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Florida State University Libraries
Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations
The Graduate School
Composing Civil Society: Ethnographic
Contingency, NGO Culture, and Music
Production in Nairobi, Kenya
Matthew McNamara Morin
Follow this and additional works at the FSU Digital Library. For more information, please contact [email protected]
A Dissertation submitted to the
College of Music
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Awarded:
Fall Semester, 2012
Copyright © 2012
Matthew McNamara Morin
All Rights Reserved
Matthew McNamara Morin defended this dissertation on November 6, 2012.
The members of the supervisory committee were:
Frank Gunderson
Professor Directing Dissertation
Ralph Brower
University Representative
Michael B. Bakan
Committee Member
Douglass Seaton
Committee Member
The Graduate School has verified and approved the above-named committee members, and
certifies that the dissertation has been approved in accordance with university requirements.
To my father, Charles Leon Morin.
I miss our conversations more than ever these days.
Through teaching, you made a positive difference
in so many lives.
First and foremost, I thank my wife and soul mate, Shino Saito. From coursework to
prospectus, to a working fieldwork honeymoon in Nairobi, through the seemingly endless
writing process to which you contributed countless proofreads and edits, you were an integral
contributor to anything good within this text. I am looking forward to the wonderful years ahead
with our new family member, and I hope to show the same support for you that you have shown
me. I could never have imagined that I would be lucky enough to to have someone like you in
my life.
I owe a very large debt of gratitude to all the friends, professional acquaintances, and
advisers who assisted me during my fieldwork in Kenya. Thank you to Dr. Leonard Mjomba, his
wife Maria, and his whole family who provided a crash course in the logistics of life in Kenya.
From matatus to manners, Professor Mjomba was a sage and mentor. To Humphrey Ojwang, my
esteemed in-country academic advisor at Nairobi University, with your insight, guidance, and
connections to so many of the individuals featured in this dissertation, every day of fieldwork
was filled with new adventures and amazing developments. To Tabu Osusa and the whole
Ketebul team, you inspired us every day we spent with you. I hope this document will stand as a
testament to the legacy that is Tabu Osusa. A special thanks to Steve Kivutia for graciously
providing the sort of cultural consultancies that only someone of your insight, experience, and
position could provide. I don't know what we would have done without you. Thank you to all the
Ketebul musicians and staff for answering my endless questions and allowing us to loiter and
video record all those days at the studio. Patrick Ondiek, Jesse Bukindu, Willie Gachuche,
Makadem, Olith Ratego, Priscah Wairimu Nyambura, were immensely helpful in this regard. An
especially big debt of gratitude is also owed to Samba Mapangala and his manager, CC Smith.
Samba, you are an indomitable musical force and legacy. Thank you from the bottom of my
heart for spending time with us and answering our questions. CC Smith, thank you for all of your
input, expertise, and logistical support arranging for us to interview Samba. We hope to honor
your hard work here and throughout the years to come.
To my ingenious advisors at Florida State University, how can I ever repay you? Dr.
Michael B. Bakan, your boundless energy and brilliance keeps me striving for new directions in
ethnomusicological research. You are always growing and changing. Dr. Douglass Seaton, you
have become a role model educator and scholar to me. The selfless efficiency with which you
operate is a blueprint for participation in academia that I will forever aim to manifest. Dr.
Benjamin Koen, you have taught me to always seek the essence of life and remain in a state of
play with the rules and norms of this world, regardless of profession or rank. To Dr. Denise Von
Glahn, thank you for inspiring me to reach across disciplinary divides and remain emotionally
connected to the process of research and scholarship. To my primary advisor, Dr. Frank
Gunderson: what a privilege it has to study under such a giant mind in this field. There are no
words to express my gratitude. Someday I hope to repay you by producing work that honors the
rigor and dedication that you yourself have dedicated.
To my brilliant graduate colleagues at Florida State University, thank you for making the
Florida State University Musicology program a community to which I will always remain proud
of. Of particular relevance to the completion of this dissertation, a big thank you to Lisa
Beckley-Roberts, Damascus Kafumbe, Plamena Kourtova, Todd Rosendahl, Pete Hoesing, and
Jennifer Talley. Finally, an enormous thanks to my fearless copy-editors Twyla Wolfe, Plamena
Kourtova, Matt Henson, and Kayleen Justus-Kerg.
Finally, last but certainly not least, thank you to my mother, Anne McNamara, I never
ever could have come to this point without your help, guidance, and encouragement to always
follow my dreams. Any success and joy I will have as a result of completing this degree, I owe
mostly to you. To my sister, Alexis Hopkins, one of the best people I’ve ever known, your
friendship throughout the years has grounded me like no other. Because of you I truly have come
to respect the value of family.
List of Figures ............................................................................................................................. xiii
List of Musical Examples ........................................................................................................... xvii
Abstract ..........................................................................................................................................xx
INTRODUCTION: COMPOSING CIVIL SOCIETY ............................................................1
1.1 Purpose and Argument ...................................................................................................1
1.1.1 A Contingent Excerpt of NGO Music Culture in Nairobi ....................................3
1.2 Theory: Positioning a Theory of Ethnographic Contingency ........................................7
1.2.1 Contingency in Historiographical Perspective: Rhetorical, Variable, Reflexive,
and Interdisciplinary ......................................................................................................8 Rhetorical Properties of Contingency ....................................................8 Variable Properties of Contingency .......................................................9 Contingency as Pragmatically Reflexive .............................................10 Contingency as Interdisciplinary .........................................................13
1.3 Research Methodology: A Contingent Ethnographic Method.....................................13
1.3.1 Research Development Timeline ........................................................................14 Phase One: Secondary Sources and Internet Resources at Florida State
University, September 2008-June 2010 ...........................................................14 Phase Two: Cultural Immersion, Observation, and Interview-Based
Research in Kenya, September 2010-December 2010 ....................................16 Phase Three: Participant Observation with Ketebul Music,
December 2010-May 2011 ..............................................................................18
1.3.2 From Fieldwork to Text: Themes Drawn from the Research Process ................20
1.4 Literature Review.........................................................................................................21
1.4.1 Contingency in Ethnomusicology .......................................................................22
1.4.2 Contingency in Anthropology.............................................................................22
1.4.3 Contingency in Historical Studies ......................................................................23
1.4.4 Contingency in Behavioral Psychology ..............................................................23
1.4.5 Contingency in Organizational Theory ...............................................................25
1.4.6 African Music Sources ........................................................................................25
1.4.7 Globalization and World Music Sources ............................................................28
1.4.8 African NGO Sources .........................................................................................30
1.4.9 Organizational Studies Sources ..........................................................................31
1.5 Background ..................................................................................................................33
1.5.1 Nairobi as a Location of Contingent Cultural Intersection .................................33
1.5.2 Precolonial Cultural Intersections .......................................................................34 Early Settlers and Migrations...............................................................34 Transcontinental Trade Routes ............................................................35 Religious Missionaries .........................................................................35 Kiswahili: Language for Cross-Cultural Communication ...................35
1.5.3 The Colonial Period and the Early Urbanization of Nairobi ..............................36
1.5.4 Post-Independence and Construction of the Nation State...................................37
1.5.5 Recent Struggles of National Politics and Ethnicity ...........................................38
1.5.6 Nairobi as a Site of Global Intersections of Music Culture ................................39 Precolonial Music-Scapes and Diverse Ethnic Heritages ....................39 Postcolonial “Folk” Music Preservation and Presentation .................40 Nairobi as a Hub for Global Intersections of Popular Music...............40
Chapter Outline: A Contingently Structured Text .......................................................43
1.6.1 Part 1 ...................................................................................................................43
1.6.2 Part 2 ...................................................................................................................44
INDUSTRY INITIATIVES ..................................................................................................47
2.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................47
2.2 NGO Culture Development .........................................................................................49
2.2.1 Marx, Das Kapital (1867), and the Paradox of Global Civil Society .................49
2.2.2 The Rise of the NGO ..........................................................................................50
2.2.3 International NGOs in Africa..............................................................................51
2.2.4 Kenyan NGO Development and Policy ..............................................................54
2.3 NGO Music Culture Contexts......................................................................................57
2.3.1 The International Popular Music Industry and the Spread of NGOs
into Africa ....................................................................................................................57
2.3.2 Historical Contexts of NGO-Oriented Music Culture in East Africa .................59
2.3.3 Civil Society-Oriented Music Organizing in East Africa ...................................60 Harambees ...........................................................................................60 Tanzanian Labor Associations .............................................................60 Ngoma Healing Associations ...............................................................61 Beni Ngoma Dance Associations .........................................................62
2.3.4 Civil Society Ethos in East African Music Performance ....................................62 Indigenous Music Practices for Civic Benefit Purposes ......................62 Locating “Folk” Music ........................................................................63 Examples of Public Benefit-Oriented Musical Heritage of Luhya,
Gikuyu, Kipsigi, Luo, and Maasai Culture Groups .........................................64
2.3.5 Music as Protest ..................................................................................................66
2.4 Conclusion ...................................................................................................................67
CULTURE-SCAPE ...............................................................................................................69
3.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................69
3.2 Locating NGO Music Culture ......................................................................................70
3.2.1 Mapping Global Civil Society ............................................................................71
3.2.2 NGOs as Representatives of Global Civil Society .............................................72
3.3 Classificatory Criteria ..................................................................................................73
3.3.1 General Criteria ...................................................................................................74 Identifying a Network ..........................................................................74
4. NGOs as Global Civil Society Revenue Gatekeepers .........................75
3.3.2 Specific Criteria ..................................................................................................77
3.3.3 Contentious Criteria ............................................................................................77 For-Profit Organizations as Civil Society Organizations?...................77 No Board of Directors? ........................................................................78
3.3.4 Descriptive Approach .........................................................................................78
International Organizations ..........................................................................................79
3.4.1 Ford Foundation, Eastern Africa Region ............................................................79
3.4.2 Goethe Institut Kenia .........................................................................................80
3.4.3 Gatwitch Records ................................................................................................82
3.4.4 Alliance Française de Nairobi.............................................................................83
3.4.5 Abubilla Foundation ...........................................................................................85
3.4.6 Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI) ............................................................86
3.4.7 WOMEX .............................................................................................................88
Kenyan-Based Organizations ......................................................................................89
3.5.1 GoDown Arts Centre ..........................................................................................89
3.5.2 Sarakasi Trust......................................................................................................91
3.5.3 Purple Images Productions .................................................................................93
3.5.4 Kenya Music Week .............................................................................................95
3.5.5 Blankets and Wine ..............................................................................................97
3.5.6 The Kenya Conservatoire of Music ....................................................................98
3.5.7 Mayeli ...............................................................................................................100
3.5.8 Kijani Kenya Trust............................................................................................101
3.5.9 Drum Café .........................................................................................................102
3.5.10 Art of Music Foundation.................................................................................104
Conclusion .................................................................................................................105
RELOCALIZATION OF EAST AFRICAN POPULAR MUSIC ......................................106
4.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................107
4.2 Decline: Destabilization of the Mainstream Kenyan Popular Music Industry ..........108
4.3 Adapt: Strategies of Music Production and NGO Economy .....................................110
4.4 Rise: NGO Music Culture Networks .........................................................................116
4.5 Remembrance: Advocacy for Past and Present Local Music Culture .......................118
4.6 Conclusion .................................................................................................................121
5.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................124
5.2 Introducing a Fieldwork-Based Study of Ketebul Music .........................................125
5.2.1 Contingencies of Contact in the “Field” ..........................................................125
5.2.2 Reaching for Applied Dimensions of Participant Observation ........................126
5.3 Ketebul Music, A Brief Overview ............................................................................127
5.3.1 Mapping Space and Place ................................................................................127
5.3.2 The Staff ...........................................................................................................129
5.3.3 The Artists ........................................................................................................129
5.3.4 The Board of Directors .....................................................................................130
5.3.5 A Brief Organizational History.........................................................................131
Ketebul Music, Afro-Fusion, World Music Discourses, and Musicological
Critique ......................................................................................................................135
5.4.1 World Music Discourse and Musicological Critique........................................135
5.4.2 World Music Industry Recast as Subversion to Global Capitalism..................137
Conclusion ................................................................................................................138
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TABU OSUSA .........................................139
6.0 Conceptual Signpost ..................................................................................................139
6.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................139
6.2 Individual as Agent of Cultural Change ...................................................................141
6.2.1 Childhood and Polycultural Influence .............................................................142
6.2.2 Early Migrations: Preparing a Life of Continual Reinvention and Relocation 143
6.2.3 Individualism and Agency: Musical Protests at the Seminary .........................145
6.2.4 Resilience and Resolution .................................................................................146
6.2.5 Musical Apprenticeship: Journey to Kinshasa ..................................................149
6.2.6 The Virunga Years: Recollections of Tabu Osusa and Samba Mapangala ......151 Apprenticeship to Practice: Forming Kenya’s Top Band………….. 151 Innovation to Survive: Reincarnations of Virunga through War and
Displacement………………………………………………………………..155 Quality Control: Setting Standards for Musical Performance ...........159
6.2.7 Music and Politics .............................................................................................160
6.2.8 The Immigrant Experience: Life in the United Kingdom and
Returning to Kenya ....................................................................................................161
6.2.9 Seeds of the Afro-Fusion Movement: Formation of Nairobi City Ensemble ...162
6.2.10 HIV/AIDS and A Lost Generation .................................................................164
6.2.11 Music Studio as Culture Weapon: The Formation of Ketebul Productions ...166
6.2.12 Commercial to Nonprofit: Ketebul Music Turns NGO ..................................168
6.3 Conclusion ................................................................................................................169
MAKADEM AND OLITH RATEGO ................................................................................170
7.0 Conceptual Signpost ..................................................................................................170
7.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................171
7.2 Constructing Afro-Fusion: The First Ketebul Music Artists ....................................172
7.2.1 Afro-Fusion as a World Music Industry Gateway Genre ................................173
7.3 Makadem ...................................................................................................................174
7.3.1 “Nyaktiti:” Fusions of Instrumental Style.........................................................177
7.3.2 “Nyaktiti:” Linguistic Fusions ..........................................................................182
7.3.3 “Ohangla Man:” Narrative Fusions ..................................................................184
7.3.4 “Ohangla Man:” Memories of Global Encounter .............................................187
7.3.5 Lessons in “Ohangla Man” ..............................................................................187
7.3.6 Commercial Liminality and “Vernacular” Genre Breaking .............................188
7.3.7 World Music Industry Marginalization ............................................................191
Olith Ratego ...............................................................................................................193
7.4.1 Social Contingencies of Contact: Olith Ratego Joins Ketebul Music .............196
7.4.2 (Re)Invention of Tradition ...............................................................................198
7.4.3 Narratives of Female Empowerment in Dodo and Osuga ...............................199
7.4.4 False Promises of Financial Opportunity .........................................................202
7.4.5 The Persistent Presence of False Promises in Ratego’s Life ...........................204
Conclusion ................................................................................................................205
KENYAN MUSIC INITIATIVE ..........................................................................................207
8.0 Conceptual Signpost ..................................................................................................207
8.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................207
8.2 The Development of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music Initiative .................................208
8.3 Socio-Institutional Convergences of Genre Construction .........................................209
8.4 Marketing Cross-Cultural: Volumes One and Two ...................................................211
8.5 Bridging Divides and Reconciliation: Volumes Three, Four, and Five ....................213
8.6 Social Politics and Institutional Partnerships ............................................................216
8.6.1 Alliance Française .............................................................................................216
8.6.2 Alliance Française, Kenya ...............................................................................217 Why Kenyan Culture? Why Afro-Fusion? .......................................218 “The Institution and Not the Individual” ..........................................220
8.6.3 Ketebul Music ..................................................................................................221 The Politics of Studio Aesthetics ......................................................224
8.6.4 Kenyan Department of Culture ........................................................................226
8.6.5 Sponsors and Marketing: The French Embassy and Total Oil ........................228 French Embassy ................................................................................228 Total Oil ............................................................................................228 Sponsorship as Marketing .................................................................229
8.6.6 The 9th European Development Fund Grant ...................................................232 Vital Voices and Culture ...................................................................232 Lake Turkana Region and the Lake Turkana Festival ......................235 Call for Proposals (CFP) ...................................................................237
8.7 Conclusion .................................................................................................................238
BUKINDU ...........................................................................................................................240
9.0 Conceptual Signpost ..................................................................................................240
9.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................240
9.1.1 Studio Ethnography ..........................................................................................241
9.2 The Creation of Gargar and Somali Identity in Kenya ..............................................243
9.3 The Production of Garissa Express (2011) ..............................................................246
9.4 Digital Production and (Ethno)Musicological Representation ..................................248
9.4.1 Vocal Segmentation .........................................................................................250
9.4.2 Instrumental Infusion .......................................................................................252
9.4.3 Signifying Foreign Locals and Parallel Otherness............................................257
9.4.4 Fusing “Traditional” and “Modern” ................................................................258
9.4.5 Post-Production ................................................................................................259
9.5 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................261
POSTCOLONIAL HISTORICAL DISCOURSE ...............................................................262
10.0 Conceptual Signpost ..................................................................................................262
10.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................262
10.1.1 Synopsis of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) ...........................................264
10.1.2 Synopsis of Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) ....................................265
10.2 Social Processes of Historical Documentary Production...........................................266
10.2.1 Funding ..........................................................................................................266
10.2.2 Forging Lineages of African Discourse .........................................................267
10.2.3 Media Production and Self-Directed Mentorship ..........................................270
10.2.4 Research and Information Gathering .............................................................271
10.2.5 Post-Research .................................................................................................275
10.3 From Process to Product: Textual Analyses of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008)
and Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) ......................................................................278
10.3.1 Subversion of Popular Discourse in Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) .....279 The King of Benga ..........................................................................279 Historical Narratives of Ethnic Exchange .......................................279 Kenyan Influences in East African Rumba .....................................280
10.3.2 Polyvocality in Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) ....................................281 The Origins of the Word Benga ......................................................281 Competing Early Influences ...........................................................282 Varied Perspectives on Style ..........................................................283
10.3.3 Reconciliation and Cultural Hybridization in Retracing Kikuyu
Popular Music (2010) ....................................................................................284 Fluid Culture in Joyce Nyairo’s Preface to Retracing Kikuyu Popular
Music (2010) ..................................................................................................284 Colonial Suppression .......................................................................285 Post-World War II Influences ..........................................................285 Rise to Popularity on the National Stage ........................................286 The Emergence of Mugithi ..............................................................286 “One-Man Guitarist” Controversies ................................................287 Kikuyu Popular Music in Cyberspace .............................................287
10.4 Conclusion .................................................................................................................287
CULTURE ...........................................................................................................................289
11.1 Introduction ................................................................................................................289
11.2 Balancing Broad and Specific, Macro and Micro, Global and Local ........................290
11.2.1 Macro and Micro Contingencies: Making the Case for an Oppressive
and Hopeful World ....................................................................................................290
11.3 Deconstructing Representation ..................................................................................291
11.3.1 Locating Meaning in the Contingent Realm of Global Culture ......................292
11.4 A Contingency-Induced Pragmatically Reflexive Statement ....................................292
11.4.1 Locating True North: Humility and the Ethics of Contingency .....................293
APPENDICES .............................................................................................................................296
A. EXTENDED TRANSCRIPTIONS OF ANALYZED RECORDINGS .................................296
B. HUMAN SUBJECTS APPROVAL ......................................................................................303
DEVELOPMENT CALL FOR PROPOSALS (CFP) .................................................................304
D. ORAL SOURCES ...................................................................................................................309
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................312
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................................................................................................330
Figure 1.1: The Kenyan Afro-Fusion artist Makadem, performing at the Blankets and Wine
concert series in Nairobi on 05.03.11 ..............................................................................................3
Figure 1.2: Founder and Executive Director of Ketebul Music, Tabu Osusa..................................5
Figure 1.3: Map locating Nairobi (marked by the green pin) within the East Africa
Community (shaded yellow). Map created using Google Maps....................................................33
Figure 2.1: Dr. Leonard Mjomba, Kenyatta University Professor of Communications ................48
Figure 2.2: Kiswahili and Akamba language instructor and NGO cultural consultant Mary
Nzokia ............................................................................................................................................52
Figure 3.1: Brian Owango performing Brazilian capoeira (left) and Indian dance (right) ...........69
Figure 3.2: Map and corresponding key indicating the locations of Nairobi NGO music culture
organizations and initiatives documented in this chapter. Map created using Google Maps ........74
Figure 3.3: Chief Financial Officer of Sarakasi Trust James Munga discussing funding and
partnerships at Sarakasi Trust ........................................................................................................76
Figure 3.4: Ford Foundation-funded Ketebul Music documentaries Retracing the Benga Rhythm
(left) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (right)........................................................................79
Figure 3.5: Kenya - Germany collaborative dance performance at Goethe Institut’s Inboda Dance
Work Shop at GoDown Arts Centre on 02.26.11 ..........................................................................80
Figure 3.6: A performance at the Gatwitch Peace Festival on 12.04.10 by Nairobi’s Pamoja
Dance Troupe, a nonprofit performing arts group comprised of individuals with physical
disabilities ......................................................................................................................................82
Figure 3.7: Koko Band performance raising awareness to fight deforestation at the Alliance
Française de Nairobi’s Garden Stage on 11.26.10 .........................................................................83
Figure 3.8: Ayub Ogada performing at an Abubilla Music-Ketebul Music partnership concert at
Sippers Restaurant on 03.27.11 .....................................................................................................85
Figure 3.9: Flier for JMI’s World Bank-funded Fair Play: Live and Direct Concert held at the
Sarakasi Dome 04.29.11 ................................................................................................................86
Figure 3.10: Screen capture of the VirtualWOMEX online networking platform main page .......88
Figure 3.11: The GoDown Arts Centre’s promotional booklet picturing the main performance
Figure 3.12: Sarakasi Dome performance space............................................................................91
Figure 3.13: The Zimbabwean theatre troupe Rooftop Promotions performing “Rituals” for
Purple Images Production’s All Africa Peace Festival on 12.05.10 ..............................................93
Figure 3.14: Makadem of Ketebul Music performing at the 2010 Kenya Music Week on
Figure 3.15: Blankets and Wine director, Muthoni the Drummer Queen, and Dela performing at
Blankets and Wine XXI on 11.28.10 .............................................................................................97
Figure 3.16: Program for the Kenya Conservatoire of Music’s Christmas performance of One
King on 12.12.10 ............................................................................................................................98
Figure 3.17: Youth acrobats from Nairobi’s Huruma and Ongoza urban settlements performing
at the Tandawazi Festival 12.29.10-01.04.11 ..............................................................................100
Figure 3.18: Photo of Kijani Kenya Trust’s Nairobi Orchestra performing at the 2008 Kijani
Festival .........................................................................................................................................101
Figure 3.19: Call for Papers for Drum Café’s 2010 Peace Arts Festival/Conference on 09.2021.10.............................................................................................................................................102
Figure 3.20: Art of Music Foundation’s Kenyan National Youth Orchestra ..............................104
Figure 4.1: Busara Promotions board members, staff, and Executive Director dance to Samba
Mapangala’s “Zanzibar” at the opening ceremony of the 2011 Sauti za Busara Festival ...........106
Figure 4.2: Tabu Osusa (left) and Samba Mapangala (right) at Alliance Française, Nairobi on
03.03.11 ........................................................................................................................................118
Figure 4.3: Song text and translation to Mapangala’s “Zanzibar” (2011) ...................................118
Figure 5.1: The entrance to Ketebul Studios ...............................................................................127
Figure 5.2: Ketebul Music facility ...............................................................................................128
Figure 7.1: Makadem discussing the aesthetics of his music ......................................................176
Figure 7.2: Nyatiti accompanied by ohangla. Still image from the Ketebul Music documentary
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) featured in Chapter 10 .......................................................178
Figure 7.3: Lyrics to the chorus and first verse of “Nyaktiti” .....................................................183
Figure 7.4: Opening spoken word introduction to “Ohangla Man”.............................................184
Figure 7.5: Spoken word interlude to “Ohangla Man” ................................................................185
Figure 7.6: Chorus to “Ohangla Man” .........................................................................................185
Figure 7.7: Call-and-response refrain A of “Ohangla Man”........................................................186
Figure 7.8: Call-and-response refrain B in “Ohangla Man” ........................................................186
Figure 7.9: Olith Ratego discussing his personal history and musical composition ...................194
Figure 7.10: Chorus and first three verses to “Wa Mama” ..........................................................200
Figure 7.11: Untitled dodo song text transcription (Opondo 1996: 213) ...................................201
Figure 7.12: Chorus and verses one and two of “Awuoro”(translation by Olith Ratego and Steve
Kivutia) ........................................................................................................................................203
Figure 7.13: The flier listing Olith Ratego and Ogoya Nengo as featured performers to appear
with Sven Kacirek at the 2010 Ese Festival in New York City ...................................................205
Figure 8.1: Album cover to Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Two (2006). ...........................212
Figure 8.2: Album cover of Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Three (2007) .........................214
Figure 8.3: Album cover of Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Four:
Unity in Diversity (2008) .............................................................................................................214
Figure 8.4: Tabu Osusa and Helene Bekker, Executive Director of Alliance Française, accepting
a Total Oil donation to the 2011 Spotlight on Kenyan Music ......................................................230
Figure 8.5: Total Oil logo at the 12.10.10 Spotlight on Kenyan Music concert performance of
Ben Kisinja and Chebin Band ......................................................................................................231
Figure 8.6: Logos for French Embassy and Total Oil on a flyer for the 12.10.10 Spotlight on
Kenyan Music concert ..................................................................................................................231
Figure 8.7: Flyer for the Spotlight on Kenyan Music “Art Synergies for the Empowerment of
Communities” Program (2011) ....................................................................................................236
Figure 9.1: Jesse Bukindu discussing his approach to music production in the Ketebul Music
Studio ...........................................................................................................................................241
Figure 9.2: Album cover of Garissa Express (2011)...................................................................243
Figure 9.3: Jesse Bukindu operating the Logic pro software.......................................................248
Figure 9.4: Photo of iron leg rattles used by Akamba ethnic group ............................................256
Figure 9.5: Gargar performing at the 2011 Sauti za Busara Festival...........................................259
Figure 10.1: Cover art for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (left) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular
Music (right).................................................................................................................................263
Figure 10.2: Steve Kivutia (left) and Patrick Ondiek (right) .......................................................271
Figure 10.3: Patrick Ondiek in the Ketebul Music editing room.................................................275
Figure 10.4: Photos of the CD/DVD packages of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (left) and
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (right) .....................................................................................276
Figure 10.5: Photos of the informational booklets of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (left) and
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (right) .....................................................................................277
Figure 10.6: Steve Kivutia in the Ketebul project management room ........................................277
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copyright law. Listening to the audio and video excerpts requires Adobe Reader 9 or greater. The
latest Adobe Reader is available to download for free at http//
Musical Example 7.1: Audio excerpt of D.O. Misiani’s “Lala Salama” (1973) .........................176
Musical Example 7.2: Notated excerpt of the repeated side stick pattern from D.O. Misiani’s
“Lala Salama” from the album Great Hits from Nairobi Vol. 2 (1973) ......................................177
Musical Example 7.3: Notated excerpt of the repeated closed hi-hat pattern from Makadem’s
“Nyaktiti” on the album Ohanglaman (2005) .............................................................................177
Musical Example 7.4: Audio excerpt from introduction to Makadem’s “Nyaktiti”....................179
Musical Example 7.5: Notated excerpt of mm. 1-4 of “Nyaktiti” ...............................................180
Musical Example 7.6: Audio excerpt of a nyatiti performance by Okuro Geti on the album Luo
Traditional Nyatiti (2002) ............................................................................................................180
Musical Example 7.7: Notated excerpt of the conga tone (Cnga.) and slap (T.s.) that begins on
mm. 5 of “Nyaktiti” and repeats throughout ................................................................................180
Musical Example 7.8: Audio excerpt of the Ohangla and Nyatiti performers featured in Ketebul
Music’s documentary Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and pictured in Figure 7.2 above ...181
Musical Example 7.9: The looped drum kit part begins on measure nine in “Nyaktiti” and repeats
throughout. Yellow highlights mark the makossa-style syncopation of the snare drum .............181
Musical Example 7.10: Audio excerpt of Toto Guillaume’s “Mba Na Na Ne” (1981) ..............182
Musical Example 7.11: Audio excerpt of Hoigen Ekwala’s “Longue Di Titi Nika” (1991).......182
Musical Example 7.12: Audio excerpt of a nyatiti performance introduction by Oyana Obiero
from the album Luo Traditional Nyatiti (2002) ...........................................................................184
Musical Example 7.13: Audio excerpt of the spoken word introduction to “Ohangla Man” ......184
Musical Example 7.14: Audio excerpt of the chorus to “Ohangla Man” ....................................185
Musical Example 7.15: Video excerpt of Makadem performing A + B refrains. The B refrain
documents the audience response ................................................................................................187
Musical Example 7.16: Audio excerpt of the song “Night Oberana” by Onyango Alemo off the
album Onyango Alemo Vol: 02 (2010) ........................................................................................190
Musical Example 7.17: Audio excerpt of the section of “Ohangla Man” that Makadem identified
as Giriama and Teso influenced ...................................................................................................190
Musical Example 7.18: Audio excerpt of the Giriama style mungao performed by the Gonda La
Mjaikenda Cultural Toupe (Ngoma za Kenya: Volume 4 2008)..................................................190
Musical Example 7.19: Audio excerpt of the Teso style akisuku dance performed by the Iteso
Traditional Dancers (Ngoma za Kenya: Volume 3 2008) ............................................................190
Musical Example 7.20: Notated excerpt of the bird call in “Awuoro” ........................................195
Musical Example 7.21: Audio excerpt of the bird call in “Awuoro” ..........................................195
Musical Example 7.22: Audio excerpt of the first verse of “Wa Mama” ....................................201
Musical Example 9.1: Video of Gargar’s Spotlight on Kenyan Music audition ..........................245
Musical Example 9.2: Screen capture of the midi instruments from Bukindu’s Logic Pro file of
the song “Halele” .........................................................................................................................249
Musical Example 9.3: Screen capture of microphone recorded instruments from Bukindu’s Logic
Pro file of the song “Halele” ........................................................................................................249
Musical Example 9.4: Screen capture of vocal parts from Bukindu’s Logic Pro file of the song
Musical Example 9.5: Audio excerpt of the call-and-response vocals featured on “Halele” ......251
Musical Example 9.6: Logic Pro screen capture of the call-and-response vocals featured on
Musical Example 9.7 Unedited “response line” before segmentation .........................................252
Musical Example 9.8: Audio excerpt of the “String Ensemble” and “Chinese Erhu” (mm. 1-12 of
“Halele”) ......................................................................................................................................253
Musical Example 9.9: Notated excerpt of the “Erhu” and “String Ensemble” in “Halele” (mm. 112 of “Halele”) .............................................................................................................................253
Musical Example 9.10: Notated excerpt of the “Erhu” and “Western String” interludes in
“Halele”(mm. 1-7 of the full transcription presented in Appendix A) ........................................254
Musical Example 9.11: Notated excerpt of the call-and-response vocals to “Halele” (these begin
on mm. 19 of the full transcription presented in Appendix A) ....................................................255
Musical Example 9.12: Notated excerpt of four measures of the repeated African Lion Atsimevu
(top) and African Lion Axatse (bottom) ......................................................................................255
Musical Example 9.13: Audio excerpt of the repeated pattern of the sampled iron leg rattle in
Musical Example 9.14: Noted excerpt of twelve measures of the repeated Leg Rattles part......256
A growing number of global civil society organizations commonly referred to as
nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, have proliferated throughout much of sub-Saharan
Africa, and especially Kenya, since the mid-1980s. Drawing from interviews with NGOaffiliated directors, staff and musicians, observational research conducted at NGO-affiliated
music performances, and participant observation with Ketebul Music, a Nairobi-based NGO
music studio, this dissertation assesses the impact of NGO culture on music production in
Nairobi. The resources, signs, and social networks that operate within NGO music culture reveal
a range of global to local influences and demonstrate the significance of contingency in
depictions of global culture. At one end of this contingent spectrum are the neoliberal, capitalist,
and primarily Western historical contexts from which NGOs arose; at the other are NGO music
initiatives that draw especially from locally embedded circumstances and emphasize ties to the
cultural histories of Nairobi, Kenya, and East Africa. These diametric manifestations of local and
global become entangled, act in concert with one another, conflict, and converge at sites of NGO
music production where Kenyan and transnational organizations organize music festivals,
provide performance and marketing opportunities for Kenyan artists, and create music initiatives
that advocate for a variety of social issues, including peace, women's rights, poverty reduction,
and preservation of local culture.
An ethnographic account of the Nairobi-based NGO music studio Ketebul Music
illustrates these contingent dynamics. Ketebul Music partners with and receives funding from
several international NGOs, including the Ford Foundation and Alliance Française, to construct
initiatives reflecting the mission “to identify, preserve, conserve and to promote the diverse
music traditions of East Africa.” The geopolitics of Ketebul Music’s foreign funding sources
suggests that European and North American cultural influence ranks highly among the factors
that shape the organization’s initiatives. The sentiments expressed by those that construct these
programs, however, articulate a desire to push back against foreign influence in the interest of
promoting “Kenyan” culture. Presenting a contingently situated contradiction of NGO music
culture, Ketebul Music receives funding from global European and North American sources to
create music initiatives that promote local cultural consciousness.
To address these converging influences, I offer a theory of ethnographic contingency that
approaches cultural representation as an exercise in relational perspective and draws connections
between the numerous industries, technologies, social spheres, and symbolic expressions that
music performance in Kenya's NGO sector engages. Tracing the interactions and influences of
these variables, contingency emphasizes connections between two or more processes. I examine
the historical development of NGO culture in Nairobi from a temporal perspective that assesses
the causes and effects of circumstances that occur at regional and global scales. Finally, drawing
from Richard Rorty’s use of contingency to develop a pragmatic response to postructuralist
challenges to representation (1979; 1986; 1989; 1995), I argue that contingency provides a
pragmatically reflexive approach to ethnographic representation by privileging perspective over
reality while engaging interdisciplinary dialogue through the common use of contingency
theories across the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and formal sciences.
1.1 Purpose and Argument
A growing number of global civil society organizations,1 commonly referred to as
nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs,2 have proliferated throughout much of sub-Saharan
Africa, and especially in Kenya, since the mid-1980s.3 Drawing from interviews with NGOaffiliated directors, staff, and musicians, observational research conducted at NGO-affiliated
music performances, and participant observation with Ketebul Music, a Nairobi-based NGO
music studio, this dissertation assesses the impact of NGO culture on music production in
Nairobi. The resources, signs, and social networks that operate within “NGO music culture”
reveal a range of global to local influences that demonstrate the significance of contingency in
depictions of global culture. At one end of this contingent spectrum are the neoliberal, capitalist,
and primarily Western historical contexts from which NGOs arose. At the other end of the
continuum are NGO music initiatives that draw especially from locally embedded circumstances
and emphasize ties to the cultural histories of Nairobi, Kenya, and East Africa. These diametric
manifestations of local and global become entangled, act in concert with one another, conflict,
and converge at sites of NGO music production where Kenyan and transnational organizations in
Nairobi organize music festivals, provide performance and marketing opportunities for Kenyan
artists, and create music initiatives that advocate for a variety of social issues, including peace,
women's rights, poverty reduction, and preservation of local culture.
Although subject to widely differing interpretations, global civil society refers to a global milieu of organizations,
individuals, and networks that mobilize under shared values and interests to serve their respective members or a
broader public. Organization scholarship also typifies global civil society as “non-governmental” and “not-for
profit.” This working definition of global or transnational civil society is a synthesis of overlapping characterizations
forwarded by numerous organizations and scholars, including Jan Scholte’s Global Civil Society: Changing the
World? (1999: 2-3), the World Bank’s “Defining Civil Society” Webpage (, accessed
05.01.12), and Civil Society International’s “What is Civil Society?” Webpage (, accessed
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are organizations most frequently cited in conjunction with global civil
society (Kaldor, Anheier, and Albrow 2006: 3). I also use the acronym NGO as part of an inductive labeling process
drawn from interviews and conversations with Kenyans and other Africans who use the term to describe forms of
civil society activities that incorporate global administrative structures, funding, and marketing practices.
Between 1993 and 2005, the number of NGOs officially registered with the Kenyan National Council of NGOs
rose from 250 to 2,232 (Kenyan National Council of NGOs 2005 in Kanyinga and Mitullah 2007). The World Wide
Association of Non-Governmental Organizations reports that Kenya comprises 36% of NGOs registered in East
Africa and 8% of those registered in Africa (, accessed 05.04.12).
To frame these disparate flows of NGO music culture, I offer a theory of ethnographic
contingency that casts cultural representation as an exercise in relational perspective.4 The
relational variables I will examine are the symbols and signs,5 behaviors, and materials of music
activities carried out in Kenya’s NGO sector.6 Functioning as “transposable dispositions”
(Bourdieu 1990: 53), these elements transmit from mission statements or grant applications to
song texts and performance practices, from organization to organization, and artist to artist.7 The
capacity for certain symbols, artifacts, and behaviors to proliferate and transfer to and from
various contexts with lesser or greater success ultimately determines the characterizing
dimensions of NGO music culture. The following chapters illustrate contingently situated
politics of influence determined by circumstantial positions and relations.
Rather than grouping attributes that project consonant themes or present a singular
theoretical frame that best captures Kenya’s NGO music networks, divergent influences cast
contested and fluid references to postcolonial disjunctures of history, culture, and economy as
well as disparities between the Global North and South. Ethnographic contingency acts as a
metatheory latently operating in the background of the text, enabling play with various
theoretical approaches to demonstrate the infinite frames that can be drawn around human
experience and behavior. I affix a number of theoretical apparatuses common to culture studies
to collections of ethnographic data mined throughout the research process. These include
semiotics (Buchler 1955; Turino 2008), genre (Bakhtin 1982; 1986; Woods 2011), power and
discourse (Foucault 1966; 1969; Bourdieu 1990), orality, literacy, textuality, and intertextuality
(Ong 1982; Vansina 1985; Barber 1993; 2000; Nyairo 2004), and ethnographic plurality
(Clifford and Marcus 1986; Tyler 1986; Appadurai 1996; Tsing 2005; Gunderson 2010;
Kafumbe 2011) among others. To introduce this multi-vocal, contingency-based approach to
This dissertation’s presentation of plurality as a core feature of ethnographic description is inspired in large part by
conversations with Frank Gunderson, Damascus Kafumbe, and Lisa Beckley-Roberts.
Here, I employ Charles Sanders Peirce’s broad definition of sign as “something which stands to somebody for
something in some respect or capacity” (Pierce 1955: 99).
A significant body of scholarship in organizational culture studies has examined organizations as symbolic
mechanisms. Some of the most influential and frequently cited works to utilize this perspective include Thomas
Peters’s “Symbols, Patterns, and Settings: An Optimistic Case for Getting Things Done” (1978), Louis Pondy et
al.’s Organizational Symbolism (1983), and Pasquale Gagliardi’s Symbols and Artifacts: Views of the Corporate
Landscape (1990).
Conversations with Kayleen Justus-Kerg and Frank Gunderson inspired notions of transposable dispositions used
in this dissertation.
ethnography, I now turn to introduce some individuals and organizations that play a central role
in music production in Nairobi’s NGO sector.
A Contingent Excerpt of NGO Music Culture in Nairobi
Makadem is a Kenyan musician with extensive experience performing in NGO-affiliated
contexts, both in Kenya and internationally. He is closely affiliated with Ketebul Music, a
Nairobi-based NGO music studio founded and directed by long-time Kenyan music industry
mogul Tabu Osusa. Ketebul Music partners with and receives funding from several European
and North American institutions, including the Ford Foundation, the French NGO Alliance
Française, and the British music organization Abubilla Music. When I asked Makadem if NGOs
had influenced music in Kenya, he stated,
They have. We have what I call “elite” musicians who do not sing for the normal
Kenyan. They write on issues like “let’s make peace,” “children,” “women’s
empowerment,” “cancer,” “breast cancer.” Those are things that don’t get to the
masses. They just end up in a boardroom somewhere like the U.N.D.P. But
musicians are heavily funded to do those things. They don’t perform much but
they live large. Why? They know how to write proposals NGO style… So they’re
heavily funded to do music that goes nowhere. And with all these big, big
organizations like the U.N. or the Ford Foundation. They always perform at the
embassies and when there is a chance to take a Kenyan musician abroad they will
be the ones to go there. But their music is boring. It’s like reading a page in the
newspaper. So when they go abroad it does not make any impact and it does not
come back to the local Kenyan artists, which means that Kenya will never be
viewed as a land of musicians (Makadem 2011b, Interview).
Figure 1.1: The Kenyan Afro-Fusion artist Makadem, performing at the Blankets and
Wine concert series in Nairobi on 05.03.11 (photo by author).
Makadem’s response suggested that NGOs import revenue streams and values from outside of
Kenya. These imports have created a class of “elite” musicians who compose and perform music
that expresses and reinforces the foreign cultural values promoted by NGOs. Furthermore,
musicians receive disproportionate financial and marketing opportunities as a result of
associating with these transnational networks. From this perspective, the impact of NGOs on
music in Kenya has imported a non-localized and global locus of control over cultural
expression. Makadem’s critical view was consistent with that of many Kenyans I interviewed
and conversed with during the fieldwork process in Nairobi. Most Kenyans had experienced
some form of direct contact with the NGO industry and had opinions about the intensive
saturation of internationally funded aid projects in their country.
Makadem’s active participation in NGO music festivals and affiliation with the NGO
Ketebul Music clashes with his critical view of an industry from which he has benefited and to
which he is intimately tied. Considering this contradiction, I asked him about his assessment of
Ketebul Music. Makadem articulated a more positive picture of NGO initiatives when
considering Ketebul Music:
Author: But what about Ketebul? Isn’t Ketebul an NGO that works with other
NGOs and international organizations?
Makadem: Ketebul is an NGO, but I don't think Ketebul is doing the “elite” artist
thing. Because what Ketebul has decided to do is what the “elite” artists would
have done if they knew what they wanted to do, the right thing. That’s why I’m
saying NGOs are not bad. There are always two sides of a coin. The ones that are
doing wrong are just doing things to benefit themselves (Makadem 2011b,
Makadem’s response expressed the sorts of positive and negative binaries that enter into a social
interpretation of the impacts of NGO culture on music production in Kenya.
Tracing this contingent thread further, we turn now to Ketebul Music, the NGO with
which Makadem most commonly partners. Ketebul Music is a music studio and production
house that registered with the Kenyan government as an NGO in 2007. Taking into consideration
the geopolitics of Ketebul Music’s foreign funding sources alone might suggest that European
and North American cultural influences rank highly among the factors that shape the
organization’s initiatives. The sentiments expressed by those who construct these programs,
however, articulate a desire to push back against foreign influence and promote “Kenyan”
culture. Central to the construction of Ketebul Music’s underlying values is the vision of the
organization’s founder and Executive Director, Tabu Osusa. Osusa is a prominent music
producer and manager in East Africa’s music industry. Journalist Tim Kamuzu Banda noted
Osusa’s significant impact on the Kenyan music industry in a 2008 Daily Nation article when he
Tabu Osusa is synonymous with Kenyan music and this has been the case for a
very long time. For the past 30 years Tabu has contributed immensely to the local
music scene as a leading producer, composer, and band manager. In his career, he
has shaped and run some of the top recording and performing groups in the
country (Banda 2008).
Figure 1.2: Founder and Executive Director of Ketebul Music, Tabu Osusa (photo by
On many occasions during interviews and conversions with the producer, he passionately voiced
unequivocal advocacy for what he described as African and East African forms of expression
that break from imported and specifically Western trends prevalent in Kenya’s music industry.
Osusa has promoted what he views as locally rooted music prior to participating in the NGO
sector. Exemplifying his dedication to this cause, long before registering Ketebul Music as an
NGO, Osusa published the following statement in the liner notes to the 2003 Nairobi City
Ensemble album titled Kalapapla for which he served as executive producer:
This album is dedicated to creative minds on our beloved African continent.
Those men and women of determination who have resisted the temptation of
prerecorded music loops and have doggedly stayed with the more challenging live
instrumentations thereby keeping our endangered culture afloat despite the
influence of strong foreign waves that are trying to sweep it under (Osusa 2003).
From Osusa’s drive to advocate for local forms of cultural empowerment, Ketebul Music derives
its mission statement, “To identify, preserve, conserve and to promote the diverse music
traditions of East Africa.”
That Ketebul Music receives funding from European and North American sources to
create music initiatives that promote local cultural consciousness presents one of the many
contingently situated ironies that this dissertation evaluates as commonplace in the global milieu
of NGO music culture. In Part 2, I will further nuance this contingent picture of Ketebul Music,
its music initiatives, staff members, and funders. I will demonstrate that even seemingly foreign
organizations such as the Ford Foundation have local constituencies working within them.
Conversely, locally rooted music expressions produced by Ketebul Music are consciously shaped
and marketed to industries outside of Kenya as well as within. Rather than exceptions to the
norm, I argue that such ironies are commonplace in socio-cultural dynamics. Mapping the
politics and influential variables that give way to such contrasting evaluations will be the central
aim of this dissertation.
In a reflexive turn, I find myself also entangled in these contingent dynamics as I choose
which voices to include in this document, which influences to emphasize, and how to arrange
them within the text.8 Echoing the much deliberated postmodern/poststructuralist crisis of
representation (Clifford and Marcus 1986), my contingently situated perspective implicates me
in the politics of influence that define NGO music culture as it is I who control its representation
herein. Jeff Todd Titon’s statement, “the poststructuralist challenge to fieldwork must be
answered if the discipline is to continue” (1997: 99), highlights the vital significance of this issue
that remains largely unresolved in culture studies. Considering the contextual circumstances that
situate my perspective, I am a non-Kenyan writing as an outsider about communities in Kenya;
yet, my experience as a musician with a background in North America’s nonprofit sector (from
where much of the cultural history of NGOs derives) positions me within the socio-cultural
sphere of NGOs and their music activities. My research process also inevitably shapes this
depiction in that initial hypotheses I formed before conducting fieldwork in Kenya set forth
My use of reflexivity in this documents attempts to build upon the work of Paul Berliner (1978), John Miller
Chernoff (1981), Timothy Rice (1994), Michael B. Bakan (1999), Anthony Seeger (2004), and others. Drawing
particularly from Richard Rorty (1979), I propose that the pragmatically reflexive applications of contingency offer
an alternative to prior uses of reflexivity in postmodern/poststructuralist ethnographies.
innumerable contingencies of social encounter that determined which individuals I met, the
extent of their interactions with me, and the sorts of events I attended. All these circumstances
necessarily gave way to a particular and selective perspective. In the section that follows, I will
outline how the notion of contingency provides an ideal conceptual frame to capture these plural
dynamics of research.
1.2 Theory: Positioning a Theory of Ethnographic Contingency
Despite the extensive use of contingency in numerous theories across disciplines
(Woodward 1958; Burns and Stalker 1961; Fiedler 1964; Skinner 1969; Glenn 1988; Rorty
1989; Butler, Laclau, and Žižek 2000; Massie 2010), ethnographic scholarship has yet to
thoroughly interrogate the concept or posit an ethnographic theory of contingency. Furthermore,
scholars in fields where theories of contingency exist have not identified the full interdisciplinary
scope of the concept. Rather than drawing influence from one central theorist or existing theory,
I forward an interdisciplinary perspective that forges new pathways of communication between
disparate academic fields while also demonstrating relevance to theoretical interests of
ethnomusicology.9 To begin, I first draw upon four definitions of contingency:
Contingency, n.
2. Close connection or affinity of nature; close relationship.
In Sc. Law., Connection between two or more processes, such that the
circumstances of one are likely to throw light on the others, in which case that
first enrolled is considered as the leading process, to which the other may be
remitted ob contingentiam.
3.c. The condition of being free from predetermining necessity in regard to
existence or action; hence, the being open to the play of chance, or of free will.
5.b. A possible or uncertain event on which other things depend or are
conditional; a condition that may be present or absent.10
Contingency as a “close connection or affinity of nature; close relationship” provides a
wide theoretical frame with which to draw connections between disparate realms. This open
relational space enables connections to be drawn between the numerous industries, technologies,
social spheres, and symbolic expressions that music in Kenya’s NGO sector encompasses. In
addition to the broad relational capacity of contingency, the concept also emphasizes connections
“between two or more processes, such that the circumstances of one are likely to throw light on
The construction of ethnographic contingency as a holistic approach to ethnography is partly inspired by Benjamin
Koen’s presentation at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology titled the “Ontology of Oneness
and Possibilities in Ethnomusicology” (2007).
The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed., s.v. “Contingency”, accessed 11.23.11.
the others.” This definition injects movement into relational variables. Throughout the text I will
examine the historical development of NGO culture in Nairobi from a temporal perspective that
suggests the causes and effects of circumstances. Finally, drawing from definitions “3.c.” and
“5.b.” above, the relationships between contingent variables are never “necessary” and instead
operate within the realm of “possibility.” This dissertation’s assessment therefore does not reach
for a totalizing and absolute depiction of NGO music culture in Nairobi. Embedded within
contingent delineations is the reflexive acknowledgement that all variables and possible
relationships are impossible to account for. Contingent ethnographies invite additional
viewpoints, even those that seemingly contradict initial assumptions. Contradictions only
enhance and nuance a relational interpretation.
1.2.1 Contingency in Historiographical Perspective: Rhetorical, Variable, Reflexive, and
Evoking Wittgenstein’s notion that context and usage determine linguistic meaning
(Wittgenstein and Anscombe 2001), while acknowledging the impossibility of unpacking the
entire field of meanings that any word signifies (Derrida 2001), this dissertation draws its use of
contingency primarily from historiographic usage.11 These applications give way to four vital
characteristics of the concept: contingency is (1) rhetorical; (2) variable; (3) pragmatically
reflexive; and (4) interdisciplinary. This historiographic journey begins by locating early
philosophical usages of the concept that spurred later disciplinary trajectories, particularly with
translations of third- and second-century B.C. writings of Aristotle and Euclid. Rhetorical Properties of Contingency
In contrast to necessary logic, contingency draws connections based on perceptions and
assumptions, therefore making social reception a key determinant of any contingent argument. In
Rhetoric (Aristotle, Ross, and Roberts 2010), Aristotle utilized these qualities of contingency to
argue against Plato’s claim that rhetoric primarily served opportunistic ends and acted essentially
as a political tool. Aristotle countered Plato by situating rhetoric in the realm of the contingent as
opposed to the epistemologically deficient (Jost and Olmsted 2004: 6–14). Aristotle suggested
that rhetoric served as a way of establishing knowledge about the possible and the probable as
opposed to the necessary. To this effect he indicated,
The duty of Rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without
Derrida also emphasizes the contextual situatedness of language-signs in Writing and Difference (2001). I do not
mention him here because, unlike Wittgenstein, Derrida asserts that such a postulate renders language ineffective.
arts or systems to guide us… The subjects of our deliberation are such as seem to
present us with alternative possibilities: about things that could not have been, and
cannot now or in the future be, other than they are, nobody who takes them to be
of this nature wastes his time in deliberation (Aristotle, Ross, and Roberts 2010:
The key factor in establishing Aristotle’s view of rhetoric was the dynamic nature of
contingency to legitimize indeterminate but socially acknowledged truths. That is, public
reception determined the legitimacy of contingent arguments based on their ability to
demonstrate probable relations and conclusions. Deliberations about the nature of human
behavior were key among these.
As a result of the probable but indeterminate associations of contingency, Aristotle
associated the concept with the realm of human action, particularly choice and agency. To this
effect he wrote, “Most of the things about which we make decisions, and into which therefore we
inquire, present us with alternative possibilities. For it is about our actions that we deliberate and
inquire, and all our actions have contingent character; hardly any of them are determined by
necessity” (Aristotle, Ross, and Roberts 2010: 10). Given indeterminate but perceivable patterns
in human behavior, inferring from Aristotle and those who followed, ordering it coherently relied
upon contingency. The audience, and not indisputable logic of necessity, determined the success
of such deliberations. Because of the requirement of an audience component to rhetorical
arguments, Aristotle’s rhetoric was later said to occupy the realm of “common knowledge” or
“social knowledge” (Farrell 1976).
From the foundational employment of rhetorical contingency by Aristotle, I have
employed contingency in this dissertation as a tool for ethnographic illustration. Ethnography, a
deliberation on continuities of human behavior and cultural formation, is entirely rhetorical due
to its dependence on socially-interpreted conceptual relationships. Distilling human behavior in
ethnography is an inexact science based on data that intimates meaning as opposed to irrefutable
proofs or conclusions. Ethnography, like rhetoric, argues perspectives validated by its audience
of readers, not the logic of necessity. Therefore, any success in giving shape to culture through
ethnographic discourse depends on the ability of the ethnographer to make a compelling
argument to its audience of readers. Variable Properties of Contingency
Euclid utilized these expansively variable properties of contingency to identify the
infinitesimal angle that exists between the circumference of a circle and its tangent as the “angle
of contingence” (Euclid 1570). He required the notion of contingency because although he could
not deduce the angle’s exact degree, the existence of an angle between a circle or arc and its
tangent could easily be perceived. Euclid drew upon the resource of social consensus and
therefore labeled the angle “contingent” based on the perceived contingent relationship between
the curve and its tangential line despite the lack of a theorem with which to identify the angle’s
properties. Considering the contrasting examples of Aristotle’s and Euclid’s usage of
contingency to demonstrate properties of rhetoric and geometry demonstrates the historiographic
versatility of the concept to stand for a range of variables. This versatility is ideal for
ethnographic discourse given the diverse realms the study of culture engages.12
Euclid’s and Aristotle’s employment of contingency also marks early historiographic
instances of the notion as a dynamic agent for ordering socially-mediated knowledge and
perception. As a result of these valuable conceptual properties, notions of contingency
proliferated in disparate realms of thought from the third century B.C. onward throughout
Europe and the United States. As I will demonstrate in the following section, contingency
continues to remain at the center of contemporary philosophical discourse and provides a crucial
attribute for ethnographic application. Contingency as Pragmatically Reflexive
In 1997, Deborah Wong wrote the following statement in a College Music Symposium
article in which she reiterated a statement made by Jeff Todd Titon in 1997:
Jeff Todd Titon (1997: 99) recently described poststructuralist approaches as
follows: “Poststructuralist thought denies the existence of autonomous selves. The
notion of fieldwork as an encounter between self and other is thought to be a
delusion, just as the notion of the autonomous self is a delusion, whereas the
notion of the other is a fictionalized objectification.” Titon worries that the
challenge posed by poststructuralism “must be answered if the discipline is to
continue” (Ibid., 98), regarding poststructuralism as a threat to ethnomusicology
(since fieldwork is central to the discipline’s methods)… (Wong 1998: 84)
Below, I offer contingency as a pragmatic concept for the poststructuralist problem of situational
relativism and deconstructed language in ethnography. Drawing from Richard Rorty’s
Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays 1972-1980 (1986), Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
(1979; 2009),13 Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989), and Rorty and Pragmatism: The
This range includes all that is manifested through human behavior.
In this chapter I refer to the 2009 edition of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
Philosopher Responds to His Critics (1995), I situate contingency as an inherently reflexive
concept to circumvent the persistent problems of representation in ethnography.
In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979; 2009) and Contingency, Irony, and
Solidarity (1989) Rorty asserts that, in the latter half of the twentieth century, the Continental
schools of phenomenology and structuralism as well as the Analytic school of positivism had
fallen victim to parallel faults imbedded in their own internal logic, a logic that began with the
Sophists and carried over to the Cartesian, Lockean, and Kantian projects of foundationalism
(Rorty 2009: 33). Rorty referred to this faulty agent present throughout these historiographies as
“representationalism” (Rorty 2009: xx–xxvi). Representationalism implied the widespread long
enduring philosophical discursive project of locating the subject or self, reality, and truth.
Among the continental philosophers, Derrida and Heidegger deconstructed structuralist and
phenomenological suppositions by exhibiting the inescapable conditionality and relativity of
language and experience (Rorty 2009: 365). In the analytic school of philosophy practiced
primarily in the English-speaking United Kingdom and United States, Quine and Sellars
unwound the positivist project by demonstrating similar relativity within analytical formulas for
assessing the world based on data (Rorty 2009: 171).
Rorty identified a faulty logic that caused the continental and analytic schools of
philosophical thought to fail. This error in reasoning was the underlying project of seeking a
means to assess reality outside the realm of perception. He asserted that any attempt at
representing reality or truth, the essential preoccupation of the Sophists and their successors, was
condemned from the start. Doing away with the preoccupation of representation, Rorty
positioned a perspective entirely in the realm of contingency, with no regard for truth or reality.
Lacking a means to step outside of perspective, Rorty asserted, any discussion of reality outside
the self was pointless (Rorty 1989: 3–44). To avoid slipping into an abyss of relativism, Rorty
grounded his perspective by drawing influence from pragmatists, who had never accepted
realism as a tenet of their discourse. For this, Rorty turned to the pragmatists Peirce, Dewey, and
especially James (Rorty 1979; 1986; 1989; 1995). From pragmatism, Rorty employed a line of
reasoning that the primary concern of philosophy should be the doing of language, not the
continuing preoccupation with the relation of language to reality or truth (2009: 389-423).
Contingency opened the door to this approach by employing social mediation as the primary
means of construct meaning.
Viewing reality as contingently situated suggested, for Rorty, a state of consciousness
trapped in irony. The irony arose from the continued pursuit of meaning despite the knowledge
that any attempt to address a reality outside the self is futile (Rorty 1989: 73–122). Humans
would keep seeking to understand their reality despite the awareness that they would never find
it. Rorty’s pragmatic answer to the ironic and deconstructed postmodern condition was to use
language to create social impact, whether to influence politics, social movements, or any other
form of organizing, for the only meaning to be found is through communication and connection
(1989: 189-200). A social construction of meaning occurred through shared experience. In this
way, I propose the depictions and stories of NGO music culture and global culture more
generally as an attempt at creating dialogue with readers as well as the informants whose insights
I have presented herein. I seek solidarity of perspective with those connected to the text more
than a representation of reality. I cannot prove definite cause and effect relations between the
proliferation of NGO discourses and its manifestations in musical expression. I make these
connections perceivable, however, through depicting them as contingently connected.
Rorty’s application of contingency to resituate the philosophical deconstruction of
language in the realm of solidarity paralleled Aristotle’s application of contingency to position
rhetoric in the realm of common knowledge. Rorty used contingency to respond to Derrida’s
charge that all language construction is a lie (Derrida and Kamuf 2002) in the same manner that
Aristotle responded to Plato’s charge that rhetoric, as a result of its indeterminate subject, only
served to deceive as a political device. In a sense, the poststructuralist deconstruction of
philosophical discourse by Derrida was nearly identical to Plato’s critique of rhetoric as any
attempt to represent reality. Simply put, Derrida postulated that all language is rhetorical, given
the requirement of the speaker to suppress unintended meanings of words. Language, therefore,
is manipulative in the same sense that Plato views rhetoric. Rorty’s and Aristotle’s conceptions
of contingently situated rhetoric and language, however, replaced the charge of manipulation in
both cases with directed socially-mediated knowledge. Within this dissertation, contingency can
serve a similar function to rectify crises of representation through pragmatic reflexivity.
Rorty’s pragmatist solution to the problem of representation applies to this dissertation in
two ways, both of which reinforce my proposed ethnographic contingency theory: (1) In
depicting NGO music culture, I foreground perspective over reality. I examine the ethnographic
subject of NGO music culture from numerous vantage points as opposed to attempting to depict
the essence of the thing itself. The poly-vocal expressions of these vantage points yield illustrate
ethnographic meaning. (2) As opposed to rendering the entire ethnographic project an exercise in
relativity, however, I embrace Rorty’s pragmatic notion that writing does by creating dialogue.
Perhaps most importantly to the ethics of ethnomusicology, this document is reaching out to
dialogue with those with whom I conducted research in Kenya in order to build solidarity beyond
academic boundaries. Academically, I employ the interdisciplinary concept of contingency as an
instrument with which to dialogue across disciplines as well as situate the research firmly in an
anthropological and ethnomusicological tradition. I thus conclude this theoretical blueprint of
ethnographic contingency with the application of contingency as a dialogic agent for
interdisciplinary communication. Contingency as Interdisciplinary
Theorists across disciplines have used the combined versatility and potential specificity
of contingency as a conceptual tool to investigate relation and connection. In the twentieth and
twenty-first centuries, contingency has formed the basis of some of the most significant texts to
emerge from statistics (Pearson 1904), behavioral psychology (Skinner 1969; Glenn 1988),
philosophy (Rorty 1989; Butler, Laclau, and Žižek 2000; Massie 2010), and organizational
behavior and management studies (Woodward 1958; Burns and Stalker 1961; Fiedler 1964).
Despite the wide use of contingency across disciplines, as well as its capacity to interface with
infinite additional theories, none of the available literature directly interrogates the
interdisciplinary historiographical significance of the concept. Instead, contingency has operated
latently as a conceptual asset without explicit scholarly assessment of its immense value to so
many disparate realms of thought. Furthermore, it has remained a peripheral notion in
ethnographic studies despite its potential value to cultural analysis. In the Literature Review
below, I reconcile these gaps by illustrating several uses of contingency in ethnographic and nonethnographic scholarship in relation to the content of this dissertation. First, though, we return to
“the field” to explore how the contingent mode of ethnography fuses process to product.
1.3 Research Methodology: A Contingent Ethnographic Method
Throughout the course of my research, the themes that I viewed as most prominently
defining NGO music culture in Kenya shifted along with the situatedness of my perspective.
Thus began a process of layering contrasting depictions of NGO music culture. I therefore
present the ethnographic material in this dissertation relative to the chronological shifts in
methodology which occurred throughout the research process. Below, I will document the
ethnographic methodologies and fieldwork experiences that came to define various durations of
the study so as to properly contextualize the chapters that follow, the data present within them,
and the themes and opinions they project.
1.3.1 Research Development Timeline
From 2004 until 2008, I conducted research on a nonprofit youth music center in Boston,
Massachusetts. I first became interested in the topic of NGOs and music after a 4 week trip to
Ghana to study dogomba drumming in Tamale with David Locke’s Tufts University’s African
Ensemble. During this trip I encountered several NGO music initiatives and also witnessed the
massive cultural impact of NGOs on Kenya’s culture-scape. I began course work at Florida State
University in September 2008 and set a course for conducting research on the topic of the impact
of NGOs on music culture in Kenya. By the time I finished coursework in May 2010, I had
researched the topic and decided on Kenya as an ideal research location to explore this topic
given the country’s rapidly increasing NGO funded arts sector. Upon arriving in Kenya with my
wife/research accomplice, Shino Saito, in September 2010, I adopted a primarily observational
research methodology for a three-month period that included language study, attending events,
and conducting a minimal number of formal recorded interviews. In December 2010, I embraced
an intensive participant observational approach with one organization, Ketebul Music, for a
period of five months during which I conducted recorded and non-recorded interviews and spent
a significant amount of time on site at Ketebul Music’s facility. I also attended Ketebul Musicaffiliated organizational events and utilized an applied approach by contributing to the
organization in small ways such as assisting with videotaping concerts, uploading videos of the
performances to YouTube, and purchasing CDs and DVDs produced by Ketebul Music. Finally,
and perhaps most relevant to the ethics of participatory observation research, I was able to forge
social ties that I aim to honor through continued professional collaboration and correspondence. Phase One: Secondary Sources and Internet Resources at Florida
State University, September 2008-June 2010
The most distanced lens, employed in Chapter 2’s historical background, resulted
primarily from secondary source library research conducted before I arrived in Kenya. The
emphasis on how specific historical events and musical forms mapped onto the zeitgeist of NGO
music culture suggested geo-politics and economics as driving forces in the construction of NGO
culture. This perspective echoes much of the critical discourse on NGOs in Africa that has
tended to order the NGO-scape using macro analytic frames (Ndegwa, 1996; de Waal 2002;
Terry 2002; Sogge 2002; Bornstein 2005; Jennings 2008; Mutua 2009; Moyo 2010). What is
missing from most of these accounts, however, are the voices of those who run and work within
NGOs in Africa. Consequently, the prospectus that I defended before my dissertation committee
in 2010 employed a sharp critical hypothesis that Western capitalism and “development”
ideology had colonized the music-oriented civil society activities in Kenya. This perspective did
not account for the nuanced outlook I gained from conducting interviews and participating in
NGO-culture during the fieldwork process in Kenya. Nonetheless, the influence of Western
European and United States economies on NGOs in Africa plays a significant role, and most
Kenyans with whom I spoke acknowledged the inherent geopolitical imbalances of global
capital. The chance circumstances that determined whom I met or who agreed to participate in
the research process with me in Kenya limits my ethnographic view to a small sampling of
perspectives. All ethnographic is limited by these contingent factors to some degree. I cannot, in
all fairness, generalize the perspectives of these groups and individuals to all NGOs in Kenya. I
retain a depiction of NGO cultural history characterized largely by forces of global capitalism
and Western control because it was these forces that I found relevant, to a certain extent, to all of
the organizations I engaged within Kenya.
United States-side, I also conducted substantial Internet research and networked through
contacts to locate several NGOs in Kenya involved in music activities. From these sources I
mapped a portion of the organizational landscape from the United States and determine some of
the trends that characterized the nature of civil society organizing around music in Kenya.
Because of my reliance on Internet sources, however, I was unable to obtain information on the
perspectives of those working within the organizations or an in-depth view of processes of music
production. I corresponded through email with several of these organizations and some, such as
Kenya Performing Arts Group and Sarakasi Trust, expressed openness to meeting with me when
I arrived in Kenya. Ironically, only a few of the organizations that I had contacted before I left
the United States responded to my initial emails. Of the five that did respond to my initial contact
attempts, I was only able to attend the events of and meet with members of the GoDown Arts
Centre, Sarakasi Trust, and Purple Images Productions. Throughout the research process I
discovered dozens more organizations after arriving in Nairobi and document these organizations
in the overview of Kenya’s NGO-music-scape presented in Chapter 3. Phase Two: Cultural Immersion, Observation, and Interview-Based
Research in Kenya, September 2010-December 2010
I adopted an observational approach during the first three months of fieldwork in Kenya.
My methodology during this time consisted of a broad cultural study. I became accustomed to
norms of everyday life in Kenya, undertook intensive language study, attended NGO music
festivals and events, and conducted interviews with staff members of organizations. This time
period lasted from September 18 to December 15, 2010 after which I returned to the United
States for two weeks and then returned again to Kenya on January 2, 2011.
Several guides accompanied us through the initial process of acculturation in Kenya.
Leonard Mjomba, a professor of communications at Kenyatta University and University of Dar
Es Salaam, and one of Mjomba’s graduate student advisees, Melvin Mahulo, ushered us through
the first stages of this process. This initial phase consisted of three weeks of experiential learning
in Kenyan living in which Professor Mjomba acquainted us with Nairobi, his home in the coastal
city of Mombasa, and his ancestral home, Taita. In Taita, we attended a two- day funeral in the
rural Taita Mountains and spent several days living at Professor Mjomba’s and his wife, Maria’s,
Taita International Elementary and Secondary School. At Taita International School we became
acquainted with students and the teachers who performed music and poetry that they had
presented for the Kenyan Music Festival, a countrywide music competition featuring
performances from schools throughout Kenya. This three-week period provided my wife and me
some important lessons and survival skills that would serve us throughout our time in Kenya, and
therefore constituted an important phase of the research process.
Upon arriving back in Nairobi three weeks after landing in Kenya, my wife and I moved
into a small two-room first-floor flat in the middle-class neighborhood of Madaraka. Madaraka
served as an ideal location from which to operate, given that its proximity to the city center
(about twenty minutes without traffic) via matatu (public transport van) and the many shops,
restaurants, and stores located in the area provided easy access to food and necessities. The
mostly middle-class Kenyan demographics of Madaraka made this a relatively safe
neighborhood in which we also were able to experience a degree of cultural immersion that may
not have been possible in more up-market areas where many expatriates and upperclass Kenyans
live (such as Karen or the Westlands).
For three months from late September to mid-December, we attended Kiswahili language
lessons at The Language Center LTD. for an average of three hours every weekday. Our
teachers, Mary Nzioka and Asunta Njeru also educated us on many dimensions of Kenyan
culture and daily living in Nairobi. They assisted us in how to pay our electricity bills, stock
piling mitungi (water containers) for our apartment, bargaining at markets (including the
particular sheng and Kiswahili language these conversations would require), tipping, matatu
routes, and interpretations of the numerous political, social, ethnic, economic etc. issues that
were prominent in daily popular consciousness in Kenya. This basic education in everyday
Kenyan life served as an important foundation to contextualize the environment of my study and
therefore was invaluable to the logistics of data collection as well as the interpretation of
information collected. Our language teachers also assisted us in the translation of some of the
song texts found in this dissertation.
In the months of November and December 2010, I attended twelve NGO-oriented music
festivals and concerts, many of which are featured in the comparative overview presented in
Chapter 4. At concerts I took extensive “thick description” (Geertz 1973) oriented field notes and
obtained the contact information of festival organizers and performance groups. Shino assisted
the research process at these events as a videographer and photographer. Although I engaged
with festivalgoers and organizers on an informal level I intentionally did not become closely
affiliated with any one group during this time. I took this approach to attain a comparative
perspective from a distance that would enable me to later strategize appropriately about which
groups I would dedicate significant time to researching and documenting.
In November and December, I also became affiliated with the University of Nairobi’s
Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies. Through this affiliation I came to know
my in-country mentor and advisor Professor Ojwang, whose expertise in Kenyan linguistics and
popular music greatly benefited the content of this dissertation, helped shape my perspectives on
the ground in Kenya, and provided numerous contacts, including Tabu Osusa, whom I have
prominently featured throughout the second half of this dissertation. Meeting Osusa, conducting
some interviews at Ketebul Music, and attending some of the concerts involving Ketebul Music
musicians and initiatives confronted me with the dilemma of diverting from the initial research
plan that I had proposed in my prospectus. Osusa’s long legacy as a central figure in Kenya’s
music industry, his organization’s mission, and the character of the individuals working within it,
grabbed my interest as particularly compelling. Additionally, Ketebul Music appeared to be at
the center of a number of NGO music initiatives making the organization a hub for NGOoriented music activity in Kenya. Given these factors, I shifted my methodology to a more
intensive participant observation-oriented approach with one group as opposed to the previously
planned approach of examining the activities of many organizations and attempting to locate the
continuities between them as the focus of the dissertation. Phase Three: Participant Observation with Ketebul Music, December 2010May 2011
From December, 2010 to May, 2011, I engaged in intensive participant observation field
work with the Kenyan NGO Ketebul Music while conducting intermittent formal recorded
interviews with various other organizations. During this time, I also conducted fieldwork at the
Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar from February 9 to 13, 2011. The Sauti za Busara festival is
one of Africa’s largest music festivals and a registered Tanzanian NGO that operates under the
organizational title, Busara Promotions. Additionally, Busara Promotions maintains a close
partnership with Ketebul Music in Kenya and featured a performance by Ketebul Music’s vocal
group, Gargar, in 2011 and employed Ketebul Music’s program manager, Steve Kivutia, as a
sound engineer. The 2011 Sauti za Busara Festival also featured the premiere of “Zanzibar,” a
song written and performed by Samba Mapangala, Osusa’s long time musical colleague and the
lead singer of the group Orchestra Virunga, the premier East African dance band that Osusa
managed from 1982 to 1992. These numerous intersections with Ketebul Music and NGO
culture in East Africa made conducting research at Sauti za Busara especially relevant. I present
the material from this research in Chapter 5 so as to demonstrate the geographically
decentralized yet networked quality of NGO music production in East Africa as well as to begin
the process of introducing Tabu Osusa and Ketebul Music as central foci of the dissertation.
During the five-month period before departing from Kenya, I recorded and transcribed
thirty interviews. I conducted these interviews with Osusa and Ketebul Music staff, staff
members and directors of other organizations, and Kenyans with specialized knowledge in the
areas of Kenyan politics, culture, and language. In addition to conducting participant observation
field work with Ketebul Music by spending time at the organization’s music studio, interviewing
Ketebul Music musicians, and attending Ketebul Music events and performances, I adopted a
historical ethnographic approach with the aim of documenting Osusa’s life history. Osusa’s life
history was an especially relevant informational resource in that not only did it provide a
grounded theory perspective on the identity of Ketebul Music as an organization, but it also
referenced a recent history of East African music culture essential to contextualizing the
emergent culture of NGOs in the region. These include:
(1) Osusa’s family heritage as the son of a Luo chief in Western Kenya that exposed him to
dimensions of Kenya’s indigenous musical culture at a young age.
(2) His education in various Catholic missions in Kenya and Uganda where he was exposed to
the cultural influence of Western missionaries and the hymnal music they brought with them to
(3) Osusa’s participation in Kinshasa’s vibrant rumba scene in the 1970s that provided firsthand
insights into one of Africa’s most influential music industries.
(4) His management of one of East Africa’s most successful 1980s dance bands, Orchestra
Virunga, and his subsequent ongoing relationship with the group’s beat singer and musical icon,
Samba Mapangala.
(5) Osusa’s immigration to the United Kingdom that reflected the experiences of so many in the
Global South who had left in search of greater opportunity in the Global North.
(6) His return to Kenya and involvement with musical activities aimed at re-localizing a largely
westernized popular music industry. These activities included writing numerous editorial
commentaries in Kenya’s magazines and newspapers, creating and managing the Nairobi City
Ensemble (one of Kenya’s first Afro-fusion groups), and finally creating a music studio in 2004
that would later become an NGO in 2007.
My fieldwork methodology with Ketebul Music also included interviewing artists, sound
engineers, and videographers about the production of their music albums and documentary
videos. Ketebul Music’s organizational identity is reflected, at least in part, in the music created
at the organization. With this in mind, I conducted extensive interviews with the first two artists
produced at the organization, Makadem and Olith Ratego. I interviewed Makadem and Ratego
on issues relating to stylistic choices, inspiration and meanings embedded in song texts, and
personal histories that led to their particular take on the Afro-fusion genre, which serves as a core
element of Ketebul Music’s mission. Chapter 7 features the content from these interviews. I also
conducted interviews with Jesse Bukindu, Ketebul Music’s chief studio engineer, to determine
his methodological process of music production. Interviews with Bukindu were especially
relevant to documenting the role of the music studio and studio engineer/producer as central to
the production of contemporary African popular music. Chapter 9 explores these analyses.
Finally, I conducted interviews with Ketebul Music’s videographer, Patrick Ondiek, and project
manager, Steve Kivutia, in order to depict the process of documentary production that Ketebul
Music undertakes in the creation of their Ford Foundation-funded historical documentaries titled
the Retracing Series. I feature these interviews in Chapter 10.
1.3.2 From Fieldwork to Text: Themes Drawn from the Research Process
Within my research timeline, I left the United States in 2010 having formulated a
hypothesis in my dissertation prospectus that the influence of NGOs in Kenya had inscribed
music production with the symbols and revenue flows of Western transnational civil society
culture. I hypothesized that small acts of subversion to these hegemonic global capitalist
influences may also play a role within the NGO music culture-scape of Kenya but the general
trend of neocolonial geo-politics would most significantly characterize the production of music
in Kenya’s NGO sector. Although I came to find, throughout the fieldwork process in Nairobi,
evidence that supported my initial hypothesis, I also became aware of an infinite diversity of
additional activities, trends, and perspectives that constituted Kenyan NGO music culture. As I
became involved in participant observation with Ketebul Music, I found myself especially
influenced by their unique organizational mission and philosophies, particularly those of the
organization’s director, Tabu Osusa.
Ketebul Music’s organizational mission and history emphasized the promotion and
preservation of local, indigenous, and Kenyan culture while utilizing international revenue
streams to fund initiatives and engaged global music industry genres such as World Music.
These new fieldwork encounters did not suggest that the heavy arm of capitalist “development”
ideology was controlling music production in Kenya. To the contrary, they highlighted the
agency of Kenyan musicians and producers utilizing the NGO economy to forward a mission
they had developed in response to particular needs in their communities and nation. This shifting
emphasis brought me face-to-face with the poststructuralist assertion that perspective is
paramount in any writing about culture. Despite the emergence of new data and perspectives
throughout the research process, I do not discount previously held hypotheses, as they continue
to hold relevance to certain dimensions of the subject. Rather than adopting a relativist stance, I
propose that each perspective holds particular inherent values in relation to particular
components of the social reality in which we live.
1.4 Literature Review
A diverse array of disciplines, including ethnomusicology, anthropology, philosophy,
sociology, political science, psychology, economics, history, and organizational studies inform
this dissertation. Continually shifting global politics and economics have resulted in numerous
reassessments of the role of NGOs in the transnational arena. In order to capture these
intersecting streams of perspective, I have adopted the versatile theoretical frame of ethnographic
contingency. In this literature review, I first examine the use of contingency across disciplines in
order to identify its utility as a pragmatic theoretical device to facilitate interdisciplinary
communication and collaboration.14 I then will examine an array of sources particularly relevant
to NGO music culture in Kenya, the primary subject matter of this dissertation. Despite the large
body of research on NGOs across many disciplines, few studies examine music-based NGO
activities as an explicit territory of inquiry. For this reason, musicological resources utilized in
this dissertation primarily provide background on East African music practices outside of the
NGO sector in order to inform music practices within organizations. I refer to this body of
music-focused research below as African Music Sources. Central to any study of transnational
networks of music activities, such as NGOs, are perspectives on globalization within music and
anthropological scholarship. I refer to these sources as Globalization and World Music Sources. I
categorize those sources that deal specifically with African NGOs, but not music, as African
NGO Sources. Organizational studies that traverse a range of social science disciplines, including
public administration, management, and business do not often deal specifically with the politics
or history of NGOs in Africa yet provide substantial insight into the administrative dimensions of
how NGOs function and receive funding. I refer to these sources below as Organizational
Studies Sources. Finally, this dissertation adopts a variety of theoretical frames with which to
examine sub-sets of ethnographic data operating under the umbrella of ethnographic
contingency. I list these sources below in Sub-Theoretical Sources.
In the previous section I attributed the foundational concepts behind my construction of ethnographic contingency
primarily to Aristotle's Rhetoric (Aristotle, Ross, and Roberts 2010) and Richard Rorty’s writings, specifically
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979; 2009), Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays 1972-1980 (Rorty 1986),
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989), and Rorty and Pragmatism: The Philosopher Responds to His Critics
(1995). Having reviewed these texts thoroughly in the previous theory section, I will not reiterate my analyses of
these texts.
1.4.1 Contingency in Ethnomusicology
Ethnomusicological scholarship has not employed a formal theory of contingency or
attempted to define its dimensions. Nonetheless, the term does arise in some texts and in these
cases it often functions to address broad questions that relate directly to the use of contingency in
this dissertation. The sources that I find to be significant in this regard are Laurent Aubert’s The
Music of the Other: New Challenges for Ethnomusicology in a Global Age (2007), Martin
Clayton’s “Introduction: Towards a Theory of Musical Meaning (in India and Elsewhere)”
(2001), Adelaida Reyes’s “What do Ethnomusicologists Do? An Old Question for a New
Century” (2009), and Deborah Wong’s “Ethnomusicology and Critical Pedagogy as Cultural
Work: Reflections on Teaching and Fieldwork (1998). Suggesting the potential for contingency
as a theoretical benchmark concept, all of these sources attempt to locate a renewed identity for
ethnomusicology with regard to the discipline’s approach to globalization (Aubert 2007: 3, 40)
and poststructuralist crises of representation (Wong 1998; Clayton 2001; Reyes 2009). The
authors specifically employ contingency to bring fluidity to structuralist notions of static contexts
(Clayton 2001: 6), ground subjectivity in circumstance (Aubert 2007: 3, 40), construct identity in
historical perspective (Reyes 2009: 3, 5, 10), and position meaning as relational as opposed to
being tied to self-other dichotomies (Wong 1998: 84). None of these scholars uses contingency
as a central theoretical feature. They instead utilize the term as a latent discursive tool to address
some of the most significant looming problems in ethnomusicological theory.
1.4.2 Contingency in Anthropology
In cultural anthropology, the field from which ethnomusicology derives the majority of
its methodological and theoretical foundation, contingency is an equally peripheral and under
examined concept when compared to other disciplines. The social and hard science-oriented
fields of biological anthropology and archaeology, on the other hand, have given significant
attention to the term. In particular, the role of contingency in biological evolutionary
development has been a central point of debate. These debates ensued largely as a result of
Stephen Jay Gould's influential Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
(1990). Gould’s work set forth a contingency theory of evolution arguing that chance happenings
occurring in uniquely positioned sea bed (the Burgess Shale) caused a contingent chain of
biological reactions that had enormous repercussions for the evolution of life on earth. John
Bintliff’s follow up to Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life, titled Structure and Contingency:
Evolutionary Processes in Life and Human Society (1999), correlates closely with my use of
contingency as a narrative tool. Bintliff proposed a narrative historical approach to biological
history (as opposed to the classical scientific determinism approach) that accounted for the
contingent nature of biological evolutionary development (1999: vi-xiv). Likewise, I propose
ethnography is an ideal tool to illustrate contingent dimensions of human behavior and culture
because of its flexible narrative centered orientation.
1.4.3 Contingency in Historical Studies
Theories of contingency in historiography significantly intersect with this dissertation’s
theoretical approach. Of these, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s landmark Anti-Oedipus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1977) positions contingency as the only universal principal of
history (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 154). Anti-Oedipus recasts Marx’s Capital: A Critique of
Political Economy (1906) as a contingent history by examining Marx’s assessment of protocapitalist development. Anti-Oedipus reads Marx’s Capital as setting forth a narrative in which
unknowing actors and circumstances of chance gave rise to the emergence of the current global
capitalist system. This view is contrasted with classical interpretations, or ideologies, in which
people of intelligence, diligence, and frugality intentionally and consciously forged divisions of
class structure that would eventually become the present capitalist condition.15 Drawing
influence from Delueze’s and Guattari’s interpretation of a Marxist-contingent origins theory of
capitalism, Chapter 2 of this dissertation grounds the emergence of NGO music culture in Kenya
as dependent upon contingent historical circumstances of chance rather than planned actions
brought about by explicit human intention.
1.4.4 Contingency in Behavioral Psychology
The use of contingency in the social sciences contains a dialogic historiographic lineage
that extends from psychology through organizational and management studies. I invoke several
uses of contingency from these publications. Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s Contingencies of
Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis (1969) re-articulated notions posited in Skinner’s earlier
writings (Skinner 1966), which subsequently laid the groundwork for the behavioral analytical
psychological approach of radical behavioralism. Skinner’s radical behavioralism extended the
realm of stimuli affecting behavior to a wide range of contingencies. These included genetics,
My interpretation of Anti-Oedipus here has also been influenced by Jason Read’s article “Universal History of
Contingency: Deleuze and Guattari on the History of Capitalism” (2003).
thought, feelings, and external stimuli, among other variables. Casting variables shaping human
behavior as contingencies, Skinner could address the problem of suggesting necessary
relationships in his experiments that would be reproducible in every circumstance. He could,
through these means, account for the presence of unknown contingent influences that could not
be controlled for. My use of contingency reflects this application in behavioral analytic
approaches in that I depict numerous cause and effect circumstances. The influencing factors in
these portrayals, such as the influence of Tabu Osusa in shaping Makadem’s musical identity, are
contingencies in Skinner’s sense of the word in that circumstances of contact between
individuals, groups, histories, or technologies suggest cause and effect relationships shaping
human behavior. This adoption of contingency as an influencing variable frees the realm of
influencing factors shaping NGO culture to all any perceivable influencing factors, rational or
not, while remaining open to additional unseen forces at work. My application of contingency
departs sharply from a behavioral analytic approach in that I am not concerned with the
reproducible and experimental dimensions of these contingent relations.
Sigrid Glenn, a behavioral analytic psychologist influenced by and former student of
Skinner, extended Skinner’s notions of contingency to cultural formation through her
presentation of “meta-contingencies” in “Contingencies and Meta-Contingencies: Towards a
Synthesis of Behavior Analysis and Cultural Materialism" (1988).16 Glenn theorized metacontingencies as the repeated and consistent “operants” (behaviors) shared among multiple
individuals in a group (1988: 167-168). In short, particular operant behaviors persist despite
variable membership (new members arriving and others leaving). These meta-contingencies
come to constitute a culture. Although a behavioral analyst, for her construction of metacontingencies, Glenn also drew influence from anthropologist Melvin Harris’s notion of “cultural
materialism” (1979), and the two collaborated briefly before Harris’ death. Chapter 7 and
Chapter 8 of this dissertation reflect the expansion of contingencies into the formation of culture
by illustrating the development of Afro-fusion as a genre constituted through social contact
between Osusa, the artists at Ketebul Music, and Alliance Française’s Spotlight on Kenyan
Music initiative. Although my use of contingency relates to Glenn’s expansion of Skinner’s
notion of contingencies to meta-contingencies as a behavior analytic approach. I employ a
Skinner’s fictional account of an experimental living community, titled Walden Two (1948) provided the primary
influence for Glenn’s notions of meta-contingencies.
participant-observation ethnographic approach as opposed to an experimental one. That is, I
make use of an anthropological ethnographic style that privileges narrative and inductive
associations based on fieldwork observations/experiences and organically structured interviews
with the individuals featured.
1.4.5 Contingency in Organizational Theory
Organizational and management psychology and related fields of organizational and
business studies have drawn substantially from the applications of contingency set forth by
Skinner. They continue to dialogue with Skinner’s contemporaries (i.e. Sigrid Glenn) and have
constructed hundreds of studies approaching the workplace as a site for psychological
examination in order to achieve a better understanding of organizational and management
capacities. Some of the earliest contingency theories in organizational psychology are Tom
Burns and G. M. Stalker’s The Management of Innovation (1961), Joan Woodward’s
Management and Technology (1958) and Fred Fiedler’s “A Contingency Model of Leadership
Effectiveness” (1964). Contingency theories within organizational studies approach the
organization as a system containing subsystems and operating within an external environment.
The goal of contingency theories in organizational behavior studies is to ascertain patterns of
external and internal contingencies and order them to provide best practices for management and
operational effectiveness.17 Ethnographic contingency intersects with contingency-focused
management scholarship in its topical focus on organizations as socio-cultural entities
characterized by behavior influenced by internal and external contingencies, but diverges in its
reliance on qualitative as opposed to quantitative research methodologies.
1.4.6 African Music Sources
I begin this section by referencing those texts that do not receive popular mention within
ethnomusicology but to which, outside of the fieldwork process, I owe the lion’s share of my
contextual knowledge about Kenyan music. For all of the reasonably positioned arguments
against discrete dualities of insiders/outsiders and emic/etic perspectives, I argue that there
remains a common sense notion that those researchers with a lifetime of experience in a region
and who maintain embedded social ties there possess a more nuanced understanding of the area’s
culture dynamics than those researchers, such as myself, who have lived most of their lives
For an overview of early contingency theories in organizational psychology see “An Alternative to Macro and
Micro Contingency Theories: An Integrative Model” (Mealiea and Lee 1979). I do not explore this body of literature
in depth here so as to not stray afield from the ethnographic approach taken in this dissertation.
outside of that geographical social space. I therefore found texts by authors who have strong
familial and experiential ties to Kenya and East Africa to provide the most in-depth
documentation of Kenyan music culture.
The work I found most helpful in illustrating the complex nuances of contemporary
Kenyan popular music-scapes was Joyce Nyairo’s dissertation “‘Reading the Referents’:
(Inter)Texuality in Contemporary Kenyan Popular Music” (2004) as well as her subsequent
writings derived from material within her dissertation (2003a; 2003b; 2004a; 2004b; 2005; 2008;
2009; Nyairo and Ogude 2003; Nyairo and Ogude 2005). I reference this work throughout the
dissertation in relation to the Kenyan popular music industry (in particular its focus on the
Nairobi City Ensemble and Tabu Osusa, who “Part 2” will feature prominently). I also draw
influence from Nyairo’s theoretical approach to intertextuality that maps the interplay between
social life, industry, individuals, and lyrical texts of Kenyan popular music. My hope with this
dissertation is to build, in some small way, upon the work of Nyairo and Ogude in this area.
Given the lack of globally distributed primary research on what George Senoga-Zake and
others have referred to as Kenyan “folk music” (1986), I found the following dissertations and
publications immensely valuable, especially in linking popular music practices in Afro-fusion to
styles of music performance, often referred to as “traditional,” signifying Kenyan cultural
heritage. For these dimensions of Kenyan music I credit Patricia Achieng Opondo’s dissertation,
“Dodo Performance in the Context of Women’s Associations Amongst the Luo of Kenya”
(1996), Everret Igobwa’s dissertation titled, “Thum Nyatiti: A Study on the Transformation of
the Bowl Lyre of the Luo People of Kenya” (2004), and Jean Kidula’s “‘Sing and Shine’:
Religious Popular Music in Kenya” (1998), George Senoga-Zake’s Folk Music of Kenya: For
Teachers and Students of Music and for the Music-Loving Public (1986), Okumba Miruka’s Oral
Literature of the Luo (2001), and Naomi Kipury’s Oral Literature of the Maasai (1983).
An examination of music performance historically common to the regions of Kenya and
East Africa more generally has provided contexts for understanding the ways in which music
functions presently in the NGO sector. These scholarly sources on East African music from a
historical perspective include Terence Ranger’s Dance and Society in Eastern Africa, 18901970: The Beni Ngoma (1975), John Janzen’s Ngoma: Discourses of Healing in Central and
Southern Africa (1992), as well as Frank Gunderson’s Sukuma Labor Songs from Western
Tanzania: “We Never Sleep, We Dream of Farming” (2010). Frank Gunderson and Gregory
Barz’s edited compendium, Mashindano! Competitive Music Performance in East Africa (2000)
provides a broad spectrum of articles featuring various examples of socially organized music
competition. Damascus Kafumbe’s “The Kawuugulu Royal Drums: Musical Regalia, History,
and Social Organization Among the Baganda People of Uganda” (2011) provided an exhaustive
catalog of music sources, primary interviews, and historical information about the development
of Kawuugulu Royal Drum repertories and their development. All of the scholarship listed above
provided useful documentation of social organization facilitated by music performance in East
A number of East African music studies intersect with the organizational music culture of
NGOs in Africa and have thus been valuable to the contextualization of my fieldwork. Kathleen
Noss Van Buren’s “Stealing Elephants, Creating Futures: Exploring Uses of Music and Other
Arts for Community Education in Nairobi, Kenya” (2006) is a recent dissertation that
investigates individuals, schools, NGOs, and grassroots organizations (GROs) constructing
forms of community education through music performance in Kenya. She offers further
depictions and perspectives on these groups and her applied ethnomusicological engagement
with them in several subsequent articles: “Partnering for Social Change: Exploring Relationships
Between Musicians and Organizations in Nairobi, Kenya” (2007), “Locating Hope in
Performance: Lessons from Edward Kabuye” (2009), “Applied Ethnomusicology and HIV and
AIDS: Responsibility, Ability, and Action” (2010), and the book chapter, “Music, HIV/AIDS,
and Social Change in Nairobi, Kenya” (2011). I have attempted to build on Van Buren’s research
by mapping music initiatives of a contrasting segment of Nairobi’s civil society. The
internationally networked and funded organizations documented here (such as Alliance
Française, Ketebul Music, and Ford Foundation) operate within a cultural sphere that intersects
in many ways with the locally constituted grass-roots initiatives portrayed in her dissertation.
Additionally, Leonard Mjomba’s Empowering Kenyan Youth to Combat HIV/AIDS Using
Ngoma Dialogue Circles: A Grounded Theory Approach (2005) utilized an applied approach to
incorporating health education into hybridized traditional music practices, which he refers to as
ngoma circles. Both Van Buren and Mjomba’s studies provided valuable stepping off points for
the local context of this dissertation.
Although focused outside of Kenya, Gregory Barz, in Singing for Life: HIV/AIDS and
Music in Uganda (2006), illustrated how community-based organizations (CBOs) in Uganda,
such as Meeting Point and TASO Drama Group, have embraced performance art (theater, dance,
and song) to raise awareness and increase dialogue about effective HIV prevention (2006: 5367). More recently, Peter Hoesing’s dissertation titled, “Kusamira Ritual Music and the Social
Reproduction of Wellness in Uganda” (2011) examines how indigenous healers and healing
associations in Uganda adapt, negotiate, and compete with global “development” culture
associated organizations such as NGOs. This dissertation attempts to contribute to this small but
growing body of research that traverses music and organizational development in East Africa.
A recent wave of publications in Africanist ethnomusicology and performance studies
has examined musical expression as a reflection of the postcolonial African nation state, a
political perspective from which this dissertation aims to draw. Njogu and Maupeu’s edited
volume Songs and Politics in Eastern Africa (2007) features articles that utilize global historical
lenses to examine streams of transnational contact on music expression and resistance during the
colonial and postcolonial periods in Kenya. Drawing from this collection’s illustrations of
politically inscribed music in East Africa, my dissertation continues to trace histories of global
politics and the call and response of music in Kenya. Francesca Castaldi’s Choreographies of
African Identities: Negritude, Dance, and the National Ballet of Senegal (2006), Laura
Edmondson’s The Nation on Stage: Performance and Politics in Tanzania (2007), Kelly
Askew’s Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania (2002), and
Bob White’s Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire (2008), have
researched how national ballets, theatre troupes, and popular music groups use music to
simultaneously reflect, reinforce, and resist nationalist ideology.
1.4.7 Globalization and World Music Sources
The contemporary globalized cultural landscape that Anthony Giddens described as
consisting of “larger and larger numbers of people living in circumstances in which disembedded
institutions, linking local practices with globalized social relations, organize major aspects of
day-to-day life” (1990: 79) complicates locally and nationally bound readings of contemporary
sociocultural contexts. Given the highly global identities of NGOs, researching music within the
NGO sector contributes to recent discussions of expressed nationalism in artistic performance to
include the ways in which global politics, nationalism, and local cultural manifestations
intermingle and influence one another.
Arjun Appadurai’s and Anna Tsing’s landmark works on globalization have impacted
discourse on the phenomenon across disciplines. Appadurai’s work Modernity at Large: Cultural
Dimensions of Globalization (1996) significantly influenced this dissertation’s perspectives on
globalization as social processes embedded in plurality, and ones in which imagination,
economy, politics, media, and culture hold significant sway. Tsing’s ethnography Friction: An
Ethnography of Global Connection (2005) theorized global encounters in the Indonesian rain
forests. In Tsing’s global ethnography, environmentalists, scientists, private corporations, rural
settlers, and politicians occupy intersecting global streams of economy, culture, and history. This
text provided an immensely valuable approach to my ethnographic perspective on globalization
by documenting perspectives of participants that were varied, sometimes conflicted, and often
separated by geography, but ironically tied to each other at global centers of intersection. My
dissertation invokes Tsing’s analysis by attempting, also through fieldwork, to highlight
perspectives and interests of musicians, funders, clients, and administrators operating within the
global streams of contact in Kenya’s NGO sector.
In a similar vein, but from a musicological perspective, Louise Meintjes’ Sound of
Africa!: Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio (2003), an ethnography of South African
recording studios, embraces a global perspective of music production that particularly influences
this dissertation’s portrayal of an NGO music studio, Ketebul Music (see “Part 2”), as a locale of
global intersection. Meintjes writes, “The studio represents a microcosm of the society within
which it exists. It offers a prism into late capitalist, late apartheid experience and into how global
popular culture flows are activated within the context of local politics” (2003: 9). Drawing from
Meintjes’ conceptual positioning of the South African music studio, this dissertation examines
the NGO music studio Ketebul Music at the center of international, national, and local streams of
cultural contact.
Ethnomusicologists have made significant attempts in recent years to confront the
musical manifestations of globalization and I have drawn extensively from this body of work for
this dissertation. Mark Slobin’s Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West (1993a) and
Global Soundtracks: Worlds of Film Music (2008), as well as Veit Erlmann’s Music, Modernity,
and the Global Imagination: South Africa and the West (1993) both make substantial strides in
the direction of theorizing global interconnections of music production. Much of this work has
intersected with and influenced the extensive musicological writings on the World Music
industry, which musicologists have utilized as a frame to examine processes of globalization. Of
these authors, Steven Feld (1988; 1996; 2000; Feld and Kirkegaard 2011), Hugo Zemp (1996),
Veit Erlmann (1992; 1996a; 1996b; 1998; 1999), Laurent Aubert (2007), and Martin Stokes
(2003; 2004) have been most influential. I review this body of scholarship extensively in Chapter
6’s introduction to Ketebul Music, an organization on the front lines of marketing their music
within the international World Music industry.
1.4.8 African NGO Sources
A range of studies on humanitarian aid, human rights, development, economics, and
African history have forwarded critical examinations of the sustainability, successes, and failures
of NGOs working in Africa. This scholarly discourse contributes to the contextualization of
NGO musical activities.
The recently published volumes by the Kenyan human rights advocate, Makau Mutua,
titled Kenya’s Quest for Democracy: Taming Leviathan (2008) and Human Rights NGOs in East
Africa (2009) provide a historical view of challenges faced by human rights NGOs in the
particular region of this project, thereby also informing the organizational climate of NGO music
production. Stephen Ndegwa’s The Two Faces of Civil Society: NGOs and Politics in Africa
(1996), has also provided an invaluable specific focus on the political development and history
of NGOs in Kenya and a comparative study of two Kenyan NGOs. Other resources focusing on
NGO history and politics in Africa include Erica Bornstein’s The Spirit of Development:
Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe (2005), Michael Jennings’ Surrogates
of the State: NGOs, Development, and Ujamaa in Tanzania (2008), and Sam Moyo’s NGO
Advocacy in Zimbabwe: Systematizing an Old Function or Inventing a New Role? (1991). Paul
Nugent’s Africa Since Independence: A Comparative History (2004) provides a comparative
history of African nationstates from the mid-twentieth century onward. Nugent’s narrative
provides the historical framework for the emergence of NGO development discussed in Chapter
Turning to a body of critical perspectives on NGO culture, Alexander de Waal’s Famine
Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa (1997), David Sogge’s Give and
Take: What’s the Matter with Foreign Aid? (2002), Fiona Terry’s Condemned to Repeat? The
Paradox of Humanitarian Action (2002), and Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not
Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (2010) have provided one competing
perspective addressed in this dissertation. None of these works, however, privilege the voices of
those in Africa most severely affected by such aid initiatives through interviews or participant
observer-based fieldwork, nor does music or expressive culture generally play a role in their
discussions. This dissertation aims to build upon this body of scholarship by providing an
ethnographic approach to NGO culture.
1.4.9 Organizational Studies Sources
Organizational studies conducted in the social sciences also inform this dissertation. Civil
society and public administration scholarship in particular have made some recent attempts to
identify the scope and characteristics of the international nonprofit sector (of which NGOs are
key actors). In this regard, I have greatly benefitted from John Keane’s writings on the defining
characteristics of global civil society. These sources include Global Civil Society? (2003) which
interrogates the variable meanings of the concept, and Civil Society and the State: New European
Perspectives (1988).
The Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project18 is an ongoing comparative
research project examining the global nonprofit sector. Lester Salamon’s and Helmut Anheier’s
Defining the Nonprofit Sector: A Cross-National Analysis (1997) was one of the first major
publications that resulted from the Johns Hopkins initiative. Although Salamon and Anheier did
not include Kenya in the data collection for this publication, Salamon and Sokolowski have since
collected data on Kenya and a number of “developing” nations, including Kenya published in
Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector, Volume Two (2004).
Karuti Kanyinga and Winnie Mitullah, the two Kenyan researchers primarily responsible
for collecting the Kenyan data for Salamon and Sokolowski, later published The Non-Profit
Sector in Kenya: What We Know and What We Don’t Know (2007) mapping the nonprofit sector
in Kenya. This study drew upon many more resources and perspectives that pertain to Kenya in
particular to attain a more nuanced perspective on the organizational landscape from the
perspective of Kenyan researchers. Kanyinga’s and Mitullah’s research is an example of a
quantitative study conducted within Kenya by Kenyans who may be privy to relevant
perspectives and knowledge not available to non-Kenyan researchers like Salamon and Anheier.
Two more recent broad based studies on the NGO sector in Kenya build upon Kanyinga’s and
Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society: The Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project., accessed 3.25.10.
Mitullah’s study: “The Process of Reviewing the NGO Coordination Act of 1990: A Step by
Step Road Map” (2009) by Faith Kisinga and “NGO Law Reform in Kenya: Incorporating Best
Practices” by Rahma Adan Jillo (2009). Jillo and Kisinga examine law and governance
apparatuses in historical perspective.
A growing sub-discipline of social anthropology known as organizational anthropology
has opened new pathways for conducting fieldwork in the sorts of organizational settings that my
research will encounter. Some of the earliest organizational anthropologists active during the
1920s were social network theorists (Kilduff and Tsai 2003: 13). Beginning in the 1920s, a group
of anthropologists in the Harvard Business School began a ten-year investigation of factory life
in the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company (Kilduff and Tsai 2003: 14). These
network theorists used a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to examine how the
individuals that acted within the factory were socially connected. This approach consisted of
diagramming the social linkages between individuals within organizations. Network approaches
have since been utilized in a number of fields, including sociology, mathematics, psychology,
physics, and biology but have particularly early roots in anthropology. Martin Kilduff and
Wenpin Tsai’s Social Networks and Organizations (2003), Samuel Leinhardt’s Social Networks:
A Developing Paradigm (1977), and John Scott’s Social Network Analysis: A Handbook (2000)
comprise three foundational texts that address case studies, history, and methodology of this
approach. Although social network methods often utilize surveys or archival records, I will
derive my information primarily from field interviews and participation in the community and
render these connections in ethnographic form. Nonetheless, the network approaches by these
authors partially inform the theoretical design, methodology, and analysis of my fieldwork data.
Since the 1980s, a surge of ethnographic and participant observation-based fieldwork has
also come into being within anthropological studies. By taking into account the unique
confluence of social factors resulting from the rule-governed nature of bureaucratic institutions
in relation to those working within them, these studies offer perspectives on organizations and
industries as discrete cultural entities. This line of inquiry is uniquely suited to an ethnographic
study of NGOs. John Van Maanen’s Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography (1988), Susan
Wright’s Anthropology of Organizations (1994), and David Gellner and Eric Hirsch’s Inside
Organizations: Anthropologists at Work (2001) provide strategies for conducting fieldwork in
organizational settings.
1.5 Background
1.5.1 Nairobi as a Location of Contingent Cultural Intersection
Nairobi is an ideal locale to study the global streams of cultural contact such as those
reflected in the manifestations of NGO music culture.19 The city’s identity has been, even long
before its emergence as an urban capital, a contested space of cultural negotiation and
convergence within the East African region. These convergences, like NGO culture, reference
many points along a conceptual continuum spanning local to global contingencies. The
emergence of global civil society culture in Nairobi thus carries forth recurring patterns of
cultural fluidity that deconstruct imagined and exoticized stereotypes of Africa as a place of
indigenous societies with static cultural histories. The following historical examples of cultural
convergence and fusion in the region that came to be known as Nairobi provide background
information about the site of this study and contextualize this dissertation’s conception of NGO
music culture.
Figure 1.3: Map locating Nairobi (marked by the green pin) within the East Africa
Community (shaded yellow). Map created using Google Maps.
Chapter 2 builds on this background by providing a historical analysis of NGO development in Kenya and its
intersections with music culture.
1.5.2 Precolonial Cultural Intersections Early Settlers and Migrations
Even ethnic communities considered most indigenous to the region of Nairobi, namely
the Gikuyu,20 Akamba, and Maasai, starkly contrast one another in migratory histories, linguistic
affiliations, and cultural traditions. Bantu and Nilotic migrations from East and West Africa
respectively that began before the dawn of the first millennia foreshadow the theme of global
cultural incursion on local settlements referenced in the emergence of global civil society culture
in Kenya.21 The societies that arrived in East Africa as a result of the Bantu and Nilotic
migrations later splintered into numerous East African ethnic groups and now constitute a
majority of the over seventy ethnic communities residing within Kenya’s borders. These early
historical trajectories supply the context for the presence of Gikuyu, Akamba, and Maasai
communities in the region and reaffirm a portrayal of culture as fluid and shifting over time.
The Gikuyu, who comprise approximately 20% of the Kenyan population, are Kenya’s
largest ethnic denomination. Archeological and linguistic evidence suggests that the Gikuyu
culture was passed down through descendants of Bantu migrations who arrived in East Africa
around the sixteenth century. Gikuyu folklore traces the group’s ancestry to the Mount Kenya
region, around one hundred miles outside the city limits of Nairobi. Given the substantial
population of the community, it has for several centuries also populated the inner and
surrounding areas of what is now Nairobi and consequently also played a significant part in
Kenya’s government and commercial industries. Bantu migrations that brought Gikuyus to
Mount Kenya placed them in direct contact with Maasai, who currently comprise around 2% of
Kenya’s population, communities that had settled in the region centuries earlier. The incursion of
new Gikuyu populations into regions primarily inhabited by the Maasai created struggles over
resources such as land and cattle. The contrasting migratory backgrounds of the Maasai and
Gikuyu caused the two groups to have distinct language and cultural practices, which encouraged
divides between the societies. The co-habitation of Gikuyus and Maasai in the region did,
however, encourage some inter-group mergers such as those created through intermarriage. The
“Gikuyu” is often spelled “Kikuyu” in scholarship, popular discourses and news media. I have chosen this
spelling largely as a result of the advice of Gikuyu friends who suggested that it more closely reflects how they
pronounce the word. In Chapter 11, I will discuss some of the politics of the Kikuyu/Gikuyu spelling differentiation
in the context of Ketebul Music’s choice to use the “Kikuyu” spelling for their documentary, Retracing Kikuyu
Popular Music (2010).
This historical development will be addressed in detail in Chapter 2.
Akamba, an ethnic group that like the Gikuyu and Maasai populate the areas in and around
Nairobi, are also descendants of Bantu migrations but arrived in the region much later (during
the first half of the nineteenth century) and currently comprise about 10% of Kenya’s population.
Tensions between Maasai, Akamba, Gikuyu and numerous other communities over land and
resources continue to resurface in contemporary strains of Kenyan society.22 Transcontinental Trade Routes
Serving as an intersection of transcontinental trade routes, Nairobi and its surrounding
areas were located along a path that linked inland and coastal East Africa. Most notably among
the earliest groups to shape the history of transcontinental trade in East Africa were Arabs. Arabs
came to East Africa as early as the fourteenth century seeking valuable resources, both dead (in
the case of the ivory), and alive (in the case of slaves). Religious Missionaries
In addition to pursuing trade and commerce, Arabs also brought an Islamizing mission to
the region the region Kenya now inhabits. These sentiments came to influence religious practices
in the region, particularly in the coastal city of Mombasa, which now remains largely Muslim in
religious affiliation. But it was the cultural imperialism of European nations reinforced by
religious, exploratory, and enlightenment ideologies that most intensely influenced religious
practices taking place more inland in areas such as those around present day Nairobi. Various
waves of Christian missionaries settled in East Africa beginning in the fifteenth century.
Portuguese Catholic missionaries settled in East Africa from 1498 until around the mid-1700s,
and later the British Anglican church and other Christian denominations arrived in the region.
One especially notable example of a British Anglican missionary presence in precolonial Kenya
was the British Church Missionary Society by Johann Ludwig Krapf founded in 1844 (Strayer
1978: 30; Kidula 1998: 39). Kiswahili: Language for Cross-Cultural Communication
The history of intense intercultural mingling that characterized East Africa from the
earliest societies that settled in the region, for which I have presented a very general overview,
gave birth to the language of Kiswahili. Kiswahili acted and continues to function as a linguistic
technology intended for purposes of facilitating communication between the multitude of ethnic
University of Pennsylvania, African Studies Center’s “East Africa Living Encyclopedia: Kenya- Ethnic Groups”
Webpage (, accessed 06.18.12).
groups residing and conducting business in the region. The hybrid language relies on core
grammatical tenets of Bantu origin but also absorbed words from Nilotic and Cushitic languages
in addition to English and Arabic. Kiswahili probably first developed as a specialized language
used by Arabic and East African traders for purposes of business but quickly grew to become a
lingua franca for much of East Africa. Realizing the utility of Kiswahili for purposes of
evangelism, Christian missionaries also studied the language and created some of the first written
documents in the language by publishing translated Kiswahili versions of the Bible.
Later in Kenya’s history, in the mid-twentieth century, Kiswahili made possible unilateral
multiethnic group resistance movements against the British colonial government. Kiswahili
served especially well to forward this cause given the notoriously low level of fluency among
British settlers. English, however, continued to hold sway as a language of utility and power for
the newly liberated nation of Kenya. English became the first official national language in 1962
at independence. It was not until 1973 that the Kenyan government instituted Kiswahili as an
official language. Even then, it retained a second-place status relative to English given the lack
of an official Kiswahili curriculum in public school systems. Ten years later, in 1983, Kiswahili
became a mandatory part of the national education agenda and is now taught in Kenyan public
schools across the country.23
1.5.3 The Colonial Period and the Early Urbanization of Nairobi
Initial urbanization of the region now known as Nairobi came about largely through its
development as a central station for the Ugandan Railway, a British railway project that stretched
from the coastal city of Mombasa into the center of Uganda. The installation of the station in
1899 served Christian missionary interests, as well as British interests in the procurement of
resources, both human and material, which the inner geographical regions of East Africa
provided. The growing population of British settlers in the region forcibly removed Gikuyu
communities from the most fertile lands, setting in motion a cycle of land grabbing that
continued throughout post-independence Kenya among the nation’s many ethnic groups.
To facilitate the construction of the railway, British militias, engineers, entrepreneurs,
and investors employed Indian and Pakistani merchants and laborers who settled in the region in
search of business and trade opportunities. The industrial and colonial class structure then
University of Pennsylvania, African Studies Center’s “East Africa Living Encyclopedia: Kenya- Languages”
Webpage (, accessed 06.19.12).
created a hierarchy in which the British grabbed the most fertile land. The resulting geographical
and social phenomenon was that Nairobi became a city more reflective of the characteristics of
its European, Indian, and Pakistani majorities despite its geographical location on the African
continent. This occurred to the extent that the ethnic groups that were so-called indigenous to the
area (Gikuyu, Akamba, and Maasai) supplied menial labor and were relegated to land on the
margins of the city center. The marginalization of the indigenous African populations only
increased in the years leading up to independence. As the Mau Mau resistance movement against
the British colonizers escalated, the city administration required Africans to obtain specialized
passes for travel within the city limits and curfews restricted the movement of Africans at night
(Kidula 1998: 33).
The British fully embraced the utility of Nairobi as an intermediary railway outpost
between the coast and inner territories of Uganda by naming it the capital of the British
protectorate in 1905, declaring it a municipality in 1919, the capital of the British colony in
1920, and an official city in 1950 (Kidula 1998: 33). This early history of Nairobi presents the
city as one relatively recently constructed, in comparison to the coastal trading centers of
Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, through intersecting streams of global migrations rather than a
place with long-standing local roots. Nairobi would later become one of the largest urban centers
in sub-Saharan Africa and a hub for business and industry for East Africa.
1.5.4 Post-Independence and Construction of the Nation State
Although the struggle for independence achieved a more localized culture of governance
for Kenya compared to the previous British rule, the new nation state, led by Jomo Kenyatta,
manifested a continuation of many pre-independence struggles over land and resources and
brought a new set of economic struggles that were no less globally intertwined. In many ways,
the new government reflected many cultural impressions left by the British. Nairobi became the
nation’s capital, as it was the capital of the British colony, and the system and structure of
government closely mirrored that of Britain’s. Kenyatta’s Kenya utilized many of the draconian
strategies used by the British to exert control of the region. In particular, this largely consisted of
grabbing land and favoritism based on ethnic alliances with a particularly large amount of spoils
going to the family members of the president and the Gikuyu community he belonged to (Mutua
At independence, Nairobi had become a key destination for many migrants from within
and also outside of Kenya. Proposed opportunities for labor provided key incentives in this
regard, and as a result, informal urban settlements began to develop to house the growing
population, much of which had traveled to Nairobi from rural locations within Kenya. Given the
over seventy ethnic groups living within Kenya’s borders, Nairobi's informal settlements, which
would come to be popularly classified as “slums,” created intensely complex spaces for linguistic
and cultural interaction. Breaking down distinctions between rural and urban and giving way to a
geo-historical exchange of economy and capital, these groups continue to travel back and forth
great distances between Nairobi and their ancestral homes throughout Kenya. Nairobi thus has
added new layers of cultural convergence to its already diverse character and history.
Migrants also flocked to Nairobi from outside of Kenya. Political instability in
neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (known as Zaire between 1971
and 1997), Uganda, and Somalia has resulted in many of these migrations. Although Kenya
continued to undergo internal tensions since independence, it managed to remain more politically
stable than some of its neighbors and therefore provided a safe haven for populations living in
other countries fleeing persecution and war. These migrations from outside of Kenya have
resulted in large settlements of refugees on the borders of Kenya as well as within Nairobi.
Exemplifying a recent chapter in this trend, a growing population of Somalis living in Nairobi
and in refugee camps and villages in Northern Kenya has become the focus of some of Kenya's
most heated political and social debates.
1.5.5 Recent Struggles of National Politics and Ethnicity
In 2007, several months of violence along ethnic lines ensued after a national election
ballot count for the Kenyan presidency reported that Mwai Kibaki and the KANU political party
had won a second term against the opposing political party, ODM led by Raila Odinga. The
violence resulted in nearly 1,000 deaths and over 600,000 displaced people (BBC News 2008).24
Odinga, a Luo (Kenya’s second-largest ethnic community) by ethnic affiliation accused Kibaki,
who is Gikuyu by ethnic lineage, and his political party, of corruption at the polls and in the
ballot count. The violence not only referenced a concern over corruption and transition to a new
political party but also signaled a past history of political leadership characterized by favoritism
along ethnic and clan lines. As a result, violence broke out with particular ferocity in areas with
BBC News. 2008. “Some 600,000 Displaced in Kenya,” (, accessed
histories of ethnic conflict, such as the Rift Valley where Kalenjins and Gikuyus had for years
struggled over land rights and access to resources, many of which had been granted or taken
away based on the ethnic identity of national and local political leadership. In Western provinces
such as Nyanza, where Luos make up the majority of the population, ODM party sympathizers
attacked Gikuyus, looted their businesses, and forced families to abandon their land. These
recent events exemplify some of the negative dimensions of cultural intersection that have
manifested in the arena of nation state politics. The following chapters will further reference
these tensions and negotiations by exemplifying NGO initiatives aimed at addressing inter-ethnic
conflict, encouraging national unity through pride in diversity.
1.5.6 Nairobi as a Site of Global Intersections of Music Culture
The numerous intersecting cultures that have continually rehashed and renewed the
diverse cultural landscape of Nairobi project a diverse music-scape full of divisions and fusions
that contextualize contemporary Kenyan NGO music culture. The following historical view of
Nairobi’s music culture emphasizes such convergences and provides an introduction to some of
the genres and modes of production from which the city’s NGO music culture draws its
expressive and aesthetic content. Many genres commonly heard in Nairobi’s soundscape, which I
will discuss below, such as benga and mugithi, will be re-examined in subsequent chapters in
addition to their relationship with independent music studios on Nairobi’s River Road. The
following section will provide a brief introduction to these elements of music culture, which will
be elaborated on throughout the course of the dissertation. Precolonial Music-Scapes and Diverse Ethnic Heritages
Kenya’s over seventy ethnic groups, each of which maintains remarkably diverse
expressions of identity through music, have made the country rich in musical diversity. These
expressions of culture also reflect ever-changing and cross-fertilizing customs and norms. During
the precolonial era, the collective presence of Gikuyu, Akamba, and Maasai ethnic groups, and
their musical practices, made the region a place of musical intersection long before its emergence
as an urban center. Although Kenya's many ethnic groups maintained much of their musical
heritage through cultural practices, such as rites of passage, funerals, and weddings, the societal
changes that came with colonization, industrialization, and globalization caused the rapid natural
attrition of many discretely ethnic musical heritages. This was especially the case for the Gikuyu,
who faced substantial pressure to abandon traditional musical practices under the direction of the
British regional government. During the early twentieth century struggle for independence, the
Colonial magistrate banned Gikuyus from participating in any form of musical engagement in
response to uses of music in the Mau Mau resistance movement for organizing strategies of
protest and revolt (Mwaura 2007). Postcolonial “Folk” Music Preservation and Presentation
After independence, institutionalized and government-sponsored presentation and
preservation of Kenya’s ethnic music heritages assisted in promoting national identity by
acknowledging the cultural diversity with the nation’s borders. Government offices based in
Nairobi, such as the Ministry of Culture and Permanent Presidential Commission on Music
(PPCM), as well as tourism outfits such as Bomas of Kenya, created numerous commercial and
public avenues to identify, preserve, promote, and present the musical traditions of many of
Kenya's ethnic groups. A notable example of this includes the Kenya Music Festival, a nationwide elementary through secondary school music competition that takes place at district,
regional, and state levels. Among other genres of performance, the Kenya Music Festival
encourages performances that promote the preservation of Kenya’s cultural heritage (Van Buren
2006: 313-325).25 Another example is the five volume Ngoma za Kenya, a video documentary
series of archived “folk” performances produced by the Permanent Presidential Commission on
These sorts of institutionalized presentations of “folk” music reflect local and global
streams of culture equally in that they emerge out of Kenyan political motivations to promote
local culture but also reference a strategy imported from Western nation states for building
national unity. Although notions of “folk” then necessarily import dimensions of Western
political history, the government supported practice of cultural preservation has served to
preserve, promote, and identify an exceptional diversity of music in Kenya. A number of these
musics will be documented in Chapter 2’s review of historical contexts of NGO-oriented music
culture in East Africa. Nairobi as a Hub for Global Intersections of Popular Music
Throughout the course of the twentieth century, Nairobi became a hub for popular music
In addition to the pages noted here, Van Buren’s 2006 dissertation “Stealing Elephants, Creating Futures:
Exploring Uses of Music and Other Arts for Community Education in Nairobi” provides ethnographic
documentation of numerous examples of music performance at the 2004 Kenya Music Festival by community music
groups and education centers.
industries and technologies for the entire region of East Africa and much of sub-Saharan Africa.
In the early twentieth century, the gramophone market serving British colonial settlers marked an
early chapter in the presence of globally distributed music technologies in Nairobi (Gecau 1995:
561; Kidula 1998: 34). By the mid-twentieth century, European producers had created recording
studios and were pressing 78 rpm records in the capital. International music production and
pressing houses would soon follow in the 1960s, also migrating to Nairobi and surrounding
towns. The largest and longest running of these was Polygram. Andrew Crawford, AIT, EMI and
CBS also conducted business in these regions during the post-independence years (Wallis and
Malm 1984; 1992; Nyairo 2004a: 1-38).
The presence of these local and transnational operations would make Nairobi a center for
popular music production, not only in Kenya but for the whole of East Africa. They were
particularly successful in not only distributing Western music to the East African market but also
providing distribution for Congolese rumba and soukous musicians to the entire continent and
later into Europe. During the 1970s and 1980s, Tanzanian and Kenyan musicians began
performing the Congolese influenced rumba music in Kiswahili and at faster dance tempos. The
East African based multinational record labels capitalized on the growing popularity of this
genre and produced some of the premier bands during that time, such as Super Mazembe,
Mlimani Park, and Orchestra Virunga.
The international production houses located in Nairobi hired local Kenyan brokers and
scouts to seek out local talent. These independent contractors quickly learned the technical and
business skills of the imported popular music industry and set up their own local music studios.
By the 1970s, dozens of independent studios had sprung up throughout Kenya providing
significant competition for the multinational recording outlets. Some of these local pioneer music
producers/production house owners included A.P. Chandarana, David Amunga, Oluoch
Kanindo, Mzee Daudia, Peter Colmore, and Charles Worrod. Although scattered throughout
Kenya, most of these independent studios are located along Nairobi’s River Road, where
musicians throughout Kenya come to record their music. The competitive edge of the local
studios has always been the speed and low cost at which they are capable of recording albums
and their close ties to the local market.
During the 1960s, new local independent music studios such as Chandarana, Kanindo,
and Melodica cornered the emerging market of benga, Kenya’s most iconic and widely
recognized popular music. Benga emerged as a guitar music sometime around the mid-twentieth
century after an influx of soldiers brought by World War II came with Western guitars and guitar
music. The Luo community of Western Kenya applied the plucking technique of the nyatiti (a
lyre which has for a long time been a prominent symbol of Luo musical heritage) to the newly
introduced guitars, which formed the basis for this new popular music. Although the cultural and
stylistic roots of benga grew out of Western Kenya as a genre primarily performed by the Luo,
the style also drew influence from widely popular Congolese rumba music. Benga quickly
spread throughout Kenya to become a national popular music style adopted by many ethnic
groups and sung in an equally wide array of languages. Perhaps the most famous benga musician
was D.O. Misiani, whose popularity throughout the 1970s brought him to perform throughout
East Africa, Europe, and North America. Today, various styles of benga are recorded in the
studios located on Nairobi’s River Road and can be heard on Kenya’s “vernacular music” radio
stations, which cater to local audiences using ethnic languages relevant to the geographic reach
of the broadcast.26
The music most commonly heard on the vernacular stations around Nairobi is not Luo
benga, but Gikuyu popular music which, although demonstrating influences from the benga
genre, has an especially distinct historical development. The prevalence of Gikuyu music on
radio waves in and around Nairobi was and is largely due to the large Gikuyu population in the
area. Unlike the varied incarnations of the popular Luo music benga, Gikuyu popular music
reflects the heavy influence of American country music styles. This influence manifests to the
extent of Gikuyu musicians and even audience members wearing Stetson hats and cowboy boots
as well as owning collections of American country records. Such transnational cultural fusions
embedded within so-called local musics reaffirm the characterization of Nairobi as a place of
cultural intersection.27
Musics of Kenya’s border regions as well as music imported from outside of Kenya also
comprise a significant portion of Nairobi’s musical soundscape. Some of these genres include the
Kiswahili popular musics taarab and bongo flava from Tanzania and the Kenyan coast.
Congolese popular music is widely popular throughout Kenya. Additionally, a large audience of
Somali migrants concentrated in the Nairobi district of Eastleigh has brought Somali popular
Osusa, Tabu. Retracing the Benga Rhythm. DVD. Distributed by Ketebul Music. Nairobi, Kenya, 2008.
Osusa, Tabu. Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music. DVD. Distributed by Ketebul Music. Nairobi, Kenya, 2010.
music into the urban capital. Perhaps the most blatant instances of global influence in the history
of Nairobi's music culture are the American and Caribbean popular music such as hip-hop and
reggae that has come to dominate Nairobi's popular music radio stations and the tastes of a
younger generation of Kenyans. The impact of the globally expansive commercial music
industry of the United States has also resulted in the emergence of hip-hop styles created by a
younger generation of Kenyans rapping in ethnic dialects, Sheng, Kiswahili, and English. “Part
2” of this dissertation will further examine these intersections of the American popular music
industry and Nairobi’s NGO music culture.
1.6 Chapter Outline: A Contingently Structured Text
Linking theory and method to presentation, the progression of chapters in this dissertation
further emphasizes the notion of ethnographic contingency by paralleling the fieldwork process
employed during the course of research. The discursive stance of the researcher (myself), will
attain progressively closer proximity to the subject to reflect the research process, which first
began primarily through secondary sources in the United States, then became increasingly
participant observation-oriented throughout the fieldwork process in Kenya. As the dissertation
progresses, I present shifts in methodological approaches employed during the fieldwork process
in relation to the particular themes evoked in the text. Out of the various stages of the research
process, contrasting themes, or voices, emerged that the chapters of this dissertation attempt to
capture as equally valid relational perspectives on NGO music culture.
1.6.1 Part 1
Chapter 2 adopts a historical perspective that emphasizes macro dimensions of NGO
music culture. It depicts the spread of European and North American nonprofit culture to Africa
in the form of NGOs tied to global capitalist and postcolonial agendas and “development”
ideology. I then contrast these global dimensions of NGO culture with local civil societyoriented East African music practices predating the post 1980s influence of NGO culture.
Chapter 3’s comparative survey of international and local NGOs carrying out music initiatives in
Nairobi, however, complicates the emphasis on Western influences of NGO culture by
exemplifying a wide variety of NGO-oriented music activities in Kenya organized by locally
administered Kenyan organizations. Western influence nevertheless continues to retain a
prominent position, as the expressive behaviors of Nairobi’s NGO music production initiatives
substantially incorporate Western nonprofit-based terminology such as “development,”
“sustainability,” “initiatives,” “mission,” “vision,” and “objectives” and reliance on funding
channels that largely originate in the Global North. From a broad survey of organizations
operating in Nairobi, Kenya, to the perspectives of musicians, producers, and managers that
work with and within them, Chapter 4 offers a depiction of NGO music culture in which East
African music industry moguls adapt the emerging revenue streams and resources of global civil
society in response to a destabilized local music industry.
1.6.2 Part 2
Part 2 presents finer-grained, participant observation-based sets of contingencies by
providing a monograph style account of Ketebul Music, an NGO music studio production house
at the center of Kenya’s NGO music culture. Chapter 5 launches this participant observationbased perspective by providing an overview of the organization. I also examine the
organization’s participation in the international World Music industry in relation to a large body
of musicological scholarship interrogating globalization as a conceptual phenomenon
exemplified by the World Music industry. I propose to address the underrepresentation of
interviews with African musicians and World Music industry stakeholders in this body of
research in Part 2. Chapter 6 is an autobiographical account of the life of Ketebul Music’s
founder and director to document life experience-based context out of which the organization
grew and currently operates. In stark contrast to Part 1’s cultural narrative of the macroeconomic and primarily Western historical/cultural incursions which shape East African music
production, this ethnographic illustration of the life of Tabu Osusa demonstrates the powerful
agency of an individual stakeholder in East Africa’s music culture whose life circumstances
contextualize the mission of the NGO music studio Ketebul Music. Chapter 7 examines the
socio-musical contingencies of music production at Ketebul Music through an ethnographic
account of stylistic interpretations of Afro-fusion by the two first artists signed to the
organization’s label, Makadem and Olith Ratego. Chapter 8 examines Ketebul Music from an
organizational network perspective and documents how a series of collaborative projects with the
transnational nonprofit, Alliance Française, resulted in the branding of the genre Afro-fusion.
Chapter 9 presents a studio ethnography that examines the role and influence of the
producer/sound engineer in the production of Afro-fusion. I present a close musical analysis of
Jesse Bukindu’s studio production of the song “Halele” by the group Gargar. Chapter 10
documents how members of Ketebul Music, Kenyan scholars, and NGO grantees attempt to
impact and empower Kenyan historical consciousness though the production of documentary
films that trace the cultural roots of Kenyan popular music.
Universal history is the history of contingencies, and not the history of necessity.
-Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,
Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1977)
2.1 Introduction
This chapter offers historical perspectives on the development of global civil society and
preexisting forms of civil society-oriented East African music practices in order to contextualize
the emergence of NGO music culture in Kenya. To outline these varied historical trajectories, I
present a history of (1) the emergence of a global civil society culture of NGOs; (2) the rise of
NGOs in Africa; and (3) the subsequent growth of international and local NGOs and NGO
policies in Kenya. I also examine historical intersections of music culture and NGO culture that
include civil society-oriented East African music performance contexts and intersections of the
international pop music industry within NGO initiatives in Africa. Rather than present a linear
historical presentation of the development of NGO music culture in Kenya, I have adopted a
contingency-based approach that depicts numerous intersecting and simultaneously generated
historical threads of circumstances. Supporting this contingency-based approach to history, I turn
to Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s assertion that,
Universal history is the history of contingencies, and not the history of necessity.
Ruptures and limits, and not continuity. For great accidents were necessary… to
fashion a new machine bearing the determination of the capitalist socius (Deleuze
and Guattari 2004: 154).28
The emergence of Kenya’s NGO music culture resulted from such contingencies of chance
Kenya’s historical and political ties to the United States and the United Kingdom,
Kenya’s capitalist policy approach taken after independence, and post-Cold War efforts by
capitalist countries in the Global North to divert multilateral and international aid away from the
Deleuze and Guattari recast Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (1906) as a contingent history by
reevaluating Marx’s assessment of proto-capitalist development (see Literature Review in the Introduction).
government and to local and transnational NGOs all played a role in this regard.29 Ironically,
given their affiliation with a not-for-profit ethos, NGOs emerged as historical products of global
capitalism for which the accumulation of capital has been a paramount driving force (Geertz
1973: 126-141). Although the common not-for-profit classification of NGOs challenges Marx’s
notion that capitalist organizations must be indelibly tied to surplus value and exploitation of
labor, many NGO initiatives have unintentionally and intentionally served to increase capital and
control over means of production for those that fund them.30 Kenyatta University Professor of
Communications Dr. Leonard Mjomba proposed an interpretation of the United States Peace
Corps program that illustrated this point by expressing a common suspicion among Kenyans that
philanthropic NGO initiatives often disguise United States’ strategies to attain geo-political
Especially thinking about U.S. Peace Corps, the young American students who
volunteer might have a cause, a genuine cause. But what they do not discover,
from my view, is it is more than just philanthropy… There are many layers. One
layer is that the U.S. is a great country with a great cause that is going to help
liberate the world… the U.S. Peace Corps is out to help. But there is also another
dimension, that the U.S. cannot run this world without knowing every corner of it
(Mjomba 2011, Interview).
Figure 2.1: Dr. Leonard Mjomba, Kenyatta University Professor of Communications
(photo by author).
Kenya was and continues to be widely reputed as one of the most corrupt governments in Africa and was
renowned for the creation of “shell” projects that siphoned aid money into the bank accounts of politicians.
Increasingly since the 1990s, multilateral aid organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund,
and United Nations began redirecting aid away from the government sector and instead to independent NGOs.
I position development discourse as an extension of neoliberal and capitalist economic ideology. Edelman and
Haugerund have also argued this position in The Anthropology of Development and Globalization: From Classical
Political Economy to Contemporary Neoliberalism (2005).
Contingent convergences also function in the historical hybridization of NGO culture and
music culture. International popular music industry stakeholders played a significant role in the
proliferation of NGOs in Africa during mid-1980s while East African contexts of musical
performance, which predate the flood of NGOs into the region, reflect many characteristics of
contemporary transnational civil society culture. These intersections of music and NGO culture
form a contingently-situated historical perspective on NGO music culture development.
2.2 NGO Culture Development
2.2.1 Marx, Das Kapital (1867), and the Paradox of Global Civil Society
The development of NGO culture is fundamentally ironic in its direct ties to the global
expansion of capitalism. In order to locate the irony of these circumstances, I will first rehearse
some of Marx’s fundamental arguments about the nature of capitalism and theorize the
contingent relationship between surplus capital and the revenue accumulation of NGOs. Marx
theorized that the generation of surplus value was an essential component to the underlying
economic and historical principles of capitalism. Surplus value is the capital extracted beyond
the absolute cost of production and therefore manifests as the exploitative measure of laborers
(1906: 197-241). Expanding control over production of goods and exchange, the capitalist
converts surplus value into capital. Capital, Marx asserted, is then reinvested in labor on a larger
scale, producing greater surplus value, capital, and so on (1906: 634-648). Eventually, the
bourgeoisie who control the means of production exploit the proletariat until revolutions ensue
(1906: 786-801). Marx theorized that as in the era of serfdom, the bourgeoisie would become
fewer in number, yet control larger proportions of production. The proletariat would become
greater in number and increasingly exploited. Laborers would expropriate capitalists,
“expropriate the expropriators,” and place production value back in the hands of the immediate
Marx’s insight into the functional mechanisms of capitalism caused many of his
prophecies to be realized. The continual necessity to grow and reinvest surplus value has transnationalized the private sector, caused corporate monopolization, and as a result of these factors,
widened the gap between the rich and the poor. An infinite number of contingencies, including
social welfare, bilateral aid, military control, and many more mitigating factors have held up the
en masse revolutions and reverse expropriations that Marx predicated. Of these contingencies,
the emergence of a transnational civil society in the form of NGOs provided an alternative
destination for surplus value, as opposed to direct reinvestment. The funds through which NGOs
develop and survive come from what Marx referred to as “surplus value.” Ironically, given their
dependence on surplus value, NGOs reflect and reinforce the cultural formations of capitalist
organizations and states that sustain them. Therefore, the general development of capitalism as a
globally-dominant phenomenon brought its own version of civil society, thereby greatly
diminishing the diversity of civil society organizing around the world. The following history of
global NGO development provides the context for this argument.
2.2.2 The Rise of the NGO
My historical exploration of transnational civil society begins with the African slave
trade, a practice that Marx viewed as an especially crude and dehumanizing manifestation of
capitalism and which held within it the seeds of its own demise (1906: 785). It was the surplus
capital in the possession of opponents to slavery that formed some of the first transnational civil
society initiatives that would play a major role in mobilizing global political opposition to the
practice. These organizations constituted one of the first waves of NGO activity. Created through
the British and American anti-slavery movements in the middle to late nineteenth century, one of
the first large scale-transnational civil society organizations was Anti-Slavery International,
which the British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson founded in 1839 (Keck and Sikkink 1998: 39–
79). The proto-NGO abolitionist organizations made substantial strides in raising abolitionist
sentiment and played a major role in successfully lobbying the British government to derecognize the American South as a legitimate political entity. These early NGO initiatives
manifested an example of acting on behalf of human rights against the accumulation of capital,
but were nonetheless dependent on capital and the competitive socio-economic and political
interests of nation states to become operational. Anti-Slavery International continues to operate
currently and purports to be the “world’s oldest human rights organization,” continuing the
mission towards “eliminating of forms of slavery throughout the world.”31 The organization is a
registered charity in the United Kingdom with operations globally.
The next proliferation of NGOs formed to aid rebuilding efforts in Europe after World
War I and World War II. Some of these organizations, including Save the Children, CARE,
OXFAM, and Christian Aid, currently remain active globally and especially in Africa. During
rebuilding efforts after World War I and World War II, NGOs dually acted as stimulants of
Anti-Slavery International’s main Webpage (, accessed 04.15.12).
economic growth and partners of the state by complementing state organized humanitarian relief
efforts. By the 1950s, post-World War II rebuilding efforts in Western Europe were successful in
that most dimensions of the economy and industrial infrastructure had surpassed prewar
conditions, partially as a result of the Marshall Plan, the humanitarian efforts of NGOs, and
significant transformations in technologies and industry (Fowler 1988). The range of early NGO
activity in response to American slavery and postwar rebuilding illustrates that these new
transnational civil society organizations variously denigrated and supported capitalist projects. In
either case, their proliferation was intimately tied to the emergence of global capitalist. After the
post-World War II rebuilding and recovery efforts came to an end in Western Europe, a new
focus for the Euro-American project of “development” turned to Asia and Africa, and with it
went the newly formed NGOs.
2.2.3 International NGOs in Africa
Even before both World Wars, international religious civil society organizations had been
active in colonized regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and mobilized under a range of pretenses.
Their participation spanned from supporting colonial exploitation by coercively promoting
colonial cultural reform and ideology, to advocating independence against the colonial regimes
(Jennings 2008: 23-29). As a result of civil rights efforts, revolutions, and political strategies,
most African nations had achieved independence by the 1970s. Several leaders, such as Kenyatta
(Kenya), Nkrumah (Gold Coast, Ghana), Senghor (Senegal), and Nyerere (Tanzania), who had
been trained in Western academic institutions, led major nationalist and pan-Africanist
movements based on ideologies of self-reliance. Negotiating such initiatives in a world economy
dominated by previous colonial nations often seemed more like neo-colonialism than
independence (Nkrumah 1980; Nugent 2004: 326-339). Contributing additional problems to the
nation state building project, some new African governments perpetuated similar predatory and
divisive styles of governance to those common before independence (Mutua 2008). Foreign
NGOs were consistently active in Africa throughout these developments. With the emergence of
newly independent nation states throughout Africa, non-Western and Western NGOs scrambled
to win allies whom would prove valuable in an impending, if imagined, new world order. Mary
Nzokia, a Kiswahili and Akamba language instructor who provides cultural consultancy for
NGO projects, discussed her earliest memories of NGO activity in Kenya as a primary school
student in the 1970s. In particular, she remembered the presence of Egyptian and Israeli NGOs
drilling bore holes to create water resources for Kenyan communities:
Author: When was the first time you recall seeing NGOs in Kenya?
Nzokia: Oh, as long as I can remember. I believe when I was in primary school at
the time. NGOs had started coming and doing stuff like community projects. I
come from an arid area – a dry place. So the idea of drilling bore holes for water
started many years ago and the NGOs are the ones who did that. I remember
people talking about how there is a bore hole being drilled there by Israel or by
Egyptians. People would go there to get a job, maybe, in terms of labor, and they
would be paid (Nzokia 2011, Interview).
Figure 2.2: Kiswahili and Akamba language instructor and NGO cultural consultant Mary
Nzokia (photo by author).
During the African independence years of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, large Western
NGOs, such as CARE and OXFAM, transferred their attention away from postwar Europe to the
project of “development” in Africa’s colonial territories and newly independent nation states.
Simultaneously, Cold War politics motivated governments on either side of the
capitalist/communist divide to incentivize and coerce allegiance from African states by means of
bilateral aid money and also through NGO activity (Davies 2008). From the 1970s to the early
1990s, requirements for economic and military support from the United States and the United
Kingdom were based largely on ideological and political allegiance to the cause of capitalism
against communism. Both Soviet Union and United States militaries utilized NGOs as front
organizations for intelligence operations in this mission. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency provided tens of thousands of dollars to the NGO The American Society of
African Culture and the International Development Foundation to conduct research and carry out
initiatives related to U.S. Cold War interests (In the Pay of the CIA: An American Dilemma, A
CBS Report. Columbia Broadcasting System. 1967).
In coordination with Cold War politics as well as the ideology of “development” carried
over by the European industrialization process, the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), both products of the Western European and United States capitalist mission, began
lending money to African governments for the stated purposes of stabilizing declining economies
and encouraging free market ideology. The IMF and World Bank attached structural adjustment
policies (SAPs) that demanded lower trade tariffs in order to open opportunities for transnational
corporate participation and fund private sector infrastructure growth while deemphasizing social
welfare (Hornsby 2012: 331-398). SAPs had a devastating effect on the economic and social
landscape of the continent. Little of the aid and loan revenue issued by the IMF and the World
Bank, however, generated sustainable business infrastructures within Africa. Preventing the
surplus of profits from recycling back into the community from which they came, free-trade
tended to favor transnational corporations as opposed to the emergence of independent private
sectors. Additionally damaging was the fact that government officials often engaged in rampant
corruption by siphoning loan and aid monies into foreign bank accounts while creating bloated
salaries and perquisites for themselves (Brown 2007: 301-331).
Throughout the 1990s, neoliberal economics, democratization movements, corrupt
governance, and internal conflicts made way for another wave of European and American NGOs
to flood into the African continent. The World Bank and IMF, believing that NGOs could
support social welfare in Africa with greater reliability than African nation states, collaborated
with foreign NGOs to provide social welfare programs and distribute aid. Additionally, with two
decades of Cold War politics subsiding, countries pushing a democratization agenda, such as the
United States and the United Kingdom, claimed that aid directed to African governments slowed
the democratization process by subsidizing corrupt political regimes. Consequently, they
encouraged loans and aid to be redirected to NGOs, many of which were run and directed by
non-Africans. In 1981, the World Bank invited sixteen of the world's leading NGOs, including
OXFAM and Christian Aid, to comprise an official NGO World Bank Committee to coordinate
the relationships between NGO activities and World Bank policies.
In 1984, as a result of criticisms that NGOs were compromising the interests of their
public constituency by working too closely with the World Bank, the nonprofit organizations that
comprised the NGO World Bank Committee created an independent coalition termed the NGO
Working Group on the World Bank (Ndegwa 1996: 15-31). Regardless of tensions between
international NGOs and the World Bank, the two groups continued to complement one another
in their initiatives and policies. African states would borrow from international banks that were
tied to the European and United States corporations and governments that subsidized and funded
international NGOs.32 NGOs then in turn provided social services to African states that could
hypothetically use profits from trade to pay back the banks that supported the international
NGOs. As unequal trade, structural adjustment, and corruption diminished living conditions in
much of Africa, the contingencies of economic interest continued to thwart the style of
“development” that European-American funded banks had envisioned in their capitalist mission.
2.2.4 Kenyan NGO Development and Policy
NGO development across Africa in the 1980s experienced particular traction in Kenya.
Embracing capitalism after independence and during the Cold War, Kenya began a long history
of close financial coordination with the IMF and World Bank that included subsequent neoliberalization policies and an increase in transnational civil society groups. Between 1993 and
2005, the number of registered NGOs in Kenya rose from 250 to 2,232 (Kenyan National
Council of NGOs 2005 in Kanyinga and Mitullah 2007). By the year 2000, around 17% of the
Kenyan population, or 5 million people, constituted the NGO membership base (Kanyinga and
Mitullah 2007). Currently, the number of NGOs registered in Kenya is approximately 6,000 and
the sector accounts for an estimate of $596 million U.S. dollars a year in revenue (Jillo 2009).
In 1990, to account for the dramatic increase of NGOs, the Kenyan government created
the “NGO Coordination Act.” This legislation aimed to motivate the formation of a central
governing body to which mandated NGO registration and defined NGOs as a “private voluntary
grouping of individuals or associations not operated for-profit or for other commercial purposes
but which have organized ourselves nationally or internationally for the benefit of the public at
large and for the promotion of social welfare development, charity, or research in the areas
inclusive but not restricted to health relief, agriculture, education, industry and supply of
Subsidies from international banks to NGOs were not direct. These usually occurred indirectly as a result of
affiliation with Northern host governments, private corporations, and citizen donor constituencies.
amenities and services” (1990). By 1993, all existing NGOs in Kenya were required to register
with the NGO Coordination Board that formed as a result of the NGO Coordination Act (Jillo
Tensions between government and the NGOs as well as legal obscurities in the definitive
parameters of NGOs prevented effective implementation of the NGO Coordination Act and
regulation of registration procedures. Members of the NGO sector in Kenya protested the law,
claiming it was an attempt by the government to suppress civil society organizing and to regulate
the NGO sector. The NGO sector proposed several amendments aimed at promoting selfregulation in limiting government participation in controlling the sector. Although these
amendments created constitutional guidelines for the NGO sector, the lack of a policy paper
regarding NGO benefits, risks, and proposed laws and regulations made effective
implementation essentially nonexistent. In 2001, the government proposed the creation of an
NGO policy, which eventually came to fruition 2006 after several delays, deliberations, and
negotiations between government, NGO, and private sector participants. The NGO policy paper
of 2006 also called for a review of the NGO Coordination Act of 1990 and the operations of the
NGO Coordination Board. These reviews, which are currently ongoing, have focused on
increasing collaboration between government and NGO constituencies, refining the process of
defining NGOs (which remains broad and unclear), and registering them appropriately (Kisinga
To date, the operational definition of NGO fails to encompass certain civil society
organizations such as trusts and community-based organizations that also operate around shared
values, or for public benefit, and are nonprofit. Multiple government offices have been created to
register these non-NGO civil society organizations. Trusts, for example, are nonprofit
organizations that do not have members and therefore do not fit the provisions of the NGO
Coordination Act definition. Therefore, trusts register in Kenya under a separate act known as
the Trustees Act. The lack of a central body to register all nonprofit and civil society
organizations has caused further communication problems between civil society organizations
and government bodies that additionally complicate the definition of NGO in the Kenyan
The broad discretionary powers given to the NGO Coordination Board in granting NGO
registration further limit effective NGO government collaboration. NGOs face many political
obstacles in obtaining legal status, causing the process to take as long as two years to complete.
Tax benefits of the sort provided to 501(c)(3) organizations in the United States are even more
difficult to obtain after registration, as there is no clear pathway for organizations to receive tax
exemption or for donors to file for tax deductions. Although the NGO Coordination Act of 1990
guarantees these rights, the lack of a consistent administrative process has made its realization
difficult. Finally, the resources available to the NGO Coordination Board are minor compared to
the enormous clientele it is meant to serve. As of 2009, the NGO Coordination Board has a staff
of fifty persons and a clientele of approximately 6,000 NGOs with an annual budget that only
covers operational costs (Jillo 2009). The large number of NGOs served by a disproportionately
smaller number of staff members at the NGO Coordination Board has led to a limited capacity
for the NGO review board to oversee and coordinate with NGOs. As a result, mapping and
defining the parameters of Kenya’s NGO sector is problematic because of the limited resources
available to regulate and register NGOs.
From this examination of the historical development and current state of NGO policy and
culture in Kenya, it is clear that locating a strict classification for NGOs based on government
registration and policies is untenable. I found throughout the course my research that many
NGO-like organizations, which referred to themselves as “nonprofits,” “trusts,” or “NGOs,” had
registered with the Kenyan government in some capacity, but that the process of registration
differed from case to case. The directors of many other organizations conveyed to me that they
were “in the process” of registering, which could take several years to complete and the process
of doing so was not uniform. The variability of registration and regulation of NGOs in Kenya
reflects the working process that the nation is undergoing to negotiate an agreed-upon set of rules
and incentives through which civil society organizations will thrive. In lieu of these
sociopolitical realities, I do not exclude from this study organizations that were not registered
with the government nor do I focus on this as a central issue. That is for Kenyan policy makers
and civil society advocates to work out. Instead, my focus here is culture. Chapter 3 will outline
a classification of NGO culture that characterizes the organizations in the study and presents a
catalog of these organizations and their music related activities.
2.3 NGO Music Culture Contexts
2.3.1 The International Popular Music Industry and the Spread of NGOs into Africa
The growth of NGO operations in Africa had direct ties to the globally popular music
industries of North America and Europe. North American and European popular musicians in
particular played a significant role in the growth of NGOs operating in Africa during the 1980s.
While NGO development across Africa rapidly gained momentum, international popular music
icons/stars publicized NGO initiatives and encouraged their fans to engage in philanthropic
activities. This section will examine the role of the global music industry in the development of
NGO culture in Africa.
In 1985, USA for Africa’s recording of “We Are the World” and BandAid’s “Do They
Know It’s Christmas?” culminated in the internationally publicized Live Aid concerts that
brought worldwide attention to the 1983-1985 Ethiopian famine. The pop-star movement’s focus
on famine, however, overshadowed military conflicts in Ethiopia’s Tigray and north Wollo that
displaced millions of Ethiopians from their land and resources (de Waal 2002: 112-132). As a
result of misdirected, media-driven fundraising, much of the aid to Ethiopia flowed to the
government and insurgent military populations, thereby prolonging the regional conflicts and
exacerbating the effects of the famine for those most severely in need. Despite the controversial
outcome, negative aspects of the humanitarian relief effort went largely unreported by journalism
The spirit of the Live Aid concerts spurred subsequent initiatives by numerous
internationally recognized pop music icons, who have gone on to encourage the fundraising of
millions of dollars for various African NGO initiatives. Bono, the lead singer for the
internationally acclaimed Irish rock group U2, has been perhaps most prominent in this regard.
Following the Live Aid concerts in which he participated, Bono collaborated with the organizers
of the Live Aid initiative (such as Bob Geldof) to promote and construct a string of high profile
NGO movements across Sub-Saharan Africa. The most current of these was the creation of the
mega-NGOs ONE International33 and Product (RED)34 organizations with a mission to decrease
poverty and disease across Sub-Saharan Africa as well as advocate for increasing aid to the
continent by “first-world nations.” Like the Live Aid initiatives, Bono has also faced criticism
ONE International main Webpage (, accessed 04.24.12).
Product (RED) main Webpage (, accessed 04.24.12).
about the effectiveness of his philanthropic philosophies and initiatives. In particular, Dambisa
Moyo, a native of Zambia and a Goldman Sachs economist, in her controversial book Dead Aid:
Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (2009) writes,
Bono attends world summits on aid. Bob Geldof is, to use Tony Blair’s own
words, “one of the people that I admire most.” Aid has become a cultural
commodity. Millions march for it. Governments are judged by it. But has more
than US $1 trillion in development assistance over the last several decades made
African people better off? No. In fact, across the globe the recipients of this aid
are worse off; much worse off. It has helped make the poor poorer, and growth
slower. Yet aid remains a centerpiece of today's development policy (2009: xix).
Madonna has also actively played a role in NGO operations in Africa through the
creation of a Malawian NGO named Raising Malawi.35 Her efforts in this area have, like the
Live Aid concerts and Bono’s philanthropic advocacy work, also received criticism for lacking
effectiveness due to insufficient knowledge of local contexts. Perhaps the most devastating of
these criticisms came in response to a failed project proposing to build a school for impoverished
girls. When the project fell short of raising the proposed U.S. $15 million and the management
organizing the construction of the school in Malawi irresponsibly spent U.S. $3.8 million of
donor funds before breaking ground, Madonna faced a significant backlash from the
international community and the Malawi government alike.36 Raising Malawi temporarily
abandoned plans to build the school and has since entered into collaboration with other more
established and experienced NGOs in Malawi such as the Global Philanthropy Network and
The symbols of international NGO music initiatives spearheaded by global pop music
icons of the West have ricocheted into the development of music programs by international
development agencies as well. In 2004, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
invested in the communicative power of music to combat poverty, war, and hunger - all essential
to achieving the UNDP’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - to produce an album
consisting of eighteen popular African artists titled “Nous Sommes les Tam-tams (We are the
Drums).”37 The album featured Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal, Yves Ndjock, and Manu Dibango,
among other acclaimed African musical superstars of the international World Music industry.
Raising Malawi main Webpage (, accessed 04.24.12).
Nagourney, 2011. “Madonna’s Charity Fails in Bid to Finance School” The New York Times. March 24, 2011.
Djibril Diallo. “We Are The Drums,” Soul Beat Africa Website (,
accessed 04.24.12).
Topics engaged in the album’s songs reflected the United Nations Millennium Development
Goals’ focus on ending poverty and HIV/AIDS across Africa while encouraging global
partnership, environmental sustainability, and human rights.38 The undeniable symbolic,
linguistic conflation of USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” and “We are the Drums”
demonstrates one example of how music and the language of “development” in which NGOs are
key players have intersected in Africa.
2.3.2 Historical Contexts of NGO-Oriented Music Culture in East Africa
The following section approaches intersections of music and civil society in Africa from
a contrasting direction, reviewing some of the prevailing institutions and cultural practices of
music making that predate the flood of NGOs into Africa. Exploring forms of civil societyoriented music production that predate NGO culture in Kenya demonstrate that the music of civil
society is not necessarily imported and that it occurs in varied cultural contexts. My intention
here is to shatter any notion that civil society music making in Kenya is only an imported
manifestation of Western influence that the previous sections of this chapter may have suggested.
Specifically, this review will examine musical practices and forms of organizing around music in
East Africa that reflect civil society dimensions of NGO culture yet did not arise through contact
with the global phenomenon. This historical perspective provides a foundation from which to
view the contingent relations between NGO culture and East African music culture that enabled
the hybridization of the two cultures, which will be documented in the following chapters. I will
identify the presence of NGO culture elements in East African music through two contrasting
classificatory lenses. The first of these identifies long standing East African civil society-like
organizations that have historically also included significant musical performance elements. In
particular, I identify Kenyan harambees, Tanzanian labor associations, East African Beni Ngoma
groups, and Ngoma healing associations as local historically embedded examples of musicoriented civil society organizing. The second of these analytical frameworks examines
philosophical elements of contemporary civil society culture in East Africa's musical history.
Music for purposes of education, social change, and protest will be central to this discussion.
United Nations Development Program, “Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” Website
(, accessed 09.20.09).
2.3.3 Civil Society-Oriented Music Organizing in East Africa Harambees
Self-help and communal exchange groups that came to be known in Kenya during the
post-independence years as harambees (from the Kiswahili “let us pull together”) have long
existed as an early form of civil society organizing in Kenya (Jillo 2009: 41). Harambees
reference a specific form of social organizing common to many ethnic groups in the East African
region from before colonial times. These events consisted of groups of women or men
organizing a social function for the purpose of assembling people and later raising money for
various community initiatives, including building houses, harvesting crops, or clearing bushes.
After independence, Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, promoted a national development
philosophy based on the harambee concept in order to rally the populace into a unified effort of
nation state building.39 Patricia Opondo’s dissertation research on dodo music in women’s
associations (1996) showcases the important role of music in harambees, especially for purposes
of fundraising and drawing community members to harambee events promoting various
initiatives. About the centrality of music to encourage donations she writes,
Performers realize that song stimulate the easy flow of money, and appropriately
arranged their song text to excite the audience and encourage them to make
contributions... If there is a fundraising event and no performers are invited to it,
little money is raised (Opondo 1996: 67).
Harambees have in recent years played a significant role in NGO initiatives given the parallel
civic mission, public benefit, and fundraising dimensions of the two forms of civil society
organizing. Tanzanian Labor Associations
The practice of associationalism in East Africa has a long and diverse history that
predates colonial times. Such associations commonly manifested around labor activities in the
form of, for instance, hunting, medicinal, porter, and farming associations, among others. I
propose that such labor associations constitute a form of civil society, that they served a general
civic purpose for explicit needs within the community, and that their primary motivation has not
traditionally been the accumulation of surplus capital. Frank Gunderson has extensively
documented the use of music in Sukuma labor associations in Tanzania (1999; 2010). In Sukuma
Labor Songs from Western Tanzania: ‘We Never Sleep, We Dream of Farming’ (2010),
Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyerere, utilized similar approach which he titled Ujamaa.
Gunderson depicts the musical soundscape created by farming associations during harvesting
season in western Tanzania:
For a little more than two months, just after the onset of the first rains that
routinely fall from late November to early February, the everyday rural
soundscape of the Sukuma region of northwest Tanzania is transformed from a
state of tranquility, to one of cacophony. This is the result of the intense
competing drums found in neighboring farms, and heard for as far as the ear can
hear, the rambunctious shouts and song of farmers, and the thud and clang of hoes
striking the earth in rhythmic unison (2010: 7-8).
Gunderson goes on to document a catalog of labor association songs that have been transmitted
from generation to generation through precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial times. Such
examples of civil society-oriented music and organizational adaptation also contextualize recent
intersections between music and international civil society culture. Ngoma Healing Associations
Throughout East Africa, the word ngoma refers to modes of music, dance, and/or theater
performance, including those involving “traditional” medicine and healing.40 The practice of
ngoma healing rituals -organized by healers, mediums, community members, and medicinal
associations- are tied to trans-continental migrations in Africa dating at least as far back as 2000
BC, and have commonly incorporated music as a catalyst for spiritual procession and ancestral
communication (Janzen 1992: 60). They identify a music practice central to the historical
identity of the region.41 Igniting social and spiritual connections between living and deceased
members of ancestral lineages through possession and mediumship, ngoma rituals preserve and
dialogue with past and present social realities. Several scholars documenting ngoma healing
rituals in Kenya have also theorized these ritual spaces as locations for resistance, reflection, and
negotiation of class, age, and gender hierarchies (Parkin 1972; Gomm 1975; Giles 1987;
Gearhart 2005), while in the protected spiritual realm of possession, Gearhart and others have
purported, participants voice critiques of those above their social rank. Such examples of medical
and spiritual healing, social negotiation and reification of historical consciousness facilitated by
discrete civic organizational groups (such as associations of healers) intersect with many of the
social action and empowerment missions promoted by contemporary transnational civil society
Ngoma may also refer directly to the “drum” as an object or “rhythm.” During the course of fieldwork I found the
word ngoma most commonly used in reference to various forms of “traditional” or “folk” performance.
Dating the linguistic cognates, Janzen has suggested that ngoma healing rituals are some of the oldest (protoBantu) and most ubiquitous cultural practices in East Africa.
organizations. Peter Hoesing’s dissertation on Kusamira healers and healing associations in
Uganda (2011) highlights present-day adaptations of ngoma healing rituals to the contemporary
“development” of NGO culture. Beni Ngoma Dance Associations
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, diverse groups of East Africans
living in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Lamu, negotiated the overbearing presence of British and
German colonial military powers through construction of Beni Ngoma music and dance
associations that merged elements of European military culture, such as a regimented marching
dance and the use of wooden rifles as props, into pre-existing forms of competitive group music
performance (Ranger 1975). Musicians adopted symbols of European origin and merged them
with pre-existing musical practices, such as competitive group performance associations. They
expressed the foreign socio-political import of colonialism while retaining and reinforcing local
cultural practices. Beni Ngoma performance exemplified both agency and empowerment by
initiating and controlling cultural hybridization through social organization. These new forms of
performance also reflected, however, the foreign military influence on the region resulting from
the European onslaught. Such cultural manifestations provide strong parallels to the ways in
which Kenyan musicians have adapted to contemporary civil society organizational cultures.
2.3.4 Civil Society Ethos in East African Music Performance Indigenous Music Practices for Civic Benefit Purposes
The use of music to promote group cohesion, cultural identity, and social negotiation
among other civic benefit-related purposes has a long standing historical tradition in East Africa
and mirrors the civic mission ethos (Geertz 1973: 126-141) of Western civil society culture.
Because of the vast, perhaps infinite, examples of uses of music within East Africa’s varied
cultural heritages to serve the needs of its broader community, the small sampling documented
below aims to showcase the diversity of social functions for music in East Africa (for purposes
of context). They demonstrate that public benefit-related functions of musical production that
predate the influence of NGO culture and therefore ground Kenyan civil society music culture in
local contexts that eventually underwent further hybridization through the intersecting historical
streams of the NGO economy.
62 Locating “Folk” Music
This discussion primarily utilizes sources on East African indigenous musical traditions
published by East African scholars. I utilize Simon Okumba Miruka’s Oral Literature of the Luo
(2001) and Naomi Kipury’s Oral Literature of the Maasai (1983). I draw the majority of my
examples, however, from George Senoga-Zake’s sweeping overview of Kenyan “folk” music
titled Folk Music of Kenya: For Teachers and Students of Music and the Music-Loving Public
(1986; 2000). An East African born in Uganda who moved to Kenya in his twenties, SenogaZake was one of the first East Africans to receive a degree of higher education in the British
Music Conservatory system and the first to pass the Licentiate of Royal Schools of Music
(LSRM). He dedicated his life to preserving and promoting Kenya's traditional music using
European historical documentation methods, while remaining an active educator of traditional
and Western music in Kenya’s and Uganda’s school systems. Bridging the cultural gaps between
music practices in Kenya and Western European music traditions, he co-composed Kenya's
national anthem to reflect the diversity of musical influences that characterized the nation.
Senoga-Zake’s lifelong involvement in politics, education, and music performance/preservation
highlights his interest in contributing to a post-independence Kenyan interethnic cultural identity
through music.
Senoga-Zake’s work illustrates numerous examples of Kenyan musical contexts that
emphasize morals, history, education, play, courtship, and competition, among other topics.
Contexts include children's play, circumcision rites, entertainment and social dances, war, work,
weddings, and funerals. These examples of musical heritage drawn from a variety of Kenya’s
ethnic groups illuminate and reference the civic mission and public-benefit dimensions of civil
society by explicitly aiming to promote social cohesion and identity. Below I will illustrate only
a small sampling of the genres and performance contexts historically practiced by some of the
majority ethnic groups in Kenya.
Despite tireless efforts to collect, record, and propagate Kenya's traditional music
throughout his life, Senoga-Zake acknowledged the rapidly changing and hybridizing
dimensions of Africa's musical traditions (Senoga-Zake 2000: 12). These factors of transition
make pinning down any of the following ethnic groups’ musical practices as fixed and particular
only to that ethnic group nearly impossible. For the purposes of this overview, I will explore the
“folk” music (excluding discussions of the nationalistic political implications that terminology
invokes) of the Luo, Luhya, Gikuyu, and Kipsigis primarily through Senoga-Zake’s lens first
published in 1986 (I am using the 2000 reissue). In the interest of limiting my scope to contexts
that reflect strong currents of precolonial culture, I will not examine the politicalinstitutionalization of these “folk” music traditions and the formalization and recontextualization that occurs as a result of this process. In this respect, the examples below are
portrayals of a socially imagined past (Appadurai 1990) from a historiographically significant
1980s perspective. Yet, Senoga-Zake’s work holds seeds of history (however, skewed and
socially constructed as all history must be) highly relevant to the current social landscape of
Kenya as “folk” songs and have been implemented into school systems in order to honor Kenya's
ethnic cultural heritages. Examples of Public Benefit-Oriented Musical Heritage of Luhya, Gikuyu,
Kipsigi, Luo, and Maasai Culture Groups
Eshilili is a Luhya dance that is popular among teenagers and young adults that facilitates
courtship and socializing between young men and women before marriage. It usually takes place
at night away from parents and sometimes goes on all night long. The dance, which is
accompanied by fiddles and drums, is characterized by shoulder shaking although Senoga-Zake
grumbles, “modern influence has played havoc with it and they sometimes dance the ikoranzi,
which is sort of a waltz, or the kisikukha, which is no more than jumping” (Senoga-Zake 2000:
Buvule bwanje is a Luhya children’s dance that facilitates socialization and group
cohesion. Boys and girls sit in a circle and produce rhythms by slapping the ground with their
hands. Either a girl or boy soloist begins singing and begins by calling the name of one of the
children in the group. That child stands up and dances in the center of the circle attempting to
reflect the style of the soloist, until the soloist sings that the child should return to his or her
sitting position. The cycle continues indefinitely.
Muthunguci is a Gikuyu dance designed to give elders an opportunity to continue dancing
while not lowering their dignity by dancing with younger people. This dance takes place in the
afternoons as opposed to at night, when most Gikuyu social dances take place. Older people may
even travel from neighboring towns to join in this dance. The dance consists of “wobbling one's
head, body, and upper limbs” (Senoga-Zake 2000: 29). Men and women dance together, moving
slowly but rhythmically. The music will stop suddenly signaling the partners to step back, break
apart, and jump. When the music begins the partners rejoin and begin dancing again.
Mumburo is a Gikuyu dance for boys that occurs four months before the circumcision
ceremony and is designed to prepare the initiates for the rite of passage. Boys cover themselves
in white paint, hold shields, and wear leg rattles that provide rhythmic accompaniment while
they dance. The song is facilitated by a leader who sings a call to which the group responds. If a
boy's name is mentioned in a song, he shakes his shield. Teams from different towns, separated
by a line in the sand, compete against one another in the dance. Pushing and shoving between the
two teams often takes place during the dance and people are sometimes injured or run away.
Female witnesses encourage their respective teams through ululations and high-pitched trills.
Older male witnesses police the event so that the violence remains controlled.
Singo is a Kipsigi dance that accompanies the rendering of historical narratives and
therefore contributes to the preservation of Kipsigi cultural history. Dancing is not strictly
prescribed. There is more freedom for the dancers to express themselves in ways that the
moment provides. Married men and women face each other but do not touch when they dance.
This is due to the fact that married women are not to be touched, even by their husbands, when
dancing in public. Unmarried couples, however, are able to dance more closely with one another,
as dances provide an opportune occasion to find a future husband or wife. The dance is
characterized by the partners facing each other while moving back and forth as a unit competing
against the other dancers. The instrumentation that accompanies these dances, which may be
performed inside or outside, is the sugutit (drum) and ndureret (flute). Dancers paint themselves
in okra and wear beads around their waist, wrists and the forehead. Dancers also wear
kikeururoik (ankle bells) (Senoga-Zake 2000: 126).
A catalog of Kipsigi songs and dances assists girls in preparing to undergo circumcision
ceremonies. Dancing and singing begins several months beforehand, during the months of
December and January, in preparation for the initiation (boys and girls are initiated at different
times of the year). The initiation month for girls is February. Girls wear mbolol (leg rattles), and
sonoek (beads), and carry a saruriet (fly whisk). The solo singer sits on a stool and sings to the
chorus of girls. The words of the song asked the boy lovers of the initiates not to seek out other
mates while the girls are going through the healing period. Girls perform these dances on sloping
ground, and the dance moves from high ground to low ground. No instruments besides those the
girls wear are used in these performances (Senoga-Zake 2000: 125).
Tigo is a Luo dance for married women and one of the few performance genres in which
women play drums. Men cannot witness this dance. The women wear tight fabric, sisal, or
animal skin around their waists and reveal patterns by pulling back layers of fabric. The dance
primarily involves waists movements and is meant to keep married women “fit, young, strong
and healthy” (Senoga-Zake 2000: 130).
Simon Okumba Miruka in Oral Literature of the Luo (2001), writes about the prevalence
of riddles, proverbs, extended narratives, and poetry as important aspects of Luo traditional
culture. He also identifies the centrality of oral literature in preserving cultural identity. Much of
the oral literature of the Luo is rendered in song form and can be categorized as oral literature.
These performance formats are often either accompanied by a nyatiti (lyre) or performed solo.
Miruka attests to the importance of song in this performance idiom stating, “Such songs
reinforce themes, create suspense, enhance plot development and divide episodes. They also
summarize the tales, offer dramatic relief, and involve the audience and the narrator in the
performance, besides serving many other uses” (2001: 125).
Naomi Kipury, in Oral Literature of the Maasai (1983), documents Maasai proverbs
performed through song that, for example, warn against pretense and foolishness, foresight and
preparation, discrimination, or discouraging war, among other values (Kipury 1983: 148-197).
This body of Maasai oral literature likely predates European explorer and missionary contact.
The tradition of oral literature practiced by Maasai, as well as numerous other ethnic/tribal/clan
groups in Kenya, serves to challenge as well as reinforce socio-cultural identity.
2.3.5 Music as Protest
Protest music has played a substantial role in Kenya’s political history and reflects the
human rights-oriented ethos of many transnational civil society groups, including Anti-Slavery
International, one of the oldest surviving NGOs registered in Europe. I have documented some
examples of Kenyan protest music culture occurring before the mid-1980s proliferation of NGOs
into the region in order to contextualize the hybridization of international NGO culture and more
localized music practices in Kenya that would later occur.
During British colonization, music served as a direct form of political protest against
colonizers and played a substantial role in Kenya’s liberation. In particular, Gikuyu songs
provided substantial motivation for uniting the masses against colonialism during the Mau Mau
resistance movement that occurred from 1952 to 1960 (Mwaura 2007). Since independence,
musicians in Kenya have continued to intersect with politics extensively. The popular musicians
D. Owino Misiani and Ochieng’ Kabaselleh utilized a combination of the local benga and highly
politicized lyrics to voice political protest as well as praise of political leaders (Oloo 2007). Not
surprisingly, both of these musicians were imprisoned at various points during their careers. Both
Misiani and Kabaselleh also leveled critiques toward the preceding era of colonial rule. They
also expressed the view that Western intervention was responsible for continued poor
governance in Kenya. Adams Oloo describes, “in the song ‘I am Tired’ Misiani warns Kenyans
and the Luo in particular against being swayed by Western culture at the expense of their own
traditions” (2007: 191).
Perhaps highly politicized music is particularly abundant throughout Kenya’s history
because of the various forms of censorship it has survived in order to exist. British colonial rule
placed a ban on all political activity and political expressions within music performances until
1957. Before and after the colonial regime lifted this ban, music served, even under threat of
persecution, to voice political critique for the masses and oppressed minorities. Those in power,
however, closely regulated such freedom of expression. The fact that music played a substantial
role in Kenya’s struggle for independence as well as several regime turnovers is a testament to a
defiant tradition of political participation among musicians in Kenya.
2.4 Conclusion
This chapter presented several converging historical threads that underpin NGO music
culture. They demonstrate that the contexts of contemporary civil society-based music culture in
Kenya are grounded in the nonprofit cultures of Europe and North America (from which NGOs
arose) as well as civil society-based forms of organizing with locally embedded histories. First, I
examined the global expansion of NGO culture and its impact on Kenya from a historical
perspective to demonstrate the neoliberal and capitalist economic roots, as well as Western
development ideologies, which influence the varied manifestations of NGOs. I then presented an
overview of forms of civil society-oriented East African music cultures that predate the post1980s boom of NGO cultural influence in Africa. These histories demonstrate the plurality that
propels waves of cultural development. Global civil society appears in many forms here. They
are highly regulated and uniform administrative organizations created in a post-World War two
rebuilding efforts in Europe and the United States. They also are decentralized and unregulated
in the context of a Kenya where the government and civil society struggle to create policies to
manage the merging of international civil society organizations and local organizations molding
themselves on international models. Civil society organizing that intersects with music making
presents additional incarnations. NGOs team up with stars of the global popular music industry
and Kenya forms of community-oriented music activity reflect many of the sentiments espoused
by civil society discourse. The myriad manifestations collide and hybridize in the contemporary
Kenyan culture-scape. They create a distinct NGO music culture.
3.1 Introduction
In the wake of the NGO boom of the 1980s and 1990s, music and performing arts
organizations in Nairobi increasingly reflected the culture of transnational civil society. NGOs
provided avenues through which musicians could pursue performance opportunities and at the
same time local administrators, artists, and entrepreneurs created performing arts organizations
modeled after the imported organizational models of NGOs. Brian Owango, director and founder
of the youth empowerment performing arts organization Mayeli42 described how the impact of
the NGO culture made Nairobi into a place where “everyone has an NGO.” He noted how this
proliferation was so extreme that starting new performing arts organizations is especially
difficult because of competition for funding and recognition:
In times like this when economic times are rough and everyone has an NGO you
have to have stamina and creativity on your side to start an organization. The
main challenge is awareness and support. Typically, funders want you to get big
and then support you so to cross that threshold is tough (Owango 2011, Email
Figure 3.1: Brian Owango performing Brazilian capoeira (left) and Indian dance (right).43
Mayeli showcases, promotes, and provides classes in a cross-cultural fusion of performing arts. The organization
also facilitates a yearly festival called the Tandawazi Festival to showcase these performances and raise money for a
youth organization located in Nairobi’s Huruma “slum.”
Personal photos provided to author by Brian Owango, director of Mayeli.
Organizations, Owango stated, find it difficult to present themselves as unique candidates for
funding in the competitive organizational environment of the NGO sector. The aim of this
chapter is to seek out common organizational structures and activities Owango described as
creating a dense market. Only from that position can we begin to trace the degrees of variance
from a norm and examine the unique ways in which individuals and groups twist and translate
NGO culture to fit their own interests or respond to perceived needs in their community.
Mapping the consonances of organizational culture, I present a classification system composed
throughout the fieldwork process alongside a catalogue of organizations facilitating music
activities in Nairobi in order to provide the reader with a sense of the music producing and
funding organizational environment of Nairobi’s NGO sector.44
3.2 Locating NGO Music Culture
The policies, laws, rights, and registration procedures for NGOs in Kenya remain in
negotiated stages of formalization and institutionalization.45 A general lack of government
regulatory and policy frameworks to formalize Kenya’s NGO sector has resulted in the growth of
a diversity of organizational models and activities. I therefore do not limit the scope of NGO
music culture to activities of organizations registered with the Kenyan National Council on
NGOs. Instead, I propose that depicting NGOs or NGO-influenced musical expression requires
locating tropes and repeated signs that come to form a loosely bound but socially recognizable
cultural realm. 46 Although Kenya’s NGO sector is diverse and perpetually in transformation,
many transnationally networked civil society organizations in Nairobi share similar
administrative structures and express related symbols and language.
Music performance in Nairobi demonstrates the impact of this NGO symbolic culture.
Images and mission statements spun and re-spun to donors and clients alike in the form of
concerts, festival staging, and expressive performance (both recorded and live) manifest what
Bourdieu referred to as “transposable dispositions.” These perpetuate a habitus (1990: 52) that
marks organizational discourse in addition to NGO-affiliated song texts and performance
This list also serves as a reference throughout the dissertation as organizations featured in later chapters will be
introduced here.
See previous chapter’s historical review of NGO policy development in Kenya.
A significant body of scholarship in organizational culture studies has examined organizations as symbolic
mechanisms. Some of the most influential and most cited works to utilize this perspective include Thomas Peters’
“Symbols, Patterns, and Settings: An Optimistic Case for Getting Things Done” (1978), Louis Pondy’s
Organizational Symbolism (1983), and Pasquale Gagliardi’s Symbols and Artifacts: Views of the Corporate
Landscape (1990).
contexts. Foucault’s notion of “discursive formations” probably best characterizes this repeated
sequencing of signs and its manner of exchange (2002: 34-44).
Sign sequences congeal into specialized bodies of knowledge, or “discursive formations,”
which also reflect the power structures and hierarchies of the communities that create them
(2002: 196-219). Institutions and individuals with the greatest power, according to Foucault,
control the “episteme” of a particular group for a particular time (2002: 211).47 In the
contemporary Kenyan NGO sector, formulas and tropes common to the symbolic realm of global
civil society open doors to socio-economic upward mobility. These symbolic channels of
opportunity constitute a socially acknowledged discursive episteme, or what one NGO executive
who I interviewed termed “the NGO speak.”
3.2.1 Mapping Global Civil Society
Since the period marking the end of the Cold War, the term global civil society has
become increasingly prevalent in international media and public discourse. A number of
internationally coordinated social movements that include campaigns for democratization,
human rights, and poverty elimination48 have particularly resulted in this rise (Falk 1992;
Lipschutz 1992; Drainville 1998). Despite the increased attention to global civil society as a
concept, scholarship locating its conceptual boundaries remains varying and contested. 49
Defining, mapping, and evaluating the functions of these socio-conceptual phenomena has fast
become a frequent point of deliberation among academics, policy makers, activists,
philanthropists, and other constituencies that frequently engage in civil society related activities.
Organizational theorists have tended to characterize global civil society as non-governmental and
not-for-profit and organized around shared values and interests; yet, forms and roles of civil
society organizations operating in contrasting contexts differ widely. Countries with century-old
historically embedded relationships between the state and civil society, such as the United States
James Ferguson has examined the connections between “development” ideology and Foucault’s theories of
discourse in his monograph ethnography entitled The Antipolitics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and
Bureaucratic Power and Lesotho (1994). Given the heavy incorporation of “development” discourse in NGO culture
–especially the influence of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MSGs)- Ferguson’s study holds
particular relevance to this chapter.
Additional global civil society activity includes numerous movements for political resistance, philanthropy,
charity, religious expression, environmentalism, among other informally and formally constructed campaigns.
The project of mapping the dimensions of global civil society and NGOs has been a contentious work in process.
John Keane (2003: 1-39), Helmut Anheier and Jeremy Kendall (2001: 1-16) and many others have articulated this
point. This dissertation aims not to suggest universally applicable characteristics with which to define civil society
from a global perspective. Rather, I offer a depiction of civil society contingently situated in a particular context
while identifying themes and trends that operate within its fluidly negotiated space.
or the United Kingdom, possess laws and policies that protect as well as regulate various forms
of nonprofit organizing. This is not the case in countries such as Kenya, where civil societyoriented associationalism practices can be traced back to before the postcolonial project of nation
state building for which state governed civil society law remains in nascent stages (Jillo 2009;
Kisinga 2009).
Additionally, there has been little effort to theorize the role of music in, or as, civil
society.50 Yet the egalitarian, inclusive, and democratic qualities that characterize civil society
also mark musical expression. Like civil society, groups and individuals from all regions and
walks of life have utilized music for millennia to convey the varied conditions of human
experience. Humans have continually renegotiated and invented new formats for musical
production depending on an infinite variety of needs and motivations. The overlapping plurality
of these two cultural phenomena, in addition to the numerous anxieties within scholarship about
mapping their identities, encourages an examination of their intermingling.
3.2.2 NGOs as Representatives of Global Civil Society
Although a variety of organizations constitute global civil society, NGOs are the
organizations most frequently cited in conjunction with the global phenomenon (Kaldor,
Anheier, and Albrow 2006: 3). Demonstrating the intrinsic relationship between NGOs and
transnational civil society as well as the growing social, political, cultural, and economic
influence of the organizations, the World Bank’s official statement on Global Civil Society
There has been a dramatic expansion in the size, scope, and capacity of civil
society around the globe over the past decade, aided by the process of
globalization and the expansion of democratic governance, telecommunications,
and economic integration. According to the Yearbook of International
Organizations, the number of international NGOs was reported to have increased
from 6,000 in 1990 to more than 50,000 in 2006.51
Broadly conceived, NGOs are civil society organizations that tend to utilize international funding
resources, operate in more than one country, and incorporate international networks of ideas and
organizational culture. Distinguishing them from more locally situated civil society organizations
(such as community based organizations, associations, and collectives), NGOs often receive the
A small number of publications have engaged notions of civil society in connection to music (Foxman 2008;
Dewitt 2009; Ramnarine 2011). These describe forms of musical organizing as reflecting qualities of civil society as
opposed to locating examples of music activity associated directly with civil society organizations, let alone
transnational civil society organizations such as NGOs.
World Bank’s “Defining Civil Society” Webpage (, accessed 05.01.12).
majority of their funding from external sources, and Global North-based constituencies play an
especially significant role in this regard. 52 NGOs also reflect symbolic and structural elements of
their European and North American nonprofit historical heritage. Their operations in the Global
South consequently provide ideal research targets to trace flows of global culture. Operations
conducted in the Global South may be carried out by either transnational or local organizations
engaging with international networks of funding and institutional partnerships. Whichever the
case, NGOs project a hybridization of cultures that occurs whenever forms of social organizing
migrate and transmit to new geo-cultural environments.
Such has been the course of NGO development in Africa. Transnational civil society
culture reflects the influence of Western nonprofit organizations as a result of their historically
embedded global dissemination in the form of NGOs. The prominence of international NGOs in
Kenya since the 1980s has caused the number of local organizations modeling the structure,
language, and activities of international NGOs to grow exponentially in number and resultantly
come to influence music production in the region.
3.3 Classificatory Criteria
The organizations listed below are organizations and festivals that I investigated in
Nairobi during the course of my fieldwork. All of these organizations reflect the influence of
transnational NGO culture. The corresponding numbered map on the following page shows their
(1) Hillcrest Secondary School- location of Blankets and Wine 2010 Concerts
(2) Mamba Village- location of Blankets and Wine 2011 concerts
(3) Carnivore Restaurant: location of Kijani Kenya International Arts Festival performances
(4) Makini Schools Ltd.- location of the 2010 Gatwitch Peace Festival
(5) Art of Music Foundation
(6) Goethe Institut Kenia
(7) Alliance Française de Nairobi
(8) Ford Foundation Eastern Africa Office
(9) Sarakasi Trust
(10) Kenya Cultural Center- practice space for Pamoja Dance Troupe and Kenyan Conservatoire
of Music
Despite the numerous varieties of transnational civil society organizations, I have limited the scope of this study to
NGOs in consideration of their centrality to transnational civil society discourse as well as in global media. My
choice to exclude other forms of civil society organizations, such as community-based organizations (CBOs),
religious organizations, and informally organized social movements, associations, and collectives, is not intended to
devalue the significant impact and importance of these organizations in shaping transnational civil society. Rather,
my hope is that this study will urge other researchers to examine the relationships of music to other dimensions of
transnational civil society.
(11) Purple Images Productions
(12) Italian Institute of Culture
(13) Sarit Center- location of Kenyan Music Week 2010
(14) Nairobi National Museum- location of 2010 and 2011 Tandawazi Festivals
(15) Ongoza Njia Community Development Center- Location of Mayeli Project Baraza
(16) GoDown Arts Centre
(17) Ketebul Music
(18) Kenya Conservatoire of Music
Figure 3.2: Map and corresponding key indicating the locations of Nairobi NGO music
culture organizations and initiatives documented in this chapter. Map created using Google
I now turn to outlining the specific classificatory parameters linking the organizations listed
above in order to provide an argument for their inclusion within an NGO music culture complex.
3.3.1 General Criteria Identifying a Network
Perhaps most relevant to the fieldwork process and ethnographic approach of the study is
how these organizations constitute a network, in that they utilize similar or same funding sources
and forge institutional partnerships. Throughout the fieldwork process, I encountered many
partnerships between organizations and have included the details of these in the organizational
overviews presented below. The Ford Foundation, Eastern Africa Region, has provided funding
in the form of grants to Sarakasi Trust, in addition to the GoDown Arts Centre and Ketebul
Music. The organizations featured in this chapter are connected spatially and through their
exchange of resources as well. The GoDown Arts Centre collaborates with the Kenyan
Conservatoire of Music to supply a studio space for the Conservatoire, which provides
subsidized Western classical instrument lessons to students in the Nairobi area. The NGO
Ketebul Music studio resides within the GoDown Arts Centre compound, and from 2001 to 2008,
Sarakasi Trust also rented subsidized space in the then newly built GoDown Arts Centre. In 2008,
Sarakasi Trust received funding from the Ford Foundation, among other governmental and
nongovernmental sources to purchase, refurbish, and move into what would become the Sarakasi
Dome. Sarakasi Trust, like the GoDown Arts Centre, now rents out its performance space at
subsidized rates for NGO-oriented music activities taking place in the Nairobi area. Purple
Images Productions, for instance, held their 2010 African Music Festival at the Sarakasi Dome.
In 2011, Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI) utilized the Sarakasi Dome to house the World
Bank-funded Fair Play Anti-Corruption Youth Forum and JMI recorded a collaborative
anticorruption themed song at Ketebul Studios the same weekend. Numerous additional
examples of networking will be highlighted in the descriptions of the organizations catalogued
below as well as throughout the dissertation. Linked by civil society-oriented and global
identities, their involvement in music initiatives, resource exchange, and allocation, these
organizations comprise a community of civil society organizations that I refer to as constituting
an NGO network. NGOs as Global Civil Society Revenue Gatekeepers
My intentions with this study are to locate those organizations in Kenya that most directly
engage with global economic and social supply chains of the transnational civil society. I have
therefore limited my scope to those organizations which (1) utilize global funding and partners;
(2) maintain a presence online through websites and social networking (constituting what
Castells (1996) has termed “the network society”); and (3) tend to be cosmopolitan in their
expressive faculties and skillful in the discursive tropes of the global civil society sector.
Highlighting these features, the chief financial officer of Sarakasi Trust James Munga described
the vital relevance of accessing foreign and local funding by aligning initiative themes with
donor interests:
In order to have festivals constantly year after year, it costs a lot of money. So we
have sponsors. We have donors from the Netherlands Embassy; they have
supported us in a big way. Stitching Doom from Holland has also supported us.
We have some corporates in Kenya, not a lot, but some such as Airtel, one of the
mobile providers, co-sponsored us. Last year we had the referendum in Kenya so
we partnered with Transparency International and USAID because, besides
entertaining people, we provide civic education. You can have the musicians
drive home issues like getting people to vote for the constitution because we have
a referendum. We always get partners who step into co-sponsor, finance. If there
is a theme or a cause that we can use a festival to further, we do that (Munga 2011,
Figure 3.3: Chief Financial Officer of Sarakasi Trust James Munga discussing
funding and partnerships at Sarakasi Trust (photo by Shino Saito).
Larger, more internationally networked organizations such as Sarakasi Trust act as
revenue gateways for smaller community-based organizations (CBOs) or more informally
constituted social movements. Indeed, hundreds of small-scale communities and youth centers
scattered throughout Nairobi’s most impoverished areas arguably make up a larger segment of
Naiorbi’s performing arts-based civil society activity than the fewer larger and more powerful
internationally connected organizations.53 CBOs operate with far less revenue than larger
international NGOs and they lack the same political positioning or degree of institutional
infrastructure. They therefore experience barriers to accessing international funding. Many of the
organizations listed below (e.g. Sarakasi Trust, Alliance Française, Mayeli, GoDown Arts Centre,
and Goethe Institute) have coordinated with many smaller CBOs located in Nairobi’s most
impoverished areas. These NGOs constitute a civil society revenue gateway that influences the
opportunities and activities of less internationally linked organizations.
See Van Buren (2006) for a full ethnographic account of performing arts and community-based organizing in
3.3.2 Specific Criteria
In addition to general criteria, I establish five specific traits drawn from a cross-section of civil
society literature54 to constitute the organizations within the scope of this dissertation as NGOs.
All of the organizations I profiled as reflecting NGO culture:
(1) engage in activities that reflect shared values as opposed to generating profits for
(2) do not operate under a branch of government, hence the title nongovernmental organization;
(3) utilize external donors for funding and, in the case of Kenyan-based NGOs, much of that
funding originates outside of Kenya;
(4) incorporate jargon common to Western nonprofit culture such as “empowerment,”
“sustainability,” “development,” “initiatives,” “projects,” “mission,” “vision,” and “objectives”;
(5) create or engage with initiatives that reflect civic benefit-oriented or charitable and
philanthropic causes such as education, economic development, environmental sustainability, the
empowerment of marginalized groups (such as youth, women, immigrants, minorities, etc.),
peace, bridging cultures, health, and cultural preservation.
3.3.3 Contentious Criteria
Two particularly contentious dimensions of this study’s classificatory parameters include
(1) the inclusion of for-profit organizations in the scope of Kenyan NGO music culture; and (2)
the inclusion of NGOs and nonprofit organizations that lack a Board of Directors. For-Profit Organizations as Civil Society Organizations?
Some readers will certainly find a point of contention with my inclusion of for-profit
organizations in a civil society organizational study. Keane (2003), in Global Civil Society?,
includes some private sector corporations in his scope of global civil society organizing.
Although Kenya possesses a resourcefully constructed peripheral private sector (often referred to
in Kenya as the jua kali sector), its destabilized and globally marginalized formal private sector
causes funding from international philanthropic organizations in the form of aid revenue to
See footnote one in the Introduction for a more in depth discussion on this point. These criteria have been
especially influenced by my own personal participation in the non-profit sector as well as descriptions by numerous
organizations and scholars, including Jan Scholte’s Global Civil Society: Changing the World? (1999: 2-3), Lester
Salamon and Wojciech Sokolowski’s Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector, Volume Two (2004),
the World Bank’s “Defining Civil Society” Webpage (, accessed 05.01.12), Civil Society
International’s “What is Civil Society?” Webpage (, accessed 05.01.12), among others.
appear more successful at accumulating revenue than even the business sector. This has become
the case so much that for-profit organizations in Kenya have modeled themselves after NGOs,
and in doing so obscure the categorical divide between for-profit and nonprofit. Demonstrating
further conflations of for-profit/nonprofit dichotomies in Kenya, many NGOs promote
“economic development” in their missions, in some cases aiming to empower small businesses
and in others funding business ventures of marginalized groups.
Within Kenya's NGO music culture, I encountered for-profit organizations such as Kenya
Music Week and Blankets and Wine that embodied many of the organizational traits of NGOs.
They utilized sponsorships and mission-focused agendas while frequently collaborating with
registered NGOs. For instance, the registered NGO Ketebul Music maintains many social and
professional ties to Kenya Music Week as well as Blankets and Wine. I, therefore, included a
small sampling of for-profit organizations because they fall within the community of
organizations that comprise the focus of this study and also reflect many characteristics of NGO
music culture in Kenya. No Board of Directors?
Given the required presence of a Board of Directors for nonprofit organizations in the
United States, as well as most of Europe, some readers may take issue with my inclusion of
organizations that do not have a Board of Directors in the list below. I encountered several
formal civil society organizations and even organizations that referred to themselves as NGOs
that had not elected a Board of Directors to oversee their organization’s activities. An executive
director of one of these organizations also informed me of an avenue to register as a nonprofit
organization in Kenya without electing a Board of Directors. Given the variability of civil
society organization registration systems in Kenya, I chose to include larger organizations that do
not hold a Board of Directors in the list below.
3.3.4 Descriptive Approach
I describe each organization below using a four-part approach. This four-part structure
consists of (1) an Overview section that introduces an organization by briefly describing its
history, activities, and some dimensions of its identity such as its current executive director and
how they categorize themselves (whether “NGO,” “nonprofit,” “for-profit,” “foundation,” or
“trust”) or legally registered (if applicable); (2) a Music Programming section that showcases the
organizations engagement with music oriented initiatives to identify a variety of activities that
constitute NGO music culture in Kenya; (3) a Funding section that describes the sources of
revenue that sustain the organization so as to locate them within the international economic
supply chains of transnational civil society; and (4) an Orientation towards Shared Values
section that describes the explicit mission-oriented dimensions of the organization in such a way
so as to locate them within the cultural ideology of civil society.
I have classified the organizations below into two categories: International Organizations
and Kenyan Organizations. These categories highlight the distinction between international
NGOs (INGOs) and a growing constituency of local Kenyan NGOs. Most INGOs (sometimes
referred to in civil society literature as NNGOs, or Northern NGOs, as a result of their strong ties
in the Global North) tend to have a larger funding base due to their close institutional affiliations
in the Global North. As the descriptions below will demonstrate, INGOs commonly partner with
Kenyan-based NGOs (sometimes referred to in civil society literature as SNGOs, or Southern
NGOs, for their typical geographic position in the Global South). The asymmetrical economic
and infrastructural relationships between the two groups identify a prevailing dynamic in which
the Global North maintains considerable more power to influence the operations of organizations
founded and operating in the Global South.
3.4 International Organizations
3.4.1 Ford Foundation, Eastern Africa Region
Figure 3.4: Ford Foundation-funded Ketebul Music documentaries Retracing the Benga
Rhythm (left) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (right) (photo by author).
Overview: The Ford Foundation is an international nonprofit foundation formed in 1936 and
registered in the United States as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Eastern African
regional office is located in Nairobi and serves as a grantmaking foundation that also provides
oversight and guidance to projects, individuals, and organizations that receive Ford Foundation
funding. Reflecting the Ford Foundation’s broader mission of empowering local governance
structures, the Eastern Africa regional office’s international team of program officers includes a
majority of representatives who are Eastern Africa nationals, including the acting representative
during the duration of this study’s fieldwork, Joyce Nyairo.
Performing Arts Programming: The Eastern Africa office has provided grants for several
performing arts related initiatives in Kenya, including numerous Kenyan music history
documentaries produced by Ketebul Music (2007-present), the GoDown Arts Centre’s
“organizational and asset development” (2011), the 2008 Spotlight on Kenyan Music tour by
Alliance Française de Nairobi (2008), and facility construction and international exchanges by
East African artists for Sarakasi Trust (2006).
Funding: The Ford Foundation receives most of its revenue from the interest dividends of a
diverse investment portfolio and fixed assets.
Orientation towards Shared Values: The Ford Foundation's mission is (1) “to encourage
initiatives by those living and working closest to where problems are located”; (2) “to promote
collaboration among the nonprofit, government and business sectors”; and (3) “to ensure
participation by men and women from diverse communities and all levels of society.” The Ford
Foundation, Eastern Africa office proposes civic focused goals directly related to regional needs
by “advancing reforms in land, livelihoods, rights, media and civic participation for women and
3.4.2 Goethe Institut Kenia
Figure 3.5: Kenya - Germany collaborative performance at Goethe Institut’s Inboda Dance
Work Shop at GoDown Arts Centre on 02.26.11 (photo by Shino Saito).
Ford Foundation’s main Webpage (, accessed 01.02.12). Ford Foundation Eastern
Africa’s main Webpage (, accessed 01.02.12).
Overview: The Goethe Institut is an international nonprofit German cultural institution founded
in 1951. It offers language courses and cultural cooperation programs in ninety-two countries,
including Kenya. The Goethe Institut Kenia office is located in Nairobi and offers workshops
and teacher training seminars for German teachers as a second language and administers/funds
many arts and culture projects.
Performing Arts Programming: The Goethe Institut supports and organizes several ongoing
performing arts initiatives. The Jukwaani! Festival is a three-day festival of literature and
performances organized and funded by Goethe Institute and Alliance Française. Since 2009, the
annual festival has featured various forms of performed poetry, including hip-hop, Afro-fusion,
and slam poetry. NRBLN-BLNRB is a collaborative music project that has been running from
2009 to present. The Goethe Institute administrated and funded young Kenyan and German
musicians to create a collaborative electronic, hip-hop, and African influenced music community.
The project took place in a Nairobi townhouse, where the artists worked, performed, and lived
together. The Goethe Institute produces several music albums each year that feature a
collaborative effort between German and Kenyan artists. The NRBLN-BLNRB project
culminated in one such CD release in 2011. The Goethe Institute also organizes German-Kenyan
dance collaborative projects, including hip-hop, B-boy battles and an initiative entitled Inboda:
International Body and Dance Work. Inboda is a dance project in which dancers and
choreographers from Germany come to work with children from Nairobi combining styles of
urban dance, acrobatics, and contemporary Western dance.
Funding: The German Embassy has provided the majority of funding to the Goethe Institute. The
organization also receives support by partnering with various institutions, such as Alliance
Française and GoDown Arts Centre, on specific projects.
Orientation towards Shared Values: The Goethe Institute proposes to benefit the public by (1)
“promoting knowledge of the German language abroad”; (2) “fostering international cultural
cooperation by organizing a broad variety of events”; and (3) “facing the cultural policy
challenges of globalization to develop innovative concepts for a world made more human
through mutual understanding, or where cultural diversity is seen as an asset.”56
Goethe Institut’s main Webpage (, accessed 01.02.12).
3.4.3 Gatwitch Records
Figure 3.6: A performance at the Gatwich Peace Festival on 12.04.10 by Nairobi’s Pamoja
Dance Troupe, a nonprofit performing arts group comprised of individuals with physical
disabilities (photo by Shino Saito).
Overview: Gatwitch Records is a for-profit record label founded in 2007 by a South Sudanese
former child soldier turned hip-hop artist and activist, Emmanuel Jal. Although a for-profit
record label, the organization exhibits many influences of NGO culture and extensively
coordinates initiatives with NGOs and CBOs, including GUA (pronounced “gwaah” and
translates as “peace” in the Sudanese language Nuer), a South Sudan NGO that was also founded
by Emmanuel Jal. Gatwitch Records produces and promotes hip-hop and World Music and has
offices located in Nairobi, London, and Juba.
Performing Arts Programming: Gatwitch Records finances, records, and markets East African
artists and partners with smaller record labels through events, collaborations, and joint marketing.
The December 2010 Gatwitch Peace Festival was a music festival featuring collaborations with
several local music organizations, including Ketebul Music, Pamoja Dance Troupe, and the
Africa Yoga Project. Gatwitch Records advertises that a portion of all money raised through
music sales is distributed to various nonprofit organizations, including GUA Africa. GUA builds
schools in South Sudan and sponsors children's education in Nairobi “slum” areas.
Funding: Gatwitch Records receives funding through the record sales and performances of its
artists, as well as through sponsorships. Resources and funding for the Gatwitch Peace Festival
were provided by Makini Schools, Caipirinha Foundation, AccessKenya Group, Signature Media,
and Silverbird Cinemas, among other organizations.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Gatwitch Records is value centered in several ways. Its aim
is (1) “to redefine the notion of a record label by seeking out and supporting local talent and
offering fair deals to artists, both signed and independent”; (2) “to give artists an international
platform, but also bring world attention to their communities of origin”; and (3) “to enrich local
communities by putting up cultural and educational events, as well as sending part of the
proceeds generated from music toward various community projects.”57
3.4.4 Alliance Française de Nairobi
Figure 3.7: Koko Band performance raising awareness to fight deforestation at the Alliance
Française de Nairobi’s Garden Stage on 11.26.10 (photo by Shino Saito).
Overview: Alliance Française is a nonprofit organization founded in Paris in 1883 by a collective
of notably influential French humanists, including Louis Pasteur and Jules Verne. They founded
the organization with the objective of promoting the teaching of French language around the
world. Alliance Française now comprises a global network of 1,016 offices in 135 countries. Its
mission has expanded beyond French language education and is now aimed at fostering
Gatwitch Records’ main Webpage (, accessed 01.02.12).
cooperation and friendship between people through not only the promotion of French language
but also arts and cultural exchange.
The Alliance Française de Nairobi is a subsidiary of Alliance Française International and
was founded in 1949 primarily as a French language learning center. Since its founding, Alliance
Française de Nairobi has developed into one of the largest Alliance Française in Africa and
functions within Nairobi as a French language center as well as a major cultural center, which
carries out the Cultural Cooperation Initiatives of the French Embassy. These initiatives include
many performing arts and visual arts-oriented activities.
Performing Arts Programming: Alliance Française de Nairobi sponsors and organizes many
performing arts events throughout the year at the garden stage performance venue located at the
organization's main facility in Nairobi’s city center. The most consistent annual performing arts
project facilitated by Alliance Française is the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative. This is a
multi-tiered music program aimed at showcasing and promoting Kenyan Afro-fusion music, in
order to economically and culturally empower the local Kenyan music industry.58
Funding: Alliance Française receives the majority of its funding from the French Embassy in
Kenya but also receives grants such as the European Union's 2011 “Vital Voices and Culture”
programme. Alliance Française de Nairobi has also received funding from corporate sources
such as Total Oil, Brussels Airlines, Bank of Africa Kenya, Swiss International Airlines, and
Laico Regency Nairobi.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Alliance Française de Nairobi proposes three primary valueoriented objectives of the organization: (1) promotion of the French language; (2) developing an
appreciation and understanding of French and Francophone cultures; and (3) promoting artistic
and cultural diversity.59
See Chapter 8 for an extensive examination of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative and the development of
the Afro-fusion genre.
Alliance Française’s main Webpage (, accessed 05.25.12).
3.4.5 Abubilla Foundation
Figure 3.8: Ayub Ogada performing at an Abubilla Music-Ketebul Music partnership
concert at Sippers Restaurant on 03.27.11 (photo by author).
Overview: Abubilla Music Foundation is the nonprofit branch of the Abubilla Music record
label/artist community and is a registered charity in the United Kingdom. The foundation
functions as an extension of Abubilla Music to “support inspirational music projects around the
world that actively preserve and promote cultural music heritage while also discovering and
nurturing emergent talent.”60 Abubilla Music Foundation's activities in Kenya manifest primarily
through a partnership with the Nairobi-based NGO, Ketebul Music, including a joint initiative
entitled the Singing Wells project (described below). The following trustees oversee Abubilla
Music Foundation initiatives: James Allen, a global management consultant for Bain and
Company and founder of Abubilla Music; Martyn Ward, the managing director of Adevia Health
Ltd., an international healthcare recruitment company, and Kathy Allen.
Performing Arts Programming: Abubilla Music Foundation currently funds and oversees two
global music initiatives: Meninos do Morumbi and Singing Wells. Meninos do Morumbi is an
initiative in São Paulo Brazil aimed at increasing the digital marketing capabilities of the large
youth percussion, dance, and singing group, Meninos do Morumbi. Abubilla Music Foundation
provides funding and technical resources to the group. Singing Wells is a collaborative initiative
with the Nairobi-based NGO, Ketebul Music, and promotes the preservation of East African
musical heritage as an infusion of these rooted cultural streams into the popular mainstream
Abubilla Music Foundation’s main Webpage (,
accessed 05.27.12).
music market. Abubilla Music Foundation provides funding to the initiative and has generated a
collaborative strategic plan combining studio engineers, producers, and musicians both from
Abubilla Music and Ketebul Music. Together, they record “traditional” East African music in
villages throughout East Africa using a mobile recording studio and produce Afro-fusion
compositions that bring together urban and rural, young and old, “traditional and contemporary”
musicians from diverse backgrounds.
Funding: Abubilla Music Foundation is funded in part through private donations, grants, and its
parent organization, Abubilla Music. The foundation is also registered with the Charities Aid
Foundation (CAF) that provides tax deductible donations through the CAF American Donor
Fund. The Institute of International Education has provided additional funding to the Abubilla
Music Foundation through a 2011 grant in support of the Singing Wells project.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Abubilla Music Foundation’s stated mission is to “help
ensure that the historical roots of global music are preserved and that “traditional” music is
treasured and brought to new audiences in a modern context and in accessible formats, for this
generation and generations to come.” They aim to do this through an objective of “teaming up
with brilliant partners who are leaders in their communities and who are well respected
musicians, producers and leaders in the creative world. They utilize combined resources from the
Abubilla Music Foundation and Abubilla Music record company.61
3.4.6 Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI)
Figure 3.9: Flier for JMI’s World Bank-funded Fair Play: Live and Direct Concert held at
the Sarakasi Dome 04.29.11.
Abubilla Music Foundation’s main Webpage (,
accessed 05.28.12).
Overview: JMI identifies itself as the largest youth music NGO in the world and was created in
Brussels, Belgium in 1945 with the mission “to enable young people to develop through music
across all boundaries.”62 The organization functions as a networking organization for its
subsidiary member organizations in forty-five countries. Member organizations pay annual dues
to JMI in exchange for a heightened international profile and opportunities to engage in crossborder programs funded by JMI. In Kenya, the Nairobi-based performing arts NGO, Sarakasi
Trust (listed below), is a member organization of JMI and participated in the 2010 JMI program
entitled Fair Play: Anti-Corruption Youth Voices funded by the World Bank Institute.
Performing Arts Programming: JMI undertakes some 36,000 music activities a year that
embrace all styles of music and coordinate internationally. The organization categorizes these
activities into four “priority activity fields:” Young Musicians, Young Audiences, Youth
Empowerment and Youth Orchestras and Ensembles. In Kenya, JMI has most directly involved
itself through the Fair Play: Anti-Corruption Youth Voices initiative, which is a global anticorruption campaign and music video competition that aims to increase youth participation in the
global fight against corruption. The competition encourages young musicians (ages 18-35) to
submit music videos featuring original music that communicates the impact of corruption on
youth to a broad public. JMI chose Sarakasi Trust, in Nairobi to facilitate the Fair Play AntiCorruption Youth Forum held from April 27-29, 2011 that brought together a global youth
demographic of competition finalists to record collaborative anti-corruption songs and perform at
the Sarakasi Dome performance space in Nairobi. The music of the Fair Play Anti-Corruption
finalists presented at the Nairobi conference also recorded a selection of collaborative songs at
the NGO music studio Ketebul Music.
Funding: JMI receives funds through a number of public, private, and civic channels, including
the World Bank Institute, Desjardins Securities, The European Cultural Foundation, Belgian
Science Policy, membership dues, and individual tax deductible contributions. Some of the funds
for JMI initiatives flow through and are managed by the charitable arm of JMI, JMI Foundation,
which describes itself as an “international nonprofit organization.”
Orientation towards Shared Values: JMI operates under the stated mission “to enable young
people to develop through music across all boundaries” and the objective “for young people and
audiences to have access to music. The organization advocates “quality formal and non-formal
JMI’s main Webpage (, accessed 15.28.12).
music education for young people and music learning for young audiences.”
3.4.7 WOMEX
Figure 3.10: Screen capture of the VirtualWOMEX online networking platform main
Overview: WOMEX (short for World Music Expo) is an international world music networking
organization founded in 1994 by the current president Christophe Borkowsky. The organization
holds an annual conference that it advertises as the world’s largest world music expo and
manages an online world music networking site called virtualWOMEX. WOMEX aims to
provide spaces for stakeholders in the world music industry to network in order to facilitate
various business partnerships, including international tours, record contracts, and the production
of documentary films. Although WOMEX’s organizational headquarters are based in Berlin,
Germany, several influential organizations and musicians in East Africa such as Sauti za Busara
Ketebul Music, Alliance Française, Kenya Music Week, Samba Mapangala and Tabu Osusa, are
registered with the organization.
Performing Arts Programming: WOMEX supports the development of the World Music
industry at its conference that features a trade fair, concerts, and awards for musicians,
organizations, and other music industry stakeholders. virtualWOMEX provides a marketing and
networking platform through which artists, producers, festival organizers, and record labels
connect with one another based on mutually beneficial opportunities showcased on their member
Available at the WOMEX website at, accessed 06.03.12.
profiles and participation in the annual WOMEX conference.
Funding: WOMEX has received funding from various nongovernmental, governmental, and
private organizations but primarily operates as a for-profit organization receiving revenue from
member dues and conference tickets.
Orientation towards Shared Values: WOMEX was created by its founders out of a concern for
the marginalization of the world music market and decreases in opportunities for international
artists as a result of the dominance of the global popular music industry. Although the
organization does not publicize the stated mission, its underlying ethos addresses advocacybased values that transcend the mere accumulation of profits.64
3.5 Kenyan-Based Organizations
3.5.1 GoDown Arts Centre
Figure 3.11: The GoDown Arts Centre’s promotional booklet picturing the main
performance space (photo of booklet by author).
Overview: The nonprofit GoDown Arts Centre is a 10,000 square meter space in Nairobi for arts
organizations representing a range of art forms. The complex contains offices, visual arts and
music studios, and rehearsal and performance spaces. In the center of the complex is a large art
gallery for exhibitions, a main performance space for music concerts and theater performances,
WOMEX’s main Webpage (, accessed 05.28.12). Jon Pareles, 2005. “Castanets and Slide
Ukuleles, Looking for a Chance to Be Heard.” In The New York Times October 31st, 2005.
as well as a restaurant. The organization is a registered Kenyan nonprofit organization that
became operational in 2003. The organization's founders, including its executive director, Joy
Mboya, created the center during the 1990s to provide facilities and networking opportunities for
a large and growing community of artists living in Nairobi.
Performing Arts Programming: The GoDown Arts Centre sustains several long running yearlong programs. The Centre collaborates with the Kenyan Conservatoire of Music to support the
National Youth Orchestra that provides subsidized training for students in the Nairobi area in
Western classical music throughout the year. GoDown also supports the Dance Forum Nairobi
program that provides training for youth in contemporary dance. The program features
workshops and residencies at the GoDown Arts Centre as well as opportunities to perform
internationally. The students perform publicly and have received training from contemporary
dance professionals, including Aloyce Makonde of the Visa to Dance Festival in Tanzania.
GoDown holds several festivals throughout the year, including Dunda Mtaani, a community
festival aimed at giving local youth groups opportunities to showcase their artistic talents
through music, dance, and acrobatics; and Battle of the Bands, a monthly music competition in
the form of a concert that culminates in a yearly finalist competition entitled Showdown at the
GoDown. The Centre also serves artists and residents by providing studio spaces at subsidized
Funding: The GoDown Arts Centre has received funding from several foundations and
embassies, including Ford Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Doen Foundation,
Tides Foundation, Lambent Foundation, and Scanad. For specific projects, the organization has
received funding from H Young Company, Swedish Institute, USAID, the European Union, and
Orientation towards Shared Values: The GoDown Arts Centre’s mission aims to (1) “develop
independent artists across multiple art forms”; (2) “participate in the advancement of the cultural
sector”; and (3) “thereby contribute to the establishment of a robust arts and culture sector with
expending receptive audiences.”65
GoDown Arts Centre’s main Webpage (, 03.01.12).
3.5.2 Sarakasi Trust
Figure 3.12: Sarakasi Dome performance space (photo by author).
Overview: Sarakasi Trust is a registered performing arts Kenyan NGO based in Nairobi and
established in 2001 with the aim of building capacity in Kenya's performing arts sector. The
organization operates under the policy “culture for development,” that asserts culture can play a
central role in diminishing poverty. The managing director and founder is Marion van Dijck, a
Danish expatriate and full time resident of Nairobi who began the organization after witnessing
the touristic acrobatic performances by youth performing in hotels around Nairobi. Inspired by
seeing these performances and motivated to increase the opportunities for the struggling
performers, van Dijck began Sarakasi Trust by creating a training and outreach program at the
GoDown Arts Centre involving youth and young adults from Nairobi's most economically
impoverished areas. Sarakasi Trust has since added an “audience building program” that features
performances at the Sarakasi Dome Performance Center. Construction was completed in 2008.
The organization manages a variety of special projects, including the Africa Yoga Project and
Sarakasi Trust Hospital Project. Sarakasi Trust is governed by a Board of Directors, a managing
director, and business manager and has a staff of approximately forty-two part-time employees.
The Board provides overall leadership and guidance for the organization and is publicly
accountable for the activities of the organization, while the managing director oversees day-today operations and delegates staff duties.
Performing Arts Programming: Sarakasi Trust oversees several annually recurring music and
performing arts-based initiatives. At the core of Sarakasi’s activities is its youth acrobat troupes
made up of marginalized residents of Nairobi’s impoverished urban settlements. Sarakasi
provides equipment, practice space, funding, and strategic business and marketing coaching, as
well as international exchange programs for the troupes that perform in Nairobi as well as
internationally. Sarakasi Trust acrobatic troupes also perform at the annual Sawa Sawa Festival,
Nairobi’s largest music festival that is also organized by Sarakasi Trust. In addition to Sarakasi’s
acrobat troupes, the Sawa Sawa Festival features some of Kenya’s and East Africa’s most
popular music performing acts as well as new emerging talents. The Sawa Sawa Festival
particularly features partnerships with other organizations active in Nairobi’s NGO music culture,
such as Ketebul Music, from which two of its featured artists, Makadem and Gargar, performed
at the 2012 Sawa Sawa Festival. WaPi is an initiative initially founded by the British Council but
now administered by Saraksi Trust. WaPi is a monthly youth concert that showcases emerging
musical acts from Nairobi. Each month targets a theme such as environmental awareness,
women’s rights, or confronting substance abuse. Each concert attracts around 1,000 youth
attendees and gives underground or unknown artists opportunities to gain an audience base.
WaPi is a central component to Sarakasi’s “audience building program.” The Sarakasi Hospital
Project runs entertainment programs in various hospitals and children rehabilitation facilities
throughout Nairobi. The program promotes positive entertainment as a contribution to healing
and rehabilitation. Amani Lazima is an initiative in which youth of Nairobi’s “slums” are
coached to create their own performance-based initiatives and partner with community-based
organizations already operating in the “slums” where they live. The ultimate goal of Amani
Lazima is to use music and dance specifically is to advocate on issues of peace and anti-violence.
Funding: Sarakasi Trust has received a significant amount of funding through international
channels of private, philanthropic, and governmental organizations. Governmental organizations
that have supported Sarakasi Trust include the British Council, U.S.A. Embassy of Nairobi,
Royal Norwegian Embassy of Nairobi, Royal Netherlands Embassy of Nairobi, Stichting Doen
Netherlands and the Danish Embassy of Nairobi. Civil society groups that have provided support
to Sarakasi Trust initiatives include the Ford Foundation, Tejcheve Foundation, Umoja Cultural
Flying Carpet, UNICEF, FK Norway, United Flower Organization Netherlands, and Mundial
Orientation towards Shared Values: Sarakasi Trust operates under a vision statement of “arts
and culture for a better world!” The organization’s mission is “to develop, facilitate, support and
promote performing arts and culture for social and economic advancement of society.”66
3.5.3 Purple Images Productions
Figure 3.13: The Zimbabwean theatre troupe Rooftop Promotions performing “Rituals”
for Purple Images Production’s All Africa Peace Festival on 12.05.10 (photo by Shino
Overview: Purple Images Productions is a Kenyan-based nonprofit organization founded in 1996
with the objective of using the performing arts and mass media communication to promote social
and health awareness among youth and communities in the Eastern African region. A selfdescribed “development” communications agency, the organization is staffed by
communications specialists who specialize in project design, monitoring and evaluation, event
management, social mobilization, and communications training. The initiatives that Purple
Images Productions has implemented include thematic communication campaigns, music
concerts, roadshows, theater, audiovisual productions, and other forms of alternative forms of
media. They have collaborated on initiatives with several NGOs, including Family Health
International, Path, Action Aid, UNICEF Kenya, UNAIDS, UNIFEM, UNFPA, UNDP, National
Council for Population and Development, UNDCP, and International Labor Organization/IPEC.
Purple Images Productions is also a member of the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium and reports
winning more grants from the United Nations for The U.N. International Days than any other
Sarakasi Trust’s main Webpage (, accessed 05.28.12).
African organization.
Performing Arts Programming: In the area of the performing arts, Purple Images Productions
organizes music concerts, cultural festivals, exhibitions, conferences, and roadshows that feature
music, dance, and theater to mobilize youth in health and “development” issues. Of these events,
Purple Images organized a youth targeted music concert, community roadshow, and drama
festival in commemoration of the International Human Rights Day in 2000. In 2005, Purple
Images Productions hosted the performing arts event, “Beats from Kids” children star search to
commemorate the Day of the African Child. The organization has held an annual music and
dance festival since 2006 featuring community based cultural dance groups from throughout the
East African region. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 these dance festivals featured the theme of peace
by celebrating the role of cultural dance in peace building and human understanding. The dance
festivals also included technical training workshops on the topics of choreography, dance
drama/dance theatre, dance journalism, the role of community and dance, dance festival
productions, and the role of dance in promoting peace, governance, and “sustainable
Funding: Purple Images Productions has received funding and resource support for initiatives
from Family Health International, Kenya Medical Association, Federation of Women Lawyers,
Ipas Kenya, Global Fund Against Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Co-operative Bank of Kenya,
Kenyan Department of Culture, GoDown Arts Centre, Sarakasi Trust, and Kenyan National
Theater, among other local and international nonprofit and corporate organizations. For some
events, such as the Dance for Peace Festivals, registration fees for the performing groups who
did not receive scholarships to attend the conference added additional revenue.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Purple Images Productions indicate several ways in which
the organization aims to benefit a wider segment of society, including (1) “creating
communication activities that initiate the translation of information and education into actionoriented options for motivational processes that reflect, in culturally relevant terms, the needs,
hopes, values, and traditions of specific audience groups;” (2) “creating awareness and
empowerment to influence attitudes and behavior change in different social, health and
development problems facing targeted audiences;” (3) “promoting the Eastern African identity
through cultural dance expression and thematic communication, education and entertainment;”
(4) “promoting cultural integration and cooperation among the citizens of Eastern Africa through
friendly cultural and artistic dance competitions;” (5) “building technical skills and dance and
dance drama;” and (6) “formulating dance development programs to address health issues,
governance and democratization, peace and conflict management among other development
issues facing the region.”67
3.5.4 Kenya Music Week
Figure 3.14: Makadem of Ketebul Music performing at the 2010 Kenya Music Week on
12.12.10 (photo by author).
Overview: Kenya Music Week is a for-profit music festival created by a partnership between
Kenyan music industry stakeholders PHAT! Music & Entertainment and Triple P K Publishers.
The festival features performances by Kenyan musicians, a trade exhibition, and educational
workshops. The first Kenya Music Week festival took place in December, 2004 at the Sarit
Centre Expo Hall in Nairobi and has since occurred annually each following December. The
central aim of Kenya Music Week is “developing a [Kenyan] music industry that is professional,
transparent and profitable for all.” The initiative was a response to a disempowered Kenyan
music industry dominated by music piracy that lacked sustainable revenues. Although Kenya
Music Week is a for-profit organization, its mission to develop a sustainable music industry in
Kenya addresses a socioeconomic need that many members of Kenya’s music industry express.
Purple Images Productions’ main Webpage (, 03.01.12).
The event also coordinates and receives support from nonprofit organizations such as Goethe
Institut, Music Copyright Society of Kenya, and Ketebul Music, as well as government
organizations such as the Permanent Presidential Commission on Music. Finally, each year the
festival embraces a new socially conscious theme that reinforces the mission-based dimensions
of the organization. The 2011 theme was “Towards Vision 2030,” a reinforcement of Kenya’s
proposed Vision 2030 Development Goals that are based on the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs).
Performing Arts Programming: Kenya Music Week features four days of performances
exclusively by Kenyan artists. The event includes a trade exposition room where various
companies associated with the Kenyan music industry network, publicize, and market to concertgoers. One day of the festival is a workshop where Kenyan music industry stakeholders of
varying levels of experience and influence share ideas and strategies for stabilizing and
enhancing Kenya's music industry.
Funding: Kenyan Music Week has received funding from numerous corporate, private, and
nonprofit supporters, including the World Music Expo (WOMEX), Goethe Institut Kenia,
FIYUHWORKS, Xtreme Media Solutions Africa, Phat Buzz, and Triple P K Publishers. The
event also acquires revenue by charging a fee to rent booth space at the trade exposition.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Kenya Music Week purports to benefit the greater whole of
Kenyan society through the music industry by (1) “providing an accessible public forum for
musicians, producers, promoters, distributors, consumers, government, and NGOs to interact and
produce solutions to industry problems”; (2) “educating the public on industry issues such as
music piracy”; (3) “using this united assembly as a publicity opportunity to lobby for the
enforcement of music copyright and the elimination of piracy through press conferences and
petitions”; (4) “encouraging stronger win-win partnerships between industry stakeholders
nationally, regionally, and internationally”; and (5) “conducting industry census and register
industry stakeholders into a central database for future intercommunication purposes.”68
Kenya Music Week’s main Webpage (, 01.03.12).
3.5.5 Blankets and Wine
Figure 3.15: Blankets and Wine director, Muthoni the Drummer Queen, and Dela
performing at Blankets and Wine XXI on 11.28.10 (photo by Shino Saito).
Overview: Blankets and Wine is a monthly Nairobi music festival that showcases genres of Afrofusion music. The organization is a for-profit company that demonstrates intersections with NGO
music culture by coordinating the festival with NGOs, such as Ketebul Music, receiving
sponsorship to subsidize event costs, and seeking to provide a public benefit through music. The
director of Blankets and Wine is the popular Nairobi performing artist Muthoni the Drummer
Performing Arts Programming: Performing arts programming consists of a monthly, picnic style
music festival that takes place every first Sunday of the month from 2 PM to 7 PM in alternating
outdoor venues. The festivals strategically feature a mix of high profile artists such as Kidum,
Thandiswa, Suzanna Owiyo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Eric Wainaina, Makadem, and others, in order to
draw crowds. The festival also features lesser-known Kenyan artists who gain exposure by
opening the festival for the more popular acts.
Funding: Blankets and Wine has received sponsorship from Kenyan and international corporate
sponsors, including KCB Bank, Dormans Coffee, Asilia, Provate Safaris, Capital Colors, and
Wedding & Events by Kui. The event also receives subsidies from ticket prices that are 1,000
KSH in advance (about U.S. $11.5) and 1,300 KSH (around U.S. $15).
Orientation towards Shared Values: Blankets and Wine indicates dimensions of public benefit
that extend beyond the festival’s commercial interests by promoting what they refer to as “Afrobased music and lifestyle experience” that is definitive of “urban Afro-based culture.” In this
way, the organization is part a cultural empowerment organization. Specifically towards
promoting the cause of live Afro-fusion music, envisioned by its performers as a response to the
global commercialization of the music industry in Kenya, Blankets and Wine aims to (1) “create
a platform for artists to share their skills and art in a relaxed and receptive atmosphere”; (2)
“encourage domestic consumption of world-class Afro-based music, created and performed by
African musicians or those of African descent”; (3) “solidify the culture of life music
consumption”; (4) increase awareness and visibility of Afro-based fusion music, musicians, and
genres of related to Afro expression”; and (5) “develop and contribute to the urban tourist
industry by sharing the music and venues of East Africa with domestic and non-domestic
3.5.6 The Kenya Conservatoire of Music
Figure 3.16: Program for the Kenya Conservatoire of Music’s Christmas performance of
One King on 12.12.10 (photo by author).
Overview: The Kenya Conservatoire of Music began in 1944 as the East Africa Conservatoire of
Music, an organization formed by an exclusively European expatriate teaching staff and clientele.
Since 1944, the organization has transitioned into a nonprofit organization staffed by a mix of
Blankets and Wine’s main Webpage (http//, accessed 12.3.11).
expatriates and Kenyans serving over 300 students from a range of ages and backgrounds in
Nairobi. Stylistically, the music taught and performed through the Kenya Conservatoire of Music
is primarily Western classical in its orientation, with the exception of the jazz ensemble.
Performing Arts Programming: Kenya Conservatoire of Music offers individual and group
lessons in music theory, ensembles, instrumental, and voice. Lessons take place at both the
Kenyan Cultural Centre as well as the GoDown Arts Centre. There are eight grade levels for
each instrument and after completion of the eighth-grade level, students are eligible to test to
acquire a diploma from The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). The
Conservatoire is also the official representative for ABRSM in Kenya and oversees the
administration of all practical examinations, of which over 1,500 candidates enroll to test their
proficiency in a variety of Western classical instruments each year. The Kenya Conservatoire of
Music Orchestra comprises of students and staff members performing in at least four
Conservatoire concerts annually in addition to occasional tours that have brought the orchestra to
perform in the Diani, Mombasa, Kampala, and Dar es Salaam. In addition to the feature
orchestra, they also have maintained a string quartet, junior orchestra, and jazz ensemble. The
Conservatoire also draws international performing artists to conduct master classes and
workshops. In 2010, the South African Soweto String Quartet was one such group.
Funding: The Conservatoire acquires revenue through multiple avenues. Concert tickets and
fundraisers as well as lesson fees charged to students comprise a substantial portion of the
Conservatoire’s operating costs. Nonprofit organizations, including the GoDown Arts Centre and
the Art of Music Foundation, in addition to governmental organizations such as the Kenyan
Cultural Center have also contributed resources and funds to the Conservatoire.
Orientation towards Shared Values: The Kenya Conservatoire of Music proposes to provide a
benefit to society by (1) “working to teach and promote good music of all styles in Kenya”; (2)
“ensuring that every child has an opportunity to experience the benefits of learning to play and
sing music”; and (3) providing an inroad for Kenyans to achieve an internationally recognized
certificate of instrumental proficiency through the ABRSM exam.70
Kenya Conservatoire of Music’s main Webpage (, 03.01.12).
3.5.7 Mayeli
Figure 3.17: Youth acrobats from Nairobi’s Huruma and Ongoza urban settlements
performing at the Tandawazi Festival 12.29.10-
Overview: Mayeli is a Nairobi-based nonprofit organization founded in 2010 and mobilized
around the promotion of the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance form of capoeira as well as other
African-based performance traditions. The organization was founded by capoeirista Brian
Owango who trained in the Senzala De Santos capoeira school headed by Mestre Somba in the
United Kingdom. Owango runs the only capoeira school in Kenya from which the idea for the
creation of a capoeira-centered nonprofit organization began. In addition to the creation of the
performing arts festival and several performing arts-based initiatives, Mayeli raises funds to
refurbish and build a second floor to the Ongoza Njia Community Centre in Huruma, one of
Nairobi’s most economically impoverished urban settlements.
Performing Arts Programming: Mayeli organizes a yearly performing arts festival called the
Tandawazi Festival that showcases diverse performing arts styles, including capoeira, acrobatics,
and music performance of popular, “traditional,” and fusion genres. Mayeli’s director, Brian
Owango, also teaches weekly capoeira classes at the Ongoza Njia Community Centre in
Nairobi’s Huruma urban settlement.
Photo provided by Brian Owango, director of Mayeli with permission for publication.
Funding: Mayeli receives most of its funding from the private hospitality company Aqueous that
is also run by Mayeli’s Executive Director, Brian Owango. Additional funds and resources for
the Tandawazi Festival were received from a spattering of private corporations, including Prime
Bank, Power Hire, Tribe, Hennessy, Capitol FM, and Java House.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Mayeli operates under a mission to use the arts to engage
and enhance the lives of youth in marginalized communities. Organizational initiatives aim to
provide youth with skills that will better their economic situation and that of their families as
they grow with their preferred skill sets and to create confident worldly individuals.72
3.5.8 Kijani Kenya Trust
Figure 3.18: Photo of Kijani Kenya Trust’s Nairobi Orchestra performing at the 2008
Kijani Festival.73
Overview: Kijani Kenya Trust registered as a British nonprofit charity and also a Kenyan Trust
founded in 2004 working to provide music education, health and HIV/AIDS services, general
education, and conservation in Kenya. The organization’s founders created Kijani Kenya Trust to
bring internationally acclaimed music and cultural events to Kenya in order to raise funds to
support conservation and HIV/AIDS projects in the region. Kijani Kenya Trust is run by a local
and international group of volunteers and Nairobi-based administrator.
Performing Arts Programming: Kijani Kenya Trust holds the Kijani Kenya Music Festival every
year in late February and early March in Nairobi. In coordination with the Festival, music
education workshops take place throughout the year featuring international artists holding master
Mayeli’s main Webpage (, accessed 05.28.12).
Available at Kijani Trust online photo gallery at,
accessed 06.03.12
classes for music teachers, musical exchanges with Kenyan artists, and workshops for young
people in the care of children’s homes, and HIV+ orphans and vulnerable populations. Youth
members across Kenya rehearse throughout the year to participate in Kijani festivals. The
Festival features a diverse range of music genres, including Western classical groups (The
Bridge Quartet, Vienna State Ballet and London Adventist Chorale), Afro-fusion groups (Eric
Wainaina and Suzzana Owiyo), and international contemporary styles (Conjunto Sabroso Salsa
Band, The Lucia Alvarez Flamenco Group, and Gaurav Mazumdar).
Funding: Kijani Kenya Trust has received funding from their United Kingdom-based charity,
Kijani Kenya Trust UK as well as various international and Kenyan corporate sponsors,
including Safaricom Kenya (Vodafone), CFC/Stanbic Bank, Holiday Inn Nairobi, Severin
Sealodge Mombasa, GM Moters Kenya, Capital FM Kenya, Air Kenya Ltd., Fly 540, AAR
Health Services Kenya, and Leopard Beach Hotel Mombasa.
Orientation towards Shared Values: Kijani Kenya Trust proposes to benefit society by (1)
“acting as a catalyst to finance grassroots projects in Kenya and partnering with groups
organizations that have a proven track record of project management”; (2) “acting as a generator,
to help initiate ideas, partnerships and funds for projects which support the health and
environmental conservation in Kenya”; and (3) “bringing internationally acclaimed music and
cultural events to Kenya, to visit major centers around the country to educate and raise funds for
conservation and HIV/AIDS projects in Kenya.”74
3.5.9 Drum Café
Figure 3.19: Call for Papers for Drum Café’s 2010 Peace Arts Festival/Conference on
Kijani Kenya Trust’s main Webpage (, 03.01.12).
Overview: Drum Café is a nonprofit organization that organizes conferences, performances, and
workshops to promote African cultural creativity with an emphasis on music. The organization's
director is Edward Kabuye, a musician and intellectual of Ugandan descent who has resided,
worked, and performed, in Nairobi for several years with his group Talking Drums that has
performed internationally. Kabuye’s music and life has been a central focus of Kathleen Noss
Van Burren’s ethnomusicological research and is featured in her dissertation entitled, “Stealing
Elephants, Creating Futures: Exploring Uses of Music and Other Arts for Community Education
in Nairobi, Kenya” (2006) as well as the African Music article entitled “Locating Hope in
Performance: Lessons from Edward Kabuye” (2009).
Performing Arts Programming: Drum Café has held several major workshops in conjunction
with various local and international organizations. The first Drum Café event in 2006 featured a
performance and workshops at Alliance Française in Nairobi benefitting from Kabuye’s
extensive experience as a teacher and performer of African musical heritage. After the 2006
Alliance Française event, subsequent Drum Café events have included lecture presentations and
dialogues with a wide range of cultural entrepreneurs and empowerment stakeholders. These
include choreographers, music directors, theatrical directors, cultural experts, and scholars across
disciplines. In 2009, Drum Café expanded its strategic objectives beyond the arts into the realm
of cultural entrepreneurship broadly conceived. The expansion culminated in the Drum Café
2010 Peace Arts Festival and Conference focusing on “cultural development and social change
towards peace and sustainability.” The Festival showcased performances by a wide range of
African performance groups, including Kabuye’s own group Talking Drums of Africa, and
featured presentations by representatives from universities, the private sector, and government
Funding: Drum Café has received a mix of financial and resource support from UNESCO,
Amref, Sarakasi Trust, Unity College, and the GoDown Arts Centre.
Orientation towards Shared Values: The major objectives of Drum Café is to promote certain
nonprofit driven values, including: (1) to protect and promote the diversity of cultural
expressions; (2) to encourage dialogue among cultures with a view to ensuring wider and
balanced cultural exchanges; (3) to foster intercultural dialogue in order to develop cultural
interaction in the spirit of building bridges among people; (4) to give recognition to the
distinctive nature of cultural activities, goods and services as vehicles of identity, values and
meaning thus creating job opportunities for young cultural operators; and (5) to encourage
diverse approaches to building an effective infrastructure for a cultural creativity industry.75
3.5.10 Art of Music Foundation
Figure 3.20: Art of Music Foundation’s Kenyan National Youth Orchestra.76
Overview: The Art of Music Foundation promotes the use of and education in “art music” (music
deriving primarily from Western classical musical performance practices and instrumentation) to
enhance the lives of Kenyan youth. The activities of the organization focus on providing
governance and oversight for music initiatives as well as seeking out secure funding channels to
support the implementation of sustainable music programs. The executive director of Art of
Music Foundation is Elizabeth Njoroge, a Kenyan opera singer and pharmacist who has
performed with the Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra Choir
in addition to editing Kenya’s classical music magazine Classics. The Foundation also operates
under the oversight of a board of nonexecutive trustees who specialize in the fields of music,
business, law, and marketing. Julius Kipng’etich, CEO of Kenya Wildlife Society, serves as
Chairman on the Board of Trustees.
Performing Arts Programming: The Art of Music Foundation organizes Kenya’s only National
Youth Orchestra that draws together instrumentalists under the age of 25 from around the
country. The Foundation also funds and facilitates community music programs, such as the
Ghetto Classics program, which aims to use music to better the lives of disadvantaged youth.
Drum Café’s main Webpage (, accessed 03.01.12)
Photo provided to author by Jim Pywell of Art of Music Foundation with permission for publication.
The Art of Music Foundation’s facility includes an education learning resource center that
provides a library for musicians, training for music teachers, and provides grants for musical
study for those in need, as well as local art music compositions. The facility also includes a
media center that facilitates the publication of the Classics magazine and a radio station focused
on the promotion and dissemination of classical “art music.”
Funding: The Art of Music Foundation receives funding and resources through several nonprofit,
private, and public funding channels, including the GoDown Arts Centre, the Kenya
Conservatoire of Music, and the Permanent Presidential Music Commission. The Ghetto Classics
program receives support and partnership with the Kutoka Network, a network of Catholic
parishes and organizations working in urban “slums” to create policies to provide employment
for “slum” dwellers. The Foundation also receives funding through individual donations.
Orientation towards Shared Values: The stated mission of Art of Music Foundation is “to
provide information, encourage excellence and increase the opportunities for those pursuing
careers in art music.”77
3.6 Conclusion
This chapter drew upon the previous chapter’s historical analysis of NGO development in
Kenya to provide an outline of the classificatory criteria used to identify organizations reflecting
the influence of NGO culture. Illustrating a distinct NGO music culture, I presented a catalog of
international and local organizations facilitating music initiatives in Nairobi. The organizations
and their music activities reflect the symbolic influence of European and North American
nonprofit cultures in language, funding, and administrative structures; yet, many are locally
administered and networked and facilitate music initiatives for a variety of purposes, not all of
which can easily be identified as drawing heavy influence from Western philanthropic and civil
society cultures.
Art of Music main Webpage (, accessed 03.01.12).
Opening ceremony of the 2011 Sauti za Busara Festival at the Old Fort,
Zanzibar; February 9th, 2011…
Yusuf Mahmoud: There was an artist here a couple of years ago. I’m sure many
of you remember Samba Mapangala.
Crowd: Yes!
Yusuf Mahmoud: Samba Mapangala says this is a gift for the people of Zanzibar.
He made this song after he arrived home in the U.S.A. Now we will listen to this
song for Zanzibar, a new song that he will release soon.78A new song specially
made, dedicated to the people of Zanzibar by one of East Africa’s most popular
and loved musicians, Samba Mapangala… I think we should just celebrate a little
before getting off stage. Please, weka weka flava dada!
- Yusuf Mahmoud, the Executive Director of Busara Promotions.
Figure 4.1: Busara Promotions board members, staff, and Executive Director dance to
Samba Mapangala’s “Zanzibar” at the opening ceremony of the 2011 Sauti za Busara
Festival (photo by author).
Kiswahili Translation with interspersed English spoken by Mahmoud: “Unamjua? Samba Mapangala? Sasa, last
week we got a very nice surprise, a zawadi kutoka Samba Mapangala. Anasema hii ni zawadi kwa wananchi wa
Zanzibar. Akatenganeza nyimbo baada ya kufika nyumbani kule U.S.A. Sasa tutasikiliza ile nyimbo ya Zanzibar,
nyimbo mpya tatoa kesho kutwa.”
4.1 Introduction
In 2009, Samba Mapangala, the famed leader of Orchestra Virunga, composed
“Zanzibar”79 in commemoration of his experiences performing at one of Africa’s largest annual
music festivals, the Sauti za Busara Festival. The Tanzanian NGO, Busara Promotions,
organized the six-day festival. Busara Promotions maintains close regional ties with Ketebul
Music, a Nairobi-based music studio and registered NGO founded by Mapangala’s long-time
friend and colleague, Tabu Osusa. Together, Osusa and Mapangala comprise the
musician-manager team most responsible for the creation and success of Orchestra Virunga, one
of East Africa’s premier dance bands of the 1980s and early 1990s. In conjunction with CC
Smith, Mapangala’s current manager, Osusa and Ketebul Music assisted in booking Mapangala
to perform at Sauti za Busara, after which Mapangala recorded “Zanzibar” at the Ketebul Music
studios in Nairobi before returning to his home in the United States.
This chapter merges the historical and symbolic foundations of NGO music culture
presented in Chapters 2 and 3 through an account of prominent East African musicians and
managers utilizing global networks of NGOs in response to what they view as a destabilized East
African popular music economy and generational disjuncture of local historical consciousness.
Circumstances and histories arising from the excerpt above will follow throughout this chapter to
offer a contingency-based examination of the cultural phenomenon of NGO music culture
through social contact, economy, and history. In particular, I document the musical activities and
histories of Tabu Osusa and Samba Mapangala that additionally intersect with a multitude of
organizations, individuals, and East African musical encounters in the globally expansive NGO
The rising presence of NGOs in Kenya occurred concurrently with the economic and
institutional collapse of the locally-based East African commercial music industry for which
Nairobi served as a central production and networking hub. The consequences of these separate
but related global historical trajectories compelled a segment of East Africa’s popular music
industry players to seek opportunities in the internationally funded NGO sector. Through
NGO-affiliated music organizations, initiatives, and festivals, industry moguls of decades past
like Osusa and Mapangala found supplementary economic alternatives to the heavily
Although Mapangala composed “Zanzibar” in 2009, a year of recording and production followed its conception.
“Zanzibar” is featured on Mapangala’s most recent album Maisha Ni Matamu (2011).
Western-influenced commercial market and piracy-driven local East African popular music
industry. They also utilize the mission-oriented dimensions of the international culture of NGO
initiatives explicitly to advocate for remembrance, relocalization, and invigoration of East
Africa’s contemporary popular music industry.
Throughout the course of this chapter, I will (1) trace the rapid decline of Kenya’s
popular music industry during the course of the 1980s and into the mid-1990s and its impact on
Mapangala’s and Osusa’s musical careers; (2) examine how the industry decline caused
Mapangala and Osusa to adapt strategies of musical entrepreneurship to alternative
organizational structures and resource networks, particularly those of the growing global
economy of NGOs; (3) characterize the patterns of exchange and resource allocation within
NGO music culture by examining several international and regional networks; and (4) showcase
the specific themes of remembrance and relocalization that manifest in conjunction with these
NGO music networks.
4.2 Decline: Destabilization of the Mainstream Kenyan Popular Music Industry
“When I came back, I said, ‘My goodness, what has happened to the music scene here?’
The music scene was terrible. Where had it gone since I left?” (Osusa 2011a, Interview). In the
early 1990s, Tabu Osusa left Kenya for the United Kingdom after over a decade of managing
Orchestra Virunga. The breakup of Virunga, the political atmosphere of the Moi regime era, and
financial opportunities presented to him in the United Kingdom motivated the temporary
immigration. After three years of working at a vegetable packing plant as a migrant laborer, he
returned to Kenya in 1997 to witness the cultural overhaul of the Kenyan music industry, which
he recalled was the result of a cumulative process of delocalization, Westernization, and
economic destabilization. The destabilization of Kenya’s popular music industry, given its
importance as a music industry hub, also had consequences for the wider region of East Africa.
A number of factors related to those that motivated Osusa’s departure from Kenya created the
cultural overhaul that he perceived upon his return. Music piracy, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and
an imported American popular music media onslaught were prominent forces in shifting music
industry dynamics. By the late 1990s, the number of regularly performing, financially successful
East African rumba80 groups, of which Orchestra Virunga featured prominently in the last wave,
had drastically declined.
Music piracy was perhaps the greatest contributor to the decentralization of the East
African popular music industry. A rise in piracy due to the introduction of tape cassettes during
the 1980s made the inexpensive and fast reproduction and distribution of popular music possible
without contracts or compensation to artists or producers. These undermining forces impacted
East African and global music markets.81 The exit of Polygram Records, East Africa’s largest
production and distribution plant, was particularly impactful to the region. A decline in record
sale revenues due to piracy was the primary reason for Mapangala’s eventual immigration to the
United States in the early 1990s. About the correlation between music piracy and Mapangala’s
migration, CC Smith, who is Mapangala’s current manager and current custodian of a catalog of
his recordings, stated,
When Samba left Kenya, it was because he couldn’t make any money on his
records because of the piracy. Also, the major label, Polygram, closed and pulled
out of Kenya as well… But before that he had been very successful in Nairobi
when he was working there. I mean, they had the best band in East Africa. (Smith
2012a, Interview)
In recent years, Smith has attempted to curb the piracy of Mapangala’s music by way of social
networking on Internet platforms such as blogs, websites, and YouTube. She encourages his fan
base to purchase recent and reissued recordings using CD Baby and iTunes, through which he
earns royalties. The campaign, however, is only beginning to offset several decades of financial
losses. Even after an extensive European and American tour in the summer of 2012, Mapangala
stated that he had not procured a livable wage from the concert dates and that, although his CD
download sales had increased, he would not be able to survive off of royalties alone. Resultantly,
he has been unable to earn a sustainable income through music despite a catalog of recordings
regularly performed by cover bands and heard playing in matatus and restaurants throughout
East Africa.
Compounding the economic effects of music piracy, a general decline in economic
infrastructure handicapped possibilities for financial support from the East African public. Like
The rumba music (also referred to as Lingala - a language spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo - or
soukous in common parlance in East Africa) is an East African popular music dance genre with roots in Congo that
drew significantly upon stylings of the Cuban son among other local and non-local musical influences.
Nyairo (2004a) and Wallis and Malm (1984; 1992) have provided comprehensive assessments of the effects of
music piracy on Nairobi’s music industry.
many African postcolonial nation states, Kenya experienced a period of post-independence
optimism and growth followed by decline. The economic growth lasted roughly from
independence in 1963 until the late 1970s (Nyairo 2004a: 10; Hornsby 2012: 331-466). From the
1970s onward, a constellation of internal and external effects, including Cold War politics (Adar
1995: 89-102), neoliberal economic policies (Hornsby 2012: 331-398), and government graft
(Brown 2007: 301-331), inhibited potential for stability within institutional, private, and public
sector development.
A final significant variable in the economic dislocation of East Africa’s music industry
was the loss of a generation of musicians due to the widespread effects of the HIV/AIDS
epidemic. Osusa suggested that the impact of HIV/AIDS on the music industry killed an entire
generation of popular musicians:
There was an entire generation of musicians that got wiped out [by AIDS/HIV].
So you have a gap there now where before there was a very productive middle
ground. It’s just the young and the very old. I could even name them for you. Like
all of the best benga musicians, they all died. And now young people are trying to
learn but they don’t have role models… You found that an entire generation of
musicians all died all within a four year span… And there were Congolese
musicians also, big, big, musicians! (Osusa 2011b, Interview)
As the careers, influence, and music of an older generation of musicians temporarily faded into
the background, some of the successful musicians and managers of the 1970s and 1980s left
Kenya seeking financial opportunities in the Global North. Reflecting this trend, Mapangala
migrated to the United States and Osusa moved from Nairobi to the United Kingdom in 1993.
4.3 Adapt: Strategies of Music Production and NGO Economy
Upon his return to Kenya in 1996, Osusa was deeply disappointed to discover a Kenyan
mainstream music industry on its way to molding itself into a copy of the American popular
music industry. Because of the combined effects of AIDS/HIV, rampant music piracy, and
economic destabilization, Osusa also believed that young Kenyans had lost ties to their “cultural
roots” (Osusa 2011c, Interview). The fallout of institutional support for local popular music
encouraged the persistent colonially instituted influence of Western culture. Manifesting a
cultural bias for Western music, the state-controlled media conglomerate Voice of Kenya (VOK)
had since independence, preferred to broadcast Western media over local sources (Wallis and
Malm 1992: 84-86). A general lack of appropriate state regulatory policies to enhance local
technological production and distribution capabilities in Kenya also made international music
cheaper and more abundant (Ibid.: 86-91). With the emergence of several private FM radio
stations in the mid-1990s, a greater percentage of locally produced artists began to emerge on the
Kenyan radio waves, but they closely modeled their style on the hip-hop and R&B styles of the
international popular music industry (Nyairo 2004a: 15-16). Osusa’s disturbed reaction to the
Kenyan music industry upon his return from the United Kingdom stemmed from this
delocalization combined with the poor production capabilities of the local music industry.
Opposing what he viewed as a depletion of Kenya’s cultural identity became his primary
preoccupation. In the late 1990s, Osusa expressed his opinions about the negative state of the
Kenyan music industry by writing editorials in newspapers and magazines as well as appearing
on radio talk shows. In 2000, feeling the limited impact of editorial commentary, he formed the
Nairobi City Ensemble, a collective of young musicians fusing what Osusa referred to as
“authentic” East African musical influences with the American-influenced styles popular with
Kenyan youth. The group enjoyed moderate success during the early 2000s blending African
genres like soukous and benga, languages signifying local, including Kiswahili, Dholuo, and the
Kenyan urban dialect of Sheng, as well as instruments that marked Kenya’s musical heritage
such as the Luo orutu.82 Attempting to expand his vision to the extent that it could impact
Kenya’s music industry more broadly, Osusa disbanded the Nairobi City Ensemble in 2004 and
began a commercial music recording studio in the same year that he named Ketebul Productions.
Osusa strategized he could work more effectively toward music cultural change by
running a music studio that produced many artists thereby showcasing their individual styles and
reaching a wider audience base. In addition to promoting locally influenced musical styles which
he and others would later term Afro-fusion,83 Osusa designed Ketebul Productions with the
intent of nurturing musicians’ development over a longer period than the low cost operations
typical of Nairobi’s River Road music industry that tended to produce entire albums in one or
two days.84 The finances that such an operation required, however, proved unsustainable in the
treacherous environment of the Kenyan music industry. On this point Osusa stated,
For a more thorough account of the Nairobi City Ensemble see Nyairo (2004a) and Nyairo and Ogude (2003).
The genre title Afro-fusion came about through Alliance Française’s Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiatives. The
Kenyan music industry stakeholders, including Osusa, who comprised the Spotlight search committee created the
genre moniker to brand and market a style of Kenyan music that fused “African” and global influences.
A number of small independent music production houses are located on and around Nairobi’s River Road and
provide low cost studio services to artists. The River Road production houses facilitate the majority of” vernacular”
and gospel recordings in Kenya. Wallis and Malm (1992) and Nyairo (2004a) have published briefly on the River
Road music scene although to date there has been no comprehensive scholarly account of the industry.
I wanted to do a lot more for the artists and I realized I did not have enough
money to do it on my own. Like when I started doing all of these things, it was
just with my own money from my savings to push them and promote them. Then I
realized that the returns were not actually that fast and I didn’t want to support
any more artists (Osusa 2011b, Interview).
With few reliable opportunities to pursue commercial music industry ventures, Osusa sought
financial stability outside the private sector in Kenya’s rapidly growing and internationally
funded civil society sector. He created an additional organizational dimension to the music studio
by registering the name Ketebul Music as an NGO in 2007:
So I talked to my friend and he said, “Well maybe you can ask for funds.” I said,
“Well, I don”t know how to ask for funds.” He said, “The problem is that you are
not going to get funds because you are for-profit. There is no donor who is going
to give you money just to make money for yourself.” So I said, “But I am not
making money for myself. I make money and I turn it over to musicians.” He said,
“But they do not understand that. What you need to have is an NGO. Then they
will give you funds.” You know he was right. Because I wasn’t even making
money but I was doing it as an individual and of course no donor would want to
hear that I am just making money for myself. And that’s when I decided to start
Ketebul Music (Osusa 2011b, Interview).
The facility itself remained unchanged but, in title only, became two separate organizational
entities. For tax and legal registration purposes, the commercial for-profit Ketebul Productions
continued to earn revenue and file taxes on commercial ventures while the NGO branch, Ketebul
Music, opened up opportunities to receive tax-deductible donor revenue.85
Ketebul Music was one of a growing number of NGO sector arts and cultural
organizations forming in Nairobi in the new millennia. The NGO sector had, up until then,
primarily engaged in initiatives related to humanitarian relief, human rights, environmental
preservation, and other “development” related activities. But by the year 2000, NGOs had
become a mainstream market in Kenya, and one which stakeholders in arts and culture related
activities began to utilize with greater frequency. Associations between NGOs and international
revenue sources in the public consciousness spurred on a widely held perspective that the NGO
sector was capable of providing as many, if not more, opportunities for upward economic
mobility than the private sector.
Reflecting elements of resourceful adaptation and hybridization, Osusa founded Ketebul
Music with the explicit intention to promote his vision of a Kenyan popular music industry
grounded in local culture. The organization utilized Ford Foundation funding to produce a series
of documentaries about Kenyan music history titled the Retracing Series. Ketebul Music
partnered with the international NGO Alliance Française on several initiatives, including the
Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative, a yearly CD and concert series featuring local Kenyan
artists. The NGO designation also facilitated numerous NGO-affiliated performance
opportunities for Ketebul Music musicians at festivals like Sauti za Busara as well as
collaborations with the United Kingdom registered nonprofit organization Abubilla Foundation.
Samba Mapangala, like Osusa, increasingly utilized this large network of transnational
civil society organizations after moving to the United States from Kenya in the early 1990s.
When asked to what degree NGOs have supported Mapangala's career after the 1990s fallout of
the recording industry in East Africa, Smith gave the following statement,
From what I can tell the NGOs are pretty much our only hope. I mean they are the
ones that are really carrying the ball at this point. Very few people are able to
make any money presenting live music nowadays. We rely on nonprofit radio
stations and festivals. There aren’t that many independents who are going to bring
a band in because they can’t make money like that anymore. But we've played
various museums, various cultural centers, you know. They are really the only
road at this point. (Smith 2012a, Interview)
Most of the United States festivals and organizations that Smith referred to in the excerpt above
are registered as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in the United States. They comprise a
component of transnational civil society supply chains that carry musicians from the Global
South to the North to perform or provide small temporary sources of income for musicians who
have immigrated to the North from the South. In my conversations with Mapangala, he noted
that the pay for performing at these festivals usually does not cover much more than the cost of
airfare, food, and hotel if transnational travel is involved. Mapangala also noted that the pay for
performing at nonprofit festivals in the United States where he lives cannot provide a sustainable
Demonstrating the global scope of transnational civil society music culture, Mapangala
has performed at nonprofit festivals in North America and Europe as well as participated in East
African NGO initiatives. Without substantial revenues from record sales and with a limited fan
base in North America and Europe, nonprofit music festivals provided the bulk of Mapangala’s
Other music organizations in Nairobi, such as Sarakasi Trust, have also employed this innovative strategy of dual
designation to expand possibilities for commercial for-profit and nonprofit business operations.
performance opportunities in the decades following his departure from Kenya. Since 1997,
Mapangala’s nonprofit festival performances have included Grand Performances in Los Angeles
(1997), Central Park Summerstage Festival in New York (1998), Montréal Jazz Festival (1998),
Nuits D’Afrique in Montréal (1998, 2007), Afrofest in Toronto (2007), WOMAD Festival in
Reading, England (2007), Chicago World Music Festival (2008), Global Union Festival in
Milwaukee (2008), Kennedy Center UNHCR World Refugee Day in Washington D.C. (2009),
Lincoln Center Midsummer Night Swing in New York (2009), and the National Folk Festival in
Nashville (2011), to name a few. In addition to nonprofit music festivals in the Global North,
Mapangala has also found support from a growing network of NGOs active in East Africa.
Suggesting a historical upswing in NGO-affiliated music activity in East Africa,
Mapangala’s and Osusa’s engagement with East African NGO networks became more intensive
after 2006. Since 2006, Mapangala has participated in numerous NGO-sponsored performances,
including performing at Ecofest in Nairobi (2006) and the Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar
(2009), recording for the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Music With a Message initiative (2009),
and undertaking several projects and performances associated with Osusa’s NGO Ketebul Music.
In some cases, such as the Nairobi Ecofest and the WWF Music with a Message, Mapangala’s
status as an East African cultural icon provided strategic sociocultural capital for NGOs to
convey their mission to an older and influential generation of East Africans. The 2006 Ecofest
was one such event that took place in Nairobi. Coordinated by the organization Kenya Organic
Agriculture Network (KOAN), Ecofest was a festival formed on the theme of raising awareness
about a host of environmental issues. The festival’s press release heralded Mapangala’s
performance as the main attraction stating, “Leading local musicians are set to team up with
legendary Congolese musician Samba Mapangala at this year's Ecofest… Today, he is one of the
most successful African artists residing abroad.”86
East African musicians and NGOs form these sorts of reciprocal relationships through the
exchange of publicity at NGO event performances. NGOs require popular media attention in
order to connect with a targeted public consciousness, while artists such as Mapangala gain
publicity and find an economic alternative to the commercial music market through commissions
earned at NGO performances. NGOs also commission artists to compose music based on a
“Samba Mapangala @ Ecofest ’06,” online magazine. (,
accessed 2.7.12).
message that the organization is interested in promoting. Such was the case with Mapangala’s
song, “Les Gorilles des Montagnes” commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund in 2009.
Mapangala described the circumstances in which the World Wildlife Fund commissioned him to
compose and record a song advocating for the protection of mountain gorillas living in the
Virunga Mountain landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo:
I have a friend who works for the World Wildlife Fund. One day he called me at
home and said, “Samba, I want to meet you again and we want to give you a
proposition to sing a song. In Congo, people are killing gorillas. People are eating
them like bush meat and it is not good for tourism, not good for the country, and it
is also not good for the environment” (Mapangala 2012, Interview).
Signaling the linguistic nuances of East African regional cultures, Mapangala rendered the text
of “Les Gorilles des Montagnes” in Kiswahili, stating, “I sing the song in Swahili because in that
area, Virunga and Bukavu, they speak Swahili, all those rural areas.” He composed it in the
classic rumba style most often associated with Orchestra Virunga, given the popularity of the
band’s style with East African audiences. Utilizing the recognizability of Orchestra Virunga’s
hits from the 1980s, Mapangala referenced the group’s signature song, “Virunga” (1981), in the
first lines of “Les Gorilles des Montagnes.” About the strategic cross-signifying at play in the
composition Smith stated,
One reason WWF asked Samba to compose the song is because his band is named
after Virunga National Park in Congo, and that is where the endangered gorillas
live. He chose the a capella opening lines from his original “Virunga” (1981)
which is the group's signature song, to open the Gorillas song because of its
recognizability to all his fans. We thought it would get their attention, expecting
the original song, and then hit them with the ecological message and the new
melody (CC Smith 2012b, Interview).
Demonstrating the sociocultural capital that artists like Mapangala carry, the WWF viewed
Mapangala as an ideal public figure to connect with those living in the Virunga Mountain region.
Advertising the initiative, the WWF stated on their website,
Who better to encourage people to protect and nurture Virunga than one of their
own? WWF teamed up with the much loved Congolese musician Samba
Mapangala and his Orchestra Virunga to work on a new conservation resource…
It is being distributed as a free resource in the Congo basin where we hope the
message will take firm root as it spills out of local radio stations, in homes,
schools, and on the streets.87
Mapangala’s central role as a cultural icon in the WWF Music With a Message program
“Music With a Message,” World Wildlife Fund Website (, accessed 2.7.12).
highlights the underlying power structures of economy that generated the initiative. These reify
common international NGO-culture trends in which Northern civil society groups such as WWF
channel capital-driven missions into unindustrialized territories of the Global South, like the
rural Virunga regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The dichotomy present in the WWF
statement above, “Who better to encourage people to protect and nurture Virunga than one of
their own?” further re-inscribes these global geo-economic implications by grouping Mapangala
and the target audience in the Congo as “them.” Such dichotomies between the privilege of the
North in contrast to the South were expressed by many of my informants who also, as a result of
these inequities, expressed suspicion about the underlying motives of NGO initiatives. WWF
could potentially transcend such suspicians if they employed a cultural icon of East Africa to
sing in the nae of their cause.
Highlighting the contingent ironies inherent in these circumstances of global cultural
production, Mapangala cannot be easily demographically characterized as solely Congolese or
even East African. In addition to his Congolese heritage, he lived in Kenya for many years as a
permanent resident and has been living in Maryland for almost two decades as a naturalized U.S.
citizen. Scenarios in which local networks of NGOs operating exclusively in East Africa direct
and influence NGO music production and performance initiatives, even when those activities
receive foreign funding, further complicate discursive tropes of Northern control. As the
following section will illustrate, it was through these channels of East African NGO networks
that the 2009 Sauti za Busara Festival featured Samba Mapangala as a headlining performer.
4.4 Rise: NGO Music Culture Networks
Illustrating the interconnectedness of East Africa’s regional NGO music culture, Ketebul
Music has maintained a close organizational relationship with Busara Promotions. These
intra-regional NGO linkages facilitated the circumstances in which Osusa provided the Sauti za
Busara Festival organizers with Smith’s contact information in 2008, an exchange that
eventually resulted in Busara Promotions’ request for Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga to
perform at the 2009 festival. Since 2003, the NGO, Busara Promotions, has cultivated the
six-day Sauti za Busara Festival into one of Africa's largest music festivals. Further illustrating
the relationship between the local East African NGO sector and international revenue flows, the
festival receives funding from an assorted group of NGOs, embassies, corporate sponsors and
individuals. The large audience includes volunteers and NGO staffers working in various parts of
Africa, international tourists, expatriates, and East Africans, among a membership of thousands.
Noting the festival’s benefit to the Tanzanian and Zanzibarian tourism industry, the President of
Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, and President of Zanzibar, Ali Mohamed Shein, have both provided
media endorsements for Sauti za Busara.
Mapangala’s performance generated mutual benefits to both the festival, given
Mapangala’s popularity throughout East Africa, and his own musical career, given the
substantial size of and media attention given to the festival each year. His performance at the
2009 Sauti za Busara Festival featured a set of Orchestra Virunga classics, including “Malako,”
(1984) “Virunga,” (1984) “Vunja Mifupa,” (1989) and more recent compositions, including
“Dunia Tunapita,” (2001) “Obama Ubarikwe” (2009) and “Nyama Choma” (2006). Singing
every word at decibels matching the sound system, the audience proved that the music of
Virunga was alive and well in the public consciousness. Mapangala stated that he had not
expected such a reception, especially given that he had never performed in or visited Zanzibar:
It was my first time going to Zanzibar and I was really, really happy. In fact, all of
the crew, the musicians, and Smith loved Zanzibar also. I was surprised because I
did not know that my songs were really popular there. When I was on the stage, I
saw everybody singing and I really liked it. I think it was because my songs are in
Swahili and Swahili is the main language there (Mapangala 2012, Interview).
About the origins of the song “Zanzibar,” Mapangala stated,
That day it came to me and I was very happy. I really liked the audience and the
people of Zanzibar so I decided to sing a song about Zanzibar. After playing we
went back to the hotel and I got a very good feeling. I decided to start thinking
about making a song praising Zanzibar and Sauti za Busara (Mapangala 2012,
Mapangala composed and recorded “Zanzibar” a few days later at Ketebul Music studio during a
stop in Nairobi before returning to the United States from Sauti za Busara. Smith described the
various local and international music production networks that facilitated the recording of
We spent three weeks in Nairobi after Sauti za Busara because Samba had a
performance there at the end of the month. So we went to Ketebul’s studio and
Syran Mbenza and Komba Bellow Mafwala the drummer were there as well as
some local musicians. Tabu also called Awillo Mike Otieno and the song literally
sprang fully formed. So we had the basic bones of it from Ketebul. Then Samba
did some post-production at a studio in Virginia and we were sending the files
back and forth to Paris for Syran to produce it (Smith 2012a, Interview).
In addition to coordinating with artists such as Mapangala, Ketebul Music and Sauti za
Busara engage with each other directly through the exchange of resources and information.
Many Ketebul Music artists have performed in the Sauti za Busara Festival that offers
performers a financial token for their participation as well as an opportunity to reach a wider fan
base by performing at the large and heavily publicized festival. Ketebul Music artists and groups
that have performed at the festival include Olith Ratego (2007), Makadem (2007 and 2010),
Gargar (2011), and Ogoya Nengo (2012). Busara Promotions also hired Steve Kivutia, Ketebul’s
project manager, administrator, and sound engineer, to manage sound production for onstage
monitors during the festival. Utilizing these regional and international networks of revenue,
technology, and organizational culture, directors such as Osusa and the director of Sauti za
Busara, Yusuf Mahmoud, and performers such as Mapangala are waging a war of remembrance
and localization against what they view as tides of an exacerbated degree of global music
cultural incursion.
4.5 Remembrance: Advocacy for Past and Present Local Music Culture
Figure 4.2: Tabu Osusa (left) and Samba Mapangala (right) at Alliance Française, Nairobi
on 03.03.11 (photo by Shino Saito).
Before premiering Mapangala’s newly released song, “Zanzibar,” for the audience at the
2011 Sauti za Busara opening ceremony (featured in the excerpt at the beginning of the chapter),
Yusuf Mahmoud drew attention to local lineages of East African music culture by
acknowledging prominent Tanzanian musicians who had passed away in the previous year. The
list of recently departed included “Mustapha” Charles John Ngosha of Mlimani Park Orchestra,
Abu Semhando, founder and leader of Twanga Pepeta Group, and Remmy Ongala, among other
musical giants of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Sauti za Busara manifests remembrance for this
generation of artists whose music has been re-genre-fied in recent decades as zilizopendwa88
by commissioning performances for surviving members of classic rumba and soukous groups,
including Super Mazembe, Mlimani Park Orchestra, Msondo Ngoma Band, and Orchestra
Virunga. The theme of remembrance at Sauti za Busara, through advocacy of locally generated
musical lineages, extends beyond the Congolese rumba-based styles to Zanzibar’s home grown
classical music tradition taarab. Among the many classic and modern taarab stars to perform at
Sauti za Busara, performances by Isha Mashauzi, Segere Original, Culture Musical Club, and
Ikwani Safaa Musical Club have been especially notable. The festival’s most publicized and
anticipated annual performer is Bi Kidude, Zanzibar’s most prominent taarab performer, who
continues to perform regularly in Zanzibar and throughout East Africa at over one hundred years
of age.
Expressing kinship of East African popular music heritage, Mapangala’s “Zanzibar,” in
addition to serving as an ode to Sauti za Busara, also praised the island’s taarab queen, Bi
Kidude. The following text and translation from “Zanzibar” expresses Mapangala’s sentiments
towards the festival and Bi Kidude:
I departed from the U.S.
I arrived on the island of Zanzibar
I loved it
I met with Bi Kidude
A famous singer of Zanzibar
Sauti za Busara
Nimetoka Merikani
Nimefika kisiwa cha Zanzibar
Nilikutana na Bi Kidude
Mwimbaji mashuuri za Zanzibar
Sauti za Busara
Figure 4.3: Song text and translation to Mapangala’s “Zanzibar” (2011) (translation by
“Zanzibar” also functions as a sonic signifier of remembrance through its loyalty to the classic
soukous style that Osusa, Samba and Orchestra Virunga helped popularize. Despite the extra cost
of hiring instrumentalists to achieve this large ensemble sound, Mapangala explicitly retains the
original Orchestra Virunga style for his new recordings, not only to address the desire of an older
generation to reconnect with the past, but also to influence the aesthetic tastes of a younger
generation. About his choice to retain an aesthetic style Mapangala stated,
Zilizopendwa, meaning “that which was loved” in Kiswahili, refers to an ever-changing and socially negotiated
catalogue of “classic” East African music that has retained the attention of popular audiences even decades after its
Music is changing you know, but I am trying to keep my style. I’m not trying to
modernize it or anything. I am trying to keep it as it was before. The younger
generation doesn’t get it yet but I hope if we keep introducing good music they
will get it. Like some of our songs are twenty and thirty years old but people still
go for it. Even if I’m playing a gig someone will say, “Samba, play Malako! Play
Vunja Mifupa!” Which I did in 1989 and still now people love it. The other song
was Malako. I did that in 1981 and people never get tired of it (Mapangala 2012,
Returning again to the opening ceremony of the 2011 Sauti za Busara Festival, Mahmoud also
spoke in favor of mending the historical disjuncture of a younger generation that Mapangala
referenced. He advocated for alternatives to trends of global popular media directed at the local
“youth market:”
Last September, a few months ago, I was invited to a music conference in
Johannesburg. One of the M-NET [South African television network] producers
there was asked in a panel discussion, “why does Channel O [M-NET”s
subsidiary music channel] play almost exclusively music from the U.S.A. when
we are in Africa?” I was quite shocked by his reply. He said, “We aim for the
youth market, and we give the people what they want.” Later I asked a South
African radio presenter what she thought of his response. She said, “It’s like fruit.
If you’ve only ever tasted apples, how can you know what a mango or an orange
tastes like.” I think that’s where Sauti za Busara comes in (Mahmoud 2011, Sauti
za Busara opening ceremony speech).
Addressing these dislocations of remembrance and localization has also been Osusa’s personal
and professional mission, realized through the initiatives of Ketebul Music. In this spirit of
remembrance and advocacy for re-localizing the musical interests of a younger generation,
Ketebul Music initiatives expose young performers to locally derived music traditions. Osusa
organized a 2011 Nairobi concert featuring Mapangala, who was visiting East Africa to film the
music video for “Zanzibar.” The concert featured Mapangala, the widely acclaimed nyatiti
performer Ayub Ogada, and a young Kenyan artist named Winyo. Ayub Ogada, who composed
and performed the soundtrack for the film The Constant Gardener among other globally
recognized music endeavors, opened the evening with a performance drawing from centuries of
Kenyan Luo nyatiti performance heritage. Mapangala followed Ogada with some of East
Africa’s most cherished Orchestra Virunga hits. The evening closed with a performance by
Winyo, to whom Ketebul Music provided promotional and production support on his first album
The concert initiated a series of collaborations between Ketebul Music and the United
Kingdom nonprofit Abubilla Music Foundation. The current ongoing mission of these initiatives,
titled the Singing Wells Project, is “to capture East Africa’s disappearing musical past while
drawing to it the attention of a younger generation of East African musicians.”89 Mirroring the
project’s mission, the concert brought together a spread of generations and genre genealogies.
Referencing a cross-section of generational influences operating within the concert, Osusa’s
opening speech included the following statements,
This is a union between Ketebul Music and Abubilla Music, and we are so
honored today. We wanted to have dinner and play some music because that is
our business. Samba is a gentleman who I have worked with for a long, long
time… from when we were kids. And another artist that we have is a very young
artist who goes by the name Winyo. I think you might get into something when I
say this is a “great” artist following Samba. It may not sit very well. I say no, this
is different. Because you see Winyo is really shaped by [Mapangala] because
Winyo is from a younger generation. So he is a young artist and we are trying to
take him from one level to another level (Osusa 2011, speech at Abubilla-Ketebul
Music partnership concert at Sippers Restaurant in Nairobi).
4.6 Conclusion
Facing a situation in which they perceive notions of the local as under threat by an
imagined global, East African music industry moguls like Osusa and Mapangala have utilized
global streams of capital and organizational networks of NGOs to give voice to their particular
historically embedded music cultural lineages. The capacity for East African musicians and
managers to pair their personal interests with those of the NGO sector underscores the contingent
nature of cultural production while preserving the role of agency within that conceptual
framework. Nonprofit organizations of the global north hire musicians like Mapangala to
showcase a particular slice of East African heritage. These organizational communities send
messages of environmental conservation to East Africans through what they view as a local
musical culture-broker (in the case of the WWF song). In other cases, resourceful East African
music administrators like Osusa, disenfranchised by the commercial music industry of the United
States and Western Europe, seize opportunities to match an interest in promoting their musical
tastes and legacies with those in the global North interested in supporting local cultures of
Sound engineers and videographers from Ketebul Music and Abubilla Music travel throughout East Africa in a
mobile studio designed specifically for the East African rural terrain and weather to record the surviving custodians
of the regions quickly passing music traditions. The Abubilla Music Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Abubilla
Music has provided the bulk of funding and resources for the project with additional assistance from the Institute of
International Education. Winyo accompanied the mobile recording studio team during their field recordings to fulfill
the influences component of the project goals that, in addition to preserving and collecting Kenya's older music
traditions, facilitates musical collaborations between young popular Kenyan urban musicians like Winyo.
foreign nations in the Global South. All of these dynamics reflect the contingent nature of global
cultural production. Multiple voices operating from the same or even similar geographical and
cultural perspectives find partners in one another to pursue similar goals for contrasting reasons.
5.1 Introduction
Part 2 of this dissertation turns the narrative of Global Northern influence presented in
Part 1 on its head by examining how local Kenyan and East African cultural flows constitute
NGO music culture. The preceding chapters portrayed the economic, cultural, and historical
expansion of global civil society arising lock-step with the escalation of global capitalism and
resulting in an influential NGO presence in Kenya. European and North American nonprofit
organizational cultures and sources of funding present in a survey of East African NGO music
culture activities further emphasized the influence of the Global North. In contrast to these
depictions, the chapters that follow explicitly deemphasize Western influence and instead
highlight NGO initiatives born out of personal histories and local circumstances of social contact,
in addition to needs perceived independently of North American/Western European
“development” ideology. The activities and perspectives of those working within and in
affiliation with the Kenyan-based NGO music studio Ketebul Music will constitute the scope of
this portrayal. Their activities are characterized by adaptive agency. Fittingly, Ketebul Music’s
initiatives articulate advocacy for localization in ways that, like the shifting perspective of this
text, pushback against the picture of NGO culture controlled by foreign sentiments.
The individuals profiled in subsequent pages strategically influence regional, national,
continental, and global intersections of music genre, economy, and cultural discourse through the
NGO initiatives they construct. In this regard, the ethnographic text and method mirrors
articulations of its informants. Acknowledging the relative and contingent character of
conceptualizing the local, I begin with the musical products that emerge from the efforts of
individuals and small social networks (Chapter 6 and Chapter 7). I expand this scope to include
the networks of organizations that these individuals and social groups create (Chapter 8). Finally,
technologies and discourses illustrate meta-variables that function to bolster the expressive
impact of these organizations in the global media-scape (Chapters 9 and 10).
5.2 Introducing a Fieldwork-Based Study of Ketebul Music
The shift of ethnographic style in the subsequent portion of the dissertation also reflects a
differentiated fieldwork methodology from previous chapters. Most of the material presented up
until this point did not reflect intensive participant observation. In order to gather data on a crosssection of organizations in Nairobi during the first three months of fieldwork, I attended NGO
affiliated concerts, events, and festivals and conducted isolated interviews without becoming
intimately involved in any one organization’s daily activities. With each chapter, I have
attempted to provide an increasingly more finely grained resolution to this picture. The chapters
in Part 2 level out at a ground level vantage point by utilizing ongoing participant observation
research with Ketebul Music. Like so many ethnomusicological fieldwork encounters, the site of
participant observation came into being through chance meetings and subjective interest; through
compatibility between myself and the Ketebul Music community.
5.2.1 Contingencies of Contact in the “Field”
My University of Nairobi affiliate advisor, Professor Humphrey Ojwang, provided initial
contact with Ketebul Music through his personal relationship with the organization’s director,
Tabu Osusa. Ojwang had known Osusa for many years through a network of academic and
nonacademic stakeholders in Kenya's cultural capital. Osusa’s ties to the University of Nairobi
academic social circles were so strong that at one point many students and professors assumed
that Osusa was a faculty member due to his frequent presence in the faculty lounge. When my
wife and I met Professor Ojwang for the first time, he immediately arranged for us to meet Osusa,
given the relevance of the Kenyan music mogul’s career and his organization to my study.
First contact with Osusa occurred at the Fiesta Restaurant outdoor lounge in Nairobi,
located in close proximity to Alliance Française, where he had recently come from a meeting.
We discussed the nature of my project and my interest in learning more about Ketebul Music as
an example of an NGO music studio. Osusa offered his assistance with the warning, “I should
tell you I often disagree with people and not everyone likes what I have to say.” Over the coming
months I would learn that many members of Kenya’s music industry did not share Osusa’s
opinions about musical aesthetics and ethics. I witnessed on many occasions his willingness to
vocalize the opinion that Kenyans and Kenyan youth in particular had lost ties with their cultural
roots and were in need of renewed cultural self-knowledge. As I spent more time listening to his
critiques and his vision to create an economically and culturally empowered Kenyan music
industry, a perspective that also manifested through the activities of Ketebul Music, I dropped
my impartiality and became an advocate of his views. Inherent within the subsequent chapters,
then, is a certain degree of advocacy for Ketebul Music, its mission, and its members. I have
attempted, however, to provide a detailed and balanced account so that readers can construct
their own opinions about the organization.
Osusa invited Shino and me to numerous Ketebul Music events, facilitated a relationship
between us and the Ketebul Music staff, and introduced us to many individuals in Nairobi’s
music industry. He graciously invited us to tag along with them on projects and allowed us to
make nuisances of ourselves (as researchers inevitably seem to do) around the premises of the
studio where we conducted interviews, asked questions, and observed the daily activities of the
organization. Finally, Osusa participated in several extended interviews about his life history.
These interviews were crucial to mapping the organizational identity of Ketebul Music from the
perspective of its creator and represented a large donation of Osusa’s time, given the continually
accumulating projects and responsibilities for which he was an integral member.
Equally important as Osusa’s assistance in understanding the organizational culture
dynamics of Ketebul Music was the assistance of project manager Steve Kivutia. Kivutia is a
multi-talented and skilled individual who functions in many capacities within the organization. I
highlight him here because he is the second most involved member of Ketebul Music’s activities
and his benevolent role assisting my wife and myself during the research process was especially
crucial. Kivutia’s many skills include being a trained sound engineer, graphic designer,
administrator, and cultural consultant. During the process of fieldwork, Kivutia functioned in all
of these roles, in addition to handling matters of scheduling and correspondences for Osusa and
other Ketebul Music members. Kivutia therefore enabled Osusa to focus primarily on concept
development and social networking. During interviews and conversations with Kivutia, he
provided extensive inside information about Kenya’s music industry and often facilitated the
scheduling of meetings between Shino, myself, and Ketebul Music staff, musicians, and other
members of Nairobi’s music industry.
5.2.2 Reaching for Applied Dimensions of Participant Observation
Attempting to realize the contribution-oriented dimensions of participant observation
methodology, my wife and I strived to assist the organization throughout the research process as
well. At times we would assist Ketebul Music’s videographer Patrick Ondiek by providing an
extra camera angle at concerts. For the most part, Ondiek gave us more of his time in interviews
and education on the finer points of film editing and documentary videography than we were
able to provide him in assistance. Hoping to benefit the Ketebul Music artists through free
publicity, I posted many of the recorded concerts on Ketebul Music's YouTube channel and
conducted interviews with them about their music, which I have published here and in other
sources to come. Finally, throughout the research process I attempted to benefit the organization
through small monetary contributions. This occurred by purchasing media productions such as
artists’ albums and organizational video documentaries in addition to providing small
compensations to Ketebul Music artists for conducting interviews with me. These forms of
socially engaged participant observation also inform the material within the subsequent chapters.
Next I offer a brief overview of Ketebul Music’s history, staff members, and mission.
5.3 Ketebul Music, A Brief Overview
5.3.1 Mapping Space and Place
Figure 5.1: The entrance to Ketebul Studios (photo by author).
Ketebul Music is located in the GoDown Arts Centre compound in Nairobi. The studio’s
exact location within the compound is the second office on the left after entering the gate and
immediately turning left. Under the awning pictured above, tables and chairs host guests and
staff who often convene outside of the studio. The entrance to the studio gives way to the waiting
room in which Ketebul Music’s secretary, who sits at a desk immediately to the left of the
entrance, will address visitors. A leather couch provides a resting spot for guests in waiting.
Pictures of Ketebul Music artists, such as Makadem and Olith Ratego as well as notable musical
heroes of Osusa’s such as Salif Keita, decorate the wall and give the room an ambiance that
echoes the organization’s mission.
Figure 5.2: Ketebul Music facility (graphic by author).
Osusa’s office is located through the door to the left after entering the waiting room. The
workspace is small and modest, filled almost entirely by a desk that usually remains uncluttered
and cleared of objects with the exception of a CD player and Osusa’s laptop. The door to the
right of the entrance to the waiting room leads to a multipurpose office that functions as a project
management/meeting room and contains two computers and a printer. Directly opposite the front
entrance to the waiting room is a hallway. Studio A is located on the left side of the hallway and
comprises two rooms. The first room on the left after entering the hallway serves as the main
engineering room and is outfitted with a Mac Pro computer that runs Logic Pro, Pro Tools,
Ableton Live, Reason, Cubase, and Nuendo. The room also contains a Digi 002 Pro Tools
control surface, Korg Triton workstation synthesizer, Finalizer 96K sound processor, Focusrite
pre amp, Proverb Effects Processor, Tascam CD/tape/ADAT units, and MOTU midi timepiece.
The adjacent room (second door on the left after entering the hallway from the waiting room) is
the sound booth. The first door on the right side of the hallway leads to the main video editing
room. Studio B is the second door on the right and is a project studio for single voice/instrument
recording and video editing.
5.3.2 The Staff
Tabu Osusa: Osusa is the director of the organization and long-time participant in Kenya's music
Steve Kutivia: Kuvitia is Ketebul Music’s project manager who also assists as a sound engineer,
documentary editor, and graphic designer.
Priscah Waimiru Nyambura: Ketebul Music’s front office assistant. Nyambura manages the flow
of guests arriving to the studio, keeps track of the organization’s schedule, communicates
messages to the Ketebul Music staff, and oversees Ketebul Music media transactions of the CDs
and documentary films available for sale in the front office.
Patrick Ondiek: Ketebul Music’s chief videographer and documentary filmmaker, Ondiek has an
extensive background in documentary film and music video production.
Jesse Bukindu: One of Nairobi's most established music producers and the head studio engineer
at Ketebul Music, Bukindu works tirelessly conducting back-to-back recording sessions and
editing after hours at the Ketebul Music studio. Bukindu’s stylistic fingerprint characterizes
almost all current Ketebul Music sound productions.
Willie Gachuche: Gachuche is Ketebul Music’s second studio engineer who, having acquired
almost a decade of recording experience, works in the studio alongside Bukindu.
5.3.3 The Artists
Makadem: Makadem is a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter who began his music career
performing in hotels and later became a popular Kenyan reggae dancehall performer. Since
meeting Osusa and joining Ketebul Music, Makadem has specialized in Afro-fusion performance.
Makadem’s career comprises a large portion of Chapter 7 of this dissertation.
Olith Ratego: Ratego is a vocalist, nyatiti player, and songwriter, who began his career
performing soukous music and later dance hall reggae and hip-hop influenced styles. After
meeting Osusa and joining Ketebul Music, Ratego has specialized in the genre of Afro-fusion
and has drawn influences especially from the Luo dodo style of vocal performance and
storytelling. Chapter 7 will document Ratego’s career in music further.
Winyo: Winyo is a guitarist, singer, songwriter, actor, photographer, and TV producer. He sings
in his paternal language Dholuo and the Kenyan national languages Kiswahili and English. His
music addresses numerous social issues, including homelessness, migration, family struggles,
and love.
Gargar: Gargar is a group made up of four women of Somali origin living in the North Eastern
Kenyan town, Garissa. They are part of the larger women’s self-empowerment group called
Bismillahi Gargar who was formed in 2003 with the purpose of reminding Somalian Kenyans
about their “traditional” culture. Their music is sung in “traditional” styles arranged and
produced by Bukindu using digital studio production and electronic instruments. The
collaborative process of Bukindu’s and Gargar’s music and studio productions will be the focus
of Chapter 9.
Ogoya Nengo: Born in the late 1930s in a town called Magoya on the shores of Lake Victoria,
Nengo followed her family tradition of oration and singing dodo music. By age 12, she was
performing regularly in Luo weddings and funerals and became a well-known performer in her
region. Ketebul Music has facilitated several performance opportunities for Nengo and became
involved in the process of recording and archiving her song catalog of musical heritage.
Ontiri Bikundo: Bikundo was born in 1976 in the Nyaribari Chache constituency of Kisii District.
He is a self-taught musician who began playing the eight-string Kisii harp, Obokano, at an early
age. He blends Obokano style vocal harmonies with globally influenced popular music
arrangements. Bikundo’s songs showcase a variety of social issues, including love and marriage,
HIV/AIDS, and ethics.
5.3.4 The Board of Directors
Paul Kelemba: Kelemba is a nationally known political cartoonist in Kenya who has been
published extensively in The Standard and The Nation and runs a visual media and publishing
company called Communicating Arts LTD., which produces illustrations and cartoons for the
United Nations.
Bill Odidi: Odidi is the chief radio producer with the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation in
Nairobi where he is currently in charge of the English Service Radio. He has worked as an
international journalist for over ten years and has interviewed numerous public personalities,
including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South African a cappella group Ladysmith
Black Mambazo, and the Jamaican music group Burning Spear.
5.3.5 A Brief Organizational History
Tabu Osusa founded Ketebul Productions as a commercial music studio in 2004 and
registered the company as an NGO in 2007 under the name Ketebul Music. Ketebul Music’s
mission statement “To identify, preserve, conserve and to promote the diverse music traditions of
East Africa” serves as a guiding ethic and ethos for the activities of the organization. These
activities consist of commercial for-profit production which falls under the domain of Ketebul
Productions and nonprofit production which falls under the domain of the NGO, Ketebul Music.
The for-profit commercial activities of Ketebul Productions consist of music studio production
and video editing paid for by a range of clients active within Nairobi's music industry. The
revenues generated through for-profit commercial activities provide supplementary revenue to
support the organization’s nonprofit initiatives, which also draw upon an array of international
funding sources and organizational networks.
Before forming and opening the Ketebul Studio in 2004, Osusa created and managed the
Nairobi City Ensemble, a music group designed to create music aimed at re-grounding the
Kenyan music industry in local influences. The Nairobi City Ensemble fused Kenyan-based
music styles such as benga, ohangla, and mugithi, “traditional” influences of the many Kenyan
ethnic groups, and popular non-Kenyan styles, including the American influenced global
commercial idioms popular in Kenya such as R&B and Hip-Hop, as well as pan-African popular
musics such as Tanzanian Bongo Flava, Congolese soukous and rumba, and Cameroonian
makossa, among others. The mission and initiatives of the NGO Ketebul Music grew out of this
blueprint for cultural advocacy that would later congeal into the Afro-fusion genre.
Key among Osusa’s motivations for disbanding the Nairobi City Ensemble and creating a
music studio was his belief that he could expand his impact on Kenya's social landscape if he
supported many artists of diverse backgrounds and individual styles through the organizational
mechanism of a music studio as opposed to one music group. Explaining his reasoning for
expanding the Nairobi City Ensemble concept from a music group into the mission of a music
studio and production house, Osusa stated,
Towards the end with Nairobi City Ensemble I thought maybe starting a band is
not enough. I should make a proper recording studio to promote artists and so on.
Nairobi City Ensemble was sustainable on its own but what it meant was that I
had to do Nairobi City Ensemble and nothing else. And of course there were so
many other artists who were coming and I couldn’t have a membership of a
hundred musicians. So I thought it was easier to support musicians through a
studio (Osusa 2011a, Interview).
While the Nairobi City Ensemble emphasized Kenyan stylistic influences, Afro-fusion embraced
a wider range of pan-African musical influence. Osusa described Afro-fusion in the following
way, “Afro-fusion, in short, is music which has traditional African roots blended with various
influences from other parts of the world” (Osusa 2011d, Email Correspondence). From various
conversations and interviews with Osusa, I understood his conception of “traditional African
roots” to refer to sounds that signified an African heritage that expressed pride in African
Osusa’s Afro-fusion genre conception evokes Bakhtin’s notions of genre, discussed in
“Discourse in the Novel” (written in 1934; translated into English by Michael Holquist and
published in 1981) and Hobsbawm’s and Ranger’s notions of invented tradition (1992). Bakhtin
positions genre as a way of expressing points of view on the world that emerge through social
and dialogic processes. Hobsbawm’s and Ranger’s notion of invented tradition casts tradition as
a social project that is perpetually in flux, always reinventing itself, and offering new forms of
self-definition for those that shape it. Osusa utilized the social construction of genre to promote a
particular worldview that past musical traditions of Kenya and East Africa could be fused with
more contemporary genres to create a new tradition of musical performance. He first employed
his philosophy of music fusion in the Nairobi City Ensemble. The music of The Nairobi City
Ensemble mixed Luo folk instrumental styles such as nyatiti (a twelve stringed lyre), orutu (a
one stringed fiddle), and ohangla (a hand drum) performance, with popular East African genres
like soukous. Osusa also hired some of Kenya’s most popular hip-hop groups, Gidi Gidi Maji
Maji, to participate in the experimental fusions of what he conceived of as “traditional” and
“modern.” He stated on several occasions that part of his rationale for working with hip-hop
artists was that, although he objected to the derivative rap stylings of young East African artists
imitating American rappers, he considered rap to be a musical style similar to the spoken-word
poetry rendered by jothum (nyatiti playing griots of the Luo community). The rappers that Osusa
employed, unlike rappers attempting to model the American hip-hop style in English, performed
synergies of local languages such Dholuo, Kiswahili, and Sheng. The narratives they wove spoke
to issues of common to the Kenyan experience and utilized inside references that non-Kenyans
would likely be unaware of. The dialogic and mediated process of developing afro-fusion then
cut across generational divides to shape new forms of genre that acknowledged the perpetual
reinvention of tradition. The genre that would later emerge from this approach was afro-fusion.
Osusa argued afro-fusion would serve to strengthen East African cultural identity for musicians
and audiences that engaged with it.
In 2005, Osusa and other Kenyan music industry participants collaborated to create a
marketing campaign to promote Afro-fusion through the production of compilation CDs and
concert series. The NGO Alliance Française headed the campaign, titled Spotlight on Kenyan
Music. The steering committee for Spotlight on Kenyan Music consisted of Osusa, Alliance
Française’s director of arts and culture programs, Harsita Waters, and former members of the
Nairobi City Ensemble such as Suzanna Owiyo, in addition to other Kenyan music industry
stakeholders. The group collectively decided to brand the genre that would lead the Kenyan
music industry revitalization effort, Afro-fusion. Although it is likely that before 2004, Afrofusion, as a term, had been used in common global discourse to loosely describe various fusions
of African and Afrodiasporic musics, no previous social and institutional agenda developed
Afro-fusion into a genre in the manner that Osusa and the collaborative of NGO and music
industry affiliates had. Similar to the function of Afrobeat and Highlife for South and West
Africa, respectively, the intention here was to fashion Afro-fusion into a concise signifier for
culturally recognizable East African music. Osusa and other members of the steering committee
for the Spotlight on Kenyan Music capitalized on the recognizability of the term paired with its
uncommodified status to create a marketable genre title.
The social context in which Afro-fusion developed reveals a World Music genre directed
at empowering African consciousness, as opposed to providing spectacle for the touristic gaze.
Reacting to the necessity for economic viability in a transnational capitalist mediascape, however,
Osusa networked the genre globally to European-based World Music industry hubs like
WOMAD and WOMEX. The musicians supported by Ketebul Music in turn utilized the global
marketing strategy of creating a brand-name for Ketebul Music’s style to access both local and
foreign markets. Perhaps not by coincidence, European and American music industry agents had
utilized a similar strategy in their approach to marketing World Music, a genre title that
coalesced during a series of meetings in London’s Empress of Russia pub in 1987.90 Unlike the
European and American demographic of the Empress of Russia meetings, the genre production
and promotion of Afro-fusion involved Kenyans from diverse backgrounds utilizing the power of
global civil society culture and genre to promote a cultural need organically perceived through a
chain of locally embedded circumstances stretching far back before the creation of Nairobi City
The production and promotion of Afro-fusion artists whose expressive output manifests
the fundamental tenets of the organization’s mission constitutes a core tenant of Ketebul Music’s
organizational outputs. The organization provides free studio production, promotion, marketing,
and performance opportunities to these artists through its studio facilities and a range of industry
networks. Additionally, Ketebul Music produces historical video documentaries titled the
Retracing Series, which research and document dimensions of Kenya’s musical heritage with the
intended goal of acquainting Kenya’s mainstream and youth populations with the region’s
historical legacy of cultural production. Funded by the Ford Foundation’s Eastern Africa office,
these historical music documentaries include: Retracing the Benga Beat (2008), Retracing
Kikuyu Popular Music (2010), Retracing Kenya’s Funky Hits (2011), and Songs of Protest: The
Social and Political Revolution in Kenya (2012). Most recently, Ketebul Music partnered with
the United Kingdom-based music organization Abubilla Music, for a project titled the Singing
Wells initiative. The Singing Wells initiative records and documents a diverse range of East
Africa’s musical traditions using a mobile recording studio that travels to rural and urban locals
in the region. This initiative began during my final weeks of fieldwork in Kenya and therefore
will not be reviewed in this dissertation.
After the successful release of albums featuring collaborations between African musicians such as Ladysmith
Black Mambazo and European and American popular musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and Johnny
Clegg, industry executives met at a London pub in 1987 and determined that “World Music” would become the title
under which such international music fusions would be marketed. See Folk Roots, online magazine, “Minutes Of
Meeting between the Various ‘World Music’ Record Companies and Interested Parties: Monday 29th June 1987”
(, accessed 07.10.12).
5.4 Ketebul Music, Afro-Fusion, World Music Discourses,
and Musicological Critique
The story of Ketebul Music contributes a case study to a substantial and growing body of
musicological scholarship on topics related to World Music and globalization. Paralleling the
prominent profile of Western capitalist and Global Northern influence in representations of
global civil society, scholarly assessments of the commercial World Music industry have also
tended to foreground the role of Western European and North American actors and ideologies.
The World Music industry and global society are also tied through shared resources and
partnerships. Non-profit organizations and NGOs organize many World Music festivals and
concerts. Cultural NGOs like Alliance Française provide opportunities for African artists like
Makadem to travel to Europe for music residencies and workshops. Finally, NGOs and nonprofit music organizations like Ketebul Music and Busara Promotions regularly attend
international World Music conferences like the annual WOMAD and WOMEX meetings. These
overlapping territories of the World Music and NGO industries are especially relevant in relation
to Ketebul Music. The following section reviews some of the themes and assertions of this
research and situates Ketebul Music as a unique Kenyan organization forging pathways in
transnational economies of the World Music industry.
5.4.1 World Music Discourse and Musicological Critique
Musicological scholarship, engaging the variously titled but rather synonymous World
Music, World-Beat, Global Pop industries, has often focused on how forces of global capitalism
system have commodified, re-spun, re-produced, and re-sold signifiers of difference that reenforce regional, social, cultural, political, and economic inequities (Garofalo 1993; Seeger
1996; Erlmann 1993a, 1996b; Feld 1988, 1996, 2000; Zemp 1996; Aubert 2007; Haynes 2010;
Feld and Kirkegaard 2011). I argue two fundamental reasons for the onslaught of critical
The first major cause for critique of the World Music industry exists on ethical grounds.
Those institutions and individuals in the Global North, who exude significant control over the
World Music industry market, so the accusation goes, have commodified “difference” in a way
that echoes essentialist notions of non-Anglo “Others” as exotic, savage, and otherworldly.
World Music market entrepreneurs champion global diversity in sentiment only, while the
ultimate financial rewards of the industry continue to reflect colonial-era power relationships.
Despite the professed egalitarian ethic of the World Music industry discourse, loci of control,
means of production, and primary economic beneficiaries remain regionally WesternEuropean/North-American, racially Caucasian, commercially corporate, and male. Additionally
indicative of the Anglo gaze is the fact that one genre moniker “World Music” subsumes
thousands of distinct music genres emerging from Asia, Africa, South America, Eastern Europe,
and marginal North America/Western Europe.
The second primary critique by musicologists of the World Music industry stakeholders
grows out of a particularly disagreeable interpersonal and professional history involving the
commercial exploitation of musicological archival recordings and the artists featured on those
recordings. Following Benjamin’s claim that art equally suffered from modernity’s historical
processes of “mechanical reproduction” (1936), technological advances enabled direct sampling
from archival ethnomusicological recordings without contacting or compensating researchers or
the communities they recorded. Such instances resulted in several unresolved disputes between
musicologists with record labels and World Music. Notable among these were Eric Moquet and
Michel Sanchez's unsolicited sampling of Hugo Zemp’s 1969 UNESCO, Solomon Island
recording of Afunakwa singing “Rorogwela” for their multi-million selling album Deep Forest
(Feld 1996; Zemp 1996) and Brian Eno and David Byrne’s sampling of Poul Rovsing Olsen’s
ethnomusicological field recordings presented in The Human Voice in the World of Islam (1976)
for their 1981 art-pop album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Feld and Kirkegard 2011). In these
cases, ethnomusicologists proved insignificant challengers to the commercial interests of record
companies and the artists they protected.
A handful of scholars, however, have presented less scathing portrayals of the World
Music industry. Peter Jowers countered the negative assault by submitting an ethnographic
account of the British World Music community as an exemplary case of a contemporary social
movement (1993). He illustrated, using a case study of the World Music organization, WOMAD,
that industry players navigate treacherous commercial marginality with the ultimate intention of
reaching positive, egalitarian ends. Similarly, Jan Fairley depicted the industry from a balanced
historical perspective, examining the formation of social networks of artists, promoters,
managers, and radio and record company actors that led to the emergence of the European World
Music enterprise (2001). Finally, Martin Stokes has forwarded perspectives on the complex,
contradictory, and divergent social, economic, and aesthetic manifestations of World Music in
relation to German-Turkish music. He submits that research on the World Music industry offers
insights on the ongoing dynamics of globalization (2003, 2004).
The majority of these studies, critical or not, have tended to limit their ethnographic
scope to individuals and organizations located in the Global North. Particularly, less
ethnographic-based research explores viewpoints of non-Western European or non-North
American managers, producers, and musicians participating in the World Music economy. Many
of the scholars noted above rebuke the World Music industry for Othering. They rightly argue
that World Music promoters and record labels espouse a one-world propagandist theme while
reinforcing economic inequities through capitalist modes of production in which major industry
players such as record labels, pop stars, and World Music organizations leverage influence and
control over the Majority World (Kâğıtçıbaşı 1996) participants that the industry purports to
benefit. The lack of ethnographic documentation amplifying the voices of the non-European
participants in the World Music industry, however, reinforces the same sort of marginalization
that academic discourse critiques. Add to the debate retorts by European World Music industry
players against the academic critique, and the resulting paradox is two elite groups (Western
academics and capitalist entrepreneurs/musicians) attacking each other’s ethics while leaving the
World out of the discussion.
5.4.2 World Music Industry Recast as Subversion to Global Capitalism
Ketebul Music, an organization that intentionally engages the European and North
American World Music industries markets and networks, exemplifies Kenyan music industry
participants fashioning a World Music genre, Afro-fusion, which addresses regional and global
concerns while reflecting personal experiences and musical taste. Musicians and producers
creating music specifically for a World Music marketplace reveal a different story than the
common trope of oppressed Third Worlders bending to a First World aesthetic and capitalist
economics. The story that follows in the subsequent chapters is one of Kenyans utilizing the
flexibility of a European manufactured World Music ideology to combat American commercial
pop-music domination in Kenya. Their goal is to re-infuse Kenya's mediascape with signifiers of
Kenyan and East African culture to empower their own community and also to explore their
personal aesthetic identities with fewer boundaries than the American popular music model
provides. The following case study of Ketebul Music’s fashioning of an Afro-fusion genre
provides an alternative to ethnographic accounts of African artists crafting musical fusions and
alterations for the European touristic gaze (Kirkegaard 2001), or under control of an allencompassing oppressive system of capitalist production that subsumes pre-existing genres and
cultural traditions in a process of aesthetic cannibalism (Appadurai 1990: 308; Erlmann 1994;
1996b; 1999). While the oppressiveness of this capitalist global economy reflects a sort of
neocolonialism (Sartre 1964; Nkrumah 1968; Chomsky 1997), there are self-directed World
Music musicians and producers in Africa who have utilized the World Music industry in ways
that reverse the flow of cultural and economic domination.
Ketebul Music and its relationship to Afro-fusion offers an example of a World Music
genre created in circumstances of ideological resistance to globalizing capitalist media forces as
opposed to the transnational corporate commodification of the distant local by European World
Music industry participants (Feld 2000). In addition to strategizing the creation of a globally
marketable genre, Osusa utilized the power of a global organizational framework by combining
the structures of a commercial music studio and NGO to promote his vision. These strategies
incorporated by Ketebul Music and its affiliates simultaneously dialogue with local and global
cultural and material elements.
5.5 Conclusion
Ketebul Music provides a case study of a Kenyan NGO characterized by agency,
invention, resourcefulness, and adaptability. In contrast to the causes of “development” promoted
by first-world nations that have primarily focused on food, clothing, and education to Africa’s
young and poor, individuals like Osusa and the musicians at Ketebul Music twist the common
tropes of Africa’s “need.” They employ music as a resource to fight for a shared sense of cultural
distinctiveness and convince younger generations to look within East African and Kenyan musicscapes as opposed to abroad. The social momentum they rally in their cause, as the following
chapters will demonstrate, affirm that such forms of identity construction are powerful tools for
shaping global culture.
6.0 Conceptual Signpost
While Part 1 presented elements of NGO music culture shaped by macro-economic and
global-political influence, this chapter offers a sharply contrasting contingent perspective that
personal life experience provides the seeds for NGO music cultural action. Both narratives have
equal merit and I place them side by side in suspended states of contrasting relevance. Ketebul
Music’s vision and mission did not trickle-down from superstructure ideology in the North. It
grew from embedded histories that span a spectrum of local and global contingencies. To
illustrate this point, I examine the life story of Ketebul Music’s founder and director, Tabu
Osusa, from whom the organization draws its mission and driving ethos. I adopt an ethnographic
style that privileges the voice of Osusa. His words, drawn from interview transcriptions, show
that agency plays a central role in shaping NGO culture. Osusa has defied societal pressures
throughout his life. This path set the stage for the eventual development of Ketebul Music and its
mission. Ketebul Music is not merely a product of global civil society trends in a postcolonial
context. It is a reflection of choices made by an individual who has continually, throughout his
life, created new opportunities for himself in uncharted ways by envisioning realms of
possibilities outside established norms. His autobiographical account demonstrates that NGOs in
Kenya do not arise solely in response to global socio-economic, political, and ideological forces;
they also form through the power of human agency. I will demonstrate these connections
between agency and NGO development throughout the chapter by providing interpretive
commentary preceding Osusa’s autobiographical excerpts. These highlight themes relevant to the
emergence and organizational identity of Ketebul Music.
6.1 Introduction
The chronologically assembled interview material below provides insight into the
psycho-social development of Ketebul Music’s conceptual foundation and organizational
behavior. The analysis is based on three extended interviews conducted by the author with Osusa
on the topic of his “life story” (Titon 1980) from birth to the present. One of these interviews
also included Samba Mapangala, who provided additional recollections about Osusa’s time with
Orchestra Virunga. Although interview transcriptions are usually the “stuff” of archives,
illustrating Osusa’s personal history warrants an exception for several reasons: (1) increasing
direct access to his words for archival and ethnographic benefit; (2) enabling a first-hand account
of the various stages in music production leading up to the emergent role of NGO sponsored
music initiatives in which Ketebul Music is now a significant factor; (3) demonstrating that
although Ketebul Music is a young organization, its construction emerges from an individual
with decades of experience in East African music, and; (4) finally, the purpose of the extensive
interview material used here is to emphasize the voice of the informant over the researcher
(myself), subject over author. This is an ironically impossible task in the construction of any text;
yet it is an ethic rooted within the core values of ethnographic practice.
Although ethnomusicologists have tended to focus on the social and cultural patterns of
groups, researchers such as Timothy Rice (1994), Jesse Ruskin (Ruskin and Rice 2012), Michael
Veal (2000), Jonathan P. Stock (2001), Virginia Danielson (1997), David Locke (1990), Jeff
Titon (1980), and others have increasingly emphasized the role of individuals as foci for
theoretical discussion. David Locke’s documentation of the life and music of the Dagomba
musician Alhaji Abubakari (1990) highlights how individuals can provide encyclopedic
information about cultural traditions under threat of extinction. In other cases, such as Virginia
Danielson’s biography of Umm Kulthum (1997) or Michael Veal’s biography of Fela Kuti
(2000), ethnomusicologists research individuals of exceptional historical significance who,
through their wide reaching influence, affected cultural change on a large scale. Osusa is not a
culture bearer of tradition nor is he a public historical figure recognized by thousands of people,
yet his influence as a facilitator and conceptual director of music culture has been vast. His life
story reveals a relatively off-stage, out-of-the-spotlight individual who planted seeds of influence
that played a role in shaping an entire region’s musical culture. An examination of Osusa’s life
history documents the contingencies of life experience that springboard cultural influence and, as
they pertain to the subject of this dissertation, provide the conceptual foundation for Ketebul
Music’s organizational identity that will be the subject of the subsequent chapters. Each titled
segment below presents a snap-shot of Osusa’s life organized chronologically from the interview
6.2 Individual as Agent of Cultural Change
Tabu Osusa is an agent of cultural change. He has been active in East African popular
music for nearly four decades and has impacted the history of Kenya’s popular music industry
perhaps more than any other individual. In the historical trajectory of his life, Osusa’s
participation in the NGO sector is one of many responses to economic-cultural shifts within
postcolonial Kenya. He assisted and nurtured the careers of many of the country’s most
prominent international performing artists and groups, including the internationally recognized
Samba Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga, Jabali Afrika, Nairobi City Ensemble, Suzanna
Owiyo, Iddi Achieng, Makadem, Olith Ratego, Gargar, Winyo and many more. Osusa also
mentored two of the most important producers in Kenya’s current music industry, Gabriel
Omondi, who the Safaricom cell phone company commissioned to compose and produce the
Safaricom anthem, and Robert Kamanzi, also known as ‘R Kay,’ who has won numerous awards,
including a 2009 MTV African Music Award as well as the Kenyan Kisima Awards’ “Producer of
the Year” in 2008 and 2009. Osusa has also published many articles on music in magazines and
newspapers, including the revolutionary Society magazine, which was renowned for fearless
reporting of government exploitation of the Moi regime. He has served as a consultant to
numerous artists and scholars conducting research on music in Kenya and expanded his scope of
activities in recent years to include the production of documentary films. Since 2008 he has been
producing documentaries on Kenyan popular music as a historical subject. Included among these
documentaries are Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), Retracing Gikuyu Popular Music (2010),
Kenyan Funky Hits (2011), and Songs of Protest: The Social and Political Revolution in Kenya
In the current global popular music industry, the producer plays a central role in the
development of an artist or music group, especially given the increasing number of tasks the
producer oversees and influences: marketing, management, sound engineering, digital
composition, creative concept, and so on. Although the realm of the producer and the artist often
overlap, music producers, like NGOs, facilitate music production but nonetheless influence
music culture. This has been the case in Kenya since the mid-twentieth century. Steve Kivutia
discussed the role of the producer in the contemporary music industry:
I think the producer is very important... The same artist with the same song can be
completely different with two different producers. When you're working with a
producer, it’s more of a collaboration. It’s an exchange of ideas. One producer
may have a different direction in the arrangement, for example. If he’s going to
use a particular guitar line, or a particular groove as opposed to another one for
the rhythm section (Kivutia 2010, Interview).
A general distinction between producers and the artists they work with is that artists commonly
receive media attention for their performative and compositional contributions. After all, artists
are the face of the marketed product. They occupy the public space of music performance and
creation. Producers, on the other hand, commonly remain in the background of the commercial
media output. There are, of course, many exceptions to this trend. From Duke Ellington to Kanye
West, artists have marketed themselves as producer-artists by performing, composing, and
producing their own music, but the general trend remains that producers do not receive nor do
they seek the same degree of media attention as artists for the music they produce. In line with
this trend, Osusa has kept a low public profile.
Within Kenya’s music community, most know of at least a small portion of Osusa’s
contributions to Kenya’s music industry and his name often appears in published media sources
in conjunction with the projects that he produces. Joyce Nyairo’s dissertation titled “‘Reading the
Referents’: (Inter)textuality In Kenyan Popular Music” (2004) and multiple related subsequent
publications by Nyairo and James Ogude (Nyairo 2005; Nyairo and Ogude 2003; 2005) provide
extensive documentation about Osusa’s Nairobi City Ensemble as well as interviews with the
producer about his perspectives on the Kenyan popular music during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Aside from Nyairo and Ogude’s writings and a scattering of newspaper mentions, usually in
conjunction with more widely recognizable artists or groups such as Samba Mapangala or
Nairobi City Ensemble, the producer’s life history has remained mostly undocumented. A
general lack of documentation about Osusa in scholarly or journalistic media sources is
understandable given that he rarely indulges in public self-promotion unless necessary for
supporting the artists with whom he works. As a result of his desire to put others first, the breath
of his influence and involvement in East Africa’s music scene may be lost on history. Building
on Nyairo’s and Ogude’s lead, the ethnographic material below provides another link in the
process of documenting Osusa’s contributions to Kenyan music and culture.
6.2.1 Childhood and Polycultural Influence
As the following chapters will demonstrate, Ketebul Music is one of several
organizations at the forefront of creating and promoting Afro-fusion, a genre of music that, in
Osusa’s own words, “fuses music which has traditional African roots blended with various
influences from other parts of the world” (Osusa 2011, Email Correspondence). Grounding the
Afro-fusion aesthetic in lived experience, the earliest periods of Osusa’s life included exposure to
a diverse spectrum of cultures and musics. Osusa remembered his childhood as a time
characterized by fusions of global cultures. His father was Luo by family lineage and represented
his cultural heritage to the extent of becoming a chief within his community. Osusa also
remembered that his father was also one of the first in his community to receive Western-style
schooling. He described listening to music in his childhood household that reflected these polycultural influences. His father’s position as a Luo chief enabled Osusa to witness performances
by nyatiti, ohangla, and orutu musicians on a regular basis. Paying tribute to his father’s
important role within the community, poet lyricists performed these instruments at the family
compound. Osusa’s family was also Catholic. He grew up listening to Catholic choir music,
Western classical music, and American country music. Osusa’s early experiences with a variety
of musics and cultural systems exemplify contingencies that foreshadowed his life long process
of combining disparate music cultures and organizational cultures.
I was born in South Nyanza, which is in Western Kenya in 1954, actually to be exact- the
21st of July, 1954. I had a family of seven, four boys and three girls. I am the fourth born. My
grandparents lived and were born in the same place and also my parents. My parents were very
staunch Catholics. My father was a teacher and also a chief of our area. He was actually one of
those early Africans who went to school. And he lived to a very ripe old age of about 100 and
died about ten years ago. My mom did not go to school but both my parents were very good.
My earliest musical memories were both church and traditional because, you see, at our home,
there was always traditional music on holidays or special occasions. Musicians used to come
and sing for my father. My father was quite respected so they used to come and make music for
him. I was introduced to early African music like nyatitis and orutus. But I was also aware of
music from the West like classical music and even country music from America. We also used to
have choral music like Catholic Hymns and such. So I think I was very lucky that I grew up
embracing both cultures. I knew my African culture but I was also raised in a modern society. I
knew both by the way. It helped me a lot because if you are weak on one, then you are
6.2.2 Early Migrations: Preparing a Life of Continual Reinvention and Relocation
At ten years old, Osusa left his home in Nyanza to live at a Catholic Seminary in Uganda.
His early childhood travels reflect the many migrations that Osusa embarked on throughout his
life, including living for extended periods in Zaire and the United Kingdom. Osusa learned at a
young age that the comfort of a fixed location was not guaranteed and processes of migration and
change, adapting to new cultural surroundings, and doing so on one’s own, was a possibility and
probability. The fact that he made these transitions alone without his family made the learning
process all the more stark. Perhaps these early migrations away from home fuel Osusa’s current
mission to advocate on behalf of locally-rooted Kenyan music. A central theme of Osusa’s
childhood was certainly dislocation. His dedication to encouraging younger generations of
urban-raised Kenyans to reconnect with music of “the village” may in many ways stem from his
own sense of searching for a childhood home lost in migration. Regardless of contextual
causation, the theme of locating, preserving, and promoting African identity emerges later in his
life and becomes a core goal of Ketebul Music.
Osusa’s early involvement with the church intimately exposed him to imported social and
cultural systems. These experiences provided contingent foundations for later encounters with
NGO culture given the related historical trajectories of early Catholic Missions to Africa and
NGOs. Through a Catholic Missionary education, Osusa negotiated circumstances of a colonial
political reality and his cultural heritage and identity. He also received a Western education that
would later provide the administrative skills to manage musicians and their contracts, run a
music studio, transform that studio into an NGO, and write proposals to earn funding.
When I was about ten years old I left South Nyanza and went to Uganda to live with some
missionaries. It was because my parents were very staunch Catholics that they trusted me to be
taken to the Seminary. Luckily, I was not abused or anything like that that I hear about these
days. Actually, when I compare my education with education today, even guys who have gone
beyond University, it was quite good. The seminaries provided the best Western education. I find
that even most University education today is not quite as deep.
There was a Catholic priest who was in my home mission called Mirogi and he was
called Father Okodoi. His name was Louis Okodoi. He was from Tororo. He came from the Tesos
community who live between Uganda and Kenya. He was going back to Tororo after his term
ended in Mirogi. This Catholic priest came to visit our home. I was young, I think I was about
nine. I had gone out looking after cattle or whatever. So I came back home and there was a guest
and then my sister who was about two years older than me said, “Hey William,” my other name
is William by the way, “They have slaughtered your best chicken.” I said, “What!” I was so
angry that I just started to cry. The priest asked, “What is wrong with the young man?” And of
course my family did not want him to know that it was because of the chicken that they had
slaughtered for him to eat. So he called me and said, “Hey, hey, stop crying.” He had some
sweets so he gave me some sweets. So he asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow
up?” And at that time I did not know priests very well but I used to see nuns, Catholic nuns. So I
innocently told him, “When I grow up I want to be a male nun.” So he said, “Ok, male nuns are
called priests.” And he never forgot that.
So when he was leaving to return to Tororo, that was 1963, and I think I was about ten
years old, he asked my parents. So casually like that. And they said, “Yeah please, take him.”
And I was told, “Hey by the way you’re leaving Kenya to join a missionary school.” So I said,
“Ok.” The place was called St. Paul’s Amukura in Uganda. Actually, now it lies within Kenya. So
I went by myself and joined standard three. I was all alone in a mission so I had to fend for
myself, make meals for myself and everything and at an early age actually I started being alone.
And then after three years in the primary school he took me to St. Peter’s Seminary, which is in
Kakamega, Uganda. So I joined the Seminary in standard six. I was about 15. I was there for a
long time. And from there I went to a place called Tindinyo, which was run by some American
brothers called Xaverian Brothers. And then this priest who was taking care of me, Father
Okodoi, died in 1972.
6.2.3 Individualism and Agency: Musical Protests at the Seminary
During his teenage years at various Catholic Seminaries, Osusa demonstrated
individuality and agency with regard to musical taste. His strong opinions about music remain
today and perhaps drive Ketebul Music’s unique ability to remain mission-focused despite the
temptations to embrace the shifting trends of international aid culture. During my fieldwork, I
witnessed him engage countless individuals of diverse professions, ethnicities, ages, and classes
in debate over the merits of various perspectives on music and the music industry. Osusa
described how his passion for African music, which included the Luo music he heard growing up
in southern Nyanza, as well as the popular Congolese music of the day, created tension between
him and his Catholic teachers. These tensions with authority eventually caused him to part ways
with the Church, an issue also raised in Joyce Nyairo’s dissertation on Kenyan popular music.
Nyairo illustrates how Osusa’s passion for African music, often to the annoyance of his teachers,
earned him the nick name, “Tabu,” which signifies the Kiswahili word, taabu, meaning troubles
or misfortune, and which is also the name of the popular Congolese musician, Tabu Ley
Rochereau, formerly known as Pascal Tabou (Nyairo 2004, 69–70). As a teenage seminarian, he
remained uncompromisingly rooted to what he perceived as African cultural heritage while
participating in foreign organizational and ideological frameworks such as the Western education
system of the Catholic Church.
This is when I started getting into problems with the priests. I always liked music but
somehow I did not like church music. I always wondered why we had to conform to the music of
the church and perform something that was so alien to us. I remember I started trying to
introduce some African rhythms and beats and the priests didn’t like it. I think those were some of
the things that got me into problems with them because I started asking a lot of questions why is
this that or this like that? And obviously they don’t like being asked too many things. Maybe they
thought I was not too keen on becoming a priest. They can know that this guy is not really keen.
So I was called and they told me, “Well, do you want to become a priest?” Without Father
Okodoi guiding me to become a priest anymore, I changed my mind. I thought to myself, “Look I
think I’m not too keen on becoming a priest anymore.” So I told them, “Well, I’m not too sure.”
They said, “Maybe you should take a break and let us know if you change your mind.” I never
went back to the Seminary, but I did sit for my A levels. Although I had thought I would become a
priest eventually, I decided I wanted to do other things and left Tindinyo just before my sixth
form. I left and went back home.
6.2.4 Resilience and Resolution
The years following Osusa’s departure from the Seminary demonstrated Osusa’s
resilience and resolve in complete goals regardless of deterrents. After leaving the Seminary in
Uganda, Osusa began teaching at his family home in Nyanza. Unwilling to settle and drawn to
the excitement of the popular Congolese music scene, Osusa embarked on a journey to Kinshasa,
Zaire. Prepared by his early experiences living in various seminaries in Uganda, he was not
afraid to travel and demonstrated a restlessly adventurous desire to do so. Osusa’s journey to
Kinshasa did not prove to be as easy as he first expected. During a failed attempt to reach Zaire,
Osusa and a close friend ran out of money and resorted to impersonating famous musicians to
return to Kenya. Although Osusa’s second attempt to reach Zaire was successful, it was not
without many detours.
Enabling Ketebul Music to adapt to changing economic and social tides, Osusa’s
resilience and experience adapting to obstacles and hardships manifest contingent circumstances
that inform the organizational identity and behavior of the organization. Of direct relevance to
Osusa’s role as the director of Ketebul Music is the fact that during this period of his life, he
employed himself as a teacher. Chapters 7 and 10 return to Osusa’s identity as a pedagogue and
mentor to younger musicians and industry professionals, a dimension of his persona that
characterizes much of his career in Kenya’s music industry, including at Ketebul Music.
At home in Nyanza, I became a teacher at a primary school. I was not trained as a
teacher but I decided just to try to make ends meet. But then, you know, I was an adventurous guy
I thought, “Look, maybe I want to do music or just see the world. Am I going to spend the rest of
my life as a teacher? No, no, no.” So I got a little money from teaching and said to my buddy
Amos, “Hey Amos, why don’t we go to Congo?” I used to think Congo was great because we
used to hear the music around the village. It was the popular music at the time.
But there were a few problems. One thing was we didn’t have passports or anything. All
we had was a geography map of Africa and some money. But we went ahead anyway. We went to
Migori. From Migori we took a bus to Mwanza. In Mwanza we were supposed to take a train but
that night some thieves stole most of our stuff. We were stupid sleeping at the railway station and
when I got up my shoes were gone. Luckily I had another pair of shoes and my money still. We
then took a train to Tabora and went all the way to Kigoma. Kigoma, you know, is on Lake
Tanganika. Across the lake is a town called Kalimi which is the Congo. You are supposed to
cross the lake to get into Congo. So we tried to get into this boat because we wanted to cross.
The authorities asked us, “Where are your passports?! You have no passports. You can’t
go anywhere.” And I don’t know whether I was being connish or smart because I figured out this
plan. I saw these fishermen from my tribe. There were actually lots of fisherman who were Luos
around Lake Tanganyika. So I went to this camp where these Luos were staying. I said, “Hey
guys! We are just from Congo and we are BIG musicians. But thieves stole our stuff so we don’t
have money. We need to go to Nairobi to record you know.” You see what happens according to
our culture is we like singing about people. So I said, “We are about to make a song and if you
give us some money to get back to Nairobi you guys are IN THAT SONG!” So they were very
kind. They wrote their names down and said, “Please sing about so and so…” and I said, “Good
brother, give us money.” So they gave us money and we retraced our way back to home in South
But I still wanted to get to Congo. It was partially because of the music but I also didn’t
want to spend my life as some teenage boy in a village doing nothing. I just wanted to get out of
that place and see what is out in the world. I took about a week to study the map very well and I
saw there was a better way through Uganda through Kampala to Arua, and then into Congo.
There was no lake or anything like that. So I didn’t even tell Amos I was going this time. I just got
into the bus.
So as I tried to cross the border in Arua to the Congo, again I was stopped. They said,
“No passport, you can’t go.” But for some reason the officer there really liked me and he said,
“What do you want to do in Congo?” I said, “Look I need to get to Bunya. My brother is there.”
He said, “But you don’t have a passport.” I said, “Yeah but I need to go.” So he said, “What you
can do is go back to Arua to the D.C.’s office and he will give you a travel document. I don’t
know why this officer liked me but he did so he wrote me a letter that said I was his friend and I
need to get to Bunya. So I went back to Kampala and the D.C. gave me a nice travel document. It
was stamped and as good as a passport.
Those days East Africa was almost like one. You could get a travel document from
Uganda and use it for Congo. So I went back to Arua and the guy said, “Ok if you want to go to
Bunya you need to catch a lorry, which comes once a week or so. Don’t worry about staying in a
hotel. You can just stay at my place with my family until the lorry comes.” So I stayed with him
for about a week. When I got to Bunya I found a Seminary there and told them I would like to
stay at the Seminary for a while. I knew that I could stay at the Seminary because seminaries
were like one big family. So after they knew I was a seminarian they let me stay.
I immediately started asking around to see if there was any music in town and they all
said, “Aw man this is a dead town. If you want to hear any music you have to go to Kisangani.”
They were telling me how great Kisangani is and they would tell me, “Man if you go to
Kisangani you’ll be teaching English.” One day I just left and took a lorry to Kisangani. I had
already made some inquiries about how to get into these schools to teach English. So I was in
Kisangani staying at a cheap hotel and I used to walk around town asking people, “Is there any
music here?” They told me about a couple of bands in town but I thought, “What was I going to
do with a band?” I could do some English songs but they were doing mostly Congolese stuff.
So I was able to do some James Brown types of things with them but the music scene was not as
happening as in Kinshasa.
6.2.5 Musical Apprenticeship: Journey to Kinshasa
The boat Churchill facilitated Osusa’s final and long awaited passage down the River
Congo to Kinshasa. In Kinshasa, Osusa received musical training in arguably Africa’s most
vibrant popular music movement from the 1950s to present. This training provided contingent
experience to pursue over three decades of influential participation in Africa’s music industry.
The music marketing, arranging, and performance strategies employed by Congolese rumba
bands in Kinshasa during the 1960s and 1970s set the standard for East Africa’s music industry
during that time, if not for all of Africa. Osusa learned these strategies by apprenticing musicians
and groups in competitive Kinshasa music environments. He participated in music groups as a
featured side performer of American funk cover songs (a style referred to at that time in East
Africa as jerk), made possible by his English-speaking capabilities. After three years away from
home, Osusa learned of his mother’s passing and returned to Nyanza.
So after making some money teaching at a Baha’i school in Kisangani I decided I needed
to go to Kinshasa. Me and my good friend, Pierre Cortzee, began our trip to Kinshasa. I had met
Pierre at the school in Kisangani where he was also teaching English. Pierre was FrenchCanadian and traveling around on adventure. We had been hanging out in Kisangani for quite
some time, listening to music and drinking. Now, to get to Kinshasa, we got into this boat that
takes you to Kinshasa from Kisangani on the River Congo. This boat was called “Bateau
Churchill.” It takes seven days to get to Kinshasa and we had money from teaching! We were
spoiled on the boat because they had bars and bands! River Congo is damn big. It is very
interesting. There are some places where you can’t even see the other side of the river. So we
were drinking and enjoying ourselves for seven days.
It was night when we arrived in Kinshasa. We were asking around for where there was a
band performing. Some people told us that there was a band called Orchestre Kiam playing
nearby, which was actually quite a famous band. So then we got a hotel and every night we were
going around listening to music. One night some people asked me, “Where are you from?” When
I told them they said, “Oh man we have a Kenyan saxophonist here! He is deadly man!” I said,
“I’d really like to meet him.” So one of the musicians took me to meet this guy. He was named
Ben Nicholas. When he saw me he said, “Where are you from?” I said “I’m from home.” He
said, “What do you want to do here?” I said, “Really I don’t know I just want to do some
music.” He said, “Well that’s good. I play with a band in town at a place called Jambo Jambo.
I’ve also got a place so you can come and stay. I can also get you some gigs. But he also said
“You can’t come here with that guy (pointing at Pierre). You know he’s white and Mobutu will get
him.” Which was true, Idi Amin and Mobutu both were very difficult towards whites.
So Pierre was so depressed. He told me, “Hey Tabu, you know look. I think I’ve just had enough
of Africa. I’m going back to Canada.” I would love to find him again because we haven’t spoken
since those days. I think this was around 1975.
When I got back from seeing Pierre off at the airport, Ben asked me, “Hey what
happened to that guy?” And I said, “He left to go back home.” Ben said, “Oh that’s good. You
know Mobutu has all of these spies around and if he sees that there is a white person around they
will be asking all sorts of questions.” Mobutu was a big asshole by the way. So Ben took me
under his wings musically. He took me to this club and I was doing a little singing here and
there. He taught me how to do this thing called “Jerk,” these James Brown types of things. And I
wasn’t that good but as long as I was doing something in English those Congolese loved it. That
was also around the time that I first heard of Samba Mapangala, who I worked closely with for
many years. I met some friends and when they heard I had come from Kenya they asked me,
“Hey there used to be this guy who we played with called Samba Mapangala. Do you know
him??” But at the time I didn’t know any of the people there. A few years later, when I returned
to Kenya, I would meet Samba. So I was in Kinshasa doing music and also found another job
teaching English. I really settled. I was able to perform and listen to so many bands and I really
learned about the music scene that way. My Lingala is perfect by the way. I picked it up a little
first in Kisangani because there they spoke a little Lingala and something called “Kingwana”
but in Kinshasa I spoke mostly Lingala. So I was there with Ben’s band.
Then in 1977, I received a letter that my mother had died. I said, “Oh god.” So I told
Ben, “I think I’ll leave to go back to Kenya.” And Ben was so sad. He said “Oh really do you
really have to go back?” But he also said he understood why. He said, “Are you going to fly?” I
said, “It will take me so long to get a passport. Why don’t I just go the same way I came.” So I
had money and I came right the same route back to Kisumu actually where I met my sister and
said, “I hope you guys were just making a joke. I’m back now. Just tell me that my mom is alive.”
She said, “No, no, no, it wasn’t a joke. Our mom died.” That was 1978.
6.2.6 The Virunga Years: Recollections of Tabu Osusa and Samba Mapangala
After Osusa returned home to Kenya for his mother’s funeral, he planned to return to the
East African music hub of Kinshasa. Upon meeting Samba Mapangala in Nairobi, however,
Osusa agreed to manage a group led by Mapangala called Les Kinois. Later, Mapangala and
Osusa created one of the most influential soukous bands in East Africa, Orchestra Virunga. The
following three excerpts, subtitled, “Part 1,” “Part 2,” and “Part 3” are of Mapangala and Tabu
Osusa discussing their time with Les Kinois and Orchestra Virunga during an interview with the
author at Alliance Française in Nairobi on March 3, 2011. Given the widespread historical
influence of Orchestra Virunga and the group’s music, I incorporated dialogue between
Mapangala and Osusa for purposes of historical corroboration as well as archival benefit. His
role in shaping Orchestra Virunga into one of the top bands in East Africa illustrates that he was
an agent of cultural change on a large scale long before his participation in the NGO economy.
The narrative contextualizes the growth and cultural reach of Ketebul Music’s as another stage in
a life of molding musical culture for an entire region. Apprenticeship to Practice: Forming Kenya’s Top Band
Having apprenticed in East Africa’s vibrant music industry center of Kinshasa, Osusa was
prepared to apply the lessons he learned about music management to the budding rumba scene in
Nairobi. Osusa and Samba Mapangala, a Congolese virtuoso vocalist, musician, and entertainer,
began a musical partnership that combined Mapangala’s musical and vocal brilliance with
Osusa’s music management skills to create Orchestra Virunga, which would become one of the
most popular music groups in East Africa. Nearly two decades after the group disbanded in 1992,
radio stations continue to play their music and dance bands cover their hits throughout East
Africa. The management tactics that Osusa employed to make Virunga, what Osusa and
Mapangala refer to as the “top band,” reemerge in Osusa’s subsequent projects, including the
formation of Ketebul Music.
Tabu Osusa: When I came for my mom’s funeral I hung around some night club in Kisumu and
met two friends: Fred Odhiambo, who is now a doctor in the U.K. and also another professor
called Larry Gumbe. So we were having a drink and I told them, “You know I am back from
Kinshasa,” and I’m thinking I’m a tough guy now. I’ve been around the world. So they told me,
“Yeah man Kinshasa’s great but we have some new guys that just arrived in Nairobi and they are
really hot.” And I thought ok, ok, let me see. Because to me I thought that the only music that
was really hot had to be in Kinshasa. Anything outside throughout East Africa was deemed to be
not as good. They called it “Kinshasa mentality” or “Kinois mentality” which was that anything
which was not in Kinshasa was sub-standard. Like we had bands here Mazembe, Mangelepa,
High Fives, Bwambe… there were many bands but none of them really came direct from
Kinshasa. But my friends told me there is this group called Les Kinois so I asked them where I
could find them and they said, “Well if you go around Garden Square, I’m sure you’ll catch up
with them.”
I went there and there was this guy playing table football. So I asked him, “Are you
Samba?” and he said “Yeah, who are you?” I told him, “My name is Tabu I just came from
Kinshasa” and he said, “I’m the band leader for Les Kinois. What are you doing around here?”
I said, “I’m just chilling around maybe I’ll go back to Kinshasa or whatever.” He said, “Why
don’t you come to the show tonight?” and it was interesting because I was speaking Lingala and
they were asking me, “Are you sure that you are Kenyan?”
Samba Mapangala: Because he was speaking the REAL Lingala from Kinshasa. I thought he
was Congolese. I couldn’t tell. When he told me he was a Kenyan I said, “Oh come on.” But he
said, “Yeah I’m a Kenyan.” Because he was talking pure Lingala. The way he was talking
Lingala at that time was the Lingala from Kinshasa. Even Mangelepa wasn’t from Kinshasa. I
was happy to hear that sound again. I said, “Welcome! When did you get in?
Tabu Osusa: So then we became friends and he said, “Well since you’re here why don’t you help
us to promote this band so that we can really do something.” So I said, “Ok. Let me see.” We
needed some music equipment. So me and Samba went to Jinja to buy musical equipment and we
met this great artist named Johnny Bokelo. Actually he is the one who started soukous. Not the
soukous of Paris. The real, real soukous of Congo. So he had this equipment from a tour he did
and he had this idea to sell it after the tour. We had an Indian producer who was supporting us.
He was called Melodica and so was his music shop. So Melodica said, “You guys go see if this
guys is serious and if he is I will buy the equipment for you guys.” Hi shop was on Tom Mboya
and its still there. So we went to Jinja. So we were there and then there were these guys that were
trying to overthrow Idi Amin. This was 1978 I think. So we went to see Johnny Bokelo. After his
show it was about 10pm. So we were there having a drink and at about midnight and there was a
curfew at that time and everyone was supposed to be in bed and the lights switched off! The next
thing I heard shots. They were shooting through the windows! And then the soldiers stormed the
bar. We didn’t know what to say, you know. One of the army commanders asked us, “What are
you guys doing here?! You are supposed to be in bed now!” So Johnny says, “I’m a State guest!
I’m a State guest!” Because Johnny was a very big musician you know. So the soldiers asked
him, “Who are you?” He said, “I’m Johnny Bokelo.” They said, “Ahh, you’re that musician that
does that song Kilikili?” but of course that song was not even sung by Bokelo. It was sung by
another famous musician named Dr. Niko but Johnny decided to be that guy now. He said,
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… It is me.” Because the soldiers had cornered him. And then Johnny points to
us and says, “and these are my friends!” So the soldiers said, “You know you shouldn’t be out
this late. You need to go to bed or someone will just kill you.” So that was the end of that.
Matthew Morin: So you never bought the equipment?
Tabu Osusa: No! At daylight we left immediately. We never wanted to go back there. It was
terrible; we were scared! In those days we almost died so many times. And we were with Les
Kinois for how long?
Samba Mapangala: About three years.
Tabu Osusa: Yeah, I guess about three years. And we were good. We were making a mark at
least. But I thought to myself, these guys are good but their mentality, and their type of music it
wasn’t quite mature. It was more like a young boy band type of thing. So I told Samba, “These
guys are good but they’re not serious or business oriented. They just like to sing and have fun.
Why don’t we start a real band. Something where we can give those other bands a run for their
money.” Because older people liked big bands like Mangelepa but younger people liked Les
Kinois quite a lot. The older people preferred Mangelepa because they were a bit more subtle. So
we wanted to make a band that appealed to the younger and older generation. So Samba said,
“Well I think you have a point.” You see there were three main singers. There were like three
singers. There was Samba there was Pele, there was Mado. So you see they were all trying to
steal the lime light from each other. And they put on a very good show by the way. But after a
while there was like a little jealousy about Samba. Samba was becoming a bit too popular for
them. But of course Samba was the band leader. But after a while it just got too bad. They were
saying, “Samba this and Samba that. Why does it always have to be about Samba?” You could
see there was some sort of a sentiment.
Matthew Morin: How did the band react?
Samba Mapangala: Well they were not happy about that but what could they do. You remember
Tabu, our friend Odhiambo?, we all sat down and discussed. Three of us sat down and we said
now we should start our own band seriously. And we didn’t even have much. Nothing, no guitars.
No instruments. But we thought we should start with a recording.
Tabu Osusa: We had nothing by the way! All of the equipment that was the band’s we just left it
with them. We just walked out of that band with nothing. And those guys must of thought “These
guys are crazy. Just let them go.” We even used to walk a lot because any small money that we
used to get from royalties Samba would give out. We would be around River Road and go to a
place like Melodica where they would give us five hundred bob, which was a lot of money in
those days by the way. Then we would walk on the street and one guy would be like, “Hey Samba
can I have a hundred bob.” And then a few others would come up to us as well saying, “Samba,
Samba, Samba!” By the end of the day we would say, “How are we going to get home? I guess
we’ll just walk.” We wouldn’t have any money so we would walk back home. Most of the money
we were getting was coming from recordings we had made earlier on from these labels like
Melodica, like royalties.
So we got together and the first thing we thought is we need to have a good recording.
Without a good recording we would just be the guys that broke from Les Kinois. So we assembled
a very strong team. We said we need to rehearse properly. First we went to Polygram and they
assured us that we would be allowed to record so we began rehearsing. That was when we got
together Melako, Yembele, Ahmed Sabit, Virunga. We also had the name Virunga already because
Samba said he really liked this mountain in South Congo called Virunga Mountain. So I said,
“Why don’t we call the band Virunga?”
Samba Mapangala: And then Virunga was born. What Polygram did was give us a contract
which I couldn’t read so I said, “Tabu can you read this contract.” He read it and said it was ok
and then we signed the contract and they gave us some money to pay musicians.
Tabu Osusa: Then once we did that we became very successful by the way. We said, “Well now
that we have the band let’s get some equipment.”
Samba Mapangala: But before we bought equipment we needed a place to play.
Tabu Osusa: Oh that’s right. Which is now the Integrity Center. We went and approached Robbie
Armstrong, who was a very successful manager. But you see we kind of got everything right. We
had a good album out, we had a big record label behind us. It was actually quite easy now to get
good musicians. In fact most of the session musicians we used for the recording we ended up
getting to play in the band. All of the best musicians in Nairobi wanted to join us and then we
became so big. I told you this joke the other day. One time we went to see Franco because he was
in Nairobi. So we all went down to his hotel room and when he opened the door he said, “Is this
supposed to be O.K. Jazz or what?” because we were so big. So things worked very well for us
and then we became the top band for years.
Our performances were very good at the Integrity Center. We had a mixed crowd also
that appealed to the old and the young. We always insisted on rehearsals. We had to practice and
practice and practice until we got it RIGHT. We had our music and then we also interpreted
songs by the top musicians like Tabu Ley and Franco but we quoted them correctly. We made
sure that when we played it and someone was outside the club they thought it was the actual
band. We actually got a lot of fans like that. Some of the more established people. But we also
had the young people music. That was about 81 until 85. Then around 85 we had some problems.
We were really getting big as I told you. There were a lot of jealous musicians who began saying,
“They are not Kenyan” and then they denied us a work permit. Me I was Kenyan anyways but
the majority of the group was Congolese. So they denied us a work permit. We had been playing
all along with no problem but then one day they just decided to deny us our work permit. Then
there was a splinter group from Virunga named Ebeba. Them, they were given a permit! And
where did they go? To Carnivore?
Samba Mapangala: No, to the same place! And it was funny because you know what I think?
There were Congolese musicians behind it. They wanted to stop us and become the top band.
Take over everything we had, the club, and they even took our musicians. So then they started a
group called Ebeba. So we got our equipment. Most of the musicians left us but some of the more
loyal ones stayed with us. So it was me, Samba, Bejo, Talos. We tried to regroup and we said well
if we can’t play here why don’t we go to Uganda. If we’re not accepted in one country let’s go to
another country. So we said fine, we got our stuff, our equipment, and there were those musicians
who wanted to join us and we went to Busia.
Samba Mapangala: [laughs] Adventure starts now! Innovation to Survive: Reincarnations of Virunga through War and
Osusa’s ability to gauge and react to shifting political, economic, and social environments
contextualizes his success transforming his personal mission into a recording studio and later
into an NGO. He partly honed his ability to employ these adaptive organizational strategies
during Orchestra Virunga’s struggle to rebuild itself after being exiled from Kenya’s music
industry. Osusa continually responded to unstable political environments and shifts in the global
music industry with creative and adaptive measures. On a number of occasions the band nearly
escapes death as political instability and revolution surround their musical journey. Osusa’s
resourcefulness adapting to these new circumstances demonstrate self-directed identity formation
as a central factor leading to his skills as the innovative creator-director of Ketebul Music.
Tabu Osusa: Yes. Adventure starts now. Busia is a border town and there is a club there. So
we’re performing in Busia and we’re still in Kenya kind of. [laughs].
Samba Mapangala: But Tabu, you remember we didn’t have quality musicians.
Tabu Osusa: Yeah we didn’t have quality musicians. We’re back at the beginning again. And we
didn’t have quality musicians. All of the best musicians remained behind. And we were so
disappointed because these musicians weren’t delivering what we wanted. Also we didn’t really
like Busia because it was a small border town. So we worked in Busia for some months and then
we went to Kampala. But this was during the time of Obote II.
Samba Mapangala: And things there were not quite stable.
Tabu Osusa: So we were playing there but we still weren’t happy because the quality of the
artists was not quite there. We really tried to rehearse but it was like flogging a dead horse.
[laughs] Because you know it wasn’t about the money. We had money now but it was only when
we were playing good music that we were happy. But then luck came. One time I’d gone to
Kampala somewhere and I met this guy who said, “Aren’t you Tabu?” I said, “Yes,” and he said
“Do you remember me? I’m Django.” I said, “Oh yes, what are you doing here?” They told me
that they had just come from Sudan. They looked dirty, rough, hungry… so I was so excited I
phoned Samba and I said, “Samba, I’ve found the musicians man. I know this guy, he’s a
drummer, and this other guy he’s a bassist! They are very good musicians.” I said “Django, this
is you?” Because he looked so dirty. He said, “Yes it’s me. We had gone to Sudan and our band
broke. I have a drummer, he plays bass, I’ve got a singer, and a rhythmist.” When Samba came
Samba said, “Tabu you can’t be serious?!”
Samba Mapangala: I said, “Wow this is wrong. Because they were dirty, they were drunk. They
just looked ruffled.”
Tabu Osusa: They had been through so much hardship in Sudan. You know Southern Sudan was
rough. They were down adventure I guess. Going around playing in a band and then the band
broke up or they were kicked out by the Sudanese or whatever. But Samba said, “If you think
they’re good just let them come for practice.
Samba Mapangala: So they came for practice and I was in the other room when I heard, “crack,
crack, crack [drum sounds]” I said, “What was that!? We got it!”
Tabu Osusa: So we cleaned them up, we fed them, gave them good clothes, we rehearsed and
when they came out they were better than the band we had here in Kenya. Even when our
previous band came to hear us they were jealous.
Samba Mapangala: People were jealous. They came to listen and said, “Virunga’s back. Wow!”
Tabu Osusa: But the band was getting too big and these other guys weren’t very good but we
kept them up to Congo. But then we were in Kampala during war time now. Museveni was still a
gorilla but the guy fighting was Tito Okello. The war was bad man. You couldn’t sleep. We were
living in this place called Makarere Nursing Home.
Samba Mapangala: It was a nursing home that had been turned into an army barracks.
Tabu Osusa: One of our friends had arranged it for us because it was cheaper to stay there.
There were many rooms. So this one day we hired a van and went to Jinja. It was like a four hour
drive. We came and left everything in the Nursing Home.
Samba Mapangala: Because we thought we would come back.
Tabu Osusa: So we went to perform. We performed the first day.
Samba Mapangala: We didn’t perform! We were just tuning up. Then we heard gun shots…
Tabu Osusa: That's right! “Rack, rack, rack” [gun-shot sounds]
Samba Mapangala: We went outside and asked what was going on. They told us the president
was gone. And that was it.
Tabu Osusa: And you know in the morning our equipment was still in the hall and there was
fighting everywhere. But somehow we managed to get our equipment from the hall to our hotel.
So we were holding up in the hotel until the fighting died down. And they were checking
passports. This one soldier said, “You, you’re a Kenyan.” I said, “Yeah.” I thought what is this
guy going to shoot me or what? But he goes, “Don’t worry it’s ok.” [laughs] So then we asked
about the situation in Kampala and they told us we better not go back there. We will be shot for
Samba Mapangala: You remember our friend had to drive off naked?
Tabu Osusa: One of the promoters he decided to drive back to Kampala to go home. But he was
stopped by the soldiers who made him remove all of his clothes and he had to drive back naked.
So when he got home he had to ask his wife to bring him some clothes. But we never got back to
that house where we lived in Kampala. We didn’t have any of our belongings but at least we had
our equipment. We had lost all of our clothes, our personal belongings. But you know we just
kept thinking. We didn’t want to be defeated in anything so we said, “If Kampala is at war, we’ll
move on.” So where did we go to? Congo! [laughs] It was very interesting that train we took to
Kasese. You would travel through one area and the government would change. There would be
different soldiers there. It was a very dicey situation. Anyway what we did was we went to
Samba Mapangala: And then we went to perform at Katwe. You remember you are playing and
the soldiers are just dancing with the guns. “cack, cack, cack…” The soldiers would then say,
“Don’t worry, don’t worry.” [laughs]. And from Katwe we went Kasindi and from Kasindi…
Tabu Osusa: We went to Kasindi and they told us Kenyans we needed a visa to get into Congo.
They told us to go back to Kampala to get a visa. But I said, “We can’t go back, there is a war
there right now!” But they refused to let us into Congo without a visa. So me and my fellow
Kenyan, who we called Soldier, had to go back. And Kampala was interesting then because it
was one moment it was so peaceful and after five minutes, “cack, cack, cack, cack!” And then
people would be scattering! So I remember we were waiting to take passport photos for the visa
and the next moment you know guys were running! The guy in the photo shop had taken off! We
were staying with a friend from Kenya. So we stayed overnight and tried again the next day. The
first time the gun shots went off again and everyone scattered but then we went back a couple of
hours later and we got the passport photos. We finally got to the Congolese Embassy and we got
the proper papers to go to Congo. But Soldier was complaining, “I need to go home!” He really
wanted to go back to Kenya. Me and Samba, we liked this adventure very much but he was so fed
up. So we joined again at Kasindi and the band was very happy to see us. And then from there we
went to Beni where we played at this club Papaya.
Samba Mapangala: We played there for about four or five months. And then we went to Bukavu
to Bukira. So from Ngoma we went to Bukavu and there the president Mobutu wanted us to play
for him. We went to play for Mobutu and he came to Uvira where we met him. We played for him,
we praised him, like he’s the boss, and finally he didn’t pay us. And we were going for our
payment and the commissioner said, “Well if you are insisting then we won’t let you leave the
Congo. We’re going to stop you from going back to Kenya. Because if you’re Congolese you need
permission from Kinshasa.” And then it took us almost a year and a half to get back to Kenya.
Tabu Osusa: Then it became very hard to get back to Kenya. Even one time we were in Ngoma
and I was arrested because there was some guy who was trying to get the band to play for
nothing. But I said no. He was saying, “You know this Kenyan he’s making everything difficult.”
Next thing I didn’t even know what had happened, I was IN [jail]. But don’t think I slept there
because this rich Kenyan who was the owner of Super Match [a cigarette company] and he said,
“I want this guy out!” He really liked us because he was a businessman in Ngoma but he came
from Kenya. He used to make me laugh. He would say, “In my car my tank is always full.
Because this volcano [Virunga] can erupt any time.” And it did by the way. One time we had to
flee. In fact that’s why we left Ngoma. We were running from the volcano the band is named after.
Samba Mapangala: We were in a hurry. Like, “Let’s go, let’s go,” because the volcano was
erupting. Yeah we started seeing smoke and people were talking. We said, “What’s going on?”
And then we would see small, small animals running from the park coming into the city.
Tabu Osusa: We had to move. So we traveled to Burundi and played in Burundi for a while.
Samba Mapangala: Tabu would always go ahead and arrange things. Then we would come.
Tabu Osusa: Even when we made our return to Kenya. I came back with the equipment and
talked to the people at Garden Square. Then I went back and told the guys, “I’ve got a contract.
You guys come over.” And that was the return of Virunga and things were very good from then
on. Things were forgotten. The work permit thing had gone. And we were playing at Garden
Square opposite City Hall.
Samba Mapangala: This was 1987. In 1990 or so, we performed in Denmark, the U.K., and
other places. Quality Control: Setting Standards for Musical Performance
In the final sections of the interview with Mapangala and Osusa, Osusa discussed how
Orchestra Virunga emphasized the quality of the music over the amount of money earned. On
several occasions, Osusa mentioned to me that Kenya’s lack of an internationally recognizable
musical identity is not due to the lack of a Kenyan “sound” per se. He suggests mugithi, benga,
and ohangla music are all well positioned to represent Kenya uniquely among styles of music
hailing from other African countries such as Afro-beat (Nigeria), Congolese rumba (D.R.C.),
Taarab (Tanzania/East African Coastal Swahili), South African jazz (South Africa), or highlife
music (Ghana) but that Kenya’s unique popular music genres lacked quality instrumental
arrangements and careful production, elements which he has insisted upon in the production of
Ketebul Music’s recordings. Osusa’s devotion to his musical ideal over financial gain also
characterizes the organizational behavior of Ketebul Music’s initiatives which have remained
singularly focused as opposed to reflecting shifts in development ideology. Virunga’s experience
in the 1980s World Music industry in Europe also laid the contingent framework for Osusa’s
later utilization of the World Music industry market through Ketebul Music.
Tabu Osusa: We were actually one of the first bands that started performing for those types of
World Music festivals. That was the first time for us as a band although Samba used to go and
record in Europe a lot. One thing I can tell you for those festivals is that I think I didn’t like them
because you see we used to be sort of underrated. So maybe they put us before a big name and
we would blow them off. Because we were so strong. And they were like, “Had we known we
would have let these guys perform before.” Because anyone who performed after us became
almost like a shadow. Because we were a big band. With horns, wood, percussion, drums, so they
would always make that mistake.
Even in East Africa we always believed that anytime we were not here there was always a
vacuum. When we were not fully engaged in the music scene we felt that the music kind of went
down because we always put our mark up. And it made the other bands want to catch up. And we
have never been second to any band whether we were in Congo, or Uganda, anywhere. Because
we believed in rehearsals. And we didn’t believe in nepotism. If you weren’t a good musician then
you were out. If you cannot really keep up your act then you were out. A lot of bands didn’t really
care like that. They just were playing as long as they were paid. Us we really wanted quality.
That’s why I was saying that when we went to Uganda with the mediocre musicians we steered
most of them away and replaced them with better musicians. So generally that is the story of
Virunga. Maybe we have forgotten a few things. And people always ask, “Why did you break
up?” But we had been together for so long. Eventually everything has to come to an end.
6.2.7 Music and Politics
Osusa discussed the breakup of Orchestra Virunga and its relation to intersections of
politics and music performance. Refusing to provide musical propaganda for a political regime
with which he did not agree, Osusa proved to be capable of denying himself financial
opportunities if they come in conflict with his ethical compass. Osusa’s perspectives on music
and politics remain relevant to the initiatives that Ketebul Music undertakes in its attempt to
remain a nonpolitical entity. After the breakup of Orchestra Virunga, Osusa revisited these
intersections by writing magazine columns about the ways in which music could be used for
political protest. These articles present a possible source of inspiration for the recently released
Ketebul Music documentary titled Songs of Protest: The Social and Political Revolution in
Kenya (2012).
With Virunga, we didn’t really sing much about politics as it was. We tried to just do our
own music. We didn’t like the politicians much. But one of the reasons why Virunga eventually
broke up was politics. Because in 1992 there were a lot of fans of Virunga who were in
government. And they wanted to have a campaign for Moi... Moi’s regime. In fact the group was
called YK92 and Ruto, the current guy, was one of the leaders. But see, I was always of the
position that I didn’t like what the politicians were doing and when they paid Virunga some
money to have the tour, half of the band resisted but some others went for it. They called a guy
from the Congo who was a very big musician and they had some other musicians also. We were
supposed to go tour with them and campaign for the Moi regime. I refused. I said, “This guy, I
won’t support him. I didn’t agree with what he was doing.” And after that I quit the band by the
way. I left Virunga.
First I wrote articles for The Society, which was one of the magazines that was hitting
very hard on the government. But I wrote about music and how people should use music as a tool
to make people aware of what was happening in the government. So in a way, yeah I guess I was
involved in some political things. But the heat came down on the guy that was running the
magazine, Paris Nyamweya. He was exiled actually. But he was very hard hitting. He used to hit
on the government and I would write mostly on music. That’s when I went to go live in the U.K.
6.2.8 The Immigrant Experience: Life in the United Kingdom and Returning to Kenya
Eventually, as political pressure rose in Kenya, Osusa moved to the United Kingdom and
lived as a student and migrant laborer working ten to twelve hours a day in a packing plant for
three years. Through this experience, Osusa gained a valuable comparative perspective on life in
Europe verses in Kenya. Although Osusa earned a substantial income in the United Kingdom, he
found his lifestyle lacking fulfillment. During a holiday visit back to Kenya, Osusa perceived the
Kenyan music scene as quickly westernizing itself into a copy of the American popular music
industry. He returned to Kenya and began pursuing music management once again. His
disappointment with what he viewed as a cultural colonization of the Kenyan music industry
fueled the mission-driven focus which now characterizes Ketebul Music.
I had some friends in Bedford in the U.K. who told me, “Come on, forget about music.
There’s no money in music. There’s a vegetable factory here called Parripack where you can
come and work.” At that time I was also tired of music even though I still continued to do some
recordings on my own.
So my friend Larry said, “This factory is so easy. You go there and you clock in and work
for a bit. And you make a lot of money. But first we have to enroll as students so we can get the
proper papers to work.” So I enrolled and studied computers. So there we were packaging
vegetables. The pay was quite good. But then we started to get greedy and they had so much
work we could get overtime so we used to work from 5am to 8pm. Most of the British guys just
worked 8 hours a day but the Indians and foreign workers used to grab all of the overtime
because they had so much work for us. I even bought a sports car! Then I worked there for three
years and began to ask myself where is my life going? But the employer used to like me so much
because I was so organized. The manager even used to have me run the place when he wasn’t
So that was 1997. So I was there for about 3 years. Actually, I meant to go back to Kenya
just for holiday and then go back to Bedford. When I came back to Kenya, I said, “My goodness
what has happened to the music scene here?” This music scene was terrible. There was all of this
funny hip-hop and things like that. So I started writing about music again. I met up with my
friend, whose name was Paul Maddo. He had this magazine called African Illustrated. I also
used to go on talk shows, radio, talking about how pathetic the music industry was. And some
people were like, “Yeah, you’re right but it cannot be changed.” So I said to myself, “Let me stop
criticizing these guys and see if I can do it.” That’s when I started this band called Nairobi City
6.2.9 Seeds of the Afro-Fusion Movement: Formation of Nairobi City Ensemble
To combat the cultural dislocation of Kenya’s music industry, Osusa formed the Nairobi
City Ensemble, one of East Africa’s first Afro-fusion groups. Drawing upon management and
production tactics learned from many years of experience, Osusa set into motion a new
generation of young East African popular music performers looking to their own history and
culture for their musical voices. Through Nairobi City Ensemble, Osusa helped ignite the careers
of now international performing artists Suzanna Owiyo, Iddi Achieng, and Makadem, producers
Robert Kamanzi and Gabriel Omondi, and many other Kenyan music industry players.
At first I was just doing it as a hobby, trying to bring something correct because I didn’t
like the music that these young guys were playing in Kenya. So I was not too, too serious. My
idea within Nairobi City Ensemble was not to go back full time to music. I realized that I needed
to pay the bills and sometimes music doesn’t pay the bills. I wanted maybe to run a band loosely
and maybe make money doing something else. Most of the artists were young and quite
inexperienced. Suzanna Owiyo was based in Kisumu actually. I’m the first one who gave her her
break to sing in Carnivore and stuff like that. Before that, she was more of a dancer for these
Congolese bands. Iddi Achieng was in the group also. I gave her her break also. She wasn’t
really a singer at first. She was more of an actor. One day I was having a dinner at the theater
and I heard her sing “Happy Birthday” and I said, “I think you can sing. Why don’t you come to
a rehearsal with my band.” There was also a guy called Koyo Natite who’s very good also. He
went to the U.K. They looked up to me to guide them. And they knew that they lacked experience
in music so I said, “Try this,” and somehow they enjoyed it. They saw the reaction of the crowd.
It didn’t take us that long to become popular by the way. We rehearsed quite a bit and then had
our first launch at Carnivore. Then we used to get lots of gigs after that. It was quite big actually.
After our launch at Carnivore people knew we were serious and we meant business to make good
music. We released an album called Kaboum boum. It was our first project. In fact what we did
was we took a very famous song and we did our own version. We took a song called “Le
Boucheron,” a song done by Franklin Boukaka and we made a rendition of that. We also did the
song “Lunch Time.” We also made this Benga-based song but a little bit more funky. And we had
this guy who was one of the first Kenyan rappers. He was named Poxi Presha.
But I thought, “Well maybe it’s a bit too Lingala. I know about Congolese music but
maybe I should do something more Kenyan, more deeper.” So I started thinking now about more
traditional Kenyan music and fusing it with hip-hop flavor. The idea was to have something
modern. Like modern beats that the young generation could identify with but at the same time
have music with roots. We even incorporated hip-hop but had roots in music from different parts
of Kenya. Then we did Kalapapla. Most of those songs were traditional Jaluo songs. We just sat
with them and made an arrangement. They are songs sung in the village, funerals, and whatnot.
And then there were these two rappers: Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji. We did some recordings with
them as well. I brought them to do some rapping with our music.
We were recording at a studio called Next Level. A guy called Mourice Oyando. And one
of the sound guys was called R Kay who was one of the pioneers here at Ketebul Music. Another
guy named Gabriel Omondi, also has a studio now. We did a few shows in Djibouti and traveled
around East Africa and then I became involved with Ketebul Music before Nairobi City
Ensemble ever began touring Europe. But one thing that has made me happy is that most of the
artists from Nairobi City Ensemble have become stars in their own unique right. I mean Iddi has
been everywhere in the world, so has Suzanna Owiyo, Abura, and Makadem. Of course
Makadem also joined Nairobi City Ensemble. By the way, I never feel bad when people move on.
I never feel like, “Hey you’ve left me and gone to become big without me?” And the other thing
is the kind of music that we had pushed in Nairobi City Ensemble developed into Afro-fusion,
which is rooted in something modern but still has a nice traditional touch to it.
6.2.10 HIV/AIDS and A Lost Generation
Osusa discussed how the lead singer of Nairobi City Ensemble, Dokta K’Odhialo,
became physically weak as a result of having contracted HIV/AIDS. He shared his perspective
that the impact of HIV/AIDS on the music industry was immense, to the extent that it killed an
entire generation of African musicians. Because of the absence of these musicians, rampant
music piracy, and the media imperialism of the West, asserts Osusa, young Kenyans lost ties to
their cultural roots. Since its inception, responding to this depletion of cultural identity has been
a focus of Ketebul Music’s initiatives.
The main singer for Nairobi City Ensemble was Dokta K’Odhialo who died just a year
ago. He had a fantastic voice. He was young. He died of AIDS. There was an entire generation of
musicians got wiped out by AIDS. Makadem really looked up to him a lot, the way he sang. It
was very sad. Dokta was always sick. When we were on tour, Makadem had to sing most of his
parts. I used to take him to the hospital. And when he died Olith was the one who managed the
funeral. He hired a van and we went back to his home.
In fact I think AIDS wiped out an entire generation. That’s likely one of the reasons the
music industry suffered so much in Kenya. Because of AIDS, you have a gap there now where
before there was a very productive middle ground. It’s just the young and the very old. I could
even name them for you. Like all of the best benga musicians, they all died. I think this group is
just kind of like wiped out. And not only Benga musicians. The years from 2000-2005. Those
years were really crazy. Nearly everyone went. And the ones that were left were just trying to fill
that void because the real talent was gone. They were almost like the second string in football. I
know you guys don’t know football in America but we call them the second eleven.
And now young people are trying to learn but they don’t have role models. It’s a sad thing
but there were always these women called groupies. These women used to share different artists
and follow the bands. You found that an entire generation of musicians all died all within a four
year span. They all died around the same. Big, big, musicians! Like Fela Kuti, he was in denial
about AIDS and he died because of it. So did Franco. And there were other Congolese musicians
also. You know I admired both Fela and Franco but I didn’t know why they didn’t have that
strength, especially towards the end before they died, to come and say, “Look, I got AIDS
because of this and that and you guys try to avoid this situation.”
Like in 1987 when we were in Congo. There was this bassist I really liked a lot. His name
was Django. He was one of the guys that we got from the “dirty dozen” that came from Sudan
and Samba and I met in Kampala. So we were touring and he used to get around with many
women. I used to tell him, “You know Django, you shouldn’t be going with all these women.
There’s AIDS and other stuff.” But he was very funny guy. He said, “Tabu, do you know anybody
who has died from AIDS? It’s a Western creation. Name me so and so, son of so and so, who has
died of AIDS. Tell me who you have seen!” So we did our tour and we came back to Kenya. One
day Django was saying, “Man I’m always sick. I think I’m going to go for a check-up.” So after
the check-up he calls me and says in Lingala, “You know Tabu, they have found me with it.” I
said, “They’ve found you with what?” Then he said, “Sida!” which means AIDS in Lingala. He
said, “Look Tabu, I know exactly what you are thinking. You warned me and look what
happened. But let me tell you, I lived my life, I enjoyed it, and if I had to do it over again, I would
do the same. But I’m asking you as my good friend, I’m not going to die in Kenya. I have to go
and die in Congo. So please find me a way to raise money to go back to Congo where I can be
buried.” Django really was my best friend. And he was a GREAT musician. In fact some of the
songs that Samba sings were written by Django. Like the song “Morena.” But I don’t think
Django was well credited. He even played with Tabu Ley. That’s why I liked him. He was the
main guy in Kinshasa. That’s why I was so surprised when I met him in Kampala when he came
from Sudan. Some of Tabu Ley’s best songs were written by him.
So I raised some money from my friends at Garden Square that we had performed for.
Then I had enough money and one day we bought a ticket from Air Cameroon. And you know
those days he was quickly deteriorating. He had lost hope and was becoming thin. He wasn’t the
same guy. In a week’s time Django was very weak. I met this guy who told me that if you check in
Django very early at the airport, by the time the pilots come they will not be able to stop him
from boarding the plane. So Django left on the plane that way and he wrote me this nice letter
that said, “Thank you so much, I made it back safely. I’m so happy to be back.” Then another
month went by and I received a letter from his son that said, “I’m so sorry, papa passed.” And
that was the last I heard from them. So many artists from Nairobi City Ensemble and Orchestra
Virunga, they’re all dead. They were not really aware of AIDS but I think right now the people
know. But for the older generation… it’s very sad, very sad.
6.2.11 Music Studio as Culture Weapon: The Formation of Ketebul Productions
In 2004, Osusa set out to create a commercial music studio, Ketebul Productions, that
would promote and develop a new diverse wave of Kenyan musicians to fill the void left by
AIDS and music industry economics discussed in a previous interview excerpt. Although the
Nairobi City Ensemble was a step in the direction of pursuing such a goal, Osusa strategized that
he could affect greater music cultural change by running a music studio that produced many
artists and showcased their individual styles. This would later become a central aim of Ketebul
Music the NGO. Osusa confronted a number of challenges running a music studio. These
challenges distinguished artist and music group management from directing an organization and
included balancing the politics of partners and shareholders, as well as the ethics of business
management. Osusa quickly adapted once again to a new context: organizational culture. Finally,
deconstructing distinctions between for-profit and nonprofit classifications, Osusa describes how,
as a music studio, Ketebul Music essentially acted as a nonprofit organization by following a
civic mission, keeping profits and accumulation of surplus value at a minimum, and forwarding
proceeds to support artists in an industry offering few opportunities for excessive financial gain.
Actually how it began was I was passing by the GoDown Arts Centre, which was new at
the time, and I went in and told them, “I would like to start a restaurant here.” And they said,
“Oh really!?” I said yeah and I actually applied for that. But I don’t know what ever came of
that. I did not hear from them again. But later I asked them, “What happened with my
restaurant?” And they said, I don’t think we’re really keen on a restaurant just yet.” So I said,
“What about this place?” Because there were all of these empty spaces. They said they didn’t
know and I said, “Actually I’ve got a recording studio.” And the lady said, “Well that sounds
quite interesting. Hey why not. If you want a studio, it’s an arts center so in fact we will give that
preference over anything else.”
When you talk about partners these days it can mean just about anything. At that time I
was recording Nairobi City Ensemble at this place called Next Level owned by this guy named
Mourice Oyando. Mourice Oyando had a business partner, a kind of an investor, named Charles
Ogada, but somehow they fell apart. And then I knew this other guy named Robert Kamanzi, ‘R
Kay.’ He now has his own studio around here and is a very well known producer now. So we built
the place with ‘R Kay’ as the sound engineer, I was the producer, and Charles was just a business
man investor who worked at the Serena Hotel.
So we started making music, but you see I am an artist and my partner Charles was
basically a business man. He thought that when you are given a studio the money will start
pouring in, but when you are starting out you need artists and most artists are poor. So we really
started having a lot of tension work wise. He used to say, “Hey man what is going on? There is
no money coming in blah, blah, blah… And what are these artists doing hanging around here?”
Because there used to be guys that would just hang around. So I told him, “The music world does
not work like that. You know you work in a hotel and at the Serena Hotel things are different. You
guys sell mandazi and cakes or whatever. It’s a different ballgame in music. You have rooms and
x, y, z. Here it’s all a matter of supporting art and you won’t know what CD will be a hit or not. I
get an artist and record a CD there is no guarantee that the song will be a hit. It’s a gamble.
That’s the way it is in the arts. You can’t record this and say I’ll have a hit here and a hit here.
The art world does not work like that.” So we started actually having a lot of friction.
At the time we were called Ketebul Productions and he had more shares in the company
than I did, and there were other shareholders as well. And they started to control the money and
they started to channel the money elsewhere other than supporting the artists. And I was the one
who was bringing in the artists, and the idea was mine. So what I did was register another
company called Ketebul Music, which had nothing to do with Ketebul Productions. Any artists
that I worked with went through Ketebul Music and we paid Ketebul Productions for the use of
the studio which was very cheap. The shareholders said, “What are you doing?!” And I said,
“Well we paid the studio didn’t we? So it’s none of your business where that money is coming
from.” I used to bring in all of the artists and sometimes I would get a job for like one million
Kenyan Shillings or like ten thousand U.S. dollars and I would pay a hundred thousand Shillings
to the studio to record the album and keep the rest. Then Ketebul Productions started to get
starved out of money because they weren’t bringing in any artists. So they got themselves into a
fix. And then I told my partner, “Look brother. I don’t think you will manage. Let me just buy you
out.” So I bought him out. But we decided to be kind and left on good terms. I just combined both
the companies.
6.2.12 Commercial to Nonprofit: Ketebul Music Turns NGO
With the mission statement “To identify, preserve, conserve and to promote the diverse
music traditions of East Africa,” Osusa transitioned Ketebul Productions into an NGO in 2007.
In order to capitalize on funding from grants, Osusa registered the organization as a nonprofit
while keeping the for-profit company intact as a commercial music studio. Such organizational
dynamics illuminate intersecting realms of for-profit and nonprofit organizations in an economic
environment such as Kenya’s music industry where conventional for-profit models of production
break down. This supports the ironic reality that music-NGO development in Kenya may
partially result from increased opportunities for revenue accumulation in the non-profit sector as
compared with Kenya’s for-profit sector.
I wanted to do a lot more for the artists and I realized I did not have enough money to do
it on my own. Like when I started working with an artist that I wanted to support, like Olith or
Makadem, it was just with my own money. It was with money from my savings to push them and
promote them. Then I realized that the returns were not actually that fast and I couldn’t support
any more artists. So I talked to a friend of mine and he said, “Well maybe you can ask for
funds.” I said, “Well I don’t know how to ask for funds.” He said, “Well the problem is that you
are not going to get funds because you are for profit. There is no donor who is going to give you
money just to make money for yourself.” So I said, “But I am not making money for myself. I
make money and I turn it over to musicians.” He said, “But they do not understand that. What
you need is to have is an NGO. Then they will give you funds.” You know he was right. Because I
wasn’t even making money but I was doing it as an individual and of course no donor would
want to hear that I am just making money for myself. But to receive grants I had to be registered
as an NGO. And that’s when I decided to make Ketebul Music an NGO doing a lot of not-forprofit work supporting local artists.
That came in the year 2007. I started writing proposals and getting money. I still had
Ketebul Productions Limited to do commercial work. But now I also had Ketebul Music to do
not-for-profit work. Ketebul Productions is where we get money from studio recordings but
Ketebul Music is more about supporting the artists. When you come, you don’t pay. We give you
the studio for free, record you, make for you a CD, and promote you as an artist. But it’s tough
because Kenya is not like the developed world you know. If someone has to choose between
buying a CD or buying bread they will always choose to buy bread. You find that of course
downloading and piracy doesn’t help much either. But the main thing now is Ketebul Music, like
the website and everything is Ketebul Music. But for the work where we pay taxes, when artists
contract us to use the studio to make a recording for instance, then it comes under Ketebul
6.3 Conclusion
This chapter grounded the themes and values that characterize the operations of Ketebul
Music in the life experience of one individual, Tabu Osusa. Contextualizing the formation of an
NGO music studio through the past memories of its director and founder, I aimed to sharply
contrast Part 1’s narrative which emphasized macro influences such as global capitalism,
“development” ideology, and inequities of the global economy as predominant influences over
the cultural expression. This illustration demonstrated the power of agency. Osusa defied
institutional influence by abandoning the missionaries that provided his Western education. He
refused politicians attempting to persuade him to become part of their propaganda machine. He
sacrificed financial opportunities by leaving teaching jobs in southern Nyanza to journey to and
live in Kinshasa’s booming music scene. Osusa left financially lucrative employment in the
United Kingdom to return to Kenya and advocate for renewed music industry. This life story
provides the context for Ketebul Music’s organizational development, mission, and initiatives. It
deconstructs Part 1’s position of global shifts in economy as inescapable forces shaping NGO
development. NGO culture does not merely conform to macro-societal pressures. It also forms
by way of creative invention, dogged individualism, and agency.
7.0 Conceptual Signpost
In this chapter I utilize a close-range ethnographic lens to assess the particularities of
cultural experience that emphasize the power of agency as well as the importance of cause and
effect circumstances. I present stories of personal encounters gathered through participantobservation fieldwork not as an example of how all or even most NGO musical expressions
arise, but as possibilities within certain contexts. While the chapters of Part 1 suggested that
music production likely emerges in response to the symbols imported into Kenya from a
transnational economy, this chapter aims to illustrate a more nuanced picture. The music
analyzed herein grows out of childhood memories of artists, folklore, stories, genres of Western
Kenya, and conscious aesthetic preferences for trans-African popular genres over those of the
global popular music industry. Decoding these music expressions generates a depiction of NGO
music culture grounded in local contingencies of individual experience and social contact.91 This
is not music of “elite” artists that Makadem’s quote referenced in the Introduction of this
dissertation.92 The artists featured here produce music and perform in internationally-funded and
NGO-affiliated contexts, yet they do not compose this music based on the fashionable themes of
a global philanthropic ideology. Their choices about music composition are uniquely grounded
in local contexts and personal experience and therefore contrast with a depiction of NGO music
culture, or for that matter any contemporary manifestation of global culture, which suggests
primary influencing factors arising out of a hegemonic global economy. Instead, these music
products of Nairobi’s NGO sector layer into the realm of relational reality that ethnographic
Examining the social contingencies that constitute these aesthetic sound products of global culture invokes
Appadurai's The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (1988), which examines the socially
mediated nature of production and distribution in a globalized world.
See pages 3-7 in Chapter 1.
contingency attempts to capture.
7.1 Introduction
The following ethnographic exploration documents the first two independent music
projects undertaken at Ketebul Music, Olith Ratego’s album Osuga (2005) and Makadem’s
album Ohanglaman (2005). Interviews with Makadem and Ratego, artists who have remained
very active in Ketebul Music from its inception to the writing this document, illuminate how
social experiences, personal pasts and presents, economics, ethics, and aesthetics influence the
music-sound and poetic texts of their compositions. Key among the circumstances of social
contact that influenced Olith Ratego’s and Makadem’s musical output was meeting Tabu Osusa
and aligning their creative approach with Ketebul Music’s mission of re-localizing the Kenyan
commercial music market through the promotion and production of the Afro-fusion genre.
Chapters 4, 5, and 6 exemplified how Osusa strategically marketed Afro-fusion within the
international channels of the World Music industry. Makadem and Ratego negotiated and recast
Osusa’s conception of Afro-fusion through their performances and compositions in individual
and unique ways.
Bakhtin’s assertion that genre is dialogic and socially negotiated finds relevance once
again here. Makadem and Ratego represent a younger generation of Kenyan musicians
expressing their identity through the Afro-fusion ethos. They fuse local traditions with
contemporary music-scapes in ways that directly connect to their own pasts and present
circumstances to create a version of Afro-fusion that is very different from that of Osusa’s
Nairobi City Ensemble in that they draw upon is very different from Osusa’s generational
perspective. They nonetheless retain the fundamental principles behind the genre that Osusa first
implemented with the Nairobi City Ensemble and that remain a central part of Ketebul Music’s
organizational mission.
Makadem’s and Ratego’s music activities in the NGO sector also present a case study of
the World Music industry as a malleable domain of creative expression and economic
production. The transnational makeup and power dynamics within the World Music industry
parallel global civil society in that both are primarily dependent on revenue in the global north
and. This narrative will counter scholarly assessments of the World Music industry that
emphasize the influences and voices of Western European and North American actors (Garofalo
1993; Seeger 1996; Erlmann 1993a; 1996b; Feld 1988; 1996; 2000; Feld and Kirkegaard 2011;
Zemp 1996; Haynes 2010) in addition to portrayals of NGOs that emphasize Global Northern
cultural elements. The focus in this account shifts to World Music musicians and entrepreneurs
based in the Global South. They engage with international World Music industry channels to
expand their creative impact at home in Kenya and internationally.
7.2 Constructing Afro-Fusion: The First Ketebul Music Artists
Makadem’s and Olith Ratego’s partnership with Osusa and Ketebul Music has included
numerous contingencies from before Ketebul Music’s inception to the present activities. The
musicians’ peripheral involvement with the Nairobi City Ensemble during its final years,
becoming Ketebul Music’s first representative performers, and their continued active
involvement within the organization’s initiatives six years later, makes them integral to the
NGO’s organizational identity. Makadem’s and Ratego’s first albums were also Ketebul Music’s
first representations of the then newly branded Afro-fusion genre. Their considerations of music
production and presentation manifestations of Osusa’s ethico-aesthetic (Guattari 1995) ideal: a
genre that emphasizes locally rooted cultural influences and personal identity, while utilizing the
international market of the World Music industry.
When citing the reasons for creating a studio, as opposed to continuing to manage the
Nairobi City Ensemble, he expressed that continuing his project of locally-rooted popular music
production with only one group would be “killing creativity.” To this effect, he stated,
I had found this idea of Kenyan artists that had Kenyan roots in their sound in the
Nairobi City Ensemble but also I wanted to support musicians and give them the
freedom to do their own thing. Because not all genres of music or individual
musicians would fit with Nairobi City Ensemble. So it was easier to create
Ketebul to support a wide range of genres. I didn't want everyone to sound the
same. That would be killing creativity. I want someone to sound like Makadem
and someone to sound like Olith. I wanted each artist to sound different. Because
if I brought different artists into Nairobi City Ensemble and asked them to sing a
certain way it wouldn’t really have worked. But with Ketebul I could support
artists in whatever genre they do (Osusa 2011c, Interview).
Osusa utilized the organizational framework of the “studio” in order for artists like Makadem
and Ratego to pursue individual projects. Despite the producer’s emphasis on encouraging
expressive freedom, he required that any artist recording on the Ketebul Production label
conform to the underlying aesthetic and ethics of the Nairobi City Ensemble, which is what
Osusa described as music with local and “traditional” roots fused with contemporary global
influences. Through a multi-organization movement with Osusa at the center (examined in
Chapter 8), a philosophical expansion of the Nairobi City Ensemble concept came to fall under
the genre moniker, Afro-fusion.
Although Osusa’s mentorship influenced Makadem and Ratego to adopt the conceptual
framework of Afro-fusion, the artists’ reflections on the experience of creating their first albums
mirrored Osusa’s own interest in creating a studio that provided more individual creative
expression than was possible in the Nairobi City Ensemble. I asked Makadem how much of the
music on his album was influenced by Osusa to which he responded, “It was all me, except for
when Tabu feels that something is not good enough” (Makadem, Interview 2011a). The textual
and aesthetic content of Ratego’s and Makadem’s music therefore reflects a synergy of Osusa’s
conceptual influence, their personal pasts, and the contemporary economic and cultural milieu of
7.2.1 Afro-Fusion as a World Music Industry Gateway Genre
The wider World Music market that Afro-fusion provided to Makadem and Ratego
offered an alternative to the mainstream popular music markets through which both artists had
attempted to pursue a career. In Kenya, especially in Nairobi, the influence of Western media
created a predicament whereby Ratego and Makadem had sought financial gain by performing
commercially popular genres such as reggae, R&B, and hip-hop. Yet, they received very few
substantial monetary returns through these avenues. They directly experienced the pitfalls of the
mainstream Kenyan music market that Osusa observed upon returning to Kenya from the United
Kingdom in 1997. This included an unsustainable degree of foreign musical influence, which he
responded to, by promoting a re-localized and diversified Kenyan music industry through the
Afro-fusion genre. Makadem described how steering his creative vision to reflect the
philosophies of Afro-fusion enabled access to a larger fan base. International arts and culture
NGOs with offices and performance spaces in Nairobi, such as Alliance Française de Nairobi
and the Goethe Institut Kenia, frequently collaborate with World Music artists and draw Kenyan
and non-Kenyan audiences to their performance spaces. About his expanding fan-base,
Makadem stated,
Because Nairobian’s have come to accept me, they attend my concerts. We also
have art lovers from different places like those who attend concerts by Alliance
Française or the Goethe Institut, or those who come to the GoDown. Those types
of people who like the theater, the types of people who want to know who is
doing World Music in Kenya (Makadem 2011a, Interview).
However, the process of creating Afro-fusion and securing its position as a regional (East
Africa/Kenya) and global (World Music industry) music-industry genre did not occur without
careful strategic networking.
7.3 Makadem
When Osusa met Makadem in 2001, the young musician had attained moderate
popularity in Kenya as a hip-hop and dancehall reggae artist largely through his 1999 dancehall
single titled, “Mr. Lololova.” Having spent years developing his stage craft by performing a
wide range of music styles for tourists in Mombasa hotels, Makadem’s charismatic performances
earned him a significant following. Despite his moderate success in terms of recognition, the
performer made very little, if any, money from these recordings. Piracy, costs of promotion, and
a poor infrastructure to support the production and sales of albums made achieving sustainable
financial returns on artistic investments difficult. One failed avenue that Makadem pursued to
generate revenue was submitting his music for radio commercials. Promoters paid businesses to
use Makadem’s music for their commercials with the hope that broadcasting his music would
build a following of fans who would then purchase albums and attend live shows. Unfortunately
the money Makadem’s promoter spent on marketing his single canceled out the financial returns
(Makadem 2011a, Interview).
During the artist’s varied efforts to reap rewards from the mainstream commercial
market, Osusa managed the Nairobi City Ensemble. Nairobi City Ensemble was experimenting
with collaborations with well-known Kenyan hip-hop artists such as Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji
who were featured on the second Nairobi City Ensemble album Kalapapla (2003). As a result of
Osusa’s interest in working with dance hall reggae and hip-hop artists as a way to reach a
mainstream audience, Osusa offered Makadem an opportunity to perform with the Nairobi City
Ensemble. Makadem described his introduction to Osusa and his experiences in the commercial
music industry as follows,
When I met Osusa he knew me as a rap artist. I was singing this song pretending
as if I was this rich guy. [sings] “Lololova, I’m a hero in a discotech, I need a
queen to crown me up, a good girl to be my best half!” [laughs]… But he liked
that song. So when I met Osusa in 2001, he gave me his card and said, “When you
come to Nairobi we will do something because we are also working with Gidi,
Maji, Poxy,” who are all rappers. He was not refusing rap artists. He knew that
Luos actually had rap in their traditional music and felt that if you were really
doing it well we could incorporate the Luo style into World Music and it could
actually work (Makadem 2011a, Interview).
Makadem’s musical versatility extended beyond hip-hop and reggae, though. He had performed
various styles of music, including calypso and benga for tourists, and he was a proficient
guitarist as well. He had also formulated a style that reflected some of the attributes of Osusa’s
Afro-fusion concept. He termed this genre Anglo-benga,
I took a guitar and said, “Let me play for you some Anglo-benga.” He [Osusa]
said, “Anglo-benga, what is that?” I told him it is English benga. He said, “I
would like to hear that. And you even play the guitar?” I said, “Yeah I used to
play at hotels.” So I played and he said, “You know what? You can keep your
hip-hop and reggae, that’s what I want” (Makadem 2011a, Interview).
Having achieved moderate recognition performing rap, he refrained from pursuing possible
commercial avenues for Anglo-benga until his encounter with Osusa. Makadem’s genre
designation Anglo-benga signified combining the Luo popular music genre benga with English
lyrics instead of the more common practice of performing benga in the Dholuo language. Osusa
expressed his interest in pursuing this sort of locally rooted culture blending. He was particularly
interested in broadening Makadem’s fusion concept beyond the adaptation of English lyrics in
benga music to a complex Afro-fusion genre that incorporated a wider range of Kenyan
traditional styles as well as non-Kenyan genres to reach audiences across Kenya as well as in the
international World Music market:
Osusa introduced me to this World Music scene which is not so benga. What I
was doing was a type of benga which was very benga, but it wasn't really
marketable to an international market. He said, “You know you really need to
fuse them up…” At that point I was thinking, “What am I going to fuse?” I had a
friend who told me to go back to the village and think of what you're going to do.
But I didn’t need to go back to the village because I had that music in my head…
I grew up listening to ohangla and nyatiti because those are the things that my
dad and my sister would listen to (Makadem 2011a, Interview).
Figure 7.1: Makadem discussing the aesthetics of his music (photo by author).
Benga has many variants and reflects influences from a number of East African and Afrodiasporic music cultures, including Luo traditional nyatiti performance style and Congolese
rumba. Makadem stressed, “What I was doing was a type of benga which was very benga.”
Despite utilizing the English language, his style of Anglo-benga primarily exhibited benga
influences. Below is a sound clip from D.O. Misiani’s “Lala Salama,” a classic benga selection
by one of Kenya’s most iconic popular musicians and benga artists. Although I will review the
history and genre characteristics of benga more thoroughly in Chapter 10, I provide a brief sound
excerpt of an iconic example of the genre here in order to provide an aural reference for readers
unfamiliar with the style.
Musical Example 7.1: Audio excerpt of D.O. Misiani’s “Lala Salama” (1973).
Fast tempos characterize most benga songs, including D.O. Misiani’s “Lala Salama.”
Demonstrating the influence of benga on Makadem’s musical sensibility, all of the songs on
Ohanglaman incorporate fast tempos. Driving these tempos forward, benga commonly
incorporates fast paced intricate linear rhythmic patterns played on a Fanta soda bottle, cowbell,
side of the drum, or closed hi-hat. The hi-hat part of Makadem’s “Nyaktiti” reflects these
characteristic benga patterns. The following comparison between the side stick pattern of “Lala
Salama” and the hi-hat part of “Nyaktiti” illustrate this similarity.
Musical Example 7.2: Notated excerpt of the repeated side stick pattern from D.O.
Misiani’s “Lala Salama” from the album Great Hits from Nairobi Vol. 2 (1973).
Musical Example 7.3: Notated excerpt of the repeated closed hi-hat pattern from
Makadem’s “Nyaktiti” on the album Ohanglaman (2005).
Moving towards a broad conception of music-fusions through Osusa’s encouragement,
Makadem began composing songs that drew from a wider scope of Kenyan, African, and global
soundscapes to create complex cultural fusions of style, language, and narrative. The artist drew
particularly from Luo “folk” styles he had grown up listening to, repertoires he performed for
tourists in Mombasa hotels, as well as a cross-section of East African, African, and global
popular music. About the incident Makadem recalled,
7.3.1 “Nyaktiti:” Fusions of Instrumental Style
Consistent with Osusa’s vision, Makadem’s music fused compositional styles, social
themes, and languages from disparate cultural realms of the Kenyan social landscape.
Composing and arranging the song “Nyaktiti” on the album Ohanglaman (2005), Makadem
combined styles of music thought to be culturally disparate and stylistically incompatible to the
extent that the sound engineer Gabriel Omondi doubted its aesthetic feasibility:
The style for “Nyaktiti” is nyatiti with ohangla. But for the beat I wanted
makossa (a style of Cameroonian popular music). And actually we had a fight
with Gabriel the engineer. Because he was saying, “You can’t have nyatiti and be
singing ohangla with a makossa beat!” I went to Osusa and I said, “Osusa, this is
what I want.” Osusa went into the studio and said that it is what I wanted. So
Gabriel said, “Ok, I’ll try it.” Gabriel listened to it and said, “It works!” So I went
in the booth with my paper and did it. It was a one take thing (Makadem 2011a,
The style “nyatiti with ohangla” Makadem mentioned in the interview segment above refers to
the traditional Luo instrument nyatiti, an eight string lyre, and the ohangla, a cylindrical hand
drum secured by an arm strap and played under the performer’s arm.
Figure 7.2: Nyatiti accompanied by ohangla. Still image from the Ketebul Music
documentary Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) featured in Chapter 10.
The musical lyre, nyatiti, is one of the most common material signifiers of Luo musical
heritage, and the performance styles associated with it form much of the basis for many
contemporary Luo styles. Of these, the most notable is benga. Omondi (1980) and Igobwa
(2004) have asserted, based on historical archaeological and organological evidence, that
ancestors of the Luo ethnic group traveled with the lyre from the region now known as Sudan
with waves of Nilotic migration that arrived in East Africa around 1500 A.D. Charles Nyakiti
Orawo’s research (2005) documented the current Luo word for “music,” thum, before the
twentieth century only referred to performances that incorporated the nyatiti. Orawo suggests
that Luo musicians applied styles associated with nyatiti performance to Western instruments in
the second half of the twentieth century. These hybridized styles formed the contemporary Luo
genres onanda and benga. From the word thum, the nyatiti musician-poet earns the vocational
title, the jothum.93 Regarding the pairing of ohangla and nyatiti, which Makadem referred to in
the interview excerpt above, ethnographic evidence suggests that the ohangla drum entered Luo
performance contexts through contact with the Luhya ethnic group at the beginning of the
twentieth century and gained commonality through its use in marriage and funeral ceremonies. It
began serving as an accompanying instrument to the nyatiti in the first half of the twentieth
century (Okong’o 2011).
Locating a singular technique that typifies nyatiti performance practice proves difficult
due to a long history of change and variation (Igobwa 2004). Even so, a few generalizations can
be made: nyatiti performances are characterized by fast driving tempos emphasized by the
pulsing gara (leg rattles) and oduong’o (a metal toe ring which taps against the neck of the
nyatiti). The jothum is essentially a storyteller who combines singing and speaking oral poetry
with accompanying himself or herself by plucking varied ostinati on the nyatiti. When
accompanied by ohangla, the ohangla player provides improvised ornamentation around the
pulse created by the jothum’s oduong’o. Makadem’s song “Nyaktiti” reflects influence from
several of these attributes. In the following excerpt of the first twenty measures of “Nyaktiti,” the
rapid tempo of 132 BPM, marked by a pulse and synthesized clavichord ostinato, signals the
ohangla and nyatiti style. Providing the role of the ohangla are multiple midi percussion
instruments, including a conga sample ornamenting the pulse.94
Musical Example 7.4: Audio excerpt from introduction to Makadem’s “Nyaktiti.”
Customarily only men were allowed to play the nyatiti in public but in recent years women nyatiti performers have
emerged into the public spotlight, including a well-known Japanese nyatiti performer whose stage name, Anyango,
was given to her by her Luo teachers.
The full score transcription of the introduction to “Nyaktiti” is located in the Appendix.
The synthesized clavichord ostinato heard in the introduction to “Nyaktiti” references the timbre
of the nyatiti by simulating plucked strings95, and its two measure pattern repeats throughout the
song in a manner similar to that of the nyatiti ostinato. Additionally, a synthesized muted
cowbell and closed hi-hat echo the sound and rhythmic style of a metal oduong’o marking the
pulse against the wood of the nyatiti.96 These stylistic elements of timbre, ostinato, and pulse
notated in Musical Example 7.5 can be heard in the sound excerpt of the nyatiti virtuoso Okuro
Geti, also available for listening below.
Musical Example 7.5: Notated excerpt of mm. 1-4 of “Nyaktiti.”
Musical Example 7.6: Audio excerpt of a nyatiti performance by Okuro Geti on the album
Luo Traditional Nyatiti (2002).
Makadem’s interview also cites that he drew influence from ohangla drum performance styles
when he composed “Nyaktiti.” The influences of the ohangla performance style are evident in
the Afro-Cuban conga tumbao sample that begins in measure five of “Nyaktiti.” The 3/2 tumbao
conga performance practice mirrors the performance practice of the ohangla hand drum through
the incorporation of alternating tones and touch-slaps. For comparison, I have noted these
attributes notated in Musical Example 7.7 and provided an audio excerpt of nyatiti and ohangla
featured in Musical Example 7.8.
Musical Example 7.7: Notated excerpt of the conga tone (Cnga.) and slap (T.s.) that begins
on mm. 5 of “Nyaktiti” and repeats throughout.
For this reason I have labeled the synthesized clavichord part “synth-nyatiti” in the transcription of this segment
available. The full score to the introduction is located in the Appendix.
For this reason I have labeled the synthesized hi-hat and muted cow bell parts Synth-oduong’o.
Musical Example 7.8: Audio excerpt of the Ohangla and Nyatiti performers featured in
Ketebul Music’s documentary Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and pictured in Figure
7.2 above.
Although the use of tones and slaps is present in ohangla performance practice, the conga
sample’s 3/2 clave structure (Musical Example 7.7) references a particularly Afro-Cuban meme,
which also retains a prominent place in the Congolese rumba, influenced styles that spread
throughout East Africa after World War II. The clave pattern references not only a past history of
forced migration from Africa to the Caribbean but also the return of those influences to the
African continent and their extensive dispersion throughout the popular global musics-capes of
the twentieth century. The Afro-Cuban clave influence remains particular noteworthy in
contemporary Congolese dance music, Kenyan benga, as well as the Cameroonian makossa, a
style that Makadem also cites as having been consciously infused into “Nyaktiti.” The locallyrooted tradition of Luo music heritage converges with the wider geo-historical and cultural scope
of Afro-diasporic stylistic fusions and historical global dialogues.
Turning now to Makadem’s indication of the presence of makossa styles in “Nyaktiti,”
there is evidence of makossa influence in its syncopated rhythmic accents.97 An examination of
stylistic elements present in specific iconic examples of makossa that are also present in
“Nyaktiti” provides sensorial reference points that articulate makossa influence. Accenting a
sixteenth note pick up to beat two is a common trope found in iconic examples of makossa well
as the snare drum hits in “Nyaktiti.” The notated excerpt of the looped digital drum-set part of
“Nyaktiti,” which begins in measure eight, illustrates the use of syncopated snare drum strikes.
These syncopated emphases can also be heard in the audio example of “Nyaktiti” above.
Musical Example 7.9: The looped drum kit part begins on mm. 9 in “Nyaktiti” and repeats
throughout. Yellow highlights mark the makossa-style syncopation of the snare drum.
Makadem, the sound engineer Gabriel Omondi, or the instrumentalists who performed on the album did not
sample or copy from one makossa song directly. Identifying makossa influence therefore is an interpretive process.
Compare the snare drum part of “Nyaktiti” to similar syncopated accents present in sound
excerpts of makossa classics such as Toto Guillaume’s “Mba Na Na e” (1981) and Hoigen
Ekwala’s “Longue Di Titi Nika” (1991). Both selections repeatedly emphasize the sixteenth note
pick up to beat two with instrumental and percussion hits. “Longue Di Titi Nika” also
emphasizes the second eighth note of beat three in a similar manner to “Nyaktiti.”
Musical Example 7.10: Audio excerpt of Toto Guillaume’s “Mba Na Na Ne” (1981).
Musical Example 7.11: Audio excerpt of Hoigen Ekwala’s “Longue Di Titi Nika” (1991).
Makadem’s idiosyncratic choice to fuse styles of Luo nyatiti with ohangla and
Cameroonian makossa found relevance in 2011 at the Canadian World Music Festival
International Nuits d’Afrique where both Makadem and Manu Dibango, the most widely
recognized progenitor of makossa, performed. Perhaps not coincidentally, Makadem chose the
song “Nyaktiti” to be presented on the festival compilation CD which also features Dibango’s
“Soul Makossa 2.0” (2011).
Following these contingent linkages further, makossa made a significant impact on
American popular music, particularly by way of Manu Dibango’s 1972 single, “Soul Makossa,”
which American popular music stars copied extensively. These included Michael Jackson’s
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and more currently, Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.”
Makossa is a genre with roots in local and “traditional” Cameroonian Duala music culture. But,
like Afro-fusion, it incorporates a kaleidoscopic array of global influences. The genre
additionally draws varying degrees of influence from Congolese rumba, Afro-Cuban and
American jazz, West African highlife, and especially soul and funk, among other globally
popular musics. As a result of makossa’s orientation towards hybridity and fusion, the
Cameroonian stars frequently perform in World Music festivals and therefore represent a
community of African World Music performers parallel to the Afro-fusion advocates of Kenya.
7.3.2 “Nyaktiti:” Linguistic Fusions
While the music styles incorporated in “Nyaktiti” fuse Cameroonian (makossa) and Luo
(nyatiti with ohangla) influences, the narrative fusions incorporate Kenyan Luo oral history with
English and urban style lyrics. According to Makadem, in traditional Luo folklore, “Nyaktiti” is
a snake that seduces a village chief's daughter named Achieng. He threatens the girl, warning her
not to reveal the truth about their relationship or he will swallow her. Eventually, when the girl is
questioned she confesses her secret. Instead of rendering the song's lyrics strictly in Luo,
however, Makadem incorporated a combination of Dholuo and English lyrics. He stated that by
fusing the Dholuo with English lyrics he intentionally “corrupted” the oral tradition:
“Nyaktiti” is supposed to be oral tradition. Like, [singing] “Booooh Nyandalno.
Nyaktiti to ema ogoona ngerono.” But I corrupted it. It is supposed to be
traditional, but I took that part and added my own story (Makadem, Interview
The “oral tradition”-based text of the chorus to which Makadem referred in the interview
segment above is followed by the linguistically “corrupted” text of the first verse that mixes
English, Dholuo, and Sheng to narrate the story of the Achieng’s temptation:
Chorus 1:
Booooh Nyandalno.
Nyaktiti to ema ogoona ngerono
Verse 1:
Achieng was her name because she was born in the daylight
Daughter of Ruoth, a chief, a girl very bright
Rateng' ka muhdho to lake tar racharr dhirr
Till a big snake befriended the daughter of nyipirr
Achieng' nyamam I love you but
Only you and I should know this alone
And if not you will die
Baby give me a chance she nodded thuol let me try
Herea nopoto Achieng' never told a lie
Season after season many questioned her action
Spilling all the beans to her self destruction
Figure 7.3: Lyrics to the chorus and first verse of “Nyaktiti.”
“Nyaktiti” simultaneously attempts to communicate to a global and local audience through its
incorporation of English during verses and Dholuo in the oral-history component of the chorus.
In addition to rendering traditional lore with English language, a language capable of translating
the Luo oral history to a global audience, Makadem fuses local narrative styles of heritage such
as those of nyatiti poets with the global predicaments of economics and culture caused by
7.3.3 “Ohangla Man:” Narrative Fusions
The song, “Ohangla Man,” also heard on Makadem’s album Ohanglaman (2005),
narrates the story of a Kenyan musician from a rural village who is dissatisfied with his current
life in Africa and seeks fulfillment in the Global North. A general characteristic of all
Makadem’s music is its emphasis on storytelling, a quality also present in the performance
tradition of nyatiti oral poets previously described. Before the first verse, Makadem introduces
the character “Ohangla Man” in a rhythmic spoken word style reflective of the “traditional”
nyatiti performance practice of spoken word introductions.98 During this segment jothum may
praise attending audience members and their families in much the same manner as West African
Mande jelis. Makadem utilizes this same narrative device to launch the storyline of “Ohangla
Man.” Below is a recording of such an introduction by the nyatiti poet Onyana Obiero followed
by the introduction “Ohangla Man” performed by Makadem.
Musical Example 7.12: Audio excerpt of a nyatiti performance introduction by Oyana
Obiero from the album Luo Traditional Nyatiti (2002).
Musical Example 7.13: Audio excerpt of the spoken word introduction to “Ohangla Man.”
This is the story of Ohangla Man who was used to eating at his neighbors
And drinking free beer, free chang’aa, free busaa, free munazi, and free muratina
And always seducing village women
So he goes away hoping for the same in America
Figure 7.4: Opening spoken word introduction to “Ohangla Man.”
When I asked Makadem what his inspiration was for the story of “Ohangla Man,” he
articulated that the song drew influence from a local Kenyan context: the life of village
musicians living in villages and rural areas throughout Kenya. About this cultural context
Nyatiti poets traditionally opened their performances with a spoken word introduction.
Makadem featured in “Ohangla Man” Makadem stated,
There is a village life that perhaps you don’t know that is in Kenya. The way a
musician is treated in the village is not a person who is paid. He is given alcohol
and he is given food. That’s what Ohangla Man is tired of. You find that Ohangla
Man is accustomed to this type of life where he moves from one home to another,
from a funeral to a wedding party. You know Luos have after death parties. When
you die and everything has been done, you go back to “sweep.” You call it
sweeping or chasing away the evil spirit that brought about the death. It’s a huge,
huge party. So musicians are the ones who perform. Ohangla Man eats a lot of
meat and drinks a lot. He sleeps by the side of the granary and when he wakes up,
there are women there for free. If he wants more food he goes to the neighbor and
brings very nice stories to their home… That is the life that he is tired of
(Makadem 2011a, Interview).
Ohangla Man, discontented with the life of an itinerant village musician, manages to emigrate to
the Global North. Ohangla Man’s situation becomes difficult after his attempt at a new life
outside of Kenya. After the second chorus Makadem once again utilizes a spoken word style
reflecting the nyatiti tradition to describe Ohangla Man’s situation after leaving Kenya:
Ohangla Man goes to suffer,
The visa was for three months and is now expired
The man has no friends
The man realizes he needs to live there with money
And the place is very, very hard to deal with
Very, very cold, very far away from his mother and his friends
Figure 7.5: Spoken word interlude to “Ohangla Man.”
Ohangla Man eventually overstays his visa, and immigration police deport him back to Kenya.
When he returns his friends and family shun him and he curses the places that deported him.
Sitarudi naenda Amerika kutafuta dola
Sitarudi naenda Uingereza kutafuta pauni
Sitarudi naenda Japani kutafuta yeni
Sitarudi naenda Europa kutafuta euro
Figure 7.6: Chorus to “Ohangla Man.”
I will not return to America to look for dollars
I will not return to England to look for pounds
I will not return to Japan to look for yen
I will not return to Europe to look for euro
Musical Example 7.14: Audio excerpt of the chorus to “Ohangla Man.”
Although the storyline refers to the character of Ohangla Man as one person, the chorus
identifies multiple locales in the Global North (America, England, Japan, and Europe) from
where he finds himself returning to Kenya. This rhetorical shift in the chorus expands the scope
of the song to address the migration of Kenyans to the Global North generally as opposed to
specifying one location. Ohangla Man, then, is a hypothetical signifier for not one but many
Kenyans attempting to live outside Kenya. Makadem indicated that the narrative of “Ohangla
Man” speaks to the strong desire of many Kenyan musicians to perform in Europe, the United
States, Japan, or anywhere in the Global North so that they can immigrate there and live. During
live performances of “Ohangla Man” that I attended during the fieldwork process, Makadem
vividly embodied the narrative arc of migration and return by engaging the audience in call-andresponse. After performing the first verse describing Ohangla Man’s discontent with his life in
Kenya and his decision to venture Global North Makadem shouts the following refrain,
Call: Bye Bye Africa!
Response: Bye Bye!
C: Bye bye my Mama land!
R: Bye bye!
C: Bye bye Kenya!
R: Bye bye!
C: Bye bye my homeland!
All: Bye bye bye bye bye bye!
Figure 7.7: Call-and-response refrain A of “Ohangla Man.”
After the narrative traces Ohangla Man’s return to Kenya by way of deportation from the Global
North Makadem returns to this refrain. This time he embodies the man shouting “bye bye!” as he
is forced out of the Global North and back to Africa:
Call: Bye Bye America!
Response: Bye Bye!
C: Bye Bye Dutchlandi!
R: Bye Bye!
C: Bye bye Englandi !
R: Bye Bye!
C: Bye Bye Italiani!
R: Bye Bye!
Figure 7.8: Call-and-response refrain B in “Ohangla Man.”
Musical Example 7.15: Video excerpt of Makadem performing A + B refrains. The B
refrain documents the audience response (video by author).
7.3.4 “Ohangla Man:” Memories of Global Encounter
The storyline of “Ohangla Man” resonates with Makadem’s memories working as a tour
guide and performing music during the 1990s in the popular coastal tourist destination of
Mombasa. The influx of wealthy foreigners on holiday vacations promised financial
opportunities, but the competition in the tourism industry made income inconsistent. Living hand
to mouth, Makadem temporarily replaced his brother, who had fallen ill, as the lead singer of a
wedding band for extra income. Makadem eventually became a permanent member of his
brother's band, performing rumba, calypso, reggae, and popular American music for tourists at
Mombasa hotels. Exemplifying typical cultural conflations of the global tourism industry, the
group impersonated Caribbean musicians to attract foreign tourists vacationing on Mombasa’s
“tropical” shores. The group strategized that Caribbean music, and the constellation of signs it
projected, would create a heightened “sense” of being on vacation for foreign tourists. Makadem
conveyed this comic remembrance of his time performing in hotels and mentioned that he and
his fellow musicians wore Mexican sombreros for additional effects:
We used to dress like Caribbeans at these hotel gigs. We even used to wear
sombreros! There was even a time when Allegra Resorts came to Mombasa and
they were looking for a Caribbean band then they were told that there was one
there. And it was us! We thought, “Wow that's what we want” (Makadem 2011a,
These early experiences with the global culture of the tourism industry partly inform narrative of
“Ohangla Man.”
7.3.5 Lessons in “Ohangla Man”
Discussing the story of “Ohangla Man” with Makadem, I proposed an interpretation of
the song that suggested it is a lesson that the reality of life outside of Kenya is not always rich in
opportunity. Makadem, however, disagreed with this interpretation and instead illustrated deeper
meanings within the storyline. He asserted that external dynamics of North-South relations and
cultural-economic difference are less to blame for the sad condition of his subject than the
character’s inner psyche, which perpetually caused his sense of isolation and dislocation.
Illustrating this point he stated,
Okay, Europe has better pay which is true. But again when they chase him for his
own undoing he abuses the Europeans and the Americans and the Japanese… the
English. Are you getting me? He can’t live in either place. In Africa he abuses
them because they can’t pay him money… But maybe he could’ve come to
Nairobi to look for his money, or Kisumu, rather than just working funerals and
stuff or going from one home to another home and eating free food and drinking
free alcohol. So it’s not actually teaching Africans not to go to Europe, it’s
teaching that there are these modalities. There is Africa, how do you work there?
There is the West, how do you work there? And if this is the type of person who
you are then you’ll go there and fail (Makadem, Interview 2011a).
Ohangla Man does not find peace in Kenya or in America because he is never satisfied wherever
he is. His predicament, according to Makadem, is more the result of an inability to find
happiness within himself than the global conditions of economic imbalance. These complex and
often ironic portrayals of the globally connected life of Kenyans play a reflexive role in
Makadem’s life, as the following section will demonstrate. Makadem has consciously shaped his
own identity as an artist to capture the plurality that is at the heart of contemporary global
7.3.6 Commercial Liminality and “Vernacular” Genre Breaking
Makadem, like any poet, capitalizes on irony. As the above analyses have shown, his
music casts multiple and often converging narratives and uncommon combinations of musical
styles. On stage, he embodies shifting personalities to reflect varying perspectives within even
one song’s narrative. Makadem explains that he uses the alias “Makadem” to protect himself
from personal identity confusion as a result of extreme code switching. “You know as an artist,
you need two personalities otherwise you will confuse yourself. Like Makadem is not Charles
Ademson. The person who composes is different from the person who is on stage” (Makadem,
Interview 2011a).99 Despite the creative merits of Makadem’s versatility, he views this as having
Olith Ratego, and Tabu Osusa are also aliases for Musa Odhiambo Omondi, and William Ogutu respectively.
inhibited his commercial success in both the World Music market and the local Kenyan industry.
Demonstrating the interplay between industry and genre, his music exists precariously in a selfinflicted state of commercial liminality (Turner 1967). It falls within the cracks of ethnic or
cultural categories.
A particularly striking and even controversial approach to genre breaking that Makadem
embraces is his frequent use of the term ohangla, a term which signifies the popular Luo music
genre in Kenya ohangla. Ohangla demonstrates influences of Luo onanda (accordion) music,
benga, and Congolese rumba, among other genres, but ironically does not commonly incorporate
the traditional ohangla drum previously discussed. One of the defining characteristics of the
contemporary popular Kenyan ohangla genre is the use of a synthesizer keyboard, in contrast to
the benga genre for which the guitar is the primary melodic instrument. If individuals are not
familiar with Makadem’s music and they see the album title Ohanglaman, they are likely to
expect to hear a style of music featured at an “ohangla night” at a music club, not Makadem’s
Afro-fusion, Anglo-benga stylings. Makadem intentionally emphasizes the irony of this
historically embedded genre conflation. He purposefully infused very few ohangla (the popular
Kenyan genre) or even Luo stylistic elements in “Ohangla Man,” a song with a title that suggests
the presence of ohangla elements. Instead of drawing from the popular genre ohangla, Makadem
drew from non-Luo musical influences from coastal Teso and Giriama communities to dominate
the song's soundscape. This creative move has at least on one occasion caused a Luo audience
member expecting to hear the popular genre ohangla to become irate. About this occasion,
Makadem stated,
“Ohangla Man” is not very Luo. It’s based on Teso and Giriama music. Giriama
has a reggae-like beat. They are from the coast. [sings] Ni kweli ma sipendi, Kijeli
ma sipendi! That’s very coastal. One Luo guy told me once, “Why are you lying
to us? Saying that you are doing Luo music.” And he was very angry. We had just
gone to Mombasa for the launch of Ohanglaman and he said, “You are not even
the Ohanglaman. Your music is not even Luo!” He was referring to that song. But
the song is called “Ohangla Man” it is not called “ohangla music” [laughs]
(Makadem 2011a, Interview).
The following excerpts provide a comparison of what many Kenyans popularly recognize as the
genre, ohangla with an excerpt of the song “Ohangla Man:”
Musical Example 7.16: Audio excerpt of the song “Night Oberana” by Onyango Alemo off
the album Onyango Alemo Vol: 02 (2010).
Musical Example 7.17: Audio excerpt of the section of “Ohangla Man” that Makadem
identified as Giriama and Teso influenced.
Makadem asserted that “Ohangla Man” incorporated stylistic influences from “Teso and Giriama
music.” He goes on to state that, “Giriama has a reggae like beat. They are from the coast,” and
sings the phrase heard in the excerpt above “Ni kweli ma sipendi, Kijeli ma sipendi!” stating,
“That’s very coastal.” The following musical examples reference the non-Luo genres Makadem
fused into “Ohangla Man.” Makadem does not state specifically from what Giriama and Teso
genres he drew influence. Below, I present recorded segments of a Giriama “folk” style (titled
mungao) and a Teso “folk” style (titled akisuku) from the Permanent Presidential Music
Commission’s Ngoma za Kenya (2008) series in order to provide a reference to possible
soundscapes from which Makadem drew:
Musical Example 7.18: Audio excerpt of the Giriama style mungao performed by the
Gonda La Mijikenda Cultural Troupe (Ngoma za Kenya: Volume 4 2008).
Musical Example 7.19: Audio excerpt of the Teso style akisuku dance performed by the
Iteso Traditional Dancers (Ngoma za Kenya: Volume 3 2008).
Makadem purposefully and knowingly makes creative choices that contradict expected
genre style, reflect his preference for ironic humor, and infuse convergences of global
signification. Although he is Luo by ethnic lineage, Makadem is wary of tying his identity to
ethnicity alone. In our interviews, he told stories of how people within one ethnic group betray
each other, while also discussing examples of social boundary crossing, whereby members of
non-Luo ethnic groups have strongly supported his music. His use of language in music
transcends these barriers as well. He describes the distinction between singing a song in a
language in order to connect with the people who speak that language and singing in a language
to creatively explore new modes of artistic expression. The statement below demonstrates his
tendency to purposefully place himself in a state of textual and linguistic liminality or inbetweenness:
Luos have their music like the ohangla. Those are Luo musicians and they sing in
accordance to how Luos speak, how they brag, how they feel, the things they say.
Like in the U.S. there are things you say, like when you talk about “Benjamin’s.”
What do I know? Only Americans understand what you mean by “Benjamins.” So
these Luo musicians use such things that Kisumu (an area of Western Kenya with
a large Luo community) people say. The phrases they use, the things they say, the
storylines there. So that makes you very Luo. I will use Luo but I will use a
phrase that is rarely used by Luo but perhaps more used by an American or a
Nairobian. I actually remove myself from them. I use phrases that they don’t
know even though I am using their language. So you see, I have alienated myself.
Like if I use a phrase that is very Swahili but I say it in Luo, Luos are not going to
get me. They will understand what I’m saying, but it’s not what they use
(Makadem 2011a, Interview).
Linguistically, Makadem pursues a plurality that speaks to the diversity and tensions within
Kenyan society, as well as the plurality and tensions within a global society. He perpetually
seeks ever more complex expressionistic devices and believes such a strategy makes his music
more accessible across global culture divides. Making this point he stated,
I think that my music speaks to everyone because I have not tied it, you know?
Like if someone wants to understand it I tend to drop English here and there,
Kiswahili, Luo and I am even coming up with new ones where I want to drop
more languages like French, Danish, and Japanese (Makadem, Interview 2011a).
Many Kenyans whom I interviewed described Kenya as a place negotiating poly-vocality and
attempting to find coexistence despite difference. Makadem’s uncategorizable music therefore
remains reflective of the contemporary context of Kenya as well as the global community, a
post-modern reality full of interconnectedness. The fusion of sounds in his music speaks to the
intermingling and global migration of media, culture, and populations while also reaching to
retain local rootedness.
7.3.7 World Music Industry Marginalization
Makadem also described receiving criticism from World Music industry participants for
the diversity of styles from which he draws. Although the term, “world music” would seem to
indicate an openness to diversity even within one artist’s repertory, from Makadem's perspective,
World Music industry agents are subject to the same tendencies of social conformity as any other
commercially interested representatives of art:
I have become quite versatile and it is costing me. It’s costing me not amongst the
revelers [public audience] but within the circles of the agents. Music agents in
“World Music” tend to think that they know what the audience wants. To them
you need to be like Oliver Mtukudzi whose rhythm you can tell when the song
starts. You can tell right away, that's Oliver Mtukudzi. Or Salif Keita, that’s
Senegalese…So they tell me, “Hey you need to put your things in order because
we need a rhythm.” I find that boring (Makadem 2011a, Interview).
Despite his perception of maintaining a marginalized status in the World Music industry, the
artist has managed to create a significant fan base in Denmark and is increasingly making
appearances at the international World Music festivals. Carolina Vallejo, a World Music
manager who lives in Denmark, has managed to obtain performance opportunities for him in her
home country and around the world:
The manager I have in Europe didn’t think the way other world music agents do
and it has worked magic for me. I mean people don't move away from me when I
start a performance. Because with every song, it's like you can't say that you've
listened to that before. No way. Because my rhythm keeps changing (Makadem
2011a, Interview).
Vallejo still admits, however, that the World Music industry is a difficult market in which to
attain success and that Makadem has not yet achieved the attention he deserves. To this effect,
she stated, “I want him to be able to be living from his music, to be paid from his CDs etc, and
this is a constant problem. So at the moment I am still doing the work of four people but I know
that we will reach the point where we can laugh at our efforts” (Vallejo 2011, Email
correspondence). Vallejo’s promotional company, .One World,100 is a company registered with
the international World Music networking organization WOMEX profiled in Chapter 4. .One
World has yet to establish itself as a major force in the World Music industry, but has been
securing a formidable catalogue of tours and performances for artists like Makadem. Vallejo’s
work obtaining concert opportunities for Makadem suggests growth for the company in the
coming years as well as for Makadem’s career. In 2011, he performed at a number of World
Music festivals in North and South America as well as in Europe. In Canada, he performed at the
Festival International Nuits D’Afrique and Sunfest; while in Europe, he performed at the African
Culture Festival and the Baobob Festival in Sweden as well as dozens of clubs and festivals in
Denmark. Continuing his rise in Denmark, in October, 2011 Makadem opened for Seun Kuti,
The period preceding the name of Vallejo’s company, “.One World” is part of the company title, not a typo.
son of Afro-Beat legend Fela Kuti, and his band Egypt 80, as well as performing on the national
Denmark television network TV 2 GO.
When I asked Makadem about the relationship between Ketebul Music and .One World
he stated that .One World handles most of his international and European management and
promotion, while Ketebul Music is his local production house. Makadem also indicated that
although Osusa is not his official manager, their long-term friendship consists of extensive
exchanges about Makadem’s music industry choices. Additionally, Makadem’s association with
Ketebul Music has landed him many appearances in Kenya and the East African region,
including a Ford Foundation Grantees Reception, Sauti za Busara, the Kisumu Peace Festival,
Blankets and Wine concert series, and the Rift Valley Festival among others. The shared
responsibilities of Ketebul Music and .One World demonstrate a maximization of resources and
strategies required to straddle the multiple geographic and cultural realms inherent in the
contemporary global music economy. Examining Makadem’s success in solidifying a career,
despite his self-proclaimed stylistic marginality, demonstrates the powerful role of the agency of
individuals networking and partnering in the World Music industry, even amidst the economic
deterrents of global media trends.
7.4 Olith Ratego
The following analysis of Olith Ratego’s album, Osuga, released through the Ketebul
Music label in 2005, documents how the artist’s personal memories from childhood, economic
obstacles throughout his life, and influences born through social contact manifest in the stylistic
choices and narrative themes of the album and ground the production of NGO music culture in
localized contingencies. Explicating these nuances, I rely heavily on Ratego’s own words
through the presentation of transcribed interview segments for purposes of grounding the
analytical text in the voice and perspective of the composer of the music. Such an approach also
advocates a particular localization of ethnographic process. Ratego’s alternating incorporation of
English and Kiswahili for purposes of communicating his perspective to me highlights the
logistics of cross-cultural/cross-linguistic communication that often take place in fieldwork.
Dholuo is Ratego’s first language, or “mother tongue.” A Sheng dialect of Kiswahili Ratego’s
secondary language, English is his third language and the one in which Ratego has the most
difficulty communicating. Given my lack of Dholuo proficiency and only conversational ability
in Kiswahili, we communicated during interviews using a mix of Kiswahili and English. These
nuances of cultural negotiation and communication that occurred during the fieldwork process
highlight how my contingently-situated position as a researcher shape my access to and
interpretation of data.
Figure 7.9: Olith Ratego discussing his personal history and musical composition (photo by
Shino Saito).
Beginning with the manifestation of personal memory in the present and the locally
embedded contingencies of Kenya’s NGO music culture, we turn to Ratego’s reflections on the
development of his identity as a musician. Interviews with him about his life story revealed an
unavoidable draw towards music balanced with a dependence on capital to survive many of his
professional and personal life choices. The songs of Ratego’s Ketebul Music album, Osuga, also
reflect the tensions between desire and monetary needs. In interviews with Ratego during which
I inquired about the origins of his path to becoming a musician, the artist noted his mother as a
key guiding influence. Ratego also noted direction from a supernatural higher power which
imbued musical talent within him. Ratego’s self-constructed narrative of his entry into music
exemplifies his professed commitment to his identity as an artist101:
Now begins the issues regarding music. One day my mother was singing. I saw
when I was still young. She was singing with other mothers [Ratego is referring to
the dodo music that his mother used to sing with other women]. Now one day my
Olith Ratego spoke to me in Kiswahili and English. Transcriptions of the Kiswahili are footnoted in the
following interview segments.
mother and I were going to the farm to work the land. I saw a certain bird flying.
Now I said to my mother,102 “Mama why are you not catching this bird for me? I
want to eat it.” And you see here I’m angry. My mom tells me, “No this bird is
not good for you to eat.” So I ask her, “Why?” And she told me, “This bird is only
for people who sing.” So I told my mom, “Mom! I like to sing. I want to be
singing. Please catch this bird for me. I want to go to eat it because I can sing, I
can sing mom!” So my mom listened and she loved me. So we continued with
digging. When we were coming back home I didn’t know if God picked for me
the spirit of singing because nilimwomba Mungu (Trans.: I prayed to god). Mungu
listened to the way I talked to my mom and God gave me the talent that even me I
don’t know (Ratego 2011b, Interview; translation by author).
In the excerpt above, Ratego described that as a child he wanted to eat the bird that was meant
only for singers and how his desire to eat this bird created a confluence of circumstances that
connected him to music for the rest of his life. When discussing his inspiration for the songs on
Osuga, Ratego again echoed the signifier of the bird from his childhood. About the origins of the
melody for the song, “Awuoro,” Ratego commented,
Nilisikiliza sauti ya ndege. Fanya (Trans.: I listened to the sound of a bird. It
went) [Ratego whistles the melody of Awuoro]… so I take it and I put it in my
radio. I start listening to the way the bird is saying [singing] ya la le le la la... So
me, I start writing the song with that voice (Ratego 2011b, Interview; translation
by author).
Musical Example 7.20: Notated excerpt of the bird call in “Awuoro.”
Musical Example 7.21: Audio excerpt of the bird call in “Awuoro.”
Ratego recalls that after praying to God to become a singer, he began imitating the music
he heard on records even before the age of ten. He described attempting to imitate the benga
artists, Collela Mazee and D.O. Misiani, while creating rhythmic accompaniments with his hands
in the mud on the ground. Ratego sang and tapped incessantly in schools, causing teachers to
Kiswahili segment: Sasa vile hivyo anza mambo ya muziki. Siku moja mama yangu alikuwa anaimba. Mimi,
niliona wakati nilikuwa bado mdogo. Yeye alikuwa anaimba na wamama wingine. Sasa siku moja mama yangu na
mimi alikuwa anaenda kwa shamba kulima. Niliona ndege fulani aliruka. Sasa nilimwambia mama wangu…
send him home as a punishment on several occasions. These childhood experiences formed a
foundation of musical involvement that would continue throughout his life. Ratego’s early
musical memories also serve as guiding motivation for his current musical development. This
motivation has persisted despite many difficulties securing a sustainable income from music
throughout his life.
Ratego did not continue schooling after Standard 5103 due to a lack of school fees. After
leaving school as an adolescent he invested his efforts in building a career in music. At age
fourteen, Ratego asked the famous benga musician Ochieng Kabaselleh for advice on how to
record his music. Kabaselleh advised Ratego to travel to Nairobi and find sponsorship to pay for
time in a recording studio. He worked odd jobs in Busia to make money to pay for the
transportation to Nairobi. When Ratego arrived in Nairobi, however, he was unable to make the
proper connections and procure sponsorship. As a result, he temporarily abandoned the pursuit
of his music career and began working as a wood worker building furniture in Nairobi. About
these early struggles finding an income as a musician, Ratego stated,
I was fourteen years old. Now I wrote these songs. I met this person who was
playing the guitar. His name, he was called Ochieng Kabaselleh. I went and I said
to him, “I have my songs here and I don’t know how I can record them…” So he
said, “Ok, here in Busia you can't get a studio. So if you want to record you must
go to Nairobi to look for a studio there. Look for somebody who will find for you
money. Then book a studio and go to record.” So I listen to that, I start asking
myself, “I’m young. I don't have money to go to Nairobi.” I don't know what I can
do but something told me, “Ratego, you go and look for some jobs here. Some
little jobs.” And I went to look for work. I did little jobs. Then I found money.
Then I took a bus and arrived in Nairobi. Now when I arrived in Nairobi I began
to look for a studio and began to find a sponsor but I didn't get one. So I leave
music away. I don't have money and nothing in my hand. So I start looking for a
job to do. And my father is a carpenter. So my father taught me how to make the
chairs and tables. Now I can get money but leaving the music away. I started to
make cupboards and sofas and then I got some small money. So I’m getting little
living somewhere (Ratego 2011b, Interview, translation by author).
7.4.1 Social Contingencies of Contact: Olith Ratego Joins Ketebul Music
Osusa came into contact with Olith Ratego at a point in Ratego’s career when he, like
Makadem, was performing hip-hop and reggae to build a following in Kenya's commercial
Western Popular music market. Some of Ratego's songs achieved moderate commercial
Kenya’s U.K.-based educational system “Standard 5” (also referred to as “Class 5”) is grade 5 in the U.S..
recognition, but like Makadem, the artist received very little compensation after the costs of
promotion and production. Ratego received some radio airplay for his song “Mamano Daa”
(“That is Law” in Dholuo) which eventually brought the artist into contact with Osusa. Ratego
described his first meeting with Osusa in the following way:
One day I was singing for my friend Mighty King Kong [a well-known reggae
artist in Kenya during the 1990s and early 2000s].104 Then I met Tabu Osusa and
Osusa heard me sing. After I finished singing Osusa called me and told me,
“Ratego, you have a nice voice. I think you are a good performer. I can help you.
But I don’t don’t like these reggae songs because this is not a Luo style. These are
Jamaican songs and you are not a Jamaican, you are a Kenyan, and you are a Luo.
You need to sing the traditional songs of Luos so you can teach people. If you
agree, I can help you. But before I help you, you need to change your style.” Then
I told Osusa, “I’m happy with you. I can change style. That is what I need to grow
in music. I don’t want to grow in reggae or benga, but in all music” (Ratego
2011b, Interview, translation by author).
Osusa suggested that Ratego write contemporary popular music in a Kenyan-Luo style of music
known as dodo. Ratego was familiar with dodo music because it was music his mother had sung
when he was a child. Ratego’s mother achieved national recognition for her group’s dodo
performances and often performed for Kenyan dignitaries, including the first president of Kenya,
Jomo Kenyatta.
Osusa told me, “Can you compose the songs called dodo?” I said, “Yes I can.” He
said, “dodo is the music for the old women of Luo. If you can compose that
music, I can record you. I’ll take you to the studio and we can record.” I told him,
“Yes” (Ratego, Interview 2011b).
Instances of economic incentive, such as these, suggest that those who facilitate opportunities for
artists, in this case Osusa, also stand to influence the directions of the music created out of those
partnerships. This influencing role of funders speaks also to the significance of the NGO sector
and its ties to global economy as a guiding force in Kenya’s music industry. Despite underlying
economic motivations made necessary by the need for survival, the following segment
demonstrates that the particular aesthetic choice made by Ratego in the construction of a dodo
based Afro-fusion were self-directed. Below is Ratego's recalling of some of the circumstances
that facilitated the creation of his first album titled Osuga:
So Osusa told me, “Ok, go back to your house and when you are finished, come
Kiswahili segment: Siku moja nilikuwa kuimba kwa Mighty King Kong, rafiki yangu. Nikakutana producer Tabu
Osusa na Osusa alinisikia kuimba.
back and tell me.” So I’m doing like that. I composed for Osusa thirteen songs in
one day. Then I called Osusa in the morning and I said, “Osusa I composed those
songs you asked of me.” He said, “You composed?” I said, “Yes, I composed.”
He asked, “How many songs?” I said, “Thirteen.” He said, “No, no, no! You are
lying. You can't compose thirteen songs in one day.” I said, “I want to play for
you and you listen.” Osusa said, “Ok, look for fare from somebody and you come.
I want to listen to that music. Where do you put it?” I told him, “I put it in tape.”
He said, “Come to this little theater and we'll meet.” So Osusa took the tape in his
car. He started listening. He listened to one song, second, third. He said, “Oh this
is the thing I want. This is what I’ve been looking for and now I get it. Ok, Ratego
we need to meet tomorrow.” So I do like that, I rest and arrange that music… I
start composing to make my music very good and Osusa starts making his studio
here. Then we start recording. That is my story (Olith Ratego 2011b, Interview).
After Osusa heard Ratego’s dodo influenced compositions, he began providing financial and
professional support for Ratego to record the album in his studio.
7.4.2 (Re)Invention of Tradition
Osusa and Ratego referred to dodo music during interviews as a style of “traditional”
music sung by senior women in Luo communities. Kenya's Permanent Presidential Commission
on Music similarly describes dodo as,
A gracious dance performed at beer parties, harvests, and funerals by elderly
women. The graceful movement symbolizes gentleness, understanding,
obedience, charm, and a sense of the welcoming characteristics of a Luo woman
(Ngoma za Kenya Vol. 5 2008).
By reworking dodo music from the male perspective and in the male voice, Ratego seemingly
breaks with the social norms of the style, a move that does not adhere to a conservative reading
of the tradition that would insist on a female voice. Demonstrating the flexible and shifting
nature of tradition, even the prevailing perspective of dodo music as a traditionally female genre
is contestable. Patricia Opondo’s dissertation, Dodo Performance in the Context of Women’s
Associations Amongst the Luo of Kenya (1996), portrays dodo as having developed from songs
led by men at occasions for imbibing. Opondo’s research suggests dodo emerged from the beer
drinking song known as kong’o and an older women’s dance form, nyangore. Women began
leading songs sometime before the 1950s because, by that time, dodo music had become
associated with women’s groups and known as a predominately female style (Opondo, 64-70).
This historical perspective adds layers of interpretation to Ratego’s reworking of dodo, a style
collectively thought of as elder women’s music but which can also be historically deconstructed
as having developed from a male genre. Invoking Hobsbawm’s and Ranger’s “invention of
tradition” (1992), the history of such developments challenge notions of dodo as a fixed tradition
and situate Ratego's move to co-opt the style as consistent with continual processes of adaptation
and change in East African music.
7.4.3 Narratives of Female Empowerment in Dodo and Osuga
According to Opondo, Luo women's groups in Kenya from the 1950s to present have
utilized dodo as a vehicle to socially construct “womanhood” in a public space (Opondo 1993:
75-96). The genre became most actively incorporated in women's associations that emerged out
of the practice of harambees. By the 1990s, these women’s associations had begun registering
themselves with the government as community based organizations (CBOs) and partnering with
international and local NGOs in community development initiatives. Dodo performances
continue to give these groups a public forum to express various perspectives. Although the
lyrical content of dodo songs covers an ever-expanding diversity of topics, many overtly or
implicitly voice frustrations with the social constraints placed on women. Other songs praise
virtuous women who have managed to lead a professional working life where they earn as much
money as a man while at the same time meeting their responsibilities in the home. Through these
themes, dodo songs have therefore provided a forum to promote an empowered female
perspective in a largely patriarchal society.
Compounding layers of cultural history to make music that carries within it the seeds of
its previous forms, Ratego composes songs that speaks to women’s issues and advocates on
behalf of women’s rights. Ratego’s contemporary take on dodo signals layers of historical
tradition that dually reference past forms and present transformations (Bakan 2007). Addressing
the importance of advocacy for women's rights from a male perspective, the song “Wa Mama”
speaks out against domestic violence to women. The text to “Wa Mama” describes a woman who
is educated but has a husband who does not respect her. He has forgotten that his wife is a
learned and virtuous person. The man beats his wife and engages in extra-marital affairs while
his wife stays at home tending to housework. Ratego admonishes the man he described in the
narrative. He reminds the man a woman carried him in her womb for nine months and he
originally married his wife for love as opposed to arrangement. Ratego ends the song by warning
the song’s antagonist that a woman can live independently on her own, but when a man is living
on his own he cannot manage well because he turns to drinking and becomes lost:
Wa mama semeni tumekata
Verse 1:
Mke wako sio adui yako
Mke wako ni mpenzi wako
Mke wako ni mbavu yako
Alitoka kwa mwili wako
Wamama mnatulisha
Nyinyi mnatulea
Kutubeba miezi tisa
Mnastahili heshima eee
Those who are mothers, tell them we refuse
Verse 1:
Your wife is not your enemy
Your wife is your lover
Your wife is your rib
She came from your body
Mothers you feed us
You provide for us
Carry us for nine months
You deserve respect
Verse 2:
Umeoa mke
Umemtupa hapo
Na hutaki kajua
Mkigombana unamfukuza
Na kesho kuoa mwingine
Umewacha mke
Wako kwa nyumba
Na kuotea wajirani
Ama wa fulani
Ukiulizwa watoka wapi
Ni hasira na kuanza vita
Eeee eeee
Verse 2:
You have married your wife
You have dumped her there
And you do not want to know
When you fight you chase her away
And tomorrow marry another
You have left your wife
In the house
And have taken to cultivating/nurturing
A certain woman
When you are asked from where you came
You show anger and start war
Verse 3:
Verse 3:
Usimdharau mke wako
Do not undermine your wife
Nyumbani anapika
At home she cooks
Usimwone akiosha viombo
Don't you see her washing utensils
Ukadhani ni mjinga
And think that she is foolish
Ni mtu amesoma
She is a person who is learned
Ingawa ametuliza
Although she has caused calm
Unamgurumia kama simba
You roar at her like
Kwa nyumba amenyamaza
In the house she is quiet
Usidhani ni mjinga
Do not assume she is foolish
Na hata kumcharaza
And even beat her
Siku ataishia
The day she disappears
Utabaki ukiwaza
You will be wondering
Kwa bila mume
For without a husband
Mke anaweza
A woman can continue
Lakini bila mke
But without a wife
Mume huteleza sana
A man backslides very much
Figure 7.10: Chorus and first three verses to “Wa Mama” (translation by author and
Asunta Njeru).
Musical Example 7.22: Audio excerpt of the first verse of “Wa Mama.”
The song text of “Wa Mama” echoes some of the dodo song texts found in Opondo’s research.
Opondo described the difficulty Luo women often encounter when a man has paid a bride price
for them and they are forced to leave their family home and live with a stranger. The following
dodo song is such an example:
Ni “common”
To otundo kama
Ng'atni thula to ogweya
Kiny otwo nowuok
Kendo aduogo godhiambo
Emomiyo chow okak marach
Chowgi ochayowa mon
It is “common”
It has reached a stage where
This man throws me out with a kick
The next day he alleges that I left
And returned in the evening
That is why the men think they are powerful
These men look down upon us women
Figure 7.11: Untitled dodo song text transcription (Opondo 1996: 213).
Asunta Njeru, the Kiswahili language specialist who assisted me in the English
translation of “Wa Mama,” commented that the situation narrated in the song was familiar to her
in the contemporary Nairobi social context. She described how Kenyan boys and girls are
beginning to receive equal access to education. Despite an increase in the percentage of women
who receive an equal education to men, gender inequality persists in the household even when
husband and wife are equally educated. Njeru went as far as to say, “You know sometimes you
see women walking around Nairobi talking to themselves. They have gone mad because their
husbands do not treat them well. Yet, they are very educated.” Ratego’s direct experience of
such circumstances inspired his composition. Ratego described how he wrote the song at a point
in his life when he was living with his step-brother who regularly verbally and physically abused
his wife:
This song, I made it when I lived with my brother. Even it is a real story. I lived
with my step-brother. And he has a wife but he is drinking too much. So if he
arrives in the house he starts to annoy her. He starts beating her and telling her,
“You can take your things and go. You are giving me a headache in this house.”
So I look at him and I start talking with my heart and I start to tell him, “Brother
please don't go drink and come and start beating your wife. It's not good.” So
that's how I arrived at this song. Because his wife is educated in school very good
and she knows how to do a job and she's speaking good English and she has
pride. But this man does not see that. If he comes home, he is beating her and
she's telling him, “Me I want to get a job,” and he's saying, “No! Do you think I
don't have money? Why do you want to go make job!?” (Ratego 2011b,
Ratego added that although the circumstances of the song emerge from his personal past
experience and are relevant to Kenyan contexts, his intention was also to speak to a wider global
I didn’t write this story because of this one person. I wrote it because I needed all
people in the world to listen to this story and all men to take care. It’s not only in
Nairobi but all over the world. Many men like to behave badly to their wives, you
see (Ratego 2011b, Interview).
Ratego's intention to address a global situation in which women continue to face obstacles
because of their gender traces the historical trajectory of the dodo tradition in its intersections
with global streams of culture. The fact that Ratego considered the relevance of “Wa Mama” in a
global context reflects the globalization of media as well as intercultural migrations in and
outside of Kenya. The merging of global and local perspectives in Ratego’s interpretation of
dodo reflects Osusa’s stylistic influence by referencing the Afro-fusion blueprint. The analysis
above, however, also illustrates Ratego’s personal past through the re-working of dodo. The
following section explores this interplay between personal identity and the creative product of
Ratego’s music.
7.4.4 False Promises of Financial Opportunity
As discussed in the documentation of Ratego’s early musical experiences before meeting
Osusa, economic struggles have been continual obstacles throughout his life. These monetary
impediments therefore inspire many of Ratego’s song texts. The song “Awuoro” echoes Ratego's
personal experience of pursuing opportunity in Nairobi but finding only a false promise of
prosperity. Like Ratego’s attempt to find sponsorship in the urban capital, the song tells the story
of a boy’s journey to Nairobi in search of employment. The boy’s brother takes him to Nairobi
and promises him a job but when he arrives in the city he finds no work and is stuck there.
Without a steady income, the boy works odd jobs around his brother's house. He begins to
wonder if his brother’s original intentions were to bring him to Nairobi to obtain a cheap source
of household labor:
Olith awuoro (x4)
I wonder
Olith I wonder
Verse 1:
Kangato goli mana edalau
Teri Nairobi bwore
Nidhi miyi tichi
Kangato goli mana edalau
Teri Nairobi bwore kapango
Nidhi miyi tichi
Kangato goli mana edalau
Teri Nairobi
Nidhi miyi tichi
Kangato goli mana edalau
Teri Nairobi
To kichopop bwore
Tokatatichi-ongee eeeee
Verse 1:
Somebody takes you from your home village
And takes you to Nairobi
Promising a job for you
Somebody takes you from your home village
And takes you to Nairobi to stay there
Promising a job for you
Somebody takes you from your home village
To Nairobi
Promising a job for you
Somebody takes you from your home village
To Nairobi
When you reach Nairobi there is no job
I sympathize for myself
Verse 2:
Verse 2:
Madiweya akonwe wuonwa edala
You should have left me to help my father
To tichi onge
There is work to do
Madiweya akonwe ebabana
If you left me to help him
Dinabeto dalawa
I could have cleared the bushes
Madiweya akonwe minwa
You should have left me to help my mother
Japuru onge
Work the land
Madiweya akonwe minwa
You should have left me to help my mother
Japuru ongee eee eee
Work the land, I regret
Figure 7.12: Chorus and verses one and two of “Awuoro” (translation by Olith Ratego and
Steve Kivutia).
The word “Awuoro” translates as “I wonder” in Dholuo and expresses the perspective of the boy
who is questioning his brother's motivation for bringing him to Nairobi. As described in Chapter
1, the story reflects the journeys of large populations over several generations that have migrated
to Nairobi from rural areas in search of employment. An excess labor force in the urban areas
has made jobs difficult to find and wages low. This predicament created large informal
settlements in Nairobi. Among these, the areas of Mathare, Huruma, and Kibera have earned a
reputation as notorious Nairobi “slums.” Many living and working in the informal urban
settlements take jobs as house cleaners or construction workers, often for less than a livable
wage. Ratego’s personal experiences overlap with those of a large percentage of the Kenyan
population, a population attempting to negotiate the necessity of capital in a globalized economic
context without reliable means to securing it. Highlighting the prevalence of this theme in the
music of Osuga, a majority of songs on the album reference the struggles of living in a capitalist
climate with little access to income. Below are additional summaries to songs from the album
Osuga that confront the corrupting influence of capital:
“Jomoko:” a song about people who make themselves seem like friends but make promises that
they do not keep. They will buy alcohol but will not give money for food.
“Mamano Daa:” a song discouraging people from becoming jealous at others' success. This
jealousy will even lead to lies about how people have become successful through ill means.
“Osuga:” a bitter vegetable, but considered a delicacy among the Luo. The song compares this
vegetable to a beautiful woman who is never satisfied with her husband. The woman's husband,
going to great lengths to please her, resorts to crime and is imprisoned.
“Jawanya:” the name of the character in this song. Driven by greed, he only thinks of himself
when dealing with others. He is always considering the ways that he can obtain money or
opportunity from them.
“Jodongo:” a song that criticizes the older generation in Kenya for not being good role models.
The singer suggests that the greed of the elders has been passed down to the younger generation.
By offering “sponsorship,” Osusa provided avenues for Ratego and Makadem to resist
imitating the commercial music industry, an industry rich in false promises of wealth and fame,
and to explore their own creative voices. Ratego described the circumstances in which he agreed
to work with Osusa as follows:
I told Osusa, “I want to be a musician, a great musician and to get a sponsor is
hard. So if you can sponsor me, I’m happy with that…” In the morning, I come to
meet with Osusa again. Osusa gives me money and first he asks me, “Where do
you stay?” I told him, “I am staying with Mighty King Kong.” He said, “No I
don't want you to stay with somebody. From today I need you to buy your house.
I need you to buy everything. I want to be working with you.” So I do like that.
He gives me thirty thousand to go buy everything (Ratego 2011b, Interview).
After Osusa decided to create an album with Ratego, he provided the financial support that
Ratego needed in order to develop a distinct style of Afro-fusion.
7.4.5 The Persistent Presence of False Promises in Ratego’s Life
The stories of false promises and financial struggle, however, continue to be relevant in
Ratego’s life. At the time of this writing, Ratego continues to negotiate the treacherous terrain of
the music industry and work towards an indeterminate future of economic security. Ratego has
yet to achieve the same degree of success as Makadem in recent years and continues to
experience circumstances in which opportunities present themselves but do not come to fruition.
One such example of this occurred during the time period of my fieldwork. Ratego and another
Ketebul Music dodo artist, Ogoya Nengo, were scheduled to perform in the Ese Festival in New
York City with the German contemporary composer, Sven Kacirek. Earlier that year the Goethe
Institut Kenia had funded Kacirek to travel to Kenya to create an album based on Kenyan
traditional music. The album, titled The Kenya Sessions (2010), featured Ogoya Nengo and Olith
Ratego on two separate tracks prompting Kacirek to invite the two performers to perform with
him at the Ese Festival in New York City.
Figure 7.13: The flier listing Olith Ratego and Ogoya Nengo as featured performers to
appear with Sven Kacirek at the 2010 Ese Festival in New York City.
A short time before their departure, the U.S. Embassy denied Nengo and Ratego visas to travel to
the United States to perform. Ratego’s cancelled performance contributed to yet another example
of many accumulated experiences of false economic promises and serves as a reminder of the
continual struggle of Kenyan performers to negotiate the global industry channels and capital.
7.5 Conclusion
Through the genre concept of Afro-fusion, Osusa recruited musicians who had previously
attempted to make a career in Kenya’s mainstream music industry, such as Makadem and Olith
Ratego, to participate in the mission of Ketebul Music. The strategy was to produce “locallyrooted” music that could access Kenyan, global European and North American World Music
markets. The World Music industry, in this case, acted as an economic wedge to compete with
the Western popular music-dominated mainstream media in Kenya. In addition to building a fan
base in Kenya, the artists hoped to generate revenue from performances in Europe and the
United States as well as in Kenya. Despite the strategic aims of the genre to reach diverse global
markets, the narrative themes and musical styles of Makadem and Ratego’s songs grow from
personal experiences. These musical manifestations of personal pasts are filtered through
memory, not shaped by the discourses of the global economy or NGO philanthropic culture.
Such expressions of NGO culture demonstrate that the musical content of globally-funded civil
society organizations does not necessarily trickle down from the revenue supply chains from
where they derive sustenance. This portrayal builds on Chapter 6’s deconstruction of Part 1 by
demonstrating the plurality of cultural production brought about by personal experience and
social encounter.
8.0 Conceptual Signpost
The chapters of Part 2 have thus far attempted to demonstrate agency and circumstantial
positioning of individuals as formidable contingent factors shaping NGO music culture and
global cultural production on a broad scale. This chapter will demonstrate how individual social
action shapes the movement of organizations. I show localized social dynamics forming
organizational partnerships which, in turn, harness the resources and social capital to amplify the
shared sentiments of individuals and produce ideological movements. These in turn enter into
national and international discourses and connect notions of local to global from the bottom-up
as opposed to top-down. Unlike the North American and Western European historical roots of
global civil society, the contingent circumstances of interpersonal encounter featured here will
involve agents of change in the Global South strategically creating globally impactful
movements of cultural change.
8.1 Introduction
This chapter’s contingent lens pans outward from the previous chapter’s focus on social
contact between individuals to an examination of partnerships between organizations. Through
organizational and institutional partnerships, stakeholders in NGO music production (musicians,
administrators, donors and recipients, etc.) negotiate respective positions of power and mutual
interests to achieve greater program capacity. The branding and promotion of Afro-fusion as a
distinct “Kenyan” genre resulted from such socio-political dynamics, which inevitably comprise
most strategic NGO initiatives. Spotlight on Kenyan Music, the campaign most responsible for
popularizing Afro-fusion in Kenya, consisted of a partnership between Ketebul Music, Alliance
Française, the Kenyan Department of Culture, and several international funding organizations,
including Total Oil, the French Embassy, the Ford Foundation, and the European Union. This
collaborative NGO music initiative is aimed at creating a broad social, political, and economic
impact to urge the historical and institutional construction of a music cultural symbol to which
Ketebul Music and its affiliated performers would associate themselves.
Despite institutional hierarchies implied by the flow of capital from donors to recipient
organizations, social dynamics involved in the Spotlight on Kenyan Music complicate a
simplistic top-down reading of institutional power and influence. Program administrators,
consultants, and individuals that worked most closely with the musicians featured in the initiative
often influenced the direction of the project more than donors and executive directors. In this
respect the director of Alliance Française’s Art and Cultural Cooperation Department, Harsita
Waters, and Ketebul Music’s Executive Director, Tabu Osusa, were especially significant. Their
perspectives on the development of the initiative will be featured prominently in the following
depiction. Top-down dynamics also undeniably played a role, however, as program directors
modified programming to meet grant requirements and producers influenced musicians to adapt
to the philosophical tenets of Afro-fusion. As political circumstances and global philanthropy
agendas shifted from year to year, the directors of Spotlight on Kenyan Music responded by
incorporating new themes into the initiative. In response to the 2007 post-election violence, for
example, program themes emphasized “reconciliation” and “unity in diversity.” Ultimately, a
variety of partners and sponsors with contrasting agendas constructed Spotlight on Kenyan Music
and illustrated the contingent nature of globally networked cultural production in Kenya’s NGO
sector. Before further exploring the particular role of each of these organizations, the following
section provides a brief overview of the initiative’s development that began with its initiation in
8.2 The Development of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music Initiative
Alliance Française, a French cultural organization with offices in several cities
throughout Kenya, has historically maintained a close organizational relationship with Ketebul
Music. Alliance Française frequently utilizes Ketebul Music’s film and sound studio resources
by commissioning Ketebul Music’s videographer, Patrick Ondiek, to record concerts held at the
Alliance Française Garden concert stage in Nairobi and recording music projects at Ketebul
Music’s studios. The locally based international NGO also hires Osusa as a consultant on
projects. The relationship between Alliance Française and Ketebul Music is most prominently
showcased through the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative.
The Spotlight on Kenyan Music program began in 2005 with the intent of promoting
Afro-fusion music in Kenya through a tiered strategic plan. This includes the production and
promotion of CDs featuring Kenyan artists, career training for artists featured on the CDs, and
paid live performances. The musicians commissioned for the project represent a diverse crosssection of Kenya's ethnic groups. The explicit mission of the program is “to create country-wide
local audiences for Kenyan Afro-fusion music, therefore contributing to building a sound
domestic market for a sustainable music industry that will generate revenue for the artists, and
ensure sustained promotion of Kenyan music through local and international media and all other
possible avenues.”106 In recent years, especially since the 2007 post-election violence, Spotlight
on Kenyan Music has focused increasingly on themes of reconciliation and cultural diversity.
The project has, since 2005, consisted of a steering committee of leading Kenyan
musicians and producers involved in the Afro-fusion movement. Harsita Waters and Tabu Osusa
have jointly overseen the committee since its inception. In addition to Osusa and Waters, the
steering committee has consisted of some of Kenya’s most established artists, including
Achien’g Abura, Suzzanna Owiyo, Suzanne Gachukia, Iddi Achien’g, John Katana, and Abbi.
Mapping the early roots of the Afro-fusion genre in Kenya, the members of the steering
committee included two members of Osusa's Nairobi City Ensemble (Suzanne Owiyo and Iddi
Achieng), the first music group to promote the aesthetic philosophy that would later be termed
Afro-fusion. Osusa, Waters and the Spotlight on Kenyan Music steering committee utilized the
initiative to forward a large scale multi-organizational campaign to institute Afro-fusion as a
formidable market category in the Kenyan and international music industry.
8.3 Socio-Institutional Convergences of Genre Construction
The following email correspondence with Osusa indicated that the Spotlight on Kenyan
Music steering committee was the driving force behind the development of Afro-fusion as a
genre label:
The genre title “Afro-fusion” was indeed first used and popularized by the
Steering Committee of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music in 2005. The program,
which was an initiative of Alliance Française of Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration
with various stakeholders in the music industry, was started with the aim of
searching for talent in the various regions within Kenya and giving these artistes
the opportunity to record and showcase their music both locally and
internationally. Afro-fusion in short, is music which has “traditional” African
roots blended with various elements from other parts of the world. However, of
late there are many artistes who have decided to use the term Afro-fusion loosely
with no regard to what the genre is! (Osusa 2011, Email correspondence).
Alliance Française: Spotlight on Kenyan Music Background. Unpublished document provided to the author by
Harsita Waters of Alliance Française.
Drawing from Osusa’s email correspondence, the steering committee for Spotlight on Kenyan
Music created the genre title Afro-fusion to provide a music industry signifier for music that
blended “traditionally African roots” with “various rhythms from other parts of the world.” At
the same time as Osusa’s participation in the first years of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music
initiative, he was also producing and releasing Olith Ratego’s and Makadem’s first albums as
exclusive Ketebul Music projects. These albums also utilized the Afro-fusion genre title as a
marketing tool. Given that the initiative was a Kenyan cultural initiative, the genre has come to
be largely associated with Kenyan artists.107
Although the term Afro-fusion loosely signified various fusions of African and
Afrodiasporic musics, the institutional agenda of Spotlight on Kenyan Music aimed at developing
Afro-fusion into a discrete marketable genre. Similar to the function of Afrobeat and Highlife
genres for South and West Africa, respectively, the steering committee’s intention with Afrofusion was to fashion the style into a World Music brand. European and American music
industry agents had utilized a similar strategy of institutional partnering in their approach to
creating the genre moniker, World Music, which coalesced during a series of meetings in
London’s Empress of Russia pub in 1987.108 World Music, like the term Afro-fusion, had prior
to 1987 occupied no official genre category in the music marketplace. It did not crystallize as a
formal music industry genre until the employment of a significant institutional campaign.
Illuminating genealogies of genre production and music market strategy, contingent intersections
link the development of Afro-fusion, Spotlight on Kenyan Music, and the World Music
industry’s historical emergence on the global stage.
After a Spotlight on Kenyan Music concert at Alliance Française, Nairobi in 2010, Osusa
introduced me to the World Music industry mogul Ben Mandelson who had arrived in Kenya
that week from the United Kingdom. Kenya Music Week had hired Mandelson as the
At the end of the email correspondence above, Osusa regrets that some artists loosely apply the term, Afrofusion. Here, he was likely concerned with recent attempts by some artists to appropriate the Afro-fusion brand, due
to its emerging popularity. My assumption here is based on conversations with Osusa about the strategic ways in
which Kenyan artists have also, in Osusa’s opinion, misappropriated the genre title, benga, in order to market their
music more effectively.
After the successful release of albums featuring collaborations between African musicians such as Ladysmith
Black Mambazo and European and American popular musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and Johnny
Clegg, industry executives met at a London pub in 1987 and determined the title World Music to market such
international music fusions. See Folk Roots, online magazine, “Minutes of Meeting Between the Various ‘World
“international speaker” for the festival.109 In addition to speaking at Kenya Music Week
Mandelson attended the Spotlight on Kenyan Music concerts and purchased several Kenyan
instruments to bring back to his home in the United Kingdom. In a casual encounter, in which
Waters was also present, Osusa introduced me to Mandelson as “one of the guys who came up
with the term World Music.” Indeed, Ben Mandelson was one of the original members of the
1987 World Music industry meetings in London. He has produced dozens of World Music
albums under various labels, including Globestyle, a label which he co-founded, and is also one
of the original founders of WOMEX, the online World Music “trade fair” organization to which
staff and musicians of Ketebul Music maintain close ties. Mandelson’s presence at this 2010
Spotlight on Kenyan Music concert, his relationship with Osusa, and Ketebul Music’s
participation in WOMEX, suggests that Afro-fusion’s development as a genre is part of a larger
socio-historical continuum that included the emergence of the World Music industry. Unlike the
European and American demographic of the Empress of Russia meetings, however, the genre
production and promotion of Afro-fusion involved Kenyans from diverse backgrounds utilizing
the power of global institutions to create what they viewed as a locally rooted music culture.110
The steering committee for Spotlight on Kenyan Music responded to the global condition of an
internationally linked music economy by staking a claim to genre and utilizing NGO institutional
partnering as a vehicle for promotion.
8.4 Marketing Cross-Cultural: Volumes One and Two
Utilizing the Kenyan Department of Culture’s provincial offices throughout Kenya, the
steering committee determined which Kenyan artists would represent the then newly branded
Afro-fusion genre. Each year they judged music auditions in the eight Kenyan provinces, which
spanned the Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern reaches of Kenya. From 2004 until 2010,
auditions were held in Kakamega, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Embu, Machakos, Nyeri, Mombasa,
Garissa and Nairobi. Each year, eleven artists or groups were chosen from the auditions to be
showcased on a CD produced by Ketebul Music. The steering committee also chose many of
these artists to perform at the yearly Spotlight on Kenyan Music Concert Series at Alliance
Music’ Record Companies and Interested Parties: Monday 29th June 1987” online magazine (,
accessed 07.10.12)
For information regarding Kenya Music Week, refer to Chapter 4.
Indeed, this was a cultural need that came about, largely through Osusa’s vision, which resulted from a chain of
circumstances stretching far back before the creation of Nairobi City Ensemble.
Française’s Garden Stage in Nairobi. Several of the artists featured on Volume One (2005) such
as Makadem, Michel Ongaro, Juma Tutu, and Hannah Wakesho were able to use the
promotional boost created by the project to launch their music careers to a nationally and, in
some cases, internationally recognized level. Volume Two (2006) enhanced the exposure of
musicians Zippy Okoth, Bosco Mulwa, and Teto Tutuma. The promotion of these artists
occurred largely through news stories about the series on radio and television stations such as
NTV, KTN, KBC, Citizen, MTV, National Geographic, MNET Channel O, STV, and EATV. On
the 20th of July, 2007 Alliance Française presented a Best of the Spotlight 2005/2006 concert in
its Gardens, which was filmed by KBC and broadcasted nationwide in December 2007.
Figure 8.1: Album cover to Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Two (2006).
Despite the successful results of promoting several artists through the project, the
Spotlight on Kenyan Music coordinators found difficulty infiltrating the Western popular music
saturated Kenyan music industry. About the difficulty reaching a wider Kenyan audience with
the Spotlight on Kenyan Music CDs, Waters stated that broadcasting companies and radio
stations had not actively promoted the project. She intimated, however, that the lack of
commercial support for music projects that cut across ethnic and cultural divides in Kenya
identified the need for Alliance Française to create Spotlight on Kenyan Music:
We don’t infiltrate the mainstream market. What we do is we give musicians a
space where they can have live concerts, live performances that expose their art…
Even the Spotlight albums we tried to find distributers for the first three albums
and we had an agreement with A.I. records… but they didn’t do a brilliant job I
don’t think. So at the end of the day it doesn't sell, it hasn't sold… You know, the
mainstream broadcasting corporations have been very reluctant to play this sort of
music. I mean you send them that and then you hardly hear the Spotlight music
being played on the local radio stations… Then there’s the “vernacular” stations,
which are very popular. So if you are addressing one community that is very
popular. But something that cuts across the communities as it were does not seem
to find a mainstream audience and that’s very peculiar but then that just shows the
divisions or the lack of understanding of other local traditions from other
communities (Waters 2011, Interview).
Waters’ statements suggest the ethnically targeted and linguistically exclusive “vernacular”
stations cater to only the ethnic identity of regional broadcasting bases and therefore do not
embrace a cross-cultural endeavor, such as Spotlight on Kenyan Music, which features music by
artists from various ethnic groups. Additionally, the mainstream broadcasting corporations do
not play music rooted in Kenya’s cultural traditions because they believe that a broadly diverse
Kenyan national audience will be more likely to listen to music demonstrating imported
influences such as Western popular music, Tanzanian bongo flava, or Congolese rumba. As a
result of low sales figures, Alliance Française downsized the production of CDs from 1,000 in
Volume One to 500 in the following volumes. Volume Five (2011) was released during the time
of writing this document. During the period of my research the organization expected an increase
in sales. Lack of profit has also caused yearly stipends paid to artists based on royalties to remain
8.5 Bridging Divides and Reconciliation: Volumes Three, Four, and Five
Volumes Three (2007), Volume Four (2008), and Volume Five (2010) of the Spotlight on
Kenyan Music project embraced new themes in addition to the initial mission of supporting
Kenyan artists and promoting the Afro-fusion genre. Volume Three (2007) brought elder and
younger artists together to emphasize a theme of inter-generational communication. This also
further emphasized musical heritage and featured larger numbers of “traditional” music
specialists than previously incorporated.
Figure 8.2: Album cover of Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Three (2007).
Volume Four, released in 2008, responded to the post-election violence that occurred in
2007 by subtitling the volume Unity in Diversity and involving artists from highly marginalized
ethnic groups, such as the Somali group Gargar and the Sabaot group Ben Kisinja and Chebin
Band. The talent search for Volume Four focused increasingly on locating musicians whose
primary experience was performing “traditionally-rooted” music and auditioned 231 musicians,
the largest number of auditions to date.
Figure 8.3: Album cover of Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Four: Unity in Diversity
Confronting the ethnic and regional tensions that arose from the post-election violence,
the Ford Foundation funded a 2008 Spotlight on Kenyan Music national tour, which brought
artists of diverse cultural backgrounds to perform in Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Nyeri,
Meru, Machakos, and Mombasa. Characterized by a peace and reconciliation mission, artists
from diverse cultural backgrounds performed music in front of audiences that did not necessarily
share their ethnic heritage. During the time of my fieldwork, Patrick Ondiek and John SibiOkumu, who have played a significant role in the Ketebul Music documentary projects featured
in Chapter 10, were finishing the production of a documentary film about the tour. The
documentary follows the artists on the tour and features a segment on each concert. The footage
was shot entirely by Ondiek, who Alliance Française had hired to film the concerts. Sibi-Okumu,
a well-known Kenyan actor, journalist, producer, and public personality, assisted in the editing
process and provided voice over narration to the documentary.111 Now completed, the
documentary supplements the Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Five: Weapons of Mass
Reconciliation CD and informational booklet. The reconciliation theme that connects Volume
Four (2008) and Volume Five (2011) is stated in the liner notes to Volume Five:
In the wake of the Kenya’s post-election crisis of early 2008 when the country
was divided along ethnic lines and rivalries, the Spotlight national tour came at an
opportune time contributing to the various reconciliation building efforts in the
country. This weapon of mass reconciliation was used to promote “unity in
diversity” by taking musicians and music from different regions to introduce them
on new turf in an effort to create a better understanding and tolerance of
“similarities in differences” (Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Five: Weapons
of Mass Reconciliation 2011).
The Volume Five (2011) CD/DVD set addresses the theme of reconciliation by focusing
on the particularly destabilized and marginalized region of Northern Kenya. Pastoral
communities, which inhabit the Lake Turkana region of Kenya, have experienced a long history
of civil, economic, and political unrest as well as substantial inter-ethnic violence. For the 2011
initiative, the European Development Fund (EDF) awarded Alliance Française an arts and
culture grant for non-state actors, the goals of which closely aligned with their Weapons of Mass
Reconciliation theme.
Further detailing of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music will follow throughout the chapter as I
The production of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music documentary followed a similar process to the production of
Ketebul Music’s Ford Foundation funded Retracing series which is the focus of Chapter 10.
discuss the role of institutional partnering in the initiative. Below, I will profile the institutional
identity and activities of each organization affiliated with Spotlight on Kenyan Music.
8.6 Social Politics and Institutional Partnerships
8.6.1 Alliance Française
The following discussion of the organizational cultures involved in the Spotlight on
Kenyan Music series begins with an overview of Alliance Française, the initiative’s executive
organization. Alliance Française is a multi-national NGO, maintaining over 1,040 offices in over
136 countries throughout the world. Its institutional history is tied to France’s expansionist,
nationalist agenda and some of the country’s most significant cultural paradigm shifters. In 1883,
political figures Paul Cambon and Pierre Fortin headed the formation of Alliance Française to
promote the French language on a global scale. Several of France’s most prominent cultural
icons assisted the institution’s initial development, including Louis Pasteur, a founder of
microbiology and Jules Verne, a grandfather of the science fiction literary genre. The forming of
the organization coincided with a flurry of emerging cultural institutes formed by European
colonial powers to promote nationalist agendas, particularly through language education
(Paschalidis 2009; Bruézière 1983). Alliance Française has since expanded its scope to include
the following three-part mission, applied to all Alliance Française offices worldwide: (1) “offer
French classes for all, both in France and abroad” (2) “spreading awareness of French and
Francophone culture” and (3) “promoting cultural diversity.”112
Alliance Française’s international network is extensive. The size and resources of each
individual office, however, vary from region to region and each office is independently
responsible for program oversight, initiative development, funding and programming. The
decentralized character of the Alliance Française offices lends to a characterization of each office
as an independent NGO entity as much as a composite of the broader international NGO
network. For this reason, an examination of Spotlight on Kenyan Music as a product of Alliance
Française’s development in France and the current state of its global network, would overly
generalize in scope. We turn now to the organization module most directly involved with the
project, Alliance Française, Kenya.
8.6.2 Alliance Française, Kenya
Alliance Française, Kenya consists of four offices, dispersed throughout Kenya. These
centers are located in Mombasa, El Doret, Kisumu, and Nairobi. Although all of the Kenyan
offices offer language and culture programs, Alliance Française, Nairobi, the largest Kenyan
office, organizes and administrates most Alliance Française initiatives. Alliance Française,
Nairobi was the first Alliance Française office in Kenya, beginning in 1949, and is currently the
largest Alliance Française center on the African continent. The center admits over 4,000 French
language students and produces many exhibitions, including concerts, festivals, films, and
theater productions. Although Alliance Française, Nairobi is part of the Alliance Française global
consortium, it dictates many of its activities independently through a “Kenyan-based” Board of
Trustees made up of local “Francophone and Francophile personalities.”113 Given the jurisdiction
of Alliance Française, Nairobi over most Alliance Française, Kenya programs, including
Spotlight on Kenyan Music, this section will focus only on the Nairobi office.
Before 2005, Alliance Française, Nairobi primarily functioned as a language center.
During this time, arts and culture programs played a significantly smaller role in the organization
than they do at present. The large role of arts and culture programs that developed after 2005
resulted from a French Embassy mandate that French Cultural Cooperation initiatives and
activities previously managed by the French Embassy to encourage cultural cooperation between
France and Kenya transitioned to Alliance Française’s domain. That is, the French Embassy in
Kenya would continue to fund cultural programs as it had before 2005, but after 2005, the
Embassy outsourced management of the initiatives to Alliance Française as opposed to using its
internal French Cultural Cooperation office. With this merger, the French Embassy became a
significant sponsor of Alliance Française. Waters, a previous Program Coordinator for French
Cultural Cooperation initiatives under the French Embassy since the 1980s, became the Director
of the Artistic and Cultural Cooperation at Alliance Française, Nairobi. I interviewed Waters
about her role at the organization:
I am in charge of the coordination of arts and cultural activities within Alliance
Française but I’ve been with the French Cultural Cooperation since the late 1980s.
Alliance Francaise, France, “Who are We” Webpage,, accessed
Alliance Francaise, Kenya, “Who are We” Webpage,, accessed
I worked with the French Center in the same role or rather as a program
coordinator because as a cultural cooporation that was our main role but with
Alliance we have the language side and now of course they have the culture side
and I’m in charge of the culture side (Waters 2011, Interview).
The “French Center” that Waters refers to, also known as the “French Cultural Center” is the
previous name for the facility where Alliance Française now resides. The French Cultural Center
was, before 2005, the main operating base for the French Embassy’s French Cultural
Cooperation programs. When the French Cultural Cooporation initiatives became the domain of
Alliance Française, Alliance Française moved its language programs into the French Cultural
Center and added Arts and Cultural Cooperation to its organizational programming. Why Kenyan Culture? Why Afro-Fusion?
Despite the French organizational identity of Alliance Française, Spotlight on Kenyan Music
is a music cultural initiative that involves very few intersections with French culture. Additionally,
the Afro-fusion music showcased in the initiative does not feature any fusions with French language
or musical styling. The support of Kenyan culture by an organization rooted in a history of French
colonial cultural imperialism through the spread of French language education may seem an ironic
twist of organization behavior; yet, the promotion of Kenyan culture by Alliance Française reflects
the expansion of the organization’s mission during the course of the twentieth century to include
“promoting cultural diversity.”
Gregory Paschalidis has argued with merit that institutions, such as Alliance Française,
persist as “instruments of national agendas and political-economic interests, despite their
internationalist rhetoric” (2009). Nonetheless, the shifts in global politics over the twentieth
century that have resulted in an increase of democratic “internationalist” rhetoric have, for
whatever their latent motivations, undeniably caused the cultural institutions of postcolonial
superpowers to provide support for the cultures of their host countries. The Spotlight on Kenyan
Music is an example of one such initiative and demonstrates that institutions with historically
nationalist missions, such as Alliance Française, no longer focus exclusively on the promotion of
French culture. Alliance Française’s dedication to the promotion of diverse cultures made the
Spotlight on Kenyan Music an appropriate project to pursue for the organization. The
organization’s focus on “all cultures,” however, does not explain what motivated the Frenchbased NGO to embark on a campaign to specifically promote Afro-fusion as a genre.
Circumstances more specifically related to the administrative history of Alliance
Française, Kenya contextualize the NGO’s support for Afro-fusion as a World Music genre
rooted in local cultural expression to empower Kenyan music cultural identity. The merger
between Alliance Française and the French Embassy’s French Cultural Cooperation initiative
was an important factor here. Waters described how, long before the partnership with Alliance
Française, the French Cultural Cooperation had actively supported Kenyan music and culture. In
particular, this department of the French Embassy funded concerts in Kenya by popular West
African World Music artists, whose locally rooted music hybrids would later provide the
blueprint for the Afro-fusion genre associated with Ketebul Music. Waters’ interview excerpt
below illustrates a historical thread connecting the French Cultural Cooperation’s funding of
World Music concerts by West African musicians in the 1980s and 1990s to the subsequent
emergence of Afro-fusion artists in the early 2000s:
As far as music is concerned, from the late 80s and early 90s, through the support
from the French Ministry, the French Cultural Cooperation organized regional
music tours, especially for West African musicians. Lots of the big names such as
Salif Keita, Manu Dibango, all of those big guys, were first brought to East Africa
to perform live through this French Cultural Cooperation. And that is how many
artists now here in Kenya, artists in the Afro-fusion genre, got exposed to music
rooted in local African traditions as opposed to what we find now with the
American-style hip-hop and popular music. So by having brought these leading
figures in the West African music scene, as it were, to Kenya, local musicians
were exposed to what they could do or what is possible and I think they were
influenced by that style of music. So there is this first wave of musicians, Suzanna
Owiyo, Iddi Achieng, etc., the big Afro-fusion stars. And there are the Winyos
now, who have learned from what this first wave of musicians has done. So the
French Cultural Cooperation, I must say, has been very instrumental in supporting
this (Waters 2011, Interview).
By funding concerts featuring West African musicians performing contemporary fusions of their
“traditional music,” Waters suggests many Kenyan musicians became inspired to incorporate
their own traditions in popular music as opposed to merely copying the Western popular music
industry. From this perspective, the French Cultural Cooperation then contributed at least in part
to the historical emergence of Afro-fusion, the genre that the Spotlight on Kenyan Music series
showcases and aims to promote as emblematic of Kenya’s diverse music culture.
A final significant factor contributing to the context surrounding Alliance Française’s
promotion of Afro-fusion is neither Waters’ nationality nor ancestry is French despite her
vocational position in a French organization. Waters expresses a passion for the promotion of a
unified Kenyan culture based on her personal ties to the culture. The following interview
segment features Waters’ assertion that her Kenyan identity has played a role in the emphasis she
places on promoting Kenyan culture and provides further context to the development of Spotlight
on Kenyan Music:
Yes well I’m Kenyan, you know I was brought up in Kenya, so music is part of
the African culture. I’m not French or anything else. I'm an Asian Kenyan brought
up in Kenya with my grandparents who immigrated from Gujarat, India in the
1920s. So I’m a second-generation Kenyan Asian. I’m not French so definitely
everything about local arts and culture is very much a part of me so therefore I'm
very passionate about promoting it. And as for my role here, there is more interest
because I'm coming from a Kenyan background myself. If you're French, for
example, you may not have the same drive for what we're doing here (Waters
2011, Interview).
Waters’ Kenyan identity deconstructs the possibilities for monochromic views that foreign-based
international NGOs, such as Alliance Française, merely represent the culture of their institutional
origins. The value that Waters places on her identity as a Kenyan versus a French foreign
national manifests in her passion for promoting Kenyan culture as well as her intrinsic
sociocultural ties to the place. On the relevance of Spotlight on Kenyan Music series to the
contemporary Kenyan political and social landscape she stated,
I think there’s a growing sense that arts and culture can play a major role in
creating a sense of national identity and also positive ethnic identity as well. And
that is something that, well, as you know where we’ve come from in 2007 and the
Ocampo Six and all that, so you know the role of arts and culture is ever more
useful. Because every community has its identity and they should not shy away
from their identity. It should be reinforced but in positive tones as opposed to the
way it’s been politicized at the moment to create division (Waters 2011,
Interview). “The Institution and Not the Individual”
The previous examination of the relationship between Alliance Française and Spotlight
on Kenyan Music suggested Waters was a significant driving force behind the creation and
development of the initiative. Exemplifying a common ethical dilemma in ethnographic
representation, Waters’ characterization of Spotlight on Kenyan Music contradicts several
dimensions of the one I have presented. Whereas I have tended to emphasize the role of the
individual (Waters) over the institution, Waters favored a description of the initiative as the
product of the institution, Alliance Française. In an email exchange between myself and Waters
on July 29th, 2011, I updated her on the progress of the dissertation and notified her I was
planning to feature her as one of the central figures responsible for the development of Spotlight
on Kenyan Music. Her response humbly suggested that because the project is an Alliance
Française initiative, “it is the institution and not the individual that matters,” a characterization
that admittedly contrasts with the personal and socio-historical depiction presented above. What
follows is the related material from our correspondence:
Thank you for the email and the kind words therein as well as a copy of the
transcript… The Spotlight project is an Alliance Française initiative, so it is the
institution and not the individual that matters. I accept that my involvement in the
Arts and Culture in Kenya through my long standing service on behalf of French
cultural cooperation in Kenya make a significant contribution to the sustainability
of such cultural development programmes (Waters 2011, Email
Waters’ response highlights the iconic capacity of “institution(s)” to represent cultural change
despite the reality that such artifices are comprised of acting individuals. In this way, institutions
can be viewed as cultural agents irrespective of the interpersonal dynamics within them.
Examining the cultural repercussions of organizational partnerships can be viewed from
numerous vantage points through an investigation of organizations as entities in and of
themselves or through ethnographic portrayals of the individuals that work within them. My
foregoing depiction of Waters’ central role in the Spotlight on Kenyan Music attempted to
represent both dimensions. The behavior of organizations (Alliance Française and the French
Embassy) can be traced to an individual (Waters) as the connective thread advocating on behalf
of a specific brand of cultural production. As a programming director at Alliance Française,
Waters’ continued the French Embassy’s French Cultural Cooperation sponsorship of African
World Music performances that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Spotlight on Kenyan Music exists,
in large part due to Harsita Waters. As an attendee at Alliance Française concerts I observed
Waters’ intensive involvement to every detail of events and concerts.
8.6.3 Ketebul Music
Even before the inception of Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Waters’ self-proclaimed
Waters’ email prompted me to consider my ethical obligation to represent the perspective of the culture bearer. In
presenting this email correspondence, I have attempted to do this but I maintain, however, that an institution is
nothing without the people working within it, and it is often individuals, like Waters, who work on its behalf, that
are most instrumental in creating institutional action. I also believe there is a risk that, if ethnographic documents
such as this do not present the activities of individuals in organizational behavior, historical record will attribute
institutional action to the exclusive efforts of their executive directors alone and overlook lower level administrative
directors, such as Waters, who also play a substantial part in transforming the institution into an agent of cultural
devotion to promoting an empowered Kenyan music culture, specifically Afro-fusion music, and
her long term participation in Kenyan culture and music through the French Cultural Center
facilitated a strong relationship with the music producer Tabu Osusa. She discussed working on
projects with Osusa several years before the French Cultural Cooperation programs infused into
Alliance Française. When I asked Waters why it was that Alliance Française chose to work with
Ketebul Music over so many other organizational partners, Waters stated,
Tabu is a very recognized individual in Kenyan music. The French Cultural
Cooporation has been working with Tabu since 2000. We first did Made in Kenya
at the dawn of the new millennium and that's when we started work with him.
You know, he is a committed professional and he is there to develop. He wants to
do the right type of music as well so certainly we have a fantastic relationship
with him and all the respect for him and what he has been trying to do for the
local music scene (Waters 2011, Interview).
Below, I will illustrate how social dynamics defy implied institutional hierarchies by
documenting the substantial influence of Tabu Osusa and Ketebul Music’s role in Spotlight on
Kenyan Music despite comparatively minor administrative jurisdiction or economic contribution
in the initiative.
In any multi-partner NGO music initiative, organizations that provide economic support
and hold administrative jurisdiction stand to influence a project’s outcome. Spotlight on Kenyan
Music, however, defies unidirectional scenarios of political economy in which benefactors
possess more influence than the recipients. In Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Osusa and Ketebul
Music steer the concept and music production of the initiative as much, if not more, than the
project’s administrating organization, Alliance Française, or its donors Total Oil, French
Embassy, Ford Foundation and European Development Fund. The bottom-up influence in this
case occurs through the embedded social relationships and circumstances of music production
that emphasizes the role of the studio in contemporary music production. This perspective
provides a socially-based alternative to an economic interpretation of organizational culture that
suggests capital holds absolute control in global environment of NGO initiatives. The following
analysis illustrates that internal social dynamics produce organizational action as much as
administrative and economic factors.
I asked Patrick Ondiek, Ketebul Music’s videographer, how much input, power, or
influence Ketebul Music maintained in their relationship with Alliance Française on the Spotlight
on Kenyan Music to which he answered: “Spotlight is Tabu. That project is about his concept…
but it’s not really Ketebul’s. It is still an Alliance Française thing” (Ondiek, Personal
communication 2011). Ondiek’s statement suggested that although Alliance Française is the
primary administrating organization for the initiative, Osusa’s vision significantly contributes to
the direction of the project. Additional factors suggest Osusa’s influence in the project. Traces of
Osusa’s past music projects manifest in the initiative’s connection to the Nairobi City Ensemble
through the involvement of Iddi Achieng and Suzzanna Owiyo (former members of the music
group) who have sat on the Spotlight on Kenyan Music steering committee since its inception.
Additionally Ketebul Music’s staff of studio engineers, musicians, and graphic designers
produced the CDs. The social position of Osusa as a central figure in Kenyan music culture
inverts the economic power dynamics of Spotlight on Kenyan Music. Although he and his
organization, Ketebul Music, are positioned at the bottom of the revenue stream they exert the
most influence over the initiative.
At the time of my research Alliance Française had most recently completed Volume Four
(2008) of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music series, which featured a greater number of rural
musicians with limited urban performing experience than previous volumes. The presence of
performers of acoustic “traditional” instruments who previously performed mostly in rural
village settings is another trademark of Osusa’s and Ketebul Music’s approach to Afro-fusion
production. After the production of Makadem’s and Ratego’s Ketebul Music albums, the
producer became increasingly involved in promoting musicians living in rural areas who, as he
saw it, were less influenced by global media and popular music and therefore represented a more
specifically Kenyan rooted cultural style. This method of Afro-fusion production contrasts with
Osusa’s earlier projects, such as Makadem’s and Olith Ratego’s albums, in which artists
performing mainstream foreign influenced popular genres infused local and “traditional”
elements into their compositions. This new approach to Afro-fusion, prominently featured in
Volume Four (2008) and Volume Five (2011), involved recruiting artists primarily accustomed to
performing local acoustic music in a village setting and fusing their music in the studio with
mainstream popular genres.
During conversations with Osusa about his interest in performers whose primary
experience was local rural village settings, he commented that their music was more firmly
rooted in Kenya's ethnic traditions than their urban counterparts and therefore, were ideal
ambassadors of Kenyan culture to future generations of Kenyans, as well as to the international
community. In the same vein, Afro-fusion producers merge popular, contemporary, and global
genres to negotiate the politics of global media production that is controlled by economically
empowered industries residing outside of Kenya.
Before their involvement with Spotlight on Kenyan Music, many of the musicians
featured on Volume Four (2008) had very little previous experience recording in studios,
performing with electric instruments, or on stage venues such as the Garden Stage at Alliance
Française, or large scale World Music festivals such as Sauti za Busara. Artists previously
operating within the local “vernacular” market such as Ben Kisinja & Chebin Band, Gargar,
Katana Bin Kalama, and Joshua and Joseph Kesses, transitioned to performing on such stages in
front of a rather “upmarket” Nairobi crowd. The artists also engaged in a negotiation of musical
style with urban studio musicians and studio producers with whom they performed and recorded
for the Spotlight on Kenyan Music events and media productions. The process of studio
production that characterized Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative realized the studio as a
particular place of power and influence despite its relatively minor role in the generation of
revenue. The Politics of Studio Aesthetics
The process of transforming the “traditionally”-based “vernacular” styles of the Spotlight
on Kenyan Music artists demonstrates how numerous creative choices made in studio production
influence the aesthetic end-products and reveal the immense contributions of Jesse Bukindu, the
arranger, engineer, and producer for most of the recordings featured in the project. Jesse
Bukindu, an accomplished Afro-fusion and popular music producer, plays the largest role in
transforming the “traditional” musicians into Afro-fusion performers.
The July 7, 2011 Standard newspaper article titled “The Faces Behind the Big Hits”
featured Bukindu, stating the producer’s experience with multiple genres; “Jesse’s name is
pinned on the beats of award-winning tracks such as “Si Lazima,” by P-Unit, all songs by Bobby
Mapesa [both popular Kenyan R&B and hip-hop artists], as well as the latest Suzanna Owiyo’s
album amongst others” (Odongo and Nzioki 2011). In Volume Three (2007) and Volume Four
(2008) of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Bukindu produced, engineered, co-composed, and
performed much of the instrumentation for the recordings with the rural musicians. He found
himself in this multi-faceted role because many of the artists had never recorded in a studio
before and had little experience adapting their music to such a setting. Bukindu believes, like
Osusa, that the “traditional” music of the “villages,” although possessing much needed cultural
value, must merge with what he views as the “modern world” in order to achieve marketability. I
asked Bukindu if a marketable CD could be produced if the musicians were recorded as they
play in the village with no additional arranging or production to which he responded, “With
‘traditional’ music, I don’t think it will work. You have to make it blend with the modern world.”
The final products of the studio engineered music of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music
artists were as much Bukindu’s compositions as those of the artists featured. In addition to
adapting their performances to an urban popular music style, Bukindu limited each song to three
to six minute time constraints common to popular music radio singles. His creative duties as
studio engineer/producer involved composing accompanying instrumental parts in identifiable
Western chord structures as well as catering to common popular music song forms that included
choruses, bridges, and verse segments. This merging of the distinct cultures of musical
knowledge realized the fusion-based ontology of Afro-fusion yet top-down politics were
unavoidably present here as well, given the power of the studio as the place of fusion.
Even when organizational power dynamics are marked by bottom-up social action, such
as Ketebul Music’s influence over funders of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative (given the
organization’s role facilitating music production), dominant culture dynamics and economics
persisted. Although Spotlight on Kenyan Music aimed at promoting the musical traditions of
Kenya and honoring “traditional” music practitioners as carriers of important cultural heritage,
the process of fusing “traditional” music to contemporary global popular and World Music styles
necessarily involved the rural musicians relinquishing a certain degree of creative control during
the production of their albums and future performances of the music featured on the albums. The
economic and social status of organizations such as Alliance Française and Ketebul Music, when
compared to the rural “traditional” musicians featured on the Spotlight on Kenyan Music series,
unavoidably politicized the process of music production. Such disparities also manifested in the
construction of terminology regarding music style.
Bukindu made a distinction between “knowing about music” and “singing for the sake of
singing” and suggested social divides existed between the urban studio musicians/producers and
rural “traditional” musicians:
I work with different people – different groups… guys who have never been to
the studio. Guys that just sing for the sake of singing. They don’t know anything
about music, but they can sing. We’ve had guys from Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Meru,
since we’ve been producing these Spotlight on Kenyan Music, and most of the
guys who win and get to come are from the villages…. They have not been in the
music industry. This is their first time, and you happen to be the guy to nurture
them into the industry… We do many takes. We do the first take, and then we
keep talking to them in a polite way so they won’t be nervous. You have to make
sure they get used to the studio. The first take is always shaky-shaky because they
are nervous, but after one, two, three takes, they catch up and they get used to it.
Then, you crack some jokes, they smile, then you can tell them to do this and
that… (Bukindu 2011b, Interview)
Drawing from Bukindu’s perspective articulated above, knowing about music can otherwise be
understood as understanding methods of production common to technologically sophisticated
urban music studios. Highlighting the power relationships inherent in urban-rural partnerships,
the knowledge required to produce the rural and acoustic performances, which Bukindu defined
as “singing for the sake of singing,” submitted to the cultural realm of the studio and producer.
The studio enveloped and negotiated multiple political positions. The aim of Spotlight on
Kenyan Music was and continues to be about confronting the political dynamics of the global
popular music industry. Nevertheless, the initiative has, perhaps unavoidably, utilized the digital
recording studio to infuse global popular music elements in order to accomplish this goal. Helene
Bekker, Executive Director of Alliance Française published the following statement on the liner
notes to Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Volume Four (2008): “Spotlight on Kenyan Music aims at
popularizing Kenyan Afro-fusion music so as to ensure the legacy of Kenya's musical traditions
in a world where intangible heritage is increasingly at risk of being eroded.” (2008). Bekker’s
comment suggests Afro-fusion music is a viable vehicle to preserve “the legacy of Kenya's
musical traditions.” Ironically the genre must also become popular in the music market to attain a
wider cultural impact. Such politicization then is arguably a necessity given the politics and
socio-economics that characterize a global music industry and global economy. The following
overview of the involvement of the Kenyan Department of Culture in the Spotlight on Kenyan
Music initiatives further complicates these political dynamics of necessity by examining the
involvement of a governmental organization in a categorically nongovernmental -given its NGO
affiliation- endeavor.
8.6.4 Kenyan Department of Culture
Adding a local governmental dimension to the international NGO endeavor, the Kenyan
Department of Culture has been involved with the Spotlight on Kenyan Music project since its
inception. Such partnerships between governmental and nongovernmental entities confirm NGO
culture is far from free of governmental influence or involvement. Demonstrating a common
stated agenda, the mission of Spotlight on Kenyan Music has been consistent with the
Department of Culture’s agenda to “promote, preserve, revitalize, and develop Kenya’s diverse
cultural heritage.”115 The Spotlight on Kenyan Music committee required a government partner
for the purposes of facilitating tryouts in various regions throughout the country. The Department
of Culture helped Alliance Française locate rural musicians actively involved in the preservation
of their ethnic groups’ musical traditions.
The task of locating rural musicians skilled at performing “traditional” music was
suitable for the Department of Culture given the involvement of the Permanent Presidential
Music Commission (PPMC) with such musicians. The PPMC is a division of the Kenyan
Department of Culture and overseas many projects related to Kenyan music culture, including
the commissioning of artists to perform at state events as well as the Kenyan Music Festival, a
multi-tiered music competition featuring student groups in the Kenyan public as well as private
school systems. The PPMC has also produced a five-volume DVD set titled Ngoma za Kenya
featuring the “traditional” music cultures of Kenya. Because of the PPMC’s experience locating
“traditional” musicians, they played an important role in the fourth volume of the Spotlight on
Kenyan Music series by helping the Spotlight on Kenyan Music steering committee connect with
musicians who may not have otherwise ventured to the tryouts.
Peter Wanjohi, the Assistant Director of the PPMC, described why it is important for the
Kenyan government to be supporting the diverse music cultures of the country stating, “The
solution to Kenya’s struggle for a unified identity is to find strength in diversity… Without
identity, we are lost, and if we are lost, we will not know who we are” (Wanjohi, Interview
2011). The PPMC’s mission to use music to stimulate social unity while maintaining cultural
diversity was consistent with the goals of the 2008 Spotlight on Kenyan Music series, as
indicated by the subtitle of Volume Four, Unity in Diversity (2008). Peter Wanjohi’s vision of
the role of the Kenyan government in supporting Kenya’s musical traditions aligned well with
the goals of the initiative. Osusa commented on the usefulness of working together with the
PPMC for the Spotlight on Kenyan Music project stating,
PPMC, actually I started working with them because I started working with
“Department of Culture,” Ministry of State for National Heritage Website (,
accessed 11.13.11).
Alliance Française… With Alliance Française we were going out to the rural
areas and identifying marginalized communities. And PPMC had vans, trucks,
and even some recording equipment. I work with them as far as using their
knowledge in identifying talent because they always had people out in the
communities (Osusa 2011b, Interview).
Illustrating additional overlapping agendas between governmental and nongovernmental actors
and their respective positions of influence, we turn now to the various funding sources of
Spotlight on Kenyan Music.
8.6.5 Sponsors and Marketing: The French Embassy and Total Oil
The most consistent funders throughout the duration of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music
project have been the French Embassy and Total Oil, a multi-national energy corporation. These
two sponsoring organizations occupy categorically separate private and public sectors but share
overlapping histories and agendas that may point to their mutual collaboration in funding
Spotlight on Kenyan Music. The converging cultures in a multi-partner NGO initiative,
especially agendas that entice donors to support recipients, are rarely overtly stated on program
literature or NGO websites. This section will suggest some possible motives for such funding
and demonstrate how funding NGO music initiatives functions as a marketing opportunity for
sponsors. However, the influence of Total Oil and the French Embassy is relatively minimal in
comparison to the core administrators of the project, namely Waters and Osusa. The peripheral
role of funders here further defies a top-down economic reading of the initiative. French Embassy
As stated above in the previous historical review of Alliance Française, the French
Embassy mandated that their French Cultural Cooperation initiatives (activities to encourage
cultural cooperation between France and Kenya) fall under the guise of Alliance Française’s
programming in 2005. After this transition, the French Embassy in Kenya continued to fund
cultural programs as it had before 2005, but outsourced the responsibilities of oversight to
Alliance Française as opposed to using the internal French Cultural Cooperation office. With this
merger, the French Embassy became a significant permanent sponsor of Alliance Française. Total Oil
The French government and Total Oil have also had an especially close historical
relationship. The founding of Total Oil, initially titled the Compagnie Française des Petroles,
was a French governmental initiative in which, in 1924 French Prime Minister Raymond
Poincare encouraged its formation in order to avoid creating a partnership with the Royale Dutch
Shell Company.116 Although French Embassies support most Alliance Française offices
throughout the world, Total Oil is selective in its sponsorship of Alliance Française offices.
Alliance Française, Ghana and South Africa do not list Total Oil as a sponsor of their
organization while Alliance Française, Nigeria and the Fondation Alliance Française located in
Paris, report receiving support from the corporation.117 Total Oil’s support of select Alliance
Française offices may be due to its economic interest in the region. Kenya is an important
business partner in the East African region given its internal market of energy consumption as
well as access to the Indian Ocean for exports. Additionally, in March 2011, Total Oil acquired
significant land holdings in Uganda that the company intends to resource for oil. Kenya will be
an essential partner in the export and containment of these resources. About the recent
acquisition, Yves-Louis Darricarrère, President, Total Exploration & Production issued the
following statement,
It is a strategic move in line with our aim to be bolder in Exploration and
Production. With this acquisition, we have entered a new oil province, giving us
access to substantial proven resources and high-potential acreage. The size of the
discoveries indicates that large-scale development may be possible. Plateau
production could exceed 300,000 barrels per day, depending on the results of the
future drilling program.118
By investing in culture, Total Oil may increase public approval and opportunities for business
engagement, matters of particular interest for the company given its activity in the East African
region. Reflecting the aims of Spotlight on Kenyan Music to verify Afro-fusion as a brand in the
music market, marketing is also an important incentive for funders. Sponsorship as Marketing
The French government and Total Oil partially rely on positive public perception and
reception of their activities in order to sustain successful global engagement. They are multinational organizational entities and their public promotion of Kenyan music helps enhance the
perceived evaluation of their actions amongst the populations with whom they engage. For Total
Oil, the need for such public image marketing strategies appears all the more relevant as the
“Group History” page on the Total Oil Website (, accessed 04.10.12).
Alliance Française offices list their funders’ logos on their respective websites at the following web addresses,
accessed 11.13.11: Ghana (, South Africa (,
Nigeria (, Fondation Alliance (
petroleum corporation currently (at the time of this writing) struggles to stop a gas leak occurring
at its Elgin platform located in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.119
As discussed in Chapter 4, NGOs employ varying strategies to promote their sponsors.
The presence of sponsor logos at NGO music events is common. Large banners representing
Total Oil as well as the French Embassy’s French Cooperation hung behind the musicians on the
stage at Spotlight on Kenyan Music concerts series. Sponsor and partner logos were also present
on the Spotlight on Kenyan Music CDs and event posters. Total Oil and the French Embassy
were commonly acknowledged for their contributions during Spotlight on Kenyan Music
concerts’ opening ceremonies as well. Some examples of these marketing strategies employed by
Total Oil and the French Embassy are pictured below.
Figure 8.4: Tabu Osusa and Helene Bekker, Executive Director of Alliance Française,
accepting a Total Oil donation to the 2011 Spotlight on Kenyan Music.120
“Uganda, Strategic Breakthrough for Total in East Africa,” Total Website (, accessed 11.13.11).
“Elgin Gas leak in North Sea costing Total 1.5m a day,” BBC News, April 2, 2012,
(, accessed 4.16.12)
Photo available in public domain on Total Oil’s main Webpage
accessed 11.13.11).
Figure 8.5: Total Oil logo at the 12.10.10 Spotlight on Kenyan Music concert performance of
Ben Kisinja and Chebin Band (photo by author).
Figure 8.6: Logos for French Embassy and Total Oil on a flyer for the 12.10.10 Spotlight on
Kenyan Music concert (photo by author).
The examples above demonstrate ways in which the funders utilized the initiative as a
platform for marketing. Despite the suggested power and influence of financial contributions the
French Embassy and Total Oil have primarily remained in the periphery of Spotlight on Kenyan
Music. They advertised on stages, flyers, and through donation ceremonies but did not become
heavily involved in the conceptual direction of the initiative. In the next example of
organizational funding, Spotlight on Kenyan Music directors emphasized certain dimensions and
curtailed others to be successful candidates in a 2010 grant issued by the European Union.
8.6.6 The 9th European Development Fund Grant
Although the French Embassy and Total Oil have been the most consistent financial
contributors to the Spotlight on Kenyan Music project, they have played a minimal role in
influencing the project’s conceptual design. Exhibiting the potential for funding to impact the
conceptual design, the European Union’s financial sponsorship through a 2010 grant for nonstate actors was especially instrumental in shaping recent developments of the initiative. In 2010,
the European Development Fund (EDF), in coordination with the Kenyan Ministry of Justice,
issued Alliance Française a significantly large grant that heavily expanded Alliance Française’s
Arts and Cultural Cooperation programming. Alliance Française allocated a significant portion
of this funding to the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative and added new foci to the direction of
the project. The following discussion of Alliance Française’s procurement and incorporation of
an EDF grant demonstrates how revenue in the international aid market influences NGO music
initiatives. Vital Voices and Culture
The 2010 “Vital Voices and Culture: Increasing People’s Participation in Good
Governance and Development” grant, one of the first significant major European Union
“development” grants to offer funding for arts and culture in Kenya, signified a benchmark
funding award for Alliance Française and also illustrated the increasing global prevalence of
NGO supported music production. NGOs commonly seek grants that offer funding to carry out
initiatives related to their respective missions. As organizations seek new funders, they may shift
or adapt their programming concept to meet the requirements of those grants. As directors and
participants apply for and receive grants available through international aid supply chains, the
shifts within global philanthropic cultures winds up influencing the conceptual design and
programming of initiatives in Kenya.
Alliance Française’s pursuit and award of the 9th EDF Non-State Actors Support
Programme grant resulted from simpatico elements embedded in much of Alliance Française,
Kenya’s cultural programming. In addition to preexisting compatibility, Alliance Française
proposed new initiatives, including a renewed Spotlight on Kenyan Music focus on marginalized
communities, tailored specifically to the grant requirements. Consequently, the award
significantly contributed to the financial resources available for the organization’s 2011
programming. Waters described the proposed funding opportunity:
It is a program by the European Union in partnership with the Ministry of Justice
that began last year through the 9th European Development Fund. They put
together a huge grant that has been made available to non-state actors who applied
for it through the Ministry of Justice but it is funded by the European Union for
the role of non-state actors in development and good governance. And there were
two lots: one was for NSAs, non-state actors, working for democracy, good
governance, or human rights. Another was for cultural actors in development. So
Alliance Française was one of the four non-state actors that qualified for support
from the European Union (Waters 2011, Interview).
Waters’ statement above outlines the basic structure of the grant, presented in the Call for
Proposals (CFP) issued by the EDF. 121 The award, titled “Vital Voices and Culture: Increasing
People’s Participation in Good Governance and Development,” offered funding for two groups,
or “lots” of applicants. The CFP refers to the first “lot,” to which EDF allocated EUR 2,890,000,
as “Vital Voices and Participation in Development.” This lot provided funding to non-state
actors working for democracy, good governance, or human rights. EDF allocated EUR 510,000
to the second “lot,” titled “Cultural Actors and Participation in Development,” intended to
benefit cultural actors active in film, literature, music, visual art, and other realms of cultural
production. Alliance Française applied to the pool of Cultural Actors and Participation.
Illustrating the fluctuating nature of NGO funding culture, “development” funding has
not commonly included arts and culture projects in its scope, a point that Harsita Waters
illustrates below:
I must say that it's fantastic that such government funding, if you like, has been
opened up at the local level to cultural actors… because we’ve never had access
to such funding. It's always been made available to civil society organizations
working directly on human rights, democracy, good governance, etc. and it’s the
first time that the cultural actors working on this have had an opportunity. We
applied and we were granted this opportunity and we were one of four. The other
one was GoDown, then there is the Media Focus for Africa through a program
9th European Development Fund. 2010, Vital Voices and Culture: Increasing People’s Participation in Good
Governance and Development. Full version available in the Appendix.
that they are doing that is a radio series called “Search for Common Ground,” and
there’s the Wajir Peace and Development Association (Waters 2011, Interview).
The increased emphasis on culture as a component to “economic development” in northern
Kenya is consistent with a growing trend in “development” policy. A European Union strategy
set forth in the 2007 document, Committee on the Role of Culture in a Globalizing World122 was
to increase attention to the role of culture in “development” resulting in a global trend in
“development” funding by the EDF that also included grants for “third country,” (non-European
Union) states such as Kenya. The EDF articulated the renewed culture-focused strategy for nonEU nations in a 2008 statement setting forth a work plan for culture in the EU’s “external
A comprehensive European strategy should be created for incorporating culture in
the EU’s external relations policies in a consistent and systematic manner. In
addition, to clarify the aims and approaches of cultural cooperation, specific
strategies should be set up with third countries and regions.123
In order to meet the requirements of the EDF grant as well as demonstrate competitive
qualities among many applicants, Alliance Française’s proposal included projections for a 2011
Spotlight on Kenyan Music Series that reflected the “objective” and “priorities” of
marginalization, human rights, and good governance present in the EDF grant. They did this by
creating an umbrella initiative titled “Art Synergies for the Empowerment of Communities,”
which included a 2011 Spotlight on Kenyan Music focus on pastoral communities of northern
Kenya. Demonstrating the reasoning behind Alliance Française’s 2011 Spotlight on Kenyan
Music focus on the marginalized pastoral communities of Northern Kenya, the CFP for “Vital
Voices and Culture: Increasing People’s Participation in Good Governance and Development,”
presented the following “objective” attributed to the entire EDF grant:
The global objective of the programme is to improve the quality of life for the
people of Kenya, especially the poor, marginalized and vulnerable, in enabling all
sections of society to have a voice in national development policies, thus
enhancing local ownership of development programmes.
Waters described the resulting creation of several new initiatives included under the Art
Synergies for the Empowerment of Communities umbrella program. These new activities
European Commission, 2007, European Agenda for Culture in a Globalizing World,, accessed 11.16.11.
European Council, 2008, The Promotion of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialog,, accessed 11.16.11
included International Women’s Day festivals and the 2011 Spotlight on Kenyan Music’s focus
on pastoralist communities of the Lake Turkana region of Northern Kenya the focus of the 2011
Spotlight on Kenyan Music program:
Our program is called Art Synergies for the Empowerment of Communities. And
through that we are running three programs: the International Women's Day
Festivals which took place in March in Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, and in
Kisumu. Now we are working on the Spotlight on Kenyan Music program. The
focus this year is pastoralist communities from Northern Kenya. These have been
the most marginalized communities in Kenya, from historical injustices during the
colonial period up until now. What we're trying to do is give them a voice which
they have not had through exhibiting their music and socio-cultural traditions
through their music and dance (Waters 2011, Interview). Lake Turkana Region and the Lake Turkana Festival
The Lake Turkana region, which became the regional focus of the 2011 Spotlight on
Kenyan Music initiatives, includes both Kenyan and Ethiopian territory. Continuing migratory
pastoralist traditions that date before colonial times, the groups that live in the Turkana region
largely do not recognize the Kenyan-Ethiopian border and migrate back and forth with very little
state regulation. The area and its people are not only regionally marginalized at the borders of
Kenya and Ethiopia but economically marginalized as well. The international and local news
media have, in recent years, increased reports about the Lake Turkana region as unpoliced and
ungoverned, including an almost unrecognized portion of the Kenyan border. For many years,
drought and inter-ethnic conflict have troubled the inhabitants of the region. As these pastoralist
groups search for arable land for themselves and their cattle, cross-border disputes arise over
territory and resources. Retribution for past grievances also exacerbates conflict. A steady
weapons trade in the region elevates the degree of violence caused by conflict.
In response to these circumstances, the Lake Turkana region has experienced a growing
intersection of “development” activity. National and international security concerns,
humanitarian crises, and economic resources has drawn NGOs, corporations, and foreign and
local government actors to the Turkana area in recent years. Since 2005, major “development”
projects included a water dam project to build the area’s water resources and energy capabilities,
the development of a sustainable wind and solar program, a disarmament initiative to rid the area
of illegal weapons, and a living museum to showcase the cultural heritage of Turkana’s ethnic
Several governmental agencies and NGOs have also attempted to promote the Lake
Turkana region as a site of ecological and cultural tourism in order to draw revenue to the area.
In concert with this vision, the German Embassy, accompanied by the National Museums of
Kenya and the Kenyan Tourist Board, created the Lake Turkana Festival in 2007. Maximizing
the power of the initiative, the 2011 Spotlight on Kenyan Music partnered with the Lake Turkana
Festival. About the partnership, Waters stated,
We are supporting five different groups from Northern Kenya at the Lake
Turkana Festival which is organized through the German Embassy. This is the
Lake Turkana Festival’s fourth year now. What happens is that there are warring
communities in Northern Kenya. But through this festival they come together and
through exhibiting their arts and crafts etc. they sort of meet with each other and
there are platforms for exchange and they are able to learn from each other…
Also, with Permanent Presidential Music Commission, Spotlight on Kenyan
Music will invite identified pastoralist groups to Nairobi for performances which
is a great opportunity for them because they don't feel that they are in Kenya. Like
if they are from Northern Kenya and coming to Nairobi they would say that
they're coming to Kenya. So we are going to have these pastoralist groups here
and then at the end of it we will have a CD on Cushite music and a documentary
on the pastoralist communities. So those are the three main activities under this
NSA grant (Waters 2011, Interview).
Ethnic groups in the region, which have participated in the Lake Turkana Festival, include the
Rendille, El Molo, Pokot, Samburu, Turkana, Gabbra, Dassanech and Borana. Despite the
marginalization of these groups, the Lake Turkana Festival has been and continues to be an
important platform to recognize the rich cultural traditions, especially music and dance.
Figure 8.7: Flyer for the Spotlight on Kenyan Music “Art Synergies for the Empowerment of
Communities” Program (2011).
236 Call for Proposals (CFP)
In addition to the general “objectives” stated in the CFP of the EDF grant, Alliance
Française constructed a program that would meet the more specific criteria of the grant. The
“priorities” of the grant catered specifically to each applicant “lot.” The EDF set separate
priorities to the Vital Voices and Participation in Development “lot” compared with the Cultural
Actors and Participation in Development “lot.” The “priorities” applied to the Cultural Actors
and Participation in Development listed as follows:
Priority will be given to actions that ensure the active participation of cultural
actors in the promotion of good governance, human rights and democratic
development, and to cultural actions that promote an inclusive and cohesive
Kenyan society. Cultural actions will be supported at both local and national
levels, and in the cinema, audio-visual, literary, publishing, music, visual arts and
performing arts sectors.124
The CFP also called upon applicants to the Cultural Actors and Participation in Development
“lot” to demonstrate that their initiatives would lead to the following results:
Result 1: Enhanced Participation of Cultural Actors in Democratic Development:
The programme will create the space and opportunity for innovative and creative
cultural mechanisms of expression, dialogue, dissemination and information on
governance issues and reforms, including promotion of human rights principles,
and will allow cultural organisations to take part in the governance processes and
play an increased role in engaging community participation in national and local
development strategies, and at the same time develop cultural appreciation and
Result 2: Enhanced inclusiveness and national identity: The programme will
support cultural expressions of national identity and social justice, particularly
through initiatives that cultivate a sense of national belonging while fostering
positive ethnic and cultural identity, initiatives that foster equity and fairness in
society at local and national levels, and initiatives that effectively address
exclusion on ethnic grounds, marginalisation and development imbalances.125
The focus of the first four volumes of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative directly
intersected with many aspects of the “objectives,” “priorities,” and “results” of the EDF grant.
Spotlight on Kenyan Music was, from its inception, overtly geared towards creating opportunities
for “cultural mechanisms of expression” by providing a platform for Kenyan artists who
otherwise had few avenues to find funding and distribution for their music. The Retracing Series
9th European Development Fund. 2010, Vital Voices and Culture: Increasing People’s Participation in Good
Governance and Development. Full version available in Appendix.
demonstrated an interest in promoting “a sense of national belonging,” as well as fostering
“positive ethnic and cultural identity,” by incorporating musicians from diverse Kenyan
backgrounds. This approach advocated for Kenya’s cultural diversity as a strength as opposed to
a weakness. As a result of this common ground with the EDF grant, Alliance Française was in an
ideal position to qualify for the Cultural Actors and Participation in Development “lot” before
developing their 2010-2011 proposal.
The Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative also indirectly addressed “governance issues
and reforms, including promotion of human rights principles” (result one) and “exclusion on
ethnic grounds, marginalization and development imbalances” (result two). Marginalization,
governance and human rights were not, however, until the award of the EDF grant, the explicitly
stated aims of the project. After the EDF’s “Vital Voices and Culture” grant, the Spotlight on
Kenyan Music shifted the focus of their project to emphasize marginalized communities. The
2011 Spotlight on Kenyan Music’s focus on pastoralist communities from Northern Kenya,
communities that as Waters stated, “don’t feel that they are in Kenya,” reflected the EDF grant’s
requirement that applicants “address exclusion on ethnic grounds, marginalization and
development imbalances.” Supporting music groups from the Lake Turkana region, the project
not only brought the positive cultural expressions of these marginalized populations into the
popular Kenyan view but also, by facilitating performances in Nairobi by groups from Northern
Kenya, attempted to foster a sense of belonging for the musicians involved with the project. Lack
of resources and security concerns reflect the “Vital Voices and Culture” program’s proposal to
support “governance issues and reforms, including promotion of human rights principles.”
8.7 Conclusion
This chapter examined institutional and organizational partnerships within Nairobi's
NGO music culture through the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative aimed at codifying the
Afro-fusion genre. Bidirectional politics of influence characterize these partnerships and involve
multiple parties negotiating varied interests under the umbrella of one initiative. Funding
provided for Spotlight on Kenyan Music by international corporations and organizations such as
Alliance Française, Total Oil, Ford Foundation, and the French Embassy appear, on the surface,
to project a top-down flow of influence from international organizations based in the Global
North to local contexts of music production in Nairobi. Ethnographic analysis through interviews
with those most directly involved in creating and facilitating the initiative complicates this view
however. The central role of organizations such as Alliance Française cannot be easily reduced
to foreign influence given that Kenyans, such as Harsita Waters, with long-standing ties to and a
deep understanding of the needs within Kenya’s music industry, maintain administrative control
over the initiative. Organizations, such as Ketebul Music are auxiliary within the revenue and
administrative structure of the initiative and therefore may appear insignificant within the politics
of influence marking the Spotlight on Kenyan Music. Ketebul Music emerges, however, as
perhaps the most influential organizational constituency in this scenario given that they facilitate
most aspects of music performance and production. Finally, illustrating the contradictory
contingencies of NGO music culture, the participation of the Kenyan Department of Culture in
the European Union in the initiative complicate the nongovernmental demarcation of
nongovernmental organizations and channel additional varied interests into the construction of
the initiative.
9.0 Conceptual Signpost
In continuity with the process of layering contingent lenses, this chapter further exposes
modes of influence marked by bottom-up (and Global South – Global North) politics through an
ethnographic exploration of technology. In particular, the contemporary, digital and global
technology of a music studio serves as a medium for assembling the agenda of the organization
and the individuals who act within it. In contrast to Chapter 2’s illustration of how media
technology amplified the agendas of the creators of the Live Aid concerts to stimulate a massive
surge of NGO activity in Africa, the following case study provides an example of a producer in
the Global South molding and mixing musical fragments into expressions of NGO culture that,
although targeting an international market, arise out of sounds reflecting a “localized” soundscape.
9.1 Introduction
The role of the producer in music industry settings worldwide continues to encompass an
increasingly broad set of activities, including promotion, marketing, recruitment of talent,
creative oversight, and studio engineering. In this chapter I expand the scope of “producer” from
Tabu Osusa, who embodies the title of producer through management, promotion, and creative
direction, to Jesse Bukindu’s function as Ketebul Music’s chief studio engineer. The previous
chapter briefly discussed Bukindu's role in the production of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music CD
series. This chapter presents Bukindu's work with the Somali female vocal group Gargar, which
is featured prominently in the 2010 Spotlight on Kenyan Music concert series and CD issue. Like
Makadem and Olith Ratego, Osusa signed Gargar to the Ketebul Music label after envisioning
their potential success as an Afro-fusion group. Ketebul Music provided financial and
promotional support for the production of Gargar’s first album, titled Garissa Express (2011).
Bukindu collaboratively produced, engineered, and co-composed the songs on the album with
the five women of Gargar. This chapter reveals Bukindu’s perspectives on the process of
producing “Halele,” on Gargar’s debut album and through an ethnographic narrative.
Examining Bukindu’s studio production enables a nuanced window into the sound of
Ketebul Music. Bukindu’s approach to responsibilities as chief studio engineer includes
constructing song forms and arrangements, choosing instrumentation, and mastering recordings.
Additionally, Bukindu performs and composes most of the digital instrumental parts on
recordings. This makes him a co-composer for most of the organization’s music productions.
Charged with the job of translating Osusa’s conceptual vision into musical products, Bukindu
makes decisions in the studio during the recording process that reflect the mergers of culture that
both Afro-fusion and Ketebul aim to promote. As a result, Bukindu influences Ketebul musical
output as much as any other member of the organization.
9.1.1 Studio Ethnography
Figure 9.1: Jesse Bukindu discussing his approach to music production in the Ketebul
Music Studio (photo by Shino Saito).
Given the prevalence of the music studio as a site for music production and activity, it is
surprising that few ethnomusicological accounts of studio production exist. One notable
exception is Louise Meintjes’ Sound of Africa!: Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio
(2003). This chapter hopes to build on Meintjes’ study. In Sound of Africa!, she notes that
ethnomusicologists have been slow to acknowledge the important role of the studio, and
technology in general, as an operative contributor and molder of contemporary music culture:
Despite their creative significance to twentieth century music, technological gear,
technological engagement, and studio production have rarely been addressed in
music scholarship in any detail… Ethnomusicologists have been particularly slow
to recognize the creative potential and semiotic nuance of technology in music
making and to include its analysis within the field’s interpretive frameworks. This
is in part an outcome of the fact that ethnomusicologists have privileged live
performance, expected technology to take away from both creative processes and
from the experience of music, and have focused historically on musics that have,
or seem to have, a life of their own outside the music industry (Meintjes 2003:
Meintjes’ ethnography documents the production of one music album in a South African
recording studio. In her account, she emphasizes the roles of studio engineers as central
to twenty-first century global music production. She explores how engineers mediate
processes of song composition, instrumentation, and choices about timbre and groove to
express particular sentiments about ethnicity, race, politics, nationalism, and global
culture. Meintjes depicts how these processes of cultural representation through music
must also target specific music markets to achieve economic success. Meintjes highlights
the important role of the studio as a place of technological, economical, and cultural
mediation by bringing attention to engineers as gatekeepers of music production, whose
manipulation of the symbolic ramifications of sound through technology characterize
most late twentieth and twenty-first century popular music. Here, I draw influence from
Meintjes’ research and ethnographic representation by emphasizing Bukindu’s
perspective about the choices he makes in the studio regarding song construction.
I hope to directly represent the perspective of the studio engineers by providing
photographic images of the LogicPro computer program they use to produce musical
recordings.126 Logic Pro is the software that Bukindu used to record and engineer Garissa
Express (2011). During fieldwork with Bukindu, I captured digital still images of the
Logic Pro files of “Halele” that will be the focus of this investigation. Although sound
wave images, such as those that follow, do not convey the sort of sonic information ideal
for analysis, I have included them here for three reasons: (1) they directly showcase
Bukindu's visual perspective as he engineers music in multi-track, digital form; (2) this
For the use of screen captures from music production software, I have drawn influence from Trevor Harvey’s
dissertation, “Virtual Garage Bands: Collaborative Cybercommunities of Internet Musicians,” (2010) that explores
digital music production from an ethnographic perspective and provides visual supplements of several multi-track
software interfaces. Like Harvey, I supplement computer generated studio program visuals with embedded Western
notation and sound excerpts for purposes of providing more specific sonic information when relevant.
presents the most relevant ethnographic and emic representations of sound available as
Bukindu and the musicians involved with the project are more familiar with the Logic
Pro layouts than Western notation, which I rarely found utilized by performers or
engineers during studio production; and (3) most music production software utilizes
waveform representations of sound in multi-track form, which is similar to the ones
incorporated in this chapter. Producers, sound-engineers, and composers the world over
create and manipulate music utilizing these visually-rendered digital wave streams. So in
spite of a general reluctance of musicologists to utilize wave form iconography, these
commonly utilized visual signifiers reflect contemporary shifts in standard graphic
representation and therefore present music cultural material usefully.
9.2 The Creation of Gargar and Somali Identity in Kenya
After Gargar received noteworthy positive public attention through their participation in
the Spotlight on Kenyan Music initiative, Osusa signed the group to Ketebul Music and invested
in the production and promotion of their album titled Garissa Express (2011). Gargar’s four
members, Bashir Muge, Anab Gure Ibrtahi, Amina Basher Elmoge, and Asha Ibrahim Yussuf,
live in Garissa, which is a northeastern province of Kenya and an area that has become home to
thousands of Somalis who have immigrated to the region for various reasons. Many have lived in
the Garissa region for generations, while others arrived in recent decades fleeing civil war,
drought, and political destabilization in Somalia.
Figure 9.2: Album cover of Garissa Express (2011).
The Somali population in Kenya has recently received worldwide media attention
because of the humanitarian crisis that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding
into the Somali refugee camp that is located in Kenya’s border district of Mogadishu. Since
2010, Somalia has suffered extreme drought conditions that exacerbated multigenerational power
struggles in the region. Today Somalia faces a combination of war and famine just as Ethiopia
experienced in the 1980s, which spurred the formation of the Live Aid NGO discussed in Chapter
2. In contrast, Somalia has, at least at the time of writing this document, received less aid than
Ethiopia did during the 1985-87 famine. As one BBC correspondent stated, “[if] a humanitarian
crisis threatening hundreds of thousands of people [happened] anywhere else, there would be
benefit rock concerts and emergency talks at the United Nations. But not here.”127 The presence
of Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group that controls much of the southern half of the
country, has prevented many aid organizations from working within Somalia. Al-Shabaab has
been especially hostile to foreign humanitarian organizations that do not directly aid and fund AlShabaab loyalists. Additionally, the United States government has not provided extensive support
to aid organizations that engage with Al-Shabaab in any fashion. Finally, the Kenyan government
has warned that providing extensive support to Somalis within refugee camps in Kenya will
create an unsustainable flow of refugees, thereby destabilizing the border, threatening national
security, and increasing conditions of poverty in Kenya.
Most, but not all, Kenyans with whom I spoke expressed frustration and suspicion at the
large and increasing Somali population in Kenya. Many Kenyans expressed the view that the
large population of Somalis in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district had caused this area to become a
hotbed for money laundering and black-market activity that is fueled in part through the
activities of Somali “oil pirates” and Al-Shabaab splinter groups. As a result of cultural tensions
between Somalis and other members of the Kenyan community, incorporating a Somali group in
the Spotlight on Kenyan Music series was a relevant contribution to Volume Four’s theme of
“Unity in Diversity.”
The Spotlight on Kenyan Music steering committee chose Gargar to record on Volume
Four (2008) after witnessing them perform at the 2008 Spotlight on Kenyan Music tryouts,
which took place throughout numerous districts in Kenya. The group’s tryout video featured a
Peter Greste. 2011 “Somalia's Starving Driven into Violent Mogadishu.” In BBC News, Somalia June 18th
(, accessed 06.28.11).
performance of the Somali performance style saar, an acoustic vocal performance genre
performed by Somalis living in northeast Kenya. Over a dozen members comprised the group
that performed at the tryouts, as is typical of the community-based saar performance practice.
Due to the financial and logistical difficulties of bringing such a large group to Nairobi from
Garissa to perform and record, Alliance Française and Ketebul Music required the women to
elect four members to perform on the album. These four members currently remain the musical
representatives of Gargar. The video caption below is of Gargar’s Spotlight on Kenyan Music
audition in Garissa and shows the women singing in call-and-response style while providing
rhythmic accompaniment by clapping and beating a slow pulse on a drum held under one of the
woman’s arms.
Musical Example 9.1: Video excerpt of Gargar’s Spotlight on Kenyan Music audition.
The Spotlight on Kenyan Music steering committee chose Gargar to record their song, “AIDS
Wadila” on Volume Four (2008) of the Spotlight on Kenyan Music CD. Like many of the groups
commissioned to perform on the Spotlight on Kenyan Music series, Gargar’s performance
experience had existed, up until the recording of the song at Ketebul Music, entirely outside of
the realm of urban recording studios. The studio process involved adapting Gargar’s acoustic
saar-based version of “AIDS Wadila” to the Afro-fusion genre and included digital and electric
instrumental accompaniment as well as regulated tempos and a three-to-five minute song form,
all of which were not present in their audition performance that was featured in the video above.
On July 23rd, 2010, Gargar performed the newly reworked Afro-fusion version of “AIDS
Wadila” with a live band of urban studio musicians at the first 2010 Spotlight on Kenyan Music
concert on Alliance Française’s performance stage. After receiving a strong positive reception at
the concert, the four women were commissioned by Osusa to produce an entire recorded album
with Ketebul Music. The publicity that Gargar received, both as a result of their appearance in
Spotlight on Kenyan Music and because of their promotion by Ketebul, cause them to change
their widely-known musical identity as an Afro-fusion group. The 2011 East African Music
Awards nominated Gargar for “Best East African Afro-Fusion Group.” Their song, “AIDS
Wadila” received positive publicity from fans, resulting in the demand for subsequent concerts
by the group, including a performance at the 2011 Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar, Tanzania.
9.3 The Production of Garissa Express (2011)
Like the Ketebul Music projects discussed in previous chapters, the Afro-fusion concept
behind Garissa Express (2011) attempted to reconcile, fuse, and promote diverse spheres of
Kenyan experiences while integrating identifiable elements of global popular music culture.
Bukindu, as the producer/sound-engineer, was primarily responsible for arranging this marriage
of cultures. I interviewed Bukindu about the process on several occasions in order to determine,
from an ethnographic perspective, how he utilized the studio as a space to connect and fuse these
disparate strains of culture through music. I was especially interested in how he approached
creating a studio album with Gargar, given that the group had no experience performing and
recording music in a studio prior to their participation in the Spotlight on Kenyan Music
initiative. Bukindu described his first encounter with the group, which occurred a year before the
women began recording Garissa Express (2011):
Before we recorded the album, we recorded one song called “AIDS Wadila,” it’s
about HIV. It was recorded about a year before they came to record the album.
They were one of the groups which were funded by Alliance Française for
Spotlight on Kenyan Music. They came first to record their song, and then they
came to do the whole album (Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
The entire process of recording Garissa Express (2011) occurred over the course of one
year. The vocalists in Gargar recorded for two days. Instrumentalists also came to the studio
periodically to record for the album. Finally, Bukindu fused the components through the digital
production process. About the production timeline, Bukindu stated,
Author: Out of the album, how many hours did it take or how many days?
Bukindu: We normally had sessions and one session goes for three hours. You
would have two or three sessions each week and then you have another two
sessions next week. It took like a year – when I say a year, maybe it means it
takes two days this week then next week we meet another two days. It works like
that for a whole year from the day they walked into the studio, they recorded, then
I was working on the music to come up with a structure then after that, have a
group of musicians come and play the instruments. It is quite a process (Bukindu
2011b, Interview).
During Bukindu’s first meeting with Gargar, he utilized unique strategies to merge
Gargar’s style with the culture of popular music studio production, in which uniformity of tempo
and key are common. The Somali acoustic styles that Gargar were accustomed to singing at
weddings, funerals and social events in their village close to Garissa contrasted significantly with
the standard process of studio production that Bukindu employed. For example, saar is a calland-response, improvisatory style of performance that has various incarnations, depending on
each region and each performance group. The style is usually unaccompanied by instruments,
with the exception of a hand held drum. Bukindu’s process was one that required uniformity of
tempo and a consistently identifiable key. In order to adapt the singing style of the women in
Gargar to this process, Bukindu and other studio musicians added instrumental accompaniment.
He described that Gargar was not accustomed to singing to metronomic tempos. Bukindu thus
created a “simple pattern” to keep them “on the metronome” and to help the vocalists conform to
norms of popular music style.
Author: When did you first hear them actually sing?
Bukindu: They walked into the studio – that was the first time I was meeting
them. They sang first, and then I created a simple pattern… They had this music
to keep them on key. You cannot record them without music. They had not
recorded before and do not understand certain terms, so I didn’t want to create
something too complicated. It was very basic – it was just one drum and a piano
playing throughout, just to keep them on the metronome and to make sure they
don’t go above or below the key.
Author: You gave them like an instrumental click track?
Bukindu: Exactly. I wanted them to be able to sing along with it without having
any difficulties. Then they went into the studio, they recorded the songs [to the
simple percussion and piano patterns]. Afterwards, I started to make
arrangements, adding guitars, and creating interludes (Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
Although Gargar had performed at many social events in Northern Kenya, they were not
accustomed to the performance environment of the recording studio. Because the members of
Gargar and Bukindu both speak Kiswahili, Bukindu was able to guide them through the technical
and emotional process of studio production. Bukindu noticed that when they became nervous or
excited, their voices modulated upwards. Bukindu incorporated aural and psychological
strategies, as he states, “to keep them in the key.” These strategies included turning up the
volume of the instrumental track in the women’s headphones and also creating a relaxed social
environment to encourage confident and relaxed musical expression.
Bukindu: When we were recording, we would have to stop and start again from
the top because I could hear when they would start to go up [in key]. You have to
make sure the music is loud and they wear headphones so that they can hear and
to keep them in the key.
Author: Did you find that they would usually go up?
Bukindu: Oh yes, they’d start to get excited and start climbing. We did many
takes. We did the first take, and then we keep talking to them in a polite way so
they won’t be nervous. You have to make sure they get used to the studio. The
first take is always shaky-shaky because they are nervous, but after one, two,
three takes, they catch up and get used to it. Then, you crack some jokes, they
smile, then you can tell them to do this and that.
Saito: It sounds like it helps to be personable also, and you know they can do
what they need to do, it’s just the environment. You’re kind of like a mentor as
Bukindu: Yeah, that’s true because if you can’t make them sing, then what’s your
job. If you can’t make them feel comfortable, there’s no way you’re going to
make them sing well.
Bukindu: You can tell when someone is nervous when they’re singing.
Saito: You’re very busy multi-tasking making the music but also telling them
they’re doing well.
Bukindu: Yeah, once the set up is done, what we do is just communicate with
them. Record, stop, record, stop… like that (Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
After Bukindu recorded the vocal tracks for Garissa Express (2011), he began the long two-year
process of arranging the recorded vocals in the Afro-fusion format by incorporating verses,
choruses, instrumental introductions, accompaniment, and interludes and limiting the long form
of the saar style to three to five minutes per song. The Macintosh music studio software, Logic
Pro, facilitated Bukindu's arranging of the raw vocal material captured from Gargar. The next
section explores Bukindu’s digital arranging process on the Garissa Express (2011) song,
“Halele.” I will convey Bukindu's perspective on the production process in “Halele” utilizing
images from the Logic Pro interface that he engaged with throughout the production process.
9.4 Digital Production and (Ethno)Musicological Representation
Figure 9.3: Jesse Bukindu operating the Logic pro software (photo by author).
Musical Example 9.2: Screen capture of the midi instruments from Bukindu’s Logic Pro
file of the song “Halele.”
Musical Example 9.3: Screen capture of microphone recorded instruments from Bukindu's
Logic Pro file of the song “Halele.”
The three images above present Bukindu’s working visual perspective of the tracks of
“Halele.” I have posted them here for ethnographic, not analytic, purposes, so understanding the
intimate details of the program are secondary to gaining the experiential information of seeing
what the producer sees when he works with the sound in the studio. Logic Pro, like most studio
software, presents sonic material in wave form and enables the material to be cut, copied, altered,
and segmented according to the studio engineer’s preference. Through video recorded interviews
in the studio, Bukindu guided me through his process producing “Halele.” He utilized the open
Logic Pro file on the computer screen as a visual reference during the interview. The following
analysis explores Bukindu’s production approach for the song “Halele” by presenting portions of
these screen captures with Western notation and audio excerpts.
9.4.1 Vocal Segmentation
Musical Example 9.4: Screen capture of vocal parts from Bukindu's Logic Pro file of the
song “Halele.”
Bukindu recorded Gargar singing their songs before arranging the song forms, adding
instrumentation, or mastering the finished song construction, so I begin the analysis of “Halele”
with the raw recorded material of Gargar’s call-and-response style vocals. After Gargar sang to
the simple piano and percussion pattern created by Bukindu to serve as a guide to preserve
metronome and key, Bukindu digitally segmented portions of the vocal recording. Within the
segments, he omitted moments where one singer may have fallen off pitch and replaced them
with segments that exhibited more uniformity. He accomplished this through a method of
digitally copying and pasting.
Below is a visual snapshot of Logic Pro’s sound wave representation of the vocal parts
from the song “Halele” on Garissa Express (2011). The track displayed in the uppermost portion
of the snapshot is the call “Halele iyo, halele iyo,” which is sung by the leader of the group. The
four tracks represented beneath the call is the response in which all four members sing a
reinforcing “ayeha!” This call-and-response format, one that also reflects the saar style that
Gargar performs in villages around Garissa, can be found, to an extent, on all of the songs on the
Musical Example 9.5: Audio excerpt of the call-and-response vocals featured on “Halele.”
Musical Example 9.6: Logic Pro screen capture of the call-and-response vocals featured on
Bukindu selected responses that he judged as most “in tune” and arranged them in four tracks to
maintain the original chorus response style of Gargar’s music. Given the difficulties Gargar
experienced in consistently following the tempo marked by a “click track,” Bukindu made slight
adjustments to the rhythmic placement of the responses so as to adhere to the regulated tempo of
the piece. Demonstrating how the process of digital production reformatted Gargar’s vocal
timeline, the snapshot below is of one member’s unedited “response line” before segmentation.
Musical Example 9.7: Unedited “response line” before segmentation.
Bukindu described the necessity of negotiating a language barrier while continuing to
engage creatively with the material. Although he communicated with the members of Gargar in
Kiswahili, he did not understand Somali, which was Gargar’s native language and the one
featured on their songs. In order to preserve the narrative continuity of the song, Gargar advised
Bukindu while he arranged the raw vocal recording of the group:
Bukindu: I don’t understand their language, you know, you have to make sure the
story flows so you can take out a part but you can’t erase whatever was there. You
can introduce a chorus or something, but you have to make sure the story flows. I
don’t understand their language so if I start messing around with the flow…
Author: You can’t put one verse before the other.
Bukindu: No, I can’t. I, at least, asked them, “what are you talking about here?”
So they told me this song is about this and that, so at least, I understand. The
whole concept – I cannot go in and tell you this verse is saying this, but I
understand the main story… Remember, I am a musician. Language is not really
the first thing I think about, so as long as it sounds good with proper arrangements
(Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
In the excerpt above, Bukindu made the distinction that, as a producer, his creative emphasis was
on the music’s sound as opposed to its linguistic content. From this perspective, the voices of
Gargar take on the quality of sampled instruments and appear so in the computer generated
visual interface that he manipulated to organize the vocal content.
9.4.2 Instrumental Infusion
Reflecting the strategic merging of culture in Afro-fusion, Bukindu incorporated
instrumental accompaniment into Gargar’s vocal style to access a broad listenership:
Bukindu: You know, their songs are all almost similar, so when you do the
instrumentation, you have to make sure you provide variety. They sound similar
in terms of vocal.
Author: What is their structure?
Bukindu: They just sing. When they start singing, they just sing. They have lead
vocals then background just throughout (Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
Bukindu perceived the linguistic barriers and the continuous call-and-response of the saar-style
vocal arrangements as limiting Gargar’s marketability to a trans-cultural Kenyan or global
listening audience. To add variation and create contrasts between their songs, Bukindu
incorporated digital and acoustic instrumental accompaniment and interludes. His method of
arranging instrumental accompaniment aimed to fuse diverse and global sonic signifiers to dually
access sentiments of Afro-fusion and World Music genres. Utilizing computer generated
symphonic strings and Chinese erhu in the instrumental introduction and interludes to “Halele,”
Bukindu fused digital sonic symbols of East and West. Although his choice of instrumentation
stemmed first from aesthetic taste rather than geo-cultural symbolism, the presence of the
digitally erhu and Western strings flag a particular computer-generated form of pan-global
consciousness thrust upon producers such as Bukindu, whose operative genre encourages
consideration of the full palette of digital studio production instrumentation. The audio excerpt
below presents the first twelve measures of “Halele,” which feature the interplay between the
erhu and symphonic strings. A notated transcription of the Logic Pro snapshots offers sonic
representation from a musicological perspective.
Musical Example 9.8: Audio excerpt of the “String Ensemble” and “Chinese Erhu” (mm. 112 of “Halele”).
Musical Example 9.9: Notated excerpt of the “Erhu” and “String Ensemble” in “Halele”
(mm. 1-12 of “Halele”).
The seemingly global signification inherent in the use of the computer-generated erhu and string
ensemble parts also references the twentieth century compositional practice among contemporary
Arabic and Arabic-influenced genres, including classical taarab and other contemporary Somali
styles, to incorporate synthesized strings in their music. Indeed, Bukindu stated that, before
working with Gargar, he had not listened extensively to Somali music, but during the production
of Gargar’s album, he browsed the Internet for Somali music to find that inspiration for his
instrumental arrangements. He explained that listening to this cross-representation of music
provided him with a window into the type of instrumentation and rhythms that reflected Gargar's
culture. To this point Bukindu stated,
Yeah, I had to. I had not listened to any music from Somalia, but I had to because
I was going to create their music. Since it needs to reflect their culture and their
musical background, I needed to listen to it (Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
In order to further ground his arrangement in the Somali sound, Bukindu based his instrumental
melodies on those of Gargar’s vocal lines. Discussing this dimension of instrumental
arrangement, Bukindu stated,
I wanted something that would blend with their singing. Not necessarily to play
the same melody as they were singing, but something to compliment... I just
follow whatever they are singing – if it goes up, I try to follow (Bukindu 2011b,
The erhu and string instrumental interludes additionally reflect Bukindu’s strategy to maintain
the form and style, in that they loosely trace the melodic and rhythmic form of the call-andresponse vocals. Bukindu therefore grounded the instrumental accompaniment in the Somali
sound by doubling the melodic line and the triplet rhythmic patterns of “Halele.” The erhu part
traces the melodic contours of Gargar’s lead vocal, the call, while the Western String part
parallels the melody and rhythm of the chorus, or response. The following notated excerpts
compare the similar melodic trajectories of the erhu and string parts (top) with the call-andresponse vocals of “Halele:”
Musical Example 9.10: Notated excerpt of the “Erhu” and “Western String” interludes in
“Halele” (mm. 1-7 of the full transcription presented in Appendix A).
Musical Example 9.11: Notated excerpt of the call-and-response vocals to “Halele” (these
begin on mm. 19 of the full transcription presented in Appendix A).
The instrumental accompaniment mirrors the vocal chorus line in the figures above; this element
is also a characteristic of benga, in which the guitar line derives its form from the vocal part.
This approach contrasts with the type of counterpoint melody that is characteristic of Congolesebased rumba and soukous guitar parts and is held by Kenyan musicians, such as Bukindu, to be a
key distinction between the Kenyan genre, benga, and the Congolese-based soukous and rumba
genres. Bukindu’s instrumental introduction and interludes then operate on a number of levels of
signification referencing Somali-Kenyan, Kenyan, and global cultural spheres.
Bukindu’s production of “Halele” additionally embraced the sort of pan-African
signification that Makadem also incorporated in “Nyaktiti,” through his use of Cameroonian
makossa rhythms.128 Symbolically referencing West Africa, Bukindu incorporated sampled
percussion parts labeled after the West African Ewe instruments atsimevu and axatse.
Musical Example 9.12: Notated excerpt of four measures of the repeated African Lion
Atsimevu (top) and African Lion Axatse (bottom).
While the sampled axatse and atsimevu marked pan-Africanism through West African
instrumentation, Bukindu additionally infused a pan-Kenyan percussive sound sample. The iron
leg rattles pictured and analyzed below are common to the music traditions of at least ten Kenyan
ethnic groups, including the Gikuyu, Akamba, Turkana, Maasai, Taita, Kabras, Iteso, Pokot,
Digo, Luo, and Kipsigis. Each ethnic group refers to the rattles by a different name (e.g. Luogara, Pokot- kerukoris, Iteso- esimane). The sound of these leg rattles is familiar to the wider
See Chapter 7 for examples of pan-African signification in Afro-fusion.
East African musical sound-scape as well and locally grounds the fusion of cultural signs
operating within “Halele.”
Figure 9.4: Photo of iron leg rattles used by Akamba ethnic group (photo by author).
Musical Example 9.13: Audio excerpt of the repeated pattern of the sampled iron leg rattle
in “Halele.”
Musical Example 9.14: Noted excerpt of twelve measures of the repeated Leg Rattles part.
Additional references to a pan-African style emerged through Bukindu’s perspectives on
“quantization.” Quantization is a function of the Logic Pro software that orders rhythmic
material according to various numerical presets. If the producer sets quantization to “32nd note,”
the sound production software will move every recorded rhythmic articulation to the nearest
32nd note. Bukindu associated quantization with applying “numbers” to music, an approach he
considered incompatible with an “African” musical process. He suggested that applying numeric
organization to music potentially does more to sacrifice the groove when he stated,
Bukindu: It won’t work if you start thinking numbers – with African music, if
you start thinking numbers, it won’t work at all. You have to keep it very
authentic. We don’t quantize. If you quantize, you lose the groove. Some grooves
are just not there in the computer.
Author: The music is generally not quantized?
Bukindu: It’s not.
Author: Hardly ever?
Bukindu: Sometimes, when necessary but we prefer playing or sequencing rather
than quantizing because it sounds more natural (Bukindu 2011b, Interview).
In the interest of upholding what he viewed as “African” cultural style in the music production
process, Bukindu chooses to refrain from utilizing the quantize function. Bukindu’s use of the
words “authentic” and “natural” to describe the product of resisting quantization, in addition to
the imposition of numeric values on music, mark frames of reference for this particular
construction of musical “African-ness.” Bukindu’s statement that, “some grooves are just not
there in the computer,” referenced a function of Logic Pro software that quantizes according to
various grooves. The Logic Pro quantization functionality enables the producer to set musical
selections to a pre-programmed groove or “swing” by shifting notes into various rhythmic
subdivisions. These swing presets intermittently displace notes by miniscule degrees of time
duration. Quantization aims to expand the expressive potential of the producer. Bukindu found,
however, that Logic Pro’s attempt to “swing” altered the rhythmic phrasing in a noticeably
contrived fashion. Bukindu’s explicit reference to quantization as a non-African process
additionally highlighted elements of postcolonial consciousness embedded in his interpretation
of the working Afro-fusion genre concept.
9.4.3 Signifying Foreign Locals and Parallel Otherness
Gargar signifies marginal dimensions of local in that Kenyan-Somalis, despite their large
and growing population and a long historical presence in the country, often find themselves
socially categorized as non-Kenyans. In many ways, Somalis retain an immigrant social status in
the country, regardless of where they were born or how many generations their family has lived
in Kenya. Kenyans of Indian ethnicity endure a similar foreign local status. Commonly referred
to as “Kenyan Asians,” communities of Indian cultural descent have resided in Kenya for
hundreds of years and comprised the majority of Nairobi’s population under British colonial rule.
Although the Indian and Somali communities in Kenya do not commonly find themselves
aligned with one another in their plight for recognition and acceptance as Kenyans, the blend of
Indian and Somali music in “Halele” implies the state of parallel Otherness which both groups
occupy. The mutual incorporation of these sounds of marginalization thereby exemplify the
reconciliatory aims of Afro-fusion, dually promoted through the Spotlight on Kenyan Music
initiatives and Ketebul Music’s mission. Bukindu extended beyond digital samples by hiring
Prasad Velankar, an Indian tabla player who lives in Kenya and frequently collaborates on
intercultural music projects.
Although Prasad Velankar received “traditional” Hindustani tabla training under Ustad
Allah Rakha Khan, intercultural collaboration characterizes many of his performance ventures,
making him a highly relevant performer to incorporate on Gargar’s project. He is a permanent
member of the world music collective, Kachumbari 7, which describes itself as the “new Nairobi
meltdown of Africa, Asia, and Europe” and which consists of musicians with cultural and
musical ties to each of these continents. 129 Velankar is also an integral contributor to the Samosa
Festival, a yearly NGO-music festival that features performance collaborations between Kenyan
Asians and other members of Kenyan society. Given Velankar's personal practice of using music
to connect various segments of Kenyan culture as well as global society, his presence on the
Garissa Express (2011) album is as much a statement of cross-cultural social collaboration as it
is a function of cultural fusions of sound.
9.4.4 Fusing “Traditional” and “Modern”
As seen in Chapter 7, Ketebul Music staff and musicians frequently juxtapose notions of
“traditional” and “modern” music. “Traditional” elements, according to Osusa, Bukindu, and
other members of the Ketebul Music community, tended to include rurally-based, acoustic, and
ethnically exclusive musical practices and instrumentation. Notions of “modern” music tended to
reference prominent musical elements of the globalized contemporary culture-scape, which
project undeniable ties to Western European and North American cultural imperialism and
production. The iconic instruments of American popular music - electric bass, electric guitars,
and drum set - manifest a certain dimension of this “modern” influence. Reflecting Osusa’s
strategic blueprint for Afro-fusion to blend “modern” and “traditional,” the song “Halele”
featured an electric bass track, lead and rhythm guitar, and a digital bass drum kick.
Utilizing the standard palette of Western popular music instruments, Bukindu equally
referenced an historical lineage of hybridization in African popular music genrefication as well
as the continued historical call-and-response between the music culture of Africa and the United
States. Demonstrating the intersections of Afro-fusion with many other popular music styles to
emerge out of Africa over the course of the twentieth century, African musicians have adapted
Western drum sets, electric guitars, and electric basses to many locally rooted styles. The result
has been the development of several globally popular African music genres, including highlife,
hip-life, and Afro-beat in West Africa and rumba and benga music in East Africa. On the other
hand, the Afro-diasporic roots of American popular music, that canonized the instruments above
Kachumbari7 main Webpage (, accessed 07.17.12).
as the globalized sound of commercial music, echo transmigrations of music culture that have
occurred across the Atlantic since at least the African slave trade. Somali popular musicians have
also adopted these instruments into their musical repertoires. Separating Somali popular music
from the Gargar initiative, however, is the fact that none of the instrumentalists involved in the
project, including Bukindu, were Somali. The album therefore presents a social and aesthetic
cross-cultural signifier through the pairing of Somali, Indian, and Nairobian studio musicians.
9.4.5 Post-Production
Figure 9.5: Gargar performing at the 2011 Sauti za Busara Festival (photo by author).
After the production of the CD, Gargar received several offers to perform in concerts and
festivals. From their initial Spotlight on Kenyan Music audition, Gargar’s music had shifted
performance practice and context from the acoustic long form, improvisatory, large chorus saar
they performed in Northern Kenya, to the fixed tempos and key signatures of the urban studio
recording studio and finally, into complete live arrangements of the studio productions in which
they were accompanied by a band of urban studio musicians. Gargar began performing their
music live to complete the final phase of re-inventing themselves as Afro-fusion artists.
Performing the studio-produced music live required that the group re-learn their original songs in
their newly reworked studio produced form. I discussed this process with Bukindu as well as the
keyboardist who performed their music at most of their concerts. I asked Bukindu if he had
assisted Gargar in the transition to live performance:
Author: Have you assisted them or worked with them with the process of
performing the music live?
Bukindu: No, that’s mostly the band. At least they have the CD. They listen to
the song then practice according to how it sounds on the CD.
Author: Is it hard for them (Gargar) to practice with the band?
Bukindu: Actually, the band has really tried. Gargar has never done this before.
The first time in the studio then after one year, they are on stage (Bukindu 2011b,
The keyboardist for many of Gargar's performances, Shadrack Muithia Makau, who is
also the first call keyboardist for Makadem's band, discussed his experiences performing and
rehearsing with the women of Gargar. He stated,
We usually rehearsed with Gargar for a week or two before a performance. I am
still cautious when we perform though because I don't know if I will have to
change keys or move to a different part of the song. We always have a plan B
when we are playing with new artists like Gargar (Shadrack Muithia Makau 2011,
Personal Correspondence).
Observing Gargar’s performance at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar, I witnessed their struggle to
adapt to the new performance context. Gargar, perhaps also struggling with nervousness at the
experience of performing in front of an audience of thousands for the first time, occasionally
became lost in the form of songs or modulated out of the key during the performance. Indeed, the
Sauti za Busara stage was a drastically different performance setting than the weddings in
Garissa or smaller, intimate performances at Alliance Française in Nairobi. As a result, the group
appeared less familiar with the Afro-fusion renditions of their songs than with the saar that were
featured in their Spotlight on Kenyan Music audition. Possibly as a result of the band’s adaptive
skills as well as Gargar’s core vocal attributes, however, the Sauti za Busara audience members
did not take notice of musical mishaps and instead demonstrated significant enthusiasm for the
performance. Several reviewers of the event singled out Gargar’s performance as one of the
highlights of the 2011 Sauti za Busara. The audience was also tremendously supportive. Within
the opening twenty seconds of their first song, an attendee close to where I was standing yelled,
“that’s what a real woman's voice sounds like!” I attributed his passionate positive reaction to the
unique timbre of Gargar’s voices, which reflect the aesthetics of their Somali culture as opposed
to imitating any number of more globally popular vocal styles, such as commercialized and
highly produced R&B-based genres.
9.5 Conclusion
This chapter further emphasized the ironic threads of global cultural production inherent
in Nairobi’s NGO music culture through an examination of studio production at Ketebul Music.
Global music technologies here simultaneously influence the modes of local cultural production
while amplifying the expressive capacity of individuals who operate them. In this case, Ketebul
Music’s chief studio engineer, Jesse Bukindu, manifested the organization’s mission through
music production by fusing sounds of a Somali women’s vocal group with a myriad of styles and
instruments of the global sound-scape. Locating a central irony within this process is the fact that
Ketebul Music strives to support, empower, and promote local Kenyan culture; yet, the use of
global technologies and musical influences incorporated during the studio production process
undeniably infuse very global sounds cultural manifestations into the final musical product. In
this case, a “rural” vocal style sung by Somali women with little experience recording in studios
was transformed into an urban studio genre marketed within international NGO and World Music
circuits. Such fusions invite questions regarding control and agency. Does Ketebul Music’s
intention to advocate for the cultural expressions of a marginalized group of Somali women wind
up altering the group’s musical identity in ways that betray that advocacy? What degree of
agency do the Somali women of Gargar have in the production of their identity? The resulting
musical products ultimately reflect the ethics of hybridization that occurs in the adaptation of an
imported culture of NGOs. Both exemplify mediations of global culture (NGOs and studio
recording technologies) in Kenya and provide opportunities as well as impose restrictions on
those who engage with them.
The problem that concerns me here - the absence of the postcolonial text, its reader, and its
referent from postcolonial theory- is the result of a radical disjunction between postcolonial
theory and postcolonial narratives.
-Simon Gikandi in “Reading the Referent:
Postcolonialism and the Writing of Modernity” (2000) in Nyairo (2004a)130
10.0 Conceptual Signpost
This chapter ties together the accumulating themes of Part 2 and also returns to Part 1’s
initial emphasis on the power of discourse. In Part 1, Chapter 2 and 3 documented how
discourses of the global NGO industry have imprinted civil society-oriented music activities in
Kenya. This chapter presents a contrasting perspective on global cultural production by
documenting NGO music culture initiatives that are explicitly aimed at recasting “Kenyan”
historical discourse from an East African and Kenyan perspective. I portray how a network of
individuals in Kenya have collaborated to pool the resources of several NGOs and how they
have forwarded discourses that challenge the predominant colonial and postcolonial narratives in
North American and Western European cultural dialects. I will also re-connect with the
contingent thread of Osusa’s life story. The historical video documentaries featured below
intersect with Osusa’s musical life journey from Western Kenya, his life in the musical capital of
Kinshasa, and his rise to the top of the East African popular rumba and soukous bands in the
1980s. The multi-media texts demonstrate that global discourse is self-determining as well as
shaped by macro-political and economic forces.
10.1 Introduction
This chapter will examine Ketebul Music’s documentary films as texts of a sociohistorical movement aimed at re-assessing postcolonial Kenyan identity. From 2008 to 2012,
Simon Gikandi. 2000 “Reading the Referent: Postcolonialism and the Writing of Modernity,” in Reading the New
Literatures in a Postcolonial Era, ed. Nasta, Susheila: D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 87-105. Joyce Nyairo, who this
chapter features, referenced this excerpt by Gikandi in her 2004 dissertation “‘Reading the Referents’:
(Inter)Texuality in Contemporary Kenyan Popular Music.” University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 130
Ketebul Music produced four music documentaries on the history of Kenyan popular music,
which were all funded by the Eastern Africa office of the Ford Foundation. These documentaries
which are titled Retracing the Benga Beat (2008), Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010),
Retracing Kenya’s Funky Hits (2011), and Songs of Protest: The Social and Political Revolution
in Kenya (2012), were produced through the contingently linked and collaborative efforts of a
cross-generational lineage of Kenyan postcolonial historical text-makers operating in the fields
of African Studies, literature, music, and film production. Through the work of James Ogude,
Joyce Nyairo, Tabu Osusa, John Sibi-Okumu, Patrick Ondiek, Steve Kivutia, and others, the
historical documentaries contributed to the continuing project of promoting an empowered
Kenyan historical consciousness. The themes presented in the historical narratives, reflecting
sentiments and agendas of the social fabric that created them, reflect Ketebul Music’s
organizational mission “to identify, preserve, conserve, and promote the diverse music traditions
of East Africa.” They aim to construct history and shape Kenyan identity. Due to the intertextual
realms utilized in these forms of media, the DVD video documentary, narrative booklet, and
music CD significantly impact a wide audience.
Figure 10.1: Cover art for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (left) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular
Music (right) (photo by author).
Literary theorists have expanded the notion of a text to include a variety of forms of
orality/aurality (Vansina 1985; Bakhtin 1986; Barber 1987; 2007; Fabian 1997; Nyairo 2004a)
and multi-media formats such as television and film (Graddol and Boyd-Barrett 1994; Ryan
2004; Matheson 2005). Contexts of production have also become increasingly relevant to
determining dimensions of meaning and intention for any text (Renza 1990; Fabian 1997;
Gikandi 2000; Nyairo 2004a). By attempting to build upon these theoretical and methodological
trajectories through textual analysis, I will investigate Ketebul Music’s documentaries as texts
using two contrasting interpretive lenses. First, I will utilize fieldwork-based ethnography to
examine the social processes through which Ketebul Music produces documentaries. In
particular, I will investigate the processes of funding and constructing the media. Then I will
shift the focus from process to product in the second half of the chapter. Here I will explore
latent and overt themes present in Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and Retracing Kikuyu
Popular Music (2010). Before turning to these assessments, however, I present two short précis
of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) to provide a
foundation for subsequent analyses. During the time of my fieldwork, Ketebul Music had
completed both Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music
(2010). Retracing Kenya’s Funky Hits (2011) and Weapons of Mass Reconciliation: The
Spotlight on Kenyan Music Experience (2011) was in production at this point as well. The
discussion that follows is limited to Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and Retracing Kikuyu
Popular Music (2010) because these two came up most frequently during fieldwork interviews.
10.1.1 Synopsis of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008)
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) is an illustrated booklet, audio CD, and documentary
that depicts the origins and historical development of the Kenyan popular music genre, benga.
Benga, through the music of iconic stars such as D.O. Misiani, George Ojijo, and Dr. Collela
Mazee among others, is arguably the most identifiably “Kenyan” popular music. The film
features interviews with some of benga’s most influential musicians and producers, including
Oluoch Kanindo, David Amunga, Samuel Aketch Oyosi, and Ochieng Nelly Orwa. In addition to
providing one of the first historical records of the genre, the documentary emphasizes cultural
borrowing, adaptation, and fusion within the historical development of the genre to suggest an
underlying commentary on the fluid nature of Kenyan identity and contemporary African
culture. The film depicts a confluence of post-World War II global musical and local musical
traditions of the Luo ethnic group. Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) places the mid-twentieth
century origins of benga in the Western provinces of Kenya surrounding Lake Victoria and the
film traces the development of benga through its popularity and influence throughout Kenya and
East Africa. The historical narrative is rendered in a diverse array of languages and dialects
throughout central and eastern Kenya and it highlights the influence on benga n Kenya’s
“vernacular” popular music. The cross-influences deriving from benga’s contact with Congolese
and Tanzanian rumba dance bands is also a key issue in the documentary.
10.1.2 Synopsis of Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010)
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010), like Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), is an
illustrated booklet, audio CD, and documentary that provides a historical account of one of
Kenya's most iconic musical legacies, Kikuyu131 popular music. The Gikuyu132 comprise the
largest ethnic group in Kenya and the various manifestations of Kikuyu popular music genres
therefore have been especially influential in the music culture of Kenya. Like Retracing the
Benga Rhythm (2008), Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) provides a historical document
for purposes of cultural retrieval. The documentary also characterizes Kikuyu popular music as
shaped by patterns of fusion, adaptation, and borrowing and therefore advocates for a similar
view of Kenyan cultural identity. The documentary depicts nineteenth-century Gikuyu oral
traditions and the encounters with British colonialism both to be prevalent streams of influence
in the development of Kikuyu popular music. The historical narrative features the first wave of
mid-twentieth century musicians of Kikuyu popular music and explores early borrowing by
Kikuyu musicians of instruments, performance practices, and fashion styles from American
country musicians. The film showcases the guitarist, singer-songwriter, and producer Joseph
Kamaru (1938-present), who is one of the most influential Kikuyu popular musicians. The film
illustrates patterns of exchange, transition, and fusion with Kikuyu popular music. It explores
collaborations between Luo and Gikuyu benga guitarists, it features live roadshows and online
music. Mugithi, which is the type of Kikuyu guitar music often referred to as “one-man guitar,”
is arguably the most prominent contemporary Kikuyu genre and it is featured extensively in the
second half of Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010). The documentary excavates the origins
of the genre and presents it as a powerful vehicle of cultural memory and nostalgia by tracing its
spread to the Gikuyu diaspora in the United States and Europe.
When referring to the popular music of the Gikuyu ethnic group as a genre represented in Ketebul Music’s
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music I use the spelling “Kikuyu.” In all other cases I use the common “Gikuyu” spelling
that is preferred among most Gikuyus in contemporary Kenya. Joyce Nyairo’s preface to Retracing Kikuyu Popular
Music discusses the social politics and logic behind this system, which I will discuss in more detail later in this
10.2 Social Processes of Historical Documentary Production
10.2.1 Funding
During my first meeting with Osusa, I asked him how he began making documentary
films. He responded, “I felt that someone should start making documentaries about the history of
Kenyan music so that the younger generation could learn about their own history. I had no idea
how to make a documentary but I bought a camera and started to conduct interviews. We learned
as we went along.”133 Like most of Osusa’s projects throughout the years, his initial intent to
create documentaries was based on a perception of need within society rather than monetary
reward. Osusa was increasingly motivated by the reality that musicians who played an important
role in benga’s early history were dying and he wanted to preserve their cultural history. Osusa
bought a camera and, assisted by Ketebul Music’s videographer Patrick Ondiek, and program
manager Steve Kivutia, he began conducting interviews to document the history of the genre.
Financial support followed shortly after Osusa began the process of filming. Through the
perceived relevance of the vision behind the documentaries, the Ford Foundation’s Eastern
Africa office has provided grants to Ketebul Music for the production of historical music
documentaries since 2008.
Osusa began the process of registering Ketebul Music as an NGO and he applied to the
Ford Foundation for funding for the film Retracing the Benga Rhythm in 2006, which was the
same year he began interviewing people and collecting information for the documentary. Writing
a proposal for funding was a new experience for him and he worked with a grant writer who
specialized in what he referred to as “NGO speak.” The approach paid off and in 2008 Ketebul
Music received its first grant from the Ford Foundation for the amount of U.S. $138,800.134 The
Ford Foundation has awarded Ketebul Music grants totaling U.S. $447,368 between 2008 and
2011.135 With this funding, Osusa was able to create documentary productions on a globally
competitive and technologically sophisticated level. He hired professional researchers and
technical staff, and he procured archival historical footage and technical equipment, and he
targeted a wide audience through mass production and distribution.
Though the Ford Foundation is a multi-tiered corporate nonprofit entity with several
Osusa 2011, personal correspondence.
Ford Foundation online grant database (, accessed 04.13.12).
international offices transnationally, the social networks through which this foundation funded
Ketebul Music’s documentaries mirror the sorts of local ties described in Chapter 8’s review of
the ways Alliance Française's funds Spotlight on Kenyan Music. Joyce Nyairo, the former
director of Civil Society and Media projects and acting Executive Director of Ford Foundation
Eastern Africa, was the primary granting administrator who oversaw the funding of Ketebul
Music’s historical documentaries. In response to an email in which I ask Nyairo about the Ford
Foundation’s reasons for funding Ketebul Music, she wrote, “In a nutshell, we chose Ketebul
because they understand the importance of memory in the evolution of cultural identity. You
might even call Tabu a walking musical archive” (Nyairo 2011, Email correspondence). Before
her employment at the Ford Foundation, Nyairo served as a professor of literature, theatre, and
film studies at Kenya's Moi University then later completed her Ph.D. in Literature Studies at
South Africa's University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Nyairo's dissertation, which is titled
“‘Reading the Referents’: (Inter)Textuality in Contemporary Kenyan Popular Music” (2004),
examines Kenyan popular music both as a text that opens windows to the postcolonial Kenyan
context and as a viable realm of social empowerment. For the dissertation, Nyairo conducted
several interviews with Osusa, whose extensive knowledge of and experience in various avenues
of the Kenyan popular music industry, provided a wealth of primary source information. At the
time of Nyairo’s research, Osusa was working with Nairobi City Ensemble.136 This group was
the central case study of Nyairo’s dissertation.
10.2.2 Forging Lineages of African Discourse
Looking more closely at the social and monetary networks that structure Ketebul Music’s
Retracing Series places the documentaries within a lineage of postcolonial African discourse
dedicated to the dialogic project of working through a historical consciousness and reflexive
identity through texts. The advisor to Nyairo’s dissertation was James Ogude, who is the author
of Ngugi’s Novels and African History (1999). Ogude and Nyairo conducted joint interviews
with Osusa during the fieldwork stages of Nyairo’s dissertation. Ogude, like Nyairo, is a
longtime friend and professional colleague of Osusa and continues to consult Osusa on current
projects as well.
The relationship between Ogude, Nyairo, and Osusa reveals an intersection of intellectual
Chapter 5 provides a brief overview of Osusa’s Nairobi City Ensemble.
collaboration aimed at assessing Kenyan identity explicitly from a Kenyan perspective. In
Ngugi’s Novels and African History (1999), Ogude examined the novels of the seminal Kenyan
author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Ogude primarily focuses on how Ngũgĩ works through the
conceptual, social, cultural, and political complexities of African identity within the context of
the African postcolonial nation state. Ogude, through his critical analysis of Ngũgĩ’s writings,
consciously placed himself within a dialogic lineage of postcolonial identity construction.
Nyairo, in her dissertation, for which Ogude served as the primary advisor, continued this
process of postcolonial critical discourse construction.
In “‘Reading the Referents’: (Inter)Textuality in Contemporary Kenyan Popular Music”
(2004a), Nyairo argues for an expansion of the conceptual territory of a text to include popular
music and the contexts that surround its production. Her claim is that processes of adaptation,
fusion renewal are central to discourses about Kenyan identity construction. By addressing
Ngũgĩ, she also places herself within the same lineage of discursive postcolonial selfexamination as Ogude does. She responds explicitly to Ngũgĩ ‘s call for the loyalty of African
authors to publish exclusively in “ethnic” languages as opposed to colonial languages. In
Decolonizing the Mind (1986), Ngũgĩ suggests throwing off colonial languages in literary text
production as a step towards creating locally derived re-constructions of African identity. For
Ngũgĩ, this meant publishing in his mother tongue of Gikuyu. Nyairo rebuts Ngũgĩ’s position on
the exclusive use of ethnic languages by arguing for the legitimacy of Sheng as a language that
reflects locally constituted negotiations of postcolonial space. On this point, Nyairo wrote,
Not only have the actors on the postcolonial state significantly changed, the
circumstances too have shifted the paradigms of language so that what was
prevailing in the 1950s no longer obtains, while what was perhaps only nascent in
the 1960s may now have thrived into a full-blown commonplace reality. To
expect that the language nurtured a particular reality then --- and even then only
for some and from many varying dimensions --- can still be alive, pertinent and
efficacious in the present is to underrate the natural pattern of human
progression... Ngũgĩ fails to anticipate the power and capacity of the emergent
forms as credible reconstructions of native aspirations and cultural bearing in the
present (2004: 248).
Nyairo’s rebuttal of Ngũgĩ serves her larger agenda of advocating for the legitimacy of emergent
forms of cultural expression, which manifest not only in her appreciation for the social impact of
Sheng but also in the discursive power of popular music and other contemporary forms of
expressive media. These epistemological agendas intersect with the funding of Ketebul Music's
documentaries. Nyairo’s advocacy for expressive discourses of fusion and transformation reflect
her support both for the multimedia platforms and for the historical tropes of cultural borrowing
and adaptation that the documentaries’ narratives promote. Nyairo explicitly echoes this
recognition of the temporal mutations of expressive platforms in her forward to Retracing
Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) when she writes,
This is a project in cultural retrieval. It brings forgotten sounds and images back
into the public circulation in formats that are accessible to a new generation of
listeners and viewers. Ketebul's work is indeed important for reminding us that
audio and audiovisual formats change all the time. But content is everlasting. And
we have a social responsibility to make that content available to future
generations for their use and re-use (Nyairo 2010).
By examining the connections between these three individuals, it becomes clear that
Osusa also pursued the documentary projects with the explicit intention of providing emic
perspectives regarding the fluid contemporary Kenyan project of identity construction. To this
point, John Kariuki paraphrased Osusa in a November 29, 2008 Daily Nation article reviewing
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) stated,
Retracing the Benga Rhythm is remarkably one of the very few music research
projects in Africa by Africans. Most of the other studies on African music have
been conducted by overseas journalists and researchers. Talking about the project,
Tabu Osusa of Ketebul Studios said, “Using our own researchers helped to
capture nuances in the story that a foreigner may not find. We looked at it from a
social perspective and allowed the musicians, the fans and the producers to tell
their story” (Kariuki 2008).
Ogude and Nyairo are both academics who are situated within disciplines where non-Africans
produce the majority of published content, even in the case of content on the subject of African
culture. The widely acknowledged ironic outcome is that, in a global academic community,
Westerners have had a heavier hand in the textual interpretation of African culture than Africans
themselves. Osusa, Nyairo, and Ogude correct this imbalance within the global mediascape by
forwarding a body of African-produced and globally-distributed media that privileges the voices
of Africans over Western scholars. Similar political dynamics exist in the world of documentary
film and make Ketebul Music’s documentary production equally relevant to the wider movement
of documentarians in the global south. For instance, in 2011 the Hot Docs organizers of the
International Canadian Documentary Festival partnered with Blue Ice Films in providing U.S.
$1,000,000 to African documentarians to produce documentaries about Africa. About the need
for an increased presence of African documentaries produced by Africans, a Blue Ice Film
representative stated,
There are countless documentaries made about Africa but not enough are made by
Africans. The goal of the Fund is to enable more Africans to tell their own stories
and contribute to a new generation of African film makers (Renninger 2011,
Indiewire Magazine).
By producing the Ketebul Music documentaries, Osusa thus becomes a significant agent in the
cause of promoting African-made cultural and historical media. Such initiatives privilege local
cultural perspectives while negotiating the reality of shifting modes of media production.
Nyairo, Ogude, and Osusa are postcolonial generators of historical consciousness. The
professional and ideological ties that bind them together illuminate some of the social
underpinnings that inspired the Ford Foundation to fund Ketebul Music documentaries. Turning
now to the process of the documentary production, the following section assesses Nyairo, Ogude,
and Osusa also involved the lives of a younger generation of Kenyans. Steve Kivutia, Ketebul’s
project manager and Patrick Ondiek, the videographer, are both younger than Osusa and Nyairo
yet they were intimately involved with the process of creating documentary films from
conception to completion. The result was a process of mentorship in which Kivutia and Ondiek
actively participated in the process of constructing historical texts of their own Kenyan cultural
10.2.3 Media Production and Self-Directed Mentorship
Patrick Ondiek and Steve Kivutia were the Ketebul Music staff members most intimately
involved with the process of film production for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010). Ondiek led the filming and editing of the
documentaries while Kivutia served as project manager in charge of logistics such as scheduling
and setting up interviews. Kivutia, a skilled graphic designer, created the design of the packaging
and narrative booklets for the documentaries. Throughout my interviews with Ondiek and
Kivutia, I began to consider the ways in which the process of making historical documentaries
about Kenyan music might have also served to facilitate a situation whereby Osusa could mentor
younger staff members to continue his legacy of promoting Kenyan cultural heritage. Kivutia, in
his mid-twenties at the time of this writing, and Ondiek, currently in his mid-thirties, are younger
than Osusa, who is now in his mid-sixties. Yet Ondiek and Kivutia comprise the inner circle of
contributors to the documentary projects.
Figure 10.2: Steve Kivutia (left) and Patrick Ondiek (right) (photos by Shino Saito).
Osusa tended to hire younger professionals like Ondiek and Kivutia as opposed to older
and more experienced professionals. I questioned Ondiek, Kivutia, and Osusa about this issue on
different occasions. Osusa commented that he preferred to surround himself with younger
professionals because they were eager to learn and able to imbue an empowered Kenyan culture
in their peers through their influence. Osusa viewed passing on a sense of cultural and historical
consciousness to a younger generation of Kenyans to be a paramount objective. Ondiek and
Kivutia articulated a similar supposition about Osusa’s motivations. When asked about this issue,
both replied that they believed Osusa surrounded himself with a younger generation because it
increased the impact and relevance of his influence for future generations. The methods of
acquiring historical information and the processes of filming and editing the documentaries are
essential steps what is both a professional and cultural apprenticeship for the younger staff
members at Ketebul Music. The following two sections, “Research and Information Gathering”
and “Post-Research and Editing” describes the process of creating documentaries from the
perspectives of Kivutia and Ondiek.
10.2.4 Research and Information Gathering
Ondiek, and Kivutia both described the process of creating the music documentaries as a
learning process from its initial stages. Ondiek described the documentary process as chaotic but
one from which they learned lessons that they employed in Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music
Ondiek: A few years ago, Osusa told me that because we are losing a lot of good
content, if we don’t preserve it, who will? That is when we did our first project
three years ago, called Retracing the Benga Rhythm.
Author: That first time out, was that a learning experience for everybody?
Ondiek: It was. Even the format, how we shot it was from the end. We didn’t
have a shooting script, we were doing the research at the same time, and
everything was being done at the same time. It was the first time doing such a
project. From this, the next one became better and better, and as we move on, it
becomes easier and easier. We can coordinate it much better.
Author: What were some of the differences between how you put the Benga
video together and the Kikuyu video, in the plan for instance?
Ondiek: In the Benga documentary, we would just leave and start shooting. The
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music, we never left the studio without a work plan.
We had a work plan for the whole year where we would know when we would be
covering what each month. In Benga, we were just leaving! For example, you talk
to this artist three months ago, we would hear that he’s playing Friday, and then
we’d just go. It was crazy! In Kikuyu, we had a proper work plan. We knew the
time frame we had, and even the editing process, it was all well worked out
(Ondiek 2011, Interview).
Despite the lessons he learned from producing Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), new
challenges emerged for Ondiek in Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010). He discussed how
the prior creation of a script created problems, particularly when making a documentary on the
subject of Kikuyu popular music. These new challenges resulted from social networking
difficulties. Many older Gikuyu musicians, whose music had been stolen and appropriated, were
wary of parties with whom they had no prior connections.
Ondiek: I can’t say the shooting for the Kikuyu documentary was perfect either.
The Gikuyu artists come from River Road – they control River Road. Since
there’s a lot of piracy, it has created a lot of mistrust amongst the artists, the
people, the distributors, and the whole industry. When you tell them that you are
doing this project and you want to talk to them, they tell you, “Ok, we’ll talk to
you next week,” so you can chase an interview for two weeks. One guy would
say, “Yeah, I’m in Thika.” We’d go to Thika then we call him and he’d say no,
I’m in River Road. Author: Is it because of nervousness?
Ondiek: Trust issues. Then they’re calling other artists and asking about this
group called Ketebul and asking what are they doing and whether they have
talked to so and so also? Slowly, slowly, we started to get the big interviews we
wanted. We had already made a script, so there were certain individuals that we
needed. Without them, this story could not come together. For example, Kamaru,
because he’s a big part of Kikuyu music, we had to have him on board. There was
no way around it. After we got him, artists started to volunteer to be interviewed
and the picture came together slowly by slowly. We were able to eventually get
what we wanted (Ondiek 2011, Interview).
The “script” that Ondiek referred to in the interview excerpt above is the outline of the film that
the documentarians created using information gathered by the Ketebul Music staff and
contracted researchers.
John Sibi-Okumu, the narrator of the documentaries, assisted in the creation of the script
for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010). Ondiek
and Kivutia discussed their admiration for Sibi-Okumu is an established figure in Kenyan media
and journalism and whose insights were forged from vast experience, contributed greatly to the
production of the documentaries. To create a “script,” Ketebul Music outsourced “researchers”
who were especially knowledgeable about the particular subjects of the films. The “researchers”
led the Ketebul Music staff to key interview subjects and provided historical information that
they incorporated in the documentary. As additional ideas and directions emerged throughout the
review of the interview material, staff collectively made additions and alterations to the script.
Kivutia described the pre-filming “script” production process as follows:
Kivutia: The process first begins with an idea. Tabu has had quite a bit of insight
into what he wants to do. We started out with benga and Tabu came up with an
idea of what he would like to cover. We would probably write a proposal. The
proposal will state what you want to do and how you want to go about doing it.
Then, you approach a donor. We have been lucky enough to get support from the
Ford Foundation. From then on, we identify researchers, people who will be able
to get a story line with the exact type of story line that you want to get out of it.
Author: How do you find the researchers?
Kivutia: Just by talking to people. Like for benga music, we know people who do
benga music or people who are into that kind of scene. When we talked to them,
we were able to identify people who will be knowledgeable about it and were able
to know about subject matter. Then, we got researchers who went into the field
and interviewed the relevant people to get the information needed. Also, we get
some fact-based opinions from newspapers, magazines.
Author: Archives also?
Kivutia: Yes. We use photographic archives, as well. After collecting the
material, then we sit down with Tabu and put the story in an order that flows. The
material is then edited (Kivutia 2011, Interview).
The primary subcontracted “researchers” that Ketebul Music enlisted to assist in the
compiling of information for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) were Moussa Awounda and
George “Jojo” Ouma. Moussa Awounda was a well-established Kenyan journalist who, up until
his passing in 2009, was living in Denmark and continued to report on Kenyan politics and
culture as well as immigration issues in Denmark. George “Jojo” Ouma is a music producer and
the owner of the Nairobi record shop, “Jojo’s Records,” which is well-known in music industry
circles.137 Dr. Maina Mutonya, Mwaniki Wanjohi, Sam Kiru, and John Kariuki were employed
to work on Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010). Dr. Maina Mutonya was the primary
researcher for the project. Mutonya is a Kenyan professor of African Studies at Mexico College
whose dissertation was written on the topic of Kikuyu popular music. An article featuring
Mutonya’s research was published in The Standard titled: “Mugithi: Scholar Unravels Popular
Music Roots and Lewd Lyrics” (Kiundu 2011). The article focused on the irony of the Christian
origins of a widely-known style of Kikuyu music known as mugithi. The author claims, “Maina
Wa Muntoya, a research professor at the Center for Asian and African Studies in Mexico did not
shy away from the genre, which featured lewd lyrics. Ironically, lewd as mugithi may seem, it
was adopted from Christian night vigils (keshas) where the faithful link up to ‘join the train to
heaven’ with Jesus as the driver” (Kiundu 2011). This use of lewd lyrics in mugithi music is of
course also a topic examined in Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010).
Although all of the Ketebul Music documentaries give substantial credit to outside
“researchers” such as Ouma, Awounda, and Mutonya for gathering the information found in the
documentaries, both Ondiek and Kivutia attest to the fact that Osusa, who draws from his lifelong involvement with Kenyan music, also provided a significant amount of the historical data.
Discussing Osusa’s contribution to the research portions of the documentary Ondiek states,
Author: So your original script was more or less a product that came out of
information provided by outside researchers?
Ondiek: Yes. We worked together with them. Even Tabu, he’s a big part of that.
Author: So he also did some of the research as well?
Ondiek: Exactly, and he had lots of information. In fact, he’s a big part of all of
the projects we are doing. I have done lots of interviews, but I have not met
anyone who knows as much as Tabu. Even if somebody, for example, forgets and
says something occurred in 1965, Tabu says, no, no, the person was called this
and this. Even while we are getting the interviews, he’s aware of everything. That
is a big part of the success behind the projects Ketebul is doing (Ondiek,
Interview 2011).
This was surprising to me given the relatively low profile maintained by Osusa in the Ketebul
Music films. The films only feature brief footage of one of his interviews [with the filmmakers].
Osusa’s low profile, however, is consistent with his tendency to remain a behind-the-scenes
facilitator as opposed to a spotlight attraction.
Ouma and his assistants at “Jojo’s Records” also helped me build a collection of seminal music recordings from a
cross section of genres.
10.2.5 Post-Research
The post-research process at Ketebul Music was completed at the time of this writing and
has consisted of the following stages: (1) shooting and conducting interviews; (2) logging
footage; (3) editing; (4) packaging; and (5) distribution. All of the documentaries have followed
this general system except for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), which was simultaneously
researched, scripted, filmed, and edited by the Ketebul Music team. With the help of Ondiek and
Kivutia, Osusa conducted many of the interviews himself. Ketebul Music also commissioned
“reenactment performances” in which performers of Kenyan “folk” music demonstrated the
early influences and ethnic “roots” of a popular music genre. Ketebul Music contracted
performances by influential musicians in the historical development of the respective genre.
After conducting interviews and recording the commissioned performances, Ondiek
logged footage from DV tapes onto hard drives. For Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008),
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010), and Retracing Kenya’s Funky Hits (2011), Ketebul
Music outsourced labor to video editors in order to complete the tedious process of logging
footage in a timely fashion. Although the editors were not Ketebul Music staff, they worked in
the Ketebul Studio under the oversight of Ondiek and Kivutia. Due to a shortage of hard drive
storage, Ketebul Music did not digitize all the interview footage and instead logged only those
portions of interviews that they viewed as most relevant to the documentary script. However,
Ondiek mentioned that Ketebul Music was planning on obtaining cameras and hard drives in the
coming years so that the studio could replace the old tape technology with a complete digital
archive of all filmed material.
Figure 10.3: Patrick Ondiek in the Ketebul Music editing room (photo by Shino Saito).
After logging interviews and footage of music performances, Ondiek chose relevant
excerpts to alternate with Sibi-Okumu’s “script” narrative that Jesse Bukindu, Ketebul Music’s
chief studio engineer, recorded in the sound studio. Ondiek mentioned that he would eventually
like to curtail the voice-over in order to “allow the interviews and performance footage tell the
story” (Ondiek 2011, personal correspondence). He noted that the cinema verité style of filming
was more challenging to execute in a historical documentary due to the lack of a narrator to
guide the viewers’ focus on the subject. Throughout the filming process, Ketebul Music staff
obtained photographs and footage from archives and private collections to include within the
film. Ondiek located some of this supplementary historical footage from the community of
videographers in Nairobi. He explained that most of the professional cameramen in Nairobi
know each other and in the spirit of collegiality and professionalism frequently exchange
material. Editors added photographs and archival footage in post-production using the Adobe
Flash digital media editing program to create graphics for the documentary.
Ketebul Music staff produced the accompanying music CDs for the documentaries during
the final stages of production. The CD features the music showcased in the documentary. Kivutia
and Osusa sought copyright permissions for the selections remastered by Bukindu and Kivutia in
the studio.
Figure 10.4: Photos of the CD/DVD packages of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (left) and
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (right) (photo by author).
Kivutia also designed and compiled a “narrative” booklet derived from the documentary’s
“script” to accompany the documentary and music CD. The “narrative” booklet (pictured below)
outlines key points of the history presented in the documentary while providing additional
commentary and pictures.
Figure 10.5: Photos of the informational booklets of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (left) and
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (right) (photo by author).
After composing the separate multimedia components of the package, Ketebul Music typically
electronically sends the material to the Pozzoli Printing Company in Italy for packaging. Kivutia
suggested that Ketebul uses the Italian vendor because it is difficult to find a distribution
company located in Kenya that could achieve the same sophisticated quality as the Pozzoli
Company has.
Figure 10.6: Steve Kivutia in the Ketebul project management room (photo by Shino
The analysis above examines social processes that constitute the production of
documentary media at Ketebul Music. Partnerships, exchange, self-directed learning,
mentorship, and innovation characterize the social action behind documentary production at
Ketebul Music. These social processes inform sources of economic sponsorship, the production
of a media “script,” and internal dimensions of mentorship reflected in the documentaries’
educational purposes. A uniquely utilitarian dimension of the Ketebul Music documentaries is
their multi-textual components. By exploring the historical subjects in a variety of mediums,
Ketebul Music maximizes their potential to promote a particular view of Kenyan music culture
to audiences. By assessing Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and Retracing Kikuyu Popular
Music (2010) below, I will shift my analytical lens from social-ethnography to textual analysis
and explore how overt and latent themes presented in the Ketebul Music documentaries feed
back into the social processes discussed above as well as those reflected in Ketebul Music’s
organizational mission.
10.3 From Process to Product: Textual Analyses of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) and
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010)
The main themes expressed in Ketebul documentaries address organizational culture and
the social processes that create it. In the textual analysis that follows, I use these themes to
present a more nuanced depiction of Ketebul Music’s mission. The mission, “To identify,
preserve, conserve and to promote the diverse music traditions of East Africa” is realized
through the creation of historical documentaries about Kenyan music; but like all historical texts,
the films promote a specific version of history. They include stated and latent agendas of Ketebul
Music’s organizational ethos, which certainly also reflects Osusa’s perspectives. Indeed, the
three themes presented below echo many of the same themes presented in the previous chapters
and they (the themes) reveal that the documentaries present a version of history that is consonant
with Ketebul’s mission. The section titled “Subversion of Popular Discourse” promotes counterhistorical narratives about the origins and influences of benga music and advocates for
marginalized voices that Osusa and other Ketebul Music staff attempt to manifest. This focus on
music and media that brings about social change is in line with Osusa’s preferences and
philosophy of Ketebul Music. The section titled “Polyvocality” illustrates Ketebul’s preference
for producing diverse strains of creative expression and, by presenting various accounts of benga
history, I attempt to retain a broad conceptual frame that synthesizes diverse perspectives on
music, culture, identity, and history. The final section, “Cultural Fusion” projects the core tenants
of Afro-fusion as a genre. This is perhaps Ketebul Music’s most imperative organizational
agenda. The analysis of Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music’s (2010) in this final section shows
converging streams of cultural influence; the depiction of Kikuyu music in this film promotes a
version of music history and identity in Kenya that is defined by adaptation, borrowing, and
10.3.1 Subversion of Popular Discourse in Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008)
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) subverted dominant discourses and introduced new
historical narratives that privileged previously marginalized musicians in several ways. By
replacing D.O. Misiani with John Ogara as the central figure in the development of benga music,
the Ketebul staff attempted to detract from the power of the commercial market to establish the
primary of certain musicians in the development and creation of genre. Retracing the Benga
Rhythm (2008) also bridged ethnic divides by demonstrating that, although benga was initially a
Luo style, many other ethnic groups in Kenya freely borrowed from the genre. This aspect of
benga’s development is widely acknowledged, yet the recent attention to cultural borrowing in
Ketebul’s documentaries has subverted some of the ethnic tensions that have characterized the
modern history of Kenya. This historical perspective is of particular relevance to the present
Kenyan context of social unrest and ethnic tension that has been a persistent struggle throughout
Kenya’s history. The documentary also makes an attempt to situate benga music as a Kenyan
popular genre that had significant influence on Congolese music. By demonstrating that Kenyan
music cultures like benga also influenced the development of rumba and soukous music in the
Congo, this documentary also contests the established discourse about the history of Congolese
popular music. The King of Benga
D.O. Misiani has widely been referred to by fans, musicians, and music journalists as
“the grandfather of benga” and even the “king of Kenyan history.” Although he is featured in
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) as an important figure who was responsible for popularizing
benga, James Ogara is characterized as the true progenitor and most significant innovator in the
early history of the genre in this documentary. The film features interviews with influential
benga producers Oluoch Kanindo and A. P. Chandarana, who cite Ogara as the originator of the
style, and includes extensive interviews with the original band members of Ogara’s band,
Samuel Aketch Oyosi and Ochieng Nelly Orwa. Historical Narratives of Ethnic Exchange
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) also promotes the idea that cultural exchange has
been vitally important in the history of benga. The film explores how many ethnic groups from
the Nyanza province adopted this genre into their own practices despite its origins in the music
of the Luo people. Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) was a direct response to the violence and
politically-driven ethnic tensions that occurred in 2007. In the Western province, the Luhya
shared early musical influences with Luo benga musicians. Like the benga musicians in Luo
Nyanza, people from South Nyanza began to utilize performance opportunities in small-market
towns, and the Kisi, who maintained large settlements in this area, began performing benga style
music with Kisi lyrical content. Francis Danger, a guitarist of Akamba heritage, discussed how
Akambas also borrowed freely from the benga genre.
The influence of benga on Gikuyu musicians is of special significance to the historical
narrative that is presented in Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008). Despite the perceived tensions
between the Luo and Gikuyu people in Kenya, benga has been an important expressive form
shared by both groups. The documentary asserts that Daniel Kamau Mwai (D. K.), one of the
most popular Gikuyu musicians in Kenya, utilized elements of benga in much of his music. In
doing so, he was able to perform at the Luo Nyanza market and to cross over to this audience. In
his voice-over narration, Sibi-Okumu cites D.K. as remarking, “Good music doesn’t have a tribe.
It is the best tool to fight tribalism and stupidity which our politicians are good at using to divide
Kenyans” (Sibi-Okumu 2008, voice-over narration Retracing the Benga Rhythm). Kenyan Influences in East African Rumba
In Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), the filmmakers also explore the influence of
Kenyan styles of benga and the popular Congolese dance music variously titled rumba, soukous,
and lingala. The film contains excerpts of interviews with significant figures in Congolese
music, such as widely acclaimed guitarist and former member of Orchestra Virunga, Syran
M’benza. M’benza identifies a typical musical feature of Congolese rumba in the 1960s; each
tune would begin as slow dance and then move into faster sections later. Although he did not use
specific terminology in the interview, M’benza was most likely describing rumba’s two-part
structure that featured a slow dance section followed by an up-tempo seben. Franco Luambo
popularized the seben in the 1950s and the bipartite format characterized much of the Congolese
rumba in the following decades. A cavacha rhythm, faster tempo, and repeated shouts and witty
phrases known as atalaku were hallmarks of these sections (White 2008: 56). In contrast with the
slow and fast dance tempos of rumba, M’benza described benga as characterized by fast dance
sections that sustained throughout the entire duration of the song as opposed to alternating with
slower sections. He stated that when Congolese musicians witnessed the effect of these fast
tempos on Kenyan audiences, they began to copy the faster benga style, which eventually led to
the faster paced dance music sometimes referred to as soukous that emerged in the 1970s and
dominated for the following decades.
The documentary also features an interview with perhaps the most influential benga
producer, Oluoch Kanindo, about the power of the Kenyan music production industry to impact
on Congolese rumba. Kanindo states that his production house, which at one time distributed the
music of Collela Mazee and D.O. Misiani, became so powerful that Congolese musicians such as
Tabu Ley, Franco, and Mbilia Bel came to visit him personally. Kanindo said this was because
Kenyan benga record sales began to threaten the large market for Congolese music in Kenya.
The aggressive production and marketing strategies of producers such as Kanindo, Chandarana,
and others cultivated the vibrant music industry of River Road, which has remained active even
after international record labels such as EMI and Polygram abandoned Kenya in the 1980s due to
dwindling record sales. As discussed in Chapters 4 and 6, this void was primarily the result of
rampant music piracy, the AIDS epidemic, and the globalization of music media, which
privileged Western pop music over other genres.138
10.3.2 Polyvocality in Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008)
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) does not impose an essentialist view on history.
Instead, the interviews and narrative text in the documentary depict benga’s history as one that is
constructed, even disputed, and therefore polyvocal as opposed to monochronic and orderly.
Although Ogara was portrayed as one of the early pioneers of the genre in Retracing the Benga
Rhythm (2008), the film shows that benga is also a product of various cultural contexts. These
influences even compete with one another for primacy depending on the perspective of the
musician, producer, or historian who is being interviewed at any given time during the film. The Origins of the Word Benga
There is much debate about the origin of the word benga. In Retracing the Benga Rhythm
(2008), the influential guitarist Ochieng Nelly states that the word benga originated in Uganda
when he and Ogara’s group were playing what at the time was referred to as “Ogara-style” or
See Chapter 4 for a more detailed account of the departure of the transnational music industry in Kenya.
“match.” Nelly goes on to recall that the way the Ugandan women danced to Ogara’s music was
such that their clothes were being carried off by the wind. The musicians in Ogara's group began
to shout out the words “obeng’ore” (“the clothes are loose” in Luo). “Obeng’ore” eventually
developed into the word benga. A contrasting perspective on the origins of the word is D.O.
Misiani's assertion that it came from his mother's name which was “Obengo.” JoJo and Osusa,
two producers who were interviewed for Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) suggest that the
word benga came from the Lingala word “bolingo” (“love” in Lingala). This word appeared in
some of Ogara’s compositions, such as the song “Monica Ondego” (1963), which is also one of
the first songs recorded in which the word benga is found. Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008)
presents history as socially constituted and consisting of multiple realities depending on the
perspective of the historian. Competing Early Influences
John Sibi-Okumu, who is the narrator of Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), states in
the beginning of the film that the roots of benga are in the sound of the “traditional” Luo nyatiti
performance. Immediately following this assertion, benga guitarist Dr. Keffa Mak'anyengo
contradicts Sibi-Okumu’s claim by stating authoritatively that oruto music had the most
significant influence on benga’s early styles. Later, Peter F. Kenya, who is a musician and
lecturer in the Community Development Program at Kenyatta University, suggests that benga
emerged primarily through the spread and influence of Congolese popular music throughout East
Africa. About the nyatiti influences in early benga, Sibi-Okumu states,
The tempo of the nyatiti being played coupled with the rhythmic thumping of an
iron bangle harnessed to the player’s toe are considered by many to be the crucial
links to modern benga. The nyatiti first influenced single note picking style on the
acoustic guitar before eventually formed the roots for the high and low pitched
electric and bass guitar (Sibi-Okumu 2008, voice-over narration, Retracing the
Benga Rhythm).
During Sibi-Okumu’s statement excerpted above, the documentary features a video of a nyatiti
musician, whose performance can be heard at a lower volume than the narrator’s voice.
Immediately after this statement by Sibi-Okumu, the scene cuts to an interview with the benga
guitarist Dr. Keffa Mak’anyengo who states,
Benga came and it was a very unique kind of style that was based on the orutu.
With the orutu's single string it allows you to play so much with it and there is a
kind of undulating style that the people use. Now, this is what a lot of guitarists
borrowed. They take advantage quite a lot of this... there is an effect that has on
the ear. It kind of wakes you up (Mak'anyengo 2008, Interview in Retracing the
Benga Rhythm).
To further complicate readings of early influences on benga, Peter F. Kenya suggests benga
emerged mostly from Congolese influences. He asserts that early Luo guitarists were playing the
guitar in a more typically European style. This style was “good for storytelling and having a
good time,” but the musicians were not very concerned with having “a beat” for dancing. He
adds that, when musicians such as Edward Masengo came to Kenya playing rumba, the Luo
audiences and musicians thought the Congolese rumba style sounded more civilized. Then
musicians such as Jose Kokeyo began copying it. Kenya goes on to state the youth of the 1960s
found the slow rumba style to be a bit boring due the independence movement. Finally, he
implies that a fusion occurred between Luo nyatiti-influenced guitar playing and dance tempos,
rumba-influenced benga, and Luhya music, omutibo. The person whom he credits with creating
this fusion and popularizing this style is John Ogara. Kenya faults Ogara, though, for later
becoming overly influenced by rumba after teaming up with Ochieng Nelly Orwa, a Luo
guitarist who performed in some of the most established rumba dance bands of the 1960s and
The perspectives on the origins of benga are left unreconciled in the documentary,
suspended for the viewer to interpret these perspectives about the early origins of benga as either
overlapping or divergent. The multitude of historical trajectories regarding early influences on
benga, however, must not necessarily be read as oppositional. The viewer can reconcile them by
construing benga to have been heavily influenced by Luo nyatiti and orutu styles as well as the
popular Congolese rumba music that traveled to Nyanza from Zaire. Varied Perspectives on Style
In addition to presenting a multitude of perspectives on benga’s roots, Retracing the
Benga Rhythm (2008) also explores the genre’s fundamental stylistic characteristics; that is, the
core attributes that distinguish benga from other musics. The perspectives of those interviewed
on this topic were as varied as the performances within a genre, which differ from musician to
musician, region to region, and time period to time period. For instance, David Otieno states that
the distinguishing characteristic of benga music is the fact that lead guitar mirrors the melody of
the lead vocal line. He adds that the rhythm guitar and bass guitar do this as well but have more
freedom to embellish than the lead guitar. Immediately following the statement by David Otieno,
the Akamba benga guitarist, Francis Danger, claims that the primary difference between benga
and other popular music in East Africa is that the guitarist plays two chords and the drum has a
more consistent beat than other styles. Although these accounts do not necessarily conflict with
one another directly, they suggest that different artists emphasize different distinguishing
characteristics of the genre. Their perspectives are necessarily valid given their central role as
musicians intimately involved in performing the genre. In this way, the dimensions of benga’s
key stylistic attributes become a matter of social debate as opposed to formally inscribed
performance practices.
10.3.3 Reconciliation and Cultural Hybridization in Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010)
One element that distinguishes Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) from Retracing
the Benga Rhythm (2008) is that Osusa was not as knowledgeable about Kikuyu popular music
history as he is about benga music. This discrepancy caused him to rely heavily on outside
researchers for the creation of Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010). Given the perceived
tensions between the Luo and Gikuyu ethnic groups in Kenya, Osusa’s choice to create a
documentary on Kikuyu popular music after creating a documentary about benga, a genre with
Luo roots, served also as a reconciliatory move by equally recognizing the important
contributions of each ethnic group to Kenya’s cultural heritage. Fluid Culture in Joyce Nyairo’s Preface to Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music
Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010), like Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008),
asserts the historical perspective that cultural expressions that are associated with one ethnic
group, in this case the Gikuyu, are shaped by numerous influences and are forever changing. To
this effect, Joyce Nyairo wrote in her foreword to Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010),
Contemporary African culture [is] fluid, mutable, and aggregated from many
years of borrowing and exchange. This project demonstrates those trajectories of
borrowing. From the incorporation of Christian hymns, to the adaptation of the
accordion, the mimicking of American country music, the entry of the guitar and
the appropriation of Luo and Luhya rhythms, Kikuyu popular music is shown to
be a rich site of cultural exchange and fusion (Nyairo 2010, foreword to Retracing
Kikuyu Popular Music).
This view forwards additional reconciliatory sentiments by demonstrating that flows of exchange
within and between culture groups surmount the social divides that so often characterize conflict.
In her foreword, Nyairo also defends the choice to use the anglicized spelling “Kikuyu”
as opposed to the emic spelling “Gikuyu.” She writes that, although the producers of the
documentary engaged in many heated debates over which spelling to use, they chose “Kikuyu”
in order to relay a more international and intercultural reference point for a diverse viewing
audience. In this dissertation, I have also adopted the spelling “Kikuyu” when describing the
popular music but employ the spelling “Gikuyu” when referring to a person or people belonging
to that community. This compromise is meant to address the position of this text as a scholarly
work and also to respect the perspectives of those who find the anglicized spelling offensive.
Nyairo suggested that the varied spellings of Kikuyu/Gikuyu as well as the internal debates
regarding its proper usage reflect the story of intercultural communication and adaptation that
also characterizes Kikuyu popular music. Colonial Suppression
Each section of Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) presents Kikuyu music as
undergoing cultural hybridization in response to social contexts of the time. The documentary
describes the colonial periods of Kikuyu music culture during which musicians reacted to the
constant onslaught of cultural censorship of British rule. The narrative describes how the British
missionaries forbade the practice of “traditional” music, deeming it heathen and unchristian. The
British forces recognized early on that song became a source of protest and subversion to
colonial domination so much so that by the 1930s the British had banned all music performance
by Gikuyus and other ethnic groups as well. All of these measures of cultural censorship by the
colonial presence had a devastating effect on the music traditions of the Gikuyu. As a result,
much of the instrumental traditions of the Gikuyu became obsolete. The documentary describes
how during the colonial period, Nairobi became an urban center of cultural confusion that
threatened the stability of ethnic systems of governance. It was this context of cultural chaos, so
the documentary asserts, that set the stage for Kikuyu popular music that was characterized by
constant evolution, exchange, and transformation. Post-World War II Influences
By examining an early generation of Gikuyu popular musicians, Retracing Kikuyu
Popular Music (2010) illustrates that after World War II the accordion and the acoustic guitar
became staple instruments within the Gikuyu community due to extensive contact with European
culture through military operations. The documentary depicts a second generation of Gikuyu
musicians who borrowed from American media. These musicians began emulating country
musicians who were then popularized by the emergence of the Hollywood film industry. In
addition to employing an acoustic guitar singer-songwriter style, Stetson hats and cowboy boots
had become commonplace in the wardrobes of Gikuyu musicians and their fans alike. Rise to Popularity on the National Stage
The documentary portrays a third generation who was catapulted into the national
recording music industry as a result of Kikuyu music’s growing popularity. These musicians
intermingled, borrowed, and exchanged with the already popular benga music genre, particularly
at the site of the River Road recording studios. These intersections of cultural exchange also
manifested also manifested when Gikuyu artists recorded at River Road and hired Luo musicians
to play on these albums. Most of the musicians at this studio were indeed benga musicians of
Luo ethnic heritage and therefore Kikuyu popular music recordings began to incorporate the
rapidly proliferating benga rhythms, tempos, and lead guitar sound. Gikuyu politicians utilized
the increasingly popular music to support their political campaigns, a tactic that Mwai Kibaki
also used in his successful 2002 bid for presidency. During this period of popularization,
musicians adopted new modalities for performance. Particularly notable among these were
traveling “road shows” that are funded by companies or politicians. During these exhibitions,
Gikuyu musicians performed from the back of trailers that traveled from neighborhood to
neighborhood promoting the agendas of its sponsors. During my fieldwork, I came across these
musical spectacles on many occasions, particularly at locales of heavy matatu traffic where many
people often congregate. There was usually a large crowd of onlookers witnessing the
performances of music and comical theater presented in the truck-trailers-turned-stages. The Emergence of Mugithi
Yet another music cultural transition featured in Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010)
occurred for Kikuyu popular music in the 1990s and continues presently. Kikuyu popular music
became largely associated with “one-man guitarists” who play a style of Kikuyu popular music
commonly referred to as mugithi. “One-man guitarists” rely primarily on “standards” from a now
socially recognized Kikuyu popular music canon. The transition to “one-man guitarists” came
about, in part, as a result of the fact that smaller groups were less expensive to hire than the
larger groups. There were psychosocial factors as well. The popular songs of previous
generations of Gikuyu stars had created a catalogue of music that evoked in audiences a sense of
nostalgia on which artists could capitalize. The emergent Kikuyu zilizopendwa “one-man
guitarist” style came to be known as mugithi. Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) asserts
that the word mugithi, meaning “train” in Gikuyu, derived from the popular Pentecostal Gikuyu
hymn, “Mugithi wa Matu-ini,” which means “the train to the heavens” in Gikuyu. During
performances, audiences would act out the lyrics of the song by creating a human train, resting
their hands on the waste of the person in front of them and dancing the circumference of the
club. Eventually this practice came to characterize the end of a one-man guitar evening. It was
commonplace for “one-man guitarists” to borrow freely from other musicians and even create
their own lyrics to others’ melodies. “One-Man Guitarist” Controversies
The frequent borrowing of musical material by “one-man guitarists” has become a matter
of some controversy, especially by those who view the style to be a desecration to a tradition of
Kikuyu popular music. Some interviewees featured in the documentary express the view that
“one-man guitar” performances enact music theft without acknowledging copyright obligations.
This claim has some validity as many “one-man guitarists” gain notoriety by performing and
even recording songs written by other artists. Nonetheless, Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music
(2010) presents these arguments objectively and makes the case that “mugithi nights,” the name
of club nights featuring an entire night of mugithi music, certainly contributed to the
popularization and preservation of Kikuyu popular music. As a result, Ketebul Music presents
mugithi as yet another developmental node in the constantly shifting sociocultural and historical
contexts for Kikuyu popular music. Kikuyu Popular Music in Cyberspace
Finally, Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) demonstrates the ways technology has
influenced Kikuyu music and the film explores the spread of Kikuyu popular music on YouTube
and Gikuyu radio stations (such as Kameme FM), which has made programming accessible to a
global market through online streaming. These forms of technology have helped popularize
Kikuyu music outside of Kenya and have provided opportunities for Gikuyus living outside of
Kenya to remain participants in their tradition as well as for non-Gikuyus to become exposed to
the genre.
10.4 Conclusion
This chapter shifted the analytical lens from the previous chapter’s illustration of the
power and politics of technology to the far reaching consciousness-shaping potential of
discourse. I explored the processes and filmic products of Ketebul Music with an emphasis on
the voices and perspectives of the creators of the historical texts. I examined social processes
behind the construction of the multi-media packages created by the studio, and I have attempted
to demystify the media text as a static product. These video texts emerge as products of crossgenerational social networks that are bonded by shared interests and ideals. They construct
historical discourses of Kenyan popular music from a Kenyan perspective with the explicit
intention of promoting renewed historical consciousness. I also forwarded an analyst-imposed
reading of two of these documentaries that emphasized latent and overt meanings within the texts
as representative of the social and organizational milieu that created them. In exploring
Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008), I illuminated polyvocality in the discourse about the history
of this genre. Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) also projects themes of cultural
hybridization and mutability that respond to perceived cultural divides within Kenya’s
reconciliatory themes of exchange.
Our theories and units of analysis are themselves made in
regional-to-global as well as global-to-regional histories.
- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2009: 12)
11.1 Introduction
The foregoing assessment of the impact of NGO culture on music production in Kenya
provides a model case study for conceptualizing globalization. Globalization, global civil
society, and NGO music culture are not singular entities characterized by consonant themes or
frameworks. Instead, the ethnographic project of locating reducible and static cultural norms and
shared values gives way to a myriad of perspectives in constant motion and contention.
Ultimately NGO music culture, and by extension global culture, emerges as hyper-relational and
contingently bound.
Earlier chapters demonstrated these contingent dimensions and emphasized funding
sources in the Global North and the Western cultural history of NGOs as the primary influencing
agents of NGO music culture. The Western cultural history of NGOs infused the neoliberal
capitalist symbolic tropes of “development” and “nonprofit” into contemporary NGO discourses
and the texts of its affiliated forms of musical performance. Concurrently, revenue streams
flowing particularly from Europe and North America manifest foreign patronage for NGO music
initiatives meant to address local issues. Despite these depictions of global shaping local, the
analysis of the NGO music studio, Ketebul Music in Part 2 demonstrated that individuals and
organizations in Kenya resourcefully have found ways to utilize NGO networks to reify their
own pasts, promote local identity, and construct new forms of expression. The notion of local
influences, however, appears contingently situated as the politics of institutional partnerships, the
use of global technologies, and rendering of historical discourses unavoidably generate
hierarchies of influence and power between Kenyan-based participants and organizations.
Finally, manifestations of local also shape and overtake global influence as NGO sponsored
artists such as Makadem, Kenyan producers such as Tabu Osusa, administrators such as Harsita
Waters, and sound engineers such as Jesse Bukindu market Afro-fusion to the transnational
World Music industry. These agents of “global connection” (Tsing 2005) illustrate that the ideas
and actions of those often typecasted as “marginal” in the demography and geopolitics of global
economies play a substantial role in determining global ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes,
financescapes, and ideoscapes (Appadurai 1996).
11.2 Balancing Broad and Specific, Macro and Micro, Global and Local
The contingently situated vantage points scanning relative scales of global to local
reconcile two different methodological approaches common to the study of globalization within
the humanities and social sciences. While broad comparative illustrations highlight trends and
themes that mark larger cultural contexts often at the transnational level, they often fail to access
nuanced subtleties of human interaction and exceptions to the norm. These variables are at the
heart of cultural change and social development and are therefore highly relevant to assessing
global trends in human behavior. Although the themes of neoliberalization and global capitalism
that mark the broad historical and comparative examination of global civil society are relevant to
one contingent frame, they do not completely define NGO music activity. Regional, national,
and local contexts generate significant variances that deconstruct any general illustration.
Conversely, the close range and socially involved dimensions of participant observation manage
to unearth detailed accounts of why certain people in specific locales do what they do; yet these
accounts risk imprinting the variances of individual informants with whom fieldworkers engage
onto the wider communities that the informants represent. Such generalizations will always be
problematic in the wide and diverse frame of global culture. Therefore more localized
monographic account of Ketebul Music should not read as a representative sample of a larger
whole; instead, it provides a case study of contingent possibility within broad and constantly
shifting sociocultural circumstances.
11.2.1 Macro and Micro Contingencies: Making the Case for an Oppressive and Hopeful
Reconciling broad and specific, macro and micro, or global and local poles engenders the
view that all variables have relevance in the production of culture. I am tempted here to
romanticize this perspective by praising the value of agency. I have attempted to provide
examples of global NGO music production in which the actions of a few individuals significantly
influenced larger contexts. Although I have attempted to show that individual agency and the
“micro-contingencies” of circumstantial consequence among individuals and groups have
potentially impactful repercussions on global culture, I have also attempted to argue that “meta290
contingencies” (transnational politics and economics, for example) are persistently influential
and relevant forces that are not easily subverted.. As such, the contingent stance of this
dissertation provides two opposing depictions of global culture.
The first of these is critical and suggests that the historical trajectories of colonization and
global capitalism have left most individuals of the Global South at an unfair and unequal
advantage when compared with opportunities provided in the Global North, particularly in
Western Europe and North America. The second view is more positive and argues that global
capitalism does not necessarily beget merciless oppression. Indeed, resourceful individuals in the
Global South find great success pursuing creative approaches to capitalist enterprise. In doing so,
they empower themselves and local communities. But these individuals do not rely on agency or
skill alone. Their contingent surroundings present them with opportunities as well. The themes of
agency and environmental conditioning hold equal weight in this ethnographic account of NGO
music culture. These themes identify the dynamic nature of contingency to draw relations
between rationally incompatible variables. Contingency’s acknowledgment of additional
conditions, which may have bearing on resulting processes invites further consonant and
contradictory entanglements into the project of mapping global culture. These layered
contingencies forward a mosaic construction of globalization rather than monolithic culture.
11.3 Deconstructing Representation
In the final analysis, attempting to capture the essence of globalization reveals more
about latent ideologies of academic research than it does about global culture as an object of
interrogation. The contradictory and ironic entanglements that characterize NGO music culture
break down the persistent post-Enlightenment tradition of reduction, rationalization, and
representation of “reality.” Moreover, the Western classical anthropological tradition of
approaching culture as a study of the “Other” also becomes untenable, for the culture of
globalization forces the researcher into its all-encompassing scope. These problematics remind
us that culture is neither bound, nor static, nor rational. Researchers’ subjective engagement with
certain units of analysis and not others necessarily limits any representations of culture. The
contingent circumstances of encounter between researchers and their subjects also shapes this
inescapable state of subjectivity.
11.3.1 Locating Meaning in the Contingent Realm of Global Culture
If representations of globalization, or any other cultural construct are subjective, can there
be any meaning in the project of cultural representation? Contingency provides a pragmatic
response to this question. The rhetorical properties employed by Plato, Rorty, and many others
free contingent depictions from the confines of necessity, logic, or rationality. This dissertation’s
illustrations of the relational variables that comprise NGO music culture thus does not reach for
“reality” in any absolute sense. Nor are the themes emphasized in each chapter (discourse,
technology, semiotics, politics, etc.) the best, most logical the only way to order the cultural field
of NGO-affiliated music contexts in Nairobi. Perpetually shifting contingencies that shape
personal experience insist that even my own evaluations of the words within this document will
change over time. Contingently linked processes rely on an audience to perceive their inherent
meaning. By reaching out and forming communities of thought and interaction, it is an agent of
reification and transformation. A contingent ethnography such as this aims to manifest meaning
through the social connections and ruptures that it evokes amongst its readers. In short, the social
reception of the preceding illustrations will determine the legitimacy of these texts more than any
imagined objective “truth” or “reality.”
11.4 A Contingency-Induced Pragmatically Reflexive Statement
Given the reception-based dimensions of contingent depiction, I sculpted this text with
specific readerships in mind. Most immediate among these is the community of academics
(ethnomusicologists, musicologists, anthropologists, and all other related fields) who determine
the socially and institutionally generated culture through which further pursuit of a career in this
field will be evaluated. I must be self-effacing about my reasons for producing this document. I
seek a career in the aforementioned academic community and I must publish this work in order
to qualify as an active member of this group. Those in Kenya who gave me their time and trust
and with whom I hope to maintain relationships in the future are also of central importance to the
construction of this text. My sense of obligation to these research partners in Kenya stems from a
contingently situated value system that emphasizes responsibility. Finally, the document speaks
to an audience that the contingencies of time and circumstance will determine. I cannot know
who this audience will be, so I am left to write what I feel is important and valuable and hope
that they will see its content as relevant and valuable to their lives and worldviews.
Because the audiences of this text are so enmeshed in its construction, they too become
part of the subject. Contingent relationships link the creation of a text to its readers. Because
ethnographers are keenly aware of this, the writing and research process is linked to both
contemporary and future networks of ideas. The patterns of creation that give way to a
contingent ethnography also reflect the ethos of civil society. And like the relevance of personal
experience to the formation of the NGO music activities by individuals such as Tabu Osusa, my
personal past predating the research process, marks the direction taken within this account. In
particular, a search to combine a life connection to music with ethical participation in and
contribution to our global community was the strongest motivation for my involvement in this
11.4.1 Locating True North: Humility and the Ethics of Contingency
After my pursuit of a career as a jazz pianist came to an abrupt end in my early twenties
as a result of chronic tendinitis, I began to realize the enormous personal value that music had
served in my life. My interest in music and civic action is directly related to this heightened
musical self-awareness. It motivated me to become involved in several music projects that
intersected with human rights, social justice, and community development, including several
years of activities at a nonprofit music organization that serves youth in a low income
neighborhood of Boston. Eventually I became interested in music and civic engagement in places
other than Boston. During this time I also became increasingly aware of the interconnectedness
of the global community and I began researching music-based nonprofit organizations operating
in Africa and Central America.
After I was confronted with the complex ethical contradictions of the NGO sector that I
have detailed in this dissertation, my initial enthusiasm to become a dedicated participant of
ethical engagement in the NGO sector waned. I encountered case after case of ethical gridlock.
Numerous well-intentioned NGO workers with whom I worked had begun projects to serve the
needs of various communities but they all had encountered numerous unexpected challenges and
failures along the way. These pitfalls resulted largely from the clashing of cultures, which results
when “outsiders” enter into foreign communities with preconceived and often misguided notions
about the specific needs of that community. The hurdles of ethical contribution seemed ever
more difficult when these outsiders carried with them symbolic baggage wrought from years of
colonization and an unequal global economy. I pursued the project of research and writing a
dissertation on this topic primarily to obtain some insight into ethical “best practices” of musical
participation in civil society.
Given this reflexive backstory, one may wonder why ethics have not been central to the
discussion of global civil society presented here. One may infer that the contingent narrative I
have proposed here avoids the problem of ethical evaluation entirely. Indeed, I have gone to
great lengths to avoid taking a stance on the ethical legitimacy of any of the NGO music
activities I have presented. Yet ethics are central to any discussion of NGOs because these
organizations heavily advocate for civic missions that are couched within terms of
“development,” “societal benefit,” and “empowerment,” among others. These projects achieve
varying degrees of success. Some large organizations receive funding and resources for certain
initiatives while other smaller grass-roots organizations sputter along as they tirelessly pursue
social change in their local communities with few finances. This inequality calls into question
the ethical legitimacy of such civic missions. This invites assessments of each organization’s
ethical use and acquisition of resources. I propose that establishing general ethical guidelines for
civil society activity requires an acknowledgement that all circumstances are unique and an
understanding that all actions beget unpredictable actions. Taking sides on ethics in any absolute
sense therefore depends upon infinite knowledge of the entirety of possibilities that may come
from any given action. This, of course, is an impossible task.
Accepting the contingent mode of assessment refines our ethical compass. A contingent
mode of perception and action encourages choices based on pragmatic negotiations of known
variables while remaining open to unforeseen possibilities. Because any contingent relationship
forces a self-conscious acknowledgement of the existence of outlying variables that may have
affected the past, the present, or the future, there is no absolute prescription for ethical
participation in the world. A contingent consciousness nonetheless utilizes the shared assessment
of social spheres to assume proximate and pragmatic legitimacy.
However, ethical choices that are based on contingent relationships ultimately require an
evaluation of the self. This is the self that we cannot entirely know. It is one which engages a
world that is also not entirely accessible to us. It is from these unknowns that humility arises and
from humility comes the courage to make imperfect ethical choices that strive for perfection and
that are based on assessments of the broadest spectrum of contingent variables. From this ethical
sentiment, I have presented an assessment of the music activities within Kenya’s NGO sector. By
drawing ethical conclusions from the contingent circumstances presented within this dissertation,
I have modeled an active process of negotiation and renegotiation of the reality in which we live.
“Nyaktiti” by Makadem, mm 1-16, transcription by author. Transcribed from
Ohanglaman (2005). Analysis provided in Chapter Seven.
“Halele” by Gargar and Jesse Bukindu, mm. 1-24, transcription by author. Recording
transcribed from Garissa Express (2010). Analysis provided in Chapter Nine.
Non-State Actors Support Programme: NSA-NET
“Vital Voices and Culture: Increasing People’s Participation in Good Governance and Development”
Réf.: EuropeAid/129520/C/ACT/KE
for Grant Applicants
Open Call for Proposals
9th European Development Fund
Reference: 9 ACP KE 011
Deadline for receipt of applications: 21st April 2010
Objectives of the programme and priority issues
The global objective of the Programme is to improve the quality of life for the people of Kenya, especially
the poor, marginalized and vulnerable, in enabling all sections of society to have a voice in national
development policies, thus enhancing local ownership of development programmes.
The specific objective of the programme is to strengthen mechanisms, networks and capacity for
deepening and broadening of NSA involvement in development processes.
There are two lots under this call for proposals : Vital Voices and Participation in Development (Lot 1)
andCultural Actors and Participation in Development (Lot 2). The two lots, though both contributing to the
same objective and targeting non-state actors, are independent of each other and are to be treated
Lot 1: Vital Voices and Participation in Development
Priority Issues
The programme will invest in and strengthen structured non-state actor and citizen engagement and
voice in national and local level development and reform processes. Particular areas that will be given
priority are actions those that contribute to informed and effective citizen participation in policy and reform
implementation, effective lobbying and monitoring of governance, human rights, justice and rule of law
institutions and actors, and effective lobbying and monitoring of local level governance structures.
Four main results are expected:
Result 1 – Improved democratic governance: The Programme provides an opportunity to contribute to
the governance reforms identified herewith by allocating grants to NSA investing in these areas. The
operating environment for NSAs (particularly CSOs), will be broadened and improved as illustrated by
demonstrable NSA inputs in governmental policies and reforms at both national and local levels. Crosscutting issues like HIV/AIDS, gender, environment and other will be reflected in a larger number of
governmental policies. The preparations and processes for the next elections will witness inclusion of
NSAs and their views and be transparent and made public.
Result 2 – Improved networking among NSAs: Participating Network organisations will be more
representative and accountable and there will be improved networking and coordination amongst them.
Through this they will more effectively impact on the development process. The programme aims to
enhance these (in)formal structures in order to increase their capacity of representing views of (civil)
society at large and of providing services that address the demands of individual organisations and their
constituencies, which may lack capacity to engage optimally in the development process. The component
also aims at supporting Networks to promote improved accountability and transparency amongst NSAs
Result 3 – Enhanced institutional and technical capacity of NSAs: NSAs will have improved their
capacity to advocate and lobby on issues affecting downward governmental accountability. Alongside
technically more capable NSAs (with inclusion of enhanced management, financial, advocacy, strategic,
M&E etc. skills) the programme will put an emphasis on proper NSA governance and accountability in the
broadest sense. Empowered NSAs will work to influence Government and donor policies. One of the
aims of this component is to strengthen the ability of NSAs to identify areas of interest and engage with
decision-makers on key policy issues (constitutional, legal and electoral reform, trade policy, environment
etc.). This component should contribute to increase the capacity of NSAs to be more effective in
monitoring e.g. national and local budgets, electoral processes, changes in the law and to advocate on
behalf of particular interest groups.
Result 4 – Enhance institutional involvement of NSAs in the development process: Government is
perceived as becoming increasingly effective in providing services to the general population, and donors
are increasingly channelling funds for development activities through existing Government structures. It is
therefore increasingly important that civic organisations are involved in policy design, reforms
implementation, as well as monitoring of the implementation. A (national) framework to facilitate CSO
involvement in the development process will be supported. Such regulation framework will guide the
relations between Government and NSAs. The framework should also facilitate and improve the
participation and involvement of NSAs in local government policy making, implementation and monitoring
at the district level and below. The framework is not necessarily rigid or pre-defined, but should allow for
different approaches at different levels and for different sectors. It should, however, offer substantial
space for NSAs, as well as government, to go beyond mutual consultation towards policy formulation and
implementation with a distinct and traceable input of NSAs and opportunities for monitoring and (sector
review and) evaluation.
Lot 2: Cultural Actors and Participation in Development
Priority issues
Priority will be given to actions that ensure the active participation of cultural actors in the promotion of
good governance, human rights and democratic development, and to cultural actions that promote an
inclusive and cohesive Kenyan society. Cultural actions will be supported at both local and national level,
and in the cinema, audio-visual, literary, publishing, music, visual arts and performing arts sectors.
Two main results are expected:
Result 1: Enhanced Participation of Cultural Actors in Democratic Development: The programme
will create the space and opportunity for innovative and creative cultural mechanisms of expression,
dialogue, dissemination and information on governance issues and reforms including promotion of human
rights principles, and will allow cultural organisations to take part in the governance processes and play
an increased role in engaging community participation in national and local development strategies, and
at the same time develop cultural appreciation and potential.
Result 2: Enhanced inclusiveness and national identity: The programme will support cultural
expressions of national identity and social justice, particularly through initiatives that cultivate a sense of
national belonging while fostering positive ethnic and cultural identity, initiatives that foster equity and
fairness in society at local and national levels, and initiatives that effectively address exclusion on ethnic
grounds, marginalisation and development imbalances.
Financial allocation provided by the contracting authority
The overall indicative amount made available under this call for proposals is EUR 3,400,000 subject to
the approval of the financing agreement amendment with a proposed increase of €340,000 The
Contracting Authority reserves the right not to award all available funds.
Indicative allocation of funds by lot
The overall indicative amounts made available by Lot are:
Lot 1: EUR 2,890,000
Lot 2: EUR 510,000
In the case where the allocation foreseen for a specific lot cannot be used due to insufficient quality or
number of proposals received, the Contracting Authority reserves the right to reallocate the remaining
funds to another lot.
Size of grants
Any grant awarded under this programme must fall between the following minimum and maximum
Lot 1
minimum amount: EUR 80,000
maximum amount: EUR 400,000
Lot 2
minimum amount: EUR 50 000
maximum amount: EUR 150 000
- For proposals submitted by Non-State Actors from Kenya, grants may be awarded up to the maximum
percentage of 90 % of the total eligible costs of the action (see also section 2.1.4). The balance must be
financed from the applicant’s or partners’ own resources, or from sources other than the European
Community budget or the European Development Fund.
- For proposals submitted by European Non-State Actors, grants may be awarded up to the maximum
percentage of 75 % of the total eligible costs of the action (see also section 2.1.4). The balance must be
financed from the applicant’s or partners’ own resources, or from sources other than the European
Community budget or the European Development Fund.
Application form
Applications must be submitted in accordance with the instructions on the Concept Note and the Full
application form included in the Grant Application Form annexes to these Guidelines (Annex A)
Applicants must apply in English.
Any error or major discrepancy related to the points listed in the instructions on the Concept Note or any
major inconsistency in the application form (e.g. the amounts mentioned in the budget are inconsistent
with those mentioned in the application form) may lead to the rejection of the application.
Clarifications will only be requested when information provided is unclear, thus preventing the Contracting
Authority from conducting an objective assessment.
Hand-written applications will not be accepted.
Please note that only the application form and the published annexes which have to be filled in (budget,
logical framework) will be evaluated. It is therefore of utmost importance that these documents contain
ALL relevant information concerning the action. No additional annexes should be sent.
Where and how to send the Applications
Applications must be submitted in one original and three (3) copies in A4 size, each bound. The complete
application form (part A: concept note and part B: full application form), budget and logical framework
must also be supplied in electronic format (CD-Rom) in a separate and unique file (e.g. the application
form must not be split into several different files). The electronic format must contain exactly the
same application as the paper version enclosed.
The Checklist (Section V of part B the grant application form) and the Declaration by the applicant
(Section VI of part B of the grant application form) must be stapled separately and enclosed in the
Where an applicant sends several different applications each one has to be sent separately.
The outer envelope must bear the reference number and the title of the call for proposals, together
with the title and number of the lot, the full name and address of the applicant, and the words “Not to be
opened before the opening session”.
Applications must be submitted in a sealed envelope by registered mail, private courier service or by
hand-delivery (a signed and dated certificate of receipt will be given to the deliverer) at the address
The Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs
Co-operative Bank House, 7th Floor
P.O. Box 56057-00200
Nairobi, Kenya
Applications sent by any other means (e.g. by fax or by e-mail) or delivered to other addresses will be
Applicants must verify that their application is complete using the checklist (section V of part B of
the grant application form). Incomplete applications may be rejected.
Deadline for submission of Applications
The deadline for the submission of applications is 21st April 2010 as evidenced by the date of dispatch,
the postmark or the date of the deposit slip. In the case of hand-deliveries, the deadline for receipt is
at 16.00 hoursEast African Standard Time as evidenced by the signed and dated receipt. Any application
submitted after the deadline will automatically be rejected.
However, for reasons of administrative efficiency, the Contracting Authority may reject any application
received after the effective date of approval of the first evaluation step (i.e. Concept Note) (see indicative
calendar under section 2.5.2)
Further information for the Application
Information sessions on this call for proposals will be held as follows:
Nairobi- 2nd February 2010 at Panafric Hotel from 9.30 am to 12 noon
Mombasa- 4th February 2010 at Royal Court Hotel from 9.30 am to 12 noon
Kisumu- 8th February 2010 at Sunset Hotel from 9.30 am to 12 noon
Garissa- 11th February 2010 at Nomad Palace Hotel from 9.30 am to 12 noon
Questions may in addition be sent by e-mail no later than 21 days before the deadline for the receipt of
proposals to the below address, indicating clearly the reference of the call for proposals.
The Contracting Authority has no obligation to provide further clarifications after this date.
Replies will be given no later than 11 days before the deadline for the receipt of proposals.
In the interest of equal treatment of applicants, the Contracting Authority cannot give a prior opinion on
the eligibility of an applicant, a partner, an action or specific activities.
Questions that may be relevant to other applicants, together with the answers, will be published on the
internet at the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs website, at the European
Union delegation in Kenya website, and at the EuropeAid website.
Bukindu, Jesse (Ketebul Music’s chief studio engineer). 2011a February 11. Digitally recorded
interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
———. 2011b March 11. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios,
DJ Yusef (Director of Busara Promotions). 2011 February 09. 2011 Sauti Za Busara opening
ceremony speech digitally recorded by author in Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Drix, Frederick (Ketebul Music intern). 2011 February 3. Digitally recorded interview conducted
with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
Kivutia, Steve (Ketebul Music project manager). 2011 February 24. Digitally recorded interview
conducted with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
Koga, Walter (Alliance Française affiliated musician). 2011 April 27. Field-note recorded
interview conducted with author at Alliance Française).
Mapangala, Samba (musician and cultural icon). 2012 February 13. Digitally recorded interview
conducted with author via Skype.
Mapangala, Samba, Tabu Osusa, and CC Smith. 2011 March 3. Digitally recorded interview
conducted with author at Alliance Française, Nairobi.
Mahulo, Melvin (communications graduate student at Daystar University and Kenyan National
Television graphic designer). 2010 September-2011 May. Recurrent cultural consultancy
and research advisement.
Makadem (Ketebul Music affiliated musician). 2011a March 17. Digitally recorded interview
conducted with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
———. 2011b April 14. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios,
Mjomba, Leonard (Communications professor at Kenyatta University). 2010 September-2011
May. Recurrent cultural consultancy and research advisement.
———. 2011 February 13. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Mjomba’s
home in Mombasa.
Munga, James (Sarakasi Trust financial accountant and administrator). 2011 February 17.
Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Sarakasi Trust, Nairobi.
Njeru, Asunta (Kiswahilli language instructor). 2010 October -2011 April. Recurrent Kiswahili
lessons, translation services, and cultural consultancy.
Nzokia, Mary (Kiswahili and Akamba language instructor and cultural consultant to foreigners
conducting NGO and service projects). 2010 October -2011 April. Recurrent Kiswahili
lessons, translation services, and cultural consultancy.
———. 2011 February 23. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at The Language
Center LTD., Nairobi.
Ondiek, Patrick (Ketebul Music’s chief videographer). 2011a February 24. Digitally recorded
interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
———. 2011b February 25. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Ketebul
Studios, Nairobi.
Osusa, Tabu (director of Ketebul Music). 2011a February 24. Digitally recorded interview
conducted with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
———. 2011b March 16. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios,
———. 2011c March 27. Speech, digitally recorded by author at Sippers Restaurant, Nairobi.
———. 2011d September 27. Email correspondence with author.
Owango, Brian (Director of Mayeli). 2011a February 18. Email correspondence with author.
———. 2011b February 19. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author in Owango’s car
in transit to the Huruma youth center and continued later in the evening at Java House,
———. 2011c April 26. Field-note recorded interview conducted with author at the Sarit Center
in Westlands, Nairobi.
Ratego, Olith (Ketebul Music affiliated musician). 2011a March 16. Digitally recorded interview
conducted with author at Ketebul Studios, Nairobi.
———. 2011b March 17. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios,
———. 2011c April 7. Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Ketebul Studios,
Smith, CC (music manager and World Music industry mogul). 2012a January 27. Digitally
recorded interview conducted with author via Skype.
———. 2012b March 31. Email correspondence with author.
Wanjohi, Peter (Assistant Secretary of the Kenyan Permanent Presidential Music Commission).
2011 February 18. Field-note recorded interview conducted with author at the Permanent
Presidential Music Commission office in Nairobi.
Waters, Harsita (Director of Arts and Culture programing at Alliance Française). 2011a April 27.
Digitally recorded interview conducted with author at Alliance Française.
———. 2011b August 2. Email correspondence with author.
Wa Mberia, Kithaka (Internationally acclaimed international Kenyan poet and linguistics
professor at University of Nairobi). 2011 November 18. Field-note recorded interview
conducted with author at Wa Mberia’s office on the University of Nairobi campus,
Wambua, John (musician and leader of the Tala Dancers). 2011 March 21. Digitally recorded
interview and performance conducted with author in Tala, Kenya.
Wambua, John and Mary Nzokia. 2011 April 16. Digitally recorded interview and music lesson
conducted with author at the author’s apartment in Madaraka, Nairobi.
Winyo (Ketebul Music affiliated musician). 2011 April 23. Field-note recorded interview
conducted with author at Fisherman’s Camp, Lake Naivasha.
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Matthew M. Morin holds a B.A. in music with a minor in anthropology from the
University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a M.A. in ethnomusicology from Tufts
University. At Florida State University between 2008 and 2010, he taught undergraduate
courses on world music, modern popular music, and American roots music. His primary
research focus is the global manifestations of music and civil society. Additional interests
include applied ethnomusicology, globalization, politics, human rights, and music
education pedagogy. Prior to the research presented in this dissertation on intersections of
NGO culture and music culture in East Africa, Matthew wrote a Master’s thesis based on
three years of fieldwork on urban youth music cultures in Boston’s non-profit sector. He
also collected oral histories exploring Nadia Boulanger’s teaching pedagogy with several
of her former students. Matthew currently lives in Kawagoe, Japan where he is
continuing follow-up research with partners in Kenya and researching Japanese civil
society music cultures with particular attention to forms of community-based music
organizing and cultural festivals known as matsuri.