7 Popular Music Genres in Kenya You Should Know

Over the years, music has evolved. Traditional music was the oldest genre of music in Kenya. But as interactions with western genres increased, artists and producers developed new genres, primarily by merging traditional and foreign genres to enlarge their fan bases. More advanced music instruments like keyboards, percussions, and samplers have also led to diverse genres. Initially, artists used drums, lyres, and whistles to produce songs. Also, the fan base is widened by online music streaming platforms. Musicians can target a specific base by choosing a particular language and genre. Kenyan culture is significantly intertwined with music. Today, you’ll learn different music genres in Kenya including features, and artists popularizing them.

1. Gospel Music

Religious music is one of the popular music genres in Kenya. The music vocals have Christian lyrics. They are composed for religious, ceremonial, and entertainment purposes. Gospel music dominates the music industry in the country. It’s widely accepted by all generations and receives enormous airplay. Reach out to people. Power to influence behavior change. It promotes goals of positive growth in the population.

The styles of gospel music include choirs, classical, and African rhythms. The genre is modernized with advanced instruments and has witnessed the rise of great artists. Gospel lyrics are in Swahili, English, and local languages, thus reaching a broad and targeted fan base.

Apart from radio & tv stations, you can consume gospel music online through YouTube, Mdundo.com, and boom play. Annual awards are in place to acknowledge the strides made by the gospel industry and musicians, for instance, the Groove Awards.

The following are the leading Kenyan Gospel Artists:

2. Traditional Music in Kenya

Traditional music in Kenya has been in existence since the pre-colonial period. It’s one of the popular music genres in Kenya that entails folk music. Kenya has 43 tribes speaking different languages. Every community has a music style of its own.

The table below shows the top 5 Kenyan communities with their favorite traditional music:

KalenjinKalomoywa, Lomuke, and Teriet
KambaMbathi sya Kivalo
traditional music in Kenya

Traditional music in Kenya targets the community. The songs teach the cultures and values of the specific tribe. The lyrics are in local dialects. Such songs are mostly played during cultural exchanges like dowry payment, music & drama festivals, and national events like Utamanduni day. Live bands also play the music at heritage sites like Bomas of Kenya and County cultural festivals.

The musicians use traditional instruments during live shows. They include:

  • Flute
  • Bells
  • Whistles
  • Drums like Isukuti
  • Longhorn
  • Harps
  • Lyres(Nyatiti)
  • Fiddle

Some traditional music can be found on Youtube.

Find out: 10 Best Music Schools in Kenya

3. Genge Music in Kenya

Genge music originated in Nairobi in the 1990s. It was popularized by Calif’s record artists and Clemo, the producer. The music style merges hip hop, reggae, traditional music, and dancehall. Instruments used include a keyboard, sampler, rappings, and vocals.

The lyrics are in Swahili, Sheng, and other local dialects. It targets people living on the east sides of the city. Message discussed the everyday struggles of the people. Genge artists include Juakali, Nonini, P Unit, and Qtasi.

Recently, Gengetone music in Kenya has ruled the airwaves. It is revolutionizing traditional Genge music. Though it has attracted criticism from the older generation due to vulgar language, the youth revere it. The language used is mostly sheng. Some Gengetone artists are:

  • Mbogi Ngeje
  • Ethic
  • Sailors Gang
  • Zzero Sufuri.

You can consume the songs through YouTube, Boomplay Music, and Radio & TV stations.

4. Kapuka Music

Kapuka originated from Ogopa Deejays music record label in the 1990s. Primarily to rival Genge music. It’s a type of music that fuses reggae, African traditional music, and hip hop. Lyrics can be in Sheng, Swahili, or local languages. Kapuka artists include Redsan, Nameless, Wahu, and Avril.

The genre dominated local tv and radio airwaves in 2001 after Ogopa DJs released their first album. All musical instruments include vocals, rapping, sampler, and keyboard. Although many people criticized the music genre due to over-saturated playlists, it still gets substantial airplay to date.

5. Benga Music

Kenyan Bengal music evolved in the late 1940s to late 1960s. It’s heavily influenced by the Caribbean, soukous, Congolese, and Cuban music. The beat rhythm is fast-paced and involves figure-picking guitar style. At its core are the sharp lead guitar and vocals. Famous for being a great dance style of music.

Luo benga was the first of this genre in the country. Today, Benga is played in most parts of the country. The instruments used relate to Rhumba and Samba instruments. They include electric bass guitar, lyre (nyatiti), and percussions.

The songs are primarily played in traditional ceremonies, local radio & TV stations, and live band performances. Lyrics are in local languages and Swahili. Benga artists include:

  • Tony Nyadundo
  • Ken Wa Maria
  • Samido
  • Emma Jalamo
  • Madanji Perimeter
  • Johnny Junior

6. Afro-Fusion

Afro-fusion merges culture and other music genres from western countries. Despite the low airplay in the past, the genre is now amassing a significant following among the youth population. The tempo and beats borrow heavily from traditional instruments. The singing style remains catchy and urban. Lyrics are in English, Swahili, and local dialects. The instruments used include percussion, vocals, and western instruments.

The genre borrows music styles from western music like Jazz, Pop, and Blues. The music is consumed from online platforms like YouTube, mdundo.com, and Boomplay Music. Also, live concerts in venues like Alliance Francaise and bars. Leading artists include:

  • Mercy Myra
  • Suzanna Owiyo
  • Sauti Sol
  • Eric Wainaina

7. Kenyan Hip Hop

Kenyan Hip Hop traces its origin in Nairobi in the 1990s. The genre covers both ghetto hip hop and rap. Musicians combine English, Swahili, sheng, and local dialects in lyrics. The style originated from contemporary R&B, western hip hop, and dance-pop. It’s localized to reach people living in the ghettos.

The genre is performing well as the and has an extensive fan base. New artists are entering the industry. Existing artists enjoy massive airplay of their songs on radio and TV stations. Also, you can consume their music from online sources and live concerts.

The typical instruments include;

  • Keyboard
  • Rapping
  • Drum machine
  • Vocals
  • Synthesizer
  • Sampler

Pioneer artists include; Kalamashaka and Ukoo Flani. Current ones are Kaligraph, King Kaka, Muthoni Drummer Queen, and Octopizzo.

Record labels are diverse in Kenya. They offer music and recording services to artists. The table below shows the five best record labels and their contacts.

Record labelContact
Ogopa Deejays0725039519
Still Alive Records0726505929
Klassik Nation0777788804
Homeboyz Entertainment0202692394
Calif Records0700828808
music record labels in Kenya

A Word From Prolatest

Traditional and foreign music are among the popular music genres in Kenya. Therefore, to win Kenyans into your camp, borrowing some tips from western is inevitable. Moreover, taking care of all generations is essential, especially with the choice of language, instruments, and words. The foreign fan base is up for grabs; online platforms share music worldwide. Artists producing quality songs enjoy bigger fanbases and good returns. Learn Kenyan music culture and different music genres.