Let’s promote Kiswahili rock


The genesis of rock and roll music can be traced back to the 1950s, during which a distinct cluster of subgenres of music emerged, drawing heavily from blues, rhythm and blues and country music, which was predominant in the early part of the 20th Century.

Having principally developed from subgenres that spoke the language of love, rock music featured love-based lyrics sung by male musicians as romantic gestures to their women.

During the golden age of rock and roll that was the ’60s, this brand of music devolved into a full-blown genre, with subgroups such as blues rock, folk rock and jazz rock coming to the fore.

In the ’70s, the genre became a symbol of political activism as well as social awareness. Over time, rock and roll has travelled across borders and now features on radio stations across the world.

Kenya has been no exception. It took a bit of time for people here to warm up to rock and roll music.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century, sometime in 2002 that locals began to allow rock music onto the airwaves. It started with the older classics, a song here and an advert there. Suddenly, enough people knew who Avril Lavigne was and everyone could sing to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me”.


It didn’t take long for youthful exuberance to come to the vanguard as rebellion was channelled into garage bands.

Within no time, we had Last Year’s Tragedy and In Oath, two of the leading heavy metal bands in the Kenyan, being formed later that decade.

Now, the scene has become vibrant. Rock and heavy metal in Kenya is no longer just a story, but our local bands actually perform, some even internationally.

Rock music has been consistently growing. It has never stagnated. Through the advancement of rock and roll as it is logically, local bands have taken it upon themselves to transform the genre even further. Enter Swahili rock and roll.

Enterprising artistes took to producing rock music in Swahili. In other countries, something similar has been done, and to great effect.

Not essentially having the genre of music reproduced in Swahili, but instead performed in many other languages. This regeneration of languages is what has led to the global popularity of bands such as folk metal heavyweights, Korpiklaani, Eluveite and Finntroll.

Sure, they have songs in English but the melodic Scandinavian influence in their music is incontestably appealing.

And here at home, bands like Parking Lot Grass took the unprecedented leap of faith and produced their music in Kiswahili. It would be a lie to say it sounded bad.

The music, though unlike the norm, sounded absolutely great. Dove Slimme also had a couple of notable songs out in Kiswahili and they, too, sounded pretty amazing.

Recent debutants RASH are also renowned as a Kiswahili rock band. Listening to songs like Msafiri leave you taken aback as to how good rock music can sound in Kiswahili.

This begs the question, then why is there so much resistance to Kiswahili rock and heavy metal music?

Once the genre spread to Africa and other parts of the world, then inevitably, it was bound to be produced in other languages so that the people in these places could identify more with the music and fully express themselves.

It is interesting to note that most people actually walk away when bands tune up their Kiswahili tracks but will stay to sing along to the covers of renowned international songs. Embracing this music would be key to advertising our culture in the country as well as the greater East African region.

I am sure Kiswahili- speaking countries wouldn’t mind us exporting some good old Kiswahili rock music to them.

Maybe, just maybe, loving Kiswahili rock music and giving it a chance could be the key to exposing and advertising our local bands to enable them achieve their highest potential.