Alt girls run the world

A collage of Sofiya Nzau, Nikita Kering and Xenia Manasseh.

Kenya has a tremendous pool of talent in the art scene. From women in music, entertainment, and pop culture - women are the crown jewel of Kenya’s cultural zeitgeist of this decade.

And while acts such as Nadia Mukami, Sanaipei Tande, Jovial, Akothee, Femi One and, more recently, Ssaru are excelling in the mainstream space, it is the Alt Kenyan scene that is making waves; marking the crossover for Kenyan artistes into new regions and markets.

“It is no debate Kenya has an amazing talent. There are amazing women in the spotlight. However, the independent scene is thriving. Quarter Four alone last year saw Indie Kenyan artistes put their shows together, filling up venues such as Beer District and Geco Cafe,” says music executive Kefa Ondicho.

Indeed, mainstream acts tend to rotate around the axis of established genres like Gospel and Afro-Pop.

Alt artistes in Kenya are experimenting and pushing the boundaries of music, and Agie Opondo couldn't agree more.

“Kenya is great musically because artistes aren’t afraid to go out of their boxes and try new things. There is a lot of freshness and creative license in Kenya’s underground,” she says.

With that said lesser popular genres like R&B, Alt R&B, Oontz or Amapiano as it is widely known,  are catching the attention of international executives, media and music fans.

“Sofiya was accepted outside of Kenya before she was here. That is a glaring example of someone doing something unique. Kenyans at mass scale are in tune with what their popular artistes do, but their appetite to discover new music is relatively low,” says Sofiya Nzau’s publicist Njeri. 

Rise of Alt Women

Acts such as Maya Amolo, Tg.blk, and Coco Em have already been celebrated in their communities and on the international stage.

Maya has been named Spotify’s inaugural Fresh Finds artiste in 2022, and Tg. blk has been co-signed by American rap star Vince Staples.

Coco Em is touring the world playing circuit festivals, and the Indie girlies are taking up space without necessarily being known at a major scale by the average Kenyan consumer.

“We just want to be seen and to be heard. Sometimes Kenyan media can be notorious for gatekeeping, or failure to understand expressionism, and this is fine. But this becomes an opportunity to interact with international audiences, especially with the advent of social media,” says spatial designer and multidisciplinary artiste Bakhita. 

Artistes such as Nikita Kering', who was signed to Universal Music Group South Africa, Karun, Xenia Manasseh, Lisa Oduor-Noah, and Zowie Kechonga represented Kenya on the global performing platform COLORS late last year.

The names are also expansive and the accolades are endless, but Alt women not limited to creative artistes are also winning.

Sonia Pinto acts as Head of a Digital Media station, Radio 254, that plays strictly local music, Sharon Kioko runs a women-only party dubbed ‘The Whine Down’ that attracts over 2,000 women, and there are women such as Kaneda making mind-blowing moves.

“Lately, it’s been welcoming. When I started not so much. Sometimes women are their biggest enemies. Female artistes do not support each other and it is quite tragic. Across arts, not just music, which is a part of the problem, the plus side is that the mindset has changed. Women also receive a lot of support that wasn’t felt. But we need more shows headlined by women,” says rapstress Groovy Jo.


As Kenya’s music industry continues to grow, there are no hard facts that suggest that women are being sidelined as an entity.

But artiste and marketer Olivia Ambani says that although there is improvement, more can be done to assert a diverse music industry where women’s rights and voices are part of the overall tone.

“It has gotten better, but there is still room for improvement. We need to see more women in more spaces in the music industry, not just as artistes. We need more producers, video directors, videographers, sound engineers, DJs, and instrumentalists,” says Olivia.

She adds: "For this shift to happen we need to look at our music education system and programmes, the narratives that we feed young girls about what is possible and also creating more safe spaces where their talents can be nurtured.”

Sonia Pinto says affirmative action around issues stemming from women's equality is still wanting, and urgent.

“It is about achieving equality for everyone regardless of gender. Everyone benefits from feminism because everyone benefits from equality. A society where people experience oppression, violence, and discrimination because of their gender is not sustainable and cannot achieve true prosperity. Without equality, there is no justice,” says Sonia.

She adds: "Without justice, there is no peace. We must continue to advocate for women’s rights until the day gender equality is a reality for all. By supporting feminism, you can stand up for an equitable, fairer and more sustainable world.” 

There have been claims about women versus men's pay disparity in the music industry. 

“You can play a critical role in creating a more gender-equal world by committing yourself to create awareness of gender issues and taking action to help them. You can also make a difference by empowering individuals, organisations, and communities to create gender equality,” says Sonia.


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