Genge At The Grammys: Industry Insiders Tell Us What It Means

In a groundbreaking announcement, the Recording Academy has expanded its prestigious Grammy Awards to include three new categories, among them, Best African Music Performance. This exciting development has sent shockwaves through the music industry, solidifying the cultural significance of African music on a global scale. But it is the inclusion of Genge, the vibrant Kenyan genre, that has captivated fans and industry insiders alike.

Genge, a popular style of hip hop music with its roots in Nairobi, has long been celebrated for its unique fusion of hip hop and dancehall influences. The genre gained prominence thanks to visionary producer Clement “Clemo” Rapudo and the trailblazing rappers Jua Cali and Nonini. Their iconic songs, “Ngeli ya Genge” and “Manzi wa Nairobi,” etched Genge into the very fabric of Kenyan musical identity. The addition of Genge to the Grammy Awards’ Best African Music Performance category is a testament to its indelible impact. This recognition reaffirms Genge’s position as a pioneering force within the Kenyan music scene and showcases the genre’s incredible ability to unite diverse musical traditions.

Legendary figures in Kenyan music have taken to social media to express their elation. Jua Cali, one of the founding fathers of Genge, tweeted, “Watu wangu? To celebrate hii milestone ya Genge, I will go LIVE today on Twitter for the 1st time!! Let’s listen to my new Album UTU UZIMA from top to bottom. IT’S A CELEBRATION!!!”

Nonini, another influential figure in the Genge movement, tweeted, “Oh my goodness! Biggest news in Entertainment 2day! GENGE has been added to this year’s Grammy for Best African Music Performance! A track and singles category that recognizes recordings that utilize unique local expressions from across the African continent.”

In an exclusive interview with two key insiders in the Kenyan music industry, we delve deeper into this monumental achievement. Our interviewees include Abel Zedi, a prominent business and entertainment executive at Since 1963 KE, and Ruby V, CEO of UnKut Africa, a media personality with over a decade of experience in hip hop. These individuals offer unique insights into the significance of Genge’s recognition and its impact on Kenyan hip hop’s future.

Abel Zedi Speaks

One industry insider who has been an avid supporter of the idea that Genge and Gengetone is the default Kenyan sound is Abel Zedi. Mr.Zedi is a business and entertainment executive at Since 1963 KE, an entertainment company offering management, consultancy, publishing, and marketing services to musicians in Kenya. Moreover, he is the country rep for the streaming company Audiomack. 

He told us he had welcomed the news heartily, categorically saying this news vindicates his stance on Genge and Gengetone being the Kenyan sound. 

It is safe to assume your creations were elated when you heard the news. Does this development vindicate your stance on Genge and Gengetone?  

I have said this before and I will say it again and again, that Genge and by extension, Gengetone is the Kenyan Sound. The mainstream media has unsuccessfully tried to fight this fact but that’s the reality on the ground. The streets love the sheng, the dancehall influence and the rawness that comes with it.

Very passionate words. Off the top of your head any data you have in regards to the genre?

On Audiomack the word “Gengetone” is the #9 most searched term on Audiomack – Kenya, it’s the only genre of music that is being searched directly through its name as others are majorly searched by the Artist’s name. This tells you a story. Numbers don’t lie. Audiomack data still shows that we export a lot of Genge (Gengetone) to Uganda, Tanzania, West Africa (especially Nigeria) and Caribbean countries. They like the sound and the sheng that comes with it. I’ll summarize this by saying Genge/Gengetone is the biggest genre of music in the country right now; the Biggest songs in Kenya in 2022 were “Sipangwingwi ” and “Kuna Kuna ”. One of the biggest songs this 2023 is “Kaskie Vibaya ”.

What is Audiomack doing to promote Genge & Gengetone and more specifically your role in it?

Audiomack is a Youth centered, Artist discovery DSP. We are always looking to identify and spotlight emerging genres of music and artists on the global stage and Genge/Gengetone is one of them. 

One of the ways we are currently doing that is by offering the artists support of both manually and digitally curated editorial features. Eg. “Now Trending”, Playlists, Audiomack World, Social Media posts, and more. Some of the artists we have offered this to are; Ssaru, Vic West, Exray, Fathermoh, Maandy, Juacali, Nonini, Joefes, Breeder LW, and more. 

We have also created and curated exclusive Gengetone Playlists e.g. “Gengetone Gold”, which premiered earlier this year and is doing exemplary well on the Platform.

In the near future, we are also looking to partner with some Gengetone artists for our upcoming “Skyline – Kenya” series, “Keep The Beat Going”, and their own initiatives such as listening parties, album launches and more to elevate the genre globally as much as possible.”

What about your role?

My role in this through the support of our operations manager – Africa, Mr. Brian Chege is to ensure that all Gengetone artists are fairly considered before any support is given, get spotlighted as much as possible and get paid in the long run. I am also the focal point of local (Kenya) business inquiries and artist-related support between the artists and Audiomack.

What does this recognition by the Grammy mean for Kenyan rap music?

This recognition means that we are in the room. Not just Rap but the entirety of Kenyan music is in the room. A big win. When you are in the room you can be heard, you can push some bricks here and there. Genge has gotten us into the room but Rap will take over the room.

I think Kenyan Rap will get more international brand endorsements, Billboard Hot 100/Hot 200 debuts, more & bigger international tours after album releases i.e In Europe & America, more international awards, and maybe we could see Kenyan Rappers like Khaligraph, Trio Mio etc. selling out International arenas like Burna is doing. Greatness and huge success are on the horizon.

Ruby V Speaks 

I also spoke to UnKut Africa CEO, Ruby V, a media personality who has been in hip hop for more than a decade to ask about this news and what it means for Kenyan hip hop going forward.

What does this announcement mean for Kenyan hiphop? 

I think it’s great not only just for Kenyan Hip Hop but Kenyan music in general. It means there’s a case to be made for our music on global platforms. We just need to keep at it, maintain the standard and ensure that we keep raising the bar in terms of quality. This is actually pretty historic and I’m glad I get to witness it.

Does Genge and other localized rap genres have what it takes to flourish continentally or globally? Also now that UnKut Africa is looking to work with rap beyond KE, what about the other sounds from the region- Bongo rap, Kinyatrap from Rwanda, and Uganda -don’t you agree they deserve recognition?

The recognition is proof enough, don’t you agree? As for UnKut , we already have panelists from TZ & UG so artists from these countries do stand a chance to be nominated at the 2023 Hip Hop Awards. I tried to reach out to someone in Rwanda when the panel submissions were ongoing but we weren’t able to. However, the goal is definitely to have representation of the larger East African community including Burundi, Rwanda & South Sudan

UnKut has been bridging the old skool and new skool divide for a minute. Are there new acts carrying on the  Genge sound you have your eye on?

To be totally honest, I have not listened to a lot of new Genge. That’s why we’ve got an extensive [UnKut Hip Hop Awards] panel this year, people who listen to different sounds and can be objective about artists/music inclusion. I think fans should expect a significant announcement concerning this ahead of the awards, and this was something decided even before the Grammy announcement. What a time to be alive!