You should know, I listen to music in two very distinct ways. The first way is sponsored by the art of Crate Digging, to feed my DJ ears (I DJ under the moniker BBYY. On The Island, maybe I should have led with that?)
Crate digging is like art collecting (or NFT collecting if you’re crypto like that) except where some opt for a rare 1998 Meek Gichugu oil on canvas or a Gavin Kendo candy floss-surrealism digital print on OpenSea (one more time for the Crypto bros) – I’ll buy a 320 kbps mp3 of KNVL’s Amapiano edit of ‘Fountains’ by Tems featuring Drake. This edit will go into a small digital crate which then goes into a larger crate of tracks I may or may not select for a DJ set.
The second way is personal listening. Tracks like James Blake’s ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’ Frank Ocean’s ‘Nights’ or King Kerby and Mr. Lu’s ‘Strictly Catha’ ft. RVMP – while I could play these tracks for audiences (heavily dependent on the audience though), I prefer to use these tracks to soundtrack my quotidian life. Whether I’m in my room by myself stewing in my feelings, running an errand that takes me down the Southern Bypass, or grooving on a Saturday night in my best friend’s apartment.
As the year winds down into the sunset of December, I find my feeds and timelines cascaded by screenshots of multiple individuals’ Spotify Wrapped. This jump started a reflection on how people- Kenyans specifically- consume music. I’ll begin with my own.
I hold a preference for Apple Music for personal listening because of the Lossless files and spatial audio so mine is not a Spotify Wrapped but rather an Apple Music Replay. I clocked 12,532 minutes of listening time; or 208 hours and 52 minutes; or 8.7 days of non-stop around-the-clock listening. Embarrassingly enough, my top artist is Drake, who I’ve listened to for a total of 405 minutes since January. (Side note: Drake has had a very good year. With two album drops this year from the oontz oontz four-to-the-floor of ‘Honestly Nevermind’ to the classic bangers of the 21 Savage collaboration ‘Her Loss’. And of course one can’t listen to new Drake without revisiting old Drake. I regret nothing)
My most listened to track is ‘Calling My Name’ by Drake (Again I regret nothing) and I have listened to a total of 1,795 tracks this year. One thing that considerably surprised me was the gaping absence of Kenyan music in my top 10 most-listened-to tracks, especially considering the sheer number of times I have bumped ‘Strictly Catha’ and ‘Form Ni Gani’ ft. Mars Maasai today alone. Let alone this week. Let alone this month. Let alone this year.
Which led me to wonder, what have Kenyans been listening to this year? And more importantly, like a self-flagellating Catholic school teacher- rapping a ruler against her own palm, are Kenyans listening to Kenyan music?
- Apple Music
Looking at the Top 100 Kenyan songs on Apple Music, updated everyday, only 12 tracks out of the 100 are by Kenyan artists. ‘Lil Mama’ by Sauti Sol, ‘Inauma’ by Bien-Aime and 10 from hip-hop ensemble Wakadinali, mostly off their latest album ‘Ndani Ya Cockpit 3’. Ironically, 56 out of the 100 fall into the category of West African Afrobeats, while 30 tracks are either American or British.
Boomplay is definitely in the lead when it comes to #PlayKE with 24 out of the 100 being Kenyan tracks. The most played genre in Kenya on the platform is Tanzanian Bongo Flava, with 38 out of 100 being of that genre. 34 tracks are West African Afro-beats and only 2 songs from the USA and the UK respectively made it onto the charts.
For Spotify Wrapped, Drake is the most streamed artist for a second year in a row (Come on fellow Kenyans, let’s commiserate together!).
Nigeria’s Burna Boy is the second most streamed artist by Kenyans on the platform, and the only African artist in Kenya’s top 5 most-streamed artists. West African Afrobeats dominated the most streamed tracks with Burna Boy’s ‘Last Last’ coming in first place, ‘Calm Down’ by Rema occupying the second slot, ‘Finesse’ by Pheelz coming in third, Oxlade’s ‘Ku-Lo-Sa’ fourth and ‘Monalisa’ by Lojay and Sarz in fifth position.
According to Spotify stats, the most streamed local artist is Sauti Sol, followed by Wakadinali, and then Buruklyn Boyz, Otile Brown and Nyashinski.
Spotify Kenya is proud to reveal that 2022 saw a 184% increase in the consumption of local music, compared to 2021.
Shazam is an app that identifies songs using a short sample it picks up through your device’s microphone. Out of the top 100 most Shazamed songs in Kenya, 14 are by Kenyan artists. 46 are West African Afro-beats and 17 are Tanzanian Bongo Flava. The most Shazamed song country-wide is ‘Ta Ta Ta’ by Bayanni.
- Youtube Music
As for Youtube Music Charts, Kenyan music and West African Afrobeats are tied with each occupying 31 slots on the top 100 tracks. Tanzanian Bongo Flava is not trailing too far behind with 27 out of 100 tracks on the charts being Tanzanian. Only one South African track made it to the charts and 9 from the UK and USA,
So this breaks down the streaming habits of Kenyan listeners. But what about their concert habits? What were the biggest concerts this year attended by Kenyans?
Kenyan artists shone bright in the live music sphere with Nyashinski’s Shin City holding up to rave reviews, and the chatter online seems mostly enthusiastic for Sauti Sol’s Sol Fest slated for December, with a few fans being disgruntled with the high ticket prices. Tusker’s Oktoba Fest was a smashing success, attended by 22,000 fans and featuring a full Kenyan line-up.
Be that as it may, West African artists really had their moment in the Kenyan sun this year. The headliners for the much awaited return of Blankets & Wine were Kenyan Sauti Sol-er, Savara, Nigerian viral sensation, Ckay, and South African Amapiano heavy hitter, Musa Keys.
‘Girlfriend’ singer, Ruger, landed in Kenya with pomp, with throngs of fans waiting in anticipation for his concert in Meru; an event sponsored by Johnny Walker. While his performance was as great as most expected, many were frustrated with the short time he was accorded on stage as he only performed for 40 minutes.
Nigerian crooner, Oxlade, headlined The 7-Islands Festival in Watamu. Shortly after the internet was ablaze with viral videos of Oxlade’s struggling live vocal performance of ‘Ku-lo-sa,’ which many felt did not match the quality of the recorded track.
This year was also graced by Naija goldenboy, Asake and Afro-beats superstar, Rema, who dismantled class disparity and caused a stampede when he incited fans in the regular section to enter the VIP area.
Nigerian Songstress, Fave, of the hit track ‘Baby Riddim’ performed at Thrift Social. She thereafter went on a bitter Twitter rant following her departure from the country.
“Kenyan fans thank you so much for the love but this has to be the worst hostile treatment we’ve ever received by show promoters. The last act of wickedness was canceling our flights back to Lagos. No love. I wish you guys the best,” she raved.
And recent Grammy-nominee and Drake’s latest African crush, Tems, was set to perform in Kenya in October to much anticipation and excitement by Kenyans; however the ‘Fountains’ vocalist canceled the show at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.
South African producers and DJs also brought their Afro-house, Amapiano and Afro-tech to Kenya several times this year, courtesy of MUZE club and their open-air event, MUZE Open Air. They also graced the celebrated Afro-house gig, Gondwana.
This year alone, MUZE and Gondwana have brought in famed DJs and beatmakers such as Sun-el-Musician, Prince Kaybee , DJ Shimza , Mobi Dixon Cornelius, FKA Mash, Jullian Gomes and Frigid Armadillo from South Africa; Francis Mercier from USA and the latest, Kiko Navarro from Spain, of the hit dancefloor honeypot track ‘Sonando Contigo’. Kiko Navarro is set to perform at MUZE Open Air on December 10, 2022.
A few Reggae artists also popped into the country, among them the regular Tarrus Riley, Eric Donaldson – composer of the 1970’s household favorite ‘Cherry O Baby’ and Roots Reggae star, Luciano.
So what role do radio DJs and playlist curators play when it comes to music discovery for Kenyans? Reason being the two are king (or queen) in their domain, seeing as playlist curators occupy and somewhat control the listening patterns on digital streaming platforms, while radio DJs rule the airwaves.
Seemingly endless streaming options have led to what could be termed ‘choice fatigue’. Simply put, too much music is readily available, accessible, and in circulation. Therefore, a lot of people turn to curated playlists, DJ mixes and both online and FM/AM radio to make the choice for them and take the pressure off the beanplating and information overload that occurs when one is presented with too many options while trying to select music.
For this I asked Jeremy Wahome, radio presenter and vibes controller on 88.5 Soundcity Kenya’s ‘The Takeover’ which runs from 2-6pm, how he selects the tracks to play on his radio show, thus influencing the choices and taste of the thousands of listeners who tune in to his show on Soundcity Kenya.
“Yes, I do [choose the music]. There are guidelines I have to follow, like I can’t play a song twice in a show, stuff like that. But I mostly choose my songs based on what people enjoy, how guys react to the songs, or music I enjoy,” he said.
I also asked Music Content Creator and Co-Host of the Music and Culture podcast, Breaking Hertz, Hafare Segelan, to comment on how the entire music-making chain (label heads, A&Rs, publishers, distributors, publicists, managers, agents etc) determine how a country listens (or doesn’t listen) to music.
“A working music industry, where all the involved stakeholders are moving in tandem towards a common goal, enables the growth of a thriving music scene,” he said. “This in turn allows artists all across the spectrum to receive airplay and support in their artistry on a greater scale, compared to what is happening right now. A working music industry creates a more musically informed audience.”
Finally, to gain insight on the listening habits of Kenyans towards Kenyan music, I asked a representative of 254 Radio, a 24-hour online radio station which plays only Kenyan music, about Kenyan listenership and their opinion regarding how Kenyans consume Kenyan content.
“Kenyans are willing to listen to Kenyan music; they are just lazy,” he said. “They are not going to do their research. The mainstream does not capture the reality of Kenyan music currently. We need the diversity of genres and sounds that people are creating. The music is great but there is no support for it.
Lots of people listen to Kenyan music, at the same time lots of people are yet to discover the countless Kenyan songs and projects that exist and continue to be made.”
The listening habits of Kenyans, it would seem, do not subscribe to an algorithm. Some people listen to Bongo Flava on Boomplay, others to UK Drill on Spotify, others to Afrobeats on Youtube, while others will be listening to Gengetone on radio. The rest might be rocking their necks to South African Afro-tech at live gigs.
But maybe I can throw in a suggestion; in the space between one track and the next, perhaps pause and ask yourself if you’ve listened to any Kenyan song that day? I know I will, right after I play ‘Strictly Catha’ just one more time today!