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Is Nairobi the Reggae capital of East Africa?

Reggae music is a global sensation that has captured the hearts of millions, even getting into the United Nations list of international cultural treasures worthy of protection and promotion.

The genre of music has a global appeal and its artistes travel the world taking the music to every corner where it’s appreciated and adored. Reggae is the only music that is appreciated in rural villages in China and the high streets of New York almost in equal measure.

Reggae music is a phenomenon in most parts of Europe and Africa, in Africa its best known in West, South and East Africa most notable being Kenya thus making the Nairobi city “the reggae capital”.

The earliest concert I can recall is the Sawa Sawa festival held in 2007 at the Kasarani Sports Stadium and headlined by Burning Spear which was soldout.

From the onset of 2010, the city started playing host to concerts in various venues, with artistes performing for more than two to four hours, fans filling up venues just to catch a glimpse of their favorite artistes and chant along to their favourite songs.

Hundreds of Kenyan reggae fans in attendance during the Let Love Reign concert held at the KICC grounds on July 27, 2019. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

The biggest success has been Nairobi playing host to some of the world’s most successful reggae artistes from Grammy winners to iconic musicians all with a big fan base who appreciate the music as they refer to it as “conscious music”. Despite the huge success, one crack spoils it all. There has been a tendency by promoters and events organizers to bring the same artistes over and over with most artistes having performed in the city at least three times in a span of five years or more.

But according a JohnieBeGood the founder of Reggae in the Sun, “There are many different reasons as to where artistes come back for shows over the years as most artistes are very expensive therefore making themselves inaccessible, some have a very busy schedule so it’s not easy to book them on the most favorable dates. It’s also a gamble to bring in an artist who has a huge discography but they are currently not in heavy circulation so they would be a hard sell”.

Hundreds of reggae fans enjoying themselves during a reggae concert held at the KICC grounds and on July 22, 2018. Picture by Francis Nderitu

As the year comes to an end, Nairobi will play host to three major reggae concerts but all acts have taken place before in the city. Christopher Martin will perform on December 7 at the KICC grounds for the Umoja Splash Festival but this will be his 3rd show. His previous ones were in 2012 at the Carnivore Simba Salon and 2011 where he shared the stage with Cecile. Luciano will perform on December 24 at the Serve Jah Concert also at KICC grounds. His previous concerts were in 2017 with Etana and Richie Spice during the Dobba festival; his other show was in 2012 at the then Splash Waterworld (now Tamarind hotel at Carnivore).

Eric Donaldson, one of Jamaica’s most notable singers, hasn’t been able to perform in the city for years. Each time his show is planned, it somehow backfires under unclear circumstances. In 2018, his show organized by Chini ya Mti promotions did not materialise. This, he is slated to perform on December 21 even though it remains unconfirmed.

From left: Dj Moh, Night Nurse Talia and Mc Teargas

Other singers who have performed for their Kenyan fans include Etana from 2012 alongside Tarrus Riley 2017 during the Dobba Festival and 2019 in her own solo concert. Richie Spice was also at Dobba Festival and headlined the 2019 Nobody Can Stop Reggae concert. Tarrus Riley  who erformed alongside Etana in 2012, was the main attraction during the Kenya @ 50 concert in 2013 and headlined his own show in 2018 alongside Everton Blender.

Morgan Heritage, who have literally made Kenya their second home, have performed all over the world but their most notable shows here are 2015 Etravaganza Concert, 2018 Wasafi festival and 2019 Tomorrow Leaders festival.

Kare, a local reggae female artistes gives the reason behind the repetition saying that the artistes are well known by the their Kenyan fans.

“Their songs are entirely familiar to them and are on repeat mode on the media and in clubs thus promoters are sure to have a crowd if they bring an artiste the people are familiar with and demand,” she said.

From left: Lavosti, Kare and Chief Lion Muriuki of Chief and the Marshalls all home grown reggae artists. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU