By Alex Roberts
Nairobi is a town with just about everything; whatever your bag is, surely you can fall face first into it and envelope yourself in that scene.
In recent years, this has rung more than a little bit true regarding the outlandish and groundbreaking sound coming out of the Nairobi music industry, from artists both established or not. The last decade, without doubt has formed a sort of new-renaissance for the Nairobi music game. Every artist, and sometimes seemingly all in a singular month, has released something that pushed their boundaries artistically, lyrically, musically.
So what gives? First, the Nairobi music scene hasn’t gotten nearly the love it deserves at a national, regional or international level. No, music getting played tends to skew Western, West African or South African. The level of love is, in all honesty a conversation for an entirely different day, and one that deserves to be delved into in an angry, late-night diatribe.
So what gives? There is one major factor that seems to get overlooked frequently: Nairobi’s lack of a venue that lives up to the cities musical artists.
Before you jump through the screen: no Carnivore, with its impossible crowds, traffic laden entry and labyrinthine lay out does not count. Besides, for every ten shows played within the Lang’ata road confines are headlined by a Kenyan artist?
Kasarani stadium, is too big and too far, it is quite simple.
Racecourse? It could be viable, if incoming rains didn’t trounce any possibility of a show not covered by a massive rented tent.
The National Theatre should, in theory be some sort of alternative, but in all seriousness, lacks the government funding and support to make it a sustainable destination for musical performance.
From there it is primarily a series of bars and clubs, mostly with max capacity of 600-700 people.
This brings about the larger point, where is the mid-size concert venue that’s accessible to most of Nairobi? Whatever options currently exist, are sorely letting down the musicians of Kenya. The larger venues seem to primarily focus on bringing in two-hit American trap acts, who show up at 1 AM, play for 36 minutes (a rate of about 100 KSh per minute for those in attendance) and yell self-promotion at the crowd before heading back to the after-party at their all-inclusive hotel on the outskirts of Runda.
Those getting left out in the cold are the Kenyan artists who deserve a stage at the forefront of the Nairobi sound they’re actively shaping. Where it materializes from, as some leading artistic spaces are under threat from noise complaints and land-grabbing, is yet to be seen. Perhaps one high-rise out of a thousand could be skipped in lieu of 3,000 seat theater, but such may just be blowing smoke.