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  • Sounds of Change and Reform:The Appropriation of Gospel Music and Dance in Political Discourses in Kenya
  • Damaris Seleina Parsitau (bio)


Gospel music is believed to be not only the fastest growing musical expression and industry in Kenya today but has also become an important aspect of Kenya's socio-political discourses. It is now intricately interwoven with politics in Kenya and is used to usher in or clamour for social change and reform. But while gospel music and dance had been around for a long time, it is however in the early 1980s but more prominently in the 1990s to date that it has witnessed tremendous growth and significance (Parsitau 2006). It was however during the clamour for social change and political reforms at the dawn of the millennium that gospel music and dance acquired social and political significance. This paper examines the significance of gospel music in political discourses in Kenya. This article was therefore informed by the need to understand why gospel music and dance have suddenly invaded public space and political discourse in Kenya, particularly during general elections and why politicians are increasingly appropriating it.

The article focuses on the role of gospel music and dance as a mobilizing factor for socio-political change and reform and argues that generally music, whether gospel or secular, is a dynamic and highly charged force that affects other aspects of life such as democracy, economic growth, empowerment (Thorsen 2004). This is because music and dance whether gospel or secular have a way of communicating and evoking certain emotions and this is why some songs have provided powerful support for democratisation processes. The article contends that gospel music and dance represent a valuable entry point into discussions of contemporary African cultural production as well as socio-political [End Page 55] processes and discourses (Chitando 2003). It attempts to capture the impact of gospel music and dance on socio-political processes as well as highlight the various groups of cultural workers who have benefited from the phenomenal growth of gospel music. It undertakes an analysis of the context in which gospel music was able to thrive and locates this music and dance to social, political and economic developments in Kenya. It also highlights the neglected area of religion and the construction of religious identities particularly around gospel music and dance. It maintains that gospel music and dance is one of the main ways in which African Christian identities are being negotiated and constructed (Chitando 2003). It is therefore in the quest of understanding the appropriation of gospel music and dance in the socio-political discourses in Kenya that this paper finds its justification. To be able to do this, the paper grapples with the following questions: What is gospel music and dance? What is its place and significance in the socio-political processes in Kenya? How is it appropriated in political discourses in Kenya? What is its relationship to the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches? Who are the team players in the gospel music scene? What social, political and economic factors have led to the evolution of gospel music? What are the dominant themes discernable in this music? What is the role of the media in ushering in gospel music? Is the music contemporary, current, foreign or purely traditional African music and dance? How has it invaded public space? The article will wrestle with these questions in order to understand its significance in the socio-political scene in Kenya.

Gospel Music and Dance In Kenya: An Overview

Gospel music and dance in Kenya has witnessed phenomenal growth since the 1990s to date (Parsitau 2006). Three factors were responsible for this immense growth of gospel music, and these are: a deteriorating socio-political and economic environment, the proliferation of the Neo Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches, which witnessed phenomenal growth in the 1970s and 1980s but more significantly in the 1990s, and the liberalization of airwaves, which equally took place in the 1990s and at the dawn of the millennium (Parsitau 2006). These three factors ensured the ascendancy and popularity of gospel music in Kenya that has totally revolutionised the country's gospel music scene. It has equally had a significant impact on...


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pp. 55-72
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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