Kenyan artistes make a quiet return after failed stints in Diaspora

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Kenyan artistes make a quiet return after failed stints in Diaspora

You have seen the images — Kenyan entertainers returning from their sojourn in foreign lands looking shattered, their dreams of a better life having been dealt a crippling reality check.

The look they have when they step out of the plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on their return home is probably one that the Biblical prodigal son had when he went back to his father’s house.

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While their sendoff was marked with fanfare and partying, their return is only celebrated by family members and close friends.

They left at the height of their careers, but now hardly anyone recognises them. They had seen their names in lights and wanted a bigger stage, probably inspired by the likes of Akon and other celebrities of African descent who found fame in the most hyped market in the world.

Hardstone’s song ‘Uhiki’ had just become a major hit in the country in the late 90s when the rapper packed his bags and left for the US. Famous pop group Swahili Nation joined Hardstone in the “land of the free, home of the brave” around the same time, leaving behind their runaway hit song ‘Hakuna Matata’.

Gospel group Milele, who had a high-riding song then ‘Sanjolama’, among others, as well as all-girl gospel group Sita, famous for their song ‘Knees and Toes’, also left for USA.

And they kept on leaving. Ndarlin P of the ‘4 in 1’ song fame went to Australia never to be heard of again as was the case with gospel mega singer Henrie Mutuku, who went to the UK.

These are just some of the Kenyan musicians who took part in the mass exodus to the diaspora. And a lot more showbiz stakeholders moved, too, including fashion designers, DJs and event organisers. Now, however, they all seem to be trooping back.

It seems that nobody succeeds abroad, at least musicwise. It is like they leave their talent behind. And then when they get back, they have a lot of problems trying to re-establish their brands as the industry churns out new styles and talents every month. Undoubtedly, when they are in the diaspora, they lose touch with Kenyan music, or at least what music fans want to listen to.

Rapper, one of the best rappers we had and who had vowed never to return to Kenya, is now back and says he is here to stay and share his knowledge.

But the question remains, what happens to our entertainers abroad? Why do they disappear into thin air when they leave the country, and kill the huge brands they have worked so hard to create?

A good case study is former Ogopa DJs-signed artistes Longombas and all-boy gospel group Gospel Fathers. By the time they were leaving for the US less than five years ago, they were household names and their songs topped local charts.

In fact, the last member of Gospel Fathers to leave Kenya, Kerra, did a song with Daddy Owen and Alan Aaron, ‘Kiriro’, which was a major hit. The Longombas, on the other hand, left their fans high and dry with their song ‘Vuta Pumz’, and are yet to have a hit that will rival it.

According to US-based Kenyan film-maker Benji ‘Bendrix’ Onyango, the Longombas are working in his music studio, which he had built for his daughter Idah Onyango, also a musician.

“Lovi of the Longombas married my daughter and they are working in my studio now. At least they are working hard to get back into the music scene in a major way,” says Benji.

But it seems it will take a long time for the Longombas to really bounce back, judging by the songs they are currently releasing.

Former Kleptomaniax member Nyash is also in the US and since he went there five years ago, he is yet to release a song. Rumour has it that he is doing odd jobs to make ends meet.

The list of musicians who are coming back home after facing a cruel environment in the diaspora is growing every day. When rapper Abbas Kubaff came back to Kenya in 2005 after a two-year stint in Sweden, he talked of how harsh life was for an entertainer, saying he had to depend on other skills, like painting, to survive.

However, even after coming back home, not everyone is able to revive his or her career. Or at least get it back to where it had reached when abroad.

For Jeffery Kimathi, the founder of Jamhuri Wear clothing line, it has taken more than two years to bring the brand to where it was while he was in the US.

“Jamhuri Wear brand is still strong. In fact, what I have been trying to launch is the luggage line, where we will have different types of travel bags made from locally available materials like canvas and baobab fibre,” he says But this is yet to be done a couple of years later.

Thomas Mwicigi is the founder of Uhuru Clothing, which is equally as popular as Jamhuri Wear among the Kenyan community abroad. The clothing line is yet to get a firm grip in Kenya.

“We are giving ourselves about a year to set up a shop in Nairobi and Mombasa. We haven’t done that yet, but we are working on it,” says Thomas.

But the situation Jamhuri Wear and Uhuru Clothing find themselves in has seen industry players question why brands that are said to be big in the diaspora cannot replicate their success in Kenya.

“Why would it take a full year to set up a shop in Kenya, a market that they understand very well? Something does not add up,” says a showbiz stakeholder who requested anonymity due to the close relationship he has with the two founders.

Ndarling P, after spending over eight years in Australia, is back in the country. When he left, his music was top of the charts, but he is yet to release a song two years after he returned.

“I want to study the industry first before I release anything,” he says. Former member of XYZee, Lexxy, has released two music videos since his return to Kenya, but they are yet to have any meaningful impact.

Rapper Bamboo is already primed for a major comeback after returning to Kenya last month. Veteran musician Hardstone is also expected back this year, as he indicated through social media.

Bamboo might know what Kenyans want to listen to, but for Hardstone, it may be difficult going as he has been away for years and so much has changed.

Source: Daily Nation

 

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