By Immanuel Lokwei,
A huge majority would regard, and you could easily extract this consensus from them, that KASS night event that happened last Saturday night at Carnivore grounds is a night to be remembered. But there are a few people or at least one individual here who would be excluded by this generality.
Of course nothing can rival the wonderful camaraderie and the good feelings that pervaded the atmosphere that night. If we are to discuss about the vibrant throngs of loyal music fans that swamped the two separate yet simultaneously-engaging music stages and the high levels of exhilaration and overwhelming responsiveness radiated even by those who voluntarily or involuntary tagged along in solidarity; if we are to discuss about these aspects of the event, a hardhat perfectionist too would concur that the general orchestration of the whole event was remarkable. But, notwithstanding my lack of pedantic arrogance of a hardhat perfectionist, there are a few disappointments regarding the musical aspect of the festival I would point out: the quality of the music played there, and sounds engineering.
The music itself, which I will call “Kitwek” music, has a promising potential but the musicians themselves seemed to have been trapped in a “pre-Darwinian” era with no one to advice or rescue them. One live musician after the other each echoed sameness and predictabilities of the previous one. All the live musicians seemed ignorant of the fact that this generic conservatism they espouse has a stifling effect on their music’s appeal to a wider audience. The only distinct thing worth of notice were the words that each musician sang and the message they conveyed. But the words and messages are generally to the benefit of those who can understand Kalenjin.
The instruments diversity was greatly wanting too. Here is a list of each musician’s instruments’ line up: a bass guitar, one lead guitar, one rhythm guitar, a drum-set and nothing more. On one stage, sound engineers were positioned at the right side of the performing band, near the rear end of the stage. It needs no mentioning that their strategic position, and perhaps plus either their lack of skills or just adamant indifference to the general sound quality, produced those piercing microphone screeches and unbalanced amp and AP sounds. For now, let us bypass the issue of sound engineering.
Some my come to the defense of “Kitwek” genre by arguing that I am accusing it for what it is not. That the strict instrumental similarity between one song and the next, the exact replication of instruments from one band to the other, and the manner of singing (the scarcity of vocal variability), are what make this genre “Kitwek.” A different person may also argue that my untrained ear and unfamiliarity with this genre is duly why I missed most of the musical nuances and ingenuity actually embedded and portrayed through this music. He might also add that even though these embellishments were lacking I would be wrong to critique this music for the following reasons. One, the main purpose of any music is to entice the spirit and the sentiments of its audience or a certain blogger put it to “mimics the movement of our emotions,” and this music succeeded in this as my own attestation affirms. Second, embellishments are not the essential elements of “Kitwek” music, that judging it based on a certain musical merit, obligation or standard is secondary to the primary goal of the music and therefore trivial. One could furthermore argue that I am imposing this standard and yet one “can’t argue about taste” in art: to each their own.
Many objections can be raised against my claims but on the issue of “Kitwek” monotonous repetitiveness, there’s nothing subjective about it. Anyone had but to listen attentively and this would be noticeable. Each song’s derivative aspects were as conspicuous as its lack of distinct freshness and individuality. Good portions of the attendees, though they danced a lot and seemed extremely elated were intoxicated and hence belied a reverse causality; their engagements should therefore not be cited as evidence of their appreciation for the moments of freshness of this music. I for one, as the night dragged along, become insensitive to the monotony after a few “mursik” drinks and had a good night.
I am not disparaging “Kitwek” genre of music as in any way inferior. But I am rather questioning the role that the audience have – the “messianic” influence they can have, which can be wielded not only to advantage music quality in the country but also to advance the expertise and economy of our local live-band musicians. If the goal in social and political life is to flourish, so must musical talents and sensibilities. For holistic growths to be witnessed in our social domains, every social aspect has to be incorporated in the dialectical movement, nothing should be neglected or allocated little care. And so music, just like politics, cannot be dispensed with and so deserves candid criticism and cultivation.
These are the times we should be aiming at globalizing our cultures and traditions, and music is the best means to this goal (though of course music is an end in itself). We can produce our own unique “Internationally-acclaimed” music that can competently send more influential ripples across the international music scene than did Mozart or Beatles music. This can be done. Other parts of Africa have already done this. It has already been done by the local mbalax style of Senegal under the auspices of pioneer musicians like Youssou N’Dour, the purveyor of griot tradition.
In these times when the national spirit and cohesion needs nourishment and literally longs to perch onto anything that could potentially promote this sense of national pride and belongingness, music can be a welcomed aide. And as the uncertainty of our longevity in our athletic glory looms around the horizon, we ought to nourish substitutes/alternatives that can still bind our senses of nationhood. These are times not only for economic alternatives aka entrepreneurships and self-employments, but also times for musical alternatives that can embody our historical and traditional heritage while at the same time gaining international prominence.
The least we (as the loyal fans of our local music genres) can do is nudge our musicians’ un-harvested potentials forward. By not letting our local musicians hump on our loyalties to our “innate” musical tastes while they, the musicians themselves, do minimum in terms of creativity; by rewarding and supporting bold and innovative defiance from this ubiquitous conservatism explicit in our local music genres; we would not just be providing a supportive base for our musicians’ development. Nor would we just be creating huge possibilities for their international breakthrough. By so doing we would also be inversely enhancing our own music sensibilities and appreciation of great forms of art.
So as not to place the entire blame on our local live-band musicians (as you can tell I’m not interested in “CDs” musicians) we should understand that sometimes it is not the will of our local live-band musicians that they should come off as less sophisticated. We understand their ambition to soar up creativity ladders often faces hurdles set by their producers/managers’ principles and economic priorities. The fear of losing fans or the desire to milk a prevailing musical propensity could be a major motivating factor that inspires these producers to monopolize and hamper the creative powers of our local live-band artists. Hence these decades of musical stagnation and oblivion!
But the tipping point, the force to propel us beyond this stagnation is within our powers. “Our” here means us the faithful fans of our local live-band genres. We can demand, reward and encourage more experimentation and introduction of new sounds across our favorite genres. If we do this, we might shift producers/managers’ monopoly and timidity and we might soon be the generation that witnesses an extraordinary musical revolution. Why shouldn’t our locally produced music achieve these international zeniths?
It might only be a matter of time before live music fully recovers from the long stupor it has endured since the times of Fundi Konde and Fadhili Williams, before it regains its charming taste. But we the audience should act and assert our will at least if we hope for a future KASS night that is more epic than the one last Saturday night, at least if we hope to see even a trumpet accompanying Micah Maritim’s ensemble next time.