So there is a rock scene in Kenya?
Oh my gosh you in a rock band?
Are you the drummer from that band, The Awekening?
Do you know PLG? Do you go to Choices?
These questions have become so common to my years that I have put them in the same mental column as Hi, How are you and what’s your name? The thing is, yes there is a rock scene in Kenya and yes, I play rock bands. I’m that band whore your mother warned you about, but I’m slowly dumping those useless clandes because I want to get married soon and have beautiful babies to sell to the world.
I am the drummer from The Awekening, that band that came in 2007 and ended in 2009 after staging the first rock musical in Kenya history. Of course I know PLG, they are so cool and one of the best and most hard working rock band in Kenya. Yes I go to Choices. It’s like the coolest place in Industrial Area and the first time I went there, I blacked out for twenty minutes after having just one bottle of Smirnoff Ice. It was either the ninth or tenth one to be precise. It was a Sunday rock night and Smitta Smitten had taken me there to celebrate Dj Jack the King of Rock. I later on attended countless events there that made me aware of strangest practices out here.
You see, I used to play in a jazz band until 2006 then I started a rock band The Awekening and we started playing at the monthly battle of the bands at Club Rezorus then. Those days there was a real rock scene in Nairobi. There were loads of bands that came up to put up real shows. The audience was mature people spending money and the party started at 2pm until 11pm. Bands would compete and the best ones won and got their money. Fans would vote and judges didn’t mess up with the votes. Those were the days when there were drum solos, guitar solos and real musicianship was showcased. By the way, most bands played Punk and Alternative. A few played Psychedelic, Rock n Roll and Hard Rock and only LYT played metal.
At first, the battle was usually among UETA, Jack the Hammer, LYT and some white kids that came from Rosslyn Academy. The Awekening would make it to number 3 then disappear again. There was also Inertia, currently known as Crystal Axis. Made of the Aroni brothers and their friends, these are some of the most persistent guys I know of. People however liked LYT the most because they were different. Bands like Murfys Flaw and M2O have always been the same, I would say because they were already mature back then as individuals then as bands. There was also The Beathogs that still exists today even though none of the current members was there back then. Now they have a Black crazy guy on Keyboards, a very robust guitarist that makes his real Gibson guitar look like a ukulele, a very cool drummer called Andy and a lady who is an amazing singer called Denise Nuno. Those are the only members I can remember now but they are 11 guys in total!
The Beathogs of the old days were old white guys who wore huge luminous multi- colored wigs like it’s a street carnival in Puerto Rico. There was a guitarist with such a heavy Texas accent and he only talked to the lightest skinned member of our band. I remember one time at Carnivore; he ignored us backstage as usual only to be slapped several times later by their then lead singer, a very crazy black bitch who was the “I only do white men” kind of chick. Jack the Hammer was three kids also from Rosslyn and two of them were brothers, sons of a missionary. They were the only band that had a van packed with full equipment. They would change everything for a 30 minute performance then set it all down and leave. The other three guys whose band name I can’t remember were the real punks. They didn’t speak much, cursed a lot, rocked hard and their lead singer was really thin and had real canines!
So everyone was following LYT, even the show organizers and that’s how rock scene started going down. The battle started evolving slowly taking the shape of a concert. Not very good and popular bands would be slotted to play first and follow that order until LYT closed the show, and then Dj Switch would carry on the night with the most brutal heavy metal. Most bands started going heavy and soon there was Narcissistic Tendencies with Delusions of Grandeur, In Oath and almost everyone was suddenly only preferring the heavy metal Bands.
I don’t know what happened but the event was moved from Rezorus to Club Qatika. This time it was a Saturday night thing and it looked more vibrant starting at 8pm to 6am. Younger guys were the majority and most of them were in high school. That’s when I had my second shock as a drummer in a rock band when this pretty girl stuck her nose under my armpit for what seemed like forever because my sweat smelled so sweet after performing. That night we had done a rendition of ‘I Got a Feeling’ and we had driven the crowed wild. My first strange experience was at Rezorus when another girl, again after performing wanted my drumsticks as a souvenir and when I refused, she wiped my sweat with her hanker chief and put it in her bag instead! This Club Qatika thing didn’t last long because the club got closed after I think four months.
The scene was dormant for sometime before Choices opened its doors for rockers. Bands would play in the basement as Djs played upstairs. It was a serious event where people dressed in blacked and some wore their favorite band t-shirts. Some daring people wore chokers and dog chains. Everyone wore spiked jewellery or more. These events became places of the cheapest thrill for majority of the people. Bands would work hard as always to put up a good show while the audience didn’t really care about them. The audience was young high school and college kids who came to experience freedom to the maximum. They used bands to cover their bizarre indulgent. Every time a band is playing, there is only dim lights and strobe and that’s when the drunken ones come to morsh and excite the band on stage. Meanwhile, most guys would be engaging in other acts in darker places.
This long story was to let you know that there is no rock industry in Kenya now. You see those events I’ve talked about are held in places of business. Club owners don’t care about the music, they want money. These people who wear black and go for rock events don’t spend money in those clubs. They usually meet in small groups before and take cheap liquor then come to these places already drunk so they spend very little or nothing at all. They fill the event to the brim but it doesn’t translate to sales. This is one thing killing the industry because no club owner wants their club full with people who don’t spend. Those are the so called “DIE HARD FANS” but let me tell you how bands kill themselves too. They work so hard to land a gig then they come with a whole entourage like superstars. There was one time that a band of three came in with nine guys who are not paying anything at the gate yet they expect to be paid after wards. Bands need to know that any amount of money paid to them at a gig is usually determined by either ticket sales or club sales of drinks at the venue.
I am really sad now because all this time, bands were not recording any music until mid last year after the fall of their little industry. As we speak, every rock band in Kenya is either recording something or planning to do so. A few have recorded and are getting little airplay or local radio stations. The problem is that no one cares about bands that only plays on radio and not live. These bands know this and they are desperate to perform. I only know of four bands with some sort of equipment to put up a gig without hiring anything. But even then, venues have to be rented and the money is not there.
There are people who have pumped money into rock music in this country and they are throwing in the towel because something is not happening. Rock is foreign, it’s a new thing and it must be treated with great care just like a seedling. There are old folk in this country that enjoy good rock music. It is therefore crucial to have this scene under new management, get it repackaged and presented to the right consumers. The so called “rock heads” have no concern for the people they claim they love and they also lack consuming power. In my opinion, new shepherds have to be found to find new pastures for these little lambs of rock music.
N/B whipping on these bands coming soon…