On Saturday, November 23, 2019, Fena Gitu, simply known as Fena, launched her second album, Unleashed, 10 years after her debut in the Kenyan music scene. Going by the turn out for the event, Fena's fans and admirers, dubbed 'Fenatics', had been eager to sample this album that was five years in the making.
Fena has undoubtedly made a name for herself in the male-dominated rap genre, a genre that until very recently hardly acknowledged female talent.
The rap genre is a prickly space for female talent. Even globally, rap is male-dominated and the music is mostly a callous blend of conceit, misogyny, glorified drug use, and deviance. Even with musical talent, women going into this genre need tough-skin and a willingness to adapt. Very few have managed to remain relevant for more than a decade.
Before Fena and female rappers such as STL, Wangechi, Xtatic, and Muthoni Drummer Queen graced the rap scene, pioneer rappers such as Nazizi and Lady S had struggled but succeeded in making a name for themselves. The pioneers were relentless in representing their gender (even with Nazizi's tom-boy looks).
As new female talent came up, they found a more receptive audience.
Fena has proved that she can create great music in a range of genres including afro-pop and kapuka. She has adapted to new styles, created good music and grown her fan base, all this, with little to no scandal. Like most artistes, she has a few slightly-conceited songs, but with her success streak, she has probably earned a few bragging rights. Unlike most rappers, however, she has stayed clear of 'diss' tracks and overly boastful lyrics.
She chooses, instead, to make feel-good music that praises women, love, and fun-loving Kenyans. Her music often includes lyrics borrowed from older Kenyan songs, perhaps as a way of paying homage to pioneer Kenyan musicians.
At the album launch, it was evident that Fena is a rebel in her own way. Her outfits were rather casual, with fancy hats and a walking staff that didn't leave her hand the entire night (probably for support but most likely a statement piece). Her urban outfits push boundaries and are a far-cry from the blue (or purple) dress she wore in the video for the song, Dutch, in 2013.
She also chose not to be preceded by any curtain raisers (the norm in most concerts). For this event, the crowd was kept on their feet (for four hours) with live mixes from DJ Jo Kisila. There were, however, several guest performances at intervals during her performance. Artistes like Elani, Mayonde, Kagwe Mungai, Xenia Manasseh, Karisma, Xtatic, and the Art in Motion dance group, shared the stage with the songstress.
The colourful audience was an unusual mix of young and middle-aged people, who danced, drank and smoked for the better part of the night. This is perhaps proof that Fena's music cuts across different generations. The limited seating in the rooftop setting was a tactic meant to ensure that the crowd danced limitlessly. And dance they did!
Ten years in the music industry have not been easy for Fena Gitu. Despite being a seemingly private woman, she has not been spared harsh criticism, insensitive speculations, and even the occasional social media vilification. But if her album launch was anything to go by, this vibrant, rhyme-spinning artiste is here to stay.
Fena has proved that she is relentless, authentic and, well, simply phenomenal.