Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Watu Wengine Wana Tabia Mbaya:

When Tabia Mbaya burst on the scene it was perhaps K-South’s most seminal and maybe even sentimental number of their debut album Nairobbery. It had all the frills of The Great Kenyan Number; a catchy hook and chorus, gorgeous background vocals that invoked the 90s, musical arrangement that betrayed the self-conscious New Sound of the early decade and at its heart was a humorous yet pensive thesis; poignant yet self-evident; a social commentary that was and still is original, authentic and Kenyan. A song for the ages and one I play over and over again.

Now music is no longer made the way it was or rather people do not listen to music the way they did. The same could be said for a lot of things in Kenyan popular culture. There’s no more 5 Alive but then Sauti Sol burst on the scene with impeccable timing. Now somebody should tell them enough with the concerts, I know all your songs by heart! Yes, definitely. Kenyan writers are still in a sort of limbo, a slowly creeping glaucoma that is disappointing and disconcerting. I was about fourteen when I read Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road. It was lying conspicuously around the house and had materialised apparently from nowhere and once I was done reading it vanished just like that. Meja’s work painted the dreary urban landscape of the 70s Nairobi. And just like that I found Kenyan literature; rude and unapologetic. None of that Government Issue set-book crap but real literature. But where are they now? Sure the African Writers Series collapsed but what happened to Kenyan readers? Of course some may point to Kwani? But I have a long-standing grudge with them; the work published in the journal is of adequate quality, some read like my Standard Eight compositions full of obtuse and tedious metaphors; products of an education system that has failed so badly it will take generations to undo its engrained impunity. Some however are brilliant, edgy and groundbreaking but those are rare and fleeting like a good Kenyan MP or food security. The point is there is no Kenyan for the Booker, Orange Prize, Commonwealth Writers Prize, or even recent winners of The Caine Prize. Lets not talk about the Nobel Prize

In my opinion there was a time when Kenyan adverts were something; memorable, well scripted, beautifully shot and creative. In the 90s we all remember the famous add for Knorr soups “…Light up the stove…” I forget the of the jingle I could then of course there were the KQ adds with the jungu man pulling a typical English face and spitting out “Keniiia Airways?!” to the rather smug looking young fellow (now a radio personality) or in the early noughties the unforgettable Tuzo add “The cow has refused!” and then there was the liberal sprinkling of Tusker adds that fostered greater patriotism then the new constitution or the famous Smirnoff ad with the leggy and sensually enchanting Joy Mboya even the trust ads had their own particular glamour (Sema Nami!). But these days we have thirty-second ads with ludicrous scripting and abominable acting for everything from rice to soap. Admen in Nairobi get away with monstrous ad contacts while delivering shoddy pieces of copy or television ads.

It’s a shame. Some say that you can measure a nations health by its culture. If that is true we’re doing terribly. Nobody goes to the theatre anymore and our artists languish in perpetual poverty unless they are fortunate enough to be blessed with a sympathetic European audience, yes you Sauti Sol. Meanwhile MPs raise salaries.

I hope one day all this changes but until then I’ll relive the past in all its shimmering glory as I wonder just how we lost the good old days but then again they never existed...


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