Pioneering a Pop Musical Idiom: Fifty Years of The Benga Lyrics in Kenya


  • Joseph Muleka University of Nairobi



Benga, Evolutionism, Dance Styles, Musical Idioms, New-Historicism, Origins of Music.


Since the fifties, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have exchanged cultural practices, particularly music and dance styles and dress fashions. This has mainly been through the artistes who have been crisscrossing between the two countries. So, when the Benga musical style developed in the sixties hitting the roof in the seventies and the eighties, contestations began over whether its source was Kenya or DRC. Indeed, it often happens that after a musical style is established in a primary source, it finds accommodation in other secondary places, which may compete with the originators in appropriating the style, sometimes even becoming more committed to it than the actual primary originators. This then begins to raise debates on the actual origin and/or ownership of the form. In situations where music artistes keep shuttling between the countries or regions like the Kenya and DRC case, the actual origin and/or ownership of a given musical practice can be quite blurred. This is perhaps what could be said about the Benga musical style. This paper attempts to trace the origins of the Benga music to the present in an effort to gain clarity on a debate that has for a long time engaged music pundits and scholars. The paper anchors its approach on the tenets of New-historicism as well Evolutionism to interrogate the origins, form and movement of this music style. Research for the paper involved interviews with some of the Kenyan musicians who have performed since the sixties and extensive revisit of recordings by both Kenyan and DRC musicians from the sixties to the late eighties. My conclusion is that the primary origin of Benga is Kenya and not DRC as some sources have suggested.


Acknowledgments: Tabu Osusa, Executive Producer, Ketebul Music

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