Traditional Music on YouTube

TICAH has been supporting traditional musicians and instrument makers since 2015 through its Medicine Wheel program, so we are excited to share this story of the blend of tradition and contemporary creative outlets:

Litungu players posing for a photo
Litungu players posing for a photo

The Talented Royals band was a popular traditional music group in Bungoma, playing their litungu (a 7 or 8 string instrument from the Luhya community) music at social events across western Kenya.  The music supported the 37 members of the group (which includes many musicians, singers, and dancers) and their families.  When the pandemic arrived in Kenya the Talented Royals band, like so many musicians across the world, struggled to make ends meet.  Dependent on social gatherings, the Talented Royals didn’t know how to move forward in the new normal.

Musicians and others who are reliant on the gig economy have seen their professions turned upside down.  Those that are finding ways to make the new normal work are turning to the internet, to social media, and to zoom gigs to reach their audiences.  Traditional musicians were left behind as many don’t have social media accounts or knowledge on how to use these tools to build their brands and followings.  “We have only been giving out our music on memory cards or sharing with people from our mobile phones. I never knew that the same music I can upload on Youtube so that it can reach many people even outside my county”, said Fred Fwamba of the Talented Royals.

The Talented Royals once tried to figure out social media but was told by studio producers that it costs $25 to sign up for YouTube and that they would need signatories to set it up.  Since they didn’t know otherwise and since this was expensive and complicated, the group dropped the idea.  Albert Wesonga of the band said, “There could be many people looking for our services out there. They may be looking for Litungu players to entertain them during functions, but they will not reach us because they do not even know we exist.”

In an effort to support traditional musicians, TICAH recently held a workshop to support the litungu players learn about how to use social media to promote their music and reach audiences.  The group was taught how to set up their Youtube channels and upload their content. The musicians were so excited about making an appearance on Youtube.  “We never knew the process of recording and uploading to Youtube. Thanks to this training, I have used my phone to record and upload videos to the new channel. I am very happy”, said Albert Wesonga.

The litungu players also learnt about the benefits of online presence and the payment schemes that exist on Youtube and Facebook for content creators if they reach certain audience levels. “I didn’t know that one can earn income by uploading videos on Youtube.  I will get people to subscribe to my channel and like my videos. That way, I will be able to qualify to earn some income from Youtube in the future. I can then use the income to record new songs in the studio”, said Fwamba.

The litungu players also feel that their participation on the online platform will develop their creativity as their audiences demand new content. “Being on Youtube will force us to create new content. We will have to be more creative to keep our audience interested”, said Tony Masinde.