Strength, power, liberation. These three words best describe what Kenyans feel whenever they listen to reggae music.
Why reggae will not be stopped
World Reggae Day 2021
Reggae comes from the term “rege-rege” which mean “ragged clothes”. When it started out in Jamaica around the late 1960s, the genre was not widely embraced in Kenya.
At the time, nightclubs were awash with local sounds known as Benga as well as Congolese Rhumba otherwise known as Lingala. However, the vigorous force of reggae was too much to resist.
In the early hours of August 1, 1982, Kenyans woke up to a coup attempt by junior rebel officers of the Kenya Air Force against the government of then President, Daniel arap Moi.
Less analysed is how the coup fundamentally changed the type of music Kenyans listened to. The songs of choice shifted from lyrics that dwell on love to words that richly blended vociferous protest anthems like Bob Marley's Natural Mystic.
Popular uptown clubs soon noticed the increase in popularity which led to joints such as Monte Carlo Nightclub along Nairobi's Accra Road, Shashamane International and Hollywood Club to host the first reggae roots-themed nights, drawing fans in large numbers.
In the 1990s, reggae set off a cultural shift especially across rural towns and Nairobi slums. Kenyans suddenly embraced the rebellious dress code of its' artists and ultimately the Rastafarian movement.
According to Rastafari Society of Kenya (RSK) Executing General, the movement in Kenya began with the establishment of two major Rastafari orders: The 12 tribes of Israel and Bobo Ashanti.
The former was established in 1986 with the arrival of its founder Vernon Carrington, who is known as Prophet Gad by the order's adherents, and is now headquartered in Gikambura, past Kikuyu.
Bobo Ashanti on the other hand, which is officially known as the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC), was locally established in 1992 with the arrival of Priest Richie, Priest Harry and Priest Rackal.
The three were among the first students of the founder of the order, Prince Charles Emmanuel Edwards also known as "Dada" among adherents.
They arrived in Nairobi and established a tabernacle in Kayole before moving to a piece of land in Miang'o/Utawala, where the EABIC Church of Black Salvation is built and still active to date.
Proclaiming to be Rasta, most reggae artists today personify the symbols of the anti-prejudice process in all its forms.
By denouncing unfair enslavement, racial intolerance and miserable life conditions, these musicians appear as living witnesses of contemporary revolts.
Politicians too have noticed the power reggae has, as most of them have hijacked a genre that is widely described as the voice of the global peasant.
For example, BBI proponents have coined a slogan that has rubbed reggae lovers the wrong way. The slogan “Nobody Can Stop Reggae” has been used severally by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in BBI rallies.
Today, as the world celebrates International Reggae Day, it is quite evident to see that the genre has transcended all across the country, from the slum areas of Nairobi to the political halls of the National Assembly. Nobody can stop reggae!
Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: