Made in Riverwood: (Dis) Locating Identities and Power through Kenyan Pop Music
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Local scholarship seems to deliberately cultivate invisibility for local creative expressive forms especially when these happen to fall under the popular culture rubric. This phenomenon is related to broader questions of cultural identities and their authorship. However, where scholars might not have enthusiastically taken up their role in studying unorthodox cultural phenomena, popular culture practitioners have actively taken up the work of reflexive self-documentation. My assumption is that the academy is aware of the tremendous capacity of popular culture to influence people but it is quite unwilling to cede the authority to define taste and identity to ‘street’ practitioners. Not studying popular modes of creative expression at all or merely according them peripheral attention ensures that these artists do not enter into mainstream academic discourse. This paper hopes to show that the vast popular culture industry that is located in Nairobi’s RiverRoad – now branded ‘Riverwood’, Holywood’s local variant – is quite aware of some of the key questions about contemporary popular culture and the power of its representation. A key argument is that visual recording is a critical aspect of ongoing transformative cultural innovation in which the VCD form has come to impact significantly on popular musicians’ ability to influence viewers’ self/other perceptions. Data is drawn from RiverRoadrecorded music VCDs and from conversations with consumers of popular culture in order to show urban artists’ contribution to on-going discourses of power and identity.