Prosperity and Unity among African countries can be achieved through collaborative efforts both economically and artistically. Africa is composed of countries with relatively low GDPs. The key to fostering closer ties among the various African states is by engaging in trade amongst each other thus enabling the continent to be self-sustainable. Economists and politicians have continually argued for this strategy as the favoured elixir to cure the continent of its many ailments. If trade can do this for the continent then we can argue inductively and say that music can do the same for Africa.
Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba paints a very squalid picture of Kenya and Africa in general. While giving a speech at the ICPSK Conference on Corporate governance he picks a Kenyan paper ‘Business Daily’ and randomly reads through a series of articles; articles that by and large make reference to great people mostly American and Europeans. With that dispensed with he sets the paper aside and says this to the audience:
“This is a Kenyan paper…the person to whom tribute is being paid is an African American…there is no African deemed worthy of being quoted. There is a sense in which that defines Africa today even in matters as mundane as governance…many of the large companies are to be found in South Africa…we are mickey mouse arrangements. If you look at many African economies today, the indices and the standardizations are Eurocentric/Americocentric. There is nothing that defines Africa in the real sense. Even this institution itself is happiest when it links itself to the united kingdom… in simple terms the African manager is just an automaton, not required to think, just to implement…many times we of the negroid race are satisfied to reference studies that are undertaken in Harvard, whose world view is Anglo-Saxon.” Africa below the Sahara and above the Limpopo does not exist in the minds of many people. Until Africa changes, Africa is going nowhere” we may survive on these mickey mouse arrangements until the second coming of Christ, but our impact on the world economy will be negligible.”
That is a long quote. But I have it there with good reason. It mirrors in great accuracy what happens in the minds of most Kenyans and the musical scenes across the continent! I can venture to say that the Kenyan rock scene enjoys a richness of sorts when we reflect upon the number of bands we have. I would also give a generous estimation and say that the following of some of those bands have is somewhat healthy. Aside from Egypt and South Africa this here is the most bubbling scene on the continent. That notwithstanding we all recognize the fact that the Kenyan rock scene has continued to be a small one, a Mickey Mouse arrangement!!
Bands still barely make any money out of the music. Although the crowds are always electrified the attendance at most shows are still measly at best. The scene still doesn’t get the respect it deserves from fans of rock music in general and even the media. That is the case for most scenes across Africa as well. Whether it’s South Africa, Egypt, Botswana or even Nigeria. Speaking to both Clay (Nigeria) and Patrick Davidson from Metal4Africa (South Africa) that fact remains evident. Patrick points out that
“In South Africa, we are also a small scene, although it looks like we have it better than most other African states. From what I can tell by watching each scene (what is visible of it to us via the internet, at least), is that South Africa and Egypt seems most similar in terms of having lots of bands. But both countries there are high numbers of bands for limited numbers of fans. Almost everybody here who likes metal is also somebody who plays metal so we’re hoping to find ways to expand the fanbase more.”
The typical follower of rock music spends countless man hours mulling over how great foreign content is. They take that same world view and use it as a yardstick for our own local content. You ask any one that listens to rock music here in Kenya and hardly any of them know of local bands. Granted, there are other factors that play into that but nine times out of ten even with great marketing, people in the know still don’t take time to go to a free concert because of their mentality. The result is that the scene stagnates and the same squalid conditions that the good professor alluded to continue to take root.
In making our case today we open a new page in the lesson book and offer another perspective on the issue at hand. Where is the next frontier for Kenyan Rock music? What will it take for local content to receive recognition? The answer (or at least one of them) is simple. The bands need to migrate. When the flowers are too closed up for our little swarm of bees to pollinate them, then the solution is to move to the next meadow. Or the larger meadow if the kitchen garden can no longer sustain them.
Factoring in the economies of scale it makes sense for all these small scenes to take advantage of the larger playing ground. Bands, with the help of fans and other stakeholders, need to spread their wings. Kenya alone has an estimated 20,000 following of rock music. There are close to twenty active bands in the country. If bands were to cultivate an active effort to make collaborative projects with other acts across the continent then it can be reasonably said that they would open themselves up to a wider audience.
There are a myriad of examples that can be drawn from. The space metal band from South Africa, Boargazm has also broadened its wings. This four piece band is perhaps the best example of a globe-trotting band with 93 tours under its belt. Apart from playing in South Africa and headlining for bands like Sepultura and Fleshgod Apocalypse they told metal4africa that some of their best tours have been across the continent including their 2013 performance at “Nairobi Rockfest”. Skinflint hailing from Botswana and touted as one of the frontrunner bands in Africa has done several tours in South Africa, and Kenya and have been fortunate enough to sell their music worldwide. Some of the big bands locally are also traversing the continent and building connections with other communities out there. Last Year’s Tragedy is among the list of African bands that are scheduled to perform at ‘Gorofest 2015’ in South Africa. We also have it on good information that Lust of a Dying Breed will be doing some continental tours and will feature other African acts in their upcoming album. Speaking of collaborations Parking Lot Grass recently featured a Nigerian rock star in their new single ‘Turn Around’. This is the first time Clay has collaborated with anyone from outside Nigeria.
“Like pop artistes, collaboration works well in promoting. For rock that isn’t so big in Africa but collaboration would go miles.”
She feels confident that the prospects of performing in shows within other African nations are looking up this year. But if one hopes to sell within Africa and beyond that it is crucial for bands to develop an African identity beyond the rehashed rock and metal genres.
But what is the case for reaching out to the continental sphere?
Firstly for bands hailing from the continent of Africa, presenting a unified front as one large continental rock scene offers a better chance of bringing the continent’s musical wealth and contribution to the whole world. Documentaries and features done on the history and reach of rock music identify its existence in continents beyond Europe and America. Sadly the same cannot be said of Africa. It is only recently that some recognition has been given to any rock scene on the continent by the rest of the world. One of the biggest journalistic forays into rock culture, ‘Banger Films’ is scheduled to pay a visit to South Africa. Whether this translates to a coverage of other scenes across the continent remains to be seen. Big international bands have also restricted their visits to South Africa and it has been argued that once the continent is united as one scene then we may see more tours by bands from Europe and America in other African countries with vibrant rock scenes. Secondly, until the Kenyan mentality changes, then touring and establishing an International fan base offers the best chance of receiving local recognition. If it took Lupita Nyong’o receiving an Oscar for Kenyan people to sing her praises then it’s not a long stretch for our local bands to take the same strategy and hope for the same results. If you are looking for a better example look at what it took for Behemoth to receive recognition in Poland.
That being said we won’t close our eyes to the challenges that face such prospects. It has been the dream of metal sites like Metal4Africa and African Metal to see bands across the continent touring and doing collaborations. Patrick Davidson is too aware of the challenges posed:
“I think the biggest obstacle is the cost of travel from one African state to another. It’s even more expensive than to travel to some Middle Eastern or European states. But the more there is dialogue between the different communities that are spread out, then maybe the closer this can come to be a reality.”
Furthermore most of the guys in our local bands have other professional, academic and family commitments and the prospects of touring may not be as bright as we might hope they can be. However other methods that have been used like having a continental radio show that plays rock music from Africa may supplement touring and collaborations as far as fostering a unified musical culture. But whatever path we choose to tread to achieve artistical pan-africanism, that excursionary step beyond the threshold of our own national borders must lend itself to some great haste. The time for Africa is now. \,,/