Benga is an African music genre that is most popular all over the sub-Saharan Africa with its roots in Kenya.
The genre may not be as big as the likes of Congolese Rhumba, Ghana’s Highlife, South African Kwaito, Nigeria’s Afrobeat and such but its popularity and influence is unrivaled when it comes to Kenya and the larger east African region.
The history of this genre of music has remained fuzzy, with documentation probably mostly in the form of newspaper articles and word of mouth from those that have been around for a while, and the few who have chosen to personally document it.
The arts in Kenya, were for a while overlooked, thus the existence of little credible and well-documented information available in government owned libraries and archives, and this as the authors pointed out, posed a challenge when it came to gathering information on the topic.
Benga is known to have originated from the western part of Kenya but its popularity saw it spread all over the east African country and just like any other form of music, its amorphousness was tied to the different geographical areas that approved of it.
This type of music is still in almost every Kenyan’s ears but not so much, the young artists have not yet fully embraced it, so to speak. A lot of pop music on Kenyan radio has more of western influences and of late South African Kwaito and Nigeria’s Afropop. One would be forgiven to assume that the Kenyan artist lacks a proper identity that would distinguish them from the rest, this would be true if viewed through the current popular music spectrum, but there are a number of artists who have remained true to this form of music, some have a huge fan base that would surpass most or any of the artists whose music dominates the airwaves, a testament to how significant Benga is.
Tabu Osusa, the Ketebul Music director together with renowned Kenyan journalist and presenter Billy Odidi have co-authored Shades Of Benga a book that attempts to retrace the history of the music in Kenya and giving its history credibility, a spot on one’s shelf and a source of reference for any academic that would choose to study Benga.
Shades of Benga has also detailed other genres from different eras; Funk, Soul, Hip Hop, Mwomboko, Taarab and gospel music tastes rights from the 40s to date.
The well-researched publication was launched at the Alliance Française center in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, on July 12, a well-attended event which saw some of the legendary Kenyan artists the likes of; Peter Akwabi, John Nzenze and Les Mangelepa, a group whose members are originally from Congo perform on stage.
The event also played host to a photo exhibition showcasing some of the rarest images, some of which, according to the organizers, were sourced from private collections. The photo exhibition closes July 29.