Sauti Sol are our boys and I mean that in every sense of the word, with a particular emphasis on the possessive aspect. Every time they get yet another international nomination, we jump in delight because we know that it’s a move toward getting our music, Kenyan music, out there.
That said, they have released the 5th video off their third album LIVE AND DIE IN AFRIKA set for release later on this year. The music video is was shot in Nairobi by Nigerian director Clarence Peters and features a flashy club scene with notable Tecno and Chrome Vodka product placement featuring.
The video is very well shot and will undoubtedly sell the song but it is the music I have a problem with. The song is essentially a mash up of Diwali riddim which spawned 2003 hits such as Lumidee’s Never Leave You, TOK’s Galang Gal and Sean Paul’s Get Busy combined with Awilo Longomba’s Coupe Libamba: two very distinctive tunes of their time.
The lyrics are not anything to write home about, it is a feel good song, anything to go with the beat. Admittedly, Bien’s French Swahili play is dope and Chimano’s verse is so- so but there’s a glaring lack of ‘Sauti sol-ness’ for lack of a better term; the genius lyricism, Polycarp’s guitar strokes and originality that sets the band in a pedestal of their own is disturbingly absent. Just bars thrown all over to fit the bill. One is initially confused whether they are serenading or asking ladies to shake their butts from the first two verses. It is Delvin who contributes a meaningful part to the song, addressing societal realities in his verse:
Ju madem wa mtaa wanapenda chapaa
na maboy wa mtaa wanapenda kuchana
so unapata mabuda wanasare mamatha
na mamatha wa mtaa wanakata vijana
I get that this was meant to be a dance song but Sauti Sol could have definitely done better. If this song gets international airplay, which it will definitely do, what part of Kenyan music will they be marketing save for themselves? The song sounds Jamaican and Lingala all through and at this time when Kenyan music is struggling for global identity, it is very unfortunate. How will we rival with Nigerian and South African music with songs like this? Pray tell, Sauti Sol could not get a past Kenyan classic to sample? They have mentioned Daudi Kabaka and Fadhili Williams as major influences all of whom have numerous classics yet they sample a Jamaican song.
Do not get me wrong, I have no problem with the song or sampling itself. As an artiste, one is allowed to explore different avenues of the creative spheres but Sauti Sol, as the most recognisable Kenyan act, should ideally be on the forefront of establishing a distinctive Kenyan sound. Commercial tunes like this won’t help anyone but themselves and Kenya will keep on being behind Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa who have their own unique sound and thus, their music is up there while Kenyan music lags behind, producing sporadic hits intermittently.
Sauti Sol have a huge responsibility on their hands: creating a Kenyan music identity and putting it on the global map. They should capitalise on their global popularity for the greater good. They are not just any act, they are OUR act. They can either choose to keep on lifting the Kenyan banner high and creating opportunities for other artistes or go commercial which in the long run, will be their undoing.
Sauti Sol, I sincerely hope this is just one song, the rest of the album will be the Sauti Sol we know and love and not commercial drivel. For all our sakes.