MWACHA MILA NI MTUMWA is a proverb that means, he that abandons his culture is a slave (TRANSLATED FOR KENYANS THAT DONT SPEAK SWAHILI)
Kenya Beat Battle is a bi monthly event where upcoming music producers and beat makers compete before a panel of judges and an audience. Last Sunday was the host of the third edition of Kenya Beat Battle and many aspiring music producers participated, including myself. The event was also attended by Kenya’s top musicians and producers including Delvin and Polycarp of Sauti Sol, Kenya’s top producer Provoke and Wangeci, the latest illest rapper in the 254 whom I personally think is going to go far if she mixes her art with good business skills. The judging panel consisted of Saint P, a top gospel music producer, Dj Krowbar, top gospel DJ and Michelle also a gospel rapper. This event is the only of its kind in Kenya and I must applaud Michael Mukama aka Othole Fruityloops, founder of NYNP and a top gospel music producer in Kenya for this great initiative. This is because breaking ground in the arts is never easy and when one is in their very early stages, they desperately need opportunities to try out their products on a live audience and to just put their names out there. I say this with authority from my work as a session drummer, band member and art enthusiast for a decade now.
Everything good has room to become better. That is why I partly write this, to give a public opinion about an idea so great. What I never understand with most competitions in Kenya is always the judging panel. My idea is that if you are holding a writing competition, let good writers be the judges. If you have a cooking competition, don’t have a dancer in the judging panel, however good cooks they are or how closely related cooking and dancing are. I wasn’t pleased by the presence of that particular rapper as a judge because she’s known for rapping not making beats. She should have attended on a different capacity, maybe as a scout for beats and producers. DJs work with beats all the time but as DJ Rick said, DJs need to learn the art of music production and related stuff. Most Kenyan and international DJs as we all know have very little or no musical knowledge and therefore, the choice for this event wasn’t right for me because he is not known for even remixing tracks. Moving on.
For the first time, the organizers saw it good to have every contestant present what they called “a unique Kenyan Beat”. That made me glad because I am constantly worried at the rate at which we are losing our musical culture as a country. I was expecting the unique Kenyan Beat to be some kind of a base to judge the contestants since I assumed that this event was also promoting the Kenyan sound. I don’t know what the organizers’ stand is about this matter and I’m afraid this convo is starting to bChakacha, Ohangla, Isukhuti and all that ancient tribal stuff, Keya has got more recent sounds like Mugithi, Benga and even more recently Kapuka, Genge, Boomba and even most recent Kapungala, Afrock, Bengenge, Gepuka and so on. The judges however didn’t consider any of that. The unique Kenyan Beat was played first in the list, as a formality and everyone that had a uniquely Kenyan sounding beat was eliminated in not more than the 2nd round. For this category I made an Isukhuti beat for the old popular gospel song from Western Kenya, “Unijaze Roho”. Maybe it didn’t sound good but there was no comment about it in relation to authenticity and Kenyan sounds. Instead I was told about arrangement and accused of sampling too much which by the way, I don’t even know how to do. All my tracks are arranged note by note, even in complex patterns like Drum ‘n’ Bass. I’m a drummer so I arrange each note to try to sound almost like I would play them live.e more complicated than I expected. Anyway, besides
So the contest went on, heat after heat, people got eliminated. Very modern trance and electronic music which borrows a lot from African drum rhythms in the climax finally was eliminated to pave way for Hip Hop and Crank. At this stage I thought it was a Hip Hop beat competition so I took a soda break. When I came back, the judges were lecturing the finalists on how to sound Kenyan *facepalm* I know. They put so much emphasis on how to be authentic and gave examples of how every big musician in Nigeria doesn’t sound like they are from another country. The contest progressed and finally the guy that sounded most like he’s the official producer for Rick Ross won.
The winner was a very good producer. His beats were very well engineered but not so musical in my opinion. Maybe that’s because I come from a musical school of thought believing that the new wave of Hip Hop has very little to do with the traditional fundamentals of music. There is only one theme and the whole process is on a constant plane of excitement. But again, that was not a music battle; it was a beat battle so I should just shut up right now.
I write from my perspective on how things should go but there is also the natural way that does things in growing industries like ours. Like my good friend Gregg Tendwa says, copying and duplicating is good and ok. He encourages anyone that is able to copy and duplicate to do so in large quantities. Because when we have copied and duplicated enough, we will have so much and I add, the fake will fall off and the remaining ones will forge their own ways and we will enter a new stage of good quality and originality.
Below i have for you my three tracks that i made specifically for this competition.
I only wish the majority would strive to at least promote African because the fact is, we are always behind of what is happening in the West. So when we copy their music, try to sound and speak like them, they are in our backyards learning out stuff.
We are busy wearing fake Louis Vuitton and they are busy taking our Maasai Shukas on the highest fashion runways. We are busy trying to sound all American when Rick Ross is trying to rap in Swahili. Our singers try to sound like Beyonce and Destinys child just released “When Jesus Says Yes, Noody Can Say No”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-4PngwwcWU
Ok, I go to feed my dogs because I need to carry one them to a high end fashion event next week.