This is a post that is completely out of character. Judging by what I may have written previously on this blog this may seem confusing. I have been part of the bandwagon* that has been breathing down the neck of bands, bands that have been too silent, urging them, demanding even that they release more music. I have on occasion insisted that bands have the responsibility to perform more. And in some cases claimed that they owe people like us, fans, consumers (not that those two are interchangeable), to perform in a certain way. All those posts linked below.
Not that I’m now turning tail, and now praying facing the West rather than East as has been my custom. I’m not claiming a newly discovered moral code, saying, oh yeah, that was an older me and I now hold this new idea as valid. Far from it. I still stand by my sentiments back there. Because those sentiments served a certain purpose.
I feel obligated to point out that in the clamor for more, and in the demand for better, we have alienated a certain part of our collective conscience that voices a concern that needs to be addressed. I feel that this time round notwithstanding everything we’ve said in the past, we need to tell a different narrative.
While constructing this narrative, I will require of you, both those who have witnessed this rock subculture unfold and those who may have discovered it recently to consider some of the bands that we have been calling on to release more music, or to do things a little differently.
Take for instance, a band like Last Year’s Tragedy whom we’ve previously singled out for criticism. We’ve said here that, for a band in this century, and that expects to receive a response from the market place, need to release music with a certain consistency. That they owe it to all their fame, their good name, standing in both the national and continental scene to release more music. The last time the release a record was in 2012! Four years ago.
Take another band. Mortal Soul. These guys emerged on the scene in 2010. they released their Extended Play Album, Solace, which you never cared to buy or to listen to, in 2013. They received lots of support and have been acclaimed in the local media (read the ‘rocker’ column which has since been discontinued) as some of the most talented musicians in the country. There were reports that they were recording and planning a full length release in 2014. Those reports never bore fruit. And they have since gone quiet with word going round that the group is undergoing some internal strife. But nevertheless, we still remember that ‘Solace’ play through that brought tears to my eyes and shook me to the soles of my feet. Still, regardless of anything that happened since they did all the great shows and released that EP, you can’t take away from them what they accomplished and the young people they inspired.
You can’t go back in time and deduct from the sum of accomplishments that Last Year’s Tragedy achieved with the release of Challenge Accepted. Going back, you realize when listening to the record and the countless times it’s been played on stage, that it was truly a remarkable narrative, in a way perhaps unexpected, that was both empowering and uplifting. From song 1 (March from the Underground) to song 5(Challenge Accepted), positivity, both tonally, and lyrically. Those lines are still on the lips of many show going daredevils and it is a remarkable achievement that these five, Kenyans at that time were able to weave something together that could give their fellow countrymen and scores of other individuals across the continent, an anthem not only close to their hearts, but close to home. It is at one with our struggles as young Kenyans. I can even say that as a band that set out primarily to call out other young people to form bands and make their own music, they have succeeded, they have provided mentor-ship both directly and indirectly. Without them maybe guys like Irony Destroyed wouldn’t be here.
It is also remarkable that both these bands and a score of others were able to surmount seemingly immovable odds, to express themselves personally as artists. In the vein of causality, as they flexed their artistic muscle, we have been able to participate as consumers and fans in the reception of their creative product.
In the course of time, as consumers, and fans alike we have in our tunnel vision deluded ourselves into a corner. In that corner we have given ourselves a certain identity and assigned ourselves certain rights. we have believed those rights to grant us the preponderance to demand of these bands and musicians a measure of action. As if in some way they are in servitude to our need for entertainment.
Today I ask you to join me and think differently. To ask a different question altogether. Whether it’s in our right to demand anything. If we think of art as a personal expression wherein an artist may choose to express themselves and make of that expression a commercial output. If we think of it that as their personal prerogative to choose in what way to package that product and when to release it, if and when they decide to do so. If they started out, as I believe every artist does, learning their art, perfecting it and expressing it to please no other person, not fans, not their abuela, not their girlfriends and not even God. But themselves! Numero uno. If they are the primary recipient of that shot of dopamine that follows a completed task, then we must consider our place in this relationship. That as consumers, let alone fans, we are secondary and our needs (as we imagine them to be) in this rock scene and the rest of the world, as proprietors of social media accounts, fanzines, blogs, WhatsApp admins and websites are but beneficiaries of other people’s life products. We are in a privileged situation.
When Mortal Soul pack it up, or take a break like so many other bands did. When Bedslum close up shop or when Lust of a Dying Breed or even Last Year’s Tragedy go quiet because they don’t feel the need to express themselves at all, or in the way we want them to, we will have no place or right to cry out defiantly. We have no hold over them. But beyond that, they can do whatever they want because these bands have already given us so much, even when we didn’t ask for it and we never paid them back nevertheless.
If bands like Last Year’s Tragedy, In Oath, Void of Belonging or Absence of Light never release anything again, it will never deduct from the wealth of precious time and music that they have already given us.
As is their personal prerogative they can choose to take whatever amount of time they want to go back to studio. They can choose never to grace another stage, and when they do, to put out a crap show if they want. And if you and I don’t like it, we can take a brisk walk or listen to other bands. Because my friend, art is personal.