Tag Archives: Kenya

Makmende, the Kenyan global pop icon superhero

The video for the song Ha-he by the Kenyan experimental pop music group Just a Band features a character named Makmende Amerudi as its protagonist. Within a week of its release on YouTube, Ha-he received nearly 25,000 views and fans began creating their own original Makmende tales, videos, and artwork, leading global media outlets to label Makmende “Kenya’s first viral internet sensation”. Using a contemporary style of hand-held camerawork and shallow depth of field, the video’s graphics, characters, and storylines are reminiscent of 1970s blaxploitation films. As the mysterious tough-guy protagonist, Makmende appears more comfortable sneering than smiling, and like other blaxploitation characters, he sports an Afro hairstyle, open dress shirt exposing his chest, disco-style pants, and dark aviator sunglasses. Other male characters in the video are similarly dressed, while the only female (the damsel in distress) wears a natural short hairstyle, large hoop earrings, a headscarf, and tight pants, reminiscent of blaxploitation icon Pam Grier. Multiple camera angles in the video are reminiscent of the “bullet time” visual effect in The Matrix, and near the end of the video, Makmende ties a red necktie around his head, drawing parallels to Japanese samurai and cult vigilante Rambo.

As technological innovators, young, urban Kenyans seized the moment to reappropriate outdated stereotypes of weakness into aspirations of strength as they projected Kenya into a global online conversation. Through this meme, Makmende became more than a fictional superhero; he represented Kenya’s present and future. While some have considered Makmende as an example of a transnational cultural flow originating in the Global South, this meme, in its cultural and social context, can also be attributed to how and why Kenyans used Makmende to represent themselves. While many video memes are rooted in imitation and parody, the participatory playfulness surrounding Makmende created a “meme of aspiration” through which certain Kenyans collectively reimagined a hypermasculine hero who could lead the nation toward political and economic stability at home and cultural and technological prominence abroad.

Read more in “Makmende Amerudi: Kenya’s collective reimagining as a meme of aspiration” by Brian Ekdale and Melissa Tully (Critical studies in media communication 31/4 [2014], 283–298).

Watch Makmende in action in the video for Just a Band’s Ha-he below.

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Filed under Africa, Gender and sexuality, Mass media, Politics, Popular music

Benga and Luo traditions

Benga, a Kenyan dance music, first emerged within the Luo community during the late 1960s. The genre has provided many Kenyans with a malleable platform that connects with the traditional ethnic poetic and musical sensibilities that have been resilient in both rural and urban Luo life.

Despite criticism that it was unpolished and parochial, benga’s development shows a clear movement towards sophistication and compositional experimentation. Ultimately benga musicians succeeded in creating a style distinct from its regional counterparts using traditional Luo melodic rhythmic structures and accompaniment cycles.

This according to “Continuities and innovation in Luo song style: Creating the benga beat in Kenya 1960 to 1995” by Ian Eagleson (African music IX/4 [2014] pp. 91–122).

Above and below, Okatch Biggy, a pioneer of 1990s benga.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music