In Kenya, local musicians are community influencers who can facilitate social change by drawing from stories and narratives emanating from everyday experiences.


Stimulating conversations and dialogues can be heard from afar. They inspire and draw you closer to hearing more. “Music mingi ya kikamba hua inademean sana wanawake, musicians wengi local na si ukambani tu hufikiria wakitumia matusi watakuwa famous,” says Boniface Wambua. He continues to say that most musicians have three phases in their career lives. First, they will do anything and everything to be recognized even if it means using vulgar language. In the second phase, they calm down, get mentors and attend sessions similar to this one organized by National AIDS Control Council (NACC). Thereafter, their music grows because they are famous and their content is good. “In phase three, they are highly sought after. They go back to what they used to do in phase one thinking they have nothing to lose. I don’t think I want to follow that route,” he adds.

These were invigorating conversations by a team of 20 local musicians debating on how to change the demeaning narrative around sexual and gender-based violence and HIV.

In recognition of the role of local musicians and artists, the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) invited them for a forum at the Wote Technical Institute. The meeting brought together local musicians from Makueni, Kitui and Machakos. In Kenya, local musicians are community influencers who can facilitate social change by drawing from stories and narratives emanating from the everyday experiences of communities engulfed by tough economic precarity and HIV and AIDS.

Harnessing talents

Shadrack Mutuku Peter, a 31-year-old is one such influencer whose father was a famous Kamba musician and founder of the Kawendi boys band. He recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, accounting option. One of his father’s famous song is “Mueni”. On his father’s demise, Mutuku was thrown into the murky waters of music. He was under pressure to sustain the good name of his father. Riding on his father’s goodwill, hard work, and determination, he has managed to sustain the band. ”I had never thought of incorporating any sexual and gender-based violence or HIV messages in my music because I didn’t know how but now that I am more knowledgeable, my third album will have a song or two on these issues,” said Mutuku.

Catherine Wanza, Regional HIV Coordinator, NACC, said the sensitization aims to build local skills and knowledge, harnessing talents for the empowerment of marginalized artisan communities in the context of HIV and AIDS as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

Health promotions and interventions are more often rejected because of perception that health practitioners impose their understanding of biomedicine on communities in which they work. As a result, efforts to facilitate improved health are countered by concerns that members of that community attach to health. Failure to acknowledge, respect, and work with cultural positions held by community members can lead to cultural imposition, introjection, and symbolic violence, which undermine the pursuit of better health.

Health promotion as a collaboration

A range of researchers and practitioners such as NACC have sought to address these problems by developing approaches to health promotion inspired by action research and dialogical theory. Such approaches treat health promotion and intervention as a collaboration between community members, healthcare professionals, and researchers. “One way in which researchers have pursued collaboration with communities to improve health in Kenya is by using artistic forms. Creative processes have been harnessed to enquire into local experiences and understandings relating to health, offer intervention and provide a discreet form of therapy for a range of conditions and to disseminate and validate health research findings. These are the new approaches that NACC is harnessing to help turn the tide in new HIV infections,” said Joab Khasewa, Program Officer, Prevention, NACC.

After the training, participants could identify major HIV transmission and prevention methods and knew where to go for testing. They were now faced with the dilemma of how they would plug in to help tackle the big societal problem of HIV and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) especially since their main target audience was 18- to 24-year-olds. These age cohort face the highest brunt of new HIV infections.

“I have learned quite a lot, from how HIV is transmitted to various forms of SGBV. I never knew that uttering some words or using a demeaning tone is a form of SGBV. I have become better. As I go home, my music will bring a difference in society,” said Boniface Wambua, an upcoming local artist.

More value to artists

Using music to educate people living with HIV and AIDS is fantastic and knowing one’s status is very powerful. It makes them realize that people can live a full life with HIV. Many participants felt more empowered to address HIV and AIDS as well as SGBV issues after the training. They were also ready to support others and serve as HIV and AIDS advocates. “The training was not just on health matters. We also need to add value to the artists. They have been given tips on how to compose music because we established that some have never been to any music school. One of the topics was techniques in music composition,” said Faith Kimilu from Sub-County AIDS Control Coordinator.

In a show of solidarity to create strong positive relationships to drive this agenda, the team formed a WhatsApp group of young and upcoming artists in the three counties to sustain the conversation and critique each other’s works. Hopefully, a new brand of change agents has been birthed.