The streets speak gengetone: Kenya's gengetone sound is reverberating across East Africa and the world, get to know its main purveyors.
Sailors' "Wamlambez!" which roughly translates to "those who lick," is the cry the reverberated round the world, pushing the gengetone sound to the global stage. The response "wamnyonyez" roughly translates to "those who suck" and that should tell you all you need to know about the genre.
Known for its lewd lyrics and repetitive (often call and response) hooks, gengetone makes no apologies for belonging to the streets. First of all, most artists that create gengetone are grouped into bands with a few outliers like Zzero Sufuri riding solo. The songs themselves often feature a multiplicity of voices with screams and crowds coming through as ad libs, adding to this idea that this is definitely "outside" music.
Listening to Odi wa Muranga play with his vocal on the track "Thao" it's easy to think that this is the first, but gengetone fits snuggly in a history of sheng rap based on the kapuka style beat. Kapuka is onomatopoeically named, the beats have that repetitive drum-hat-drum skip that sounds like pu-ka-pu-ka-pu. Artists like Nonini were asking women to come over using this riff long before Ochungulo family told them to stay home if they aren't willing to give it up.
Here's seven gengetone groups worth listening to.
The 5-person group started in 2017 as Trio Sailors with Miracle Baby, Lexi Yung and Qoqos Juma before Masilver and Shalkido joined. Having dropped numerics from their name, the Sailors are best known for their club banger "Wamblambez," but have other underrated tracks like this one.
If Sailor's "Wamlambez" took gengetone global, it's only because "Lamba Lolo" by Ethic took over nationally. Taking the country by storm with their anthem to the art of cunnilingus, Ethic (Seska, Zilla, Rekless and Swat) have been dubbed the founding fathers of gengetone. The hashtag #PlayKeMusic threw the group to centre stage again in 2019 this time with their fans calling out the rest of the country for sleeping on them. Will you?
The streets of Nairobi speak one language, sheng, and Mbogi Genge are fluent. Miltan, Smady Tings and Guzman Teddy hail from Umoja, the birthplace of sheng, so it makes sense that language becomes their weapon. The group are best known for finding the obscure corners of the language and rejigging the syllabic structure, creating music that both awes and confuses. In fact, the first verse on this feature by Miltan went viral around the country as people tried to decipher what it actually meant, collecting words from different dialects of sheng across the city.
Nelly the Goon, Dmore and Benzema propose a different approach. Leaning heavily on the memorability of onomatopoeia over minimalist beats with, the group tell vivid stories in a laissez-faire easy going way that will have you swaying along all through to the end. Their song, "Kaa na mama yako" pushed them to the national spotlight after they sampled a voice from a politician's speech to create one of the catchiest, most dismissive and sleaziest of hooks.
If there's one person in the world who could out smoke Snoop Dogg, it would be Zzero. The son of a pastor found himself front and centre when his freestyle turned stoner anthem "Zimenishika"—meaning 'they have caught me' with the 'they' in question here being marijuana—went viral on social media. We're yet to know if his captors ever did set him free.
You'd be hard pressed to believe that Odi wa Murang' a, Ex-Ray and Maddox started off as a gospel trio, but that's the truth. They still claim to hold that ground saying that anyone really listening knows their music does not exalt drugs and the party lifestyle, but rather speaks about what they see in it. Recently they even released a gospel track with artist Bahati condemning the party life.