Best Of 2013: Music (Kenyan)
2013 was a very eventful year for all stakeholders in the local music industry. The most positive trend that emerged over the past 12 months saw artists exploiting less common means of getting their products to the masses such as digital and mobile-based downloads. Investing in creating a strong social media and web presence also proved vital for the must successful of the bunch. Another great trend that emerged was our more serious contribution to the afro-house and afrobeats movements which seems to be the only thing the entire continent is jamming to at the moment.
Without wasting more time (we’re already late, we know) here’s our compilation of some of the best in Kenyan music over 2013.
Album of the Year
Karun – Lady Karun
It is safe to say the members of Camp Mulla have been dealing well with the group’s breakup in mid 2013, each embarking on solo projects and collaborations. Lead vocalist Lady Karun sought to (re)define herself through a self-titled debut album, the product of work with Sound Mind producer Jaaz Odongo (read our review HERE). Proper hype was generated in the lead-up to the album launch through the Ladybug Project web series and when the final product was launched in August, there really wasn’t anything to be disappointed about. Karun was solid through and through. It contained all the essential ingredients necessary to make any album a great listen – great production, versatility in content, thoughtful lyrics, good choice of collaborations and a vocal performance that confirmed to us that indeed Karun was all grown up now. More importantly, we believe the album has the staying power to stay relevant well into 2014 if bolstered by some music videos.
Honorable Mention: Urban Prayers – Rigga
Rigga’s Groove Awards nominated album was an ambitious project centered around the concept of prayer from the perspective of urban youths today certainly struck a chord with many. The two lead singles from it, Sina Chorus and more recently Ring Finger, summarize the effort put into production and lyricism, making it our fave gospel album of 2013.
Mixtape / EP of the Year
Imaginary Chains EP – Adeiyu
The painfully underexposed duo that comprise Adeiyu simply blew us away with this four track EP (read our review HERE). What makes this Imaginary Chains so good is the way in which it is both deeply inspiring and heart wrenching in a way that we can only describe as the sound of wounded angels. This was probably the best 20 minutes of Kenyan music recorded in 2013. We will repeat this fact a million times if we have to.
Honorable Mention: Consume: Chakula Ya Soul – Wangechi
While it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, the promotion and marketing behind the mixtape that introduced the world to Wangechi was outstanding (read our review HERE and our list of the samples used HERE). Zack Adell’s covert art made anyone with functional eyes want a copy of that mixtape. The very concept of an 18 year old girl spitting rhyme over 90s hip hop beats was enough to stir a buzz. Its release also coincided with a point in time when digital audio market Waabeh was in a critical stage of its promotion among the masses. The subsequent partnership between Provoke Music and waabeh to distribute the mixtape proved beneficial for both parties. As a result, Consume easily became the most popular mixtape of the year having 30,000 plays and downloaded a little over 4,470 times.
Artist of the Year
It has been a great year for Octopizzo who continues to be the choice rapper of the youthful masses. He’s released three singles that have had massive airplay and featured in three other tracks including Sage’s So Alive and Just A Band’s Dunia Ina Mambo. Furthermore, he was one of the featured artistes in the just concluded first season of the awesome live music show Coke Studio Africa. He has also been at the top of performance lists of quite a number of key events both within Kenya and abroad such as Niko Na Safaricom Live 2013 and the Uwezo Fund launch. The Kibera bred rapper was also among the year’s top earners of digital music distributor Mdundo and music royalties collected by the MCSK.
His lyrical content is definitely not as potent now as in his mixtape and battle rap days but he sure has discovered a winning formula of combining above par productions, great hooks and straightforward but memorable verses which endear him to his ever growing multitude of young fans.
Honorable Mention: Rabbit
Now this is an artist who is well skilled in the art of pleasing the masses with great sounding productions and the purists who actually listen to hip hop for its emphasis on lyrical skill. The effort Kaka Sungura exerts to come up with serious and skillful bars cannot go without recognition. He also played a hand in introducing us to a bunch of female rappers we may have never heard of in his remix to Ligi Soo. Always forward-thinking, he already has a head start for 2014 through his recently released double album entitled Before The Success | The Success Begins Now which is available at Mdundo.com.
Group/Duo of the Year
These lads managed to stay relevant in 2013 despite a generally lukewarm reception of most of the material off their Sauti Sol EP in 2012. They responded by bouncing back in 2013 with two huge hits in Still The One and Money Lover which helped them bag two nominations at the Channel O Music Video awards. They still continue to get first pickings for performances at top events in the country and all over the continent.
Honorable Mention: Sarabi
This eight-piece band has shown tremendous growth over the years since its inception in 2005. Finally, Sarabi is enjoying its moment right at the top alongside all the big names in afro-fusion performance circles. The extra icing on the cake is their self-titled debut album which they’ve recently launched via waabeh.com.
Muthoni The Drummer Queen
Muthoni’s deal with Standard Group to digitally distribute her second album MDQ on their platform straight to fans’ computers and mobile phones was the most eye-opening (and eye-popping) developments of last year’s entertainment scene. Just like Jay Z’s massive million copy deal with Samsung for his Magna Carta Holy Grail album, Muthoni’s out-of-the-box approach solved the perrenial marketing headache associated with album launches and also raked in a bit of cash even before the first track was official released.
Kitu Sewer on Wanasiasa
Music, just like any other form of story telling art is, to quote Chinua Achebe, ” meant to be enjoyed, to appeal to that part of us which enjoys good form and good shape and good sound.” Kitu Sewer The Poet, with his well-wrought experience rapping for years under the Mashifta banner and other collaborations, is a prime example of how sublime lyricism plays an indispensable part of what makes hip hop music enjoyable and yet informative. His verse on Wanasiasa (read our review HERE) dealing with a topic he has mastered – the intrigues of dirty politics and failed government – has all the necessary ingredients to pass his message in an enjoyable an unforgettable way. Few can weave a tale full of satire, metaphor and rhyme like this emcee.
Honorable Mention: Khaligraph Jones on Fuck Off
Khaligraph’s three minute, no-holds barred verse over Jesus Piece beats in which he came at everyone from fellow rappers to us critics to even innocent bystanders like Jua Cali is still fresh on our memory. We’ll even dare to say that this was our version of Kendrick Lamar’s Control (kinda!) without any official responses from local emcees. Looks like K.Jones had the last laugh.
Beat of the Year
Duog Dala – Electrique DJs ft. Nina Ogot & Jaaz Odongo
Sound Mind’s Jazz was simply in his optimal zone while constructing the instrumentals for Duog Dala that feature the ever fabulous Nina Ogot. “Construction” is the right word to use in this case given how multi-layered this production was, giving us a taste of so many genres and influences in a single track without any traces of pandemonium. Our review of the track easily foresaw that this would be the beat of the year.
Honorable Mention: Hivo Ndio Kunaendaga – Majirani, Kenrazy & V6
Grandpa Records’ chief producer V6 played a significant role in the rise of the label throughout the year, as he churned out great beats for hits such as the Fimbo and Kamua series. His best producing moment was on Hivo Ndio Kunaendaga. He whipped up some seriously addictive beats for this release, complete with samples of Maasai vocals, an impressive synergy with the lyrical content and some well timed variations to make this track the club banger that it is.
Music Video(s) of the Year
Jellyfish – Maia von Lekow (Cinematography)
Maia von Lekow’s visuals for Jellyfish, her latest single, is such an explosion of colour and life, you will be hard pressed to find a local music video as beautiful as this one. Its amazing camera moments, variety with the types of shots used, the beach side location and the dreamy atmosphere of frolicking in the sea make the video instantly captivating. It is a total feast for the eyes and our choice for the most visually stunning music video of 2013.
Sheria – Sarabi ft. Juliani (Concept)
The visuals to this seven minute collabo between rising afro-fusion band Sarabi and emcee Juliani matched the fiery lyrical content of the song right down to a tee. it is controversial, it is defiant and it pulls no punches. It had a simple yet effective concept of the classic rounding up of Kenyans by police in a symbolic protest of the people against failed government institutions. Towards the end it turns things around and acts as a mirror on Kenyan society which conveniently forgets when it is wronged AND when it does wrong.
You Guy (Dat Dendai) – P. Unit ft. Collo (People’s Choice)
Well, this track was a club anthem for a huge chunk of the year and helped P. Unit bag a Channel O Music Video Award towards the end of the year. It also fuelled a curiously infectious trend of making sure music videos featured video vixens with butts so huge they’d give them a pet name – I think they’re called “socialites” or something.
Collabo of the Year
Ligi Soo (Remix) – Rabbit ft. Jay A, Mejja, Chiwawa, Madtraxx, Petra, Shikow FemOne, Razz, Lyra Aoko & Wangechi
While it was the most buzz worthy collabo of the year (read our review HERE) thanks to the sheer number of artists featuring in the lineup, the track itself was not as exciting as it was theoretically meant to be. However, it was interesting to note how much harder some of the newer female rappers performed a few notches above their more seasoned male counterparts.
Honorable Mention: Badder Than Most (Remix) – Redsan ft. Demarco
While Wyre proved that collaboration opportunities with our Jamaican brethren was getting more diverse courtesy of his track with Alaine, it was Redsan’s Badder Than Most remix that has been comparatively more successful. He brought in Demarco (one of Jamaica’s most recognizable dancehall stars) for the reboot to what was probably the year’s best local dancehall track. It’s a pity that an official video has not be dropped yet to give this track the extra mileage that it deserves.