KENYAN ROCK MUSIC IS ELITIST

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My thoughts of this topic began with an incident that I’m sure you have inevitably experienced. You’re walking around in town and then you see a guy pulling a cart. And it’s nothing out of the ordinary save for the fact that he’s wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt. You’re familiar with the mascot imprinted below the band logo and you stare at the guy till he is out of sight. And in that strange moment you can’t help but feel offended. Because for some reason everything that you have ever held dear to you as a rebel has been stripped away in one of the most routine and fleeting moments.

Well I have nothing against guys that pull carts for a living. I could well be one of them if I had the right mix of physical fortitude and desperation. He’s probably a nice guy, goes to church and supports his family. In that latter respect he is ten times the man that sired me. But one thing they share is the indifference to screamed vocals, leather and studs and would probably call you a Satanist for being a fan of Slayer.

Why, you ask yourself would ‘that’ guy who is so obviously oblivious to the significance of his apparel be the one wearing it. As rebels we would normally wear an Iron maiden t-shirt/ a Mastodon or Black Sabbath one because we are a tribe and we identify with that ethos. We are a marked society and we do this to represent and throw scorn in the face of conformity. But this guy, you think probably came across the thing at an open air market. Jumbled together with a host of other unworthy livery. It appealed to him because the Iron Maiden Mascot looked cool and it was colourful. And since the mascot carried a gun it probably appealed to his carnal nature and he bought it. For nothing more than 20 bob. And just like that without a care in the world, he has with a trifling token purchased what can’t be purchased. He has bought your angst, those rebellious days as a teenager, your anti-authoritarian and DIY ethos and everything else that has made you a remnant among the zombified masses. And what has been your banner is being passed off as the mark of a conformity. This day you stand in the sun defiled and exposed.

And this got me thinking. Is rock music in Kenya elitist? Apart from being an underground movement is it restricted to a certain class of person? For sure the feelings are the same as elsewhere in the world. As a fan of say Koinange Street Avengers I would be really offended if my friend who is mostly disposed to music like dancehall, pop, house, kwaito or kapuka as the case may be would come to me one day and express their delight at discovering that we have a shared interest in Koinange Street Avengers style of music. It would be the same feeling of displeasure if say one of my parents would suddenly feign interest in Thor comic books. It is the same sin as plagiarising academic material and similarly would be in the same league as wearing a fake tattoo for effect. It is disrespectful and in this case ignorance is not a defence. Whether you do it to please a girl or you just bought a labelled t-shirt on an ordinary day; it still smirks of sacrilege.

Rock music has always been for a closed society and whenever it goes into the mainstream the core fanbase always feels betrayed. When you’re a teenager or a young adult and you feel alone in the world and that everyone is against you, then the easiest way to vent your frustration is to identify with someone going through the same thing. And the best music for such an adventure would be rock music/metal. So regardless of your nationality you always feel in a sense that your favourite band as being some sort of private possession only to be shared with those of the same tribal inclinations.

But in Kenya I tend to think that unlike elsewhere in the world this kind of music appeals to a different kind of demographic. Not the kids that went to the really poor schools or came from a tough neighbourhood. At least not yet.

For the moment its modest following is in most respects elitist. First of all as I have said it is tribal and highly hostile and disdainful towards those it deems as ‘posers’ and the losers that listen to anything other than rock music. This is especially true with regard to metal fans. Secondly for a long time rock music was only available to people that could access the internet or those with the capability to purchase records from abroad. And even when some radio and TV stations started playing rock, only those able to access the frequency which was mostly in the big towns. I remember that in boarding school they had a rock segment on entertainment nights. And it was only bare handful that went up to the stage to head bang. And those were the kids from Nairobi and Kisumu about three or four of us. Thirdly rock music compared to other genres is invariably higher kind of music. The effect it leaves on you is more profound as it in most circumstances doesn’t appeal only your base instincts. And even when it does then they are the instincts of a different kind of animal. In the animal kingdom I would hazard to compare it to a Tasmanian devil.

But maybe this is just me being cynical. However it is true that rock music isn’t for everyone. I for one believe that ‘it belongs to those who not only like the idea of what it sells but have lived it and buy into it.’

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