Nostalgia and Kenya’s return of the sounds of the ’90s and ’00s 

Nostalgia is a powerful force. The pleasurable, and sometimes sad, yearning for times past is a feeling that most of us are familiar with. But it’s also an increasingly powerful force in pop culture. One need only look at the reboots of 80s and 90s TV and film franchises to see how prevalent a force it’s become. That’s to say nothing of new creative vehicles such as Stranger Things that make heavy use of nostalgic elements.

Of course, nostalgia has long existed in pop culture but there are signs that nostalgia loops are getting increasingly small and fast. Many of the fashions of the late 1990s, for example, harkened back to the 1960s from 30 years before. Today, we see a resurrection of  the fashions of the early and mid-2000s. Music isn’t exempt from nostalgia as a force either.

“That’s hardly surprising, contemporary artists often draw on the music they listened to most growing up (usually what their parents listened to) as they form their own identities. Just a Band’s 2011 release, Dunia Ina Mambo, which samples The Mighty Cavaliers’ 1976 hit by the same name comes to mind,” says Monica Kemoli-Savanne, Artist and Label Partnerships Manager for East Africa at Spotify.

“And as Spotify Wrapped data for 2022 shows, we seek it out as listeners too. Kenya is no exception to that impulse, with tracks from the 2000s and 1990s dominating this trend. More particularly, Kenyan listeners appear to be heavily nostalgic for R&B and Rap from those decades. Gidi Gidi Maji Maji’s Atoti, released in 2002, saw a resurgence in the last couple of months – thanks to a social media trend, making it the top streamed local throwback song,” she adds.

The top tracks from the 2000s, according to this year’s data, include many of the biggest global names of the decade. While some – like JAY-Z, Rihanna, and Beyoncé – remained massive powerful forces throughout the 2010s and into the 2020s, others feel very much like products of the time.

Most-streamed tracks from the 2000s on Spotify in Kenya this year were:

  1. Mario – Let Me Love You

  2. Ne-Yo – So Sick

  3. Beyoncé – Halo

  4. JAY-Z, Rihanna – Umbrella

  5. Mariah Carey – We Belong Together

  6. Mary J. Blige – Be Without You – Kendu Mix

  7. Kanye West- Heartless

  8. Rihanna – Take A Bow

  9. 50 Cent – In Da Club

  10. Ne-Yo – Miss Independent

Further back, the top tracks from the 1990s include numerous Rap legends, from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg to 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. Further driving up the nostalgia factor is the fact that Coolio and LV’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ features on the list. Following the rapper’s tragic death in late September this year, the song now neatly encapsulates the duality of nostalgia. All at once, you can listen to it and feel a yearning for the time it was recorded, but also feel sad looking back on 2022 because it claimed the artist behind a song which helped define the era.

Most-streamed tracks from the 90s on Spotify in Kenya this year were:

  1. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg – Still D.R.E.

  2. 2Pac, Outlawz Hit ‘Em Up – Single Version

  3. Pato Banton – Go Pato

  4. Coolio, L.V. – Gangsta’s Paradise

  5. The Notorious B.I.G. – Big Poppa – 2005 Remaster

  6. Madilu System- Ya Jean – Remix (Congolese Rumba)

  7. The Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize – 2014 Remaster

  8. Mariah Carey – Always Be My Baby

  9. 2Pac – Do For Love

  10. K-Ci & JoJo – All My Life

Looking at the top songs from earlier decades, it’s also clear that the influence of nostalgia in broader pop culture is playing a role in bringing that music to new listeners. Would Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” be the top song from the 1980s if it hadn’t been so prominent in the latest season of Stranger Things? And how much of a role did Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic play in propelling Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to the top of the 50s chart?

No. 1s from other decades on Spotify in Kenya this year were:

  • 80s: Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)

  • 70s: Bob Marley & The Wailers – Three Little Birds (Reggae)

  • 60s: Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (Soul)

  • 50s: Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling in Love (Rock & Roll)

Given the ongoing global socio-political and economic uncertainty plaguing the world right now, it seems like nostalgia isn’t going to dissipate as a force anytime soon. That said, it’s also okay to remind ourselves that we loved a lot of the things from those periods, but especially the music, because they really were as good as we remember them being.


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