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Music and Dance in Eastern Africa

Kahithe Kiiru
Maina wa Mũtonya

Part III: Music and the Politics of Love and Gender

Dancing to the Marriage Beat(ing): The Gender Debate in a Gĩkũyũ Popular Music Discourse

Maina wa Mũtonya


The current discourse around the husband-bashing women in central Kenya, has elicited popular cultural productions that speak to the gender debate in the Gĩkũyũ community. This chapter looks at recent Gĩkũyũ popular songs that point to the intricate power play in marital relationships. While looking at the theme of love, or lack of it, as has been presented in the music, an art largely dominated by the men, the chapter argues that music has also led to a production of local idioms, stereotypes, and clichés in everyday life of the community. As Karin Barber argues, the functions of such in African popular culture could be treated as the point at which individual experience and shared concerns intersect. It is from this popular culture perspective that the chapter seeks to understand the current domestic strife.

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1Recent popular productions in the Gĩkũyũ community have made references to the debate in gender relations against the background largely informed by the contemporary social reality of domestic violence within the marriage institution. Although domestic violence is nothing new, highlighted cases of battered husbands, especially in central Kenya have elicited discourses that point to the power politic in a community that is largely believed to be patriarchal. While my chapter will not delve into the sociology of this domestic violence, I will strive to analyse the gender relations as represented in the popular music of the Gĩkũyũ. I will also look into how the music has led to a production of local idioms, stereotypes, and clichés in everyday life of the community.

2By looking at the contemporary music of this community, this research is informed by the role of popular culture in the everyday life of a people. As Masolo (2000: 372) notes “[m] ost … performers do not only entertain; they are also able, and frequently they aim, to raise the awareness level of their audience by arousing in them the imaginative and emotive experiences towards social re-engagement in the form of collective identity.”

3The performance by the musicians in the gender debate may draw mainly from everyday experiences, but as noted above, this imagined collective identity may arise from the need to rethink, or re-order the prevailing circumstances. As Stokes (1994: 97) aptly argues, “performance doesn’t simply convey cultural messages already known, it reorganizes and manipulates everyday experiences of social reality, blurs, elides, ionizes and sometimes subverts common sense categories and markers.”

4The popular music investigated in this chapter does not just reflect emotions, but plays out “everyday moral dilemmas, posing questions and suggesting answers to our worries, about what we should do” (Street 1997: 9). Barber (1987: 4) notes that in times of rapid social change, the art forms “with their exceptional mobility (whether through technology such as the radio, record and cassette tape, or through physical transportation from place to place by travelling performing groups) will play a crucial role in formulating new ways of looking at things.”

5Kimani Gecau (1991: 84-5) acknowledges the contribution of popular music in commenting on and analysing the post-independence Kenyan situation and in the collective worldview and consciousness; “popular songs have been a chronicle of the changing social situations and the relations thereof.” He adds that most of the songs have commented on the popular subject of the commoditization of all that was previously sacred, e.g., love and sex.

6The fact that the music draws from the daily lived experiences of the community signifies that there is need to look at the current social and gender relations, especially within the discourse of husband-bashing in central Kenya.

7The discourse around the husband-bashing women in Kenya, and especially in central province has elicited debates in which discussants are quick to make reference to Wangũ wa Makeri, the last matriarch of the Gĩkũyũ community. Tensions in gender relations emanate from the myth of origin of the Gĩkũyũ people. Initially, the community was under a matriarchal system, but due to harsh rule of women, men revolted and replaced it with a patriarchal system. But according to Wanjohi, (1997: 28) there was a “compromise after strong opposition from women and the clan titles hitherto retain the female names.”

8Wanjiku Kabira, in her research on the oral literature has assessed the issues around the politics of gender and control among the Gĩkũyũ people. Important in her research on the representation of women in the oral narratives is how she captures the conflict in the community between the “need to respect the mother and the realization of the low status of women” (1994: 78). This is a paradox that is clearly evident in the contemporary popular music of the community where the mother is revered whereas the wife or girlfriend is rebuked in the songs.

9Kabira has captured the portrayal of women in the proverbs of the society too and this is the trend that spreads through the everyday life of the Gĩkũyũ. The woman in the oral literature of the society has been portrayed as “unreliable, disobedient, irresponsible, disloyal, disagreeable, adulterous, cunning, senseless, easily cheated, forgetful, not dependable, evil, trickster, lazy, etc.” (1994: 79-80).

10As Kabira argues, oral narratives and proverbs in Gĩkũyũ oral literature perpetuate this negative image of women thus contributing to “social gender constructs that call for control of women in society and legitimise male dominance” (1994: 84). It is from this historical background that necessitates a need to comprehend the current discourse of domestic violence that seeks to contradict the oral history of the community.

11While this gendered violence (women on men violence) is a phenomenon that cuts across different communities, there has been prominence that has been given to cases happening in Nyeri County, especially in the media. King’ori & Ojiambo (2016) recent research examines the representation of this gender-based violence from Nyeri in the print media. The research came to the conclusion that the narrative of the Nyeri woman as one that is “angry, violent and dangerous” (4) whereas the man has been framed as “an alcoholic and helpless victim” (1).

  • 1 Komu, Nicholas (2017) Alarm as wave of love related tragedies hit Nyeri couples. Daily Nation Janua (...)

12In his study on the causes and consequences of domestic violence against men in Nyeri County, Kubai (2014) came to the conclusion that alcoholism on the part of the man contributes greatly to the violence. Having been rendered irresponsible and useless by drunkenness, the woman in turn has taken over the roles of providing for the family, a role traditionally set for men. A newspaper article on January 20171 reported that Nyeri County had recorded an upsurge of domestic violence with most of the victims being men. Again, alcoholism has been quoted as a flashpoint in the domestic violence.

  • 2 The organization is largely a reaction to the 1995 Women Beijing Declaration, but it also borrows h (...)

13The above is not only peculiar in Nyeri County, but according to the Maendeleo ya Wanaume (A Global Men Empowerment Network),2 Kenyan men have continually been suffering over the years, and have kept silent, due to the shame associated with the image of a hen-pecked husbands. Research in Nigeria (Adebayo 2014) and India (Kumar 2012) have revealed that this is a global issue, but for the specificities of this research, this comparative sociological study falls beyond the intended scope but also offers new research frontiers this field.

14The representation in the Kenyan print media does not vary significantly with the discourse that emanates from the popular music of the Gĩkũyũ people, an art that is largely dominated by the men. Similarly, the oral literature of the Gĩkũyũ community delves into the relationship between men and women and the inherent conflict that was precipitated by the power politic in the traditional days, as has been seen above from Kabira’s research.

15In the contemporary music of the Gĩkũyũ, artists have continually engaged in the dialogue around the gender constructs. Since most musicians in the community are male, there is a perpetuation of the image of the woman, in the same way as in oral literature, but it is this portrayal that one would want to consider vis-à-vis the domestic strife that subverts this patriarchy narrative.

16In the early years in the development of popular music of the Gĩkũyũ, the theme of love was the prevailing subject. The relationships presented in the songs followed the accepted girl-boy, wife-husband relationships and the attendant heartaches and disappointments. It was always the case of the overbearing male figure over the subservient woman, in line with the representations in oral narratives and proverbs.

17Kamaru’s Ndari ya Mwarimũ (The Teacher’s Lover) talks of a male teacher who is in love with his student, the song itself a critique of the society and the failing moral standards in the years immediately after independence. But altogether, it could still be read as a narrative exploring the theme of love in a male-dominated society.

18In his 1969 song, Andu a Madaraka (The Independence Generation) Kamaru offers a critique to men who had wasted themselves in alcohol and to the tricks of ‘gold diggers, who dated any man for his money’ (Mutonya, et al. 2010: 83). The woman in the song is represented in the subservient role of the prostitute whose existence is pegged on the social needs of the man, but also as the reason to the failing morality standards amongst the man.

  • 3 One of the popular novels, published in 1975 was Rosemary Owino’s Sugar Daddy Lover that talked abo (...)

19This was a predominant theme in the popular music of the Gĩkũyũ in the 1970s and the 1980s. Alongside this critique of the man was the emergence of the sugar daddy figure in the song; the rich old man who would lure young girls into his den, because of his financial muscle. In fact in the literary field, there was a motif of the sugar daddy lovers3in the 70s. But the dialogue was enhanced by Sam Kahiga, the leader of the group The Cousins who released a song Sugar Mami which talked about the sugar-mummy phenomenon. In an interview in 1974 in a local newspaper, Kahiga added his voice about the song:

“Well, it’s about the activities of the sugar mummies, you know, these old well-off ladies who go for young men in pursuit of pleasure. So much criticism has been levelled at the sugar daddies that people tend to forget that sugar mummies also exist. I felt that it’s high time they were exposed as many of them are corrupting our youth.”

20Commenting on the song, Nyairo (2016) argues that “its catchy rhythms and sweet harmonies aside, Sugar Mami provided bruising social commentary. It confronts a subject that Hollywood has since popularised as ‘Cougar Town’ — the phenomenon of old well-off women who seduce younger men.” The song, done in both Kiswahili and English rightly captures the social imaginary and definitely the kinds of discourses that musicians drew from the everyday experience.

21The theme of romance prevailed in the following years. Love songs like Albert Gacheru’s Marirũ, Peter Kigia’s Gacheri capturing a man’s tears of true love or JB Maina’s Mũirĩtu wa Kabete, an apologetic man begging for forgiveness for not fulfilling a date, were predominant themes.

22It is in the late 1990s that the tone changed. Songs around separations and divorce from the male singers would project a change in the gender politics. For instance, one can sense desperation in Kigia’s Reke Tumanwo, of a man who cannot stand the cruelty suffered in the marriage from the wife. The singer alludes to the Bible, comparing himself to the suffering of Lazarus in the hands of the rich person. There was a clear recourse to religion, a common leitmotif then, with male artists hiding behind Christianity in an attempt to propagate male dominance that was seemingly in decline.

23In another song, Arũme Twĩmenyerere (Beware Fellow Men) Kigia captured the complaints, unfulfilled desires, broken promises, separation and loss in a love relationship between a man and a woman. But using Biblical references again, Kigia referred to a tilt in power relations in relationships as represented in Gĩkũyũ music; a turn of events that would be a harbinger of the dynamics of domestic violence today. The musician, representing the male gender tips fellow men on the intricacies of love relationships with modern girls:

Arũme rũrũ nĩ rwanyu

Men, this song is for you


Let me enlighten you

Matukũ tũrĩ

These days

Mũndũ ekwendo ehũge

one has to be very careful

To kĩrĩa watũngana nakĩo

It is not everything you come across

ũgaikia kanua

You ‘consume’

24Kigia is castigating the hypocrisy, difficulties and everyday conflicts in male-female relationships. He compares the women to the Biblical Delilah who conquered the robust Samson. On the other hand though, the song is a condemnation of the craze for material wealth in the wider polity. The musician rejects the girl’s overtures to love him forcibly for he is aware that there is a catch:

Arũme twĩmenyerere

Men let’s beware

Aa Delilah

of modern day Delilahs

Tondũ ihinda nĩ ikinyu

Because the time has come,

Delilah arũnde Samson

for Delilah to subdue Samson

25Kigia’s advice to his fellow men:

Rĩmwe nĩ merĩrithagia

Some will come with crocodile tears

Na tũmawara

and a bag of tricks

Menya nĩguo mũtego

Know that that is their trap,

Wao Madelila

these modern Delilahs

Ona arĩra iria

Even when she cries milk, instead of tears,

Reke agakuĩre mbere

just forget about her

26Such lyrics are crudely anti-women and gender insensitive. However, there is a historical basis to the gender politics of the Gĩkũyũ community. It is also true that that most of these musicians rely a lot on the past for lyrical inspiration. The Gĩkũyũ community traditionally relegated the women “to the place of a being lesser than men” (Muhoro 1997: 107). In the 1920s, Mũthĩrĩgũ was a dance to protest against colonial attitude towards female circumcision: “women who failed to be circumcised were given pejorative names which signified their worthlessness” (Muhoro 1997: 108). Advocacy against female genital mutilation in modern days is a clear sign that the practice can be seen to be violating women’s rights. Far from being a harsh tradition, it also lowers the status of women.

27However, the same traditional music treated women differently on separate circumstances. Men would sing praises of their mothers but at the same time brag as to how “they could not take advice from women who weren’t wise enough to teach them some aspects of social life” (Kabira & Mutahi 1988: 21).

28This continuous dialogue and interplay in gender and power relations is well manifested in the day-to-day lives and musicians capture this reality aptly. Jane Nyambura, popularly known as Queen Jane in musical circles is well remembered for her stinging lyrics against men. Her song, Arũme Majini (Men are Ghosts), she said, was inspired by the increasing number of rape and defilement cases in Kenya ‘Everybody knows that men are turning on young girls and abusing them, that is why I composed this song to criticize them’, she argues (Muganda 2004).

29In most of her songs, she has directly attacked patriarchal hegemony. Some men fans have felt that she has been too harsh in her condemnation of men. But far from the gender debate, her music has been well known for carrying social messages. She not only attacks men, but also wayward women, like the girls who are out to cause mayhem to the family institution.

30As Queen Jane castigates the behaviour of men in relationships, especially that of sugar daddies, as in her song Nĩndarega Kũhikĩra Guka (I refuse to be married to an old man), male Gĩkũyũ musicians seemed to be offering responses. However, as mentioned above, there was a dialogue that had already been started by Sam Kahiga in the 1970s, a debate that found itself again in the social imaginary of the musicians and their audience in the 1990s, going into the new millennium.

31Sam Muraya’s famous Mama Kiwinya scathingly attacks older women (better known as sugar mummies) who find comfort in young boys as their lovers. Laments a young man in the song:

Wathũkirie mũtwe na kũheaga mbeca

you spoilt me with money

Ndakwĩra ngone aciari akwa ndũngĩtĩkĩra

you never let me visit my parents

Kaĩ wahikirie na ndũgĩtware rũracio

if you married me, pay the dowry

Mama Kiwinya, reke njeracere

Mother of Kiwinya, let me move on

Mĩaka yaku nĩyarega tũikaranie

the relationship can’t work because of our age


32The same is evident in Joseph Kariuki’s Nyina wa Turera, where he says that it’s wrong for a woman of 40 years to go out with a young boy of 20. The consistent dialogue between musicians across the gender divide encapsulates the day-to-day realities in the society. For Queen Jane, she is unapologetic about her hard-line stance against men; ‘the fact that men are among my greatest fans simply means that I am telling the truth’ (Muganda 2004).

33But much as the above appears as complaints of the man, it also heralds the emergence of the powerful, independent woman in the popular music of the Gĩkũyũ, at a time when the power politic seems to be in favour of the woman. Whereas previous songs would portray the woman in demeaning and negative terms, recent productions have pointed towards a coup d’état, where the Gĩkũyũ woman is seen to have regained the control that was last exemplified in Wangũ wa Makeri, the last matriarch of the society.

34This power is represented in the stereotype of a Nyeri woman, the all-powerful and conquering female figure. John Ndemethiu’s song Arũme Kwĩna Mbu (An alarm for men) captures the anxiety of the men in the intricate power/marital relations. This song emanated from the debate that eventually led to the publishing of the Matrimonial Property Act of 2013 that reconsidered the rights and responsibilities in relation to matrimonial property. The song is a literal warning to men of a lurking danger in the battle for gender equity. The song prophesies doom to masculinity especially in the clause that states that “a married woman has the same rights as a married man to acquire, administer, hold, control, use and dispose of property…” The singer seems to question the idea of regulation of matrimonial property on the termination of marriage as envisaged in the current constitutional dispensation.

35The stereotype of the Nyeri women is conflated in the metaphor that defines the Gĩkũyũ woman in the popular cultural discourse, social media and other media. In fact, the media has evolved words that have found currency in the everyday parlance of Kenyans. Coinages like Nyerification, the “phenomenon where Nyeri women attack assault their male partners by mutilating their genitals” (King’ori & Ojiambo 2016: 7) emphasise this stereotype of the Gĩkũyũ woman but an image that is amplified in the popular music of the community.

36In other songs, for example, Momo, by Murimi wa Kahalf, the image of the woman is presented in grotesque imagery. Murimi’s Momo is a man’s lament from an overbearing woman, literally (in her physical attributes) and figuratively. The male protagonist in the song complains of “enslavement” to his gigantic spouse whose demands exceed the fuel consumption of an eighteen-wheeler truck:

  • 4 Momo is in reference to the huge eighteen-wheeler trucks that you will find around Mlolongo Weigh B (...)

Ĩno nĩ momo x2

This woman is like a Momo4 truck

Ndamĩikia cabi

Which, when I turn on the ignition key

No kinya ĩkunde magana

it’s a real fuel guzzler

Yanyua yaigania

and soon after,

Ĩraramaga ta ngoma anyuĩte kairacĩ

it roars into life like a wild devil.

37The images attributed to the woman not only depict the helplessness of the man, but also point to physical dominance of the woman in the household. This is made all too certain in the video of the same track. Whereas the marital union is supposed to bring bliss, the male protagonist feels out of place in the marriage that only but portends doom. Words like ngombo (slave) and kĩoho (jail term) for the man describing the travails of the marriage indicate that the male partner is under siege with the attendant emasculation of his ego. The man expresses his disgust at not being able to meet the demands and expectations of the wife, a sense of defeat in a largely patriarchal society. The song ties-in perfectly with the current discourse around the husband-bashing women in Nyeri which has elicited debates, memes and stereotypes in the everyday life of Kenyans.

38A different song by Franco wa Subukia’s Mwendwa OCS (My Police Officer Lover), is a more candid portrayal of the domestic violence experienced these days. His girlfriend is a high ranking police officer, who cocks the gun, ready to shoot, anytime he threatens to leave. The same musician produced a song, Bibi No. 2 (My second wife) in which he is trying to explain to his first wife the reasons he went for a second wife. The protagonist in the song projects a subdued figure in that he feels remorse for his very actions, but that have been precipitated by an attack of his masculinity from the first wife.

39The song, Kamweretho by Epha Maina, criticises the traditional Kamweretho ceremony in which women return to their parents to shower them with gifts as appreciation of their role in bringing them up. In some circles, Kamweretho has been understood as a ceremony for unmarried women to pay bride price for themselves! Musician Epha Maina captures this reality in his song Kamweretho, where he finds fault in these all-women gatherings, where the men are conveniently left out.

40The issues emanating from these songs resonate with the real experiences of men, in and around Kenya. To paraphrase Barber (1987: 4), it is under conditions of pervasive political, social and economic change that music continues to play a crucial role as a medium of symbolic transaction and a means of forging and defending identities in the community

41The problems of the male figure in Kenya, especially in Central Province, an area inhabited by the Gĩkũyũ people has precipitated a legal reaction, where Kenyan men have coalesced together to form an organisation, Maendeleo ya Wanaume (A Global Men Empowerment Network) whose main agenda is to address the apparent continuous erosion of masculinity. The group argues that in the fight for gender equity, the counter-hegemony by women has developed structures that disadvantage the boy-child and the men in general.

42The lyrics in the music, as well as the formation of this group is a clear pointer that there is an issue that requires further research. Though this chapter shies away from the sociological analysis, it is imperative that a study that is widely interdisciplinary would yield interesting perspectives as relates to the gender dialogue among the Gĩkũyũ; from a historical, cultural, economic, political, literary and popular culture viewpoint.

43The textual analysis of the lyrics, placing them within a wider general context of gender discourse amongst the Gĩkũyũ also leads this research into a discussion around the stereotypes and idioms that this theme elicits. While this could be a serious issue, the gender discourse provides a platform in which the experiences, from both real social situations and from the popular music, form a significant part of the repertoire of the everyday life of the Gĩkũyũ people.

44The idioms, stereotypes and metaphors emanating from the gender discourse in the Gĩkũyũ music have formed a background which informs the everyday interactions and parlance. It is also that the words that musicians appropriate are products of the everyday discourse but one that also speaks of the way men and women relate in the ever-changing power relations.

45Homi Bhabha (1983: 37) argues that ‘the stereotype is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always in place, already known and something that must be anxiously repeated.

46The Gĩkũyũ people have always harped on the different stereotypes of women from Mũrang’a, Kiambu and Nyeri in their narratives; praising the subservient Mũrang’a woman at the expense of her abrasive counterpart from Nyeri. The depiction of the woman in the derisive terms from the male musicians is in itself self-denigrating to the male hegemony, which leads to the exposing of insecurities in the contemporary man.

  • 5 This derives from a 1993 case where a woman (Lorena Bobbit) chopped off the penis of her husband (J (...)

47As stated in the research by King’ori & Ojiambo (2016: 11) above, the term Nyerification has been appropriated in levels similar to the Bobbit5 example from the USA. This serves but to perpetuate the stereotype of the Nyeri woman, and by extension the Gĩkũyũ woman. Research in Mukurweini district by Kubai, mentioned above underlines the fears of the loss of masculinity.

48These fears are also captured in the prevalent motif of the word “sponsor” in everyday parlance of the Kenyans, but also a predominant theme in Gĩkũyũ music. The “sponsor” is used in reference to the rich, older man whom young girls are interested in, mostly because they offer a certain form of financial security, above everything else. While the male artist castigates the “sponsor” phenomenon, women artists in the community are embracing this culture, unapologetically.

49The sugar daddy motif in the 60s and 70s has returned in recent times, though it has been sanitised by euphemistically regarding this elderly man figure in the relationship as a sponsor. In fact, the sponsor, in the modern day idiom doesn’t not necessarily refer to an older man, but it is a progression of the mpango wa kando (lover) phenomenon, where both men and women are engaged in affairs outside their marriages; but affairs that bring about the financial perspective.

50Muthoni wa Wainaina, aka Mzima Mzima’s song Ndĩretha Sponsor (I am looking for a sponsor) is one of the songs that resonates vividly, not just with the local idiom of sponsor, but also signals a break where female artists talk about the experiences of the woman. This is unlike before, where it is the male artist who initiates and engages in the dialogue on gender relations, of course with the sole exception of Queen Jane.

Niĩ ndĩrenda sponsor

I am looking for a sponsor

Njetherai sponsor

help me get a sponsor

Angĩkorwo wee wĩ sponsor

if you are a sponsor

Ndũgĩcome- come

please make haste to contact me

51This new young female artist goes contrary to Queen Jane, whose song we quoted earlier, had strong sentiments against a marriage to an older man, whom she referred to as grandfather. The song Ndĩrenda Sponsor by Muthoni neither presents the woman as subservient to the demands of men, nor the powerful female figure as in the songs Momo and Mwendwa OCS above.

52In an interview, Muthoni argues that macharlie ma thikũ tũrĩ (contemporary young men) have become specialists in breaking young girls’ hearts and have shown zero commitment, especially in the case of a pregnancy to the fiancée. This song lists the advantages of having an older male lover (sponsor) key among them being that younger men are afraid of commitments and are most likely to flee from responsibilities that come with relationships.

53The song adds that the ‘sponsor ndarĩ hĩndĩ akaumĩria (the sponsor will never desert you, if he impregnates you) and that the future of a child born with a sponsor is always assured. A sponsor, in her song, represents a sense of maturity and financial security. The song could also be read as a bold statement on the liberation of the woman from male dominance, especially as represented in the Gĩkũyũ popular music.

54The contemporary woman, as in the song, is one that can make choices unlike the sugar mummy who has been a subject of ridicule and voiceless as seen in the songs above. These songs vilifying the sugar mummy are mainly from the male musicians. However, like the example of Muthoni above, the contemporary woman speaks of herself and she can easily defend her choices of what kind of a man she would want to go out with. This is the message she puts across in her other song Mũbea (the priest), where she is breaking tradition and infusing her songs with themes that have never been tackled before, especially by female artists.

55This comes across differently from the older woman castigated in earlier songs like Mama Kiwinya, mentioned above and the image of the sugar mummy that dominated the soundscape of Gĩkũyũ music in the 1980s, by male artists. The music of Muthoni demands expansive research as well as other young emerging female Gĩkũyũ musicians.

56Other idioms and clichés like Momo, Thiĩ Ũkĩũmaga and Kĩhiki Undertsanding derived from songs by male artists depict women in derisive terms but it is also true that they point to the changing trends in gender and power politics in relationships in the songs. Kĩhiki Understanding follows in the same mode as the songs like Momo and others, where it is a man’s lament in an uncomfortable relationship. He wants to run away from his current predicament and look for a subservient, obedient and understanding woman. It is a song that could be seen as a response from the increasingly independent woman, like Muthoni’s song above that is posing a threat to the masculinity.

57Even in the search of this understanding spouse, the choice of words itself gravitates towards portraying the image of the woman in negative terms. The neutral word for a bride would be Mũhiki. But when this noun is placed in class four (nouns that start with ‘’ prefix) of the Gĩkũyũ language, which presents nouns of lifeless objects or pitiable humans held in disrespect, “scorn or hatred” (Kariuki: 2017), Kĩhiki then would assume a denigrating term to the woman.

58Other idioms and clichés in the Gĩkũyũ populace emanate from songs, but whose lyrics are deeply embedded in this debate or discourse of gender in everyday life. The song Thiĩ ũkĩũmaga and the idiom arising from it presents the diseased body of the woman, but again points to the feeling of emasculation of the man occasioned by the emergence of the powerful, independent woman. The song addresses promiscuity and the HIV scourge, but the male protagonist presents a sense of helplessness in confronting a female cousin whose choices in life go contrary to expectations in the society.


59The gender dialogue and the debate therein as gleaned from the lyrics in the songs as well as the resultant stereotypes and local idioms point to a concern in the society, but one that whose underlying theme is that of challenges and changes in both marital and love relationships, based on how men and women relate. The chapter has tried to understand the domestic violence phenomenon from the repertoire that the songs present. The metaphors and messages presented in recent music of the Gĩkũyũ have been analysed in an effort to understand this gender debate. The chapter underscores the relevance in the female musician’s attempt to render her voice in this dialogue as we have seen from the examples discussed. It is against this background that power relations in the marriage institution as well as the husband bashing can be understood through music. The research does not in any way ignore the fact that gender-based violence is a reality in Kenya and that women continue to bear the brunt of this violence. It is only for the purview and specificities of the research that the chapter has taken this route. A lot remains to be done especially in relation to marital challenges as expressed in the musical discourse of the Gĩkũyũ people. In the meantime, the marriage beating goes on.



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(The songs quoted in the chapter were sourced online)

Joseph Kamaru – Ndari ya Mwarimu (Retrieved October 6th 2016)

Albert Gacheru – Mariru (Retrieved January 4th 2017)

Peter Kigia – Gacheri (Retrieved January 4th 2017)

JB Maina - Mũirĩtu wa Kabete (Retrieved January 4th 2017)

Peter Kigia -Reke Tumanwo (Retrieved October 4th 2016)

Queen Jane - Guka Nindarega (Retrieved October 4th 2016)

Sam Muraya - Mama Kiwinya (Retrieved October 6th 2016)

John de Matthew - Arũme kwĩna mbu (Retrieved September 28th 2016)

Joseph Kariuki - Nyina wa Turera (Retrieved October 2nd 2016)

Murimi wa Kahalf- Momo (Retrieved September 13th 2016)

Franco wa Subukia -Wendo wa OCS (Retrieved October 4th 2016)

Franco wa Subukia - Bibi No. 2 (Retrieved October 6th 2016)

Epha Maina – Kamweretho (Retrieved October 1st 2016)

Mzima Mzima (Muthoni wa Wainaina) – Ndirenda Sponsor watch?v=Dz24usZVFeo (Retrieved October 6th 2016)

Interview on Utugi TV. The 411 show: Mzima Mzima the sports journalist, musician and deejay (Retrieved January 7th 2017)

Jose Gatutura - Thii Ukiumaga (Retrieved January 7th 2017)

Sam Wakiambo - Kihiki Understanding (Retrieved January 7th 2017)

Joseph Kamaru – Andu a Madaraka (Retrieved January 7th 2017)

Sam Kahiga – Sugar Mami - (Retrieved January 26th 2017)


1 Komu, Nicholas (2017) Alarm as wave of love related tragedies hit Nyeri couples. Daily Nation January 5th 2017

2 The organization is largely a reaction to the 1995 Women Beijing Declaration, but it also borrows heavily from the Maendeleo ya Wanawake organization, that was formed during the regime of Arap Moi, to front for the interests of women. At its inception, the female movement was largely political and existed at the whims of the then ruling party, KANU. It is only after the fall of KANU that the women’s organization has concentrated on topical issues affecting women, and moved towards being apolitical.

3 One of the popular novels, published in 1975 was Rosemary Owino’s Sugar Daddy Lover that talked about the seduction of a young school girl by a wealthy businessman from Nairobi.

4 Momo is in reference to the huge eighteen-wheeler trucks that you will find around Mlolongo Weigh Bridge along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway according to the musician, in an interview. But in this context, it is a euphemism for both an overweight as well as an abusive woman. The opposite of a Momo, according to the musician, is the smaller Vitz Toyota model, a compact car, not known for its fuel consumption and very popular in Kenya. Of course, this is made in reference to smaller women, as contrasted to his Momo wife.

5 This derives from a 1993 case where a woman (Lorena Bobbit) chopped off the penis of her husband (John Wayne Bobbit) whom she accused of being abusive but a story whose language “frames the woman as the aggressor and the man as a victim” (King’ori and Ojiambo 2016: 11)


A senior lecturer in Pwani University holds a Ph.D. in African Literature from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He writes largely on literature, popular culture and politics in Africa. He has taught in Mexico, South Africa and Kenya. His research interests include the performance of power in post-independence Africa and identity formation in popular culture in Africa and the African Diaspora. His latest book, La Política de la Vida Cotidiana en la Música Popular Gĩkũyũ de Kenia (2017) talks about the interaction between culture, politics and popular music in postcolonial Kenya. Mũtonya is currently working on migration in Africa and the Caribbean as well as the Afromexican identities and representation of blackness in Mexico.

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