What is gengetone? When and how did it start?
In a video room in Kangemi, a group of youth are seated on benches, shaking their heads to the tune of bumbling songs as they await a tensing football match.
Across the river, motorcycle riders maneuver around the busy streets of Kawangware on loud speakers.
Beyond Nairobi River, on the busy slums of Dandora in Eastlands, a group of artists and music fans gather for a captivating dance session.
On the hilly suburb of Mlimani, the affluent residents listen to the soothing sound of music.
As the evening breeze whizzes on the slopes of Ngong hills and descends to the Nairobi National Park, commuters on matatus heading for Rongai are treated to the best mix of local music.
This is a clear picture of a typical day in the city of Nairobi.
One of the genres that have gained significant momentum in Kenya recently is the Gengetone.
The Origins of Gengetone Music
With its roots in the ghettos of Nairobi, Gengetone emerged in 2016, but gained much support in 2018 and 2019 as local groups emerged. One of the key pioneers of the Gengetone sounds is the Ochungulo Family, a band of 3 members – Nelly the Goon, Benzema, and Dmore. The three artists met in a studio and decided to gang up and form one of the most formidable Gengetone group in the country, rising beyond limits of fame in 2017.
Styles and Themes
Gengetone is a local genre that blends the genge rap of yesteryears with reggae tone and dancehall. In early 2000s, musicians such as Jua Cali came up with a Swahili rap style that blazed the country with significant hype. As things and times change, the new boys emerge with new styles.
Aside from high-octane sound and danceable tunes associated with Gengetone, the genre also has hilarious and humorous lyrics that make you forget your troubles. It also uses the sheng slang language commonly used in major town purlieus of Kenya.
In totality, Gengetone reflects the lifestyles of the hoods. It evokes emotions and uses themes that ghetto youth can identify with.
A good example of this Gengetone culture is the growth of the group Sailors with their marque hit song “Wamlambez.” The song has not only lifted the young musicians to stardom, but has also instilled notoriety and fanaticism among their fans. The hippie lifestyle of the hoods has got a new phrase “Wamblambez, Wamnyonyez”, which is used to raise the moods of crowds. This has become a mark in the Kenyan music culture since 2018, and is likely to go on for another decade or so.
Other common musicians singing Gengetone are: The Ethic, Krg the Don, Boondocks Gang, Theonlydelo, and Matata. Some of the common Gengetone songs include Wakiritho by Sailors ft Octopizzo, Wainame by Sailors, Kaa na Mama Yako by the Ochungulo family, and Chapa Chapa by Ethic Entertainment.
Influence on Schools
This culture has infiltrated into primary and secondary schools in Kenya with significant effect. Most, if not all Kenyan secondary schools, play Gengetone during entertainment, school games, and talent shows. Many videos circulate in the social media and YouTube of boys and girls dancing to Gengetone tunes in different schools. A good example is this group of students showcasing their dancing prowess at the sound of Gengetone.
While Gengetone is giving the kids a chance to demonstrate and develop their talents, it also has a massive impact on their character and academic performance. If not checked, Gengetone culture could distract most learners and limit the time they spend in learning. Some students may even transfer the Gengetone entertainment sessions to the classroom, distracting even more learners. Others steal money to buy memory cards and flash disks. A good number of high school students also carry mobile devices to load Gengetone songs and create a mass movement of the culture.
Our position is that schools should try and create a culture of reading to replace or at least supplement the Gengetone culture. Students should not see the temporary movement as a lasting aspect of their life. No, it is a passing wind. Vanity of Vanities. Gengetone must not stop, but it should have limits.