One of my favorite things about life in Kenya is the music. It’s loud, it’s good, and it’s everywhere. As I leave my house each morning, I walk along the busy dirt roads in my neighborhood filled with people on their way to work, school children in uniform, and ladies wrapped in beautiful fabrics selling mandazi hot out of the oil. The first thing I hear is music, which resounds from the small shops that line the road. I arrive at the bus stop and music rings from the matatu as I climb inside. Sometimes the bass is so loud that I feel as though my head might burst. Other times my ears are tickled by smooth, soft beats.
At language school, which is attended by students from all over the world, we break though language barriers with music. During tea breaks we play music on our phones as we sing along to the sounds. In Kiswahili class, we learn traditional songs and dances from our teacher when verb tenses become too tiresome. As I board the bus to return to Kibera, more music. When I get home, there are music videos playing on television, which get the kids dancing around the living room and keep my host sister entertained as she cooks ugali. Enter almost any home in Nairobi and you’ll hear music playing. Even Nakumatt (Nairobi’s version of Super Target) and Java House (Nairobi’s version of Starbucks) have a fantastic mix of music playing at all times. And of course, no social activity is complete without a DJ.
The style of music heard throughout each day varies greatly, and much of it comes from local radio. In Nairobi, there is a station dedicated to every music genre imaginable and commercials are rarely played. The most popular styles tend to be Kenyan hip-hop and pop (and some from other parts of Africa like Uganda and Nigeria), reggae and dancehall, as well as some American music. But by far the most frequently heard music style is Christian Kenyan hip-hop, simply referred to as Gospel. And I can’t get enough of it. The hooks are catchy, the beats are loud, and the dances are delightful. Nearly every song has an accompanying music video, which give viewers a good sense of popular clothing styles here in Nairobi – like neon colors, soccer jerseys, skinny jeans and beaded jewelry.
These songs aren’t just reserved for Sunday mornings; they are so popular that they’re played in night clubs, matatus and churches alike. Here are three of my favorites. Bet you’ll get addicted too :)
“My Call” – MOG featuring Juliani (I saw Juliani at Java House the other day and must admit I was a little starstruck…)
“Furi Furi Dance” – Jimmie Gait
“Mmmh Baba” – Kris