colonialism s influence on kenyan arts

Have you ever wondered how colonialism shaped the music and arts of Kenya?

The impact of colonial rule on the development of Kenyan artistic expressions is a fascinating and complex topic.

In this article, we will explore the parallel journeys of pre-colonial indigenous music and arts and the arrival of European influences.

We will analyze the suppression of indigenous artistic expressions, the westernization and transformation of Kenyan music and arts, as well as the cultural resistance and preservation that emerged as a response.

Get ready to dive into the rich legacy and influence of colonialism on contemporary Kenyan arts.

Key Takeaways

  • Pre-colonial Kenyan music and arts were deeply rooted in the daily lives of communities, with a wide variety of instruments and traditional songs and dances.
  • European influences significantly impacted Kenyan music and arts, leading to a loss of traditional art forms and the introduction of new instruments and techniques.
  • Indigenous artistic expressions were suppressed during colonialism, with European dominance and cultural assimilation forcing adoption of European practices.
  • The Westernization of Kenyan music and arts resulted in the introduction of new instruments and genres, the fusion of Western and Kenyan styles, and the overshadowing of traditional African art forms.

Pre-Colonial Kenyan Music and Arts

In the article, we'll now explore the rich and diverse world of pre-colonial Kenyan music and arts. Pre-colonial Kenyan music and arts had a profound influence on the traditions and cultural significance of the country. Music and arts were deeply ingrained in the daily lives of Kenyan communities, serving as a means of communication, expression, and storytelling.

Kenyan music was characterized by a wide variety of instruments, including drums, xylophones, horns, and stringed instruments. Different regions of Kenya developed their own unique musical styles, reflecting the diverse ethnic groups and their respective cultural practices. Traditional songs and dances were performed during various social gatherings, ceremonies, and rites of passage. These performances not only entertained the community but also conveyed important messages, preserved history, and reinforced social norms and values.

The arts in pre-colonial Kenya encompassed a range of disciplines, including sculpture, pottery, weaving, and beadwork. These artistic forms were intricately linked to cultural practices and beliefs, often serving as a means of storytelling and preserving cultural heritage. Sculptures and pottery depicted scenes from everyday life, religious rituals, and mythical creatures, while weaving and beadwork were used to create intricate patterns and designs on clothing, jewelry, and household items.

Arrival of European Influences

As European colonizers arrived in Kenya, they brought with them a wave of cultural influences that would significantly impact the development of Kenyan music and arts. The arrival of European influences marked a turning point in the history of Kenyan artistic expression, as traditional practices began to be overshadowed by new forms of artistic expression introduced by the colonizers.

Here are three key ways in which the arrival of European influences shaped the development of Kenyan music and arts:

  1. Cultural assimilation: The colonizers sought to assimilate the Kenyan population into European culture, and this included the suppression of traditional practices. Kenyans were encouraged to adopt European styles of music and art, leading to a decline in the prominence of indigenous artistic expressions.
  2. Loss of traditional practices: With the influx of European influences, many traditional practices and art forms in Kenya began to fade away. The focus shifted towards European art forms such as classical music and Western-style painting, leaving behind the rich heritage of Kenyan traditional music and visual arts.
  3. Introduction of new instruments and techniques: European colonizers introduced new musical instruments and artistic techniques to Kenya. These innovations brought about a fusion of European and Kenyan influences, giving rise to new hybrid forms of music and art that blended elements from both cultures.

The arrival of European influences in Kenya had a profound impact on the development of Kenyan music and arts, leading to cultural assimilation and the loss of traditional practices. However, it also brought about the introduction of new instruments and techniques, paving the way for the emergence of new and unique artistic expressions in the country. This marked the beginning of a complex journey for Kenyan artists, as they navigated the challenges of cultural change while striving to maintain their own identities and traditions. This journey would later be marred by the suppression of indigenous artistic expressions, as we'll explore in the next section.

Suppression of Indigenous Artistic Expressions

You experienced the suppression of indigenous artistic expressions as European colonizers imposed their cultural dominance on Kenya. During the colonial era, cultural assimilation and cultural appropriation were common practices used by the Europeans to suppress the indigenous arts and music of Kenya. The colonizers viewed indigenous artistic expressions as inferior and sought to replace them with their own cultural forms. This resulted in the marginalization and erasure of traditional Kenyan art forms, as they were deemed primitive and uncivilized.

Cultural assimilation was a deliberate attempt by the colonizers to force the local population to adopt European cultural practices and abandon their own traditions. Indigenous artists were discouraged from creating art that reflected their own cultural identities, and instead, were expected to create works that aligned with European artistic standards. This led to the loss of unique artistic expressions that had been passed down through generations.

Furthermore, cultural appropriation occurred as European artists and scholars appropriated elements of Kenyan culture for their own artistic purposes. These elements were often stripped of their original meanings and used in a way that commodified and exoticized them. This not only devalued indigenous artistic expressions but also perpetuated stereotypes and misconceptions about Kenyan culture.

The suppression of indigenous artistic expressions had a profound impact on the development of Kenyan music and arts. It created a cultural imbalance that favored European artistic forms and hindered the preservation and evolution of traditional Kenyan art forms. However, despite these challenges, Kenyan artists and musicians have continued to reclaim and revitalize their indigenous cultural heritage, leading to the subsequent section on the westernization and transformation of Kenyan music and arts.

Westernization and Transformation of Kenyan Music and Arts

One can observe how Kenyan music and arts underwent significant westernization and transformation during the colonial period. The arrival of Western colonizers introduced new musical instruments such as the guitar, piano, and brass instruments. These instruments gradually replaced traditional Kenyan instruments like the nyatiti and the kora, leading to a shift in the sound and style of Kenyan music.

In addition to the introduction of new instruments, Western music genres like gospel, jazz, and pop gained popularity in Kenya during this time. Local musicians began to incorporate Western musical elements into their compositions, creating a fusion of styles that appealed to both Kenyan and Western audiences.

The influence of Westernization was not limited to music. It also impacted the themes and subject matter of Kenyan arts. Traditional African art forms, which often depicted scenes from daily life and nature, were gradually overshadowed by Western artistic styles and themes. Artists began to explore new subject matters and techniques, reflecting the changing cultural landscape.

While the westernization and transformation of Kenyan music and arts expanded artistic horizons, it also had the potential to erode indigenous creativity and cultural identity. Understanding this historical context is crucial for appreciating the complexities and evolution of Kenyan music and arts today.

Cultural Resistance and Preservation

Through cultural resistance and preservation, Kenyan musicians and artists actively maintained their indigenous traditions and artistic expressions in the face of colonial influence. This resistance was a response to the cultural assimilation efforts by the colonizers, who sought to impose their own Western ideals and values onto the indigenous population. By preserving their cultural heritage and embracing their indigenous creativity, Kenyan artists were able to resist the erasure of their traditions and assert their identity.

Cultural Resistance Preservation Indigenous Creativity
Musicians and artists actively resisted the cultural assimilation efforts of the colonizers. Kenyan artists made conscious efforts to preserve their cultural heritage. Indigenous creativity thrived as artists found new ways to express themselves within the colonial context.
They incorporated elements of their traditional music and art forms into their work, creating a fusion of indigenous and Western influences. Traditional instruments were preserved and passed down through generations, ensuring their continued use and significance. Artists found inspiration in their cultural roots and used it as a foundation for their artistic expressions.
Through their resistance, Kenyan artists were able to maintain a sense of cultural identity and pride. Traditional dances and rituals were performed and celebrated, keeping the traditions alive. This indigenous creativity served as a form of resistance against colonial oppression and a means of reclaiming cultural autonomy.

Legacy and Influence on Contemporary Kenyan Arts

The legacy and influence of colonialism on contemporary Kenyan arts can be seen in the incorporation of both indigenous and Western artistic elements. This fusion of cultures has given rise to a unique and vibrant artistic expression that reflects the complex history of Kenya.

  1. Influence on Fashion: Colonialism introduced Western clothing styles and fashion trends to Kenya. Today, Kenyan fashion designers draw inspiration from both traditional African attire and Western fashion, creating a hybrid style that's both modern and rooted in heritage. This fusion of influences can be seen in the use of traditional African prints and fabrics in contemporary fashion designs.
  2. Impact on Literature: The colonial period brought about a transformation in the literary landscape of Kenya. English became the dominant language of literature, leading to the emergence of a new generation of Kenyan writers who wrote in English. These writers used literature as a means to explore and critique the effects of colonialism on Kenyan society. Today, Kenyan literature continues to address themes of identity, colonialism, and post-colonialism, showcasing the lasting impact of colonial rule on the country's literary tradition.
  3. Hybrid Artistic Expression: Contemporary Kenyan artists often create works that blend indigenous artistic traditions with Western techniques and aesthetics. This fusion allows artists to explore their cultural heritage while also engaging with global artistic movements. The resulting artworks are a testament to the resilience and adaptability of Kenyan artists, who are able to navigate between different artistic influences to create something uniquely Kenyan.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Did the Arrival of European Influences Impact Pre-Colonial Kenyan Music and Arts?

When European influences arrived, they had a significant impact on pre-colonial Kenyan music and arts. The introduction of new instruments, styles, and cultural practices altered traditional Kenyan music and arts, shaping their development under colonialism.

What Were Some of the Indigenous Artistic Expressions That Were Suppressed During the Colonial Era?

During the colonial era, indigenous artistic expressions such as traditional dance and storytelling were suppressed. Kenyan artists resorted to underground performances and incorporated traditional elements into European styles as forms of cultural resistance.

How Did the Process of Westernization and Transformation Affect the Traditional Kenyan Music and Arts?

The process of westernization and transformation greatly impacted traditional Kenyan music and arts. European influences played a significant role in shaping pre-colonial Kenyan music and arts, which underwent changes during colonization.

What Were Some of the Forms of Cultural Resistance Employed by Kenyan Artists During the Colonial Period?

During the colonial period, Kenyan artists employed cultural resistance strategies to combat the impact of colonialism. By preserving traditional art forms and integrating them with Western influences, they asserted their cultural identity and challenged colonial domination.

How Has the Legacy of Colonialism Influenced Contemporary Kenyan Arts?

The legacy of colonialism has had a profound influence on contemporary Kenyan arts. From the ways in which artists address and challenge historical injustices to the fusion of traditional and modern artistic forms, colonialism's impact is evident in the development of Kenyan arts today.


In conclusion, the impact of colonialism on the development of Kenyan music and arts has been profound.

The arrival of European influences led to the suppression of indigenous artistic expressions, resulting in the westernization and transformation of Kenyan music and arts. However, amidst this cultural shift, there was also a strong sense of cultural resistance and preservation.

Today, the legacy of colonialism continues to influence contemporary Kenyan arts, highlighting the complex and dynamic nature of cultural development.

Similar Posts