I

Wahenga walidedi, wakaacha watoi. Watoi hao hawangeitwa wahenga, so wakaitwa wagenge.— Bon’Eye, 2008

I received the news of Sauti Sol’s impending breakup with joy. I was hosting some friends for lunch when someone, glancing at her phone, gasped. “Sauti Sol have announced that they are taking a break.” Around the room, there were the expected commiserations, and some of my guests began speculating about which Sauti Sol member would have the greatest success as an individual artist. I didn’t say anything. Inside, I was happy about the news. I had disliked Sauti Sol for years, even though with each album I disliked them less and less. My disdain of them was not rational, and was driven entirely by ‘Gentleman,’ their 2011 collabo with P-Unit, and the source of many arguments with my classmates in high school.

This essay is not about Sauti Sol. It’s about P-Unit. However, it is apt that Sauti Sol appears first even in an article about P-Unit, given the differing levels of success the two groups have experienced in the decade since ‘Gentleman.’ As I write this, Sauti Sol are in the middle of a tour in the US (a very successful one at that, given the Instagram stories flashing through my phone), a Last Dance-esque turn, as the legion of fans who have propelled them to stardom count down to their last concert in December. P-Unit on the other hand are long gone, the permanence of their demise confirmed earlier this year by the news of starman Frasha’s retirement from music. Unlike Sauti Sol, there is no glorious farewell American tour, no triumphant last concert.

Where to start? I’ve loved P-Unit for a long time. I can rap, in a flash, through the lines of most of their discography, changing my voice as the vocalists change. The nostalgia of my late adolescence has Wagenge Hao, the only album the group ever released, as its soundtrack. I don’t know what my favorite P-Unit track is. It changes. Sometimes it’s ‘Juu Tu Sana.’ Sometimes it’s ‘Mobimba.’ Sometimes it’s ‘Hapa Kule.’ Sometimes it’s ‘Kare’ (though, given what my first name is, it’s probably ‘Kare’). And to tie it all together, last year Frasha almost became the MCA in Athi River, where I live. What is that thing people say about fate?

II

“Maisha yangu siku hizi hapa kule, toka shule toka town, mpaka Athi, mpaka Macha, hapa kule.” — Frasha, 2009 

So, Francis Amisi and Kevin Waire grew up together in Athi River, just outside Nairobi. The two of them had music dreams, and while Francis was the more studious kid, music connected them. Some time in the nineties, the two of them, together with a third kid, started a music group called Undercover Brothers. Amisi became Frasha, Waire became Wyre, and the third kid Snoop. Together, they’d go to Nairobi and perform during jam sessions at Florida Night Club.

Soon, Undercover Brothers disbanded, and the three musicians went their separate ways, with Wyre very quickly forging a career as a successful dancehall musician. Frasha, bereft of his friends, looked elsewhere. There was yet another Athi River kid who Frasha had known since childhood who wanted to be a musician: Boniface Kariuki had gone to Kajiado High School, where he’d participated in the drama and music festivals. After high school, he enrolled at Nairobi Film School where he studied Film and TV production. He was trying to become a performer, even though it wasn’t yet clear that his success would come not in acting or in writing for TV, but as a rapper. While he was at Nairobi Film School, his friend Frasha was undergoing medical training, studying to be a physiotherapist. 

Perhaps a way to think of this group of boys is that if people thought that Eastlands and South B & South C were soon to emerge as the centers for Nairobi’s new urban sounds, there was also something brewing in Athi River.

III

“Kama umeshindwa basi reta ture, na uongeze ture, ndio mi nikure.” — Gabu, 2010

If it isn’t clear by now, Kariuki is Bon’Eye. Initially, he was called Bonniey (or Boni) and his old friends still call him this, then he became Bon’Eye. Also, if it isn’t clear, I’m using the sectional subheadings as a way of quoting all my favorite lines from the P-Unit discography. I am also, and this is definitely not clear, currently scrolling through Twitter where I’m seeing all the news about a new category at the Grammy Awards called Best African Music Performance. In the list of genres considered in this category, squished right between ‘Bongo Flava’ and ‘Kizomba’ is Genge. The boys from Eastlando, triumphant. A Twitter user called ‘Noninimgenge2ru’ responds to a tweet by another Twitter user called ‘juacaliGenge’, by saying, “I’m happy forget (sic) all the bullshit! This was always the Dream despite watu kutaka kuiangusha always.”

Genge begins in a house in California Estate in Pumwani where a dude called Clement Rapudo lived with his parents. Clement — Clemo — is still around, still grinding, still young (he turned 43 at the start of this year) despite the temptation to think of the genge people as long-ago distant figures, dinosaurs of a past gilded age, and nowadays works at Nairobi County as the city’s chief officer for culture, arts and tourism.

Clemo is one of East Africa’s most important music revolutionaries. In 2000, when he was whatever age he was, he started a music record label called Calif Records. The first artistes the label signed were two boys from around — Paul Julius Nunda aka Jua Cali, who had grown up with Clemo in Calif, and Hubert Nakitare aka Nonini, another Calif kid. The three of them are the Calif originals. From the living room of Clemo’s parents’ house, history was made. Clemo was in university, studying food science, but when he wasn’t in class, he was cooking up music. He was in his first year of campus. 

The end of the 90s was the genesis of the music that would become the modern sound of Nairobi. The first salvos against a market that had largely been dominated by rumba were Hardstone’s ‘Uhiki’, Kalamashaka’s ‘Tafsiri Hii’ and Gidigidi Majimaji’s ‘Ting Badi Malo’ (“Tamu tamu kama sukari ama supu ya omena”). Then came Ogopa and Calif. Ogopa was run by the Bikedo brothers, Francis and Lucas, who had a studio in South B. From there, they churned out a series of hits around the turn of the millenium, with the biggest names being Nameless, E-Sir, Amani, and Kleptomaniax. Ogopa’s music was the music of Nairobi South — Madaraka, South B, South C, and Nairobi West, which despite its very confusing name is in Nairobi South. This sound came to be called Kapuka.

On the other hand there was Eastlands. The Eastlando kids were fronted by Clemo. They were not fans of the Ogopa sound, which they thought was feel-good music by rich bored kids from the suburbs. Yaani, mabarbie. In fact, a music duo from Eastlando called K-South (because they lived in Kariobangi South) whose members were Bamboo and Doobez released a diss track called “Kapuka This”, with this very idea its premise (Bamboo was not a true Eastlando kid though. He had grown up in California, USA, even though it was in a dangerous part of Los Angeles. He’s Victoria Kimani’s brother). Doobez, who would later be known as Abbas Kubaff, raps about kapuka that, “I can’t stand hizo machant/zimekwisha fashion kama nywele za punk/kuruka ruka nikama mmeng’ara Pampers.” Till now, triumphant in the fact that it is Genge at the Grammys, and not Kapuka, Jua Cali insists that Kapuka is not really a genre. The suburbia kids’ response to this K-South’s salvo is legendary. We all know the song. Kama ningekuwa msanii wa sanaa ya silaha. Or, Pole kukuambia sikuchukii, nakudharau.

The Calif sound is, of course, Genge. The word genge, Kiswahili for “mass of people” came up when Clemo, Jua Cali and Nonini were chilling in that living room in Calif and they realized that they needed a word for the music they were creating. Hence, genge. Till now, Jua Cali is referred to as the King of Genge, while Nonini is the Godfather of Genge. I wonder, what does this make Clemo? The Emperor of Genge? And what of Clemo’s parents, who were supporting everything? The Epistemological First Movers of Genge? All this in 2003.

IV

“Critics saa yote wanaongea ongea mbaya/ ati music ya Kenya haiwezi penya hadi ulaya.” — Nonini, 2005

So Frasha and Bonniey actually had a music group called BE’EF. This was before they teamed up with Gabu to become Gabu. This is the true romance. Frasha and Bonniey, friends since class five in Athi River, chasing their dreams together. Why did Wyre ever leave them? Forget East Africa Bashment Crew for a moment. Imagine Frasha, Bonniey, Wyre, and Snoop in one super music group. Undercover BE’EF Brothers.

Gabu, Gabriel Kagundu, was the first of the P-Unit trio to garner success as a musician. He had been in a group called Raptas with a guy called Kapiss. In 2004, Calif Records released a song called ‘Paulina’ which became a major hit in Kenya. Because of this, he and Nonini knew each other, and he knew Bonniey and Frasha because he and Frasha used to go to church at Nairobi Pentecostal together. But the connection to become P-Unit had not been made.

To talk about P-Unit, we have to talk about Nonini. Nonini was the face of 2000s Nairobi hedonism and raunchiness. In his early songs, he rapped about sex, drugs, alcohol and partying, and became the target of ire from Kenya’s very conservative public, and was the bane of parents all over the urban parts of the country. When I was eleven, the drinking anthem ‘Keroro’ had just come out, and one of my friends began to call me Keroro. I was a good kid, never in trouble for anything serious, focused in school, and the new nickname didn’t quite fit. Yet because it didn’t, I loved it, and walked in pride whenever Steve called me Keroro, proud of the sense of danger and badassery the new nickname gave me.

I like to think of Nonini in stages, and the hedonism of first-stage Nonini, skinny and fresh-faced in his sleeveless tops, gave way to second-stage Nonini. Second-stage Nonini was more reflective of the place of his music in what Kenya was, and he rapped about the anxieties of making art in the world of Nairobi capitalism. In Kadhaa, the clearest sign of this shift, he raps, “Walisema hatuwezi ishi na usanii bana, daily kuwaprove wrong tunaongeza vitambi.” In the music video of Kadhaa, the P-Unit members are present, an exemplar of another feature of this stage of Nonini, where he feels he had to “give back” and mentor upcoming musicians, thereby becoming the godfather of Genge. Bon-Eye sits to Nonini’s left as he raps, and Gabu even has a line in the song (“Brian amedungwa promotion jamo ya vungu?). In an interview with Cleaning the Airwaves (CTA), he says, “I decided anyone I can help in my capacity as Nonini I will be helping.”

V

“Lakini leo mazee mi sijiskii/Hata mi mazee kichwa kinauma/Tumbo pia naskia ikisokota/Na kuna venye naskia kukaokota,” — Frasha, 2007

Frasha and Bonniey first met Nonini in a club (“pale pale pare pare”). The two of them were dancing vigorously to Lingala, and when Nonini saw them he told them, “Heh? Watu wa genge hawadancingi hivi.” Nevertheless, he was impressed by their dancing, and hired them to be his dancers. The original video for Mtoto Mzuri has the two of them as the dancers. The video was never released, and the footage is lost permanently, which is great for them given the image they ended up fostering as wagenge, but which is terrible for us, the fans.

By this time, Nonini had left Calif, and gone to Homeboyz Production. Nonini and Frasha and Bonniey had become friends, and Nonini and Bonniey would hang out in Kangemi together, and go drink thufu together. Perhaps this is the B-side to Furahiday. That after Furahiday with Nameless came thufu-day with Bonniey. Gabu and Nonini knew each other from the Calif days, and when Nonini discovered that the Athi River boys also hang out with Gabu, it was easy to resurrect the friendship.

One day, the three of them went to him saying, by the way Habo, we also write songs. This is the origin story of P-Unit. Habo, we write songs. Nonini asked them what they had, and they brought him the lines to what would eventually become ‘Si Lazima.’ The song was released in 2007, and in the credits, a new name appeared: Pro Habo Unit.

Si Lazima starts, literally with an introduction. Nonini says, “Nonini introducing,” then Frasha comes in with, “Bonniey and Frasha, na Gabu.” After this, the chorus: “Si lazima tu-do, tunaweza home na tuchill tu boo.” Then, the first verse is delivered by Frasha, his flow smooth and steady, his cap covering his eyes, since, because he was in the medical field, he didn’t want his face to be seen. Reminiscing on the song years later, Frasha said, “Si Lazima tulifanya na roho safi sana, ju si lazima tudo.”

The premise of the song was abstinence. It was only a few years past Circuit and Joel’s Manyake, and Vuta Pumz by Logombas, and the feeling was that this was a safe way for them to launch their music careers. The problem, however, was that a lot of people didn’t believe their message, thinking instead that theirs was disingenuous campaign, that they were, in a duplicitous way, advocating for sex. When asked about this, Frasha, proposed that it was because Nonini was on the song. His mere presence, after the loudness of his early 2000s odes to hedonism, was enough for listeners to guarantee that listeners assumed a disingenuity in the track.

VI

“Ngepa iko down but flow iko juu/Wengi wananipenda hao wachache watado? Ukitaka kunipata we anaglia tu juu. Ka Raphael, ha, Tuju.” — Frasha, 2009

Two years into the existence of P-Unit, Nonini was out. It was a mixture of things: the group’s members had been wrangling about song-sharing rights with him, but also, as their longtime producer Eric Musyoka has said to CTA, it was the right time for a parting of the ways. 

It wasn’t easy to disentangle Nonini from P-Unit. The group was literally named after him, the idea of the name inspired by 50 Cent’s G-Unit. He had released an album, Mwisho wa Mawazo, whose aim was partly to push P-Unit’s music. The album cover has both Nonini and P-Unit. At the top of the cover is an an image of Nonini, but below him, seated on yellow chairs are the three P-Unit members. “That whole album I was bent on pushing P-Unit,” he says. “I’m going to make sure I use the Nonini brand to make sure these guys are known.” In addition, he had postponed releasing new songs, so that they didn’t compete with P-Unit’s music as he was determined to give space to the wagenge. Still, he was gone, and Musyoka, back from the US and starting his new studio, Decimal Records, was going to manage them. This was to be his project.

The first song that P-Unit released as themselves, without Nonini, was ‘Juu Tu Sana’. Listen, I love this song. By this time, Bonniey had changed his name, and become Bon’Eye. His verse, the first in the song, is one of my all-time favorite bits of Kenyan music. In high school, some of my classmates were trying to become rappers. (Mainstream success has eluded most of them, but one of them, Erastus, after failing to gain this success, pivoted away from rap and into comedy, becoming a quasi-comedian called Flaqo). As part of this, during Saturday night entertainment, they’d engage in cyphers, battling each other as crowds of boys cheered them on. I was not trying to be a rapper, but one time I was challenged to do something by my friends, a bunch of boys who, lucky for me, were from the two subsets which had never heard of P-Unit: either from fancy Nairobi upper middle class suburbs, or the rural backwaters of inner Siaya. And so I rapped over Bon-Eye’s verse. Carey dem juu ya kazi ngumu. Or Nazidi kuleta hit after hit, Carey kwa beat. Or Carey anakushow, lose it bro and you’ll wish you never had it. The boys, shameless in their ignorance, cheered.

A year after ‘Juu Tu Sana’, the group released its first album, Wagenge Hao. Its lead single, soon to catapult to the top of listening charts in Kenya, was Kare. 

VII

“Manze nilipatana na huyu dem, akanishow hakuna manzi wakali. So, nikampeleka Decimal, akapatana na P-Unit, halafu Musyoka akanipaa hii track,” — Frasha, 2010

There is a theory I’ve been developing about urban Kenyan music. Kenyan music, particular the sounds of urban sheng-speaking Kenya — kapuka, genge, gengetone, etc — traces its roots to high school music festivals. In this realm, kids are taught that good poetry exists in sound. This is due to how oral literature works whereby the phonetic quality is the dominant mode of expression. (Henry Owuor-Anyumba, the prime mover in this area of criticism, would no doubt nod approvingly at the mesh between African literature forms and popular Kenyan music). Even in Dholuo oral literature where the idea of pakruok (praise) is the central discourtive element, how the words sound informs how much people enjoy the literature. A song like Gidigidi Majimaji’s Ting Badi Malo for instance became popular despite the fact that most of its listeners have no idea what the song is about; translating the song and performing it in English would do nothing for the song. Rather, stripped of its phonetic elements, it loses its aesthetic qualities. Hence, in music festivals, we are taught to look for the sounds of the performance: rhyme, alliteration, and assonance. And so, Kenyan music moves to the same beat. Kisham-sham kinyam kitam sham ra-sham is a very logical line. 

Of course, it’s not just music festivals. Kiswahili class is a factor here. When we are taught about poetry in Kiswahili classes, a lot of the conversation revolves around phonetics of the poems, going down to the minutiae of how the syllables sound. For instance, vina vya kati na vina vya mwisho. When you add this to the sound of high school music festivals, and account for the influence of American rap, you get a song like Kare.

A big part of why I love Kare is that my first name is sometimes (mis)pronounced this way. It follows logically then that at a party, if I am the one in control of the music, the song will play in its entirety. When Bon’Eye comes on, my friends will know the lines I’m waiting for. Cash and carry in a hurry, kare. Carry forward, Carey Francis, haree. It is very masturbatory, I know, but I am nothing if not consistent. I also liked it when Abbas Kubaff rapped, “Nikuite Mariah jo ju vile ume-Carey.” Fight me.

IIX

“Me ni trailer nimebeba gari kubwa/Gari ndogo pikipiki bodaboda haina noma,” — Gabu, 2010

Ok, so here’s a missed connection story. I love Just A Band. My favorite Just A Band tracks are ‘Looking for Home’ from their 2012 album, Sorry for the Delay, and ‘Ha-He’ from their 2009 album, 82. Now, ‘Ha-He’ wasn’t originally meant for Just A Band. When Musyoka came up with the melody, he had P-Unit in mind. He was in a matatu on his way from Yaya Centre to the studio when the melody came to him. Immediately he got to the studio, he played it on the keyboard and recorded it. The song had the chorus (“Ha-he, Ha-he”), but no verses attached to it. At the time, P-Unit were working on a project with Coca-Cola, and he thought the song would be right for that project. But when the project fell through, he hesitated about giving the song to the group. In fact, he had already started to feel that the sound wasn’t quite right for P-Unit’s style. But he had mixed Just A Band’s debut album, Scratch to Reveal, the previous year, and he wondered the group could do with it. Chatting with Blinky Bill a few weeks later, he told you, “I have the track for you.”

Now, I love “Ha-He.” Everything about that song is perfect, and of course, the video became a viral sensation. But I wonder about the other lives that are lost to us, and in this one particular life, Musyoka gives the song to P-Unit as he had originally intended. Blinky Bill is absolutely wondrous on that song, but can you imagine Bon’Eye’s brash alliterative style on that opening sequence? 

IX

“Kana ka Nicola kona korakora, kumbe kora ni wakora na bakora.” — Bon’Eye, 2010.

When asked what his favorite line by Bon’Eye is, Frasha mentioned this line. This is from ‘Hapa Kule’, which was a 2010 collabo between P-Unit and Nonini. This line is a derivative of a Gikuyu tongue twister which goes, “Kana ka Nikora kona kora kora, nako kora kona kana ka Nikora kora.”

Some musicians are about the messaging, and some are about having a good time in their songs, and Bon’Eye, he was having a good time. I loved him. I had no idea what he was rapping about most of the time, but it felt good to listen to, and to rap along to. If Frasha was the more popular one, the pure lyrical talent with the smooth unencumbered delivery, Bon’Eye was all bravado and flash, a spectre of alliteration and assonance. Perhaps another way to summarize them would be to say that Frasha was the one with the odes to domesticity in his lines (always talking about his medical job, and his wife, and his kids), Gabu the one with the crass sexual lyrics, but Bon’Eye was the poet, a true pakruok master, a true jemedari.

In 2011, the group garnered another hit with ‘Gentleman’, their song with Sauti Sol. Now, my deskmate Cheveliar was convinced that the success of this song was mostly driven by the presence of Sauti Sol on the track. I, on the other hand, argued passionately for Kikundi Serikali, and believed that without the chorus, the song would still have been a smash. Furthermore, I mentioned that P-Unit had a habit of featuring minor musicians in their songs to sing the chorus. What next, I wondered: would Cheveliar turn around and claim that the success of Kare had been because of Mimmo? A more cool head suggested that what made the song work was the disparate style of the two groups meshing together to produce one coherent whole. In the arena of our fiery arguments, this call to equality felt like a cop-out. 

At that point, it was not unreasonable to suggest that the two groups were at roughly the same level. However, in a few years Sauti Sol would speed past P-Unit, churning out a series of songs that became mega hits, not only in Kenya, but across Africa. I struggled with this change, because I genuinely believed that P-Unit was more talented than Sauti Sol. There had to be something else afoot. In time, I came with an explanation, which I still think is true. 

Whenever I’m at a party with my non-Kenyan friends and I’m asked to play Kenyan songs, I play Sauti Sol. They’re easily digestible, easily translatable to a different audience. Most of this has to do with their decision to start singing their songs in English, rather than the pure Swahili that had marked their earlier work. This is the tragedy of the post-colonial artist. English moves across borders. Swahili moves less easily. Sheng’ even less so. What chance did P-Unit have with Bon’Eye bringing in Gikuyu tongue-twisters into their songs?

It wasn’t just English though. I’ve been talking to a friend about Klepto, and about Nyashinski’s career as an artist. In his time as both the frontman of the group and an individual musician in the 2000s, Nyashinski had a carefully-crafted image as a bad boy. He’d been a bad boy since standard two. “Anachapa watoi hadi wanaganda miguu”. And, more than all else, a bad boy could never fall in love, because if he did, they’d say “amekuwa soft, kama sponge.”

Nyashinski 2.0 however got sanitized. The bad boy image is long gone. He is more palatable, someone who you can introduce to the elders without shame. In fact, in the comment section of one of his songs (‘Bebi Bebi’) someone wrote, “Original, no nudes or dirty lyrics, one of the few mature musicians Kenya we have (sic) and are proud of, you can comfortably listen to Nyash songs with your mom without feeling embarrassed. Great work.”

Imagine someone saying this about Nyashinski when Tuendeless was on the airwaves. Granted, this shift has helped his career, and enabled him stay relevant. His contemporaries, fellow veterans of the Kapuka vs Genge battles in the 2000s, Nonini and Jua Cali and Abbas Kubaff and Deux Vultures are musical dinosaurs, viewed only with the lens of primal nostalgia, or, in the case of Colonel Mustapha, benevolent pity.

The marketing behind Sauti Sol was brilliant, as was Nyashinki’s decision to change his image. Still, a friend told me that she felt that Nyashinski has taken over Kidum’s brand, and while I enjoyed Kidum’s music, I am glad no one would ever say this about P-Unit.

But what if P-Unit had made the business decision Sauti Sol did? What would they have become? Would they have been having a farewell tour in the US, rather than fading away in silence? A sanitised ‘Jambo Kenya’ Sauti Sol-esque version of P-Unit can be seen on the song Bon’eye did with Wizkid for Shuga. If you listen to Bon’Eye’s verse on that song, you’ll scream into your pillow in shame (Unless, that is, you are a Sauti Sol fan).

X

“Olomide Olomide silence/Mi huwapigisha makelele sirens/Mstari ziko juu sema rhyme sense/Nipate juu ya maji kama hyacinth, you guy,” Gabu, 2012

Wtf is this? This is what I’ve written in my notes for this line. Wtf is Gabu saying? Ako juu ya maji kama hyacinth? This is from 2012’s ‘You guy’, their megahit with former Klepto member Collo, and easily their most popular song. I hated this song when it came out and still do, but even I can see what drove it’s appeal. The racy video, the easy-to-remember catchphrases, Vera Sidika. It was so popular that it headlines a whole subgenre of Sheng and urban parody: those dudes in puffer half-jackets who are always you guy my guying and talking about how the moti is in the shop.

(An aside: Collo loved music groups. He badly wanted to be in a music group. He wanted to collaborate with music groups. He was a member of arguably 2000s Kenya’s best music group. He has multiple songs with P-Unit. He has songs with Camp Mulla. He has a song with Sauti Sol, the lesser-spotted Tawala from 2012. He was jealous of the success of these groups, because of what had happened with his career. But still, there he was in ‘You Guy’, rapping, “One of us has to be the short one in the relationship so imma take one for the team.”)

‘You Guy’ was never meant to be a hit. The hit song was ‘Mobimba’, which Musyoka was very excited about. ‘You Guy’ was a bubblegum song, recorded in an hour. It wasn’t a serious song. People were drunk the studio as they recorded. Some of them were fighting with each other. It was recorded at night, something Musyoka never did with the song he cared about. And the song he cared about at that time was ‘Mobimba.’ The problem with ‘Mobimba’ was that because he knew how good it could be, he wanted it have a first-rate music video. But organizing financing for this project had proven to be a challenge, so it was kept in a shelf somewhere as he tried to fundraise. In the meantime, when the group to him with ‘You Guy’, he figured that there was no harm in recording it, sampling Chaka Demus and Plier’s 1992 ‘Murder She Wrote’, then releasing it while he waited for ‘Mobimba.’ The problem is that ‘You Guy’ became a phenomenal hit, and in fact, ended up financing the project it had been meant to be a B-side to.

I dislike ‘You Guy.’ It doesn’t feel quite P-Unit. Musyoka has a wonderful interview about the architecture of P-Unit songs. The beats, the sampling, the melodies, the structure of each song, and all the other technical details. ‘You Guy’ doesn’t quite fit this model. It felt good to discover Musyoka’s feelings about the song, and I get offended when people bring it up when talking about P-Unit. It isn’t a serious song. But perhaps that’s what made it work: that it wasn’t a serious song. 

Mobimba (which is a collabo with Alicios Theluji) is a vastly underappreciated song. It is also the last P-Unit song I ever truly loved. Frasha was no longer hiding his face by then. Bon’Eye was still the jemedari, still having fun with the phonetics of language. Gabu was still winking at us, his lines dripping with innuendo. The video, shot in down-town Nairobi, is top-tier. It has dancers moving vigorously to its Lingala beat, a cycle back to the time, two decades ago, when Nonini met Bonniey and Frasha in a club, dancing to Lingala.

XI

“Nani alisema hatuwezi ishi na usanii? Daily kuwaprove wrong tunaongeza vitambi,” — Nonini, 2010

In an interview with NTV’s Velma Barasa, Frasha makes the point about knowing when to quit something. He used to be in the medical field, which he quit, so it’s not the first time he’s quit something. He hates that whenever he enters a club someone comes and screams at him, “Frasha ni dakitare.” It isn’t even technically true. He was a physiotherapist, not a doctor.

Are P-Unit old enough that they are viewed from then spectre of nostalgia? It’s an accident of genge and kapuka and the Kenyan musical space, that all the people we think of as old are all in their early forties. Beyonce, for instance, is older than Nonini. (Who would have ever thought we’d see Beyonce compared to Nonini?). There has been little space for these musicians to have careers that extend into their middle age. Frasha has permanently retired from music. Bon’Eye is still doing music, this time with a collective called The Decimators whose members are Musyoka, Konkodi and Brian Nadra. And Gabu, in the words of Frasha, 

“Gabu anakimbia Karura. Kitambi imeanza kutoka sana.”

But what dreams the wagenge had, and how they chased them.