Monday, August 30, 1999 Published at 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Kenya: Journey through a rhythm nation
Eric Wainaina (top left) sings in Kikuyu but attracts fans from all ethnic groups
Join Zain Verjee of Capital FM in Nairobi on a tour of Kenya's musical scene, from its traditional roots to the vibrant and dynamic sounds of what's become known as New Fusion.
About 12 kilometres from Nairobi city centre on 90 acres of land is the Bomas of Kenya.
Bomas - meaning "homestead" in Swahili is a project that replicates various traditional villages in Kenya and preserves diverse traditional song and dance.
"I don't like other types of music - I like Kenyan music more than any other music," he says.
"The music that is played here is music that is the pride of Kenya."
A two hour show is performed at the Bomas every afternoon by highly trained dancers and musicians.
There's always a significance to a song or dance or even to a certain instrument that is being played.
A nyatiti player is usually called upon to perform either at weddings or funerals.
Music from the coast
Some of the most traditional Kenyan music is performed along the country's scenic 400 kilometre coastline that faces the Indian ocean.
One of the most internationally renowned groups, originally from the Kenyan coast, is Them Mushrooms.
They have received numerous achievement awards and have toured the UK, Germany, Switzerland and India.
One of the most famous of their songs is 'Jambo Bwana' which is on the lips of every tourist who visits Kenya.
Penned by Teddy Kalanda, the band leader, this song went on to sell 30,000 copies.
Since 1987, Them Mushrooms have been based in Nairobi's Madaraka shopping centre, where they continue to create and develop their music.
"Chakacha is music from the coastal area, from the indigenous people, but there is a lot of influence from Arabs and Indians."
"We put in a little bit of English, Kikuyu....as many languages as we can just to expand our fan base."
Them Mushrooms also produce other young artists like Princess Farida who sings the popular Chakacha music in her mother tongue, Swahili.
Coming from a traditional Muslim family, Princess Farida has faced harsh criticism because of the type of performances she gives.
But although she has faced many obstacles, she says her music defines who she is.
""This Chakacha thing is done by women in separate rooms when they are alone......not like what I do. I feel this is my talent, why shouldn't I do it?"
"I don't see anything wrong [with dancing in public.] I just do it because I love it."
In love with Lingala
Many of the more traditional Kenyan artists are disgruntled with the strong influence of music originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, called Lingala.
Kenyans go crazy when Congolese Lingala gurus such as Papa Wemba, General Defao, or Kofi Olomide come to town.
They play at the Citizen Square Bar every evening, and the place is always packed.
"Kenyans do have music but it has lost its authenticity" says Lesaka Joka of Bilenge.
"Kenyans want to sing music from the west and from Zaire."
Radio stations in Nairobi such as Capital Radio, and its rival Metro are mainly playing modern urban Kenyan fusion music, popularised in Nairobi.
Sometimes there are some hip hop and rhythm and blues beats with a mixture of Swahili and English lyrics as popularised by the rap trio Kalamashaka.
It seems that much of this fusion reflects a struggle to define a new Kenyan identity.
Instead of listening to Kenyan artists he grew up listening more to Abba, Boney M, and Stevie Wonder.
"I think my music is a reflection of who I am, which is a Kenyan, with western influences", he says.
"Our Kenyan identity as a nation was lost a long time ago dating to my parents and grandparents days."
Surprisingly this folkloric number has appealed not just to the Kikuyu ethnic group, but to all groups, thereby transcending the boundaries of ethnicity.
Many young Kenyans are now taking risks and producing their first CDs.
Greater investments in existing studios, and the establishment of new production venues has given Kenyans a space to develop their talents, and promote their art.
One type of music that the majority of Kenyans enjoy and appreciate is gospel.
DJ Ciru Githongo, who hosts a gospel radio show says the music attracts both committed christians and those younger listeners who just enjoy the sound.
"The weakness with gospel in Kenya is the same with any other form of music. We import a lot of music rather then producing it ourselves," she says.
"We don't have very good arrangers and producers and those who are good don't have the exposure and experience to produce music to international standards."
It is an exciting time to be watching the music scene in Kenya.
As for whether this satisfies everyone's idea of what it means to be Kenyan is less certain.
Kenyans living at the coast or in the rural parts of the country still prefer more traditional styles of music.
Nevertheless whatever the public's likes and dislikes, it is clear that many artists are not afraid of experimenting and taking risks, that will, hopefully take them to new heights.