Turning Lemon into Lemonade

DSC_0788Amsterdam will always be my home away from home. Earlier in our career, Sauti sol toured there every summer without fail. This was before we decided to concentrate exclusively on touring Africa. Of course I’m familiar with all the vices that feature in that beautiful city. The Red Light District, live sex shows, gay bars, sex shops, sex museums, coffeeshops and more. In case you’re planning to go there for business and or pleasure, I suggest you pay a visit to all these places; except of course the gay bars if you’re straight or the Red Light District if you’re weak willed. I have never understood the concept of paying for sex, simply because I feel there are other civil ways to get it. However, I have more than once contemplated taking a hooker home with me; not to indulge in the forbidden fruit, but for a quiet candle light dinner accompanied by thorough questioning.

This time round we travelled to Netherlands for a different reason. We went to witness our former Manager Nynke Nauta getting hitched to her long time love, Steve Biko. Of course I was very excited to see these two deciding to take the epic step of managing each other’s morning breath and underneath the sheets farts forever. Their ceremony took place in an epic 350-year old cathedral in a small town 45 minutes east of Amsterdam. Let’s discuss the awkward moment when the priest asked if anyone disapproves of their union to speak now of forever hold their peace. And I stood up and said, “I know Steve and Nynke, they’re my friends.” I could sense the tension in the chapel and later relief when I pulled that stunt. The rest of the ceremony was beautiful. For more info on that read the wedding blog post via Black Roses.

Those of you who have read my previous posts can affirm how much of a Pan Africanist I am. However, I have to confess I seriously contemplated tearing my passport to pieces while in the Netherlands and just staying there indefinitely. Why did I feel like this? I honestly thought after all my years of travel I was over all things westernized. Well, after coming back home I realize I was being haunted by the evil spirit that has haunted many African artists – the demon that is the desire to belong in a system that functions. Imagine a place where all structures are set to support anyone with the will to succeed. A place where your tribe, race, special or sexual connections are superseded by talent; an environment where if you put in work and sharpen your skills in whatever field, the probability that you would thrive is very high. ORDER!!!!

From a music perspective I’m talking record labels, media, venues, stage sound and lights, event organizers, promoters, copyright societies and so on; all synchronized by professionalism to create a conducive working environment. Or wait. Is this a case of the grass being greener on the other side? Or am I being naïve? I don’t think I am because their numbers and structures don’t lie. I totally understand why many of my Kenyan compatriots have tried to venture into the unknown by going abroad when they had what we thought were flourishing music careers locally. But if we leave this mess, to join the organized westerners then who is going to fix ours? It’s up to Sauti Sol and other industry players to restore order in the new Africa. The order that our colonial masters had projected would stay.

Kenya has a long way to go. All sectors of our industry must be professionalized for this to make commercial sense. More people in the corporate sector need to invest their skills to make this industry run like a business. This will even attract investors to look at music as a viable revenue-generating venture. That said I would like to take this opportunity to thank anyone who has taken their time to contribute positively to what is my bread and butter. Things are looking up. Ten years ago it was impossible to live entirely on music; and look how much we’ve done in this short period. This to us (Sauti Sol) is the most exciting moment of our careers. With our third album in its final stages, I am confident we will be a positive influence and a success story that will be told when coming generations reap what we have sowed.

ALUTA CONTINUA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SCRAMBLE AND PARTITION FOR AFRICA

This post is long overdue. As many of you are aware Sauti Sol was Kenya’s representative at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs). It was easily the most colorful event of its kind in the continent. Man! Doesn’t MTV know how to throw a party! I was of course star-truck half the time. I mean who am I kidding? I got the chance to sit next to Tiwa Savage (my future baby mama) for the whole 2hrs 26minute-long ceremony. When she won her award she shook my hand by reflex and I felt like a flock of birds jumped out my ass. Not quite sure if she felt the same though! But she seemed calm and collected for a woman sitting next to a star-struck Bienaime breathing heavily down her neck. That for me was the award. I left the anxiety of the actual thing to the rest of my boys.

On a more serious note, I have never felt so outnumbered in my life. The scramble and partition of Africa had began and I didn’t quite feel like The Great Britain. A general sense of underdog was in my mind but that was expected. Shocking, however, was there’s a lot about East Africa known out there. Many artists talked to me about Nishike; also asking about Camp Mulla and Fundamendoz and much more. So how come industry players in these regions know so much about us, our potential and talents but not their countries’ citizens. I have come to the sad conclusion that Kenya is just one of their musical colonies; and as any colonial masters, at MAMAs, they were up to beat everything happening in their conquered territories.

Having studied Journalism, I recall a unit called International Mass Media. The main focus of that particular class was the Americanization of the world, and how MTV and Hollywood are by far the biggest exports of that great nation. Well for as long as I can remember South Africa and Nigeria have been our sole dealers for the drug that is African content’s entertainment. So the situation is just like how missionaries preached a religion that seemed superior to ours; it has paved way for what is now the colonization of our airwaves.

S.A music has always been big from the days of Lucky Dube, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Mandoza and a younger Mafikizolo, just to name a few. Channel O made us all subscribe to the culture and feel-good aura that was Kwaito music, fashion and dance. On TV we all appreciated Egoli Place of Gold and still subscribe to other S.A programs like Jacob’s Cross, Isindigo and Generations. And now – well, the continental ripple that is Mzanzi music.

Then came the Nigerians; who in the beginning had an influx of low quality movies fill our TV stations. We all despised them in the beginning. But let’s face it at some point we gave it a chance and look where they are now. No, look at where we are. We all have a Naija side to us when we talk and want to be seen as funny haha!!!! Their music came as a parallel force to the movies. When 2face dropped African Queen and P Square came on to the scene, it was the beginning of the Naijarization of Africa. Now they set the standard, they decide what’s cool, what’s in and what’s African.

With Naija and S.A—the two superpowers collaborating, now more than ever the result is an explosive takeover of our airwaves. After travelling to both S.A and Nigeria I realize they have one thing in common. They both have industries and structures that date back at least 20 years. So as Kenyans on twitter went HAM on Sauti Sol for not winning against Mafikizolo, please note that when Mafikizolo sang Ndiahamba Mnawe or Meet you at the river, Sauti Sol was in standard four listening to HardStone (1997).

Second and most important, these guys are gatekeepers of their territory. Rarely do you find a song from another part of the continent being given massive airplay in their media. Unless of course it’s a breakout monster hit like Flavor’s Ashawo or Mafikizolo’s khona. I was shocked to realize very few people in SA are familiar with P Squares catalogue; and vice versa the bulk of Nigerians heard Mafikizolo for the first time after they collaborated with Mr. MayD. This means that at any given time their local scene pops and stands out from the rest. Only in Kenya will you find a station that dedicates shows to the best Naija/Mzanzi music. In Nigeria I doubt there is any, and certainly not in SA. When a people are consumed so much by their product it becomes contagious and spills over to the rest of the continent.

If Kenyan media and society at large makes the conscious decision to shut out influences from other cultures for as little as a month, we would see a huge difference. A few years back I remember it was cool to say out loud you listen to local music. It ruled all charts and countdowns; Necessary Noise for example had their own songs dethroning each other on the charts. How cool was that? Remember when bumping a local CD in your car was deemed sexy? Now all of a sudden many of us have become too cool for it. As artists I believe we need to pull up our socks by making power moves and hits on behalf of our region. We can point fingers all we want and say radio and DJs don’t play enough local music, and then they say our songs are shit; or we can shut the door and put our house in order. It would be so much cooler to have five or more nominees at the MAMAs next year. This would definitely guarantee us a win. At the end of the day we all need each other to survive and build lasting legacies that will benefit generations of entertainers to come.

Love Bien Aime,

Dedix: To Tiwa Savage: We KamuNonini

                                                      Mtoto mzuri- Nonini

                                                      FireSize 8 (whichever one, before or after Salvation)

Turn around/ geukaMadtraxx

                                                      Sinzia – Nameless

                                                      Missing my baiby– Amani

                                                      KookooElani

                                                      KipepeoJaguar

SAUTI SOL UNCHAINED

With the release of our third album around the corner, a bi-weekly meeting to discuss general progress is paramount. This morning we (Sauti Sol) met with our overall management to discuss the way forward. The meeting started in a rather disheartening tone. All our potential corporate sponsors pulled out after the release of Nishike. After months of meetings and presentations, below are their reasons for the sudden change of heart.

  1. ‘Sauti Sol is now too out there’
  2. ‘Sauti Sol has seized to be a brand that associates with family and Kenyan values.’
  3. ‘Sauti Sol is too risky; they show great potential to break up, get into drugs or other vices that don’t represent company values.’
  4. ‘Sauti Sol is not Kenyan enough.’
  5. ‘Sauti Sol has lost more fans than they have gained’

In one particular boardroom during talks involving artists; the mention of our name was met with sarcastic laughter and attention was quickly shifted to other upcoming bands and artists in general.

‘HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.’

With two game changing albums and one EP. After releasing crowd favorites such as Lazizi, Blue Uniform, Soma Kijana, Coming Home, Gentleman, Money Lover, Still the One and now the monster of a viral that is NISHIKE. After writing and producing for the new sensation Elani. 2 Kisima Awards,2  Chat Awards, A Social Media Award, MUSEKE Online Africa Award, 2 Mdundo Music Awards, 1 Chanel O Music Video Award and 3 Nominations of the same, and finally 2014 MTV Africa Award Nomination (Best Group In Africa). WE DON’T MAKE THE CUT? WOW!!!!!!!

I have never heard of such a problem as a musician being too out there. From my school of thought, that has always been a plus. I mean isn’t Sauti Sol a mass product at this point? I totally understand that Nishike alienates us from the bracket of being called a ‘family brand’. What are ‘Kenyan values’? With our kind of leadership and the tainted reflection of our society—Nishike is indeed too appropriate. Too much double standards if you ask me. I refuse to be a secular artist boxed by society to restrict my freedom of expression.  As for Sauti Sol being a risk, kindly note the above accolades and give me any Kenyan group that has shown such consistency within the period we have been on the scene. Numbers don’t lie. Since the release of Nishike we have witnessed colossal increase in numbers across all our social media and interactive platforms. The only fans I’d say we’ve lost are the ones we never had. As for not being Kenyan enough, no comment. SMH.

Kenyans largely suffer from tall poppy syndrome—a  social phenomenon, in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers. So forgive Sauti Sol for taking a two-month intense gym programme, a low carb diet and risking the road less travelled in the attempt to rise above. KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) were salty at Lupita during Shuga and embraced her after the Oscars. To date, some people still hate claiming she’s not Kenyan enough or doesn’t dress in Kenyan designers (who btw didn’t dress her for Shuga’s red carpet). In retrospect, are you waiting for Sauti Sol to win a Grammy to then come on board? Note I am not only fishing for complements; I am very open to constructive criticism because social media is a two-edged sword. Nonetheless, let’s face it – there’s just too much hate on social media. If all that negative influence is carried to the boardroom it directly affects critical decisions that upset a whole industry.

Sauti Sol is unapologetic for our actions, which we feel have done the music industry more good than harm. The truth is nobody ever made history by playing it safe. Playing safe explains why most of our adverts on local TV look the same. If the opportunity cost of getting endorsements is to do that which is NOT game-changing, then it’s a cross we’re willing to carry. We have opened the gates for artists to express themselves freely, including sensually without prejudice. Will it take 10 more Nishikes from 10 other artists for us to embrace publicly what we enjoy in private? I’m sure most of you watch Nishike during your private moments. I mean how else could you explain 500,000 + views in 21 days? I bid farewell to all corporates who have walked away from what we felt would be classic industry changing partnerships, Sauti Sol will continue haunting you by trending and setting trends for your consumers. To our fans, aluta continua. We will always count on you to be ambassadors of the new generation of epic thinkers. Our value will never decrease based on someone’s inability to see our worth.

Ocha Vibes Inspire ‘African solution to African problems’

Recently, I visited my home town Khayega in Kakamega County to bury my uncle Solomon. Just as his name suggests, he was extremely wise and a very instrumental figure in my upbringing. I hadn’t been home in eight years. Something I’m especially not proud of. But my parents haven’t been around for a while so I had absolutely no incentive to partake the seven-hour bus ride or flight worth KES 17000 (this was before Jumbo Jet). Also, Kakamega forest is only famous for indigenous trees and snakes—two things that don’t necessarily turn me on.

Not much had changed. The only change this time round was that I came back a star! Let me be honest, it was shocking! First of all to my wallet! (To whom much is given…) But a lot of people from all walks of the village came to catch a glimpse of me. I could hear them talk amongst themselves about how much money and achievements Sauti Sol had (from their mouths to God’s ears); and it dawned on me. I am celebrated by my people – people who I never considered my target audience as a songwriter. I heard Sauti Sol on local radio, mixtapes, bars, public transport, you name it. Clearly, I had underestimated the reach of my gift.

Much as Sauti Sol was played, so was Jaguar, Diamond,  P Square, Lucky Dube, Davido, Brenda Fassie… and it dawned on me that Africans are so alike. We are creatures of groove and slaves of rhythm.  My people are defined by sounds and songs. Just a little intro and you automatically know where the song is from. Our easy three-chord tunes complete our simplistic lifestyles and numb our pain. I developed a new found respect for all African artists who managed to transcend borders and create continental hits to the grassroot level. The raw messages of love, heartbreak and dance carry the epic spirit and emotions of this continent.

To date we’ve toured seven African countries (best shows of my life). Made me realise for Sauti Sol to achieve greatness and global appeal, we must first be the darling of every village in this continent. Isn’t it sad that after several successful European and American tours (as we searched for a ‘big break’), we have not yet played a show in Kakamega! I’m sure they would be more than thrilled to see us live. All this time we went to search for what has been within us all along. Maybe it’s time we the prophets took the gospel to the very people who inspired its creation. Though we all know the logistical nightmare sound systems can be, especially in rural Kenya.

Being African is so in season right now. In the name of music art and sport, we have too much to celebrate. Lupita (my long time love and wife since the Oscar) has taught me that. I pity those of us still caught up chasing trends in western music and ideologies of art. In whatever you do my friends be the African solution to African problems. I believe Artists shall be the ones to unite, liberate and lead the rest of us to the promise land (KAKAMEGA).  Let us be remembered as the renaissance generation of this continent, a generation truly unruly and aware of our calling and its power.

Standing next to my uncle’s grave, I see our women carry water on their heads and babies on their backs. Men drinking busaa (Sigh… I know, I know). I see the infrastructure of mud and grass-top houses; kiosks and markets with one main-road cutting through like a wild western film.  Clouds gather. The smell of rain. Its déjà vu. Wait! I felt this in Mali, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa. Right now there’s no place I’d rather be.

I WILL LIVE AND DIE IN AFRICA.

Map Africa