Yesterday I happened to speak with some representatives from the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) at an event promoting local music in Kenya. I was shocked to learn that, in Kenya, music works are granted copyright protection for 50 years after the death of the composer. I’m neither a musician nor a lawyer (so maybe I don’t “get it”), but it certainly seems like there is something wrong with that legislation.
For example, let’s say I’m twenty-five years old and I publish a song in the year 1900. If I die in 1960, at the age of eighty five, my copyright would have just expired this year (2010). Exactly whose interests is the copyright protecting fifty years after my death? Keep in mind, the song would have been published 110 years ago! Do you know what people were doing in Kenya ~100 years ago?
If smoking weed, growing dreadlocks, and listening to Bob Marley sounds good to you, you just might be a Rastafarian! There’s a lot more to it than that, but I’ll be damned if I ever meet a “Rasta” who can explain it without mentioning reggae music or marijuana. It’s quite popular here in Kenya, but after meeting dozens of self-proclaimed Rastafarians I still always wonder: do these guys know that Rastafarianism is a religion, or is it just what the cool kids do?
While its roots are in the Back to Africa and black nationalism movements popularized by Marcus Garvey in the 1930s, it has evolved into much more than just a “black hippie” movement. In a nutshell, Rastafarianism is a Judeo–Christian religion that purports the late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was the second coming of Jesus Christ (and therefore God incarnate). This and other Rastafarian beliefs are backed by verses from their holy scripture, the Bible.
It’s really popular to be a gospel artist in Kenya these days. Where you’d normally have heard gangster rap or crunk music coming from Nairobi matatus (minibus used for public transport), now it’s not uncommon to hear songs praising Mungu (God). I have never liked gospel, but some of these tunes honestly sound like something a DJ would spin at dance club on a Friday night. Furthermore, because of my strong convictions (read: evangelical atheist), it’s almost embarrassing for me to admit that some of these “Goddy” tunes are really catchy. If you don’t understand Swahili you can just bob your head to the beat and forget I ever said anything.
Jaguar — Nimetoka Mbali
This one’s actually not about God, but it’s my favorite of the three so it goes first! I think this guy comes from Tanzania, because I’ve never heard of him (and I know everything about the music scene in Kenya!). The song’s title means “I’ve come from far.” I haven’t listened to it enough to understand what he’s actually saying. For now just enjoy!
Ekko Dydda — Niko Na Reason
He “has a reason” to clap, snap, and even to “bounce and swagger” — take a guess at what it is. Anyways, it’s a good song.
Ringtone — Pamela
A song about a girl who has fallen astray from the church. The chorus goes: Pamela njoo kwa mungu, bado anakupenda (Pamela come to God, he still loves you). It’s kinda sad, but something about it is catchy to me.
Because I live under a rock I depend entirely on the guys at GetMziki to find new music. They seem to have connections all over Africa, and even African connections in America and Europe, so there is always something for everyone on their blog. Another great website is the Kenyan-based DJ crew Black Supremacy. Don’t let the name fool you: they don’t hate white people, they just love making awesome mix tapes (you’ve probably heard at least one of their mixes in a matatu).