• Founders saw a gap in local documenting of pop culture and sought to fill it
Last year was a great year for the local music industry. It was almost like a renaissance of 2003, when Genge was also at its peak. It started with the return of Gengetone, where Fathermoh and Ssaru dropped the song “Kaskie Vibaya”, which went on to be a hit song, getting radio play in clubs and matatus. This was following rumours that the genre itself had died during the Covid period back in 2020.
Then came the rise and continuous rise of Arbantone, the new mainstream genre, which can basically be described as urban Kenyan music that involves creatively sampling previously released songs’ beats, lyrics and sounds. An example is the famous ‘Tiktoker’, which sampled the beat from Jua Cali’s Bidii Yangu. Most of the people in the older generation have complained that this sample has led to a lot of confusion, but the Gen-Z, nevertheless, have teased them to get on with the times.
As the year wound down, Spotify Africa, in partnership with COLORSxSTUDIOS, visited Kenya and gave R&B artistes a chance to showcase their talents in a programme known as Tantalisers.
Here, we got to hear and enjoy performances from the likes of Bien, Maya Amolo, Zowie Kengocha, Karun, Xenia Manasseh and Lisa-Oduor Noah. Being a continental platform, the popularity of these artistes definitely increased tenfold, something their fans were over-joyous to see.
The history of anything we may be aware of exists so until this date because it was documented by someone. We definitely wouldn’t have known of ancient Greek philosophy if Plato and Aristotle hadn’t written about them. Neither would we have known about Egyptian culture if it weren’t for the hieroglyphics that exist in the tombs.
Therefore, what this tells us about any occurrence in life is how important it is to document it. This, in many ways, helps for future reference. We are all aware of the biases that exist in information passed around by word of mouth, as compared to that which has been stored down in written form.
It may be easily distorted or even forgotten. Hence the gap that exists in African history. For centuries, we went on with our lives without documenting anything, and now, all we have left with us is only what happened during our grandparents’ lifetime.
Also, another important aspect of documentation is that this information is easily shared with a larger audience, as compared to the case of oral literature, where it can only be shared with those whom the speaker has physical access to.
Therefore, seeing the gap that exists in the Kenyan pop culture scene, one African magazine has popped (pun intended) in, and hopes to steal the limelight away from the existing culture magazines.
It goes by the name Afrocritik, and it is a melting pot of African expression, telling African stories through the African lens. We are all aware of the increasing ascendancy of African music, film, literary and fashion industries in the global stage, so there has always been the need for a platform that carefully and professionally informs, educates and showcases the goings-on in the industry to a global audience.
With this in mind, Afrocritik has decided to get to work by curating rich African content, publishing cultural essays, organising interviews and engaging in general art criticism. All this has been made possible by the seasoned writers, top professionals and industry experts from different parts of Africa that Afrocritik has in its team. So far, they’ve covered the West African industry, even interviewing top artistes such as Joeboy, Mr Eazi and Oxlade.
I caught up with one of the co-founders, Samson Jikeme, to find out what plans they have for the pop culture scene in Kenya.
We have a booming pop culture industry that is largely undocumented. Might you know why that is so?
Samson Jikeme: Kenya definitely has a thriving pop culture scene. The problem we noticed is that the coverage is not optimised for the wider African and global audience. There is an intentionality with which coverage of the pop culture scene is done in Nigeria, for example. The goal is to be seen worldwide and to make plays for bigger markets. Nigerians take advantage of their diaspora population, who act as ‘global ambassadors’ for the culture. The best kind of marketing is the individual marketing.
When it comes to Kenyan politics, for example, whenever there is a General Election, everyone in the continent knows about it and becomes interested. And we follow up with keen interest from anywhere in the world. However, it’s not the same with the pop culture scene. This is not to draw a parallel between the two. It’s just to say that Kenyans can dominate conversations in the pop culture scene in Africa and also make giant plays for the international market, because the talent, skill and appeal exists. What’s missing is the coverage and exposure to these markets.
What special thing can Kenyan pop culture heads expect from you as you start documenting the culture happenings in Kenya?
First of all, we intend to document the various sub-genres of the art forms that are unique to the Kenyan culture, so as to show the sonic diversity of the Kenyan people. Genres such as hip hop and Afropop are common in all countries, but when it comes to the sub-genres, such as Shrap, Taarab or Benga, then one can only find them in Kenya. So, our aim is to draw people into these. We will also utilise bespoke data sources that facilitate the aggregation of art expressions and cultural undertakings.
You cover West African pop culture aggressively. Should we expect the same energy in your coverage of Kenyan pop culture?
Absolutely! That’s what we want to do. For example, Afrocritik spotlights new music and has a playlist on Apple Music. We will also start posting editorial nominations for ‘Song of the Month’ for every month. The list is not peculiar to West or Southern Africa. East Africa and Kenyan music will also be spotlighted. Besides the music industry, Kenya’s thriving film industry and other cultural offerings will also be covered ‘aggressively’.
According to your masthead, Frank Njugi seems to be the first East African journalist you have hired. Do you plan to hire more journalists from the region?
Yes. In time, we will hire more journalists from East Africa as we build inroads in the region.
You have mostly covered mainstream artistes in West Africa. Will this be the case with Kenya/East Africa as well, or will underground artistes also be covered?
I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I dare say that we’ve spotlighted and interviewed a lot more fledgling up-and-coming artistes than we’ve interviewed established ones. One of our objectives is to represent the underrepresented. Those in the spotlight don’t really need to be spotlighted. Without a doubt, we will still cover mainstream acts in Kenya and the entire East African region and interview them, but we will also spotlight and interview fledgling and underground artistes.
Where can people find your works?
They can visit our website, Afrocritik.com, where I assure them they’ll find something they love.