That Gengetone is dead is a tad detached and unfettered. Who killed it? Why? Do we feel any better after the embalming or cremation? Does it foist the Kenyan flag higher in the scope of understanding of what the Kenyan sound is about? Does it make us better, or more pious than Ezekiel Mutua for the seemingly innocuous deranged act of cancelling an entire culture that had barely made its tottering baby steps. What does it make us, saintly or ghastly pretentious? The take is yours.
That aside, on an ordinary day, he sheds docility- he carries the innocence of a regular schoolboy trudging through the rigmaroles of an education system that pays little heed to music, art or talent- a hub where validation is a python’s milk. He is just another young Kenyan chasing papers to pull out on a day when the sun doesn’t shine and the rain falls as hail. A day thanks to policy framework and the fundamental governance is always here with us.
Everyone references him as a Gengetone artiste, which is disdainful in the sense that Gengetone music carries with it the air of pure faff and is largely considered as the vibe of the uncultured. But is it? Gengetone is music with context. It is hardwired to the way of the ghetto and the patois of the Kenyan ghetto is primal and pugilistic roundhouses delivered without the cover protection of velvet gloves or headgear- the mantra of urban music riding on political correctness.
He however cannot just be limited to Gengetone. His versatility is unplayable.
Gengetone is wordplay riding on lewd synths. It is coarse, direct without the structure of culture or decorum. It floats along like a nonchalant teen, unaware, neglected, uncaring and most definitely as liberal as a night nurse on K-Street. It is the epitome of free spiritedness, a tide of the freedom of the new generation that pays little heed to the nostalgia and conservative nature of the old. Gengetone is a gloves off affair, a pound-for-pound and toe-to-toe claptrap where youth, vibrancy and vivacity carry the day. Gengetone is a flipped bird, at the society that considers itself as moral, religious, conservative, upright and well-mannered. It is a gutsy genre. It is a pity which relies on emptiness and a horde of nothingness, the things the bible christens as vainly. No one would have paid homage to this genre save for a flustered Gen Z generation which ultimately and inherently picked self-expression over any other blistering thing. Gengetone is wildly Kenyan, a picture-perfect representation of the mindset of the society without the bias of sounding or saying the right things- a throw fucks to the winds affair.
But he is a musician living beyond the scope of the skill-set of his generation and even that of the past, he is a boy leagues beyond his mates. He lollops about, armed with nothing save for good naturalness and an inane ability to spew lines which pack the paunch of a heavy weight in a welterweight category. He has a Midas touch, a magical ability to create gold out of anything musical, and every-time he steps into a studio, it seems like a coronation for an outlier, a little legend in the living, the rebirth of a phoenix from the ashes.
His name is Trio Mio.
Before there was Trio Mio, there was E-sir, lauded in some circles as one of the country’s finest. He was. He too sprouted into fame even before his voice had broken and he made his bones as a small lad among hardened veterans. Married to Ogopa Deejays, a firebrand of a production house and armed with nothing but a likeable personality, a resilient spirit and catchy lyricism, E-Sir was a juggernaut traipsing on well-oiled rails. He commanded a loyal movement rolling around with the tagline of South C’s finest. He was a Swahili lyricist who plied his trade in the simple craft of the language. Sheng hadn’t cloaked itself in complexity and thus as E-Sir sang, and rapped, in easygoing Swahili, he was relevant, understandable and he cut through generations like a piercing scream in Knocturn alley. More than a decade later, I can still jive to his songs, word for word, line for line – the epitome of timelessness.
We had C-Zars too, a teen in heart, body and mind and a one hit wonder that disappeared before our seats had even warmed up. He gave meaning to the word precocious. Then there was K-Rupt, brought to a sudden stop by a hail of bullets from a botched-up carjacking.
If anything, young talent in Kenya is half lived. It is the flame of a wick lamp dancing on a cold, windy naked night, it barely lasts to see the next day. E-Sir had his light snuffed out in a car accident after a performance in Nakuru and K-Rupt in another sense, by bullets. To date, no one ever knows what happened to C-Zars, his is a tale of a Houdini escape.
The Kenyan music industry is a hard bargain. You either make your bones or have them broken. It is unforgiving, demanding, demeaning and half about the most thankless occupation on the planet because it entails massaging the egos of a finicky mass and heavens know, Kenyans are a hard lot to appease. The Kenyan Music industry has never been a place for small boys. Refined men and women can sit at the table but the rest that remain have to go through a scourging and if we ever had a graveyard for unfulfilled musical dreams, Nairobi would be a cemetery of mass graves for musicians who never saw the light of day.
Which is why Trio’s journey has been a revelation. That he has morphed from being a one hit write off to the cat that has city tongues wagging perhaps is a strong message that he is here to stay. You can understand the comparisons with E-Sir, I have had the privilege from a fan perspective to interact with the music of these two. E-Sir, the once Ogopa Deejays youngling with an easy feel demeanor, easy flow wordplay and a penchant for turning up when it mattered most- he was the heartthrob of a musical movement. He had everyone by the ropes with his simplicity, ease, and a hard to not like personality.
E-Sir wasn’t laid back either. He took war to turfs that were more established in experience than he was and he held his fort in one hell of a magnanimous way. E- Sir was a likeable firebrand, a mean machine riding on a mean Kapuka beat, it was a struggle to hate him.
Then Trio came cart horsing around on a Gengetone beat at a time that the genre was getting its fair share of scraps. His predecessors, prominent in age and experience threw flip birds to the winds when it came to political correctness. They picked crass over balance which was like an own goal but screw shooting your own foot. Save for one Reckless who could string up a proper hook, Gengetone music was a half-baked affair, there was always a niggly feeling that most of the artistes were riding on fumes. The music relied on sexual sentimentality, direct eroticism and an inherent ability to be as controversially harmless as a black widow spider in a fruit basket. Many needlessly threw way too many stones in a glasshouse and before we knew it, the industry was on a choke-hold from censorships. But thundercats sang on, oblivious to the hate, and armed with no plan but sing the same thing over and over in an incomprehensible language for as much as they could. Gengetone has always been proper winging it.
Cheza kama Wewe blew Trio into the limelight. It was a simple paunchy delivery. It was a proper introduction with a club banger done in collaboration with a tumbler totting heavy weight. Serereka came on next, a largely underrated piece and from then on, the wee lad was flexing. He sings about the same things that Gengetone artistes sing about, sex, mostly, but he marries it with the acumen of a hip-hop artiste. He drops heavy bars, whether he is on a serenading mode or a braggadocio endeavor, he goes ham on every beat, scattering witty punchlines, chilled feel complex rhymes, he musters a solid presence.
He christens himself as Mkurugenzi wa Jiji which he is but here is my qualm.
Trio is way too good.
He is however a Ferrari being handled as a Datsun and not out of modesty but out of a failure to understand what he brings to the table for which no one is to blame for because young prodigies are hard to come by and when one shows up, no one is ever prepared, everyone puts in their best foot forward but this is hardly ever enough.
The boy doesn’t have to go through the process with his skill-set. On a good day he can hold fort with the best in the industry (tag Khaligraph) but he is yet to fire on all cylinders and he can. He deserves a slot with the best in the game, be it in the sense of musicians he collaborates with or the producers that muse him up. Loyal sentimentality is a vice in this regard and it will dampen his progress. He is too talented to be harnessed in box of loyalty to either a label, or his mates, or even artistes who ply their trade in the same genre. He has to be strategic, shrewd, disciplined and dedicated. Hard work is not just about the work ethic, it is more of a fusion of strategy and tenacity, than it is about scribbling lines from dawn to dusk. If his mates cannot keep up to his level, then someone needs to make the hard choices.
Outliers are really hard to come by and when they do, comfort should always be an enemy. It took over a decade to find a replacement for South C’s finest, it would be atrocious if Trio became just another name that came, saw, blew up a little but never conquered. If the boy is a jet fighter, it pays little sense to tie him down even to a super highway, even if the rest of his mates are still trekking on dirt roads, fly him for heaven’s sake!
The raging debates pitting E-Sir and Trio are misplaced priorities. The two hail from different generations and with different styles. E-Sir remains undoubtedly the top dog of an era far gone and his music will always be timeless to that generation and any current that will have a proper taste in good music. As for Trio, he is the present and the future, how far into the future is a task well within his hands or bars. E-Sir always will be, but as we speak, Trio Mio is what is and is to come.
As for niggly catch, Trio is impact undefined, refined and unfettered.