Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta Wants to Meet Musicians, but Who Qualifies?

Photo: Le Pays
Uhuru Kenyatta
19 October 2018

When President Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking at the funeral of benga singer Joseph Kamaru on October 11, invited musicians from Murang'a County to State House, promising to "slaughter" something for them, he could not have imagined the eventual complexity of what he was proposing or the controversy he was fomenting.

An invitation made on impulse and one presumably intended for only Mt Kenya performers is reported to have drawn the interest of more than 10,000 people! What was intended as a small barbecue party for Kamaru's protégés aborted and suddenly boomeranged into what could become a national convention.

That high level of interest must have overwhelmed the people planning the meeting, originally scheduled for Tuesday, October 16. Clearly, this was no longer a Mt Kenya affair - the requests for passes to the forum must have come from all over the country, and maybe even the diaspora. So the planners decided to put off the gathering indefinitely.

WHO QUALIFIES?

The planned forum got us wondering: Does Kenya really have 10,000 musicians or is State House exaggerating the numbers to justify the expenditure for the coming jamboree? Who qualifies to be described as a musician? Would, for example, a deaconess from Nyagatugu, Murang'a, who put out a gospel CD that she peddled at funerals count as a musician? How about a part-time songwriter who pens lyrics under an alias?

The more we thought about the matter, the more complicated it became. We empathise with the planners. And if we want to help the President, we will first have to define what we mean by "musician".

At the top of the list of true musicians we should jot down recording artistes and performers - people who make a living from their music. We should probably leave out songwriters and composers who write for others but don't perform the music themselves. Also to be excluded are teachers of music. That should whittle down the number considerably.

HOW MANY MUSICIANS DO WE HAVE?

But that still leaves unanswered the question of how many musicians Kenya has. A near-enough answer could help the President and his people plan a successful forum. It would also allow us to appreciate how big an industry music really is in this country.

We thought the answer must be lying somewhere. As it happens, there is an outfit called the Music Associations Alliance of Kenya, which we are told was registered in 2016, bringing together eight regional associations of musicians. There is also the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK). Wouldn't these organisations and others know how many musicians we have in Kenya?

Unfortunately, it does not look like the Music Associations Alliance has an office, or even a website, though we can see a Facebook page (with 143 "likes"). So that looks like a dead end. And the website of MCSK? It looks colourful and serious, but we can't find the numbers there either.

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