If you’re a Kenyan online, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Nishike and Kookoo, two singles recently released by Sauti Sol and Elani. The songs don’t have that much in common, but they’ve both gotten us talking about what is commonly referred to as the thirst.
You must have seen the videos by now, but just in case:
(Can I just say, yay Ogopa and Enos? Our video quality has improved vastly. Time was you cringed when you saw a Kenyan artist on the screen. No more! Not as much, anyway.)
As I was saying: rather different in mood and theme. I had a bit of a serious conversation about them on Twitter earlier, touching on heteronormativity and gender roles and objectification, all of which are undoubtedly true and necessary to think about. I really wish @Woozie_M and @nochiel would write their longform critiques. They’ll be merciless and tear us new ways of thinking and I’ll love it.
But this is my take, and it’s a simple one:
Sexy Kenyans. It’s a thing, and I like it.
* At this point, I’d like to point out – I generally leave the over 18 stuff alone, but i have deviated somewhat for this post. It’s nothing extreme, but if you’re uncomfortable with adult themes and [mildly] strong language, you know, caveat emptor.*
Let us open with a regal Bien – all glistening and kitted out with gold-tone and a throne. There’s a strong African King vibe at work here, which still manages to stay true to the king-on-the-throne theme so common in music videos, as seen below:
(Yes, for fun, I just used examples of female artists subverting the trope)
Where was I? Ah, yes, retention of ideas and images already seen in other videos (Delvin’s bit is basically a knock-off of Trey Songz’ Na Na, yes?) The newest idea perhaps, is do Kenyans really do this? Which is a daft question in a country with a population problem. Kenyans are rampant shaggers, best believe. Parents’ Magazine was a constant back in the day and always had some coy, frisky headline about love and the bedroom on the cover. Sex aunties and therapists do a brisk business, many of them running successful advice columns and shows in our mass media. Toy shops are on the rise, there’s the regular #VerbalIntercourse hashtag on Twitter, so why the insistence otherwise?
Clearly there’s still some shock value in seeing this deliberate display of sexiness – and it is deliberate, a quick IG trawl of Bien’s and Delvin’s accounts shows pics posted over the past couple of months of their workouts, with some teasing and hinting at this forth-coming video. They are on display, served up to us – almost more than their female counterparts. Of course, this opens the conversation about depersonification of women – displaying bodies at the expense of faces is a classic method of dehumanizing and objectifying. However, if I’m being honest, this wasn’t the feeling I got from this. Certainly they’re very sexualized, and a lot of the focus is on their figures and bodies, but it is not at expense of their faces or humanity. Most of the ladies get full-on face shots, Polycarp and his heroine are certainly given equal coverage. The ladies are active, touching as much as being touched. Special props to Delvin’s girl (I wish we knew their names. It’d help my argument) who seems to have had a great old time, leaping onto torsos and what-not.
But it remains, the lads are very much on display, in a way we don’t often see from our men (except perhaps athletes and sportmens – go Kenya Sevens, amirite?) so it’s still a bit new, and definitely more blatant than the sportsmen. Perhaps this is why some uncomfortable tweeps claimed watching the video was gayyyy. Part of the conversation and attempt to deal with this discomfort seems to revolve around an idea that it’s unmanly to be too eager to please a woman –and I just don’t know how this is possible. The general lore amongst a section of twitter seems to preach a certain disdain for foreplay, a firm belief that dick game alone should be sufficient, and for their wives and liaisons we say a prayer. At this point in time, how anyone can be embarrassed about wanting to please someone else, I can’t imagine. I hope that in the privacy of the bedroom, this is all just bravado. No one has time for candles and massage and leather crossover jumpsuit things all the time, but come on – never?
Amidst all this are the safe, defined boundaries of sex and sexuality and its expression. There’s an argument found in the comic book world about how characters who are ostensibly meant to pander to female readers (your Thors and what have you) are really just another male fantasy, where the sexiest thing imaginable to a woman must be the manliest of all men, all blood and sweat and musky muscle and not a whit of anything softer. The shirtless gyrating does seem to echo this – this must be what women want. Not much of sensitivity or give-and-take, (perhaps this is why I was absurdly pleased with Polycarp, who awkwardly doesn’t really touch his lady beyond some stroking and cuddling- there’s a point his hand stops literally right below her bust – and I just know someone will translate that into being less than a man, and to you I say, foh).
But. Formulae are formulae because they work. And part of empowerment is taking what you get and making it yours. Perhaps it’s because I like tall dark men, but honestly the fantastically nicknamed Mahanjam Grind works. Which grind you say? This one:
And I’m not the only one who thought so, either. I must admit, I was very jazzed to see the outpouring of enthusiasm from the Kenyan ladies on twitter. People may object to the song itself, and the copy-cat aspects of the video, but we appreciate the boys. And it’s great to see women persist in cheering them on, even in the face of revolt and bruised ego – unataka kubebwa na we ni size ya…, if I’m like that, you must be like this…. Most of us don’t have the genetic or gymmed-up gifts people chosen for display do, but come on. We’ve really got to learn how to appreciate some of this stuff without tearing other people (and sometimes the people we’re appreciating) down.
There’s a less thrilled viewership that’s decrying it as porn – and once more our public discourse is soaked in hypocrisy. It’s no more than what we are used to, brought out into the light of day. Morals and discussions of modesty and how much people are comfortable revealing will come into play here, but that’s a whoooole other topic. All I’ll say is that it’s not really worth clutching the pearls over. What’ll really shake us up is the day they pair him with a guy. But we won’t push for that – if he is in the closet, as the lore suggests, (I can’t find anything definitive online) it’s really nobody’s business but his own. We’re not all Binyavangas.
As a sort of post-script to this, comes Kookoo. I really don’t want to say this, but well, you know. It can’t be ignored that they’re a much more femme-centric group than SS so perhaps that accounts for the variety in their outlook. It’s a bit more flexible, a bit less normative. Certainly there’s an attempt at diversity – body modification (I swear I’ve seen that pierced chap at B&W or something. Who is he?), a bit of race mixing, different body types… Very bohemian and fresh, in keeping with their image.
I’d read plenty of tweets before watching the actual video, and most of them were focused on Mo’s lovely figure. Coming off of this, and the fact that I (somehow) managed to watch Nishike first, I must say I was expecting a lot more skin. They’re an attractive trio, and the ladies’ make-up was beautiful, but they weren’t as blatant about it as the Sol. It was just – oh here are three beautiful people taking a stroll through Nairobi. Odd that in such an overall romantic video the bit I heard most about was the afore-mentioned figure, which just goes to show – sometimes people will focus on what they want, despite our best efforts. It’s part of classic boys vs girls on twirra, people pick sides and yell what they want. It’s what we do. We stand up for what we believe and defend what we’re passionate about.
Me, I’m just here for the grind. And that leather crossover jumpsuit thing.