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Reflections on the fabrication of musical folklore in Kenya from the early 1920s to the late 1970s

Cécile Feza Bushidi
p. 8-21

Résumé

This short paper adopts a historical viewpoint to engage with the folklorization of indigenous musical performances in Kenya from the colonial era until the late 1970s. This text posits the idea that early independent Kenya’s initial exercises of self-definition through the medium of indigenous performances must be examined in light of colonial and postcolonial politics, and against the backdrop of regional and international development in musical cultures.

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Index géographique:

Kenya
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Abbreviations used in archival references

KNA: Kenya National Archives, Nairobi
IWM: Imperial War Museum

  • 1 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, ‘A Short Presentation of MISC (The Music Industry in Sma (...)

1In 1980, British artist and scholar Roger Wallis and Swedish musicologist Krister Malm explored how the 1970s technological and economic developments in the music industry impacted upon the ability of “small countries” to retain and develop cultural identity – they defined a small country as “a political entity with comparatively small population and/or resources” (Wallis and Malm, 1984: 18). Funded by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, this research project called Music Industry In Small Countries (MISC) involved the collection of data in Chile, Denmark, Finland, Jamaica, Kenya, Norway, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tanzania, Trinidad, Tunisia, and Wales. Central to the report produced on the Kenyan popular music and phonogram industries lay an account of a crisis within the Voice of Kenya (VoK) in March 1980: a government directive asked producers to cut back foreign music to 25% of airtime, thus airing Kenyan music during the remaining 75%. In 1965, under the control of the Ministry of Information, the VoK replaced the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation created by the British colonial administration and modelled on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). This English language service that mostly catered for European and city dwellers of Nairobi purchased an international music repertoire distributed on records in Kenya. Following protests from listeners of the VoK, the order to curb the broadcasting of “non-Kenyan” music was revoked.1 This event, which marked independent Kenya’s second effort to “kenyanize” the airways, reflected some of the ways in which early postcolonial Kenya engaged with nation building through musical performance. The use of written archival sources notwithstanding, this essay, therefore mostly impressionistic, provides some preliminary thoughts on this process.

  • 2 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, “A Short Presentation of MISC (The Music Industry in Sma (...)

2I explore some ways in which the nation-building project, under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, involved the folklorization of “traditional” musical performances taken from the rural hinterland construed as the bastion of “tradition”. Yet I argue that the “cultural rebirth” of Kenya takes roots in colonial inventions of African musical “traditions” (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983).2 Whilst it is now generally accepted that rural music, dance, and masquerade are not “traditional” in that they are not essentially unchanging, ideological currents, contexts, and expediency potently influence the use of the terms “tradition/modernity” (Barber, 1987: 40-1). During both the colonial and early postcolonial era, the role of cultural entrepreneurs—coming from within and beyond Kenya—in defining “traditional” musical folklore should not be neglected. A consequence of the production of “traditional” musical heritage during the second period was that popular music, often urban, found itself isolated from early reflections on Kenya’s cultural image.

Musical performances, novelty, and the making of “tribes”

  • 3 See Anette Hoffman (ed.), What we see: reconsidering an anthropometrical collection from Southern (...)
  • 4 KNA VQ1/28/10, Native Affairs 1920–1921, “Native Tribes.”
  • 5 KNA PC/NZA/2/1/68, Provincial Commissioner Nyanza, Native tribes and their customs, Dancing, Drink (...)

3The early 1920s witnessed zealous recordings of “native” musical performances. The phonograph, introduced in 1877, greatly helped their collections, recordings, transcriptions, and translations.3 A vast body of cultural knowledge on the colonized peoples would be gathered well until the end of colonial rule. On 16 February 1921, eight months after the official establishment of Kenya as a colony, a circular on the “Native Tribes of Kenya” was sent to all rural administrators.5 On the form to fill in, officials turned “anthropologists” were required to write down the name of the “tribes” and clans, their emblematic totems, the localities of the groups, the languages spoken, and people’s agricultural habits. Additional space was left to include specific remarks on the origin of the “tribes people’s “history,” food habits, burial customs, shield emblems, and bodily practices such as teeth-filling and tribal cicatrisation.4 It was not unusual for missionaries, who lived in close proximity to indigenous populations, to provide detailed data on local customs, which included music and dance. Colonial “anthropologists” were given official platforms to present their findings on the “tribes” of Kenya. On 29 and 30 November 1934, for instance, arrangements were made to host the 4th Inter-Territorial Two-Days Scientific Meeting in Nairobi during which “any Administrative Officer [could] be prepared to contribute papers on Social Customs and Anthropology of Kenya”. Researchers had to submit their papers beforehand to the office of the acting colonial secretary of Nairobi, E.B. Beetham.5 Officials adopted relatively relaxed attitudes towards indigenous musical performances. The “wellbeing” of colonized “tribes” mattered. The signature of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 launched the League of Nations whose Permanent Mandates Commission would thus keep an eye on how colonial governments treated colonized peoples. A new condition of trusteeship in the Covenant of the League stipulated that “the wellbeing and development of people unable to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world” was a “sacred trust of civilisation”. The “happiness” of Africans, conditioned by “good” imperial conduct, formed the object of debates in several international conferences (Lewis, 2000: 21–25).

  • 6 KNA PC/NZA/2/1/68, Provincial Commissioner Nyanza, Native tribes and their customs, Dancing, Drink (...)
  • 7 KNA DC/KSM/1/19/275, Law and Order, Letter from the Kisumu Urban Division to the Secretary, Nyanza (...)

4The “modern world” and the evolving colonial state concerned with Africans’ physical and mental health brought about transformations in some musical performance genres. Dansi, as Terence Ranger noted, was “an emulation of European ballroom music and dancing” performed on the accordion, mouth-organ, and guitar which emerged in the Mombasa hinterland in the late 1910s among the freed slaves (Ranger, 1975: 95–97). From the 1920s onwards, Pumwani Memorial Hall, built in 1924 by the municipality of Nairobi to improve Africans’ social lives in the African area of Nairobi Pumwani, hosted ballroom dances accompanied by dance-bands playing brass instruments, accordions, and triangles (Fredericksen, 2002: 226–229).6 The accordion and partner dancing, in particular, significantly influenced some indigenous musical and choreographic repertoires. By the 1940s, the dance genre onanda developed among the young Luo living in Nairobi and other towns of Western Kenya. The accordion central to the Gĩkũyũ mwomboko dance, mostly performed in Gĩkũyũ rural areas, created a happy atmosphere which had an “enthralling” effect on young men and women. Musical dialogues between the city and the countryside, most especially between Nairobi and the Gĩkũyũ districts, had an element of fluidity partly resulting from workers travelling between the capital and their rural homes. By the 1940s, rural populations voiced their interests in having social halls or formal spaces to host guest bands and musicians who often circulated through the informal dancing clubs of the districts.9 In the 1950s, the evenings and weekend concerts of the Nyanza Social Orchestra at the Kaloleni Hall in Nairobi and the craze for the Cow Boys Band of Kisumu drew large attendances.7

5The radio, a powerful wartime medium for propaganda, played an important role in disseminating and popularizing dancing accordion music and dance-bands (Fredericksen, 1994: 25–28). Debates on music preferences of the weekly musical program of W.A Richardson, the Happy Hour Show, indicate that listeners often requested more accordion and “modern” music to be aired rather than the seemingly much less entertaining “native harp”. Hired and paid Africans were invited by the radio to play as part of orchestras composed of mandolins, violins, banjos, and guitars. The songs of American singer and Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson as well as South American tunes talking about love and hymns praising God “in different [vernacular] languages” gained the appreciation of the city and rural dwellers. Elders living in the countryside, however, often disapproved the so-called sexual content of some lyrics mentioning “kissing”. The imagined association between urban music, city life, ballroom dances, and even prostitution, elevated the rural hinterland as a place preserving moral standards, social decorum, and “traditions” (Fredericksen, 1994: 26–27). Some of these themes also fed the content of a number of Gĩkũyũ songs performed in 1940s Nairobi by men (Lonsdale, 2002: 221).

  • 8 Various Artists. 2010. Something is Wrong, Vintage Recordings From East Africa. London: Honest Jon (...)

6Developments in the recording industry allowed the diffusion of popular urban music. In 1931, EMI Music (Electric and Musical Industry Ltd), funded by the merger of the Columbia Gramophone Company and the Gramophone Company, with its “His Master's Voice” (HMV) record label, worked with a number of small and Nairobi-based recording companies such as the East African Music Stores, also known as Shankar Das and Sons. They were in charge of identifying the best musicians from different ethnic groups of Kenya and the distributing of sales. Luo tracks were recorded and became popular between 1938 and 1945. Record distribution was drawn from the HMV MA series 10” 78 rpm Native Records recorded in Kenya and Uganda between 1938 and 1957. EMI pressed them in Hayes, the United Kingdom, and sent them back for sale in East Africa.8 The recording activities of Gallotone, HMV, Odeon, and other companies were keen to increase sales of records in East Africa and the gramophones needed to play them. The GV records of the imported styles of cha-cha-cha, bolero, samba, mambo and rumba, which came from South America, the Congo and Europe, proved popular. After the war, guitarists such as Fundi Konde, Ally Sykes, and Paul Mwachupa recorded several Swahili guitar songs (Okumu, 2000: 145–148). By the 1950s, the recording industry turned dance-band musicians into stars. Popular African urban musical styles eventually contained influences coming from the Americas and by the influx of Congolese musicians.

  • 9 KNA VQI/26/4, Native Officers of Loyalty, War Welfare Activities, 1939–1945, Seventh Progress Repo (...)
  • 10 IWM Sound Archives Oral History 19630, Eric Basil Burini (interviewee), Harry Moses (recorder).
  • 11 KNA VQI/26/4, Native Officers of Loyalty, War Welfare Activities, 1939–1945, Letter from DC DL Mor (...)

7From the beginning of the Second World War, and especially post–1945, an increasingly interventionist colonial state evolving within an interconnected world sought to ensure that Africans also maintained their “tribal” identities through their “traditional” musical performances. Urban Africans, free from the control of elders, and “without the guidance and sanctions of local custom,” were viewed as detribalized and therefore “dangerous” (Fredericksen, 1994: 3). Fears that askari who had been exposed to new worlds and tastes during wartime returned home disconnected from their “tribal” self were very real. To cultivate the “tribal” identities of African soldiers and carrier corps, films often copied in South Africa and broadcasted through mobile units featured “scenes of native life”.9 It is likely that askari had some evening occasions to engage in ‘their particular tribal dances’ and it seems that these were the only moments during which they “separated into their tribal groups”.10 But evidence also demonstrates that key important logistics were used to send some performance paraphernalia coming from the rural homes of askari to the theatres of war. When not provided for free by Africans strongly encouraged to support the war effort, the Welfare Fund purchased drums, shields, spears, bows, and arrows.11

  • 12 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Traditional Dances and Choirs 1954–1973, Ministry of Community Development and (...)

8The East African Army Education Corps educated many askari, and before shifting into government hands, the army initially ran the curriculum of Jeanes School.15 Over 600 askari were trained as Jeanes School teachers between 1941 and 1943. The Jeanes School program, one can argue, was an avenue through which to cultivate Africans” “tribal” identities. Aspiring teachers were indeed taught “some instruction in language, music, drama, sports and games” destined primarily to instill “some pride in traditional forms of expression” in them and equip students with tools to “develop them into new idioms” (Mindoti and Agak, 2004: 156; Fredericksen, 1994: 11). Graham Hyslop, appointed in 1957 colony music and drama officer, designed a music and drama course for social workers and maendeleo assistants who included Jeanes School teachers.16 To “develop” indigenous musical performances and drama, the Department of Community Development organized indigenous music, dance and drama festivals and competitions throughout the 1950s – one being literally called in 1958 Maendeleo Colony Singing and Drama Festival. Competitions exhibiting each “tribe” through their music and dances were organized on district, provincial, and national levels. The resulting folklorization of indigenous musical and choreographic genres was intertwined with concerns for their preservation against aggressive “modernity”. Hyslop justified his role and state-funded initiatives as necessary to “develop or revive that zest and enjoyment for life which was such a feature in the old Africa and which [was] unfortunately now tending to disappear”. These cultural enterprises, it was hoped, would compensate for “the abandonment of many traditional forms of entertainment”. “Reviving” and “developing” “traditional” performances was presented as an imperative for if “traditional Africa vanished,” Hyslop believed, people would ultimately “suffer”.12

  • 13 KNA DC/MUR/3/10/2, Personal Assistant to the Chief Native Commissioner, Nairobi, to all the PCs, ‘ (...)

9Colonial fashioning of folklore must be contextualized within wider interests and developments in folk music and dance. Written documents, photographs, and films show the demands from 1950s Hollywood directors to use African “traditional” performers in cinematographic productions. The Akamba acrobatic dancers were the most sought-after “tribal” performers. Famously, Hugh Tracey, the founder of the African Music Society based in Johannesburg and director of African Music Research toured Kenyan rural districts in 1950 to record indigenous African musical performances for the purpose of creating “interest in the objectives of the African Music Society”. Provincial Commissioners (PCs) collected information on “areas where noteworthy indigenous musical talent was to be found, and especially of local musicians, singers, story-tellers and poets considered worthy of recording”. The tour was successful partly because “efficient arrangements had been made for the assembling of musicians and dancers at various stations”. Moreover, “the hospitality afforded enabled the party to make a very large number of recordings”.13 Evidence does not say if Hyslop was aware that there had been a vivid international interest for folk music and dance since 1947. Preserving the performed cultures of African “tribes” could be part of this development. The International Folk Music Council (IFMC), affiliated to UNESCO through the International Music Council, was founded in London in 1947. The then defunct International Folk Dance Council, created in 1935 in London under the aegis of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the British National Committee of the Commission Internationale des Arts Populaires (CIAP), convened the event. Although a folk dance committee had been formed to deal with questions relative to terminology and notation, the term folk entailed song, dance, and instrumental music. One of the aims of the IFMC was to “assist in the preservation, dissemination and practice of the folk music of all countries […] to promote understanding and friendship between nations through the common interest of folk music” (Karpeles, 1965: 308–311). These measures were perceived as vital because:

“Folk music [was] disappearing as a traditional art… Immediate steps [ought to] be taken to preserve our remaining heritage, not only for our own use, but for that of posterity….in any analysis we must always remember …that the living organism of folk music is not to be found in the stereotyped notation or even in the mechanical recording, but only in the fleeting creation of the singer, dancer or instrumentalist” (Karpeles, 1965: 309).

  • 14 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Institute for Development Studies, Cultural Division, Un (...)

10Although Africa had no representative at the 1947 meeting, these rationales for the preservation of folk musical “traditions” strikingly echoed the ones Hyslop would articulate a decade later. The 18th conference of the IFMC eventually took place in Ghana in 1966. The following year, it was held in Oostend, Belgium. There participants had the opportunity to visit the collection of musical instruments of the Brussels Conservatory and the Royal Museum of Central Africa.14

“Traditional” musical cultures, nation building, and the marginalization of popular music

  • 15 KNA AAT 4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Ministry of Education, Inspectorate, Kenya Music Festiva (...)

11Upon independence in 1963, Kenya under Kenyatta built upon colonial-fashioned folklore to engage in cultural debates on nation building. The nation was to be built from the “traditional,” from the rural preserved vestiges of the most “authentic” cultures, from below. The rhetoric of the first president on nation building was rarely empty of terms denoting the virtues of the rural hinterland. The rural home was a place where life could restart. It was a place where one could find spiritual regeneration. Nation building entailed notions of spiritual awakening and hope for the future. Kenya’s “traditional” musical heritage, from the perspective of government officials, mostly entailed the songs heard in the rural hinterland and sounds produced by the stringed, wind, and percussion instruments. State-funded festivals promoting indigenous music celebrated musicians from various ethnic groups committed to cultivate the nation’s musical “traditions”. The Kenya Music Festival, for instance, was held annually through competitions during which artists – performing in groups or individually – were first selected at the district and provincial levels prior to eventually competing in the national contest finals in Nairobi. Out of these popular events came “the best of traditional tunes from all tribes”.15

  • 16 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Office of the PC of Western Province, Kakamega, to the Permanent Secretary, Off (...)
  • 17 See George Senoga-Zake, Folk Music of Kenya (Nairobi, 1986); P.N. Kavyu, An introduction to Kamba (...)
  • 18 KNA AAT 4/13, Ministry of Education to Mr J.J. Karanja, Ministry of Community and Social Services, (...)
  • 19 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from J.N. Olum Oludhe, London, to the Permanent S (...)

12The cultural renaissance project dealt with questions about the preservation of cultural heritage and the transmission of interest and pride in “traditional” performances to future generations. Some administrators and Kenyan academics were provided with the logistics and institutional means to collect “traditional” musical performances in the rural hinterland. To facilitate the recording of “the dances and songs typical of African culture,” the government equipped the PCs and District Commissioners (DCs) with tape recorders and cameras so that the country would “have in store a great deal of [its] miserably vanishing culture”.16 The 1977 publication of P.N. Kavyu on Kamba music and the 1986 book by George Senoga-Zake on the folk music of Kenya were products of these fieldwork recordings.17 A musician himself, Senoga-Zake had been part of the entertainment unit of the King's African Rifles and would become a founding member of the original popular music ensemble the Rhino Band in the 1950s (Okumu, 2000: 145–148). Under the chairmanship of Hyslop, he joined the commission in charge of arranging the music and writing the text of the national anthem of Kenya in 1963. He was subsequently appointed as Director of Music at the Kenyatta University College. Senoga-Zake was involved in the design of the 1972 primary school syllabus for music given for teachers’ training at the Kilimambogo Teachers’ College, located in the district of Kiambu. Teachers, who were required to establish contacts with local musicians so as to encourage appreciation for “traditional” musical instruments, were instructed to “promote the respectability of genuine African folk music and ensure its continued practice” (Senoga-Zake, 1986: 11). Pupils listened sounds from Africa and Kenya to cultivate national pride.18 It was hoped that they would become the next generation to champion the dignity and the identity of the African, for these “traditional” songs were deemed to “convey the true picture and personality of the African” (Senoga-Zake, 1986: 11). Experts in “traditional” music were also trained outside Kenya. J.N. Olum Oludhe, among others, was offered a scholarship by the Ministry of Education to study Luo linguistics in the United Kingdom. By 1968, he had completed his degree in the Luo language and African music at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and envisaged to start a course on European Music at Trinity College.19

  • 20 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Ministry of Co-operatives and Social Services, Nairobi, to all Provincial Direc (...)

13The fabrication of musical performance folklore in the 1960s and 1970s Africa was by no means an exclusively Kenyan phenomenon. Some early postcolonial states such as Tanzania, Guinea, and Senegal have formed the subject of studies on the fabrication through dance and/or music of their respective “traditional identity” and national cultures (Castaldi, 2006; Askew, 2003; Edmondson, 2007; Andrieu, 2007; Straker, 2009). State-sponsored folk musical ensembles and ballets, whose instrumental composition and choreography tapped into all “traditions,” practices, and symbols of various ethnic groups of newly independent nations elevated rural cultures as symbols of an “authentic” pre-colonial past. National ballets, folk ensembles, and festivals endowed several postcolonial states with a political and cultural legitimacy abroad and at home. Kenya did engage with intra-continental debates on Africans’ cultural renaissance. Due to a lack of funds, no Kenyan artists attended the 1969 First All African Cultural Festival in Algiers. But the Kenyatta government sent “traditional” musicians to represent the country at the 1972 Second All Africa Cultural Festival held in Kinshasa and titled “Africa 1972: Highlights of Development in African Arts and Culture”.20Music and dance, as mediums to penetrate a world of embodied representations, were potent tools in shaping nationalist ideology and in the creation of national subjects at home. Amina Mama has argued that “the apparatus producing national identities has remained relatively underdeveloped” in Africa, possibly owing to the co-existence of various ethnic groups, languages, and religions (Mama, 2007: 16). Yet, one cannot disregard the active role of musical performances in early postcolonial debates on nationhood and national identity.

  • 21 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Nairobi, to the PC of Eastern Province, Embu, (...)
  • 22 http://www.bomasofkenya.co.ke/
  • 23 Ibid.
  • 24 KNA PC/EST/2/2172, District Commissioner (DC) Nairobi to the Permanent Secretary, Office of the Pr (...)

14It is true that in the Kenyan context, research on embodied and aural expressions of nationalist thought, national identity, and state ideology have attracted scant attention. However, in 1966, officials did entertain the idea of creating “a truly National Troupe in the real sense of the word incorporating all forms of culture and its expression in a truly Kenyan or African context”. This cultural ensemble would include the “traditional” dances and musical genres of all the nation’s communities. Other expressive and artistic cultures classified as “indigenous” – such as story-telling, mock-wrestling, and warring – could be included in the company’s performances for local and overseas tourists. It was also envisaged that the troupe would entertain Kenyans during national celebrations.Yet, as the DC of Nairobi reported, no suggestions were made as to how “the interpretation of tribal or national feeling” would be expressed.21 Much fieldwork remained to be done to examine, for example, the bleeding of nationalist discourse and state ideology into performance, and the eventual discrepancies between the message propagated onstage and the everyday experiences of the masses. The Bomas of Kenya (BoK) possibly tended towards the idea of representing the nation on stage. Started by the government in 1971 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kenya Tourist Development Cooperation (KTDC), the BoK was established “to Preserve, Maintain and Promote the Rich Diverse cultural values of various ethnic groups of Kenya […] in their purest forms”.22 By the early 1970s, the centre had a resident troupe of dancers known as the Bomas Harambee Dancers. Between 1971 and 1973, the Afro-American choreographer Leslie Butler was entrusted to choreograph the dance-piece isukuti for the company’s repertoire (Kiiru, 2014: 2-3). Since the BoK promised “to act as a tourist attraction centre,” it was expected that the production of folklore and cultural tourism would generate economic development.23 The 1966 debates on a national performing arts group suggest that economic potentials through tourism was a far larger driving force than its promise to stand as a symbol of national identity and as cultural tool of national integration.24 Yet in projecting and representing Kenya through its embodied “traditions,” tourist performances became redolent of national heritage, conducive to engage in questions on national belonging and consciousness.

  • 25 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from John Lovell Jr, Washington D.C to the Perman (...)
  • 26 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from Isaiah D. Ruffin, New York, to Mr. T. W. Wan (...)

15The international enthusiasm for African folk remained significant after independence. Some of the cultural entrepreneurs who undertook personal or government-led research projects in Kenya construed Africa as an “authentic” place uneroded by the advance of “modernity” because there, as many thought, the rural, the folk, the local, the “ethnic,” and the “traditional” still prevailed. John Lovell, Professor of English at Howard University in Washington and under contract with a New York publisher to write a book on Afro-American spirituals and folk music, stated in 1970 that he planned to come “to Africa to hear as much native folk music as he could (live or on tapes), to examine available exhibits relative to the subject and to talk with experts in the field of the folklore of given regions”.25 The Ministry of Broadcasting and the Community Development staff sometimes provided cultural entrepreneurs with the logistic support to conduct their studies. Between 1966 and 1968, Isaiah D. Ruffin, an American music teacher in New York City coordinated a recording and transcription project of indigenous music at the request of the Kenyan government. But the language barrier, the unsuitability of equipment for outdoor recording, staff shortages, and the limited finances impinged upon the successful completion of the project. Frequent cabinet reshuffles meant that ministers initially involved in the venture lost interest in pursuing it for they were assigned new responsibilities. Since data archiving was difficult, the tapes, the music syllabi, and the reports Ruffin produced were eventually lost.26

16This local and global focus on Kenya’s rural performances highlights the issues of their presentation and representation. The audience, whose position encompassed that of the researcher and the tourist, played an active role in the context and the nature of the delivery of performance. The presence of this public forced the artists to adjust the performance within new and therefore transformed temporal and spatial contexts to sustain the interest of their audience. Artists also gave their visitors the chance to see, to hear, and to feel what they expected a “traditional Kenyan dance and music” performance was. This signifies that both performers and the visitors had significant roles in shaping the meaning of “traditional” oral, aural, and choreographic cultures.

17As a consequence of state focus on “traditional” music from the countryside and international music enthusiasts eager to “find” folk music, popular and mostly urban music attracted less interest from the government. As Malm and Wallis stressed in their report for MISC, Nairobi had become, by the early 1970s, the main East African business hub for the music industry. Musicians, entertainment promoters, and consultants from Europe, Zaire, and Tanzania travelled frequently to, or established themselves in the capital to boost their businesses. GV records of cha-cha-cha, samba, and mambo remained popular. Congolese rumba, soukous, and the guitar technique associated with these dance-music styles, confirmed their acclaim from the mid-1960s (Okumu, 2000:147). The Tanzanian Kiswahili jazz band tradition of borrowing electric instruments would hit Nairobians a decade later.

  • 27 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from Kenya National Union of Musicians (KNUM) to (...)

18But officials concerned with Kenya’s renaissance had a “problem” with urban popular music: “foreign” music played in the dancing clubs and the bars of Nairobi was believed to “kill Kenya’s traditional cultural image”.27 The correlation between the fast-growing capital, urban “Western” style music and dances kept on generating ideas on urban youth and women’s moral decadence among some men, officials, and elders. Certain songs performed by Gĩkũyũ men and heard in Nairobi of the 1950s still encapsulated these salient anxieties by promoting the virtues of rural life. These musical genres, authorities believed, could not “kenyanise” the nation. Some “Kenyan” urban musical styles thriving during the early postcolonial era were, nonetheless, rooted in “traditional” and indigenous musical forms. Recent popular genres were interdependent upon more ancient musical instruments, performance genres, and sometimes modes of socialisation (Watermann, 1990). The benga beat, for example, translated into meetings of past and present and highlights a more fluid dialogue between the city and the countryside. Tanzanian-born musician Daniel Owino Misiani, who moved to Kenya in the 1960s, is credited with popularising benga. Known as the “king” or “grandfather” of the benga, the electric bass guitars, a vocal solo and backup singers produce the benga groove. Benga is played with an elegance reminiscent of the nyatiti, an eight strings lyre mastered by the Luo in Western Kenya (Barz, 2001: 109–113). The style inspired other popular musicians. As Maina wa Mũtonya has examined in his study on Gĩkũyũ popular music, the artist singer Joseph Kamaru has famously borrowed benga as the base of a large number of his compositions (Mũtonya, 2013: 3).

19The commercial “foreign” music impeded the production and distribution of popular music produced by “Kenyans”. In the 1970s, a dynamic production of Gĩkũyũ music found a niche in downtown Nairobi on River Road, also named “little Murang’a”. Joseph Kamaru and H. M Kariuki, among others, regrouped themselves in collectives meant to articulate their needs as musicians and producers. By this period, some collectives, such as the Kenya National Union of Musicians, included “non-Kenyan” artists – mostly Congolese and Tanzanians who had been living in Nairobi for some time and obviously hugely influenced the creativity of the “Kenyan-born” musicians. Societies and composers lobbied to improve their conditions and fought for tighter controls in the diffusion of “foreign” music. They strove to increase their visibility both locally and internationally. When asking for government support in 1980, they were sent to banks for loans. Despite the dwindling state finances, early cultural-fighters in key ministerial positions did little to help local popular musicians in producing the country’s folklore.

Some conclusions

20Understanding some aspects of the “cultural rebirth” of Kenya in the wake of independence involves an examination of the relationship between the colonial state, the construction of Kenya’s “tribes,” and wider political and cultural developments. One should accept that the creation of indigenous musical “traditions” perceived “authentic” and their early folklorization did not begin with independence in 1963. Postcolonial Kenya under Kenyatta built upon colonial foundations of musical folklore. Research remains to be done on the eventual links between the nation-building project, folklore, and the legitimization of ideological and political claims. The continued international interests in Kenya’s folk “traditions” demonstrate how both early postcolonial states and global observers still construed Africa, until the late 1970s, as essentially rural. These dynamics, combined with the central role Nairobi maintained in the development and diffusion of popular and international music throughout East Africa, complicated debates on nation building. Although the following point has not been addressed in this paper, a discourse on development as comprehended by the colonial state, early independent Kenya, and of course the international community, generated other incentives to use musical folklore as a means to “define” Kenya.

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Notes

1 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, ‘A Short Presentation of MISC (The Music Industry in Small Countries).’

2 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, “A Short Presentation of MISC (The Music Industry in Small Countries).”

3 See Anette Hoffman (ed.), What we see: reconsidering an anthropometrical collection from Southern Africa: images, voices and versioning (Basel, 2009). This book engages with the songs of Namibians recorded on wax cylinders and produced with an Edison phonograph by the German artist Hans Lichtenecker in 1931. 5 KNA VQ1/28/10, Native Affairs 1920–1921, “Native Tribes.”

4 KNA VQ1/28/10, Native Affairs 1920–1921, “Native Tribes.”

5 KNA PC/NZA/2/1/68, Provincial Commissioner Nyanza, Native tribes and their customs, Dancing, Drinking and other excesses, Circular Letter from E.B. Beetham for Acting Colonial Secretary to all PCs and Officers in charge of the Northern Frontier, Turkana and Masai districts, 30 October 1934.

6 KNA PC/NZA/2/1/68, Provincial Commissioner Nyanza, Native tribes and their customs, Dancing, Drinking and other excesses, ‘Report on ‘Mwranda Dances’ in Central Kavirondo’, 24 August 1932. 9 Something is Wrong, Vintage Records From East Africa, Honest Jon’s Records, 2010.

7 KNA DC/KSM/1/19/275, Law and Order, Letter from the Kisumu Urban Division to the Secretary, Nyanza Social Orchestra, 4 October 1951.

8 Various Artists. 2010. Something is Wrong, Vintage Recordings From East Africa. London: Honest Jon’s Records.

9 KNA VQI/26/4, Native Officers of Loyalty, War Welfare Activities, 1939–1945, Seventh Progress Report Confidential, East Africa Command Welfare Activities-Report of Action as from December 1st to 31st May 1943.

10 IWM Sound Archives Oral History 19630, Eric Basil Burini (interviewee), Harry Moses (recorder).

11 KNA VQI/26/4, Native Officers of Loyalty, War Welfare Activities, 1939–1945, Letter from DC DL Morgan to the Directorate of Pioneers and Labour, HQ’s East Africa Command, ‘Native Weapons’, 31 August 1944. 15 American Quaker philanthropist Anna T. Jeanes funded the Jeanes Schools in 1908. Virginia Estelle Randolph designed the model program which trained, until 1968, Afro-Americans who then taught black pupils a vocational education they considered better than the one they had in the American South. 16 Maendeleo means ‘development’ in Kiswahili.

12 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Traditional Dances and Choirs 1954–1973, Ministry of Community Development and Rehabilitation, Nairobi, to the PC of the Southern Province, Ngong, ‘Circular concerning the Colony Music and Drama Officer Mr. Hyslop’, 13 April 1957.

13 KNA DC/MUR/3/10/2, Personal Assistant to the Chief Native Commissioner, Nairobi, to all the PCs, ‘Circular on African Music’, 27 June 1950.

14 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Institute for Development Studies, Cultural Division, University College of Nairobi to Hon. J. Nyagah, M.P, Minister for Education, ‘The 19th International Folk Music Council Conference at Ostend, Belgium, from 26th July to August 1967’, 12 June 1967.

15 KNA AAT 4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Ministry of Education, Inspectorate, Kenya Music Festival, Nairobi, to all the Provincial Community Development Officers, circular letter on ‘Kenya Music Festival’, 20 April 1970.

16 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Office of the PC of Western Province, Kakamega, to the Permanent Secretary, Office of the President, Nairobi, ‘Kenya Image’.

17 See George Senoga-Zake, Folk Music of Kenya (Nairobi, 1986); P.N. Kavyu, An introduction to Kamba Music (Nairobi, 1977).

18 KNA AAT 4/13, Ministry of Education to Mr J.J. Karanja, Ministry of Community and Social Services, ‘Music Course-Kilimambogo Teachers College 17th-21st April 1972’, 11 April 1972.

19 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from J.N. Olum Oludhe, London, to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Nairobi, ‘My Application for Scholarship to study Music 1969/70’, 29 November 1967.

20 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Ministry of Co-operatives and Social Services, Nairobi, to all Provincial Directors of Social Services, 3 August 1971.

21 KNA PC/EST/2/21/2, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Nairobi, to the PC of Eastern Province, Embu, ‘National Dancers’, 13 June 1966; Office of the PC, Nyanza Province, to the Permanent Secretary, Office of the President, Nairobi, ‘Formation of a National Troupe’, 12 September 1966.

22 http://www.bomasofkenya.co.ke/

23 Ibid.

24 KNA PC/EST/2/2172, District Commissioner (DC) Nairobi to the Permanent Secretary, Office of the President, ‘Formation of National Troupe’, 19 September 1966.

25 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from John Lovell Jr, Washington D.C to the Permanent Secretary, Minister of Cooperatives and Social Services, Nairobi, 3 December 1969.

26 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from Isaiah D. Ruffin, New York, to Mr. T. W. Wanjala, Chief Cultural Officer, Department of Social Services, Nairobi, 8 March 1979.

27 KNA AAT/4/14, Kenya Society of Musicians, Letter from Kenya National Union of Musicians (KNUM) to the Minister for Co-operatives and Social Services, 14 August 1971.

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Cécile Feza Bushidi, « Reflections on the fabrication of musical folklore in Kenya from the early 1920s to the late 1970s »Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est / The East African Review, 50 | 2015, 8-21.

Référence électronique

Cécile Feza Bushidi, « Reflections on the fabrication of musical folklore in Kenya from the early 1920s to the late 1970s »Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est / The East African Review [En ligne], 50 | 2015, mis en ligne le 07 mai 2019, consulté le 27 novembre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/eastafrica/287

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Auteur

Cécile Feza Bushidi

Ph.D Candidate in History, SOAS, Isobel Thornley Junior Research Fellow, IHR, University of London.

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Droits d’auteur

Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est / The East African Review

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