The Very Best Politics

What's the story with The Very Best's video for the single "Kondaine," where they teamed up with an American NGO and shot it in very rural Kenya.

Screengrab of The Very Best performing "Kondaine" on KEXP Radio.

The musical group, The Very Best is a tandem between Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and London based producer Johan Hugo. Both met and live in London. AIAC has dedicated several posts to their music. From scanning a few of their videos, it seems they often poke light of the music video genre, taking playful measures with “Yoshua Alikuti,” which riffs off of Lil’ Wayne’s “A Milli” and “Warm Heart of Africa,” which makes use of the green screen to project ‘African’ scenes replete with two backup dancers familiar to homegrown music videos. The song, “Kondaine” released off of The Very Best’s new album MTMTMK, is no exception. It has The Very Best plus their guest singer, Nigerian-born Seye, travel to Northern Kenya, visit a witch doctor, drink Kondaine, and turn into goats. Pretty light hearted, except for the graphic goat scene, which, if not for the upbeat tone of the song, would fall more in line with a darker message. But wait, you may ask, why shoot your music video in Kenya?

Luckily the final seconds of the video answer that question: director’s choice. Both new singles off of MTMTMK were shot and directed in collaboration with the California activist arts based organization Village Beat. “Yoshua Alikuti” was shot in Nairobi, and “Kondaine” in Northern Kenya. Village Beat is active in both of these areas, currently filming a documentary on the plight of Kenyan street children in Nairobi, and working to raise funds for a music festival to increase awareness of the displacement of the Turkana people in Northern Kenya, and the controversy surrounding the building of the Gibe III Dam.

All well and good, but what does this music video addendum really do, besides act as a plug for Village Beat’s advocacy efforts? In a statement, Village Beat let it be known:

Love and respect to our Turkana friends of Epiding village in northern Kenya — particularly Matet & MC Maji Moto. Sacrifice and ceremony are traditional practices of the Turkana tribe used for events such as marriage, death and in our case, the welcoming of visitors. Drinking Kondaine — the magic potion — is not a traditional Turkana practice. Therefore, no members of The Very Best were actually turned into goats. To know more, visit www.villagebeat.org

With the exception of its guest extras’ shout-outs, all it does is call into question the music video even more. I generally don’t expect music videos to provide many hard truths, except what I learned from rap videos, that street living is rough. Now Village Beat wants to correct my “assumptions” about Turkana culture, as if I were in fact making any, and in the very last seconds have me reprocess this whole video in terms of reality, seeing it as inauthentic, instead of as a visually entertaining spoof on visiting a “witch doctor”. Now I have to think, why were the Turkana even highlighted in the first place if they have no relation to music’s subject matter? Oh right, because Village Beat wanted them to be.

But to close in Village Beat’s defense, if I were to have immediately coupled Kenyan rural life with a tradition of black magic, this addendum would provide me with a healthy dose of reality check: hey now, it’s just a music video.

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