Category: Why I Blog


Because some parents think that Cancer is a certificate to death, they abandon their suffering children. I recently found out that there isn’t any conclusive statistics or research done on number of children in Kenya suffering/dying from cancer or abandoned with cancer. However, I talked to Mr. Ithai Simon, in charge of Communication Affairs at Kenyatta National  Hospital (KNH). He confirmed that KNH admits over 500 children in all pediatric wards. At any one time, the hospital is caring for over 30 children abandoned children. Majority of those abandon are very sick or those with congenital deformities. He says, “KNH medical Social work keep contacts with home seeking for placement of these children. But there are limited homes for boy child  than girls. Majority (78%) of KNH patients are poor and cant afford the subsidised specialised healthcare. While KNH upholds the constitution on access to healthcare, the increasing no. of those who cant afford and do not have NHIF cover have increased the Hospital financial burden to more than 4 billion of debts.”

You can read these stories I filed from KNH on children abandoned with cancer

Also, find the below list of places/details, people with children suffering from cancer can get help. Please share. There is another way. Children, actually no one, deserves to be left alone.

  • Daisy’s Eye Fund

This organization is dedicated to bringing life and sight saving care to every child with the curable eye cancer retinoblastoma. They also offer families of the affected counseling service. Email: eafrica@daisyfund.org or call +254 720 729 936

  • Hope for Cancer Kids

The institution volunteer at the KNH Children Cancer wards by hosting parties for the children and buying them gifts and toys. They also help parent’s source funding to pay for NHIF. Email: info@hope4cancerkids.org or call +254 722 663 592

  • Keemokidz – Beyond Cancer

KeemoKidz is the only organization in Kenya, focused solely on meeting the emotional, social and financial needs of children diagnosed with cancer, from direct practical financial assistance to raising awareness and building capacity for the development of local treatment facilities and human resources. Visit http://www.keemokidz.co.ke, email sheba@keemokidz.co.ke or call +254 708 284 575

The Fund’s core mandate is to provide medical insurance cover to all its members and their declared dependants (spouse and children). The Fund is governed by the NHIF Act No. 9 of 1998. NHIF membership is mandatory for all Kenyan residents who are employed and have attained the age of 18 years. Call Toll Free + 254 (0) 20 272 3255/56 or email: customercare@nhif.or.keinfo@nhif.or.ke.

Provides information about available local and international medical treatment and offers packages to assist cancer patients in making informed health care decisions. Situated at 5th Ngong Avenue Office Suites, 8th Floor, Nairobi. Call +254 (0) 20 234 4295 or email: smasinde@akglobalhealth.com

  • Texas Cancer Centre

Texas Cancer Centre (TCC) Ltd is a leading private Cancer Care and Treatment centre in Kenya. They charge up to forty percent lower for services compared to other private hospitals, making it the centre of choice for many Kenyans. Email: texascancercentre@gmail.com or call 020 2623605

photo (34)Where are my manners? Last week, or the last one before that, Black Roses was chosen by Travel Start Kenya as one of 25 Great Kenyan blogs to follow. Someone mentioned to me yesterday, that in the compilation, Black Roses was the only blog that specializes in arts and culture. Isn’t that dope? And I must be blind to have let that pass my eyes.

I thought it would be great to share with you the article, read it here and take this space to say, I was so elated and I am so thankful.

You know what that means, there is no stopping. Don’t want to spoil or jinx anything but just so you all know, forget about the Train Ride from hell, there might be a couple of interesting Safari  Tales to share this year.

I just want to say thanks to all the followers of this blog, you are genuinely awesome. Sometimes, I feel like I write gibberish, things only I would understand but then I find that some of you have liked such posts or just read. I am very glad that this blog is serving me well. This was supposed to be the ultimate expression of my deeper self that few really understand and I am happy that I feel understood and equally get inspirations from stuff you write me, see these powerful comments on the Natural Hair debate. Shit like this makes me alive and aware of the fact that we are not as solitary as we think we are.

THANKS for reading, keep it here.

photo (27)“Music is passion. It’s life. It’s medicine. It helps the mind relax and be organized. I am a better person; happy and physically stronger when I play music,” states Habib Koite.

With a rich discography boasting over six albums (solo and collaborative), successful international tours—having played at prestigious music festivals like WOMAD, a record high-profile interviews (including on David Letterman and Rolling Stones); Habib Koite is a certified African star.

About an hour to meeting the man, I start to wonder what he would be like in person. I arrive at the Sovereign Suites (where Habib is staying) about 45 minutes late for my interview and pretty agitated by how far the hotel was—way past Kiambu, Google maps lie. Habib’s dreadlocks are so thick and full. Just like in a myriad images of him on the internet. He has just about an hour to his sound check, in preparation for his debut Kenyan concert. The time factor and a little nervousness makes me speak very fast while talking. We are sitting across each other, only separated by a small round table at one of the hotel’s serene backrooms.  “Take it easy,” he cuts me short. Casually dressed in Nike shoes, a dull pinstriped t-shirt and denim trousers while reading through my anxiety, he adds lightheartedly “I also want to talk to you”. Before I know it, we are enjoying a conversation that turns out to be surreal and undisputedly my most classic interview to date.

I had too much music

Brought up in a musical family, Habib Koite can hardly recall when music wasn’t part of his upbringing/life. “My father was also a guitar player and we (together with his siblings) started by playing his guitar,” he reminisces. After elementary school, Habib joined Mali’s Institute of Art to study music—his passion. Unbeknownst to him, this would be his unprecedented stint at being a long-serving music teacher, something that he had never dreamt, even thought of becoming. In his fourth and last year at the institute, the head Classical Guitar teacher at the institution passed on. Soon after finishing his course in June of 1982, the Minister of Culture and the institution enthroned Habib, as the institute’s new replacement for the Classical Guitar teacher position. “They said that I was the Best Student, and in October I was the official teacher with a responsibility to teach. I didn’t think I could do it.”

The then budding musician would balance between his new job and pursuing his career in music. “Every night I would go home and perfect the guitar chords that I would teach the next day. I didn’t want to be ashamed in class.” He would also use his precious night time to regularly perform at various local clubs, a move that garnered him fans and followers by the day. “Some people came from the village to the club or institute, just because they liked me,” he affirms proudly—the first time, during the interview when I get to see his excitement of being, The Celebrated Habib Koite.

“No more cigarette!” The Big Break

After Habib Koite spent each day of his 18 years at the institute (four years studying and fourteen years teaching), his first notable sway to becoming his own master at music came after winning a France-organized music competition in 1991. “The prize was to spend a week in a studio with a sound engineer to record two songs (to be pressed into 1,000 copies) and a music video,” he says of the project that produced Habib’s first international hit, his debut single and video: Cigarette Abana. “It immediately made me famous beyond Mali and is to date my biggest hit.”

He would later record four versions of the same song, just for the kicks and an ode to where it all began. Two years later Habib, won at Radio France International as the Best New Artist as voted for by international journalists. “That was big,” he says of the opportunity that sponsored his first stadium show. “It was the first time I played in front of an audience of 25,000 people.” Soon, Habib’s status changed from being just a Malian singer to being sought after by the world stage and international media like CNN and Nat Geo. “I am probably the first Malian to have been on David Letterman. But if you tell a Malian that, they don’t know what you are saying. I was bigger outside than at home. But people in Mali and Africa slowly started to know me.”

On Composition & Bamada Longevity

For an early acclimatization to the grand meet-up, before the interview I start to listen to his album Afriki. Something weird happens. My favorite song N’Tesse, suddenly makes me emotional for the first time, even though I don’t comprehend its words sang in Bambara (Malians native dialect). It kind of makes me feel thankful for my life, every little or outstanding achievement ever made and the people who support me. I immediately decide that I would have to ask the singer of the message behind the song.

“That’s one of my Most Loved Songs yet I never play it,” he says musingly, pausing and smiling. And then surprisingly asks for his guitar to play me the song. But his entourage cautions him that there isn’t enough time. Nevertheless, he breaks into the song while playing imaginary chords. His voice is so smooth and evocative.

My private concert.

“So, you won’t play it tonight at your concert?” I ask.

“We hadn’t planned to play it. If we have time to rehearse it during sound check then we might play it. Now you have inspired me to write a song. When I leave here, I will write a song immediately.”

“But what does N’Tesse mean?” I finally ask.

“I am the middle child out of a family of 17 siblings. Such homesteads are common in Mali. When you have been brought up like that, you realize that you could never do everything alone. I can’t do it by myself—that’s what N’Tesse is about. It’s also about a village that must help its elder,” he says of the song written in the style of traditional griot Malian music (originally based on storytelling).

Habib also talks about his song Afriki, another one of his loved songs. “I feel like Africa has done so much for Europeans. We [Africans] have even gone to war and died. But it’s always looked at as if they (West) help Africa the most. It’s true that Africa also asks for a lot of help too but now that’s enough. Africans have to help this continent, and we can do it in solidarity.” He also expresses his confidence regarding Mali (his country’s) slow rise from the 2013 insurgence and instability. “Mali is now fine; nothing to worry about.”

You will mostly hear of Habib Koite & Bamada more than just Habib Koite. Well, Habib has been with his six-man band for 25 years now. When I ask about their secret to longevity, I get a very unusual answer—Life and Death. “There are times and things in life that we can’t help. Like if someone’s heart is not where it wants to be. But for as long as my band’s has been with me, I am with them. However, there are times when even the heart can fail, for example if someone dies. You can’t fight that kind of separation. But nobody in my band has died, so we have no reason of separation.”

A song like Fimani flaunts Habib & Bamada’s composition skills. Here, only their wealth of traditional instruments like the calabash, talking drums and violins sing. Its live performance at Habib’s Kenyan concert is perfect. I simply can’t understand how catchy it gets with no words to sing to. “It’s my rendition of a popular Malian song. When I play it, I don’t have to sing as everybody sings along.” It must have been shocking for him to see Kenyans sing not to Fimani but the rest of his songs in Bambara. I recorded the below footage of Finami at the concert using my cell phone :-)

Just as we conclude the interview, he compliments my Maasai earrings. “My daughter would love these,” he notes, adding “I wish I could stay longer in Kenya to see this place.” Meeting the personality behind the legend of Habib Koite was super awesome, only regretting one thing: I should have given him my earrings for his daughter.

BONUS: Habib Koite’s latest album Soo (Home) was released in February 2014.  Thank you very much Abdi Rashid for the chance to interview Habib.

You might also dig my Interview with Anthony Hamilton

Phone EtiquetteYour ringtone says a lot about you; so does your ring back tone. People, especially strangers, will read a lot into the kind of person you could be, just from how your phone rings. The next time your phone rings to Wale’s Clappers or Ken wa Maria’s Fundamentals or whichever tune; think about what your callers are enduring or enjoying, to get through to you and the impression left. Unfortunately, our best songs might not necessarily reflect on our personality and image the best way. They last a few seconds but can influence how accommodative the other person (especially potential employers or future partners) at the end of the line will be to us. Regardless, the phone will ring, and you will answer.

Many times we receive calls from genuine wrong numbers (forget about Kamiti prisoners text messages that read— “You have won 100,000 cash money, call this number to send 25,000 to come pick your prize”, or dubious people calling to say they wrongfully sent you credit or Mpesa). Genuine wrong number callers can be as hilarious and annoying as it gets. Once, a Somali man called me angrily demanding, “Tulituma ngamia, wapi pesa ya ngamia? (We sent the money, where are the camels?)”. Most recently, I was vexed by the food delivery man at our office for selling me some strange type of half-cooked beans instead of peas. I read out and dialed the man’s number from the food company’s brochure furiously trembling, and started ranting at hello, “Chakula chako hakiliki, I need a refund or the food I actually ordered for and won’t take any other thing!” The guy on the other line, shocked at my persistence and the wrath of a hungry and angry woman (double tragedy) shuddered, “Aki mami niko Eastleigh, walahi sijawahi uza chakula (Wrong number, I have never vended food). After an embarrassed apology, I thought that was over and done with. But the guy would keep calling and texting me insistently. One day he sent me a text – “Are you married, I am single”. I had to reply, “Yes and my husband doesn’t like me texting you” and he forever retreated.

Then there’s the nightmare of losing and acquiring phone contacts. Because of this, we all receive calls/texts from foreign numbers. What do you do or say upon answering? Usually I politely ask, “Who am I speaking to?” or state “Sorry I seem not to have this number.” A normal person should always introduce themselves on and off phone, it’s just courteous. However, there are people with the below 5 bad phone habits who obnoxiously think they are exceptions to the rules.

1. “Guess tu ni nani?”

In such times of economic hardship, if you are going to start calling someone for teasing purposes in the middle of the day, then you ought to get a job or at least spend your credit money wisely. Nobody has time for such old tricks. And when they do, it gets particularly awkward if the receiver guesses at least thrice wrong or a name that the caller recognizes and doesn’t remind them of good things. For instance ex-boyfriend Alex (random name) tries to change voice to see if you might guess it right and then you end up guessing its ex-ex-boyfriend Joe (another random name).

2. “You don’t have my no.!? Kwani you deleted my no.!?”

The only people allowed to ask such questions should be your family (parents, wife, husband or children). What makes some people outside this mix feel like they are too important that you must have their numbers? You will find that you already have most numbers that are important to you, and if there is anyone else so important that you must have their number, when in need – go get it! Recently thought I exchanged numbers with a colleague but unfortunately didn’t get to saving his. After responding to his “Bible quoted” Happy New Year text message with a “Thanks, sorry I don’t seem to have this number,” he responded – “Now you don’t have my number yet I gave it to you just the other day!?” If you’re going to be mad at me about your text message, at least custom draft mine before that.

3. You have 10 Missed Calls 

Sometimes you are taking a dump, or in a noisy as hell matatu, or in a very important meeting, or church even but on the other end of the line, the caller just won’t stop calling. The other day, I got some serious bashing from my buddy Bien for calling him five times. “Rosey – you don’t call me five times on seeing that I am busy, you wait and I will call you back!” He barked at me. But when I told him that I couldn’t have waited a minute longer to tell him that our former house help had given birth to a baby boy named after him, Bien Aime Alusa Gift – he forgave me. If it’s not about death, new life or something that’s life changing or threatening; try dropping a text when a call goes unanswered.  It’s as simple as “Hi. I am so and so and would like to talk to you regarding such and such. Kindly return my call or let me know when is best to call.”

4. “Just saw you, you look nice.”

It’s not romantic but creepy to send girls text messages wherever you see them at the bus stop, at the club or wherever. It’s actually courteous to walk up to them and say hello. That’s the essence of bumping into each other. I am just about done with the “I can see you” texts. I can also see a lot of people but if you’re not going to add, “Was in a hurry or didn’t want to disturb your peace or whatever else” to that text; keep it to yourself.

5. “Are you asleep? Where are you?”

A booty call is a booty call. No man or woman calling/texting you any time after 1 a.m. wants to just check up on you. They probably want to check in as well. The sooner we all learn to ask for what we want, the faster we’ll get it or move on to someone who will give it to us. In 2014 this business for always asking people if they are awake at 2 a.m. should stop.

Parting Shot

Phone Etiquette 2So when does phone etiquette start and end? It must be from the moment you hold your phone. Have you seen some people talking through the phone while it’s upside down? Or shouting at it as if it’s on speaker while it isn’t? It’s so sad that in 2014, the year of Digitalization in Kenya, these kinds of scenarios still occur. It’s going to be an uphill task following through etiquette if you can’t even hold your phone right.

Upon calling or being asked to reveal your identity, introduce yourself and the reason for calling, that’s perfectly alright. Return texts and missed calls in due time.

It’s very rude to be on speaker phone in a public place like a bank, work place or a matatu. Nobody wants to hear your conversations; they have theirs too, via the handset.

You have an iPod to throw all your musical picks to be heard at your convenience. So for your every-day attitude, ringtone and ring back tone; pick one that you and the world at large can stomach. There’s a very thin line between making a person’s day and ruining it, so let not your tunes play part and parcel, undesirably. If all fails, leave on your phone’s generic tones or vibrate.

Be humble and remember that in the eyes of the world’s millions of people, we are mere ants, working themselves around their colonies, trying to make ends meet. We will never all know each other but the more we do, the better we make the world. So no matter how many times you have had to introduce yourself to someone on or off phone, just keep doing it. Other people might actually be meeting more people than you do on an average, and if you don’t leave a lasting first-time impression, congratulations! You have the chance to re-work the magic at your phone’s first ring.

BONUS: You might also like to read: What if Courtesy had a price?

2013 was the year that elevated me to the status of a super woman.

When I started out in January, I had just quit as Label Manager at Penya Africa a month earlier because I found that I wasn’t happy working in that capacity in the music industry. To my relief, Sauti Sol decided to still maintain keeping me as their Publicist.

By March 2013 (exactly a year from the time I quit my job at UP Magazine as a Staff Writer to be a Label Manager in 2012), I got a call back from UP, asking me to return– but this time as an Associate Editor. I started April 2013 and so far,  it’s been very cool and informative. My education background is Broadcast Journalism; the only Print training I got was from this blog, my stint as Features Editor for Anvil (University of Nairobi newspaper during my tenure in campus), and my mother (a retired English teacher who made me help her mark Standard 8 compositions from the time I was in Class 6). Oh boy! Habits generally die hard. “But I am not an Editor,” I responded to the call. “We wouldn’t call you for the job if we wouldn’t think you had everything it takes to do it,” they said. So I took the leap. We all need to learn to take in everything people say, criticism and ovation, and master the art of separating the wheat from the chaff. Sometimes people will see in you what you’d never see in yourself, even if you stared in the mirror for 100 years.

Every year, since 2012, I collaborate with an artist to curate an art exhibition. In 2013 I joined forces with talented artist Edward Manyonge for his debut art exhibition Pieces of Fortune held at Safaricom’s Michael Joseph Centre. I had the amazing Andrew Wambua and KIU performing at the opening launch. There’s so much satisfaction in presenting such an opportunity to a deserving artist. And I knew that my job was done as soon as we first set up the exhibition successfully, guests arrived and we sold art.

Oki and IBeing chosen as one of Kenya’s Top 9 Fashion Stylists from mainstream media by Deacons Kenya Limited, to put up a Zara fashion show collection during the parallel launch of the fashion line brand in Kenya was awesome! I thank Okinawa, who was my assistant and my graceful models. Check out more photos via Fashion Notebook where all my models were featured as follows: Photo 1 model no. 1. Photo 2 model no. 2 and the last, my favourite Bohemian-style model no. 3

For the longest time, I have been doing PR for Sauti Sol. But this year I got so many requests from artists and institutions wanting to work with me but with a schedule as busy as mine, I am certainly allowed to be choosy. Working with rapper Rabbit on the weeks leading up to his new album launch, and Kwani Trust during their 10th Year Anniversary Book Party was dope! The latter project allowed me to meet and get books by two amazing African writers: Yvonne Owuor Adhiambo and Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi. “Hello you, you look very glamorous!” – I will never get over the first thing Chimamanda said to me on our first-meet up *blush* She’s a pretty tough nut and strong-willed lady. Exactly the qualities I aspire to nurture moving forward into the world.

IMG_7706 (1024x683)Interviewing and meeting former East-African music King Mr. Nice, legendary Kenyan songstress Mercy Myra and Grammy-award winning American soul/R&B artist Anthony Hamilton (see my story on Anthony Hamilton here) among many other artists was really something. Becoming buddies with one of Hamilton’s vocalists Tony Lelo was pretty cool. Check out his music here. In the coming months, I am trying to work a song collabo between Tony and Mumala through Sauti Sol’s Producer/lead guitarist Polycarp.

Other highlights of 2013 included my safari to Malindi, being a judge at the Lavish Lounge’s 8-week Search for Miss Lavish Diva (FYI there might be a Mr. & Miss CBD coming up in 2014), mceeing at Safaricom Sevens and Sawa Sawa Festival, and getting a request from an American author to have one of my poems published in her upcoming book on poems about love by men and women.

Uhuru GardensLastly, in 2013 December I marked four years of hosting Grapevine TV Show in grand measures. In Dec 12th, I got a rare request from the head of KBC TV to report live for the national broadcaster at Uhuru Gardens during Kenya’s 50th Independence Anniversary at the hoisting of the Kenyan National flag, at the same place where 50 years ago it was first hoisted. Being part of that historical moment will forever remain dear to me. It was also my first time to be on TV live and thankfully, I was a trooper.

I can’t really tell what 2014 will bring but if it’s anything close to 2013 – I am down. It’s probably going to be big because of a lot of personal/work projects that I am determined to fulfill. I am very thankful to all the people who gave me all these opportunities, family and friends and God for this beautiful life and marking five years of black roses blog.

BONUS: Another highlight of 2013 was being fooled by love and making a new Somali friend :-)

You might also like my post on My 7 Must-Dos Before 2014 Ends, inshallah.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. As I grew older, I realized how silly it is to put myself up to a list of things to do while I am just another mortal incapable of ever fully doing that, but more than just that. The faster we all realize that all human beings are powerful beyond their wildest imaginations, the faster we’ll have a world of champions. Nevertheless, it won’t hurt to still write down some things, however grand or small, I want done.  I want to view the sun rise in space from above the universe just as much as I want in on that terrifying ride at Disney World. However, this year – I am going with the most tangible must-dos that I should have already.

1. Milk a Cow

Cutting kukus heads is too main stream; I don’t have to do that (hope my future husband is not a Luhya man reading this). Originally coming from Kenya’s white highlands (read Molo) where farming literally provides bread and butter; you really are the black sheep of a family if you don’t know how to milk a cow. Plus there must be additional cool points when a girl like me (with perfectly manicured nails 365 days a year) is found entering a cattle’s stable in the village to milk a cow. I doubt if there’s any job application that will need cow-milking experience but if you come from where I’m from; this is one of those womanly skills that every woman should have. I just need to learn some defense skills; some mad cows can really throw a mean kick. That leads me to the next point.

2. Learn Taekwondo

Thankfully, didn’t experience much of Nairobbery in 2013. However, together with Wanjeri, we were forced to go all Jicho-Pevu on some Naivasha folks who had stolen my handbag during a visit to a resort, a few months ago. When everybody insisted that the thief-turned-remorseful-man caught should be slapped if not taken to the police station, I let him go scot-free because he had confessed and returned my handbag safely. But coming to think of it, now that I didn’t kick that man or let anyone kick him, he probably will try stealing from another lady. And who knows when I might need to unleash the skills while trotting down some of Nairobi’s alleys? Also with Taekwondo skills am fit to throw a fair fight shall a mad cow attack me whilst milking.

3. Do It Like Mutua Matheka

I have an eye for photography. I go deeper than my selfies and this year, it’s time to show myself and the world what I am made of. I have a clear direction and enough inspiration to revive my tumblr. My inspiration is the awesome Mutua Matheka (Founder of the #Kenya365 series) and because he’s a good fellow, I am sure he won’t mind mentoring me. A good camera and a click or two a day is a good way to start.

4. Ride in a Train

The last time I took a train, was to Molo from Nairobi with my sisters. All I remember is we took forever to get to our destination but the private cabin was cool. However, the rocky motion coupled with the choo-choo squeals and hissing sounds during constant stops was a tad tiresome, annoying and a disturbance to the peace. But I think life if like a train in many ways and we can learn a lot by relating the two. Would love to take that ride again and document it. Maybe I should take a train to Mombasa or catch the Makadara Train to or from town.

5. Take a Break

I don’t want to be too old too soon. Usually when you are younger, age catches up faster if you work too hard and don’t find time for yourself by taking a break. And then when you are older, roles reverse; age catches up with you faster if you don’t keep yourself busy and fit. It’s a thin line between balancing work, life and play. This year I am going to be asking myself ‘Why not?’ a lot more, rather than say NO to things that don’t feel right at first utterance.

1962779_10152207381012559_857647419_n (2)6. Murder a Secret Track/Hip Hop Karaoke

I keep recounting tales of my childhood rap skills (back in the day when I use to jam to Craig Mark and Tupac). I was that kid. Now everyone wants me to get into a studio and sing but the truth is, I tried once and it didn’t work. Honestly, I am only good at choirs and straight up – I am now too hip for that vibe. So here’s what I am going to do, this year – I am working on a secret track with super cool Producer Kagwe Mungai and then head on to a hip hop
karaoke and tear down the house.


7. Do It Like Queen of Zamunda, Blinky or Heisenberg

I need that hat that has personality for days. You know like Breaking Bad’s villain or JAB’s super cool Blinky Bill. I have decided that if no one will fall in love with me this year, they will love my new style. I will be rocking more hats and turbans just like the glamorous Queen of Zamunda. Check out my turban tales via my IG

BONUS: You might fancy a throwback into Why my 2013 Rocked! Read it here.

Coming to America: Prints & Turbans in Contemporary Fashion

IMG_7694 (1024x683)“Music to me is like blood, air and food. It’s that serious to me. If I wasn’t able to do music, I would be miserable; I probably wouldn’t even talk to people. I would be so upset and unhappy,” confesses American soul singer/producer Anthony Hamilton. In 2009, Anthony won a Grammy for the song “You’ve Got The Love I Need” with Al Green in the category of Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. From his 2011 album “Back To Love” the song “Best Of Me” has got two nominations for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song at the upcoming (Jan 2014) Grammy Awards. The prolific singer confirms that he’s already recording his seventh album, which will feature his past-collaborator (in the song “I’m Cool”) David Banner. He says that he might also feature some new school cats.

Anthony has got a great sense of humour. Sitting across him at Hemingways Hotel (Oct 2013 in Nairobi) for my TV show’s link up segment interview, I hush up a small crowd (hotel staff and journalists) gathered around us, just to get another glimpse of the big-voiced singer. They all go silent, and then I clear my throat signaling Anthony who asks the crowd, “Did y’all hear that? You might wanna link up with her! Aaiiight go ahead babe.” Everyone bursts into laughter and I immediately reckon that I am in the presence of a great yet humble man.

As we start to converse, I ask him to demystify the notion that soul/R&B artists are this decade experiencing a rough time, thanks to rise of dance and pop music, in comparison to the 90s music era. “It’s not hard for me as I’ve done it for so long and I have a solid fan base who are willing to go with me to the end. However, it might be hard for other R&B/soul music acts that want to get into the music industry now. It’s going to be harder now to prove to people that they have it but it’s possible.”

“Back To Love”, my iPod’s most replayed album is a must-listen. I tell him and that my favourite song there is “Life has a way”—he seems pretty impressed at that and retorts pensively, “Yeah, that’s a great song of mine but “Coming From Where I Am From” (2003 sophomore album) is just that song and album for me. It’s the first song that came out at the point of my career when I was tired and fed up. I needed to be heard – that’s my once upon a time.” That album sold platinum and its second single, “Charlene” also did remarkably well. I still adore that song.

IMG_7706 (1024x683)Anthony’s story is inspiring; especially to indie artists: “A lot of time, we [artists] have aspirations and dreams and don’t pursue them. Be creative; don’t be afraid to be different; don’t be afraid to be yourself 100 %. I have done it and stuck with it. It takes a little time, but if you stick with it and it’s something people want to connect with, do it. It takes time but it’s paying. People want something that’s real, something that will make them feel good.”

Anthony has worked with the best of new school soul singers including D’angelo, Marsha Ambrosius, Keyshia Cole, Angie Stone, Jaheim and Musiq Soulchild among others. “I love working with many artists but Jill Scott is the mummy of soul music. Jill and I are pretty cool. Not only do we work together well on stage and in the studio but from time and again, we check on each other and talk.” The self-professed huge lover of hip hop says, “Sometimes I am happy, excited, mellow or chilled out while in the studio, depending on my mood and that of my producers. I also like music without any words and it doesn’t necessarily have to be jazz.”

Visiting my country has clearly left him in awe. “[Being in Kenya] is one of the moments in my life when I feel like God is just opening a way for me; I am starting to see the world. It’s my first time in Kenya and I am excited. It’s beautiful to be part of such a country that’s growing and is strong. We look to you guys, your beauty, and the success you are having in your country. We want to bridge the gap; you guys can come and stay with me in America.” It’s great to tap into Anthony’s open mind and craft. “In terms of what’s out now on the radio, I think it is fine. Young folks are finding a way to express themselves and exploring with music creating different genres. It’s attractive, I might take a few bits and pieces, and I might do a song with Future or Chris Brown. It’s just interesting when two different styles collaborate.”

I am left satisfied and thankful for the interview (so much soul food and life lessons of humility), right after which Anthony personally scribbles his contacts on my note-book as his bouncers, manager and entourage look on curiously.

BONUS: I have to write another blog post about Anthony Hamilton’s mind-blowing band and Kenyan concert. In the mean time, check the concert story I filed here:

Photos courtesy of Japheth Kagondu. 

All Figured Out

“Today I woke up and realized every day gets shorter. Every minute turns to the longest second – never-ending. Age is nothing but a reminder that doesn’t tell you how old or young minded someone is. We all start at the same starting point of a woman’s legs but each have our own finish line. Understand that this never ends and the only way to be immortalized is to be remembered, hopefully for right than wrong. It’s better to be in the hall of fame than shame, whether it exists for what you do or not; we create this world so we make what exists. It isn’t about the awards, it’s about the rewards of being immortalized and remembered for all the right reasons. Mistakes are forgotten. When it’s so late that it’s early and you need to drink and the bar is closed; remember why you do what you do. Despite the coldest drinks, the fastest cars and luxury, remember the adrenaline rush of creating what you think about with who thinks about you—your family and team. The joy of looking back and saying that you did it, is winning the game: it’s the hall of fame,”— Big Sean.

For the first time; I attended two funerals in one—and amazingly, it was like a sober wedding. Just that most people were dressed in black and were crying, tears of sadness and goodbye. Adieu to the couple starting another life. Farewell to the couple of Wahito and Mbugua, so inseparable, that they died in each other’s arms at the devastating Westgate Terrorist Attack. The duo had been at Westgate to buy wedding bands for their upcoming wedding just before the shooters stormed into the mall.

Wahito AnyikoThe late Rosemary Wahito was never a bridezilla, I was. At least from a 2011 photo shoot we did together for our friend Tabby’s business catalog for her line of wedding gowns. I remember I had to rush back to my former office (BBC) for some work. I literally made Tabby and the photographer hurriedly finish with my part of the shoot. But they convinced me to share the moment indoors with Wahito, as she would be having a special solo out-door shoot as soon as I left.

Wahito was down-to-earth, gracious and a very classy lady. I met her through my cousin Lau and her best friends. It’s always been a tight-knit friendship between about five girls: Wahito, Lau, Mtoni, Sarafina, Tabby and Herenia. During family events of either girls, from graduations to weddings and photo shoots, my cousin would drag me to most of them. A lot of times, I was envious of how the girls would do lunches and dinners and all those fancy things. Because they were a little older than me, I must say they inspired me to be as classy.

Wahito was very fashionable and I never saw her not wearing high heels. “Her impeccable fashion sense and jaw dropping collection of shoes will be frozen in time forever in our minds,” – never read a more befitting eulogy. I remember meeting Wahito and Mbugua at a concert recently, where they were supporting one of Mbugua’s relatives – a female singer. The two were all up on each other and clearly in love. That’s the only time I met Mbugua, Wahito introduced him as her man. I got the vibe that he was a good man and protective, the good-kind. But I could never imagine that he would soon be taking eight bullets while shielding his wife-to-be.

Wahito MbuguaAt their joint-funeral dubbed, “A celebration of Love”, it was so uplifting to hear both families of the deceased console and applaud each other, almost like it really was a funeral-cum-the-wedding-that-never-was. Mbugua’s Dad said, “After meeting her, Mbugua called me and asked, ‘Dad what do you think?’ – And like he’d taught me, I said, ‘Good Stuff!’ I had already started thinking about the future lineage of their family. Wahito’s family, so sorry for losing your beautiful daughter. I thank her for bringing my son such happiness.” And the sisters of Mbugua said, “Thank you Wahito for taking care of our brother, you were always like a sister to us.” Among other tributes, Wahito’s nephews and nieces were twice as sad. That their auntie has passed on and they won’t be matching as flower boys and girls at her wedding. That’s when I remembered that beautiful day, when we had an entire afternoon doing the wedding gowns photo shoot. She was such a natural, and beautiful, and all her gowns fitted perfectly.

But who are we kidding? What happens to wedding vows when you actually die and get laid to rest together? Death can’t and won’t separate you Wahito and Mbugua. Exactly a week, after your untimely demise, you would be both engaging your families in dowry talks, and in another, getting married. But like Monopoly, now you’ve got a free pass – do not stop – go directly and pass the finish line.

BONUS: To Wahito’s girls, stay together in her honour. My condolences to families and friends of the lovely couple; you are now one because of the power of love. You might like this poem I wrote in memory of what happened at Westgate: Lessons of Love

donell-jones-forever-album-cover-thumb-473xauto-11539R&B must be forever. At least as represented by Donell Jone’s consistency while keeping it real for the genre. Apart from countable R&B albums from Boyz II Men, Mint Condition, Monica and Joe; I can’t point you towards a truer and more exclusive R&B album released in the past decade than Donell’s seventh studio album Forever (July 2013).  Seeing as it’s been released/produced via his label imprint CandyMan Music, anyone would say that Donell has come of age. But then, they wouldn’t know that all this independence was always part of him and the grand plan. While interviewing him in 2011, Donell talked very passionately about his home “studio sessions” and soon returning to songwriting (He’s in the past penned songs for singers like Usher and Silk).

The flow and coherence of this album (in terms of musical styles/instrumentation, mostly sweet-sounding or edgy guitar riffs) from start to finish is superb. With only one outside singer featured in the entire album; this is Donell’s playground where he choses to host an orgy of odes: to his mother, wife and his inspiration, Michael Jackson—all outstanding and well-done. “Beautiful” questions love that doesn’t run skin deep, with the soulful “Sorry I Hurt You” acting as an ideal ‘Please forgive me’ song if you’re having relationship trouble. The 12-tracked album is ultimately an ode to die-hard R&B/old-school-music-ethic lovers.

1. New Beginning 1.23

There could never be a more perfect intro for an R&B album than a sexy song (complete with lazy beats) about making love. [Remember:  “I wanna sex you up”; “Your body is calling for me”; “I wanna freak you” and “I just wanna take it nice & slow”? Rawness has always been at the core of R&B.] The short a capella into the intro is nothing short of a Jodeci/Shai harmonies reincarnated.

2. Forever 3.45

What a wonderful ballad befitting the album’s title. Here, the smooth crooner is at the peak of maturity (lyrically speaking). He’s neither the player in “This Luv”, the man begging for forgiveness on “What you want”, threatening to leave like in “Better start talking” or the heartbroken “Where I wanna be” singer; but a man thankful for the 22 years he’s spent with his wife. “They say that a man aint’ supposed to cry but I am crying out for you coz I see me with you forever,” he sings. There’s nothing sexier than a vulnerable [Read – honest] man. Definitely replay material for the lovers as well as dreamers.

3. Closer I get to you featuring Alja Kamillion 4.26

Anyone whose ever lost a relationship or a loved one would relate to this one, it brought tears to my eyes. For some reason, it brought back memories of my dad, who passed away. Nway it’s the only collaboration in the album with the honey-voiced Alika Kamillion surprisingly only singing a mere BGV “Oh la la la,” –I think sampled from Fugees. “The closer I get to you, it’s so hard to be away from you …”

5. Don’t Blame Me 5.08

Girls get tired of boys. At some point you get tired of games and idiocies making you wish you could transform your man into a real man. And the first sign to your man changing is usually by him owning up to past mistakes, after all nobody is perfect. This is an ode to real men, “There comes a time in a man’s life when we have to let go of little boy’s habits and become a man”—Donell preaches in the intro.  This Babyface-esque production and vocal arrangement is top notch, a favorite and must-listen.

6. You Know 4.52

For edginess—Donell gets a 100% on this one. This song is stamped Usher Raymond. Its production is a mix between what Polow D and Diplo would come up with for Usher. The beat has that Usher bounce and vibe—“Sex on my mind. I keep fucking around; I can’t keep choosing”. [I mean isn't that the story of Usher’s life?] This is the first thing that shows me that away from the near-old notion of bringing back R&B music, Donell is still keeping up with the new cats like Miguel as well as the classics like Usher-baby.

7.  I Miss the King 4.03

The electric guitars in this one are to die for. Amazing is an understatement. This is such a lovely dedication with Donell singing about how MJ inspired him and many to sing and be great. The vocal arrangements in this one would make MJ very proud if he were to wake up. Replay material.

Even though too unpredictable, music genres stay like fashion. One day a certain sound is in; the next it’s out. The 80s and R&B music stayed out too long. And even if for a split second; thank you Daft Punk and Donell Jones for exhuming these genres via Random photo (7)Access Memories and Forever, respectively.

BONUS: Donell is just about the most humane and humble superstar I ever got close to. I remember a few years back getting into a small conference room at a Nairobi hotel, where a dozen journalists awaited to interview him. It literally took me minutes to locate the man, wearing his trademark Kangol disguising him as just another dude. The more I tried to squeeze out of him some of that vigorous personality usually expected out of celebrities, the more it became crystal clear to me that Donell Jones is just Donell Jones—a man only in love with more than just R&B—his family and good music; the kind that’s crafted to tells true stories. Below is a video I took of him performing my fave Donell jam during his debut concert in Kenya.

%d bloggers like this: