It´s another great week that I get a chance again to attend the Oslo World Music Festival. This comes immediately after the successful completion of the WOMEX in Copenhagen, Denmark. I arrived back to Kristiansand yesterday (Sunday) and spent my whole afternoon in bed. My body feels sick and tired but again, I had to wake up and pack ready for another week of sleepless nights in Oslo.
Every experience brings with it different adventures and opens my mind to different perspectives in life. At WOMEX, I had a chance to interact with various people, with me I have so many business cards, the task now is to be able to sort them out and remember how and why I got the cards in the first place. All in all, it was a great avenue for networking and attending a conference dubbed “ Women of the World Networking meeting” was such a fundamental experience for me. This brought together women from all circles with the objective of sharing ideas on how to improve the lives of women on the global arena.
“We can all be part of the great change we wish to see in this world, the task is to identify when to take charge. I knew for a while I was unemployable and I wanted to take charge, so I decided its time and since then I have taken charge,” Said Deborah Cohen who challenged fellow women to raise to positions of power and be counted.
My greatest experience was to interact with musicians from different parts of the world and to learn different genres of music within World Music. It is unfortunate that this is still a very new concept in East Africa and therefore, there were only a handful to represent East Africa. Kenya boosts of having an International World Music Winner of the year 2011, George Mutinda yet very few Kenyans have a clue on what World Music is all about.
“I am an International brand, but even with the award in my name, many Kenyans do not know me, they do not know my music and I have a challenge now to make a name here in Kenya.” Said Mutinda during my interview with him in Kenya in July.
Talking to other Kenyan musicians who have now planned to promote World Music in Kenya, they confess that it is going to take a while until this type of music gets some airtime in Kenya. “It is a new concept, but as musicians, we are going to take it upon ourselves to market and publicize World Music in Kenya. We are a young democracy, we just started the other day, not many of us appreciate music and culture as part of us, but were are soon getting there and we will be there,” said Joseph Hellon a Kenyan Jazz Alto-saxophonist, who is now concentrating on World Music.
Strange ways of the world. We in East Africa, in most cases, we are guilty of playing music from the West and playing less of our own, what we can call local production from East Africa. And I will be right to say in Nairobi it is even worse. Ask the current generation of the youth to mention 3 of their favourite artists, the top two will be international names. “It is sad, this trend where you tune in to different radio stations in Nairobi and if you close your eyes you imagine you are in New York, it must stop and soon it will” said Abby Nyiza a long serving musician and producer at Abby Productions in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Our children are growing up thinking they are R. Kelly´s cousins, yet they cannot even identify to any Kenyan music, we are taking charge and changing the trends. Kenya is you and me, and we have to change this system,” added Abby.
The truth is East Africa has for a long time lagged behind in exporting its music to the World. Take for example West Africa and South Africa, these are well established brands and have continued to make a huge name even in the European countries.
“In many cases, people confuse me to be coming from West Africa, I am not sure whether it is my style of singing or my voice. I always have to emphasize that I come from Kenya in East Africa and still there are those who doubt it” said Susanna Owiyo, a prominent Kenyan female musician with an International recognition.
In my research early this spring, based on increasing the content of East Africa music played in the European countries, a number of musicians, producers and East African Promoters were quick to agree that we still do not have an East African Brand.
“East Africa Brand? I am hearing it from you. There is nothing like that yet, we hope it will be there one day, if only our artists upgraded their game,” remarked Anthony Mathu, a musician and E.A music promoter based in Germany.
Then, here I was at WOMEX. I met this group, MDUNGU, a group of 8 Europeans based in Amsterdam and playing African Music. H ah ahahaha, isn´t if funny? So I ask why did they choose on African music?
“Africa is very special, it has great potential and very special instruments. It started more as a learning process, somehow all music roots back to Africa, it not only makes you feel good, but it has an emotional layer to it.” Said Benuar one of the members of the MDUNGU crew.
As I said earlier, strange ways of the world, while those in Africa are getting their inspiration from International artists and in a way imitating those from the West, there are quite a number of International musicians that are doing African music, even though living abroad. Of course as a result of globalization, anything is possible. I am eager to see what happens to this kind of fusion.
“We are not worried about what Africans think about our music, we plan to one day do a tour in Africa and see what Africans think about this bunch of Europeans playing African music. If they think we are crap, good, at least we have feedback!” Added Benuar.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson