I have never been one to talk too much about politics. Neither do I particularly concern myself with what happens within the political sphere, especially in Kenya. However, I am not completely out of the loop, or at least that’s what I think. If anything, someone once said, despite how much you may try to distance yourself from politics it will always be a part of your life. Why? Because every decision made in the political sphere has a ripple effect on the country’s economic situation. That means as long as you are a part of the people making a living in this country, politics will always be a part of you. Notice the focus is solely on Kenya, I can not speak about other countries since, well, geography.
Most recently, Khligraph Jones along with a select group of fellow entertainers in the country got a chance to meet up with the Deputy president to speak on matters Covid, its impact on their craft and what way the music industry can be improved. While the effort itself deserves some recognition, that was not how it sat with other musicians as well as members of the public. Especially after Khaligraph in a prior communication, promised to campaign for the Deputy in the upcoming election period. To those in opposition to the move, it seemed that Khaligraph was simply trying to get his foot in the political game. Whether it is for leadership, personal or professional reasons, we will never know for sure.
This meeting raised the ever repeated question, do artist opinions matter in politics? Should artists have a political leaning? And, what is the artist’s responsibility when it comes to politics? Let’s have a look at each of these questions. Note that the opinions expressed here are not set in stone. They are simply a personal idea based on already available information and you are free to contradict, accept or completely do away with what you read. However, I do ask you to come up with your own well-informed opinion prior to making any judgement.
The artist’s responsibility
Long before we had Covid 19. Before Khaligraph was as big (literally and figuratively) as he is to capture the Deputy presidents attention and even before the current political class was in existence. Kenyan art was not the way it is. At the time, any form of protest be it in writing, performance or speech would have landed you in the not so concerned, long arm of the government. During this time, if you had anything against the government you either die with that opinion or simply do your best to forget about it. However, in modern times, the ‘freedom of speech that prevails allows any and everyone to speak their truth with little to no action taken against them.
For artists, they have always been speaking their truth. Through the creation of the art shared with the public, they share their view of the world and in all honesty, they do not need to explain why. The reason, like any good joke once you explain it loses its edge, You need to let the people perceive it as they please.
For musicians, it’s about crafting a song with as much poetical prowess as possible with symbolism and euphemisms to create the idea. From here the audience is allowed to deconstruct the song as take away what you as an artist have to deliver. Rappers like Ukoo Flani, Julian, Kitu Sewer King Kaka, Kaa La Moto and others are some examples on how to do this without directly mentioning names. They find a pain point, work around it and come up with songs either to make the public aware of their responsibilities or bring to light what is being ignored. They act as the mirror to society showing what is actually going on and raising important issues.
However, just like any mirror, if the audience sees what the problem is and doesn’t correct it. There is only so much they can do. That’s why they don’t force it down our throats, neither do they keep talking about it. Once the issue is aired they move on to the next issue. If anything history or future events will prove them right.
When it comes to artists taking sides in politics it’s my opinion there is nothing wrong with it. They are after all human being with personal opinions that should be respected and that they should share. However, it’s never the case when it comes to public opinion. For some reason, we see it best when musicians stand on neutral ground in politics. Maybe it’s because of the power they have on the minds of their audience or it could be the variation of audiences they have who may not agree with them.
For this it is often best for them to address it not as artists but as a citizen of the country. Making it clear that the opinion being expressed comes from personal decisions and not from an artistic standpoint. The reason being that as a musician forcing your personal opinion on your fans often rubs them the wrong way which is harmful to their career and may bite them back in future when things go wrong.
You will however, notice that most musicians just like members of the public prefer to not involve themselves in political discussions. This could be because they understand they have a responsibility to be a role model for those listening and what better way to be a role model than to simply focus your energy on being the best in your field. They also understand that in music you can never be too rigid with anything. What is accepted today as the best can change in a matter of weeks and they have to be ready to embrace this.
What about the campaign period having musicians perform at the rallies? That too has an effect. Then again for the artist, it could be another gig that pays well and they do not particularly endorse the candidate. Rarely is it seen this way since any action taken in favour of one party over another is seen as an endorsement. That’s why even the best artist in the country would think twice before performing for opposing sides at the same time if they had to.
What needs to be said is that musicians and artists are their own person. They have personal opinions that should be respected. Them being in the limelight simply means their actions are always open to scrutiny by public and media members. We will always look at the actions they take as a way to sway the public in their favour and whether or not we support them is the main issue. However, it will always be their responsibility to take on music as a way to either entertain or inform the public. They can also chastise the public for their actions. That’s why conscious music will either be a protest against certain actions and poke the bear or cause reflection on what we as the audience have allowed happening. In the end, we learn to respect these opinions and take it as it is.
- Kenyan music and politics relationship by CNN – http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/10/31/kenya.music.influence/#
- Protest music and Kenya by The Elephant info – https://www.theelephant.info/topic/music-and-activism/?print=pdf-search
- News from the Khaligraph and Ruto meeting – https://www.kenyans.co.ke/news/64529-details-rutos-meeting-khaligraph-jones