Wajinga Nyinyi and the Genre of Protest Music

King Kaka

Kennedy Ombima alias King Kaka is no stranger to popular conscious music nor to the world of spoken word. Thus, when he dropped ‘Wajinga Nyinyi‘, his piece echoed the anxieties that a majority of Kenyan youth is experiencing. A channel for political expression, Wajinga Nyinyi worked the corruption scandals of the current regime into sizeable and memorable text.

The opening bars, laid out with a religious impetus, starts with an invocation and a reference to selective amnesia. The satirical aesthetic then develops to express the discontent with the country’s political and interpersonal issues. Needless to say, much was related to the headlines and scandals already reported in the Kenyan dailies.

Within hours and in the days that followed its release, Wajinga Nyinyi went viral across various social media platforms. Having struck a nerve and perhaps roused a feeling of solidarity, social currency around the piece undoubtedly revealed the power of music; a driving force for change as long as people are dissatisfied with government processes.

Music does not exist autonomously of institutions and social processes; therefore, how should we address a song that primes people for socio-political change? First up is to understand their degree of engagement with the music they produce and consume. Secondly, is to understand that meaning is not always inherent in a piece of music; as a traveling art, it is subject to different agencies and structures all of which infer differently.

The power of the protest song

Over the course of history, music has shaped many a politics based on its objectives; be it a form of propaganda, of highlighting social ills, of rallying people for a cause etc. Protest songs in Kenya, for instance, date back to the colonial era with the Mau Mau songs of resistance. Additionally, advocacy musicians like Joseph Kamaru who later on was critical of the Moi regime, encouraged the struggle for independence.

Post-independence Kenya has also had its fair share of protest music; from 1960s-90s musicians such as Daniel Misiani, Sammy Muraya, JM Kariuki, JJ Muoria, Kalamashaka, John Owino, John Ndicu, Sammy Muraya to recent household names such as Eric Wainaina, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Juliani, Makadem etc. Still they rise!

To see the impact these songs have, one has only to look at the censorship laws and repressive strategies used: the ban of songs performed in Gikuyu language during colonial times, the ban of songs on local TV and radio stations, the arrest, torture and ‘disappearance’ of ‘errant’ musicians. A web search for songs such as Baba Otonglo, Matiba’s Tribulations, Mai ni Maruru will amount to little if anything.

The Aftermath of Wajinga Nyinyi

With its idioms and social quips, Sauti Sol’s Tujiangalie comes to mind working strikingly along Wajinga Nyinyi’s lines. One could readily dismiss them but there’s something winningly prompting and complementary about the two songs. Both make use of Kiswahili and local slang to capture youthful audiences across Kenya’s tribal spectrum.

Particularly humoring was a comment by an ill-judged Twitter user comparing Wajinga Nyinyi to a “drama festival poem”. Unbeknownst to him the The Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival has long been a conduit of protest that has seen the suppression of theatre and performative arts in the country.

Yet, with the impact King Kaka has made to an extent of riling up politicians and pastors into tirades, threats of litigation and other variegated responses, I dare say it is a good position we are in to take one long and hard look at ourselves.


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1 Comment

  1. Insightful. Thanks for sharing. I am worried about our collective amnesia though. Our memory is getting shorter and shorter as the life span of the music seems to be only as long (and as loud but no louder) as the trend (hashtag) on social media. Could the form (YouTube) be working against the content?

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