A renaissance of vernacular songs in universities

Outside Nairobi, vernacular music is thriving especially in universities where the clash of cultures from students across Kenya is being distilled into the national fabric.

When I stepped into Rongo, I caught the bug of Luo music from other students blasting their woofers across the corridor. My Kikuyu roommate Lydia, who loves Mugithi, is fast learning ohangla as well.

The governments’ initiative for each county to have a university might have been a bad idea in terms of infrastructure, but it helped to bring about cultural integration and growth in the country.

Students from the various ethnic groups get admissions into the higher learning institutions all over the country every year.

This means that the youths carry their own cultures to the learning institutions and also get to learn the new culture of the place. This is how universities have been able to aid in the promotion of vernacular songs.

Lydia said she had never imagined she would be listening to Benga but after a while, she says she acquired the taste of the slow beats that moved her nonetheless.

“I just like listening to the songs because of their beats”, said Lydia, a student of Rongo University from Gilgil, during interview. “You just find yourself moving to the beats and the way they use words is just nice if you get the meaning”. She further explained that she also listens to the songs with her friend who is a Luo and therefore translates some of the words for her.

Vernacular songs are part of the culture of the ethnic groups from which they originate. For example, the Luo are known for their Ohangla, Kikuyu for their Mugithi while Luhya have Isukuti which is indigenous to the Abukusu.

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This songs rarely get national coverage unless it is a very big hit especially if the artist is famous in the country. The political songs also get good coverage during the election period.

However, the youths in the higher learning institutions are daily ambassadors for the ethnic songs. This majorly happens through association whereby you learn the songs through friends or through exposure.

Exposure  happens when a student from central, western or rift valley but is studying in the Nyanza region gets to listen to the Luo songs because they are likely to be played in almost all the public places of entertainment and transport.

It is also a common habit for campus students to play loud music on their woofers especially at night and all through the weekend. This exposure may lead to assimilation over time. The student therefore gets influenced to listen to the songs at a personal level.

Association comes into play when a student is friends with the other students in the same institution but from different cultures.  Through the friendship, they can influence each other to listen to and even like the vernacular songs from each other’s ethnic group.  

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