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For Kenyan Artists, the Emerging Gengetone Genre Is a Way of Life

August 31, 2021

Around the world, young listeners and artists are reimagining and reshaping modern music to reflect their point of view. This is particularly true in Kenya’s capital and largest city, Nairobi, where the emerging genre gengetone is on the rise—and with it, a heated new Spotify playlist known as Gengetone Fire.

Gengetone is inspired by genge, a Kenyan hip-hop genre that was popular in the 2000s. The music is often in Sheng, or Swahili slang, as is the name of the genre itself, which means “group or mass of people.” Recently, young creators have revived and evolved the local beat, drawing from dancehall and reggaetón to create the new sound of Kenya’s streets. And as for lyrics? Artists use the genre to rap about their lives and express their hardships. 

“With gengetone, you’re free to be yourself,” Iphoolish, a member of the popular group Mbuzi Gang, explained to For the Record. “It lets you sing how you feel and in the way you want.”

Plus, the genre’s high-energy, danceable rhythms have staying power. “The gengetone sound is enticing,” added Joefes, another member of Mbuzi Gang. “For example, if I play two or three tracks now and you leave, when you get home, it will be stuck in your mind. You will not know what it is exactly, but the effect is lasting.”

Spotify music editors for the region also noticed that the resonant beats were sticking with listeners across Nairobi. In response, they launched Gengetone Fire, a Spotify exclusive playlist that features hot hits from across the scene and stays true to the reality on the ground, which is that the genre pays no mind to mainstream media. It is for the streets, by the streets, and it spreads quickly.

No matter how the catchy tunes move, listeners and creators alike are confident that the audience will only continue to grow. Joefes even compares the emerging genre to reggaetón, predicting a similar global popularity as more listeners discover it. After all, the genre’s appeal goes beyond its beat to speak to an experience.

Gengetone [tells the story] of the life that youth are going through in the hood,” said Joefes. “It’s not a genre, it’s an identity. Gengetone is a sound that’s alive in the streets, especially in Nairobi, because it started right here.”

The genre’s local roots are meaningful to Nairobi’s next generation of creators. In Kenya, other international music like Nigeria’s Afrobeats and Tanzania’s bongo fava had long dominated radios and clubs. But that all changed in 2018, when gengetone emerged and became the first homegrown genre in several years to take over the country’s airwaves. It has since spread like wildfire, achieving millions of streams on YouTube and a growing following on Spotify. 

Female artist Ssaru, a rising star in the male-dominated landscape, explained the national pride the music evokes: When it came, it filled a gap in the music industry. Before, we used to just listen to music by other people, but now we have something to own as Kenyans. This is the type of music that brings youth together.”

As gengetone continues to evolve, Spotify editors recommend keeping an eye on some of the genre’s most popular artists, including: Ethic Entertainment, Boondocks Gang, Sailors 254, Ochungulo Family, and Matata. These young performers are leading the Nairobi scene and moving the music forward, connected in their passion for the hip-hop sound. Artist Exray Taniua, a member of the trendsetting Boondocks Gang, put it simply: “Gengetone is a culture, a way of life . . . Gengetone is everything to us really. It should be considered a basic need.”

Discover the gengetone way of life and start listening to Gengetone Fire now: