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Published:May 22nd, 2006 21:56 EST
Long Road to Fame For Kenyan Teens

Long Road to Fame For Kenyan Teens

By Francis Karugah

Just like in most countries, teens in Kenya do seek stardom and money. But getting there is a big challenge for most, especially those new to the industry. But why is this, you ask? I went out and talked to several “upcoming artists”, as they prefer to called. This is their story. Meet Maxwell Mbaria. He is 18 years old and in high school. He pays for his production cost and his parents are okay with him pursuing his musical career. Izekial Mwangi is also 18 years old; he also pays for his production costs his parents are also okay with him pursuing his dream, he says. Finally, meet Arthur Gitau, 20 years old. He, too, pays for his production costs, but is not sure his parents want him to be pursuing music as a career.

However, he says he also wants to pursue movie production. Each of them has recorded one song, and is due to be released soon. I ask them what are the challenges they know they will face. Mbaria identifies the number one challenge as the pirates who copy their music and sell it at very cheap rates, and the artists get nothing. He says it is very hard to compete with them when your original CD will cost 600 shillings and the fake is 150 shillings. I ask, why would people buy original CDs from international artists if they prefer the fake in their case? Mwangi admits that the international CDs do measure up to their value, but most Kenyan CDs don’t, because of the high production cost one would incur. And he says they cant afford such large amounts of money (750,000 shillings for a proper album). They need sponsors if they are to live off their music. Gitau says sponsors are hard to get, since most people with the money to finance think it is a big risk to invest in music as the returns take long to be realized. So is it a risk?

He says it depends on which genre, because they are different genres for different age groups, and the older generation-- which is rich-- prefers afro pop fusion, making those doing that genre very rich. Is it the content of their songs or the creativity that determines the success of the artists? He says "yes", but argues their content is okay if their songs are given airplay by radio stations, which he says discriminate against new artists. Stephen Wanaina, producer and owner of Vunja Kiuno productions, says stations consider the quality of the track and the vocal skills of the artist, but admits some stations do discriminate songs from little known production houses. He also says some radio presenters and producers do ask for money to play your song on air. How can all these problems be solved? He says the government should step in and stop piracy, sponsors should give the young an opportunity, and he says stations should be fair.

Most people I talked to say the quality of Kenyan music is indeed poor, and to get noticed they should up their game. Others said that the reason they don’t buy Kenyan music is that the lyrics lack creativity and some of them don’t even have vocal skills. Mixed into one, makes very unpleasant listening. Kelly Obonyo says the reason Kenyan artists are not succeeding is because they are not giving music the seriousness it deserves... leading to poor songs. He says most of them should go for vocal training and ensure they can at least play one instrument, as most Kenyans now prefer that live feeling in songs.

I asked Mwangi, Mbaria and Gitau if any of them can play any instrument. Mwangi says he can play the guitar and the piano, Mbaria says he is learning the drums, and Gitau says he can only play one instrument-- fruity loops!