The Nairobi entertainment scene is arguably one of the most vibrant and diverse in East Africa. Interestingly, hoods within the city are distinctly identified with a particular genre of music, particular musicians and particular studios.
From secular to gospel, here is the city and sounds from the estate:
South C: The late E-Sir and the rise of Kapuka
Nairobi’s South C, a middle class estate that borders its neighbour, Nairobi South B to the East, Lang’ata to the West. South C, home to the headquarters of the Red Cross and several sports clubs like the Kenya Motor Sports Club, is famous for churning out artistes.
South C created Boomba music now Kapuka, which is basically the incorporation of hip-hop, reggae and traditional African influences into Swahili and Sheng lyrics.
Artistes who made it a household name include the late Issah Mmari (E-Sir of the ‘Mos Mos’ fame who died in a road accident in 2003), Nameless (David Mathenge), Big Pin (Crispin Mwangale) Habib and Manga, the Longombas and the late K-rupt (Carlton Juma who was murdered in 2003). Indeed, South C became a forerunner of Kenya’s hip hop music largely due to the Ogopa Djs stable, its distinct Kapuka sound and runner way successes like E-Sir and Nameless who created a musical tradition besides being role models.
Also identified with South C was E-Sir’s deft use of the Swahili language in his lyrics. His death resulted in a gap with aspiring artistes taking to studios to fill it, like his brother Habib.
South B: Music of proximate convenience in good studios
Its proximity to South C has had its spill over effects as in this estate nestled north of South C. It is a tile roof middle class affair surrounded by rusty corrugated iron sheet shanties of Fuata Nyayo slums and Mukuru kwa Njenga. Popular artistes from South B include; Judith Nyambura (Avril famed her 2010 song Chokoza featuring Marya), Amani (Cecilia Wairimu popular hit Missing My Baby), Kenzo (Kennedy Omondi) and his debut hit song Mama Milka) Redsan (Swabri Mohammed), Mustapha (Daudi Mustapha) and Kipepeo hit singer Jaguar (Charles Njagua).
Speaking to The Nairobian Jaguar argues that South B has churned all these artistes because its convenient to live and work there besides hosting some of Nairobi’s best recording studios including Main Switch, Boomba Video, Ketebul music and Ulopa. The Go Down Art Centre on Dunga Road also provides a free live performance stage.
Dandora: Birth of Kalamashaka and death of hardcore rap
For its array of hip pop artistes, Dandora is referred to as Nairobi’s hip pop city.
Five-phase Dandora is situated in eastern Nairobi between Kariobangi, Baba Dogo, Gitare Marigo and Korogocho slums.
Dandora was in the musical limelight in the 1990s largely through the defunct Kalamashaka, a group consisting of musicians Otero ( Robert Matumbai), Kama (Kamau Ngigi) and Johny (John Vigeti) founders of Kalamashaka, literary meaning “we have eaten problems”. Dandora bred homespun musicians via hip-hop, a rebellious genre, that Kalamashaka turned into a powerful tool of educating youth by singing about everyday realities through their crossover hardcore rap, Tafsiri Hii in 1997.
Kalamashaka, besides their songs that influenced politics with social consciousness, also founded The Mau Mau Camp that helped many talented artistes to perfect their song craft in Dandora like gospel big hit Juliani (Julius Owino) and Mashifta (Kitu Sewer and G-wiji). Gidi Gidi (Joseph Ogidi) and Maji Maji (Julius Owino) also lived in Dandora. K-Shaka’s popularity waned with the emergence of the more danceable Genge.
Mathare Valley Slums: Gospel in the heart of a hardship area
The Mathare Valley slums mushroomed along Juja Road with people coming to Nairobi after independence in 1963. With no work, women took to chang’aa brewing in the 1970s, and gradually Mathare became a byword for anything delinquent, illegal. Mathare Valley and its neighbour Mathare North have spurned gospel artistes though.
Kevin Bahati was inspired to gospel music by problems in the slum while Willy Paul, an award-winning artiste from Mathare North, took up gospel to overcome the myriad temptations in the ghetto where Eko Dydda (Eko Dida) also hails from.
Huruma: Gospel replacing football?
‘Be My Faithful’ (BMF) founded in 2000 is from Huruma estate more famous for producing footballers like the Mulama brothers than music.
BMF comprises Mizzile (Fredrick Ouma), Sammy Dee (Samuel Main), Harry Ash (Harrison Ashioya) and Maich (Patrick Maina). Church was a big influence in picking gospel. Mizzile recalls how they met at the Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) Church Huruma where they worship and he admits gospel in slums has a lot to do with churches being safe heavens attracting the unprivileged background.
Carlifornia: Genge gang up hiphop from FruityLoops
The home of Genge music, California neighbours Majengo to the north and Eastleigh in the south and comprises of private house owners and municipal council housing.
Genge means “masses” and the hip hop of the masses comprised hip hop and dancehall infused with local elements and blended with lewd conversational rapping in songs like Manzi wa Nairobi, Wee Kamu, Nyundo, Kamata Dame, morale and Under 18. “Calif” created Genge through Scratch studios and Clement “Clemo” Rapudo’s Calif Records in his mother’s sitting room that put Calif on the musical map via what musicians called “beat ya Clemo.”
Never mind it was created using FruityLoops software, it nevertheless produced some of the biggest names in local hip hop. We are talking Nonini (Hubert Nakitare), Juacali (Paul Nunda), Pilipili (Peter Gatonye) and Mejja (Meme Hadhija), Flexx (Michael Mwangi) and the late Lady S. (Sharon Wangwe) who died in a road accident in 2007.