KENYAN WOMEN SINGING THEIR WAY INTO POLITICS
KATY SOLOMON of Inter Press Service reports on a unique project which, through music, encourages women to participate in politics
Kenyan women have decided to harness the power of music to increase their presence on the nation's political stage. Suzanna Owiyo is leading the struggle.
"A country without women can't prosper and an economy without women's involvement can't develop," she proclaimed before launching into her first song `Mama Leads all The Way' at the recent inauguration of a new project of the Kenya Women's Political Caucus.
The Engendering Political and Election Processes Programme aims to empower women politically and to push for an increase in the number of women in parliament. Says Caucus' co-ordinator Jane Ogot: "Music plays an important role in political socialisation by transmitting political ideologies, values and beliefs. We know that popular music has been instrumental in shaping perceptions about women and their roles in society."
Owiyo has produced three tracks, which have been recorded on CD and cassette. The Caucus is now doing its best to make sure they are heard all over the country.
"The music will go on air, on radio, in cars, public transport, in houses, anywhere where you can play a CD or cassette. We will also play the songs during our voter education drives," says Ogot.
"The message in the music is basically political. It's also celebrating women achievements. We have women leaders - in parliament, permanent secretaries, in leadership in general. Their names are in that cassette," she explains.
"What the music is saying is look, the women who have been in leadership have done a,b,c,d. They have a good track record. We have others who are aspiring and ready. If we don't give them a chance, we won't know what they can do. So can you give them a chance?"
This is exactly what Owiyo's music exhorts them to do. She says her first song, Mama Leads all the Way is about empowering women. The second, `Tuchague Akina Mama' (Let's vote for women), tells Kenyans to do just that.
The third track, Mama, is a celebration of motherhood. "It's just about Mama being a special woman. I can't compare anything to her," says Owiyo.
She says she agreed to work on the Caucus project because it struck a chord with her. "Women should be given a chance to participate in all sectors,"she explains.
Owiyo is a rising star in Kenya. She has just finished recording her debut self-titled album at Audio Vault Studios, where she worked with Tedd Josiah, one of East Africa's leading producers. The album will be launched this month and is being entered as one of East Africa's hopefuls in this year's KORA music awards in South Africa.The 27-year-old musician started out as a backing vocalist in 1996, working for popular local artist Sally Oyug In 1998, she joined the Bora Bora Sounds Band with whom she performed for a yeas In 1999, she joined the Extra Kimwa Band and settled in Kisumu.
The following year, she decided to start out as a solo artist. Her talents were* soon recognised and she was booked to perform at shows such as the "Safaricom Extravaganza" and the Kenya Television Network family shows.
With this exposure, things really began to take off. At the recently concluded Kisumu 100 Years celebrations, her song `Kisumu 100' was adopted as the official theme song. She was also chosen to perform at the official opening ceremony attended by all the East African heads of state.
In March, she performed her Aids themed songs for visiting former US President Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates senior in the Nairobi slums of Kibera. "Her unique blend of hypnotising lyrics backed by modem African and Afro-Latino rhythms are guaranteed to set her up as the new pied piper in town.
"Many have described her music as a cross between Miriam Makeba (of South Africa) and Tracy Chapman (of the United States) with influences from local song-stresses Princess Jully and Mercy Myra among others," says David Muriithi, Audio Vault's artist manager.