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164 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya CHAPTER TEN A Kenyan Intro: Identity Politics in the Performances of a Kenyan Popular Music Band Tom Michael Mboya & Iddah Wandolo Introduction The chapter describes the opening formula in the performances of a Kenyan popular music band, Ja’mnazi Afrika. The interest is in the group’s performances at the New Sesia Club, Wagon Hotel, Eldoret, where the group is – and has been for some time now – the resident band. The assumption here is that under the “home” conditions the band operates on its terms, and its formulae are consequently those that it has developed to interact effectively and continuously with familiar fans while attracting new followers. Deploying a theoretical framework derived from semiotics the chapter reads the opening formula in the performances of Ja’mnazi Afrika as a statement on the musical and cultural identity of the band. Via this opening formula, (which is made up of a tuning of the musical instruments, playing of Latin and Congolese rhumba instrumentals and slow tempo - mainly Tanzanian and Congolese - music of the 1980s) Ja’mnazi Afrika gestures its desired definition of itself as a cosmopolitan, national, all-Kenyan, even pan-African band, rather than that of a music group that is “owned” by any of Kenya’s “tribes”. This identity forms a basis of the relationship between the group of modern oral artists and their multi-ethnic/national audience. The Opening Formula The New Sesia Club of Wagon Hotel, Eldoret, is the most prestigious of the specialist live band venues in Eldoret town. The Wagon Hotel is itself a major hotel located right in the middle of town. And Eldoret is a big town by Kenyan standards, the fifth after Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru. As is the case in the other big towns in Kenya the population of Eldoret is multi-ethnic. In the words of Busolo Wegesa, Getting Heard 165 [a]s an urban centre, Eldoret has tapped from virtually all Kenyan ethnicities. Its proximity to the [Ugandan] border and position on the international highway also opens it to a sizeable alien population (in Indangasi et al, eds. 2006:118). The bigger groups of the non-Kenyan population are Sudanese, Ugandan, and Congolese (DRC). And there are the sizeable populations of “Indians” (as all south-eastAsians are called in Kenya) and Somalis whose nationality it is not easy to determine. Due to this mix of peoples, and in the absence of a dominating culture of the town’s original/ “authentic” inhabitants that would, as happens in Mombasa and Kisumu, subsume the other cultures that come into its space, Eldoret is highly cosmopolitan - perhaps of Kenyan towns second only to Nairobi in this respect. Ja’mnaziAfrika performs at the New Sesia Club twice a week, on Friday and Saturday nights. Now, Ja’mnazi Afrika is a popular music group. It was formed in 2002 by Awilo Mike1 , Milton Ongoro and Peter Daliti. Presently2 Ja’mnazi Afrika is an all male nine piece band and the three founder members make up a triumvirate in the group’s organizational structure. The members (six Kenyans, two Congolese and one Tanzanian) are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. And, in the words of the journalist Amos Ngaira, Ja’mnazi Afrika is the most talked about band in Kenya today. And it’s because of their catchy, mid-tempo Benga song, I’m Not Sober, which has gripped the attention of music lovers. The young and old, men and women, and even children sing along, every time it is played on radio. (Sunday Nation, September 18, 2005) According to Awilo, the spokesman of the band, “Ja’mnazi” means both “that coconut tree” and “like a coconut tree” in a Kenya-coast Kiswahili dialect. Awilo chose the name “Ja’mnazi” for its symbolic associations. The coconut tree is the tallest tree in its habitat, the same way as Ja’mnazi Afrika (is imagined by the musicians tower(s) over other Kenyan dance bands. The coconut tree is useful to the human communities that inhabit areas where the tree grows. It gives fruit, spice, drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), fuel, building and roofing material, furniture wood, etc. Likewise, Ja’mnazi Afrika offers music lovers much. Interestingly, even though Ja’mnazi Afrika is usually characterized in the media as a benga band and their first “hit” I’m Not Sober is obviously a 166 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya benga song, Awilo, who composed I’m Not Sober, hesitates to have the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789966028099
Related ISBN
9789966724434
MARC Record
OCLC
778448044
Pages
204
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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