Writer: Amon Baita
Across the world, young listeners and artists are reinventing and reshaping modern music to reflect their point of view. This is particularly true in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, where the fast emerging genre Gengetone that was interestingly introduced by artists signed to American based ‘Black Market Records’ is on the rise and piercing through the East African region and other African countries, making one wonder if it’s the next music genre to take over Africa.
Some Gengentone songs include Usherati by Exray, Shamra Shamra by Mbuzi Gang, Genge La Bundoski by Boondocks Gang.
Gengetone is inspired by Genge, a Kenyan hip-hop genre that was popular in the 2000s. The music is often in Sheng, or Swahili slang, as it is the name of the genre itself, which means “group or mass of people.” Recently, young creators all signed to Black Market Africa have revived and evolved the local beat, drawing from dancehall and reggaetón to create the new sound of the recent Kenya’s but most importantly currently East African streets. And as for lyrics? Artists use the genre to rap about their lives and express their hardships.
“With gengetone, you’re free to be yourself,” Iphoolish, a member of the popular group Mbuzi Gang that is signed to Black Market Records and popularly known for gengetone revolution, explained in a media interview (Spotify for the Record). “It lets you sing how you feel and in the way you want,” he observed.
The Gengetone musical wave is not only gaining momentum amongst creators and listeners but building in popularity with its youthful urban sound across, African continent.
Besides Nairobi Kenya, Music Producers and creators from countries like Uganda,Tanzania, Ghana and many others are starting to appreciate Gengetone rythms and blend it in their beats to produce tracks with Gengetone touch in their respective lingua mixed with Swahili.
Notable examples include the likes of Mbuzi Gang music group who are Gengetone innovative giants from Kenya who have done Gengetone collaborations like ‘’Bambi’’ with Ugandan artists Fik Fameika and doing a remix of Shamra Shamra with Uganda’s fast rising and talented youngest female rapper Felista Di SuperSta and both songs are doing well across the region.
Joefes, another member of Mbuzi Gang said that the genre’s high-energy, danceable rhythms have staying power. “The Gengetone sound is enticing,” Joefes added. “For example, if I play two or three tracks now and you leave, when you get home, it will be stuck in your mind. Joefes notes.
Spotify music editors for the region also noticed that the resonant beats were sticking with listeners across Nairobi. In response, they launched ‘Gengetone Fire’, a Spotify exclusive playlist that features hot hits from across the scene and stays true to the reality on the ground, which is that the genre pays no mind to mainstream media. It is for the streets, by the streets, and it spreads quickly.
No matter how the catchy tunes move, listeners and creators alike are confident that the audience will only continue to grow. Joefes even compares the emerging genre to reggaeton, predicting a similar global popularity as more listeners discover it. After all, the genre’s appeal goes beyond its beat to speak to an experience.
“Gengetone tells the story of the life that youth are going through in the hood,” said Joefes. “It’s not a genre, it’s an identity. Gengetone is a sound that’s alive in the streets.
In East African country Kenya, other international music like Nigeria’s Afro-beats and Tanzania’s bongo flava had long dominated radios and clubs, but that all changed in 2018, when Gengetone emerged and became the first homegrown genre in several years to take over the country’s airwaves.
Black Market Records’ artists in Kenya should be credited and never be detached from this life energizing innovation that has since spread like wildfire through other countries, achieving millions of streams on YouTube and still growing.