By Alex Roberts
For those in attendance at Beneath the Baobabs Live, it seemed as though there could be a place for a new model of Kenyan music in the post-COVID market, reopening at the speed of sound. In the scene, there has always seemed to be a gap- wherever a music festival is held, in fly the foreign acts for inflated fees and free hotel suites. That’s why the Beneath the Baobabs Live on the outskirts of Kilifi town seemed such a breath of fresh air on the Saturday night before Easter.
Now, for clarity’s sake, there is a debate to be had about ticket price- the one’s for the festival weren’t cheap by any means- and what that entails for the average Kenyan music lover.
Fair enough- but let’s dissect the pricing issue another day, because in many of those instances a lot of the local artists featured play second fiddle to an international act; a tertiary element in their own backyard’s concert.
This wasn’t the case here- as back, to back to back artists led the charge for Kenyan music and planted the flag as a boldly East African event.
Njoki Karu led an inspired Neo-soul set, lifting and lulling the audience into deep parts of their feelings. Looking about, several attendees were in tears during the latter half of her performance. A short interlude by a DJ led into Octopizzo, who showed why he has remained near the top of the Nairobi Hip-Hop scene for more than a decade; bringing forth a fiery energy (in some instances literally as a giant torch suspended outwards above the stage was flipped on at key moments by an unseen pyrotechnics worker) and rousing the crowd into a frenzy. The same DJ returned and led straight into Blinky Bill, still bizarre in his style (I mean this in the most complimentary way) to take the stage at something like 1:30AM, only to keep the energy from drifting into the deep parts of a night through one classic after another, interspersed with newer material.
Backstage the energy was palpable; the artists mingled together, passing cocktails around and seeming to celebrate how solidly it had all gone. This was indeed, a high-end, one night only and psuedo-exclusive event showcase geared straight towards highlighting the best of Kenyan music without apologies or veering off towards pandering to a Western audience- a sort of ‘dig or don’t, but we’re bringing the fire regardless’ mentality.
Frankly it seems to be the exact type of event that needs to be much more regular in Nairobi, and not just in a distant (although well-thought out) event space in the shags of Kilifi town.
If Beneath the Baobabs Live is any indication, then the future is bright- no more faux bullshit apologies for Kenyan music; the dope as hell shall be highlighted, and damn right they’re worth the price of admission.