Stop The Foreign Music! African Pop Stars Ask For Government Help : Goats and Soda Musicians in Kenya want a law forcing radio stations to play 70 percent local music. Nigeria and South Africa have similar rules. But this kind of protectionism could backfire.

Stop The Foreign Music! African Pop Stars Ask For Government Help

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing in foreign language).


Musicians in Kenya want their radios back. Actually, they want to be back on the radio more, more than, say, Taylor Swift or artists from neighboring countries. NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Nairobi that they're pushing for a law that would force radio stations to play a majority Kenyan music.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Nickson Wesonga, who produces and raps under the name V-Sita, helped create what he calls the Kenyan sound. It's based on a drum rhythm called benga.

NICKSON WESONGA: (Imitating drum rhythm) Something like that, you know?

WARNER: But overlaid with Swahili rap and dance hall beats, you get something like this.


WESONGA: (Singing in foreign language).

WARNER: "Hivo Ndio Kunaendanga," or "That's How It Goes," rose to number one in Kenya when it came out two years ago from Visita's record label, Grandpa Records. Grandpa Records's 34-year-old CEO, Yusuf Noah, stage name Refigah, says he wants more Kenyan artists to have a chance at stardom.

YUSUF NOAH: I want to have more local songs in the chart.

WARNER: The way to do that, he says, is legislation, forcing radio stations to play 70 percent Kenyan music. There is a law like that in South Africa - 55 percent of content on community and public TV and radio stations has to be local from South Africa.

NOAH: Or even Nigeria, they have a law - 70 percent of the music that must be played is their local. Seventy percent of the movies on their TV station, it's local because it create even work.

WARNER: So far this proposal has not gotten much further than a meeting between the artist and the ministry of culture. But the government is banking on working artists. By the year 2030, Kenya is projecting that 10 percent of its GDP will come from, quote, "copyright-related industries," like film, art, publishing and music. Isaac Rutenberg is the director of the Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology at Strathmore Law School in Nairobi. He says a 70 percent local rule would be a huge boost to the arts, but protectionist policies are contagious.

ISAAC RUTENBERG: When one country does something like that, a neighboring country retaliates with something similar. So, you know, at some level, you will end up with smaller segmented markets that are not looking abroad but are really focused at home.

WARNER: In many ways, this is already happening. Kenyan musicians see a bigger threat from Nigerian artists than Western. South African musicians say their protectionist policy isn't strong enough. They're pushing for a 10 percent increase in local content minimums. But the whole concept of protectionism can feel a bit retrograde in an era of laptop studios and YouTube when almost every kind of music is available to almost everyone to reproduce. In fact, the track that the producer V-Sita was working on when I arrived was straight up country pop.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) Open my windows, let the sunshine in, shine in.

WARNER: Now, there is nothing distinctively Kenyan about this tune except it's Kenyan singers and Kenyan musicians produced in a Kenyan studio. And that, says Refigah, is exactly the point. Protecting local artists isn't about preserving local culture at the expense of global or focusing artists inward. It's about the industry.

NOAH: We are a young industry and we want to grow. And we want to employ more people. And how will we do that?

WARNER: By making more Kenyan pop stars, he says, with a little government help. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.

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