The music of Kenyan children is as diverse as the peoples who make up the Kenyan society. What music do Kenyan children perform? Where do they perform this music?
Kenyan children attend at least 3 years of preschool education. The preschool is one of the environments where music is performed on a daily basis, for various reasons. These include the application of music to enhance learning of other areas such as language and numbers, as well as the use of music as a facilitator of social development. Notably, there is a session set apart for Music and Movement once a week. In this session, music is not just a facilitating subject, but is to be appreciated and enjoyed in its own right.
Most preschools are privately owned, or are maintained partly by the government and the local communities. Apart from those in upmarket areas of urban centres, a good number face challenges spatial challenges. A tour of most classrooms will reveal learning areas and certain corners such as 'shop'; spaces for toys such as wood blocks and other simple toys. However, there are few schools with 'music' corners. Much of the musical activities therefore take place in the playground. Music and movement programs may be described in general as a re-enacting of the traditional playground, where children learned to sing and play together before the onset of formal education.
Within the playground, children sing with movement and games. Circle singing games abound, with teachers joining in and providing support, or standing on the side lines and cheering on the children in their performances.
The music performed in the playground, especially in urban areas, is mainly indigenous Kenyan singing games translated into Kiswahili, the country's national language. Preschool teachers in urban areas prefer to teach songs in either English or Kiswahili, due to the perceived dynamics involved in teaching multi-ethnic and even multicultural groups songs from the over 42 ethnic communities of Kenya. There are also popular songs with catchy tunes whose lyrics induce play and playful activities. One such song is the popular Jambo, a greeting song, which is now known far beyond
For the most part, the philosophy underpinning Music and Movement performance in preschool education is that music is to be enjoyed in community, with call and response songs as the most popular. When contemporary musical styles are introduced, they also reflect the sense of community and the importance of everybody's participation.
In order to fully appreciate and celebrate the diverse musics of children's worlds, an understanding and appreciation of cultural influences on not only children but educators and families, is necessary in order to ensure that children begin their musical journeys from a point of understanding that is comfortable and familiar to them. As they grow and encounter other musical traditions, they have within themselves a rich repository of music that will enrich their lives.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Andang'o,
Music Educator and Researcher in Early Childhood Music Education,