About Nairobi, One People One City”
Living in Nairobi
We have all gone traveling somewhere and never wanted to leave. This installment of paints a portrait of Nairobi through music by dutifully building on our offerings of Nairobi city guides beyond coffee table and glossy inflight magazines. In this edition, the experience of living in Nairobi inspired these chart topping musicians to sing about home.READ MORE