SwaRnB aims to provide Kenyans with a musical identity
Kenyans, what is it that we have in common other than a boundary? The national anthem? How many know that at heart? Or is it the national flag? Our laws don’t allow commoners to carry that around – even though in a democracy the citizen is supposed to be the boss. So what is it?
The divisiveness common in Kenya has been blamed on our geographical boundary. Pundits claim that the colonialists drew the boundaries without considering the various nations, some of whom were sworn enemies that they forcefully brought together under one jurisdiction whereas separating those of the same language, culture, heritage and history. Take the Luo Nation that can be found in South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya as an example; arguments have been put forth that it would have been wise to draw a geographical boundary that brought them under one jurisdiction – one country.
But again we know that countries like Somalia and South Sudan are drawn such that technically a people with common history, culture, and heritage; a people that can proudly call themselves a nation, share a common national border. Despite that, Somalia has been in a civil war since the 1980s and South Sudan didn’t even wait for a year after chucking from Sudan before breaking into a civil conflict.
We also know that countries like Tanzania, Jamaica, and Nigeria, despite have a population made of diverse cultures and religious understandings, possess what I would consider national identities on attire, cuisine, film and music; an identity that has defeated Kenya to cultivate.
As far as cuisine, dress, film and music are concerned, Kenya has no authentic dress code, no music genre that screams to the world that this is Kenya, no cuisine that can be mentioned in the lines of French Fries, Chinese Restaurant or English Potato – no unity of purpose. When they speak of Afro Cinema they refer to films made in Nigeria. When they talk of Jamaica everyone thinks of Reggae, Raggamuffin and as of today Riddim. Mexicans have an identity in the film industry, Indians have their music, and Chinese got their food. What do we as Kenyans have? Nothing. Okay, athletics.
‘Nothing’ is an answer that makes Tedd Josiah, one of the pioneers of Kenya’s modern day music culture, sad. So very sad. Sad because according to him, every nation or country should be able to stand up to the world and proudly say, “This is who I am. This is my code. This is how you should identify with me”. Maybe we have such a thing – the athletes – but that’s not enough. That’s not what is unique to us; that is what we are best at.
Tedd as a music producer endeavors to create a genre of music that can be identified as Kenyan. The same way Tanzanians have their Bongo, Jamaicans have their Reggae, Congolese have their Rumba and Soukous, and Americans have their Hip Hop, RnB, Soul and the many others, so should Kenyans have their own beat, lyrical style, and swag. The style that Tedd believes will define our identity as a people is what he calls SwaRnB; or Swahili Rhythm and Blues in full. Tedd has his reasons for choosing Swahili and RnB as culture and style that needs fusion into a musical style, and in brief, these are the reasons:
- As a country we have accepted and legalized Swahili as our official language. Even though it has been hard to make us all adopt Kiswahili as our primary culture, the fact that we have accepted this language that has International outlook from Arab, Portugal, Chinese and West Africa influences as the preferred medium of communication across the country means appreciation and adoption of Kiswahili by all shouldn’t be harder than promoting Swahili. As a culture, Kiswahili has its cuisine, attire and music, and it is the music – music entrenched in deep poetry and soul reaching lyrics, that Tedd has borrowed to create a new wave, a new culture, a new identity – the SwaRnB Movement.
- Then there is the new Kenya; a Kenya that is open to the global village for interactions and commerce, a Kenya whose citizens identify with mainstream genres like Hip Hop, Reggae, Soul, and Pop in general. To create a Kenyan musical identity that can be appreciated on a global stage, therefore, there is need to merge a cultural heritage that every Kenyan can easily identify with to a popular musical style. Many agree that Kiswahili is a natural selection as the culture every Kenyan would readily belong to, and at the same time few would object to the fact that RnB has been one of the most popular music genres in a global stage for years. Merging the two, Kiswahili and RnB, to create a style meant to be Kenya’s identity, can be argued as the most logical move a music producer would do.
Don’t get Tedd Josiah wrong. He is not merging Kiswahili and RnB in the sense of picking some random RnB beats and asking a musician who can utter some Swahili words to provide a voice over those beats. Far from it. Talking exclusively to Kachwanya.com, Tedd Josiah was particular that SwaRnB is taking the deep rooted Swahili culture exemplified in the power its ingenuous poetic words, the type that align with the popular saying “Wahenga wilinena”, together with Kiswahili’s unique beats found in Chakacha, Taarab and other Kiswahili musical styles, and creatively fusing them with RnB beats to create a music that is culturally rich in language and message but at the same time a music that can be danced to in the modern RnB dance styles.
As I conclude this article, it is worth to note that SwaRnB is not new; it is a movement that is as old as Tedd Josiah is in the music industry. When Tedd Josiah was busy creating today’s big names such as Hardstone, Suzzana Owiyo, Achieng’ Abura, Didge among others, he was already set to bring to the Kenya’s music scene a fusion of popular Western music beats with our own unique Kenyan music styles like Rhumba, Bhenga, Chakachaka, Taarab among many others. Although SwaRnB didn’t go mainstream like Ngenge by Calif Records and Kapuka by Ogopa DJs, Tedd hasn’t given up.
Today Tedd Josiah launched his first new musician in the SwaRnB movement, the talented Mswazzi Masauti with his track Mahabu (my love) at exactly midnight on YouTube that you can watch below. As a person with narrow taste in music, I attest to the fact that Mahabu is well done. Quality of voice, nicely arranged instrumentals and excellent video makes the track one of those few songs anyone can listen to over and again without getting bored. If Tedd Jossiah continues to do what he has done with Mahabu, then I don’t see why SwaRnB shouldn’t be the music of our national heritage.
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