All Africa Kenya

Kenya: Why Rapper Fena Is Rooting for Girl Power


When you think about the Kenyan rap scene, there are probably three female artistes who have played a big role in paving the way for others to shine: Nazizi, STL and Fena Gitu.

Like STL, Fena has the ability to switch between rapping and singing, effortlessly. And like Nazizi, Fena — a singer, songwriter and producer — is one of those stars that can comfortably be described as “cool” with a laidback personality. But that’s as far as any comparisons with other artistes go.

Sometimes referred to as Fenamenal, which also led to her 2012 “Fenamenal Woman” track, Fena broke into the larger music scene after winning the “Fete de la Musique” (World Music Day) competition at Alliance Francaise in 2008. She was taken up as a background vocalist for rapper, singer and producer Muthoni Drummer Queen and singer Della Maranga.

In 2010, she branched out on her own. When she fused her rap and singing with a distinct melody flow that let audiences know it is “Fena-na-na-na”, she created a unique “urban soul: sound.

So, how is it after almost a decade of not only being part of Kenya’s musical cornerstone but also a cultural icon that Fena is still feeling slighted by the industry? Teaming up with new rap acts Vallerie Muthoni and Maandy Kabaya, Fena released “P*** Power” on Wednesday, a song that she hopes will be the anthem for women to take back the power that seems to have been taken away from femininity.

She says that for a long time, the word has been used in profanity, usually to portray some sort of weakness in someone or something. This has inadvertently and on a subconscious level manifested thoughts that women are weaklings or cannot be counted on to do major things.

“We’re taking charge of our femininity. We’re not using the word in a profane way, our generation is past a point where we are apologetic about our womanhood and direct expression. The song actually came to me as an inspiration after listening to Cardi B’s and Meg Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’. Of course we’ll have a censored version for the masses. Essentially, it’s just to affirm our power,” says Fena.

Referring to them as her younger sisters, Fena partnered with Vallerie and Maandy for “having some of the tightest flows”. It’s her way of looking after them because of what she has had to go through. Even her team is an all-women affair, saying the vibe of sisterhood that comes from how women work and move creates a feeling of safety.

“We’re just changing the gender norms. When I came in there weren’t many female emcees in the game. But now we’re having so many others coming through, and pushing very hard. They are dope and I believe we need that to balance out the scales of this once male-dominated industry,” says Fena.

That domination is not only in form of artistes, it spreads out to event organisers, producers and promoters. This is where the disparity counts even more for female artistes.

The more things change, the more they stay the same has never been truer than when talking about equal pay for equal work between men and women. Female rappers who have “earned their stripes” are still finding themselves having to explain why they should be paid the amount they quote as their price for work rendered.

“It really sucks (unfair or bad) that we get paid much less than our male counterparts. They give excuses such as experience, so and so having been in the industry for longer than I have. But if we’re on the same banner or platform and you know what I bring (and that’s the reason you want my name on that), then why is there such a big gap between what you’re paying him and me? But there is strength in numbers. As more women are coming into this space, we are gaining more bargaining power. I’m really pushing for women to go up that financial bracket,” says Fena.

Maandy believes there are unequal opportunities when it also comes to getting partnerships with brands; male artistes getting more prioritised. Yet women face more dangerous situations in this industry. A male fan actually felt it was his place to talk down Fena for wearing a kufi (Nigerian) hat as part of her costume because she is not a chief, while Vallerie was groped while getting off stage after a performance.

Social media is playing a big role in the surge of female entertainers getting bigger and better recognition. It has also broken down barriers to communication between artistes and their fans, while making it a lot easier for the entertainers to get their products (music) directly to the consumers.

Fena’s fashion statements

“Artistically, most people are just going to make their own space nowadays, regardless of whether or not the government supports artistes, or if the systems are not at par to those of industries like in South Africa, Europe or the US. We are doing it independently, with our own companies. Women emerging as a force is what I am loving to see and we are celebrating. And it is challenging the male rappers to step up their game,” says Vallerie.

Fena says that contrary to it having been a necessity in the past, she only does media tours because she wants to; recognising that not everyone is online too. With the online freedom of choice for popular music, mainstream media has also come to realise that sounds previously thought to be loved by the masses are not exactly set. This has opened up radio and television shows to accept new sounds that they previously skipped on, introducing new artistes to more parts of the nation