Monday, July 6, 2009

My 10 favorite Kenyan songs

I normally spend my July 4th weekends going to a bunch of Ghanaian events. Because of the present recession, I couldn't make the trip to DC unfortunately (and it was gonna be double the price with my brother around), so I settled with being in the Bay Area. My July 4th party agenda? Hit up the young Kenyan ladies association signature party of the year. Hey, Barack Obama is Kenyan if you forgot. I ended up attending a West African (Senegalese) party that rocked and crashed the Kenyan gig at its end. My favorite Ladybug was stuck in Boston anyway. Talking about Boston, it is the city where I was introduced to Kenyan music. And this whole LadyBug stuff is bugging me to represent Kenya in my ongoing 10 song list. So here we go. Twende.

Before that, you have to check out my 10 favorite songs from South Africa, my 10 favorite Nigerian songs and 10 African songs I think you should know about. If you can find a Tusker joint near you, have a drink on me. I will e-pesa you some chapaa later. You may discover your next favorite song. Click the songs to find the lyrics, video, audio, etc.

Sinzia - Nameless (R&B)
This is one of the more popular songs from East Africa in the last few years. I first heard about Nameless' music when I was at MIT through my Kenyan friends. He was also the first African musician whose concert I attended in the US. Loved his music and when Sinzia came out in 2006, I was excited because I'd been waiting for something new. He didn't disappoint. The lyrics of Sinzia became the water-cooler talk and the I think the lady in the video is mrembo. :-) "I wish I could be your shoe; I would have such a beautiful view; And if I was the slit on your dress; My goal in life would be to aim for the highest; If only I could be your body lotion;
I would walk with undivided devotion". Wicked vibes. Which kind of artiste calls himself Nameless? He is such a fine individual though. Sinzia means daydreaming, he must have been thinking about his wife, Wahu (a major Kenyan musician) with whom he has a child.

Liar - Wahu (R&B)
Wahu was at that concert too and she had us singing along to this song at the top of our voices. "He is a liar, a liar; He is a liar, oooh!" "Oh oh oh mama, what am I gonna do?" And the song features a few lines from her hubby, Nameless. An interesting exchange actually given the time the song came out. Wahu recently won MTV Africa's best female artiste which is a very big deal. After this Liar track in early 21st century, she resurfaced with Sweet Love in 2008 which was a massive success. "If you see him before I do, just tell him he's a liar"

Dreamer - STL (Hip-hop)
I heard about Stella Mwangi just last year. She's been based in Norway for a while now and has been one of the best female emcees there. Her 'Dreamer' track is just the kind of song I enjoy. All I need to hear is this "What are stars for if not to be aimed at?; What are we here for if not to believe that?" Inspirational. She's a great rapper and I admire how she's doing her best to market herself back home. "Don’t wanna drawn in life I wanna elevate; I’m baking a bigger cake, so need a bigger plate; but when you aim high, they call you a dreamer; They called Oprah the same, but now have you seen her"

Karibia - Nameless (Afro-pop/R&B)
More Nameless, this time he does a duet with Burundian superstar, Kidumu. I just love the way they sing 'reke muekere'. And 'Mahanjam, mahanjam, zinapanda'. And then it gets louder and even louder. Nameless combines Swahili and English so beautifully.

Queen - Longombas (R&B)
Longombas is a duo of Christian and Lovy who are Awilo Longomba's nephews. They grew up in Kenya so are normally referred to as Kenyan musicians and they sing a lot of in Kiswahili. They are famous for many party tracks (following their famous uncle) but my most popular number from them is this lovely RnB track. And they sing in English, it's just so different from what we are used to hearing from them, and they absolutely score. I thought this song would become big like African Queen, but so far, nada. You can start selling it with lyrics like "Every day is a brand new day;
Everytime that I see your face; You are my everything and anything that I will ever need in this world"

Kwaheri - Jua Cali (Hip-hop)
I won't even lie, but this song is really about the singing that Sanaa does. Sanaipei is a great singer and Jua Cali got some great flow and awesome lyrics. Thought Sanaa was hot in the video too and the chorus is fantastic. I was rather disappointed when JuaCali came to perform in the Bay Area and came without Sanaipei Tande. Bummer. Kwaheri means 'bye' in Swahili. Sanaa is from the group Sema, which disbanded. Loved their Mwewe album, one of my all-time favorites. It was given to me by a fine Kenyan msichana who I've lost contact with. Not cool.

Mpenzi (Hakuna Matata) - Swahili Nation (R&B)
I know this is a personal favorite of many, including some non-East African friends. I love the singing on this one and how the English and Swahili lines are combined. Mpenzi means 'love' in Swahili. Do you remember Hakuna matata from Lion King? "Mpenzi, hakuna matata; Kila kitu kitawa sawa sawa; My lover, you don't have to worry; Everything will be alright". This part always gets me - "Something needs to be D O N E".

Bless my room - Necessary Noize (Reggae)
My 'out-of-coverage-area' Kenyan friend also gave me Necessary Noize's CD which had this brilliant track. It's one of my favorite songs to listen to. "Bless ma room when I wake up early in the morning; Say a prayer and I feel okay". Wyre and Nazizi have gone on to do solo albums, and I've loved both efforts. Also enjoyed that Fire anthem with Uganda's Bebe Cool. They should reunite some more boomshaka tracks like this one.

Niwe wako - Nikki (R&B)
This song is sung so much more emotion and makes for great listening. "I'll die a thousand deaths for you; Bring you the earth, the sun and the moon". Serious business. Nikki's a good singer, and this track is my favorite from Kenya's R&B ladies.

Twende twende - Eric Wainaina(R&B)
"There’s more to Mama Africa; Than poverty and war; I wish we had a fighting chance;
To show off who we are" Here, Eric Wainaina features Zimbabwean great, Oliver Mtukudzi. Twende means 'let's go'. You should check the lyrics and see the translations to the Kiswahili parts, it has a marvelous message. Eric needs to release his music videos though.

Sunshine - Nameless(R&B)
I am going to end this list with another Nameless song which will push out a bunch of other artistes but they'll get a mention later. I still haven't seen an album with the Sinzia song but Nameless is the master of hit singles. His latest is a duet with Habida and I heard the track the very first time, I knew it was going to be a hit. "When I look in your eyes; I see, I see the sun shining bright; When I see your smile; I feel the sunshine; You are my sunshine". Lovely.

These are the first 10 songs that came to mind. If I remember one injustice that I missed, I will comment about it. Just like last time, I want to list a few honorable mentions. Wahu's Sweet love was arguably the biggest Kenyan hit of 2008. I love Gidigidi Majimaji's Ting Badi Malo. Boomba Clan's Chonga viazi has to be one of the funniest songs I've heard to date. I am always wondering what the Kenyan party jams are, but one of them is Ogopa Anthem by Colonel Mustafa. Look up Ogopa Deejays. Also check out Nameless' Ninanoki, Wailai and Deadley. Real lyrics from Wailai - "Oh, why are you playing with my psychology; Oh, When am liking your biology". I also love Sema's tracks - Ngoma, Heaven, Fire in your kiss, etc.

I also love Longombas' Piga Makofi and Vuta Pumz (a party track but about AIDS. Other favourites are Homesick (Wawesh), Leo ni leo (E-Sir), What would you do (Wiwy), Swing swing, Psycho & Magnetic (Kleptomaniacs), Feels good (Didge), Besame mucho by Valerie Kimani, etc.

Next time you hear that Kenyans are jamming, don't be left out, these songs should give you a headstart.

Long live Kenyan music.
Long live African music.
Long live Africa.
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