Kamande Wa Kioi, Muigai Wa Njoroge and John DeMathew, separate singers who come from Kenya's Kikuyu ethnic group, denied charges that they incited violence in lyrics that reportedly insulted people of the Luo tribe.
They are accused of "producing and publishing a song in Kikuyu language … with words that were intended to cause hatred, hostility and discrimination between members of Kikuyu and Luo communities," the charge read.
The case was brought by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, set up to curb hate speech after Kenya plunged into violence following the December 27 2007, general elections.
The songs, played on some radio stations, reportedly belittled rivals ahead of new elections due next year, while backing Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who comes from the same Kikiyu tribe.
They offered support for presidential hopeful Kenyatta, one of four Kenyans facing trial in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity over the post-election violence, when more than 1 100 people were killed.
The lyrics – which are full of metaphors as well as references to Bibical and Kikiyu mythology – appear to avoid direct insults, although observers say the messages would be clear to listeners.
Kenyatta's party has said they have no connection to the musicians.
The three singers, released on a 100 000 shillings ($1 200) bail, face up to three years in jail if found guilty.
Their lawyer Gichuki Kingara said the case was a "gross abuse of the court process" arguing it was applying a "criminal interpretation to artistic works".
During the post-election violence, sections of the media were accused of disseminating hate speech, including radio presenter Joshua Arap Sang, who faces trial in the ICC along with Kenyatta.
The four charged by the ICC face counts including orchestrating murder, rape and persecution in the aftermath of the poll, which was described as "one of the most violent periods" in Kenya's history. All deny the charges. – AFP