Kenyan Reggae Music: Here's What You Need to Know

[Photo Credit: Classic 105]

By Omondi Otieno

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Reggae music is synonymous with Jamaica, Bob Marley and Lucky Dube. Very often do you hear Kenya being mentioned in the same sentence with reggae. Despite, having few artistes concentrating on this genre, reggae music is loved by Kenyans. This article traces the origin of reggae music in Kenya and its evolution overtime.

Kenyan reggae was inspired by the ‘original reggae’ from Jamaica. However, in a bid to localize it, Kenyan reggae artistes decided to infuse it with local Hip-hop, Benga and Lingala. It is not clear when reggae music was adopted in Kenya but reports indicate that the genre started getting popularity locally in the late 70s. Back then, reggae music was associated with the poor and former freedom fighters.

Despite gaining popularity in the late 70s, it was until the early 90s that the genre got a place in the Kenyan media which was then dominated by radio. The reggae music listened to locally was mainly from reggae heavyweights that include; Peter Tosh, Wailing Souls, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Don Carlos and Bob Marley.

Locally, the late Paul Otieno Imbaya popularly known as Mighty King Kong is considered one of the pioneers of reggae music in Kenya. He released his first album dubbed ‘Ladies Choice’ in 1999 and releases his second album ‘Cinderella’ two years later. Both albums were produced by Next Level Studios under the leadership of Maurice Oyando; father to renowned radio host Talia Oyando.

In 2004, he released his third album dubbed ‘Return of the King’ and followed it up with a compilation album dubbed ‘The Best of King Kong’. These projects made him a global sensation. He received invites to perform in various countries across the world. Locally many people looked up to him. He was so talented that many expected him to grow and to the stature of Lucky Dube and other renowned international reggae artists. However, Mighty King Kong mysteriously died in 2007 with reports indicating that he was poisoned.

A part from King Kong, Wyre and Nazizi were the other artistes locally known for releasing reggae songs. In the early 2000s, the duo dominated the airwaves with their hit songs namely; ‘Kenyan Boy Kenyan Girl’ and ‘Fire Anthem’. Wyre would later team up with Jamaican songstress Ce’cile for a remix of his hit song ‘She Say Dat’. In addition to Wyre and Nazizi, other artistes who tried their luck in reggae music include; Ken Wamaria, Melisah Omeh and Abbi Nyinza among others.

Over the years, the media has played a significant role in popularizing the genre. Currently, several media outlets have shows solely dedicated to reggae music. Some of the presenters that have played a key role in reggae growth locally include; Fred Obachi Machoka, Talia Oyando,  Mbusi and Lion of Radio Jambo, Rapcha the Sayantist, Shix Kapienga, Njambi Koikai, James Kang’ethe alias Bonoko among others.

As mentioned above, few artistes have shown interest for this genre in Kenya. Despite this, reggae music is loved by Kenyans. Over the years, reggae concerts have attracted massive attendance as compared to other shows. Some of the big reggae names to have concerts locally include; Gregory Isaacs, Joseph Hill, Buju Banton, Lucky Dube, Tarrus Railey, Richie Spice, Chronixx, Christopher Martin, Morgan Heritage among others.

The love shown by Kenyans towards reggae is proof that the music can do well locally if well produced to address needs of the audience.

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