As part of our drive to promote the traditional music of East Africa I’ve been spending some time meeting the urban community in Nairobi. I’ve been talking to people about their music interests, whether the idea of Singing Wells appeals to them and what more we can do to ensure this musical culture is not lost.
On a visit to iHub this week – a communal working space for tach-savvy Nairobi entrepreneurs – I got chatting to Edwin Maganjo about the Singing Wells Project. Edwin has lived in Nairobi most of his life and is an entrepreneur currently building a blogging platform.
What kind of music do you like?
I like a whole mixture of things, but it’s mainly modern, western-influenced music.
Do you listen to much traditional East African music?
I have heard it before, I might come home and my dad would be playing it on the radio for instance… but I don’t like it. Put yourself in my shoes — imagine your parents playing old-school church songs, chances are you’re not going to like it. It’s not really popular with young people generally.
Why do you think that is?
Well, we’re adverse and stubborn. We run away from tradition. And we’re heavily influenced by the west. I think a big part of that is because film as a form of media has a massive effect on people and how they perceive themselves. We watch a lot of western media, so a lot of our ideals are based on western notions of what great life if like. It means that people aspire to western ways of things, and so we don’t embrace our cultural music and heritage… it’s not ‘cool’.
Do you think losing the cultural music heritage of East Africa is a shame?
It’s a massive shame! But the western style of living is so appealing – just look at how Nairobi is evolving; it’s all coffee shops and Nike trainers and rooftop bars.
The Singing Wells Project ideologically makes sense to try and preserve our musical culture and traditions, but trying to make it relevant and interesting to young people is going to be a real challenge. It’s just not where the energy is.
Well we’re not going to give up that easily, so what can we do to excite people?
One of the challenges with building any kind of platform or promoting an initiative to young people is that it has to connect really closely with what they stand for and believe in, otherwise it won’t work.
If you could find a way of making Singing Wells relate to what young people believe in, that might just work. I reckon film or TV would be a great way to get the message out, and I’d really drive home your work with modern artists mixing in traditional beats, I think people would like that. I’ve heard a few club bangers in my time with a traditional music mix – they were popular!
So not all hope is lost for young Kenyans?
Look, we aspire to a western life and we enjoy western music, but we have our own way of speaking in Kenya, our own slang – our own twist. There’s still some authenticity but it’s about mixes and making the most of these influences. We can’t go backwards but you could try and ensure that going forwards all is not lost for traditional music.