Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have come across a video showing Starehe Member of Parliament Charles “Jaguar” Njagua Kanyi calling for mass action and even violence following the infiltration by Chinese and Tanzanian nationals of the Kenyan economy. He suggests that these foreign nationals have taken over even the small business like hawking. Of course, these populist and xenophobic sentiments were met with raucous applause by a section of Kenyans. That is not surprising considering the manner in which Kenyans have been treated especially in neighbouring Tanzania. Perhaps the most compelling reason for such xenophobic remarks and their reception by Kenyans has been because of Kenya’s policy that has always been welcoming to foreign nationals seeking entry into Kenya. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has been at the forefront of championing for more open borders and as a mark of goodwill indicated that Kenya will grant visas on arrival for nationals of African countries.
It was hardly surprising that the Member of Parliament in question was swiftly arrested and charged in court for inciting violence and the use of hate speech. It wasn’t a coincidence either that a Kenyan businessman operating in Tanzania was swiftly abducted or that the question of foreign nationals became the subject of hot debates in the houses of parliament both in Kenya and Tanzania. What followed was a rebuke from both of administrations of those remarks. We here applaud those stern rebukes for a number of reasons. In the context of music, we feel that both consumers and the musicians alike are set to benefit from openness rather than exclusion.
First of all Mr Njagua is a musician who has benefitted from collaborations and performance outside the confines of Kenya. We insist that Africans move away from the notion that we are isolated peoples based on the artificial borders that are but the recent heritage of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Our heritage as the people of this continent called Africa has been one of free movement of goods and people. The peoples that recently settled this patch of earth- now called East Africa – are just visitors having occupied other settlements prior to their arrival.
While migrating hordes do bring with them the threat of disease and potential for conflict we believe that those are the things that border control should be able to weed out and which they still do. But it cannot be gainsaid that immigrants do bring with them valuable insight, skills, societal and cultural values and new technology. It is this healthy mix of foreigners and indigens that has made the United States of America thrive. If it wasn’t for migration and trade things like metalwork, developed linguistics, fabric and even salt and spices wouldn’t have reached these veritable shores.
In the context of music we are set to benefit greatly from our neighbours especially if we begin to look at ourselves as Africans and a collective scene, unshackled by our small and mostly inefficient and sometimes barren local scenes. Ugandan metal musician Victor Rosewrath has been heard remarking this at interviews and has, in fact, shared his music at festivals like the Nairobi Metal Festival which is now growing to accommodate musicians from across the continental and global divide. We will indeed benefit quite a bit from an exchange with Botswanan metal overlords “Overthrust” in the forthcoming Nairobi Metal Festival scheduled for 27th and 28th September this year. Nairobi has played host to with the likes of Norbormide from Mozambique, Botswana’s Skinflint and South Africa’s Boargazm. All these foreign nationals have remarked at how astonishingly passionate our fanbase is and they must have gone on with that spirit and imbued it on their own scenes.
Aside from concerts, it can’t be gainsaid that Kenya’s local rock scene has benefitted from the work of expatriates like Harvy Herr, Congolese nationals like the Sangwa Family (Void of Belonging and Culture Horizon). More recently blues-rock outfit Refuge that is composed of members who are children of expatriates have injected much needed energy into the scene with their eclectic brand of blues-rock and have since released an album to toe. Their work ethic combined with the kind of support that their parents have given them will give us locals a moment of pause as we reflect on the roll of rock music on the next generation of musicians.
It is indeed true that foreign nationals have injected our local scene with much needed energy especially when it seems like we were running out of steam. I personally have learned a lot about music business when it comes to rock music from the Nigerian soft rock musician Zainab Sule who has an incredible knack from self promotion and branding and has done two tours here all self-funded and successfully so by leveraging already established ties with local partners here from the likes of Capital FM’s Fuse Fusion helmed by DJ Tumz, the Rock Society of Kenya and the strong bond between Kenya and Nigeria and the latter’s online rock magazine AudioInferno. Collaborations with Nigeria have been rife beginning with Parking Lot Grass feature that included Nigerian singer Clay and AudioInferno’s album compilation that featured Danjuma.
As far as technology transfer and exchange of skills are concerned we have benefitted from workshops helmed by South African metal guitarist’s Tamla McMahon and Robyn Ferguson who helm Sistas of Metal and Adorned in Ash respectively. at the Nairobi Guitar Festival. The list continues. Our own Rish Kenya together with members of her performing enclave have performed in Namibia. In short we all benefit from openness and cultural exchange. Closing our fists only projects our insecurities and inadequacies but does not help entrench values that can help the local music industry to grow.
While it is true that for this to work properly other African countries need to tag along, we must seize the current opportunities for what they can offer and not what is yet to materialize. It is true that countries like South Africa have frustrated entry into their borders with their strict border controls, xenophobia and hostile visa restrictions. It is also true that the relevant infrastructure is lacking that would make connectivity and transportation possible. Air ticket prices are quite prohibitive and this has scuttled efforts by local rock acts from Last Year’s Tragedy, In Oath and Seeds of Datura from playing festivals that they’ve been invited to. Be that as it may there are low hanging fruit that are up for grabs. A country like Nigeria is easy to access and the likes of Rash have performed there. Uganda has also played host to Rash and punk overlords Crystal Axis. In the short term there is no telling whether these other countries will follow Kenya’s lead but that is precisely the point. We must lead first and show the rest of Africa the good that openness can bring. Openness is a paramount value of most African communities that put a premium on how we treat guests. Guests bring with them blessings. Granted hostile ones may indeed try to come into countries and foster chaos especially with the dawn of terrorism but that is where regulations should focus on – strangling criminal elements and restricting the movement of substandard and contraband goods.
That is not all.
As our continental forefathers have remarked Africa is has a great destiny ahead of it. Pan Africanism is the way to go and we must hold that vision at the forefront of our mind when talking borders, interaction and the free movement of goods and services. There is no place for sectarianism and xenophobic propaganda. With the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement it is clear that the continent has seen that there are benefits inherent in opening up rather than being exclusionary. We the abundance of human capital rock musicians can open themselves to engaging a wider fan base than just their local scenes. We can also benefit from scenes that have the benefit of better musical infrastructure like Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.
If all this doesn’t convince you that xenophobia is to be shunned, remember that music unlike politics and its handmaiden bureaucracy are meant to unite rather than divide people. So lets take that raucous energy of the mosh pits, the soaring and inspiring leads and solos of the electric guitar and drums that beat to the values of unity, industry and peace and spread that across the continent and to the rest of the world.