Reggae comes from the term “rege-rege” which means “ragged clothes”. In its early days in Jamaica in the late 1960s, the genre was not widely adopted in Kenya.
Back then, nightclubs were awash with local sounds known as Benga as well as the Congolese rumba otherwise known as Lingala. However, the vigorous force of reggae was too strong to resist.
In the early hours of August 1, 1982, Kenyans woke up to an attempted coup by junior Kenya Air Force rebel officers against the government of then President Daniel arap Moi.
How the coup fundamentally changed the type of music Kenyans listened to is less analyzed. Choice songs went from lyrics that emphasized love to words that richly mixed up loud protest hymns like Bob Marley’s. Naturally mystical.
Popular clubs in upscale neighborhoods quickly noticed the increase in popularity which led to joints such as Monte-Carlo nightclub along the road from Accra to Nairobi, Shashamane International and Hollywood club to host the first evenings on the theme of roots reggae, attracting fans in large numbers.
In the 1990s, reggae sparked a cultural change, especially in the rural towns and slums of Nairobi. Kenyans suddenly embraced the rebellious dress code of its artists and ultimately the Rastafarian movement.
According to the running general of the Rastafari Society of Kenya (RSK), the movement in Kenya began with the establishment of two major Rastafari orders: the 12 tribes of Israel and Bobo Ashanti.
The first was established in 1986 with the arrival of its founder Vernon Carrington, who is known as Prophet Gad to adherents of the order, and is now headquartered in Gikambura, after Kikuyu.
Bobo Ashanti, which is officially known as the Ethiopian Africa Black International Congress (EABIC), was established locally in 1992 with the arrival of Priest Richie, Priest Harry and Priest Rackal.
The three were among the first students of the order’s founder, Prince Charles Emmanuel Edwards also known as “Dada” among the adherents.
They arrived in Nairobi and established a tabernacle in Kayole before moving to land in Miang’o / Utawala, where the EABIC Black Salvation Church is built and still active to this day.
Claiming to be rastafarian, most reggae artists today embody the symbols of the anti-prejudice process in all its forms.
By denouncing unjust slavery, racial intolerance and miserable living conditions, these musicians appear as living witnesses of contemporary revolts.
Politicians too have noticed the power of reggae, as most of them have hijacked a genre that is widely described as the voice of the global peasant.
For example, BBI supporters came up with a slogan that rubbed reggae fans the wrong way. The slogan “Nobody can stop reggaeHas been used on several occasions by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during BBI rallies.
Today, as the world celebrates International Reggae Day, it’s pretty obvious to see that the genre has transcended the whole country, from the slums of Nairobi to the political halls of the National Assembly. No one can stop reggae!