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My Best Years – Yet To Come

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Pic by Cheka Photography.

On my birthday this year – September 4th – I got so flooded with such sweet and lovely Birthday Messages. If it will take me months to respond to all of them, let it be – I am on it. I feel so honoured and lucky to have good people – friends, family and fans around me. I just wrote this blog to tell each and every person a Huge Thank You for caring and remembering my special day, and share a review of my life over the past year.

Triggered by an olden 1843 (formerly Intelligent Life Magazine) post on ‘What’s the best age to be?’ I recalled my earlier years in a 2013 blog post: My Best Years – So far. Two years and one week later, I am here celebrating another milestone – birthday for me and my late Dad (because we were born on the same day). Today I look back at that 2013 ‘Best Years’ blog and still appreciate old memories and younger years but as I start to goodbye to my twenties, I must say I am becoming more complete, and aware of myself, strengths, weaknesses and challenges. As I find myself more prone to making new friends of late, I get worse at maintaining physical contact with old relationships. I still want to fix that but it’s a tough balance between my time, career, new priorities and dreams. I also can’t wait to see what this new year has to offer!

The last year has been plain amazing! My music-related work trips from Lagos to Kampala [I had to do that🙂 ] and then Kigali to Mombasa and Stockholm were so rewarding and special – please read the posts if you missed … Every person I met, job I put my hands on and hurdle I encountered made me a better student of life. Lagos tales and nights were especially worthy to redo – why I am already planning my next trip to Nigeria in the coming few months. I find so many strong points in Naija Entertainment vis-à-vis music from the rest of Africa. At the same time, there is so much beauty and authenticity in African music as a whole. I have found renewed drive in being an Arts & Culture journalist and Entertainment Publicist. Recent travel and cross cultural connections across Africa have made me more open to opportunities and keen to expand, in ideas and business.

In the past year, I have developed an architecture around ideas I plan to accomplish. Now I am trying to work on individual projects to perfection because I have seen the potential in my business and reward in building a PR collective. I now have a business manager – who understands my vision and can easily create realistic business plans from preexisting and new work relationships that previously brought me professional quagmire.

Lastly, before the past year, I really thought that I wasn’t going to find someone to love because for years I’ve been so engrossed in my work. I never met anyone who understood me, and my passion. I never wanted to look for someone so I ignored the situation but on February 14th I made a joke at my hopelessness by posting a picture of a ring. Blogs and press went berserk with headlines claiming that ‘Anyiko is off the market’. I was just making fun of myself for happiness sake. But like they say, sometimes fake it till you make it – a few months later, somehow someone found me, and I found them too. So happy!

I look into my upcoming years as a time for me to dwell on what makes me happy and content. I no longer have time for games or pretense but feel comfortable in expressing myself even if at the expense of being wrong—that’s how I get to speak my mind, share ideas, learn more and open myself to criticism. As I enter a new year, I am open to broader thinking to facilitate my collaborations, and quest for celebrating African culture and achievement. I am today more than convinced that my best years are yet to come. Gracefully looking forward.

PS: From Blaze, Abi, Brenna, Sylvia, Smiles and all my close friends (you know yourselves), thank you for inspiring and empowering me.

 

 

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Looking Beyond: A Tribute to Grapevine TV Show

2016-08-21-PHOTO-00000001This week was my last at hosting Grapevine TV Show. It has been airing on Kenya’s KBC Channel 1 for more than a decade now. I had been hosting the show for seven years. However, I had been watching it longer than that. I started watching Grapevine back at home in Molo, when I was a teenager and hadn’t known that one day I would relocate to Nairobi and be the host of the show.

At that time, I loved that the show had vibrant hosts: Fred Indimuli and Joy. As I watched every week, I felt like they directly addressed me. The show also helped shape my love for concerts and festivals. Through its coverage, I got to know exactly what would tick me.

In 2007 I relocated to Nairobi to study Journalism and Media Studies at University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism. My eyes were then more than ever fixated on hosting Grapevine, even though I had no TV experience and a worthy demo. I got the name to the then producer of the show: JB Ohaga on the credits at the ending and promised myself that I would one day find him and explain to him why I should be the host of the show – even though I didn’t know what exactly I would say. I finally met JB at an Alliance Francaise concert, while I was there studying French. Striking a rapport from the get-go, he would soon become my mentor and we always stayed great friends since.

A few years later, he called me over to KBC for an audition to host Grapevine as the then lady host wanted to leave. This came to me as a ray of light as I had been dejected earlier on from failing to top at several other TV auditions. I got a script and spent only about five minutes reading through. The camera test in front of JB and the show’s creator Jakie Lidubwii was fun – though they advised that I needed more practice in front of the mirror. For many years, I practiced my craft by talking to myself in front of the mirror or walking solo in the streets. I practiced at every given opportunity until I gained confidence in myself. It was until this happened that I started to garner fans and get constructive feedback from viewers.

Throughout the years, I have learnt that being on TV is just a job as tough as any other. It’s only fun when you keep your passion and head grounded, know what you’re doing and love it all the same. It took me about two straight years to become a proper TV host and about three years to grow into a TV producer/director. There were many times when I wanted to give up, countless nights when I cried at the face of difficulty and times when I loathed my former producer JB for the tough love. Throughout my tenure on the show, I have known no other patient and humble Kenyan journalist as my former co-host Fred Indimuli (he now works at Citizen TV). I have gained so much knowledge in how the entertainment industry in Kenya, and beyond works. I have interviewed over 100 local and international celebrities and artistes. I have written over 500 TV scripts and hosted over 330 shows in total. I’ve attended thousands of concerts/festivals, danced a lot and made so many friends!

Grapevine and working at KBC has taught me some hard lessons, allowed me to grow and presented me with loads of opportunities. Through the show, I have travelled extensively, developed key relationships with industry players and renowned artistes. It’s hard to see where I would have been today without Grapevine, and JB. I would like to thank every single fan of mine for the love. Thank you to all fans of Grapevine and KBC for supporting me on my seven-year journey on the show. My diehard fans like Mum, Ludovick and Jalas – you guys literally made me stay this long. So many wanna-be TV presenters and journalists have come up to me thanking me for the inspiration. I am glad I touched someone, and hope wherever I go I will continue to shine a light. Thank you Victor Ochieng and JB for training me on script writing—I love it! Thank you JB for discovering me. To my co-host Abbih and all my former colleagues, we are still a team forever and I know that our paths will keep crossing – I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Right now my whole system craves for something different, challenging, bigger and better. It’s bitter-sweet to leave the show that I love so dearly but the break is necessary for me at this point in time to allow me to reflect on my past, present and future. Plus I can finally be free on Sundays, starting with my upcoming Birthday on Sept 4th🙂

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Back to Blogging – I Missed You!

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 2.09.28 AM.pngWhile I was away from Black Roses … I hosted numerous dope press conferences and partnered with Chiki to throw some ill parties. Nameless Timmy T-Dat, Yvonne Darc and and P-Unit came through to throw surprise performances, I am forever indebted to them. I went back to Oshwal Centre, where I used to be a waitress, to host an event I was running PR for. Here I met the man who had hired me as a waitress – my former boss right at the entrance. As I shook Mr. Kamal’s hand, I asked him, “Do you remember me?” “Of Course,” he answered. The event, a theatre by Bollywood’s top actor hosted in Kenya by Ranee Productions, was completely sold out and a huge success. That, and my bumping into Mr. Kamal was the ultimate homecoming – you should have seen me hogging the Indian delicacies at Oshwal just like olden days – as if I had been starving all my life. I have also interviewed Aloe Blac, Ginuwine and Waje, among Coke Studio Africa season 4 artistes. I am back this year as the show’s publicist. I also managed PR for the Live and Die in Afrika Tour, traveled to beautiful Diani, and Tanzania where I sampled such lovely sea food at Samaki Samaki. I finally left the Single Ladies Club🙂 And finally, I really enjoyed Maxwell and Twenty88’s new recordings.

It’s been three months since I shared any blog posts here but inside of me it feels like that was three years. I have been telling myself that I will get back to my blog but every time I try to, something (mostly work) pulls me back. It was during a meeting with the business manager of a new establishment recently that I asserted, ‘I really need to get back to writing.’ As if they knew that I had been struggling with getting back to normal blogging, the manager randomly pointed out to me away from the conversation we were having, “I do read your blog, and I remember your tales from Lagos [fondly]. I like the way you write – it’s hilarious and interesting! You take us to places and make us see things through your eyes,” adding, “Don’t stop writing.”

How could that statement not completely pull me back, even when I have felt that I had fallen off so hard?

Anyone who really knows me, especially followers of this blog know only too well that I am nothing and nobody without writing. That said, you would imagine that I never really stopped writing. During my hiatus from blogging, I was churning out so many press releases and media plans/proposals – basically work stuff. It’s been quite the professional growth over the past six months but quite the loneliness inside of Black Roses. I lost myself in a racing world for the past year or so and I think the break was a deserved time for me to go back to my roots and senses, to look deeper into my aspirations and dreams, and ask myself – what is it that I want to achieve with my writing, my life, my passion, my time and the people around me?

That said; the past few months have easily been my best yet in my adult life. Together with Sauti Sol – my friends and long-term clients/workmates – and Sauti Sol Entertainment, we managed to stage Kenya’s first professional nationwide tour, titled after the group’s third studio album: Live and Die in Afrika. I have seen Sauti Sol collaborate with Fally Ipupa on the upcoming Coke Studio Africa season 4. Tears warmed up my eyes when I saw them do the ‘Fally Shoulder Dance’ alongside Fally while recording the show in Nairobi . Only two years ago, we were all bundled up in Sauti Sol’s former joint house. Bien was beckoning me to join them at the living room to check out the ‘Fally Shoulder Dance’ in his new video: Original. Even though the vibes were cool and chill, as someone who has been with these boys from the day Sauti (formerly Sauti Sol) was formed, I could tell that they had held Fally with utmost respect. They were watching the video with so much envy as if he was someone they were far from ever meeting or worthy of collaborating with. Having seen them perform this very dance so well and performed with Fally this year was such a cool thing that again reminded me that life humbles you down. Just when you think you have everything – you could lose it all. And just when you think you can’t touch something – it very much could be yours the next day or minute.

I will be sharing more blog posts! I am back bitches🙂

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Visiting Mombasa Old Town and Fort Jesus

13275007_10154002987122559_1232904617_oWhen in Mombasa, you have to visit the Portuguese-built Fort Jesus – it’s such a basic thing to do, I wonder why I’d never done it all these years. Last week while in Mombasa, I decided to head over to Barka Restaurant to have dinner with some friends and colleagues from Modern Coast: Hashmi, Isaac and Dennis. They are my type of company. After dinner, they take me on a drive to Mombasa Old Town for a site seeing experience. Yes—past 11:00 p.m. Originally inhabited by Arab, Asian, Portuguese and British settlers; the ancient Islamic architecture of buildings here represent Mombasa’s olden trade culture. We pass by one of the oldest mosques in the coast: Mandhry. They also show me the Fish market, right next to what used to be Mombasa Port back in the day. It’s so refreshing to cruise these thin streets in no congestion at this hour. On our way to the famed lighthouse we pass by Fort Jesus and I decide that I have to return here the next day when it’s open.

We here! #TravelTales

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

At the lighthouse, we join a couple of other people who come out to the open site to view Indian Ocean atop massive cliffs overlooking the vast oceanfront. It’s such a cool and cheap chill plan. All you need to do is come here with your car, get parking, have good company, booze or some smokes and make sure you don’t jump into the water. While sitting on a short wooden bench, close to the cliff and safe – I gaze into the dark of night as I devour the cool and sharp breeze, sometimes sprinkling salty water into my face. It’s the first moment I come terms with my life problems over the past few weeks and find myself saying to my company, “I wish I lived in Mombasa. I would always come here and just chill to watch my troubles sail away”. Watching three lighthouses across the ocean blinking red, yellow and green signals takes me right back into the pages of The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald was such a great writer whose might was in juxtaposing imagery to life situations. In the book, Gatsby would always stare at the lighthouse’s green light late at night as if it’s uniformed light was the only thing that could ever unite him and Daisy. But it’s flickering would never stop, meaning they would never unite.

13288734_10154002987092559_1712501116_oOn the next day, I am accompanied with my colleagues Sharon, Maureen and Tint to Fort Jesus in the early afternoon, right after grabbing yummy Masala Fries at Tarboush Restaurant. We are welcomed into Fort Jesus by a swarm of tour guides. We clash with the one who sticks to us despite our snobbishness – “we just came to see this place, we don’t need much more info,” Tint tells him. He asks us to pay him 1000 bob for sharing extra info on the fort. “We paid 800 bob in total to all come in, how can we pay you more than that?” I want to know. We settle on 300 bob.

Fort Jesus was built, between 1593 and 1596 by order of King Philip I of Portugal, to guard the Old Port of Mombasa. From above, Fort Jesus’s shape is said to be resemble the shape of a man. If it were a man, he had a strategic view of the ocean and all the ships that were docking into Mombasa. Here is where soldiers would spot enemy ships or pirates and use the cannons to bomb them so as to mainly protect Mombasa trade. It was vital for anyone with an intention of controlling Mombasa Island and trade to try gain possession of Fort Jesus.

Captured by Oman Arabs in 1698, Fort Jesus became a government prison in 1958 when the British colonized Kenya. It was later declared a national monument with its museum being built and open to the public in 1960—even before Kenya gained independence. Yo – this place is old.

13275167_10154002987462559_1752214331_oWhile at Fort Jesus, enjoy the extraordinary architecture—perfect for taking pictures and staring into the ocean from a strategic angle. Play with the cannons – imagine how they must have been guarded, and a danger to operate then. Visit the museum section to see ancient furniture, architecture and utensils. I really loved to see a 17th century chair, made in India in Portuguese style, used as a chair of the state by the 19th century Sheikh of Siyu Bwana Mataka Bin Mubarak Al Famau and his son Sheikh Mohammed, the last upholders of independence of the coast against the Sultan of Zanzibar. I also enjoyed to see the Portuguese wall paintings of Fort Jesus, which were painted in carbon black and red oxide on the plaster of a revetment wall in the bastion that was located directly behind the museum. This was the work so unknown soldiers or sailors who were stationed in the Fort in the 17th century.

Designed by a Milanese architect: Giovanni Battista Cairati, the then Chief Architect of Portuguese possessions in the East, Fort Jesus was the first European-style fort designed to resist cannon fire constructed outside Europe. Today, it still is one of the most admirable 16th century architecture.

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Why Just A Band Can’t Wrap Things Up Yet

I’ve been overly emotional of late. It sometimes annoys me but it sometimes makes me feel like I am at my best. I am crying if it’s too bad or too good, and I am simply not giving fake smiles or hugs any more. That generally goes for my reviews and sentiments so consider this particular blog heartfelt.

13001151_10153660530829492_6803405235153559249_nA couple of Fridays ago, I was a little heartbroken – to attend Just A Band’s Wrap Up concert. Nairobi’s coolest electro-pop and funk band just announced that they are wrapping things up – well, till further notice. Blinky, Mbithi and Muli are such cool multi-talented human beings, as if being a member of JAB was never unique enough. Throughout JAB’s career, they have shown versatility with each member exuding aesthetic in everything they touch.

On the musical spectrum, no other Kenyan band oozes the fresh cool vibes that is JAB. You should see the kind of crowd they pull. It’s not just in how they sound but in their style; from how they walk, talk and keep calm. It’s even in their choice of naming albums. When JAB’s debut album: Scratch to Reveal came out in 2008, it was as if clairvoyant of what would become of the telecommunication industry of Kenya (the rise of Safaricom and Airtel airtime scratch cards), and at the same time a renaissance of the charity sweepstake scratch card days. Their second album: 82 (2009) birthed the single Ha-He whose video went viral establishing JAB’s brand as Kenya’s most unique musical exports. Their third album Sorry for the Delay (2012) was an ode to their fans appeasing them for the hiatus. Most of their videos flaunt stellar direction and cinematography. The message and videos of songs like Usinibore, Matatizo and Winning in Life show that JAB music has a lot of depth.

12985609_10153660548559492_6260422368897281077_nThe trio DJ too. They also have a book out! Just A Book🙂 They have hosted several art installations across the world, adding to their illustrious global travel and tour escapades. JAB could have easily been another cool European or American band, but I even feel bad imagining that because no other band (maybe apart from Years & Years) can come close to JAB cool and I would hate it if they weren’t Kenya’s own.

Like a butterfly’s transformation from a caterpillar – has been the careers of all of JAB members. Starting out as the silent deep husky-voiced co-producer and JAB’s lead singer, Blinky now speaks out a little more, produces way more for himself and others. He is also a TED fellow and an RBMA Alumni. I feel like Mbithi’s cinematography hasn’t been celebrated enough. Among many other awesome things, he co-edited  and co-directed the viral Ha-He video with Jim Chuchu and, every other JAB video after that. He has also shot such beautiful videos for other artistes including Kavi and Mayonde. Muli is just the biggest little secret we all need to uncover. Just give him a blank piece of paper, and pencil and see what kind of caricatures he can craft in just seconds. Former JAB member Jim Chuchu is the baddest photographer and video director in same measures, I know of.

Why would they wrap up things on such a high? JAB can’t wrap up things yet because it’s time for us to hear a Blinky album, watch more Mbithi films, videos and documentaries; and read and marvel at Muli’s amazing comics and graphic novels. That “last” JAB concert was literally the hottest concert I’ve been to. I don’t think Goethe-Institut’s auditorium was the best venue for JAB’s final bow, plus the venue has bad acoustics and ventilation.
12718030_10153660531079492_5138452341942349722_nDespite the experience being marred by bad sound and extreme heat, sweltering in sweat – I was the happiest human being to see and be part of JAB’s real Day 1 army. We chanted and sang to all songs together. At one point, it felt like we all were real friends and knew each other. It kills me to imagine a hiatus from these cool people, both JAB and their fans, but as a friend and fan it gives me gratification to allow JAB to be. I can already hear sounds of JAB’s new album🙂

 

 

 

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5 Mins with Koffi Olomide

10323986_1754219214807989_4171300665942369401_nMeeting the legendary Congolese sokous artiste Koffi Olomide, thanks to Koroga Festival, during his recent trip to Kenya was magical and surreal. Koffi is also a dancer, composer and producer, boasting several hit singles including the recent viral video: “Ekotite”.

I had so many questions and such little time with him that I decided to have more of a conversation other than an interview with him. We start by him marveling at my height. “You are almost like my daughter Didi.” After which he quickly opens his Instagram and shows her off, asking me, “Don’t you know my daughter? She’s a model. Don’t you follow her?” Of course I start to follow. At the end of the interview he is the first to ask to take a selfie with me🙂

You are a joker if you live in Africa and you don’t have a Koffi story or don’t remember Koffi’s older music fondly. Growing up, Koffi Olomide, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Papa Wemba, among other African legends, were the soundtracks of our home and household.

Read my interview with Yvonne, here:  Still a Princess – Yvonne Chaka Chaka at 50

I noticed that there was something special about Koffi from a tender age because of the kind of people around me that got down to his music. His fans ranged from me – to my mother, father, older sisters and young uncles. It was not normal that this one man appealed to such a stratified audience.

I will never forget joyful parties at home, when my father was still alive and the life of the party, seeing my aunties confidently shaking their fat asses to Koffi music, as beers and loud music blasted ruled our evenings. It was almost OK to go insane and break a bone, as long as it was Koffi music. I caught onto dancing much later in life, so as everyone was dancing I was always keen to notice Koffi’s attires and that of his troupe of dancers.

I always wondered how much he spent on costumes and the same time always marveled at his genious. With time, I started following up on popular African culture and in music very few alive, Koffi being one of them, have shaped the Lingala and Sokous genres.

Koffi was really glad to hear that my mum influenced my love for music, and insisted on inviting her to his concert. Our 5 minutes together was fun and actually felt like an hour. Listen in as Koffi reveals that he’s got some Nigerian blood, shares all his names and the secret to why he still remains popular and relevant, years later.

 

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Yaaay! Finally Got Interviewed by DRUM Magazine (April 2016)

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Side Note: Isn’t Kalekye Looking Lovely?

I have finally been featured on DRUM East Africa Magazine! I don’t even know where to start explaining to you how much being featured on DRUM means to me. Because I work with celebrities and superstars, people must think that this kind of thing is ordinary for me – well, it’s not and here’s why.

As a Publicist or PR person, you are constantly obsessing over how your clients, and brands you manage can get attention and be out there as much as possible. Last year I realized that for many years I had pushed other brands but hardly done the same for myself. However, I figured that at the end of the day it will always be a win-win situation because behind every successful brand is a PR manager or team.

Growing up in Molo, a small town close to Nakuru, my dreams were pretty simple. I just wanted to be successful. I never really envisioned myself becoming a celebrity Publicist. Seeing my friends Sauti Sol excel and be part of their success as it is today, and working with other legendary artistes like Stromae, Tubaba and Cobhams – to me – is just a bonus. Through my TV career and travel tales, meeting and interviewing artistes like D’Angelo and Anthony Hamilton, whose discography shaped my musical tastes, has been so gratifying.

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Photo credit: Smiles Beckwith

When you have done all these things that you had never even dreamt of, it slowly starts to dawn on you that you have grabbed the bull of your life by it’s horns. With time, I started knowing that I had made change for myself, first, even before that of the artistes and colleagues I have worked with. I started to realize that through my specialized PR practice, I had started something that continues to pave way for serious young professionals in PR and journalism as a whole. I am honoured every time someone notices me and says, “I love the work you do with Sauti Sol” or “I really enjoy your TV show”. I always tell them, and I will say it here – there are so many challenges working under the scrutiny of the public that when someone says those kind words to me – that’s all that matters at the end of it all.

For all these thoughts, I always felt like I had a story to tell. I always feel like I have a story to tell. I am always stoked to receive a phone call with the person on the other end wanting to interview ME. That’s because I am the one always making these calls. When they say to me, “We would like to interview You” I always countercheck, “Me or Sauti Sol?”

I was always waiting for True Love or DRUM, the only two proper magazines for a modern Nairobian lady like me, to call me for an interview. I always read inspiring stories on there and felt that mine too would have been worthy. When I finally got that phone call, it was such a pleasure. The feeling I got when I saw myself in the magazine, and read the interview and ascertained that it was an accurate account of every single word I said, was priceless. When I shared with Sauti Sol, Bien said and noted, “Congrats – from Molo to here.” That’s when I recollected this whole story.

Some people want to take credit for my success or growth but today I want to make it very clear, I am responsible for myself, and God knows I work hard for me, first. You must start something for yourself. While at it be ready for the haters and people who will discourage you. Find your own passion and drive, be open to criticism, growth, challenges and disappointment – what I have learnt so far.

BONUS: Thank you Mwamburi and DRUM for the dope feature. For more, visit http://www.Instagram.com/anyikopr

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Olamide: ‘Too Much Money is Never Enough’

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Pic courtesy of Baddo’s website

“Music to me is life. I breathe and eat music. I don’t know if I can survive without music – after God and water,” says 27-year-old Nigerian hip hop artiste Olamide Baddo before daring me to check his bag to confirm that he always carries a Bible with him. I don’t check. He says that he also loves Drake, Jay Z, Mali Music and “almost anything”.

The name Olamide in his Nigerian dialect means ‘my wealth has come’ which only prompts me to ask him if his has indeed arrived. “We are almost there,” he jests, adding, “Too much money is never enough money. The more money you have, the more responsibilities you have to take care of. I have so many things.” My trying to get more details pertaining his responsibilities hits a dead end.

In a tough music industry, Olamide has emerged as one of the illest and most popular rappers in Nigeria. It might have a lot to do with the fact that he records mostly in Yoruba. Fans love that he stays local. “I will never forget I had a show in the East Coast of Nigeria and an artist brought an art work of me and the size was very big. He came to Lagos just to deliver it to me and let me know that he appreciates my music and he didn’t expect anything from me,” he recalls.

Olamide’s delivery in rap is fierce like a dragon spitting fire. “From a tender age I always knew that this is what I wanted to do. My family and mother have been very supportive but my father wanted me to finish school first before I started music but I couldn’t listen [because] I was crazy about my ambition.”

Read about that time when I passed Olamide’s hood in Lagos.

In 2012, Olamide founded his label imprint: Yahoo Boy No Laptop Nation (YBNL). The independent record label is home to notable young Nigerian pop artistes: Lil Kesh, Adenkule Gold and producers Pheelz and Young John—YBNL soldiers. He says, “I do employ people to supervise projects [but] I scout YBNL artistes myself. Everybody should look out for Adenkule Gold that’s the next big thing.”

King Baddo! #BaddestGuyEverLiveth #YBNL Happy Birthday @baddosneh ❤

A photo posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

Undoubtedly one of the most prolific African artistes in their prime, Olamide has produced an album each year since 2012. I wonder what’s it like to keep up with being Olamide? “I have to put out content within the year properly, bring my A-Game to the table all through the year and make sure I do the right collabos.”

I meet Olamide in Nairobi during my stint as Publicist of Coke Studio Africa season III. On the show, he is paired with Mozambique’s Marabenta Queen Neyma. Her twerking skills were on another level. “I used to dance so badly so I stopped but as you can see I am putting in work. You’ve seen us give you Shoki and Shakiti Bobo,” he says, adding, “Bobo is like a guy – like my hommie. The song is talking about being successful in life. If you want to be successful in life you have to live out of the box. You can’t be doing what everybody else is doing and expect to get the same results.”

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Pic courtesy of Baddo’s website

Olamide loves Nairobi. “Kenya is a very chill place. I love the hospitality. The girls are very nice and the guys are cool but I love the girls more. Kenyans love hip hop music and that always reminds me of my beginning,” praising the Kenyan singer Fena whom he was paired with on the show’s second season. “She is hip hop in a way and she adds soul to her music.” In the middle of our conversation, he stops to appreciate a friend’s anatomy. She is passing by. Hilarious!

Even though it’s been a long day at rehearsals, Olamide is so chill and patient. I want to know if this is who he really is. “You can’t fake such things, people who know you from Day 1 will know you are faking it. People who know me know that I am real” By the end of this interview we are having a great conversation, I even forget that this is an interview. What’s your style? I ask him. “I am actually not a fashion person, I am just a crazy-ass nigga I rock whatever I feel like rocking. It depends on my moods. You can see me tomorrow and I will be rocking my jalabiya. I am that crazy.”

Baddo touts 2 Baba as his favourite artiste and says that he would love to work with Jay Z. “I want to conquer Asia and America,” he asserts. Olamide says that a new album might be dropping in 2016.

BONUS: Check out my other Olamide stories

Olamide announces no-collabos year – DStv

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Olamide – Coke Studio Africa

 

 

 

 

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Falz – Soldier Full Length Movie feat. Simi (Music Review)

 

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Ello Bae – Am baaaack home!

Fresh off winning Best Actor in a Comedy (Movie/TV Series) at the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, Falz just dropped a full-length movie of his song Soldier featuring fellow Nigerian singer Simi. Yes, movie – you read that right. Falz freaks me out. How can one person be so multi-talented? He’s a damn great singer, rapper, comedian and actor.

When I first heard Falz’s 17-track album: Stories that Touch (2015), it was tough to pick standout tracks because the whole album is classic. However, Soldier featuring Simi was definitely one of my favourites. Even though Falz and Simi sing in pidgin too, anyone can easily follow the storyline of the song. We don’t hear songs on the love lives of soldiers everyday. Nobody sings about the hustle it must be to date a soldier or a policeman. When Clap video came out in December, it’s originality made me wonder to myself what kind of video Soldier would have because I loved the song’s theme and the chemistry between Falz and Simi. I knew they would kill it. I also knew that fans would love to see the duo reunite on TV, since Simi’s music video of Jamb Question featuring Falz.

The short musical film shot By Clarence Peters is plain brilliant and dope, even though the storyline is basic – the typical ‘girl acting up then boy saves her’. The level and quality of production/acting however is way above 100%

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She says, “You are a Workaholic! I also can’t stand the Time Difference when you are away!”

We already knew that Falz is an award-winning actor, making Simi the superstar of this musical. When Falz returns from town, she starts with her attitude. When he stalks her to her classroom, she can’t seem to decide what to do – why her friends trail her conversations with Falz. So true and typical of African relationships. When you date an African lady, you are literally also dating her friends and family.

Surprisingly, the turning point of this film for me isn’t even when Falz ends up saving Simi from the bad guys (Ahhhhh – see what I did there🙂 but when he storms her home and Simi’s mother comes guns blazing. Simi has to act in favour of her man and her mother at the same time. I applaud this lady’s acting skills. Clarence Peters has outdone himself with this story, casting and editing. The militia rebels were really badass. I also loved the score. Certain spots were subtle and easily unnoticeable but very necessary. Listen to 11:15 right after the scene with Simi’s mother.

Without a good song, you can create a great video nevertheless. Soldier however is amazing and one of my favourites off Falz’s album mainly because of its unique story. I can watch the full video severally. In the music video, Falz and Simi completely bring to life that love-hate feeling we all experience in relationships from time to time. I love where they argue in the market area and he literally makes it rain money. Still she warns him not to fall in love, “Is this a military regime?”

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‘As Soldiers, we ride or die together’

Soldier film reminds me of R. Kelly’s closet videos. I used to wonder who else would have balls (no pun intended) to film those kind of long clips in place of music videos. I applaud Falz’s 14-minute effort. This has set the pace for African artistes. I am sure others, especially Nigerians, have done this before but very few have been on point while maintaining the delicate balance between the song’s message versus the authenticity and originality of an artiste, while at the same time avoiding monotony. I love Falz. Haven’t heard or seen him do any wrong.

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Sex, Love and Pain II: Tank (Album Review)

005075448_500It’s been almost two years since I reviewed a sex album! So pardon me we are back at French. Tank’s new and seventh solo album: Sex, Love & Pain II has given me so much life, I just forgot about any other album he ever produced.

It’s always a beautiful surprise when I discover such good music because we always think we’ve heard it all. It always get better. Remember when Donell Jones put out his 2013 album? Well, it’s still R&B season; there has been a rise of great R&B records. Kings and queens include Usher, TGT, Kenny Lattimore, Jodeci, Jagged Edge, Chris Brown, Babyface, Tyrese, Janet Jackson, Tinashe and Tiffany Evans.

You might like my reviews of some dope R&B albums:

Love, Marriage and Divorce – Toni Braxton and Babyface (Album Review)

Tyrese x Ginuwine x Tank – Three Kings (Album Review)

Forever: Donell Jones (Album Review)

Nostalgia, Ultra – Frank Ocean (EP Review)

Miguel– All I Want Is You- Kaleidoscope Dream (Album Review)

This post however is about Tank’s 11-track album (released January 2016 and soon after reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip hop charts). Sex, Love and Pain II is literally a sex and love record. About the pain, I honestly feel like this album has the power to take away any pain you’ve felt in your love life – if at all. It’s so empowering when a man is open about love, sex and well, pain. That’s all a woman needs.

My no. 1 song in the album is F***** With Me. This will be the soundtrack of my bedroom when the time is right. He is saying that when you are the one he’s fucking with – it’s going to be more than fucking. He will please you in other ways, like cook for you and pick you up from work etc. I love it too much because it’s true that when a man loves you he will do more than just fuck you.

My immediate favourites after the first listen were the trap-esque She Wit The S***, #BDAY, Relationship Goals and I Love Ya. Most of these songs could be overtaken by the hands of time, but Him, Her, Them and Better For You are classics that I can only compare to the perfection of Boyz II Men. These two are deep down the real Tank we knew from Day 1. I am sure he will be singing these for a very long time. Song 10: Already in Love Feat. Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman is so dope. So freaky how Shawn’s voice still sounds as young as when we heard Boyz II Men and Mariah on One Sweet Day.

  1. You Don’t Know Feat. Wale 04:06

This is a beautiful song. When your man has been tripping, it’s hard to regain trust. In this song, Tank wishes that his lady knew how much he loves her. I like this song because Wale is one of my best rappers ever, and the message here is like a timeless broken record. When will men learn that to show a woman love you have to act right and do more than just talking.

  1. She Wit The S*** Feat. Rich Homie Quan 03:37

This is Trap Tank, he’s even chanting like how rappers prepare before they get into a verse🙂 Perfect show for how R&B and hip hop are close cousins. I really love how Tank isn’t about that ‘I am cleanass R&B dude’ life here. These are some explicit and raw lyrics. I love the rap feature, and beat too – dope producer whoever you are. Track 7. I Love Ya Feat. Yo Gotti is another Trap Tank – so sexy and badass!

  1. #BDAY Feat. Chris Brown, Sage the Gemini and Siya 05:12

It’s never too long and there are never too many people on a dope track (Kanye West can also attest to this). Who are the last two people featured on this track though? I am starting to discover new or unknown kids on this record like I did on Dre’s Compton. I love the semantic pun of this song – even though it’s not your birthday, it will be yours just tonight and you can wear your birthday suit🙂 Harmonies are tight!

  1. Relationship Goals 04:41

Dear Tank – this could be us. Like for real. There is nothing I would change about you if you were were my bae. There is absolutely nothing Tank would change about this song, even if he was given 100 more years to record it. It’s another one of those tracks that cuts across R&B and hip hop – through delivery style and not beats. This is inimitable brilliance – congrats Tank! Tank flaunts his vocal range while in between verses he rap-sings, chanting and echoing lines just like trap rappers do. So cool! It’s everyone’s relationship goal to have someone who you totally trust, respect and gives you all you need – from the streets to the sheets. No offence to Tyrese and Usher but this is the kind of song that makes you both wish you produced this gem.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.17.33As much as this is the era of rejuvenated R&B, very few artistes are taking the risk of not having a rap feature or heavy hip hop influences in R&B albums, like Jagged Edge did in their last. Tank went some type of risqué and explicit on this one and I love it! He is extremely smart. This record is for R&B fans just as much as the mass market.

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2Face Idibia: ‘I Try Not to Let the Hype Get to Me’

Meeting and working with Tu-baba, the iconic Nigerian singer/songwriter also known as 2Face Idibia, is hands down one of my career highlights as a Publicist. About a decade ago, a time when I wouldn’t even imagine meeting Mr. Idibia, Nigerian music was synonymous to 2Face. I remember that time fondly as one of my aunts used to live in Nigeria and the only export I would always ask for when my cousins would return to Kenya was 2Face and P-Square albums. They would always squeeze in other great acts at the time like M.I, D’Banj and Naeto C. Amazing how today’s greats wouldn’t even fit in this blog post.

As fate would have it I would meet 2Face on the set of Coke Studio Africa last year during my stint as the show’s Publicist. Before that I actually met him soon after his arrival in Nairobi at his exclusive welcome party. Agitated by my silly camera and the darkness at the club, one of his managers Frankie asks me what’s wrong. “I want to meet and take a photo with 2Face but my camera is shit and I don’t know where to start … We will be working together soon anyway,” I respond. He is quick to introduce me – and the rest is history.

12767648_10153781660442559_2024617164_nOn a fine evening, together with my colleague and good friend Abi, we sit him down for a one-on-one chat with his Coke Studio Africa fans via Twitter. In person 2Face is very patient, very humble, very attentive, sweet and super hilarious! I wish each and every one of his fans would get to experience this first hand. On a different afternoon, I sit him down after rehearsals for a small person chat. It’s been such a hectic week but 2Face seems quite relaxed and not bothered by this interview. I never crafted what I would want to ask 2Face on meeting because I can only imagine the number of interviews he has conducted. I decide to freestyle and make it brief. We talk about his new musical direction, passion for peace and secret to longevity.

I am a total sucker for his earlier classics; my best still being his second album Grass to Grace (2006).  He has also done a number international collaborations with several artistes including Akon, Bridget Kelly, Mary J Blige and T-Pain. Then and now – 2Face still is one of the most celebrated and successful afro pop artistes in Africa.

You should have seen the pandemonium when 2Face walked into the backstage at 2015 AFRIMA Awards in Lagos: read about my first Nigerian experience here. Total hell!

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Photo courtesy of CokeStudioAfrica.com

From the start I identified his star power by the fact that despite his music going mainstream and pop, his composition and direction always remained original and true to his core R&B and Reggae with African influences. Some of my favourites off Grass to Grace include True Love, If Love is a Crime, No Shaking, Instance and I Dey Feel Like. I also really loved Ole off his debut album: Face 2 Face. 2Face’s latest album The Ascension dropped in 2014. He says of his transformation, “The Ascension is me graduating from my old pattern of doing music, I wanted to enter music that I am really comfortable with. Which is more of reggae and some of my traditional music. I am simply doing what I missed to do. The album The Ascension is an eclectic collection of songs that are African. Some songs I just did to cut across Africa.”

With most East African countries going through elections, it’s obvious that our artistes need to play a role in sensitizing youth and voters now more than ever. 2Face is quite passionate about promoting the message of peace, something he has done during Nigeria’s election period and continues to do over his free time. He says of his initiative, “Vote Not Fight, Election No Be War started with a million voices for peace – which was basically a cry for peace. I had to go to all the grassroots and meet displaced people and donate relief. We also did rehabilitation of changing the mindset of the youth who are prone to being used as tools for violence. During the election period, we stepped it up and went all the way out. My foundation’s motto is service to humanity – we try to make life good for all.” In late 2015, 2Face was crowned a Tafindan Kaduna (Peace Ambassador) of Nigerian Kaduna State. We actually missed each other during my December 2015 Lagos trip as he was always in between business and Kaduna State, but he was always kind enough to update me on his whereabouts.

Hailing from a humble background in Jos, Nigeria – 2Face remains one of the most bankable African artistes today. Throughout his career in music he’s evolved to also become a successful producer and entrepreneur. What has got you this far? I want to know. “I think it’s the grace of God because some things you can’t explain. I also try not to let the hype get to me [because] I know that before I was an artiste I was still known as me, so I always try to be me all the time. I just try to get work done and play when I can.” As for all 2Face fans around the Africa, here’s your special message, “My fans are the most loyal fans. They are the greatest fans in the world. I am loving the spirit of one love coming out of Africa and it is our generation that is changing that forever. May the children of our children continue to extend that spirit. Let’s bridge the gap so that in the future we will be speaking one language, there will be no demarcation but respect for every region.”

BONUS: I am excited that there is a 2Face x Sauti Sol massive collaboration coming this year. You can also read a shorter version of this story published by DStv here

 

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NAVIO: Still Uganda’s Chosen Rap King

12596466_10154043734431414_1250972032_nYou can’t beat Navio’s worldview. Born, Daniel Kigozi, in Kenya, the Ugandan rap king schooled in Kenya and South Africa, lived in Zambia and holidays in Tanzania, among global destinations. Of late, he is constantly somewhere around the world thanks to his music tours and travel. “My Kenyan fans, unlike fans in lot of places in Africa, understand where I come from. I think it’s because I am born here so it’s nice to connect when I am back,” Navio says jesting that Kenyans on Twitter would kill him if he missed to come launch his new album in Nairobi this time as his last album had a Tanzanian and Ugandan launch. We are sitting by the pool area at his Nairobi apartment on his last day in Kenya. We have had such a tight schedule, running a media tour and producing an event – all in one week.

“I am the No. 1 hip hop artiste from Uganda and I do authentically Ugandan hip hop music,” says Navio. I like artistes and especially men who are confident and know their place in any circumstance. Meeting and working with Navio during my stint as Coke Studio Africa Publicist in 2015, and again this year for the Kenyan launch of his fourth studio album: The Chosen – left me feeling really like I am really The Chosen one. Like what’s not to love about Navio? I remember drooling over him while watching MTV back in the day. I digress – I meant to say, as a person Navio is so cool and easy to work with. His work ethic is at 100% No wonder he’s remained so focused and relevant in Africa’s hip hop scene straight up over the past decade.

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Navio & The Mith arrive in Nairobi. Photo Credit: Smiles Beckwith

There is something more to Navio than just your ordinary rapper. I can point out that he’s quite sensitive, mature and delivers killer freestyles (he can literally spit fire on any topic you throw at him, just as long as he’s in the zone). As much as I am his host, he constantly wants to know if I am fine and is never a bother. Working with him is something I’d easily get used to. But you will know that he’s still a typical rapper just by the show of his entourage. He is accompanied to Kenya by The Mith, Flex D’Paper and his videographer Shiloh; add me and my assistants at Anyiko – PR and my oh my! I wish I could record all presenters’ faces every time we walked into a studio. We were actually restricted from rolling as deep into a certain radio station, lol. But that’s what I love about Navio’s style and attitude – he’s so inclusive, and so are his people. Even though The Mith is himself another top Ugandan rapper, he’s here solely to support Navio. While at interviews Navio prompts The Mith to speak and is quick to introduce Flex D’Paper as “Uganda’s new kid on the block” when it comes to rap.

Before Navio embarked on his solo career, he was a member of the legendary Ugandan hip hop group: Klear Kut founded in late 90s. They are celebrated as the pioneers of Ugandan hip hop scene and its sprouting culture. The group originally comprised Navio, Papito, Abba Lang, JB, and The Mith. Among firsts, the group had the first Ugandan video to air on MTV. They were also the first Ugandan hip hop act to be nominated at Kora Awards in the categories of Most Promising and Revelation of the year for the song All I Wanna Know. A beaming Navio recalls the good old days, “We were the benchmark. Uganda always had people rapping but it wasn’t done professionally. Klear Kut came in and had a proper album launch that turned into a full on fiasco. We were equivalent to Kenya’s Kalamashaka at the time; a reporter once said that we were cut like a K- Shaka, were like Lost Boyz but with a refined vibe like Jay Z’s.” It’s great to see long time friends and partners Navio and The Mith still working and rolling together, despite the fact that the larger group is now defunct. Navio says, “We were young then but until today we are still friends. If the friendship dies then the group dies.” About a reunion – they never left. Navio confirms that a Klear Kut album is coming out soon with the title: Beast African with a new single called Let it rain.

Make sure you check out The Mith’s second album Destination Africa.

I just don’t understand why the East African music scene is sometimes so fragmented. There are hardly Ugandan rappers known in Kenya, unlike the case of their Tanzanian counterparts. This is despite the fact that Kenya and Uganda are geographically closer to each other. What boundaries have tied us?If indeed Kenyans or Ugandans have been tied by something, I wonder why few Ugandan rappers today make an effort like Navio, to specifically come to Kenya, to promote their music through events and media tours.

Something isn’t right.

According to Navio, among other things, language barrier has contributed a lot to this, seeing as just a handful of Ugandans speak Swahili, unlike the blanket case for the larger East African region. “As soon as you cross a certain line into Uganda, there is no Swahili or Arab influence so it’s Ugandan dialects only.” On the upside, Navio says, “Because of that, Uganda has an industry that fully supports itself and that’s why most Ugandan artistes sit thinking and waiting on their next shows in Uganda. As for me I am always thinking continental because my mind is open to outside influence. As Ugandans, we need to start branching out more to the rest of East Africa, and Africa. People are slowly starting to see us.” He is quick to name drop several Ugandan hip hop artistes I’ve never heard of. “60,000 people wave hands at their concerts in Uganda but as soon as you cross the border nobody knows their names but it’s something we are trying to change. I am not the last artiste you will know from Uganda,” he tells me.

You can also read my article on why Collabos are the future of African music

Fresh from releasing his album’s new single: Throne featuring Kenya’s king Kaka – Navio’s other song with King Kaka: Rusha has already been ruling Kenyan airwaves. There seems to be no other secret formulae to breaking boundaries other than cross collaborations—something Nav knows too well.

From Uganda to Nigeria then UK, South Africa and back to East Africa, Navio’s Chosen album flaunts collaborations with some of Africa’s brightest hip hop artistes. They include Ice Prince Zamani, Charlie King, Keko, Kella, Izzo Business, Silvastone, Vamposs, Khuli Chana, AKA, Cleo and Maggz.

His most memorable experience while recording was his chance meet up with Tanzanian rapper Mr. Blue, famed for his disappearing acts and

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Photo Credit: Smiles Beckwith

unexpected recurrences. After seeing each other last as teenagers, Navio reunited with Mr. Blue recently at Tanzanian annual festival Serengeti Fiesta. The two would later record Ayaya – the album’s 10th song and about how East African men marvel at the beauty of women. I still wonder how Navio manages to say No to the ladies. He’s amused at my question, posing, “Why would you say No to the ladies? East African girls are beautiful and very respectful. So girls – keep being fans and supporting the music.” Another song Gbesile with Burna Boy was recorded and filmed across Lagos and Kampala. “It was time to collaborate,” he says of the Nigerian artiste, adding, “We are friends and meet at awards ceremonies all the time. [In the song] Burna Boy does Yoruba like he hasn’t been heard before. This one was for Port Harcourt.” Navio says that he plans to drop more videos off the album and is going to be working with Kenyan hot group: The Kansoul on “something hectic.”

Navio is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most important hip hop figures in the last decade. “I challenge my flow in hip hop. To be versatile, I am not afraid to experiment a lot. Being Uganda’s finest is pretty cool but you have a finest for each genre. Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, Juliana and many others are the chosen in their genres,” he says. Dishing on how fast The Chosen was put together, I learn that Navio is not one to camp in the studio. “I don’t like being in the studio much so when I get in I try to do it right.” Throughout my time with Nav, his mind seems to function like an eagle with eyes forever cast on the next prey. He is always talking of projects we should do in the coming months – I respect his vision! He concludes, “A lot of my past collaborations have been commercial but The Chosen was done for people to know the status of Ugandan hip hop. It’s definitely one for the record books even though it has one or two commercial songs in there. The Chosen is a pivotal project in my career.”

BONUS: So thankful to Industry Nite for letting me co-produce the Feb edition that hosted Navio. I also thank all my media familia who hosted Nav during #TheChosenNairobi Tour. We had a ball and must do it again.

I also interviewed Uganda’s beloved singer Jose Chameleone. Read all about it.

 

 

 

 

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Jose Chameleone: ‘I would fear Chameleone if I didn’t know him’

IMG-20160128-WA0018From a young age, the Ugandan singer Chameleone (Joseph Mayanja) was always eager and hungry to make big moves. I don’t know what’s more undeniable about him today—his hard earned success or his catchy hit songs delivered in his signature raspy voice.

I first met and worked with Chameleone during my stint as Publicist of Coke Studio Africa and can attest to his brilliance and dedication while at work. I am surprised that he remembers me quite well. “We even took pictures,” he recalls and is quick to give me his direct contact this time. We meet again in Nairobi this year at my exclusive interview with him at Hotel Intercontinental Nairobi, right after his performance as the headliner at Kenya’s Koroga Festival (Jan 2016). Chameleone says, “Koroga Festival is different. I had a chance to mingle and sing with people. I love to feel felt and that’s not something that you can get everywhere. That warmth made Koroga Festival very outstanding for me.”

At sixteen, Chameleone moved from Uganda to Nairobi (in the then hotbed of East African music) to kick start his career in music in the 90s. Living solo and in a foreign country was difficult but its something he had to do since his parents had first been opposed to his decision to take up music at an early age. His mother cautioned him while asserting that music wasn’t a wrong choice but the timing was, “You need to do things adjacent to your age. You can’t be living by yourself at fifteen; that is a different shade of you. You need to adjust accordingly, like a chameleon does.” That’s where the stage name Chameleone originated from. “I grew up with music as a passion but it needed a jump start.” Kenya would later be his career’s birthplace. For this reason, Chameleone easily feels at home while in Nairobi and is considering relocating back. “My wife and kids are reluctant. I was here for about three months last year so I am sure I can do it again.”

Chameleone’s is my first interview of 2016 so I feel it’s fair to ask him his most memorable moment of 2015. “Unfortunately [for me] it wasn’t good. I lost my brother AK-47. It’s painful but it’s a reality that I lost a brother that I dearly loved. I believe that God takes what is his.” AK-47 was also a performing and recording artiste. Chameleone comes from a family of music royalty. His other brother Weasel is one half of Uganda’s successful music duo: Radio & Weasel. Another brother Pallaso, an artiste, has accompanied him to Nairobi. At the interview he is taking behind the scenes videos and photos of Chameleone and can easily pass for a tour manager. At certain points, Chameleone forgets that this is about him and starts to tell me about Pallaso’s career, even singing to me the hit single Go Down Low, urging me to check out Pallaso music.

“Music is us. We are music men straight from the background. My great grandfather in the kingship times was a drummer and my grandfather was a guitarist. My father used to play the Trombone and Brass,” says Chameleone, adding, “ I am the one who took music to a professional level in my family. Son of a soldier plays with a gun and the son of a musician play with a guitar. To all my fans, you love me – I love you – that’s very obvious”

After failing at an attempt in music, one of Chameleone’s sons: Aba Mayanja has excelled in swimming. Boasting several gold medals and national accolades, Aba is undoubtedly one of Uganda’s most promising young swimmers. “I don’t want to force him to do anything – I want to support him.”

There seems to be a well-thought out model while naming Chameleone songs. Check this out: Valu Valu, Wale Wale, Gimmie Gimmie and Moto Moto, among others. “There is no order, I just follow my vibe. I am not the one who usually picks the titles. I don’t even have a songwriting book. I write about moments and use my state of mind. The melodies that come out is a feeling of the moment. I play unreleased songs in my car for months,” he says, jesting, “My wife and kids really suffer.” Chameleone names songs from what his first listeners feel and suggest. As for his hot hit singles across East Africa and the globe, he says, “To record music I put Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi too into consideration to break into the market. Beyond that, I also do good music. People also know that I am part of them.”

Watch Wale Wale

Through decades in the music industry, one of Chameleone’s stand out qualities is his consistency. To many artistes, his type of longevity is hard to attain. However, for Chameleone he has found his own formula. “The industry has welcomed different people who think and operate differently. To some artistes music is a business; to me it’s a passion. I always feel hungry and upcoming. My passion has been my drive. I am formulated to the people [my fans]. As long as they find me relevant I get nightmares; I feel like I constantly need to make them new songs.” Declaring Mama Mia as his magnus opus, he says, “People ask me how I have been relevant for fifteen years and I ask myself, ‘How can Mama Mia be relevant fifteen years later?’ When it came out I was eighteen. I ask myself, ‘How could I have sat down and thought that myself?’”

Together with Ugandan artiste Bebe Cool, in 2005 Chameleone joined forces with Kenyan group Necessary Noize (Kevin Wyre and Nazizi) to form the now defunct Kenya-Ugandan reggae group: East Africa Bashment Crew. Chameleone plans to reunite the full crew, “I am still masterminding that. That’s why you saw me recently with Bebe Cool on stage. The problem is our schedules as we are all now established and busy on travel and tour.”

Chameleone says that he’s currently working on a marshalling a team of major artistes in Uganda to “rejuvenate the harmony” of the yesteryears. Digging several artistes across East Africa including Sauti Sol, Alikiba and Burnaba Classic, the music man is convinced that we [as Africans] have to invest largely in our local content. “We have a defined culture and we should maintain it. We buy a lot of culture but don’t sell enough of our own. Don’t follow the trend, transcend.”

Fancy matching pants and jacket; a big gold chain and shades in broad daylight, I am indeed sitting here across a superstar. It feels great. I ask him about misconceptions behind the facade. He has been accused of sometimes holding hostage the Uganda music industry Lucious Lyon style. Controversy goes that for a new artiste to succeed, you must be friends with Chameleone or else, who knows?

“I can’t be friends with everyone because I am not an angel. The problem I’ve realised with the Ugandan society and Africa’s at large – people read the box not the content. I am not trying to behave like a superstar but I am not going to walk into a place and start saying hello to every one. When you keep yourself reserved and quiet people say that you are mean but these are words of weak artistes that can’t make their music pass through. I have established [the careers of many other artists]. If I were mean would I give them an opportunity? They fear me. I would also fear Chameleone if I didn’t know him.”

 

 

 

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Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee (Book Review)

watchmanVery few times have we had the pleasure of reading the sequel of a classic novel. In To Kill a Mocking Bird’s sequel, Go Set a Watchman, 26 year-old Jean Scout Finch returns home from New York to the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama. After two decades since To Kill a Mocking Bird, we are taken back to the small town painted in our memories by young Scout and her brother Jem. It’s an extremely enchanting beginning as readers anticipate the new Maycomb and reuniting with our favourite characters.

To move forward, you must first go back to the beginning. Here’s my review of To Kill a Mocking Bird

All the excitement soon dies as Go Set a Watchman turns disastrous. Scout is still a loner even though she has a boyfriend, former childhood friend now working alongside her father. Jem Finch has passed away from a heart attack. Calpurnia, their former nanny, no longer lives at the Finch household. Atticus has moved house. The 72-year-old is ailing from rheumatoid arthritis. Maycomb’s olden hypocritical ideals and race prejudice still exist – like in most societies in real life. The only difference is that Maycomb is today more aware of its very own bigotry.

Atticus Finch, the lawmaker once upheld as the conscious of a community, has changed a lot. Scout finds a pamphlet titled “The Black Plague” among his papers. This prompts her to trail him to a Citizens’ Council meeting to spy on activities. Here she sees her father sit tight as a racist speech is delivered by one of the attendants. This is the man who raised and taught her and Jem that colour or race is no way of judging men. In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Atticus only stood for justice and openly shunned racism. He even defended the case of a black man charged with raping a white girl.

Scout is extremely baffled by the fact that her father would sit silently in such a gathering. This can only mean a few things. Atticus is today either racist or condones racism and racist ideals. This makes Scout literally sick (she even throws up) and repulsive towards her father and his associates. She feels like Atticus no longer lives by the very own non-partisan ideals that he instilled in his children, and entrusted upon a society. Even though Atticus saw her through “the malignant limbo of turning from a howling tomboy into a young woman,” he is no longer her icon. She feels inconsolably betrayed.

There is an accident that involved Calpurnia’s grandson who killed a drunk pedestrian while speeding. Atticus takes up the case but says that he’d rather do it before The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) takes it up, as he questions their contemporary policies and direction. This hurts Scout even more. The real Atticus would take this up simply for Calpurnia, the only mother figure his kids knew, not NAACP.

The turning point of the book is when Scout goes to visit Calpurnia. Her childhood is embedded in memories of Cal raising her and her brother like she would have raised her own children, giving them life lessons every day and even smacking them when she had to.

When she arrives, Cal’s household treats her coldly. To Scout and the reader, there’s an inexplicable moving power in seeing Cal having changed so much after many years. She no longer has strong large arms and hands. Remember the ones that quickly whipped lemonade and baked cakes back in the day? “How small she looks, thought Jean Louise. She used to be so tall. Calpurnia was old and she was bony.” As Scout tries to catch up with her and talk about her grandson’s case that Atticus is taking up, Cal is distant. She completely shuts her out. There is nothing Scout will say to get her attention; she won’t even look at her. She minimally talks about missing Jem and the fact that Atticus is always right.

The town’s contemporary race battles seem to have crept into Scout’s darling old Cal. This prompts Scout to ask a dangerous question that if the answer was Yes – she would be forever destroyed.

“Did you hate us?”

“The old woman sat silent, bearing the burden of her years … Finally, Calpurnia shook her head.”

I don’t doubt that Cal never hated them; I just wonder why she took time to respond and didn’t even utter a word. Maybe it’s because she hates them now or also feels as betrayed by Atticus’ change of heart. This moment leaves the reader and Scout so helpless and disillusioned. For a moment I wished Jem was there to protect Scout’s troubled heart. Where is your big brother when you need him? It’s such a heart-rending scene that literally broke me to tears.

Written before To Kill a Mocking Bird (Harper’s first and only other published book), Go Set a Watchman has sparked a lot of controversy, debate and negative reviews. To what extent can we critique a writer’s ethical criticism of literature? I hate that the book takes away the ideals we upheld about Atticus, and completely thank it for not doing the same to Cal.

Why overturn a hero’s legacy? The clean-cut character of Atticus Finch was humanised and celebrated the world over by many as one of the most important father figures in modern literature. Harper kills Atticus by making him racist. I would have rather she killed him in peace, like Jem passed away.

The book is generally a rollercoaster read – certain parts are boring and drag while others are extremely moving and engaging. Whatever the case, Harper Lee I wish you never published this first draft.

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M.I Abaga lists his African Rap G.O.A.Ts

Coke_studio-282Spitting fire 100% M.I is the greatest rapper from Nigeria in my books, and undoubtedly one of Africa’s most legendary. It’s a lot of things together, from his consistency, longevity in the game and delivery to his confidence – I haven’t seen anyone top this.

I meet up with the high-spirited M.I at his Chocolate City Offices in Lagos – our second meeting after our stint at Coke Studio Africa season III recording in Nairobi. He’s hilarious! First of all, he doesn’t believe that work brought me to Nigeria. “There is a man involved,” he asserts. By the time we are done with the interview, and we start to talk more music business, he knows I ain’t playing.

I always wanted to know who M.I’s Rap GOAT (Greatest Rapper of All Time) is, and from an expert view – what he feels should be our way of judging GOATs. So here is M.I dishing on how to spot your GOAT, a constant topic of debate.

“Under the skill angle, there are lyrics, the writing and delivery. Understanding your brand and having courage is important to the game. Your career’s longevity and journey of where you came from also matters. When you put all these things together you get classic material.”

On his African GOATs he says; “The Hip-Hop story is starting. There are people who already are in contention. However, I choose Mode 9, HHP, Proverb and Sarkodie. Internationally my greatest rapper is Jay Z and I stand by that. After him comes Pac, Biggie, Nas then the rest.”

Of all the Cyphers on Coke Studio Africa, M.I says that his own bout is hard to top.

“For me and every other artiste, that’s a tough one to be better than. Nobody was on that level. For the ones I did with others, I was blown away! Big shout out to Bamboo – he came correct. The person that blew me away and then I did a song with him immediately after was Khaligraph. I think his skill puts him in the Top 5 of the continent. He’s amazing – his flow is like rapid fire and at the same time he stays on beat.”

A longer version of this article was published by Coke Studio Africa, here.

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2015 – Why I’d Do You Over Again

dsc00208-1If my 2015 was a showreel, it would be blockbuster. It was the year of making major moves and taking big risks. I told myself that I would meet and interview D’Angelo in Stockholm when I decided to take a trip to Sweden to attend The Return Tour concert, even though I had no leads at the start. It happening wasn’t only a show of my connects, bravery and the level of hope I’ve nurtured inside of me, it was a dream come true – for D’Angelo is one of my major musical influences. Thanks to the two Cleos who played an instrumental role in the mission.

I wrote about How I Met D’Angelo. Trust me, it’s like a movie and you want to read this.

How I took and posted that viral Sauti Sol Lipala Dance video with President Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya was no mean feat. It wasn’t planned between Sauti Sol and the State House, but we were prepared for it. I remember I had the caption ready to post and the camera ready to record, even before it happened. I was the first person to stand up, unashamed of seeming inappropriate at a presidential ball function. When I got an email that the picture of Sauti Sol dancing with Obama had been placed in White House Oval Office, I said to myself – ‘Dreams do come true’ – but you have to be ready and prepared. Highlight of my career as Sauti Sol’s Publicist. That and the release of our third album: Live and Die in Afrika. Maaan, we had countless late nights and early mornings, and fights. The only reason we are all still friends is God.

 

 

Work during tour and travel was fun! My most memorable concerts were in Zanzibar, Stockholm, Uganda and Rwanda. Sauti Sol’s first show in Kampala was totally sold out – no other East African act has done that in Uganda’s recent history. Working on Stromae’s PR for the last of his global tour concert in Kigali was another career highlight. I wrote all about it:

A review of D’Angelo’s Stockholm’s The Second Coming Tour

To Uganda and Back: of Butts, Matoke and Music

Here’s why 2015 was the best year to see Stromae, and Rwanda was the best place.

 
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 4.50.36 PM2015 was also my most prolific, in writing matters. Drafted well over 100 press releases for all the artistes and clients I represented from across Africa and beyond, over 100 articles for DStv and over 50 blog posts for Black Roses and Coke Studio’s site. Working as Coke Studio Africa’s first Publicist and Editor in Chief of it’s debut site: The Mash Up, was so dope and enlightening. I was exposed to so much music, contacts and connects. Meeting countless superstars whose music I always loved from my younger days in music entertainment was priceless. From NE-YO, Cobhams, 2 Face Idibia, Ice Prince and Alikiba – we had such an amazing run. Here are some of my favourite interviews:

Chopstix on his Wizard Machine

Ice Prince, “We made a smash with NE-YO”

Nahreel on mastering his craft

Exclusive: Meeting & Interviewing NE-YO

Breaking Bread with Cobhams

Check out Coke Studio Africa Mash Up Blog.

Precious moment at Coke Studio Africa was meeting and making friends with Iona, daughter of Kenyan fashion royalty, and Abiodun, my God-sent angel from a heaven called Nigeria. Together we founded the dance group: Dope Gang

My other dope interviews from last year included Breakups to Makeups: Dru Hill 20 Years Later

As for my Daily Nation articles, below were my favourites:

D’Angelo’s Second Coming a Big Success

Kenyan Club Opens in Stockholm – this was by far one of my best stories.

We criticised Davido, but are Kenyan musicians any better?

New Kenyan movie on plight of female athletes in the works

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 4.57.22 PMI was also killing it with media tours, conferences and events. Sauti Sol’s first media tour in Uganda was kick-ass, so was K.O’s in Kenya handled by yours truly. From the launch of the Kalasha-winning film on the demise of Kenyan boxing: The Last Fight, WhatsGoodLive 2016 Announcement, Sauti Sol x Clarence Peters collabo, media launch of Live and Die in Afrika album, K.O & Mos Def Rapsody Events and Maybelline meets FAFA in a fashion storm, among others – everything I touched turned to gold!

I am particularly excited about two media events that I already have planned for 2016. Can’t wait! S/O to my assistant Tracy.

Sparked by an interest in examining music’s role in defining the African narrative, I also produced an Artist Talk Back event hosted at the 2015 Storymoja Festival. I wrote about it:

K.O Meets Octo in Music’s Role in Defining Africa

Spending two weeks in Sweden, reuniting with my friend Sylvia was magic. I will forever be grateful for how she played the best tour guide and treated me like a princess while there. See what we were up to:

Visiting the Swedish Photography Museum

12459877_10153686144522559_1599998357_nSpending two weeks in Nigeria in December doing work exchange at Sponge Nigeria, and my own business while being hosted by my girl Abi was the crowning of all. I found my twin sister and forever work partner. This girl has changed my outlook on life and friendship, and I will forever be indebted to her. Thanks for making me feel like the Queen of Beesam.

I wrote about being lost in meetings & showbiz: sounds from Nigeria.

In summary and in all honesty, my grind was at its peak in 2015, I even renovated my mother’s house (something I’d been praying for – for years). I told myself that there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do. I had many sleepless nights though – sometimes I would jokingly call myself a 24-hour economy. Sometimes I forgot to be a good friend – why this year, I plan to be a better friend, and lover.

All the risks I took, paid off. My mind took different form – I put it to extremely hard tests. I want to challenge myself even more this year. I learnt that true love to yourself, and others is in selflessness. If you can let the ones you love be their best and with whoever they deem fit – you are indeed on the path to being your best.

This year I plan to keep slaying and making boss moves. There’s so much planned. Wish you all nothing but love, blessings and success in your endeavours. So thankful to each and every person who cared, touched and supported me in one way or another. Let’s do it all over again this year!

Happy 2016!

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Top Music Videos of 2015: Anyiko’s Select 10

top10top10It’s a great music video when I find myself ogling at it even when the TV is on mute. However, I am going to be really pissed off if I put on the sound to find that it’s a terrible song. From Ice Prince’s Mutumina, JAB’s Winning in Life, Patoranking’s Daniella Whine to Diamond’s twerkers in Nasema Nawe, many dope videos had me going goo goo ga ga in 2015. I present you my exceptional 10 in no particular order.

1. Live and Die in Afrika – Sauti Sol (Director: Sauti Sol Entertainment)

Many Kenyan musicians have shot music videos atop Kenyatta Kenyatta International Convention Centre (third tallest building in Kenya) but I am afraid very few have brought to light Nairobi’s iconic beauty from its eyes, like Sauti Sol have done in this video. It’s the kind of cinematic brilliance that will have people all over the world be like, “What African city is this?” Yo! That’s Nairobi and the KICC was designed by Norwegian architect Karl Henrik Nøstvik, as commissioned by Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta in 1967.

 

2. Celebrity Girlfriend – Falz feat. Reekado Banks (Director: Clarence Peters)

This is the most hilarious music video I’ve watched all year! The celebrity girlfriends aren’t lookalikes but doppelgängers–only reason why Falz actually fooled me. I even asked my Nigerian sister Abi while in Lagos, “How did Falz get Omotola to do this?” Throughout the video’s three minutes, Falz, Reekado, the director and the girls don’t drop the ball even for a second. It’s a triumphant turning point when Falz’s unrequited pursuits finally bear fruit – my heart actually smiles when the ladies embrace him. My favourites were Beyonce, Rihanna, Temidollface, Seyi Shay and Yemi Alade. That’s like almost all of them, right?🙂

 

3. Chekecha Cheketua – Alikiba (Director: Meji Alabi)

This is a double sword: hit song and hit video—Alikiba’s retaliation from past mistakes of never producing music videos to songs that became such massive hits. Shot in a South African suburb, this is Alikiba’s most colourful dance video. The director borrows certain post-production elements from Stromae’s Papaoutai video, and it’s perfectly alright. Alikiba is such a star! From how he patronises his female dancers with his charm and waist-wining, to how he makes the damn hard Chekecha Dance seem like child’s play – there’s not one thing that could have been done differently in this video.

 

4. Game – Navy Kenzo feat. Vanessa Mdee (Director: Justin Campos)

We already know that Vanessa Mdee is a slayer. At first sight, many take Nahreel to be a fashion killer rather than a beat maker. VeeMoney joins The Industry’s producer Nahreel with his better half Aika (the two are Navy Kenzo –Tanzania’s hottest and fastest rising music duo) on this bonafide ragga/dancehall track. Following a playful cat and mouse chase between groups of males and females, with couples taunting each other – Game is a tight video displaying what happens when Tanzania’s coolest kids collide with Justin Campos – crazy talented director based in South Africa. Game having held at No. 1 for months on MTV Base African Countdown shows the rest of Africa that East Africa too got game😉

 

5. Ndi Mukodo – Cindy feat. Navio (Director: J. Blessing)

Another Ragga/dancehall banger – just what Ugandans love! I am disappointed that Navio is overdressed in this video, and way impressed at how Cindy is flaunting her bod. She is brave enough to bring her sexiness on a track and video – something many East African divas shy away from. Good job by the Kenyan director. This kind of video needs a careful edit or else it risks being plain raunchy. Navio tells me that in their native Ndi Mukodo can be loosely translated to, ‘If that nigga is mine, no one else will have a piece of him, or me.’ You really don’t want to mess with Cindy’s man.

 

6. Ayo – Chris Brown and Tyga (Director: Colin Tilley) & The Money – Davido and Olamide (Director: Sesan)

If you’re going to go big on a theme you better do it well. These two videos have delivered on parading a show of affluence – sometimes it’s so careless it’s silly and hilarious! The scene with Chris and Tyga on top of a skyscraper is so cinematic it reminds me of Dru Hill’s How Deep is Your Love video shot in Hong Kong by the director of Rush Hour. Young ballers in faux fur coats – the styling was also on point!

Read my exclusive interview with Dru Hill – From Breakups to Makeups: 20 Years Later

Still on that tip, big shout to African superstars with the spending power on the clichés of extravagance in music videos: from the women, big cars to sprinkling dollar bills. That joke about people receiving calls on stacks of money is so played out but the part where Olamide receives a phone in form of a stack of dollars passed over by Davido is unbelievably hella fresh!

 

7. Sugar – Yemi Alade (Director: Paul Gambit)

If anybody doubted that Yemi Alade really is the King Of Queens, get enthralled by this pop art imagery video emphasised by her debonair dance moves – as choreographed by Ezinne Asinugo. By the time she is sitting on a throne wearing a crown you know that she’s earned her status. The video reminds me of Rihanna’s Rude Boy. Yes! It’s that good of a comparison.

 

8. Play No Games – Big Sean feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign (Director: Mike Carson)

Hands down my best video this year! I am such a huge fan of the 90s sitcom Martin! Wzup Radio was trill! From I know to One Man Can Change the World, in 2015 Big Sean produced videos oozing serious art direction. The 90s sitcom ‘Martin’ themed-music video took the crown. As a huge fan of Martin and Gina, it was so fresh to see Big Sean bring back the full cast: Tommy, Cole, Pam and even the annoying Bruh-Man and the nosey midget in his video. When the real Martin Lawrence shows up in the video’s ending, it’s the most worthy certification that this is a classic video.

 

9. Shooga – Yung L (Director: David Nicol – Sey)

Yung L’s videos are simple and authentic yet captivating all the same. You need to pay more attention to his songs too. I like when the Naija girls pull generators at the start of his 2014 SOS video and how Shooga’s director shows us the flavour of Ghana through bright colours and street dance. I just wish the director would cut off the excessive nyash shaking and have more of Chopstix. That’s all. Through tiny details, Yung L always captures the heart and soul of changing cultures in the face of life and times in modern Africa.

 

10. Wet Dreamz – J. Cole (Director: Ryan Staake)

J. Cole is a genius. It doesn’t get more literal when you get dogs falling in love in the video of a song about puppy love. Cute bitch meets a big dog. How the dogs lay eyes on each other, follow each other and finally meet and play is a stark reminder of the very steps we humans take before relationships transition from the bedroom to the stage of breakups and makeups. It’s the only wise way of shooting the video of a song that bluntly undresses sex. I wish Cole never showed up in the ending though.

P.S: Check out my review of J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive album

Do you dig my selection? Holla!

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Stromae in Rwanda: Best Concert of 2015 (Review)

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With some of my colleagues from Stromae’s Kigali Concert.

I was killing it this year! Running PR for Stromae’s final concert of his Racine Carrée Global Tour staged in Kigali, alongside his hosts and management, was a key moment of my career.

It was so dope when I arrived in Rwanda to find the press releases I’d spent countless nights writing printed for the hundreds of international and local press present at Stromae’s first press conference in Rwanda. It was great to ask my questions at the presser too, and even greater to party with Stromae and his family at the private after party we held after his concert. This blog isn’t supposed to be about me but a review of what would become my best concert ever – not only of 2015.

See my work 👆#StromaeKigali #pressconference was trill #SuperPublicistBestBlv #LoverofWords 😃

A photo posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

The half Rwandese half Belgian pop singer/songwriter and rapper Stromae (Paul Van Haver) is internationally renowned for global hit French songs like Alors on Danse (2009), Tous Les Mêmes and Papaoutai (2013). On 17th October 2015 he concluded his acclaimed two-year long world tour in East Africa, staging the last show in Rwanda – his father’s native land. This was following successful tours and travel in more than twenty five countries including several American states, and selling out the last shows in Kinshasa and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

In 2015, Rwanda commemorated two decades of peace since the genocide. The same year also saw Stromae career’s catapult to its peek with his latest album “Racine Carrée” (2013) cementing him as a global star. Despite language barrier, the half Rwandese artiste has become one of the world’s most successful French-singing artistes of this decade. For these reasons, 2015 was the best time to attend a Stromae concert and Rwanda was the best place for this.

Stromae had cancelled his planned concert in Kigali earlier this year after falling ill. This however didn’t ruin fans anticipation. The Kigali concert pulled 20,000 people – young and old, of different races and from all walks of life. They came from all over East Africa and beyond. Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame and Kenyan music group: Sauti Sol were among several VIP guests at the show.

The gates of Kigali’s ULK stadium had fans thronging in as early as five hours before concert kick off. Earlier in the day, I attend Stromae’s press conference held at Hotel Des Mille Collines.

He speaks in French and English, in brief and has a great sense of humour. “It’s been a tiresome tour but great all the same. It gives me so much pleasure to connect with my fans, and finish the tour at home,” adding, “I can’t wait to meet my whole family here.” Accompanied by his mother and management team, Stromae came to Rwanda with a team of around forty professionals. He also flew in his full sound, stage and lighting setup in a private jet.

Pic by Mona Yacoub for Isaano Rwanda

It was an emotional welcome for Stromae with the crowd roaring for about fifteen minutes as soon as Stromae stepped onto the striking stage. The men of his four-piece backing band were dressed in knee length shorts, black and white knitted sweaters with hexagonal prints and black fedoras. A patriotic energy and pride swayed around the stadium as the mammoth crowd sang word for word to Formidable, among his songs. Watching Stromae’s world-class live show is an experience so magical. It’s the distinct magnificent laser lights and visual effects; his acrobatic voice; theatrics in his pompous change of outfits and inimitable dance moves.

From the attires to the performance sets, it was the exact Stromae Global Tour that has travelled across Europe and America. The last song Papaoutai (French for Dad Where are You?) was written from dreams and aspirations of his father who was killed in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. After the performance, Stromae transforms into a meek Paul Van Haver. He thanks fans countlessly while mentioning names of his relatives from Rwanda.

Watching Stromae live in Kigali was so grand, and historic that the team of Rwandan promoters and organisers (Positive Productions, Afrogroov and Rock Events and Promotion) who hosted him could only compare the magnitude of his show to a Lucky Dube Rwanda peace concert held in 2000 which was aimed at healing national wounds following the 1994 Genocide. In many ways, Stromae’s return to Rwanda this year after being away for more than two decades must have healed his own wounds from losing his father. Finally, Stromae dedicates the momentous end of his tour to his father’s memory. “Papa Merci.”

BONUS: Stromae is Verlan (a French inversion of syllables in slang) for maestro. He produced his first international hit Alors on Danse off his computer at home with a desktop mic. As an entertainer, some have described his futuristic style as a mash up of Michael Jackson and Charlie Chaplin.

I will never thank Positive Productions, Afrogroov and Rock Events, Promotion and RwandAir enough for putting me on this Stromae project. I look forward to working with you more in 2016.

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Top Albums of 2015: Anyiko’s Select 10

My life and work revolves around music so I thought it would be nice to list the 10 albums that brought thunder and lightning to my world this year. The arrangement comes in no particular order.

1. Live and Die in Afrika – Sauti Sol (Kenya)

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 6.07.01 PMBaddest album cover art! I bow down to Annabel Onyango for the styling and production. I would buy this album twenty times over just for the cover even if I wasn’t Sauti Sol’s Publicist or never knew them. Three years in the making – Sauti Sol’s third album is undoubtedly their magnum opus. Live and Die in Afrika isn’t only an important title but an expression of how and where Sauti Sol intends to leave a mark. This is also their first self-produced album. Big up to producers: Savara and Fancyfingers! If other producers delivered hits like Nerea and Sura Yako they’d be such superstars now. From Isabella, Nishike, Say Yeah, Nerea, Relax to Shake Yo Bam Bam; Sauti Sol have delivered a stellar collection of songs on love, sex, spirituality, hope, dreams, dance and just about any life situation. Consider it an eclectic 15-track album with 9 new songs. Dollar Dollar is my jam.

2. Stories That Touch – Falz (Nigeria)

Falz-Stories-That-Touch-ArtWhat’s not to love about Falz? The Bahd guy sounds as good singing or rapping. A personality so big, see it sip out of Celebrity Girlfriend music video. Hilarious! Touted as one of Nigeria’s best albums in 2015, Falz’s sophomore album is the best music discovery I’ve unearthed this year. Unlike the monotony I’ve encountered with many albums from Nigerian artistes, this is different, versatile, fresh, enriching and an easy listen. I didn’t need to forward any of its 16 tracks. Cutting across genres, this is more than a hip hop album with a 50/50 divide of songs in English and Pidgin. All collaborators fit in like a perfect jigsaw. Falz has penned stories that really touch and we can relate to. For the lovers who experience the difficulty of long distance relationships, Time Difference is your jam. “…How I wish that I could teleport over there … I can’t take it if she flees … but I can’t wait till she says she can’t stay with a G …” In Workaholic, Falz asserts that we won’t carry money to heaven and the body isn’t a machine, “Even mainstream ballers get time out…” He raps. Other favourites include Soft Work, Soldier, Soupé, Karishika (inspired by an olden Naija film on a witch who would enslave men using witchcraft) and Chardonnay Music. It’s a shame that little is known about Falz in East Africa – guess that’s why he’s Nigeria’s most promising export come 2016.

3. Mwooyo – Maurice Kirya (Uganda)

1924326_10205100423283317_8494778152810192877_n-e1425316949713Another album cover to write home about! It should be a crime for a man to be as tall, dark and handsome; and still be a crooner. The sexpot symbol could as well have been Maurice Kirya’s biggest misfortune. Hardly any East African doesn’t know his name but few take time to listen to his music because many think he’s just a hottie. His third album: Mwooyo (Luganda for soul) has cemented Kirya as East African king of soul. In fact, many Ugandans refer to him as King of Mwooyo. Birthing the hot single Never Been Loved, other album classics include Ghost, Mama We Made it and Busaabala (the music video is a must-watch). A masterful composer and songwriter, Kirya has also produced many songs in this album. Everything we Do is easily one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Cop the 12-track album – for Kirya’s charm and charisma cannot be disregarded. I am proud to have worked as his Publicist on several projects this year.

4. Expose Yourself – Sage (Kenya)

IMG-20151228-WA0036Sage is underrated and too talented to be ignored. Not by me. Soon as I heard her debut album (recently released) at least a year ago, I knew she had done for Kenyan R&B what every celebrated Kenyan R&B singer failed to do. We waited in vain for Didge, Sanaipei and Pam to release their solo albums. Her teaming up with Producer Dillie was a match made in heaven. Maskini is the kind of song I can only liken to kings and queens of neo soul like Musiq Soulchild and Leela James. Its production, vocal arrangement (harmonies/adlibs) and lyrics only put Sage way above all Kenyan power vocalists. It’s not just your voice but how well you can arrange it. Look out for my other favourite songs: Heaven and Mistakes. A good thing about Sage, she sings from her heart and sometimes you can tell that her themes are personal.

5. The Collectiv3 LP – (Nigeria)

The-Collectiv3-LP-800x800If you’re looking for the freshest sound from Africa, Nigeria’s Collectiv3 have landed! With a premise of creating art with no boundaries, IKON, Funbi, Kid Konnect, Tec, Ghost and Temidollface have delivered a masterpiece. They are the perfect show for the other sounds from Nigeria. These are Africa’s most promising artistes coming together to produce 9 new songs that will shape how audiences perceive African music in Africa, and beyond. I really love Temidollface in Just Like That and School Your Face, Funbi – Forbidden Fruit, SDC – Shei Bai and Poe & Funbi in Sexy Bitch and Adore her. Happy Day by Nsikak reminds me of The Foreign Exchange’s Love in Flying Colors. Good job Executive Producer Chin Okeke!

6. The Legend of Kaka – King Kaka (Kenya)

wpid-legend-of-kaka-album-coverKenya’s most prolific artiste, King Kaka’s fourth album displays his growth as an artiste. Boasting 18 tracks, collaborations with heavyweights include Chiwawa and Abbas in 2060 and Joh Makini in Najipenda. Look out for the sweet bongo jam Lini featuring Rich Mavoko. Kichinjio (Swahili for slaughterhouse) is my stand out track. Decorated by punchlines and mad rhymes, here is a diss track for every season, perfect to all the haters still struggling to understand his transition from Rabbit to King Kaka. It’s also an excellent show for his status as a Swahili Shakespeare. “Una ngoma moja Mdundo? Upgrade your CV mi nina ngoma na Wyclef produced by Avicii …” POW! So proud of you hommie.

7. On a Spaceship – Burna Boy (Nigeria)

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 6.15.26 PMWanted to say, what’s not to love about Burna Boy but we all know his controversies, as well as the fact that he’s too damn talented to be ignored. I added this album on my list because it’s legit despite talks going around claiming it’s not. I also added it because of the intro. I respect Burna Boy so much for having someone criticise him as an artiste and a human being – not sure if it was a skit or not. However, I am sure that artistes behave differently from normal human beings yet people expect them to be saints. I long for the day when the craziness emitted by artistes will be judged vis-à-vis their talent. Trust Burna to bring in his boys A.K.A and Da L.E.S in Birthday and Nyanda from Brick & Lace in Mine Tonight. All the 15 tracks are 5-star material. My standout track is Single feat. Wiz Kid.

8. Compton – Dr. Dre (USA)

dr-dre-compton-album-art1After sixteen years of waiting, Dre’s third album Compton is a triumphant return, dropping side by side N.W.A’s biopic Straight Outta Compton. Talking to my Diary is my standout track. Here, Dre narrates his life story. From nothing to something, he recalls the struggle of attaining success having come from the ghetto, wisely stating that ultimate strength comprises finance and physical/mental health. The second verse is a letter to Eazy-E. Kendrick Lamar absolutely murders it in Deep Water and Genocide. Eminem, Snoop Dogg, The Game and Ice Cube all brought it. I hated what Dre did with Marsha Ambrosius, but accepted it all the same. My favourites include For The Love of Money, Animals, Its All on Me and Medicine Man. Dre did a great job featuring new and old school cats on the album. From Anderson Paak, Justus, King Mez and Jon Connor, big shout to the new generation of rappers and songwriters storming hard in Compton. As Dre logs off with his last album, he will be remembered for this ode to Compton, and producing hip hop’s biggest collaboration album in recent history. There are more than forty four people credited in Compton. And counting!

9. Wale – The Album About Nothing (USA)

 Wale_-_The_Album_About_Nothing_(Official_Third_Album_Cover)“I ain’t loose my content … Still know what my core needs, fuck who ignores me …” The Album About Nothing is Wale’s stab at his critics, and pundits claiming that over the years he’s lost himself in the commercialising of his music. Breaking out seven years ago with the Seinfeld-inspired The Mixtape About Nothing, it would take Wale three albums later to return to his roots and originality with his fourth studio album: The Album About Nothing—what’s considered as his most personal expression yet. I love the bile with which Wale delivers in Helium Balloon and Middle Finger. All 14 tracks are my favourites but I must shout The God Smile, The Bloom and The Matrimony. How he juxtapositions social class to dope shoes in White Shoes is show for how deep Wale goes. He will never be your typical rapper and even when he pretends to be; real Wale fans know that he never sold his soul to the devil.

10. Tiwa Savage – R.E.D (Nigeria)

Tiwa-Savage-REDFresh release from Mavin’s first lady Tiwa Savage, the 16-track R.E.D is the last important African album dropping in 2015. Love me Hard featuring 2 Face Idibia is my standout track in the album. Other favourites include Bang Bang and the cha-cha-esque If I start to Talk feat. Dr. Sid – such a beautiful song! The danceable African Waist was a quick favourite – a fuse of dance music, hip hop, afro beats and the very R&B we love from Tiwa. She’s done a good job featuring other big music names like Busy Signal and Olamide. I hope all top female singers have gone back to the drawing board because Baby Billz is grown and now the Queen is back!

Special mention goes to The Indestructible Choc Boi Choc Boy Nation (Choc Boys) and Two Kings (Olamide & Phyno).

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Lost in Work, Meetings and Showbiz: Sounds from Nigeria

12432799_10153668814527559_1166807819_oWhat an adventurous and enlightening December I’ve had. Taking on a decision to spend a two-week sojourn in Lagos for work experience was probably the second best decision I’ve taken this year in my capacity as a Publicist and Communication Expert. I will never thank Sponge Nigeria (leading Digital Agency) enough for taking me in and putting me to task and test. All my colleagues were so kind and helpful. I am afraid I can’t write about everything and what every single person did for me. You all helped me grow as a person and professionally. I hope even if tiny, I also left a mark.

Before embarking on my trip, I had to write down things I had to do, people I had to meet and places I had to go. I knew it would be hard to balance work and personal business/life in such a hectic city, and in two weeks. I just never knew that it would be so difficult and stressful. At times, I had headaches and I cried once, but thankfully I am a tough girl – I managed.  I am grateful to those who showed me guidance, and tough love.

12432713_10153668829872559_939770308_oBy the time I was spending my last three days in Lagos I had accomplished everything I wanted, if not more. Meeting up with Ice Prince at his home studio was super cool. Meeting my hommie Chin Okeke at the Lagoon Restaurant was great – certainly the best view of Lagos island from anywhere. Cobhams Asuquo having to squeeze time to see me amidst his busy schedule was something; so was my meeting with Chopstix, who was kind enough to advice me on my trip’s overall plan. He also gave me ALL contacts to industry players I didn’t have already. Chops – how can I thank you? Meeting Mike Olah  and Mavin’s Bizzle was awesome. My former boss at Coca-Cola, Otome, visited me at Sponge. Such an honour! I shared with him my 2016 work project plans and he gave me a lot of advice. Nobody knows what this means to me. This is the guy who interviewed me three times and made me write at least three proposals before I got hired as Publicist of Coke Studio Africa🙂

Read my interview with Ice Prince here.

My interview with Chopstix on his wizard machine.

12449490_10153668844137559_426904469_oVisiting Chocolate City was dope! I got to meet the whole team behind the Choc Boys. I’ve been cc’d in numerous emails with Momoh so it was good to finally see his face. It was hilarious how we had so much to talk about work from the emails we’ve been receiving. I wish someone recorded my three-hour meeting with Taiwo, Choc City’s head of PR. We bonded and were like two peas in a pod. Loads of collaboration to do – we’re just getting started in 2016. Reuniting with Abuchi, M.I’s manager was necessary. He was kind enough to advice me on my career’s advancement and on what other boss moves I can make.

I blogged about driving to the island through the hoods of Lagos with Abuchi

Meeting the media mogul Olisa Adibua was an honour and a gateway to great connects and contacts. I had previously met him twice at events over the past month and he’d given me his business card. On the last meet up I made sure that he gave me an appointment. At the comfort of his home, we discussed business extensively. From Sauti Sol matters to how we can bridge the gap between East Africa and West Africa arts and culture scene – I wish I could share details.

Meeting Tola of mymusic.com.ng and his entire music team was really great! Please check out the site. We plan to work together too.

12449312_10153668569557559_1513447993_oVisiting MTV Nigeria HQ at Ikoyi was one of my best moments. For about five years, I’ve been emailing with MTV’s worldwide Team and they’ve never seen my face – neither had I seen theirs. So meeting Lanre, Tola and the rest of the team in Nigeria simply felt like meeting old friends. We spent hours talking African music with a focus on how East Africa can get better at promotions and visibility. I was happy to hear that they have introduced a thirty minute 100% East daily segment on MTV Base. It was my pleasure to thank them for all the support MTV has shown Sauti Sol (2014 Winners – Best African Act MTV EMA).

Meeting Phil (industry mover and shaker) was important. I’ve tagged all my Nigerian girls as I hang out with him at the TRACE End of Year Party at the newly opened Hard Rock Café in Victoria Island. Phil has brought me to meet important people. As we enter the party, he’s exchanging niceties with TeeBillz and Tiwa Savage. Tiwa is such a beauty! He introduces me to the MD of TRACE Anglophone West Africa, Sam Onyemelukwe, while inside. “TRACE loves Sauti Sol and a lot from East Africa!” He says.

At different times, in different clubs, I find myself right next to Davido, Tekno Miles, DJ Spinall and my current favourite YCEE. I didn’t talk to Davido as we got crowded with photographers. The latter three were such gentlemen and fast to share their contacts with me without my asking.

Reuniting with Alex Okeke, Banky W, Lynxx and Emmanuel Ikubese was ecstatic! They were all like, “WTH are you doing here?” As we’re leaving the TRACE Party for the club, Phil pulls me back inside. “I need you to meet someone”.

It’s Wiz Kid.

The star boy is sitting right by the MD of TRACE at the VVIP area. There is a crowd of people waiting to say Hello or just shake his hand but he cuts them off to hear Phil do the intro. It’s a mystery how all this time I have never met or seen Wiz Kid perform. He’s the one person I had to meet while in Lagos.

Of all the personalities I’ve met, I can only liken his aura to 2Face Idibia’s. I tell that to Abi who is right next to me as this little movie unfolds. “He’s blessed,” she says. We end up leaving Hard Rock Café right after Wiz Kid. Surrounded by five huge bouncers in black tees and tasers, he jumps into his Porsche leaving behind pandemonium at the parking lot. There’s a crowd God-Knows-From-Where chanting, “Wiz Kid!” What a star! Phil – I mean🙂

BONUS: Special thanks to Abi, Folake, IBB, Abuchi, Lanre and Phil for being my eyes and ears in Lagos. I should do the same when you come to East Africa.

 

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Top Songs of 2015: Anyiko’s Select 10

These are the songs that turned my year upside down – the good kind. While some made me fall in love with the idea of love, some made me damage the replay button. Others almost made me burst my eardrums if I wasn’t dancing over and over – to an extent I had to start a dance group: Dope Gang. Let’s go there!

1. Isabella – Sauti Sol (Kenya)

This is the ballad of ballads. If songs were people, Isabella is a beautiful goddess. Stripped down and only layered in piano and violin instrumentals, this is so far Sauti Sol’s best at flaunting their mighty prowess in writing songs for love. Its message is simple, just love in the moment – your race, religion or age doesn’t matter. Savara’s spiralling falsetto in the second verse is chilling. Very proud Publicist and friend to these guys.

2. Jagaban – YCEE & Olamide (Nigeria)

Jagaban is the nickname of Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos. Now sitting as a chief and a chairman in important associations and parties, you still can’t run shit in Lagos without Jagaban’s blessing. The traditional element in the beat of this song is too sick.

Delivering punch lines with an aggressive tiger flow, YCEE does sound like an heir of YBNL. When I first heard the song Nov 2015 while in Lagos, I wondered who dared to sound like Olamide. When I returned in December, I found that YCEE had done a remix with Olamide. “Olamide just put me on, do you know what it feels like?” He raps. Recently Olamide posted their picture performing together at Sound City Urban Blast Festival with the caption – “You gon be great bro.” I don’t doubt that. YCEE is one of the rappers from Nigeria to watch in 2016.

3. Don’t Bother – Joh Makini (Tanzania) & A.K.A (South Africa)

Sickest hip hop song and production I’ve heard all year! Illest dedication to all your enemies! The song is engineered by The Industry’s Nahreel – top Tanzanian music producer well-known as Joh Makini and Vanessa Mdee’s long-term collaborator. A.K.A brought it all. The two should do a collabo album in 2016. I wish the world could hear the Swahili, especially on Joh’s second verse. Joh Makini’s rap – the lines, message, attitude, rhymes and punch lines murdered the careers of all rappers in East Africa. RIP. Good thing y’all can start over in 2016🙂

4. Nobody But Me – Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania) & K.O (South Africa)

pAnother winning Nahreel production, I really loved the music video and the simplicity of the song’s message. Vanessa teaching K.O Swahili lyrics was so cool. Their chemistry is at 100% and the song was a certified hit in East Africa, South Africa and the West.

5. All Your Fault – Big Sean & Kanye West (America)

Off the album: Dark Sky Paradise, this one is produced by DJ Mano, Kanye West, OG Webbie, Travi$ Scott and Wondagurl. You only top Yeezy on a track he’s delivered on once, and Big Sean did. I am a follower of Yeezus and his protégés and I haven’t seen anyone master Yeezy’s craft as well as Big Sean. Sean’s flow on this song is sicker than Malaria. I like that they both rap side by side each other on Verse 3, at times you can’t tell who’s who. The last line of the song should be everyone’s 2016 policy.

“People ask me how to make it/ I’m just like, “Man if you want the crown, bitch you gotta take it. Straight up”

6. Moto wa kuotea mbali The Kansoul & Nameless (Kenya)

This is my jam and my Nigerian best friend Abi’s song for days! Yo! I will just leave our Dope Gang performances here and pray that The Kansoul and my dear friend Maddy will deliver another mega hit like this in 2016. P.S Nameless killed it with that line, “Respect your elders! I started singing when you were still in diapers …”

7. Talk About It – Dre featuring King Mez & Justus (America)

talk-about-it-lyric-screenshotNot one second in: “I don’t give a fuck!” Have to give it up to the zero chills in this production. There were many sick jams in Dre’s Compton album but I also picked Talk About It because it’s the one time since Still, that Dre has earned all the bravado he flaunts in one song. “I remember selling instrumentals off a beeper/ Millionaire before the headphones or the speakers/ I was getting money before the internet/ Still got Eminem cheques I ain’t opened yet/ MVP shit …”  Goddamn! The song was partly written by A.J. Baptiste-Caselle, the producer/songwriter who goes by the name Jean Baptise. He’s also worked with Cudi, Madonna, Chris Brown and the Black Eyed Peas.

8. Boss – Ice Prince (Nigeria)

This is a banger, and my ringtone. It was playing in every single club I went to in Lagos Dec 2015. I really loved Ice on this one because it showed a different side of him🙂 Part of its video was shot in Nairobi. The East African release of BOSS was handled by Anyiko PR.

9. Matrimony – Wale x Usher (America)

Wale has been a consistent NE-YO collaborator in his past two albums before the latest Album About Nothing. I really loved his songs with NE-YO: White Linen (Ambition) and Tired of Dreaming (The Gifted) but they never made it as big as Matrimony. I think it’s because he got my husband on a track – finally!🙂

10. Ta-Ku – Love Again (feat. JMSN & Sango)

This is a dope soul song by the Australian singer. He’s also a dope photographer – his Instagram is magic. I dig the song because it’s so original; he’s my type of underground artiste and sings to my heart. Plus I just want to love again.

Special mention goes to JAB’s Winning in Life and Leon Bridges with Coming Home.

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Madness, Generators and Nairas: Insights from Nigeria

12436268_10153664393412559_881436666_oI have discovered that Lagos (Nigeria and Africa’s most populous city) is so far the only place that can accommodate my madness. Many times I have raised my voice or yelled at different instances while in Kenya, and some people took it for rudeness but I am sorry I am my mother’s daughter and that’s just how we express frustration. Everybody yells and shouts in Lagos, so naturally I felt welcomed to Nigeria during my two-week stay. I never liked the careless hooting. It caused me constant headaches and endless thoughts as to why not one Lagos driver can just chill.

I’ve deduced that everyone’s tone is higher than normal in Lagos because first – the surrounding is almost always noisy – in comparison to Kenya. There is a constant rumbling sound of generators and spiking air off their fumes. You have to shout louder on phone for the person on the other side to hear you because the network is mostly jammed.

The general madness level in Lagos is about six times the madness in Nairobi. Numbers make a perfect case study to set the background of this case scenario. If you put all East African cities together: Lagos only is still king in numbers, as of 2015 statistics. While Lagos boasts a population of over 20 Million, the population in Nairobi is approximately at 6.5 Million; Kampala a little over 2 Million; Dar Es Salaam a little over 4 Million and Kigali a little over 1 Million. They collectively don’t even sum up to 20 Million – yet we haven’t even counted the rest of the Nigerian states. This is a big reason why Nigeria is the giant of African music at the moment – their numbers patronise the rest of Africa.

Straight from the airport, driving around Lagos mainland and island is such a fresh experience! Bez, Falz, Yemi Alade, P Square, M.I, 2 Face Idibia, Seyi, Tiwa Savage and Wizkid, among several artistes, are on countless billboards adverts or on as brand ambassadors. The few non-Nigerian artistes who I saw on billboards included Adelle, Avril, Bien and Vanessa Mdee.

It saddens me that many Kenyan corporates and brands are still yet to see the full value of artistes. They would rather have models or comedians on billboards and their adverts or campaigns and not music stars. I have nothing against models or comedians; I am only saying that there is a big opportunity for Kenyan corporates to marry their brands with that of artistes.

This is my next phase of projects in the works.

Traffic in Lagos is also on a different level. The distance between the mainland and island will take you approximately thirty minutes with moving traffic. The journey around the island was always beautiful to me. I don’t live in a coastal or port city so please let me be. There are three main bridges linking Lagos Mainland to the Island. The Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge is such a babe! The 1.36 km cable-strayed bridge links Lekki with Ikoyi – these are the rich people and celebrity estates.

I visit MTV Offices and Nigerian media Mogul Olisa Adibua at his home, both in Ikoyi. Houses in Ikoyi, to be specific Parkview Estate are quite something. The road is so perfect with the estate street roads made of tiny little pebbles. Some of the grandiose mansions are painted in white and gold – no generators noise here. I was so impressed yet astounded at an affluent view of Lagos. Some parts of the city are so polluted by generator’s fumes and noise – let’s not even talk about places where there’s never power.

On my first sign of the disparity divide between the rich and poor in Nigeria, read on my first time in Nigeria: Baptism by Fire.

The world doesn’t expect a giant economy like Nigeria to be as crippled when it comes to power so while in Lagos, I try to comprehend why having power is top of Nigerian problems. You spend about 5,000 Nairas on your generator every day, an equivalent of 2,500 Ksh, depending on how you use your power. Do the math on this expense per month. Power only comes on for about four or less hours a day.

My God! Look at the queue to a fueling station in Lagos! #FuelShortage ⛽ #DecemberMadness #TotalMadness

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I am lucky, and unlucky, that I am in Lagos over December – when they experience the worst fuel shortages. There are times when taxi men won’t show up or refuse to go somewhere because of existing fuel shortage and fear of running out before getting fuel to finish trip. I think this might be the reason why Lagos Ubers are pricey in comparison to Nairobi’s. Partly is because distances are longer and you experience more traffic but I will never understand why our Uber ride was almost 12,000 Nairas on one ride in the island on a night of the Trey Songz concert that had slow moving traffic. We only spent like 35 minutes in the Uber. You can’t be broke in Lagos.

I empathize with Nigerians on the matter. It’s not their will to live like that but their government’s failure and the result of years of corruption and mismanagement. Why they produce crude oil but then have to import petrol and the rest after manufacturing elsewhere is a fucked up model. They now have to invest in ways of creating renewable and sustainable energy. I recently heard President Muhammadu Buhari promise to solve the power situation. He was reading the country’s 2016 Budget. Nigeria’s current power situation has crippled and disadvantaged many businesses, business people and industries. If they can solve it, Nigeria can really fuck shit up. Even more! Being back home in Kenya and in my crib makes me feel like I am working from a 5 star hotel. No power shortage, no noise, no fumes.

BONUS; I couldn’t have done anything or gone anywhere without Abi – my girl made sure I was rolling like a Queen. God bless you babe.

 

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How I Ended up in Ojuelegba: Lagos Danfo Drama Part II

IMG_1112-3Just a day ago, I drove along Lagos hoods with Abuchi, M.I’s manager and he showed me Bariga – Olamide’s first hood. He also showed me Sunday Street along Pam Groove where he used to live in a tiny house with Ice Prince and M.I before they all blew up. “Now we can all afford houses and live wherever we wish,” he said to me. Thank God and hard work. “This is the city of dreams, I could never leave Lagos,” Abuchi reminisces.

To catch up on this story, read How I Ended up in Ojuelegba: Lagos Danfo Drama Part I

At Ojuelegba, we grab another Danfo to Ikeja now. The conductor and driver are both elderly so I feel a sense of security. This one won’t be dramatic. Abi and I are paying 200 Nairas each. We ask the conductor if he has change for 1000 Nairas bill – what we have. He doesn’t. On hearing this, a lady sitting at the Danfo’s front hands me over 200 Nairas so we can give him all the cash and get easy change. She confuses us when she says 200 for two. On thinking we are meant to pay 100 Nairas each, there becomes such confusion with the change as Abi hands him over the extra 200 Nairas so he can give us 800 Nairas. He gives us 700 instead of 500 Nairas since it was actually 200 Nairas per person. I am even lost now. In summary, this conductor is the worst at math. Moral of the story is the old matatu adage: do not take another passenger’s money to pay for them and always have loose change for fare.

As we are trying to get it all sorted some woman sitting right behind us decides to pock her nose in our business as if it is her money. “Nooo…. You said 1000 Nairas for four, I heard you.” Of course we know what we said but it was the silly lady sitting at the front who confused us by saying 200 Nairas for two, yet all through this fiasco she never opens her mouth once. It’s the guy sitting next to us who defends us asking the conductor to give us the change as he can attest that our math is right.

Another woman alights the Danfo asking for her change and the conductor says he doesn’t owe her anything. This is now becoming a broken record and the ladies sitting at the back of the Danfo won’t take it at all. One of them starts to descend on him, “Foolish! You are a very stupid human being for what you are doing and saying! Give the woman her change now!” I am astounded at her straightforwardness and defence for another person. Feeling sad for this poor old conductor, it’s a turn of events when he retaliates. “You are an idiot woman! Is your father a professor? Show me your degree and what science your mother studied! Stupid – shut your mouth!”

It’s such comedy and an afrocinema movie. I am in stitches and tears as these two hurl insults at each other from across the Danfo all the way from outskirts of Ojuelegba to Ikeja – our final destination.

The gentleman sitting next to us hears Abi telling me, “Every Danfo has its drama.” He agrees, “That’s how we do in Lagos. Only in Nigeria.” We are in Ikeja and this Danfo’s driver just drove fast and far past the designated stage. “Won’t you stop this bus now!” Abi is now furious. “Come down now!” Yells the driver. He really annoys all passengers by this so he gets some good insults as everyone comes out🙂

 

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How I Ended up in Ojuelegba: Lagos Danfo Drama Part I

 

Danfo-Lagos-715
Pic via http://www.onestop-africa.com

After my first Danfo ride a few days after arriving in Lagos, I have almost swore that I won’t do it again. However, I take another one with my host and sister Abi right after leaving Balogun Market on a Saturday. Anyone who knows Balogun area will tell you that no bus or Uber can even dare come close, especially on a Saturday. It’s the most congested market and area I’ve been to all my life. Human beings traffic there is worse than any traffic caused by vehicles.

After spending hours at Balogun, we are extremely fatigued and will take anything that will take us to the mainland soonest. The Danfo we grab to Oshodi, close to home – Ikeja – seems pretty cool. I thank God that its seats are leather padded, my bum won’t have to hurt too much.

Before departing the conductor says that he has no change and everyone must give him small bills. We have our money ready 500 Nairas for two – I am sure that there will be no drama in this Danfo. In fact, Abi and I both lay our heads to nap as the journey to the mainland commences.

In my sleep, I feel the Danfo’s abnormal front to back rocking motion while we are on the road. At first, I think it’s the small bumps on roads but soon the Danfo stalls abruptly. There are sounds of passengers yelling at the conductor and driver—our rude awakening. Unlike Kenya where passengers can wait for you to explain the matter, here everybody jumps out demanding for the fare refund. There is a cloud of smoke coming off the Danfo’s bonnet. The conductor won’t give us back our fare, even if only to appease us after this inconvenience – at least to avoid traffic build up as we have stalled on the road. Thank God we are not on The Third Mainland Bridge, so we are encountering less traffic.

Everyone, including Abi has yelled at the top of their voices for the conductor to return our fare but he won’t. He accosts a different Danfo to pick us. Only problem is this one isn’t going to Oshodi but Ojuelegba. Ok. So this is my chance to see the famous Ojuelegba – Wiz Kid’s first hood plus Abi says it’s okay we can grab another Danfo to Oshodi from there.

How the Danfo leaves disgruntles passengers should be a movie titled The Great Escape. A number of people won’t go to Ojuelegba even though it will be hard for them to get a Danfo to Oshadi with space from this location. The conductor still won’t give them back their money. At some point, the Ojuelegba Danfo starts to take off with Oshodi’s jilted passengers’ stuff and luggage still inside. I have to almost throw out a lady’s hawking basket as she is outside crying for the driver not to depart as she tries to pull it out the window. Inside the Danfo, some passengers sitting next to Abi are fighting over their sitting spot.

On arrival at Ojuelegba, it’s just good to have passed through Wiz Kid’s hood. I’ve seen the most Danfos at Ojuelegba’s stage. Above it is a big infamous bridge known for deadly accidents as trucks sometimes fall off the rails, killing people walking and hawking on the streets, Abi tells me.

Part II of How I Ended up in Ojuelegba: Lagos Danfo Drama

 

 

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Back to Nigeria: Riding in a Lagos Danfo

Danfo-bus
Picture owned by Bisola Bello.

The Danfo (bright yellow public transport vehicles in Nigeria) really isn’t for weak asses, and not for mine – especially at this point of my life because I just started doing butt squats. The Danfo we catch from Lagos Island back to the Mainland on a Monday evening is pretty decent – it has working lights, and the benches are padded with soft leather. However, it’s not soft enough. My butt really suffers from the discomfort of sitting on a bench. I can’t even start to imagine how it would feel if we rode in the Danfos with wooden benches.

At first, I am very keen to get into a Danfo to get a dose of Lagos. I also want to compare and contrast the experience to Nairobi’s matatus. My Lagos friends don’t warm up to the idea of taking a Danfo but thankfully I convince my girlfriend and host Abi. Before heading out to the island earlier, her mother gives us one look and says, “Don’t take a Danfo in your neat dresses while you’re going to town – maybe when you return. Call a taxi.” On returning we grab one in the CBD. The conductors are yelling out to passengers, just like in Nairobi.

I find just as much drama and a nuisance typical of a Nairobi matatu in a Lagos Danfo.

12351180_10153628837907559_1501250090_nThere are four rows of seats with each accommodating five passengers. Two seat at the front. Thankfully this Danfo isn’t overloaded. As soon as we depart for the Mainland, a passenger sitting a row behind us transforms into a preacher. It’s baffling how the same bus-preaching I absolutely detest and run away from in Nairobi would haunt me all the way from Kenya and catch me in the first Danfo I’d take in Nigeria. Seriously – if I want to hear a sermon, I will either go to church or read the Bible.

The trip costs 200 Nairas per person. And just like most Kenyan conductors, this Lagos conductor lets the Danfo leave yet he has no float for customers’ change. Within no time all passengers are descending on him. It’s a little too much to handle in the midst of pastor’s words; he’s literally flowing like El Nino rains. Usually everyone in a Nairobi mat will go crazy over a conductor openly refusing to give change but Lagos passengers won’t let this conductor breath even though he hasn’t refused to give back change. “I don’t have change now! Wait – ooo!” All he can say.

The preacher in the bus won’t stop. He is preaching notions from a Bible I have never heard of. “If your wife is an infidel – never leave her to marry another woman. That’s a sin … Women must never wear trosiiiiss (trousers) – never! And about make up – listen and listen well women. You’re making up yourself for who? You have four colours on your face and when you look at the mirror, you cannot recognise God. If you’re not a prostitute, leave make up now!” I am so offended by his foul mouth and cheap gospel. To make matters worse, he starts to sing. It’s such atrocity. After the singing, Abi and I are anticipating his plea for money or blessings, whatever they call that tip. But at a random stage this dude abruptly jumps out of the Danfo and flees without paying his fare. Please – this is Nigeria. The conductor stops the Danfo and runs after him. I am the only one shocked that a preacher tried to get away without paying. Abi says, “He probably didn’t pay because he was busy preaching when the conductor was collecting the money.”🙂

Somewhere along the slow-moving traffic I spot Bien on the biggest billboard along The Third Mainland Bridge. The opposite side still has Yemi Alade and Jua Cali’s Coke Studio Africa mash up—I saw this one during my last trip to Lagos.

You might also dig my series – To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire – from my Travel Tales.

By the time we are alighting the Danfo, my butt is aching from the bench. My ear is aching from the preacher’s echoing voice. My tummy is rumbling from the water we bought along the street. My eyes are burning from traffic fumes. My wish to ride in a Danfo has been accomplished and I don’t think I am doing it again.

 

 

 

 

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To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part III)

On my last night in Nigeria right after the AFRIMA Awards are over, I am suffering from a serious Jamais Vu maladie. I have already had a difficult time as it is but I am suffocating from a bizarre feeling that tells me that the worst is yet to come in the morning. It’s so strange to know that you are being affected by impending misfortune seeming familiar albeit the fact that you’ve never experienced it. I am so devastated – I can’t talk or do anything other than sleep. Abi and IBB’s attempts to try cheer me up hit rock bottom. I’ve also changed my mind about going to the after party.

True to my instincts, in the morning I wake up to news that we all missed our flights because the 1:50 p.m. indicated on the tickets meant a.m. But why? Even if we wanted to leave at 1 a.m. we would still have been at the event at that time. I am in Nigeria with Sauti Sol for the AFRIMA Awards accompanying them as group’s Publicist and Tour Manager.

Before proceeding with this blog, you might want to catch up on the series of unfortunate events that led me here (if you haven’t already):

To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part I)

To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part II)

 

10:48 A.M.

 

We had initially all agreed to meet at the lobby at 10:00 a.m. so as to leave hotel in time to make it to our previously planned 1:50 p.m. flight but it’s almost 11:00 a.m. and I am still calling hotel rooms to get my guys together. I haven’t told them that we missed our flight yet because I don’t want them to panic and make me panic more so I am handling it with Sharon (head of Sauti Sol Bookings) and Ade (our contact in Nigeria – who won’t be reached on phone). My plan is to get Sauti Sol to the airport and however way into the only other available flight leaving at 12.50 p.m. By the time I get to the lobby I find Savara, Bien and Polycarp going completely ballistic. Somehow, they know that we missed our flights and I can’t even hear what they are telling me because everyone is talking, even yelling, at once. “We can’t stay here another day!” – “We have a new album to launch!” – “We have a meeting with Alikiba tomorrow morning in Nairobi!”

Some of the things I struggle to hear.

I then realise that Chimano is missing and I never got to hear from him since he never picked any of my phone calls to his room. I also haven’t seen him from last night. As Abi helps me check out the rest of Sauti Sol, I rush to Chim’s room.

 

11:45 A.M.

 

I am standing at the hallway knocking at his door so hard and screaming so loud I don’t care if I am about to annoy or wake up the whole floor. He opens the door casually with that WTF look. He just opened his eyes the first time since he returned to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning from the after party. Chim is a rock star. He’s not the least bothered that we’re both about to miss our yet-to-be-booked flight. I have no time to yell at him. I dump every single thing on sight into his suitcase and pull both the suitcase and him – OUT!

 

12:05 P.M.

 

We are at the lobby. Oh my I can’t see the rest of Sauti Sol. I hadn’t still got through to Ade or our chaperone Blessing (who BTW went missing soon after the event last night lol). I bump into Ade. She assures me that she is sorting our flights as a group of managers pounce on her as soon as I let her off. On asking the receptionists about the whereabouts of my people, “They took a taxi to the airport” – they tell me. They have also left with all our money and visa cards; so we can’t also take a taxi to make it there in time. I have to think quick. As Chim checks himself out, I see a random bus at the hotel driveway. I quickly run to it and even without greeting I ask, “Where is this bus going?” Airport. Someone responds. “Is anyone here having a flight at midday?” I ask. There are at least two people in there. Chim and I hop into the bus. Inside we both find space ONLY for two. There are bags and suitcases all over, we can hardly even see out the window. It’s been minutes and we are not leaving. I am so agitated I have become Nigerian, shouting shamelessly, “Can we please leave now!” Apparently there is a lady from Cameroon waiting on her sister and we have to wait for her. Grrr!

 

12:30 P.M.

 

We finally depart and amazingly encounter no traffic to Murtala Muhammed Airport. On entry however, there are crowds pushing in and making it such a slow process. “If you not travelling – get out ooo! I won’t repeat again!” The police warns. I am in utter shock that Nigerians are allowed into the airport even when you are not a travelling. I am more surprised at how dirty the airport detectors are.

Within no time, we’re all reunited.

 

1:00 P.M

 

I don’t understand why the plane hasn’t left us yet. The rest of Sauti Sol say that we hadn’t been booked into the new flight and we have to pay 100 USD each. I am still trying to call our host but they forbid me. “We are going to sort this ourselves,” they assert. We have spent at least thirty minutes in search of an ATM and another thirty minutes to get a bureau to change Nairas into USD. Finally the airline officials allow us to pay in Nairas. I am always left behind sorting the wahala. As soon as we pass one hurdle the guys run off towards the plane – I wonder why this plane hasn’t left already, and 100% sure that I will be left behind.

By the time I am helping Polycarp check in his guitar – it’s been such a stressful airport time. None of the systems between the ticketing and check in office are connected. We literally have to run up and down floors and stairs to make sure there is communication between the two offices. The dude at check in won’t check in Polycarp’s guitar saying, “It’s up to you now, Sir.” He wants a bribe because he saw us hold lots of Nairas. “Just check in that guitar that’s my life,” says Polycarp before leaving me behind.

I make sure everything is in before heading over to the plane. By this time, the security officers are really wasting time I don’t have – having to open my bags after every three steps. I am so dejected and fatigued – I don’t see any of the boys. I won’t be shocked if I miss my flight. I am also no longer worried; I will just go back to the hotel and sleep off this stress. I am no longer looking at the time. The announcement keeps going off, “Passengers to Nairobi …”

I have made it into the plane. Phew! This flight is almost two hours late for departure. I swear! But why do I have this stupid aisle seats near the loo? I need to call Abi and alert her that I have made it into the flight but I have no airtime. Thinking of miracles, the lady next to me goes: “You are Anyiko!” Yes. I reply. “My mum is such a big fan of yours and your TV Show! That’s why I know you. Let’s call her!” I am soon talking to her mother who lives in Malindi. Turns out she’s a Kenyan lady who was in Nigeria to attend a friend’s traditional wedding. We quickly make friends, our warm meeting quickly making me forget the madness that led me here. She even lets me call Abi on her phone. My nightmare just got reduced to nothing but life’s little pleasures.

BONUS: I would have lost my mind without Abi and IBB – thank you my Lagos goons, for the Jollof Rice, and everything. I owe ya! I pray that my next trip to Nigeria is better, and that Amazing Race never bring its contestants through this airport🙂

 

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To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part II)

12295134_10153603829577559_41289555_oI just arrived in Nigeria for my first time to a rude welcome – our baggage was left behind, but the airline promises to make sure we’ll get all our bags tomorrow.

I am with Sauti Sol, here for the AFRIMA Awards accompanying them as group’s Publicist and Tour Manager. It’s a 40-minute ride to the hotel from Lagos mainland to Victoria Island, where we are staying over the weekend. On our way, we ask our driver to shuffle between radio stations. We don’t hear any foreign music being played but their own – hit and shit songs alike – an amazing model that has forced Nigerian artistes to push their music out of their saturated market.

Interesting how most of the local radio stations in Kenya play more West African and American content than music from Kenya or East Africa. Kenyans have such pride in music. This has built a wall over music fans and media, making everyone a gatekeeper or wanna-be pundit leaving an industry birthing serious imbalances. If more local content, regardless of quality, is put on radio quality and competition levels will skyrocket. You just never hear shit songs on Kenyan radio. But you can’t always hear hit songs on radio either.

Bien asks the driver, “So who are the biggest Nigerian artistes?” Too many, he says. “Who is your best?” Olamide. “Who is the most respected and greatest?” Tubaba, he asserts.

I already hate Eko Hotel at first sight. I’ve heard so much about how dope it is but I just don’t like its grandiose plan. It feels like a small city. I am not sure if the crowd at the hotel all came for the AFRIMA but I really hate crowds and people lingering at lobbies and reception areas. This place is a beehive of activities. Plus part of my room’s ceiling falls on a guest inside my room. Like WTF!?

12294939_10153603827432559_1947468013_oAt night, my girls – Abi leading the battalion scoop me to DJ Spinall’s Album House Party at Oniru Estate. A generous cocktail of Smirnoff welcomes us to the mad house. Poor mansion! Numerous rooms have guests thronging in and out like a festival with bottles popping like it’s a beer factory. On a different side some people are jumping into a pool. I can’t help but think of Banky W’s Lagos Party. Again I hate crowds but I really like this party and its show for the Nigerian affluence. Who allowed all these people to party in their house? Won’t they steal or completely damage the house? I need to see and meet DJ Spinall, so I ask Abi to lead me to the VIP section. On getting there, it’s as packed as a brand new matchbox. I can’t even see or reach him. Our night at the house ends. We end up at Club Rumours. Here, my memory fails. I might have had too many🙂

 

Sunday Morning

 

I wake up thinking about nothing but our luggage. My heart and conscience tells me that the airline will neither deliver nor call any of us to get our luggage. (They actually never do). So I start to make my own arrangements to go to airport in time to catch the arrival of the flight that should have our luggage. At first I think I will sort it out myself but trouble starts when I can’t find a taxi for the airport because there is fuel shortage in the city. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT FOR? The petroleum industry in Nigeria is the largest in Africa. Contributing to about 14% of its economy, it hardly benefits the normal mwananchi directly. This is why I hate that western media and countries equate GDP to African development and fastest growing |“healthy” economies. What’s the point of having the highest GDP when the person on the street can’t even have fuel or power? Because of this kind of disparity, I am passionate about PR in sensitising communities, policy makers and key stakeholders in natural resource management on equity, transparency and conflict management.

Last year, I worked on a similar project in Kenya’s Turkana area following the discovery of oil reserves. Read To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)

 

I don’t know what I’d do without IBB. He sees my distress. Knowing too well that the time it will take me to get a taxi man with sufficient fuel, get through the airport madness and to our luggage will be the same time the airline will take to disembark the luggage, load them back in and send them back to Kenya – he assures me, “Don’t worry I will get you someone who works at the airport to sort everything for you, and we will have to pay him.”

Case closed.

Best Artiste Group, Sauti Sol (1)
Can you see my legs on stage?🙂

When our bags finally arrive, it’s such a relief that nothing is missing. We are now ready for the AFRIMA tonight. Despite AFRIMA’s complete disregard for time and schedule management, I applaud the organisers and fraternity for having set up a brilliant system of awarding African achievement and excellence in music entertainment. Sauti Sol win Best African Group & Producer of the Year.

There are so many African stars at the event backstage. Busy with Sauti Sol and spoilt for choice, I show some love to Cobhams, Tubaba, Diamond Platnumz and congratulate Cassper Nyovest for filling the dome. I am more than impressed by the kind of media coverage AFRIMA attracts. There are hundreds of journalists at the red carpet. I’ve had a field day, I would absolutely enjoy working in the Nigerian industry. I’ve met top publicists from Angola, South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon. I’ve met top radio owners, promoters, music executives and many of my peers. Everyone is warm and open to exchange. I love that about Nigerians. They are open to the rest of Africa and collaborations.

As of the end of the ceremony, our flight back to Nairobi is at 1:50 a.m. unbeknownst to us. Why would anyone book us into such an early morning flight, and especially when the ceremony wasn’t even over then? We have missed our flight back and have only one chance to catch the 12 p.m. flight. But will we? Looking at Lagos morning traffic across The Third Mainland Bridge to the airport and the fact that organisers messed too many flights to sort them all out in good time – we will have to pull an Amazing Race.

BONUS: Thank you so much IBB.

Read the last/Part III of To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire

 

 

 

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To Nigeria and Back: Baptism by Fire (Part I)

12268654_10153598522907559_729039154_o
When I heard that my luggage was missing😦 Lol!

My first time in Nigeria is worse than terrible! It’s such an anticlimax because this is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I had been beating myself for years for missing to visit my aunt when she used to live in Nigeria. That, and Nigerian cuisine laced with very hot chilli peppers of international repute, are just some of the reasons why Nigeria and India have always been in my Dream Destinations.

I find myself headed to Nigeria about two weeks prior to my first planned two-week trip/work exchange program to Lagos. I am accompanying Sauti Sol (Winners Best African Group & Producer of the Year at AFRIMA) at the award ceremony as the group’s Publicist and Tour Manager.

Just the idea of being in Nigeria excites and thrills me so much that I hardly read my book in the flight. The four hours + flight time seems like forever. On arrival at Murtala Muhammed Airport, we realize that two of the Sauti Sol members’ visas aren’t valid even though they just came from Nigeria about a week ago. Turns out all foreigners have to get an Entry Visa at every new entry, even if it’s just a day after your last visit. At a special office, we are asked to pay 50 USD in cash for each. It’s surprising that the system at this office is down yet they won’t allow us to pay in Nairas or using a Visa Card. Across the jam-packed airport, we have to find an ATM and a bureau to exchange Nairas into USD – like why can’t your systems just be functional?

Just as we are about to finish the process, a policeman walks into the room holding a pen and paper. He calls out Chimano’s name, insisting: “Passengers who came in from Nairobi!?” His bag was left in Nairobi as flight was “over weight”. I start to laugh out loud thinking to myself – he is so fucked right now! The policeman calls my name next. That’s when I quickly stop laughing – everything starts to sink in. Out of all five of us, only one person receives their bags. The KQ official asks us to head over to their Ticketing Office for further explanation. We are furious because we are only in Lagos for two nights and to attend two events on each night. To tell us that our bags will only arrive 24 hours later is basically telling us that we came to a foreign country without half of what we needed for the full stay – senseless!

We’ve spent an hour getting the visas. It takes us another hour to get through to someone at the Ticketing Office. When they show up, their only explanation is that they received an email from Nairobi indicating that the flight was overweight so our bags had to stay behind. The officer suggests that we should call Nairobi. On calling Nairobi, the team says that we should get answers in Nigeria. Eventually Nairobi office assures us that we will receive our luggage tomorrow. It’s so disappointing to be in a new place, all sweaty and tired and with no single change of outfit. I quickly call our Nigerian Rep IBB on arrival at hotel. He hooks us up with a couple of designers and stylists to salvage the situation. My girlfriend Abi brings me an outfit and shoes that fit, saying, “Keep this dress – I know you will love it and it will fit perfectly.” It actually does🙂 Together with my girls, I am off to DJ Spinall’s album house party at Oniru Estate. The rest of Sauti Sol decide to pass.

My first look at Lagos on our way to the hotel is like a film. We spot a woman walking on the road slapping a man on an Okada (motorbike) – just like in the Nigerian movies. I really wonder what he did. He must have grabbed her ass or something. We are staying in Victoria Island and so we pass through The Third Mainland Bridge – the longest of three connecting Lagos island to the mainland. At one point this was the longest bridge in Africa until the 6th October Bridge was erected in Cairo.

Finally blogging about my first time in Nigeria 😂 #BaptismByFire www.anyiko.wordpress.com

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I am extremely happy to see Jua Cali and Yemi Alade mash-up on the third season of Coke Studio Africa as the only billboard along The Third Mainland Bridge. Looking at the bridge and its surrounding, I am intrigued by the paradox that haunts most African countries. Here, on this road leading to some of the wealthiest hotels and estates in Nigeria, you can see first-hand disparity between the rich and poor. On two sides of the grandiose well-built bridge is the Makoko slum area with shanties elevated atop the Lagos Lagoon.

Picture via Bisola Bello

I am fascinated by the old public transport vehicles (most of which are VWs)—these are the Danfo, known for notorious drivers and conductors, just like Kenyan matatus. In some Danfos, the conductors and passengers are literally hanging outside – just like in some Nairobi and Dar mats. It’s such a homely welcome when I visit an African country and notice something that totally reminds me of Kenya – my own country. This is Africa – a continent rich in diversity just as much as in similarity.

Fore more juice on my Nigerian trip full of Wahala read:

To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part II)

To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part III)

 

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Breakups to Makeups: Dru Hill 20 Years Later (Exclusive)

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 04.43.11As soon as I sit down with members of Dru Hill – the iconic American R&B music group that rose to fame in the late 90s – in Nairobi (Oct 2015), nostalgic memories cloud my mind. How can you accurately describe 90s music era without citing Dru Hill? Is that even possible? In My Bed, Never Make a Promise and How Deep Is Your Love include their seven Top 40 hits. Initially starting off under the name Legacy, the group later decided to go by the name Dru Hill – a move that would forever tie their legacy to the “the area where we used to rehearse,” Dru Hill founding member Nokio messages me, adding, “We got the name Dru Hill from Drui Park in Baltimore which is near where I grew up. We wanted to represent Baltimore wherever we went with no question.” As I am writing this article I realise that it was the one important question that I forgot to ask Dru Hill during my interview with them so I drop Nokio a message and he responds immediately.

Dru Hill is in Nairobi for their first concert in Kenya. Nokio says, “We didn’t know about all the love we had here until we got here. Hopefully we can spread more love through our music.” They are only doing two TV interviews while in Kenya including this one so I have to make it count – I tell myself. Sitting at the ebony-coloured Sankara Hotel meeting room with Dru Hill members: Nokio, Sisqó, Tao and Jazz – I quickly notice that all have such different personalities. I am surprised that Sisqó the lead singer of the group isn’t the most vocal. It is the founder Nokio who talks most and is most assertive. He’s also protective of Dru Hill, in a caring way. Tao and Jazz hardly speak but their body language says that they support everything the rest say.

Dru Hill’s 1996 debut eponymous, and sophomore album: Enter the Dru (1998) catapulted them into instant success. It wouldn’t be long till the 2000s came with the recession of R&B. By this time the group had also been affected by internal wrangles, tension and an identity crisis leading to temporary separation and some members pursuing solo careers. In 2002 however, Dru Hill decided to reunite and produced the album Dru World Order, which would be followed by the 2010 release InDRUpendence Day. Their 20-year long career has been a roller coaster filled with highs and lows, great memories, tours, travel and breakups to makeups. So what now? I am curious. Nokio says, “It’s a good time for us in music as a lot of generations listening to good music are still discovering us and those who sang with us when we were younger are still getting a chance to see us perform.”

I always wondered what went on in the minds of the 90s kings of R&B like Dru Hill, Jodeci, Silk, R Kelly and Kenny Lattimore. Was it always lovemaking, heartbreaks and songs about sex? I ask Dru Hill to expound on what really went down behind the music. Their story goes that they were signed to a label at a young age forcing their initial sound to sound mature even though they were actually not mature as individuals and as a group.

In My Bed

Written and produced by Daryl Simmons, Ralph Stacy and Raphael Brown, In My Bed was a song Dru Hill detested yet it would later become a number one platinum selling single – the second off their debut album. It spent three weeks at number one on the US R&B chart. Sisqó says, “I never wanted to sing that song initially because nobody was sleeping in my bed that I knew of and I kind of felt like a cheat singing about someone sleeping in my bed. I was like this is our second single and now I am looking like a sucker. I really had to figure out how to channel that aggression in the first opening line. The aggression actually worked out to my benefit because it took away the venom of the words I had to sing.”

That explains why I remember watching In My Bed back in the day and feeling the pain of someone cheating on me even though I was barely 10 years old and couldn’t have known what it really meant to be cheated on. That was the beauty of the baby making music era – singers sold feelings and tales, more than just sex.

Dru Hill suddenly look at each other and burst out laughing at an inside joke. They are mumbling about having had two or three girls in their beds soon after the song’s triumph… Men will be men.

Never Make a Promise

The number one single followed In My Bed and was also written and produced by the American R&B singer/songwriter and record producer Daryl Simmons. Daryl went to high school with future legendary R&B music maker Babyface. Their life-long alliance would flourish into friendship as they joined and formed several music groups and bands from their teen days. Nokio says, “When Daryl presented to us Never Make a Promise we were like – are you sure? A lot of people never understood Daryl and his history in music – him, Babyface and L.A Reid have been together playing in bands and making music since the 70s and he was just the one who was doing his own thing when the rest started LaFace.”

‘How We Found Ourselves’

When Babyface teamed up with L.A Reid to start LaFace Records, Daryl went his separate way yet still maintained his ties with the duo. The trio together discovered, signed and produced artistes as Toni Braxton, Usher, TLC and Outkast. Dru Hill recalls the glitches and perks of having worked with Daryl at an early stage of their career, “We were fresh out of college with ideas in music. He was the first major producer to come to us with mature music. We didn’t understand it totally and one time we sat down with him to learn vocal dynamics because before we were just singing.”

Sisqo interjects.

He says, “[Before Daryl] our demos did not sell. That was when we learnt at a very young age at the very beginning of our careers [the secret of] working with other writers and producer—they already have their money and notoriety and if they bring you a song that they feel people will like – that’s when you’re artistry comes in. When I was singing in the lead in songs like In My Bed I told myself – Yo! If I can make this song hot then that means that I become a commodity.” From then onwards Dru Hill would always stamp their twist in every project. Nokio says, “Short of it being a record that we love so much, we always make sure we go in and make a record totally ours. 112 liked In My Bed but it ended up being ours. Who knows what it would have been if someone else did it?”

How Deep is Your Love

Any music lover knows too well that every generation comes with its movers and shakers. Dru Hill says that the new skool cats they are digging include Trey Songz, Chris Brown, NE-YO, The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller and Fetty Wap – “the foundation of new R&B” – they describe the collective. Nokio tells me of Dru Hill’s golden years, “To pioneer a genre and set the foundation and still be able to be around now for the younger generation to get us is a blessing,” before digressing thanks to my puzzled star-struck face, “Look she’s sitting looking at y’all like – what?”

The rest start to laugh at me.

At this moment I am here but I am not. I can’t help but think of my growing up in a small town (Molo). Watching MTV was such a luxury so we would record MTV shows with our favourite artists (and Dru Hill would never miss) then we would play it over and over. One of my best Dru Hill jams was How Deep is Your Love.

“See you are talking but I can’t believe you’re here,” I tell them.

“I am not though,” jests Nokio.

We all burst into laugher.

“I gotta keep pinching myself; you can see my expression. I am here wondering were these guys in the video of How Deep is Your Love? On top of that building?”

Nokio jumps off his seat and pinches me as we laugh more. He says, “You know how crazy it is that you mention that. We left South Africa at a Nelson Mandela Celebration event and got a phone call that the director of [the 1998 movie] Rush Hour was finishing to film and wants to shoot the video of How Deep is Your Love with us and we were like – Okay! We went to shoot the video in Hong Kong [but events leading to it make us remember] great memories from Africa.”

Solo Careers | Dru’s New Order

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 9.57.31 PMAt certain times the group decided to take breaks for members to pursue their solo careers. It has been reported that Dru Hill had made an agreement with the mother of Woody, one of the original members of Dru Hill, that they would let him pursue a solo career in gospel music after their success. Woody recorded a solo album under Kirk Franklin’s label before reuniting with Dru Hill for their third and last album with him as member. By the time Dru Hill released their last album, InDRUpendence, Woody had been replaced by new member Tao.

It always seemed like lead singer Sisqó was also head of Dru Hill or always wanted to pursue a solo career. He responds, “It was a misconception. Initially I never wanted to be a solo artist but I ended up exploring that out of necessity because of different things that we had to work out as a group. I always wanted to be the best group member that I could be.” Sisqó’s debut album, Unleash the Dragon (1999), birthed the hit single Thong Song marking the onset of his successful solo career that also saw him release the album, Return of Dragon in 2001. Little is known about his 2015 released, Last Dragon, album.

Nokio on the other hand says that he would never have been at the forefront of Dru Hill or even sang at all if he had his way from the start. “I sang because that’s the only way I knew how to get into the business. In the beginning I didn’t even want to be an artist. I wanted to be a record man or a producer but I couldn’t figure out that at 14. One of my mother’s friends had a friend who was in the music industry. They came to our house one day and I sang Baby Hold On To Me and they were like, we’re gonna take you out to of school and move you to Philly. Later I started Dru Hill and then I just never left,” adding “Once I saw Jodeci I thought I could be that cool, write and produce. All I wanted was to be the sexiest background singer there ever was.”

I don’t even know what he is talking about – he made it!🙂

Sisqó says that he’s worked with Nokio on most of his solo projects. Nokio also sings in a rock band called Black Angel Down. Both Jaaz and Tao have their solo music too. Having this in-depth conversation with Dru Hill leaves off a feeling of eternal camaraderie between them, whatever the case. I wonder if Dru Hill still has their synergy during the live performances of their songs like in the video of We’re Not Making Love No More. “We’ve got the classic moves and a couple of new ones,” says Sisqó – who has a hood over his head. He refuses to show his hair till show time.

Their concert has a Dru Hill and Sisqó set. It’s not what I expected but it’s still memorable. “Music is never gonna be the same from generation to generation. Even before we came out people were trying to get deals but couldn’t but we just kept going. There is no balance so you either get all of it or nothing,” says Nokio. I wonder if this is his way of accepting the different facets of their career’s circle. However, I really love their dance moves and different renditions of most of their songs at the concert.

Yaaaas to that jump!! #Tellme #DruHillKE @DruHill4Real

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

Nokio dishes new plans, “Right now we are working on our twentieth anniversary project. It’s not going to be just music but we have a lot of different components that we are putting together collectively, and individually. Thank you for all the love.” I once read a great detailed Dru Hill feature story (but can’t remember where) and told myself that one day I would do the same myself – so grateful to catch up with Dru Hill right when the  dragon is planning to awaken 20 years later.

BONUS: Thanks Della, HBR, PRC LTD and Dru Hill. Another cherry on top of my already awesome cake of a year

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6 Things to Do When in Rwanda

12202158_10153568249707559_59896028_nI have a serious love affair with Rwanda and the city of Kigali. I’ve been there three times already only this year. Spending a week in Kigali in October opened my eyes to the peace, calm, order and beauty that this city has to offer. I compiled a list of things you must do when in Kigali. Thank me later.

  1. Visit the Genocide Memorial Centre

Here you will learn in detail about the history and detail of the 1994 Genocide. Remember to carry flowers to place in the garden. Carry a handkerchief as you might end up sobbing like a baby, but even more importantly carry your head up high, no need to sob—this is an experience that will make you understand the power of redemption. The memorial centre opens even on Sunday so there’s no excuse for missing out on this. Look out for my friend Bonheur – Chief Historian who works there.

I wrote about the Kigali Genocide Centre

2. Visit Nyamirambo

Many have described Kigali’s most vibrant and oldest township – Nyamirambio – as the equivalent of Nairobi’s Eastleigh. This is where to get the cheapest food and motels in Kigali. The motels will not be top notch but the food – you will never forget it! This area has a large population of Muslims. For this reason you will easily find Swahili delicacies here. Try Chap Chap, they have some great Pilau and Fried Meat in onions and curry.

Make sure you try the Akabanga Chilli Oil – it’s so so hot! Chap Chap also has the best Ginger Tea and Lemonade I have ever drank. Check out the names of the tiny shops here. Hilarious! From KFC (Kigali Fried Chicken), to Feedback Shop🙂  I really enjoyed my nights in Nyamirambo with Danny, Christian, Bruce, Patrique, Eric and Nelson. Thanks guys! While there you can also check out Nyamirambo Regional Stadium, it has some beautiful coloured stairs. Kigali’s hot music group: Urban Boyz shot one of their videos here. Check it out!

3. Visit the National Museum

12197167_10153568256402559_176978646_oMost people think that Rwanda’s history is synonymous to the genocide. That’s an unforgettable past and as Rwandese people find a way forward into a brighter future, discover the other side of their history. Danny and I took a two-hour bus ride to Huye (formerly known as Butare) to visit the institute of National Museums of Rwanda.

12204913_10153568252812559_103483428_nThe architecture of the museum and organisation is impressive. Going through the five galleries will present you through Rwanda’s history, from the geographical formation and composition of the country; tradition, culture, the pre-colonial and post-colonial eras, and trade. I really loved to see their traditional attires. The Ishabure (a ripped loin skirt) is something I can wear today. The King’s other wives wore crowns that had two horns. These and many other futuristic African regalia make me wonder why African ornamental expression has receded in progression of years. The king’s babies on the other hand were so fat my God!

4. Take a Moto (motorbike)

12204050_10153568259227559_58150090_oYou haven’t really been to Rwanda if you haven’t taken a Moto. It’s cheaper than taking a taxi. The cheapest Moto within town should cost you around 300 Rwandan Francs and the most expensive shouldn’t be more than 1,500 Rwandan Francs. They are also a safer option in comparison with the madness that comes with bodaboda riders in Nairobi. While in Huye Danny and I hop onto Motos to find the small lovely café Nehemiah. There we hid from the rain and shared the best burger and chips I’ve heard since I could remember.

5. Check out Kimihurura Street

12190485_10153568263407559_1234832017_oThis street is the life of the party. Several clubs including Trattoria, Envy, Papyrus, Chapter One, Mama Club and Sundowner are based here. During the day you can grab good some great food at Trattoria or the restaurant African Bites right on the street. The food at African Bites is boring-looking but I thought them presenting the food in African pots was really cool. They serve Rwandese specialties like Isombe and some Ugandan treats like the Beef or Fish in Peanut Sauce. Shokola is a restaurant and café along the same street that is just the best for you if you are like me – I love gourmet food, peace, calm, books and time to myself to think about my life and get work done. Thanks Eric for introducing me to this cool spot.

6. Attend the Kigaliup Festival

This is Rwanda’s biggest music festival and comes every July. Its organisers also hold workshops and tiny events around the main two-day festival every year, so check this out. This is one of the platforms bringing to Rwandans quality live performances. It’s held at Amahoro Stadium – a historic venue. In 1994 it was temporarily hosted up to 12,000 refugees. A Lucky Dube Rwanda peace concert held in 2000 here hosted 20,000 people. While on that tip, check out Hotel des Mille Collines – this is the hotel where 1994 Genocide events inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Hotel Rwanda.

Yesterday at the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda ✌ #Huye #Butare #TravelTales #ILoveArt

A photo posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I wrote about Hotel Rwanda here

I wrote about Kigaliup here

As I keep going back to Rwanda I will discover more things to do so I can share with you all. Cheers!

BONUS: Thanking my good people at Positive Productions, Afrogroov and Rock Events and Promotion for hosting me in Rwanda and making sure my time there was awesome. Murakoze! I wrote about Stromae for Daily Nation, the article will be published soon.

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Kenyan film on plight of female athletes in the works

IMG_0195 (1)With Kenya athletes emerging top for the first time in the IAAF World Championships this year, there couldn’t have been a better time to make a film on the runners. A new film titled, Chep, is already in the works. The film has been directed and written by Jinna Mutune. She also directed and produced the 2012 film ‘Leo’, a story about a young Maasai boy with dreams of becoming a superhero.

Jinna says of her new project: “Chep is a film covering the journey of a female athlete in her effort to become a world marathoner. The film explores themes like redemption, love, power and family.”

Set in the 1970s, the fictional drama will capture the history of Kenyan running, from the early beginnings of the long distance running supremacy. Being a time when female runners were almost unheard of, a young aspiring runner Chebet — the lead character of the film — triumphs over prejudice and hardship to challenge a tough environment and become a female world marathoner.

Jinna says: “I needed the 1970s time period because I love pan-African culture and I’ve noted that African films aren’t themed as much. It also allows me to experiment with different sets, fashion and style.”

While the film is set to capture Kenya’s rich culture before the dilution that came with modernisation, its score celebrates the woman and the impact she is making in the society today.

EVERYTHING IN PLACE

‘Ebu Njoo’, featuring Sauti Sol, composed by Jaaz Odongo and written by Fena Gitu, has already been released as a “tactic of using music to introduce the film to the public.”

Jinna says: “The song’s message applauds men in the society, who see women for more than just housewives or cooks. However, there is nothing wrong with those who see women differently — we are just challenging stereotypes in a holistic manner without being too direct. “Additional to cutting across to a global audience in a poetic way, the song’s message also has a CSR campaign agenda supporting maternal health.”

The film is currently in its first phase of production and should be launched early next year. Jinna has developed the script with the expert help of a team of African writers, including Samba Yonga, Kaizer Mastumunye and Rodgers Gold. She confirms that she has locked down her main cast members and scouted film locations, including Iten and Iveti Hills in Machakos County. She will also be collaborating with various professionals in the Kenyan and Hollywood film industry in the production.

‘Chep’ is a story about the African woman, courage, and the power of a dream. The film will capture the rich cultural heritage of Kenyan communities while telling a riveting story of how Chebet triumphs over cultural norms. She must eventually fight and overcome her own fears to find her voice.

As audiences wait on ‘Chep’ — what promises to be yet another unique Kenyan film — Jinna concludes: “Kenya’s film industry is sprouting and at a better place.

There is a lot of talent and people are starting to see the commercial viability. Ripple effects include Kenyan actress Lupita Nyongo’s Oscar win, and freedom of speech. All these things make me hopeful.

“However, I am not doing art for art’s sake, it has to make money sense, this is a business. I am producing Chep for the mainstream market and aiming for Cannes Festival among box office and mass distribution.”

‘Chep’ will be released in May next year.

IN SUMMARY

  • ‘Chep’ is a story about the African woman, courage, and the power of a dream. The film will capture the rich cultural heritage of Kenyan communities while telling a riveting story of how Chebet triumphs over cultural norms. She must eventually fight and overcome her own fears to find her voice.
  • Set in the 1970s, the fictional drama will capture the history of Kenyan running, from the early beginnings of the long distance running supremacy.
  • Being a time when female runners were almost unheard of, a young aspiring runner Chebet — the lead character of the film — triumphs over prejudice and hardship to challenge a tough environment and become a female world marathoner.

BONUS: This article was originally written for Daily Nation, and edited by my amazing Editor of Saturday Nation Arts & Culture. It was also published by Nation Online.

You might also like my article on the annual International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR): Project takes African film to the world published by Daily Nation.

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K.O Meets OCTO in “Music’s role in defining Africa” Artist Talk Back

12071680_10153519387597559_69402108_nI always have a dream—for all artists irrespective of their calibre, status or nationality – to be treated equally, and to be granted same opportunities to enhance collaboration and dialogue. In September, I birthed an idea – to produce an Artist Talk Back Event featuring South African rapper K.O and Kenya’s very own Octopizzo, on the topic: music’s role in shaping the African narrative.

K.O has come to East Africa for his first media and tour showcase and being the manager of his Kenyan phase I take it upon myself to make this happen.

Read my article on why ‘collabos’ are the future of African music, published by Saturday Nation.

On a chill Friday, we make our way to the lush Nairobi Arboretum grounds – home of 2015 Storymoja Festival. The good people here are hosting the Artist Talk Back event powered by WhatsGoodLive. I choose Octopizzo because just like K.O he comes from a small background, for the kind of personalities they’ve both become. The two are inspiring pillars in African hip hop and have both remained true to their wit, swag, attitude, local slang and originality. I wanted them to share their story with a youthful audience and inspire them with their stories of starting empires of sorts; from nothing to something.

From Grass to Grace

By the time K.O arrives at Arboretum, he’s already heard a lot about Octopizzo. My hommie on the other hand didn’t wait a second to confirm that he’d do the session with K.O when I asked him. At the talk he confesses,” I feel K.O’s music even though he might think I don’t. People like him doing it big in their native language are the people who make me proud to rap in Sheng’.”

12071658_10153519387422559_287495735_nA table elevated by a platform, two seats, two mics, a moderator (me) and a crowd of about fifty guests – the setting for two rappers in an intimate setting. They are like two peas in a pod. The way they first greet each other before entering the dome feels like they are friends reuniting.

When I remember the shit hole where Octo came from in relation to his success, it puts me back to an extent that words can’t describe my pride for the hommie. Back in the day, he took me to his shanty, right by bursting sewers and broken pipes, deep in the heart of Kibera slum, where he was born and raised, “a place where I still go to write real shit, that’s where I can be inspired,” Octo says.

K.O recently made history with his music video: Caracara becoming South Africa’s first hip hop video to reach a Million Youtube Views. The official celebration of the video’s 2 Million Views was held in Kenya at Mseto’s Afrobeat Wednesdays at K1. He says, “It hasn’t been easy coming from a South African small town miles away from Johannesburg. If you were to see my environment, my hometown, you won’t even believe that I am this guy sitting here with all this swag. It’s all about self-belief, putting God first and chasing your dreams.” K.O recalls how he started out, “I moved out to the big city and made a few friends. We were all interested in music so after we graduated we decided to do music professionally despite not having enough money to start our career. To cut the long story short that’s how Teargas was started.”

Both rappers, like most of us, experience challenges, criticism or negativity. K.O says, “A lot of people meet hurdles and change their minds and want to give up. When I had challenges they were not deterring enough for me to decide on a different career path – the dream was always there. Even when Teargas wasn’t happening and sometimes I found myself with no income, zero in my account—it made me work harder and smarter. That’s why I am here and pray that God will bless me with the brains to do better and be smarter to reach my fullest potential. If you have a vision, despite your line of career, believe in yourself and want to change the world. Follow your path.”

Octo says, “If you’re an artist know that this is a marathon, you can start today and have a hit song but what will be next?” adding, ”I’ve been a lucky guy. I started back in 2008 and kept going despite people loving me then hating me. I was told change that ghetto stuff. People will always talk about you. It’s a circle. But I never changed. I stay focused.”

 Nairobi to Jozi: Building Empires

12077270_10153519387467559_1588056011_nK.O is also a record producer. He was the first artist to be signed to Cashtime Life, which he also co-owns. His debut album Skhanda Republic has surpassed gold sales and counting into platinum. Among other awards and accolades the album has won three awards: Record Of The Year – Best Rap Album and Best Collaboration at the South Africa Music Awards (SAMAs XXI). He says, “I was blessed with a vision of setting up my own company and being able to give back to the industry and create opportunities for other people – how the idea of the label Cashtime Life (co-owned with my manager Thabiso) – came about.”

Octo is currently in Europe for a tour. Most of his songs are produced by producers from other countries, “to avoid the monotony of Kenyan beats and stay fresh”, he says, advising all artists, “You have to be business minded”. Around 2009, Octo started his company Chocolate City with a group of friends who acted as bouncers and security for tourists who wanted to tour Kibera. “We were idle and I saw an opportunity for us to make money while showing local and international tourists all sides of Kibera. It’s not just about drugs and theft or bad things but there is talent and I am show for it,” says Octo. His company now specialises in making merchandise, well-organised Kibera tours and funding youth projects in the slum.

Music’s role in shaping the African Narrative

“As of last year Teargas members decided to explore our solo careers and that’s how you guys got to know of Caracara. I was lucky enough to see what Caracara did beyond South Africa. My music is in Zulu. It’s not a coincidence that you know Caracara—music is a universal language that’s why people jam to it,” says K.O.

The song Caracara is K.O’s ode to the legendary vehicle and how it featured in the South African township lifestyle of the 90s.

K.O’s successful hit single Caracara has changed the landscape of South African urban youth music, ushering a new era. It become the first song to ever top all 5 EMA charts – SA Local Music Top 40 Playlist, SA Local Music Top 40 RAMS, SA Television Top 40 Playlist, SA Top 100 Playlist and SA Top 100 RAMS at the same time. He says, “I am glad that I am still relevant enough to come here and interact with you guys and have real relations with fellow artists and get my name popping. Africans need to remain content and proud of our culture as the world wants to see fresh and new culture.”

12053185_10153519387372559_586764573_nOcto’s music style has remained true to Sheng’ and his hood, to an extent his a.k.a is his hood’s route number 8. He says, “My Africa is Sheng’ as there is no Sheng’ elsewhere. The Kanyes are now putting Swahili in their rap because it’s cool. If they knew where they came from they’d be rapping to it, even Luo. We have an advantage because we know our roots but we don’t embrace it. We try to be western nowadays – we have to stand out as Africans. When I first rapped in English in Berlin, the crowd didn’t get me till I started rapping in Sheng’. I respect that about K.O he kept it Zulu – that’s gangsta. K.O’s response, “Take your sheng’ to the world for they understand the mentality and attitude and they wanna buy into that.”

Octo is celebrated for his debut breakout hit: On Top. In the song Octo cleverly strings the connotation of buying fly shoes when you get stash with the theory of faking it till you make it. Octo is the success story of a hustler using street cred to camouflage his way into getting full status in the entertainment world. He says that following up the hit song was a nightmare. “When I did Hivo Hivo people didn’t think I’d have another hit song out.”

12048694_10153519387697559_659744886_nK.O has been to TZ too during his first East Africa tour. He says, “We decided on this trip as a business decision so next up is the West. That’s our main strategy. If you have music inspirations, make sure that you have a broad enough world view for you to do the things you want to do in the country,” concluding, “As Anyiko said – it is very important for African artists to not necessarily get into the music with an [alienated approach]. Don’t focus on serving your country only, as Africa is a big continent. [As artists] we need to make sure that we engage beyond our own nationalities; we need to export our talent, culture and heritage.”

BONUS: Thank you Alan Mola for the photography and 2015 Storymoja Festival for hosting us. Thank you WhatsGoodLive for co-producing and powering the K.O x Octo Artist Talk Back Event. Thanks Nairobi Rapsody for being partners. Thanks Thabiso, Tsholo, K.O and Octo for being the trillest🙂

Worthy read:  Rapper K.O on solo success and helping other artistes

 

 

 

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To Rwanda and Back: Of Mafikizolo, Hotel Rwanda and Art

IMG_20150920_141923The last time I was in Rwanda I only spent 24 hours there yet it felt like a good three days so when I actually returned to Kigali this September for a good three days it felt like a great week – I will try explain why.

After a busy week coordinating and managing three events as part of South African rapper K.O’s first media tour in Kenya, I have attended the wedding of the year on Saturday and two parties on the same night before catching my flight to Kigali on Sunday morning.

I arrive in Kigali and head straight to the Amahoro Stadium to meet my colleagues at Coke Studio Africa (CSA) in a press conference. We are in Rwanda in preparation for the launch of the song ONE – a peace anthem. As the Publicist of CSA, my work here is to assist in managing media interviews and all PR opportunities. My other duty is to enjoy myself, and this place to the fullest! It’s awesome to be reuniting with all the artistes and their entourage. Had really missed them all since the end of filming the third season of CSA in Nairobi.

Hotel Rwanda

We are staying at the historic Hotel des Milles Collines Kempinski – the film Hotel Rwanda was based on the actual events that happened in this very hotel in 1994. At this serene and neat hotel 1,268 people took refuge during the genocide as the manager at the time, Paul Rusesabagina, acted to save lives by granting them shelter. I discover later that the film Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle wasn’t actually filmed here but the fact that I am staying at the hotel where thousands found refuge is such a special thing for me. The rooms are pretty simple and classy. I love that the hotel has paintings all over – it provides a sense of homeliness. Their outdoor patio – where we always have breakfast – is like heaven.

#HotelRwanda

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

As soon as I arrive at hotel I am met by Ishimwe (a young Rwandan visual artist) who I had prior met at Kigali UP Festival during my first trip here. He’s brought me a painting of myself. He says he made it because he likes my pictures and writing. Despite the fact that it does look like me in the next 20 years, I am in such awe. It’s so touching when someone who doesn’t know you to do this kind of thing. We talk about his career, constantly switching between English and French. His English is as terrible as my French and vice versa, so we find a middle ground. Ishimwe will be finishing art school in a few months and would like to embark on his first solo exhibition, take up photography and find a resident program at an art centre. We vow to join forces to make all these happen.

Finally Watching Mafikizolo Live in Concert

After finally settling in, I call over my Rwandese friend – Bruce. He’s the most legit person in the entertainment scene here, his latest project being the first-ever Mafikizolo concert in Kigali, happening tonight. From about 4:00 p.m. we start to hang out. He even takes me to the airport to pick up ice Prince and Alikiba after which he scoops me for a 25 minute-ride out of town to the venue where Mafikizolo are playing in Rwanda for the first time ever tonight. I have never seen Mafikizolo in concert so I am more than excited.

When we arrive it’s cool to see the festival packed. Bruce leads me straight to the backstage VIP area where I meet Mafikizolo. I remind them that we met in Nairobi last year and I was the last to interview them. They seem to remember me but I am not too sure. Nevertheless, we have a great conversation with Nhlanhla. I am quick to tell her that she’s one of my biggest role models and style icons, and that her ways truly inspire many young African women. Her smile is worth a thousand words. Being backstage with Mafikizolo observing them prepare for their show is like watching a movie. Theo doesn’t speak much. He keeps throwing dance moves and fixing his lovely Maasai regalia, which he says he purchased in Tanzania. Nhlanhla wants her lady dancers to shorten their half coats. She literally pulls out a thread and a needle and starts stitching up.

When it’s finally show time, they are playing half live—it’s a cocktail of colour, dance, classic songs and synchrony between the dynamic duo. I enjoy the show so much I can’t even describe how awesome it was. Anyone who hasn’t seen Mafikizolo in concert must make a point. Through their performance, you can see maturity and experience – and years and years of investment. None of their band members sounds greater than another; it’s a balanced mix. The performances of Khona and Happiness make me so happy.

After the concert, I sit in the backstage watching Bruce coordinating Mafikizolo interviews and selfies with fans – it takes Forever. By this time, I have hardly slept two hours straight in the past 48 hours. I just want to go home. But I have to wait for Bruce to finish the job. It becomes so crazy that I am so tempted to put on my Publicist boots and yell, “Everybody Order! Now leave!” I don’t.

Kigali nights out are like nights out in Europe. Concerts don’t go over 1:00 a.m. and people leave for home soon after events, unlike in Kenya where there’s always an after party. Bruce drives me to the hotel alongside Makeda, the loveliest lady I’ve met in Kigali. She’s also a radio presenter and DJ. We enjoy conversation about the music industry in East Africa and the fact that Stromae is half Rwandese, and almost played in Kigali. Bruce was bringing him in until he fell sick… He hopes to bring him in before year ends, can’t wait!

_20150929_143500On the next day, we enjoy an awesome celebration of the Peace One Day at the Petit Stade at the launch of our Coke Studio Africa produced peace anthem – ONE, written by Zwai Bala and performed by Coke Studio Africa artists: Maurice Kirya, Ice Prince, Dama Do Bling, Alikiba and Wangechi.

At night we’ve got a low key after party at the hotel. Bruce and some new friends from Rwanda come over to our hotel. Most of them are industry players and recognise me from the Mafikizolo concert. “You looked so serious though,” they note. Lol. It’s so great to talk challenges in our music industries and many are similar. Makes me realise why Africans need to unite more.

By Tuesday morning, I am sad and disturbed beyond what words could describe. First of all, I don’t understand what has been happening to me in Rwanda. The time just seemed to not move (in a good way). It seemed and felt as if I was able to use only about 10 hours in achieving productivity I could generally achieve in two days. When I napped or slept, I would always woke up feeling like I was late to work or something, only to realise it was always around 5:00 a.m.

I don’t need to blog again about the cleanliness in Rwanda. It’s impeccable. Read my previous blog post on Rwanda here. The only stray thing I see is a bottle of water left at the airport counter by one of my colleagues. Wonder who that was, either way I dispose it for them. I miss to see my other Rwandese buddies: Nelson and Bonheur who are away on business. However, I really enjoy my time in Rwanda this time.

As I am heading to the airport, this time there are no hard feelings. I have slept enough, seen enough, been gifted with a painting of myself and just about done everything I wanted to do over the trip.

Thank you to each and every person who made my trip in Rwanda amazing. I feel so blessed.

BONUS: Check out the song ONE below:

Featured

Exclusive: Meeting and Interviewing NE-YO

Behind the R&B/Pop sensation: NE-YO on Coke Studio Africa, Empire & Songwriting

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.36.53 PM“Let your passion be your focal point –that’s my secret to success,” NE-YO tells me. I am the last to interview him in Kenya and thankful that I didn’t run out of time. If I did, I’d still probably interview him. As the Entertainment/Music Publicist of his hosts Coke Studio Africa (CSA), I am working in collaboration with his Publicist Afrika and so far we’ve had a successful day managing NE-YO’s first press conference and interview spree in Nairobi.

Meeting and closely interacting with NE-YO has been a dream come true for me. Earlier on in the day, right after my first meeting with him, I tell him how much of a fan I go way back. “When In My Own Words came out in 2006, it was around my gap year before starting university and that was everything I was jamming to,” I tell him. He seems genuinely impressed. We talk more about work. I introduce myself to him better and explain the concept of Coke Studio Africa and what’s expected of him at the press conference.

While sitting across him at CSA’s cozy Behind the Music studio space for the interview, I can’t help but feel like he’s jumped right out of YouTube. From So Sick, Hate that I Love You, When You’re Mad, Sexy Love, She Knows, Coming with You and Lazy Love – I am such a die-hard NE-YO fan. I hope I don’t fuck up. Thankfully I end up with a sweet interview.

Home Away from Home

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.39.22 PMNE-YO’s first time in Nairobi, Kenya is memorable. He says, “Everybody I’ve come in contact with has been head over heels with the friendliness, love and niceness. I feel loved.” The American superstar is Coke Studio Africa season three’s main guest star. “I’ve been put in the presence of five [Maurice Kirya, Wangechi, Ice Prince, Dama Do Bling and Alikiba] amazing artists representing five countries [Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, respectively] to create an amazing song. We’ve done just that. I honestly feel like I’ve known them all my life because we share the same passion. I look forward to the performance of this song later on in the season,” he says, adding “This is my first time in this part of the continent but I definitely plan to come back. I want to see what Kenya really has to offer and get acquainted with more artists from here.”

The third season of Coke Studio Africa premieres October 21st

Music + Art + TV = Art at its Best

“Don’t do visual arts or sing for money. Those things need to be done with a passion. In anything that you love and do – you need to enjoy doing it. If you do it well someone will enjoy it too and pay you for it. Do what you do from your heart,” says NE-YO. The accomplished musician has to date produced six studio albums and featured in several blockbuster films. NE-YO has won three Grammies including Best Contemporary R&B Album for his 2008 album: Because of You. He’s since founded his imprint company: Compound Entertainment, which he speaks highly of at the press conference. As my moderation comes to a close, he crashes my vote of thanks message adding, “And shout out to Compound – without them I wouldn’t be here.”

He’s got fans in anticipation of his new role as music producer of the second season of Empire. “I can’t give away too much but I’ve definitely been a fan of the show from the very beginning,” he says, revealing, “Really excited to be working with just about everybody that does music on the show this season. I am working mostly with Jamal and Hakeem. I love to be part of the machine and what the show is doing for music.”

The second season of Empire premieres September 23rd

NE-YO seems to be living the celebrity life – what many artists are chasing at if not the money. But sitting with him and connecting makes me realise the more that even superstars can be such ordinary people. He says, “When people meet me they are like you’re so down to earth but for real the celebrity thing is just a title. Don’t do anything for money. Making ends meet shouldn’t be the motivating factor of why you’re doing what you’re doing. There are a multitude of things that you can do in this planet but art should never be in that category.”

Songwriting – Let me Love You

 Every song that I’ve written in the realm of love be it the good or the bad side have all come from specific people and relationships that I screwed up or that other people screwed up. The unfortunate thing is songwriters will always explore the negative side of relationships. I keep it in that realm because everybody goes through it. It doesn’t matter if you’re the richest person in the world or have a ballad to your name, there is that special person to you and it’s gonna go good or bad – that’s just the reality of life.”

Even before NE-YO’s 2006 debut album – In My Own Words – birthed an R&B game changer, he had already built a name for himself as a masterful songwriter of the new R&B era – post 90s writers like R. Kelly and Babyface. NE-YO has written mega R&B hit records like Marquez Houston’s That Girl (2003), Mario’s Let me Love You (2004), Beyonce’s Irreplaceable (2006) and Rihanna’s Russian Roulette (2009). He’s written several songs for other artistes too, even for Michael Jackson before his passing. And now he’s held onto the songs so as not to be disrespectful to the memory of the King of Pop.

NE-YO says, “Let me love you is one of the very few co-writes I’ve ever done. Shout out to [the Australian singer/songwriter] Sia – the incredible artist and songwriter. The initial premise of the song came from her personal experience and things she was going through, in regards to self – love. She was going through a period where ‘let me love you until you learn to love yourself’ tagline dealt with some of her dealings with the people who helped her get to a better place.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.41.23 PMI am amazed by the chance and opportunity to meet NE-YO. It’s really so inspiring. I grew up in a small town, watching MTV videos and listening to good music but never did I ever even imagine meeting NE-YO, let alone having to work closely with him and his team. He tells me, “I am a person who gives people the respect that I expect to get back and just live my life.” Thank you Coke Studio Africa for the chance.

As I wrap up the interview, I want to know what kind of things NE-YO likes to do when he’s not around the world working and touring. “When I am not all over the place, my typical day is with my kids Madeline (4) and Mason (3). I spend a lot of my free time with them. They are not old enough to move around with me yet but as soon as they are, I will take them with me. If I am not with them, I go to the studio, movies or restaurants—I am a person first.”

NE-YO says that he has plans to work with Coke Studio Africa’s 5 artists past the song recording. He’s now eyeing the Coke Studio Africa season premiere, his stint on Empire and his seventh album – “coming very soon.” As for die-hard NE-YO fans, he left you a message: “From the bottom of my heart I just wanna thank y’all for being real and regular people. The celebrity thing is cool but I just thank you all for appreciating the music and letting me be who I am and letting me live my dream. Thanks for the support. I will keep delivering quality entertainment to the world.”

BONUS: Watch my interview with NE-YO for KBC’s Grapevine🙂

 

 

 

 

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Visiting Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre: Part II

11912977_10153422834902559_300575038_nJust one visit to the memorial will be the best history class you’ve had in a long time. During the Rwandan Genocide, “Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines was used to incite hatred, to give instructions and justify the killings” – writes the memorial. In this post, I dissect the roles played by media and church in the propagation of the genocide, and a peaceful way forward.

Role of the Media

Media propaganda played a big role in shaping the events that led to the genocide. While at the memorial we see archives of sample newspaper cuttings over a span of a decade. They are all spreading malicious lies, hatred and implicating one tribe against the other. This is what served as a backbone of fuelling genocide.

We also see the 10 Commandments of Hutus drafted by a certain bishop. Everybody was expected to act on the 10 commandments just like they did to the ones in the bible. So ridiculous. Bonheur narrates of how the propaganda conditioned people’s minds. “If you take life from someone even before you kill him [it means] the killer is not a human being but a killing machine. A young man could attack a whole group [of people] without resistance because they had already killed in their minds. They were successful in killing and wiping out families – why women and children were largely attacked.”

11894832_10153426890767559_604674739_oThe international media also played a big role in the wrong definition of the genocide. They largely reported that genocide was an outbreak of African war against different African tribes. Very few accurately reported the real cause of the genocide. However, many were accurate in reporting on the kind of preparation and training for the genocide. The international community was warned about the impending massacre but they never ran to Rwanda’s rescue or responded positively. Bonheur says, “1,700 militias had already been trained and 300 more were supposed to be trained each week, with a capacity of killing around 1000 people in 20 minutes, revealed Jean Pierre (coded name for his security)  one of the trainers from the ruling party.”

By the time we are done with this part of the history lessons, one thing is clear. The genocide’s wrath left many scathed. Those who set out to kill others were highly effective as successful. Many families had Tutsi and Hutu members in one household. The segregation between a people ran down into families, ending up separating siblings – making them arch enemies. Bonheur remembers his father’s survival tale. Militias had confused him for another man and missed to kill him. – “even though he was killed later.”

We also visit a space designed like a darkroom. There are hundreds of pictures of those killed, hanging on walls and on strings across walls. They were retrieved and protected here as memorabilia. There are also some personal effects like ID cards, shoes, bracelets and dresses put here.

Role of the church

More than 80% of Rwandans were Christians. 35% of all the people who were killed during the genocide died in or around church.I am very disappointed by the Catholic Church when I learn that they did not fight to save lives during Rwandan Genocide. Instead some priests ordered killings, and at times the church was in collaboration with a biased government. “The churches were no longer sacred,” says, Nelson – our other host. A lot of people ran to church for refuge – the safest place anyone can think of when in danger. Because they had a majority, the church’s role to “fight the genocide would have been more effective than any other institution,” notes Bonheur.

This part of the memorial has blue cathedral windows. It feels likes I am in church.

The Road Travelled Vs a Peaceful Future

80 % of Rwandan children experienced death in their families. 75% witnessed it and 90% believed that they would die. They are today the majority of Rwandan grownups. The memorial writes, “The international Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, was established by the UN Security Council in its resolution 955 of November 8, 1994 to prosecute high-level organisers of the genocide. After nineteen years the Tribunal had completed 75 cases with 12 acquittals and 16 cases pending appeal.”

Not all Hutus were killing others. Some worked tirelessly to save lives. After the war, many refuges fled to Congo and other parts of the world. Survivors were left devastated and traumatised. They had to start a new life. They had to find their people’s remains or identify where they were killed so as to start the mourning process. Today the government gives 5% of its budget to survivors’ care – this includes psychological healing.

Despite all these efforts, Bonheur says that the genocide is still being denied. “We (Rwandans) are still fighting against the denial,” he says. However, “We are trying to build a peace that can never be broken,” he asserts, adding that it’s all in line with rebuilding the country’s socio-economical cloth. The memorial also runs several peace programs that have since started similar projects in Kenya and South Sudan.

I am very proud of Rwanda’s heritage and their motivation to remember the genocide. I wish international media as well as Africa media would sensitive people on the genocide more to avoid its recurrence or a replica. Visiting the memorial reminds me of Kenya’s post election violence. I don’t think Kenyans would even dare fight if they really understood the loss, and depths at which the genocide has taken Rwanda, to date.

11914235_10153422835517559_1673735365_oAs we leave the memorial, Bonheur bids us farewell and everyone immediately walks into the car. I remain behind to chat with Bonheur, thanking him for his time and taking us though their history. I ask him about his experience during the genocide. He lost his mother and five siblings in the terror. His voice trembles, making me start to balance tears. “I can’t talk about it now. I am so glad to have survived,” adding, “I owe my life to the woman who saved me.” I want to hug him so tight and reassure him that I feel him. But I am afraid because we just met today and I don’t know him like that. I don’t know what to say, other than, “I am sorry about your family, glad you are here today, and thank you.” There is power in this man, standing here in total belief in redemption. I am inspired.

As we drive out of the genocide memorial towards town for dinner – my heart is heavy. I watch my surrounding. I see happy people, children playing, beautiful streetlights and just normalcy. It’s unbelievable to imagine the massacre that was on these cool streets some decades ago. I wouldn’t have been here then. But I am here now, wondering whether the Rwandan obsession with cleanliness is to sanitize themselves from the deep scar.

Whatever the case. It shall be well.

Read the first part of my tales about Visiting Kigali Memorial here.

BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. Thanks Bonheur, Bruce and Nelson for the trip.  Guys check out the memorial’s website

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Visiting Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre: Part I

11873171_10153422857597559_847123258_oNo matter which part of the world you come from, this is the one place you must visit in your lifetime – to be reminded and re-educated of life’s fragility and the danger of the human vulnerability.

In 100 days, an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed in the genocide. Imagine what the world would be if we actually spent 100 days making love, and not war. I was just a kid during the Rwanda Genocide but I was conscious of what was going on, and since vowed to visit the memorial at my first chance in Kigali.

I am in Kigali for only 24 hours. As soon as I arrive in Rwanda, I ask our hosts right at the airport about how far the Genocide Memorial is and if it opens on Sundays. Thankfully, they open on Sundays too.

Read about my 24 hours in Kigali

Accompanied by Sauti Sol and some of their band members, we head over to the memorial on Sunday afternoon. I am so touched that the management stayed open past working hours, for us. We are met and welcomed by the best historian and guide I’ve met in my history of visiting museums and places – Bonheur Pacifique. Quite the name!

11894729_10153422863502559_843035090_o (2)The remains of over 250,000 have been buried here at the Genocide Memorial, set up to prevent mass atrocity and genocide through education. I am impressed by the structural prowess behind it and the neatness and cleanliness of the memorial. Nestled above one of Rwanda’s many hills, overlooking the beautiful picturesque view of Kigali city, this has become Rwandans place of reuniting with the ones they lost in the genocide. I am embraced by a feeling of serenity, peace and purity soon after walking in. I am suddenly empowered to be strong-minded and brave. I am ready to learn about the genocide atrocity. Something tells me that I won’t sob here, today.

Honouring Rwanda’s Lost Souls

We start the visit by watching a short film at a small and intimate film room with wooden benches. The film is about survivors of the genocide, recalling the events that lead to losing their families, and how they have since found closure at the memorial. I am very touched by the story of a middle-aged man recounting how his whole family was slaughtered in a stadium, where they had been seeking refuge. “I looked over and saw my mother bleeding. She raised her dress to show me my small brother lying beneath her – dead. When I started to cry, she told me to shut up. And if I were to die, then I’d rather do it with grace. I ran off and never looked back. That was the last time I saw my family alive.” I am crying writing this because it pains me. At the memorial, however, I only shed one tear because there was a big voice of reason that asked me to remain strong for these poor people. Another woman recounts how her family’s beloved neighbours turned against them during the genocide, ending up murdering her siblings and parents, retorting that she will never trust a friend. At the end of the film, all the survivors praise the memorial as the place where they unite with the loved ones they lost.

11909735_10153422837432559_398114512_nWe then head over to the mass grave, situated in the garden area, to lay a wreath of flowers – the first thing done for anyone who comes here, states Bonheur. I haven’t even gone into the memorial yet I am so overwhelmed by the spirits here. I deeply empathise with their families and hope that they have found rest. The black and white colours on top of the wooden coffins represent “mourning and commemoration designed to reflect where the country has been and the brighter future that we are working towards,” says Bonheur. We all hold hands as Bien leads us in prayer.

Rwandan Genocide history | Role of Colonialists

We then head inside the building into the memorial’s archive where Bonheur takes us through Rwanda’s history before the wahala. It is eye-opening to peak into pre-colonial Rwanda when Rwandese people had no tribe and spoke only one language: sharing peace, love, unity, collaboration and one culture. Trouble began when the white man came to divide to rule. German and Belgian colonialists wearing anthropology masks in disguise were on a mission to split Rwandans. “Colonialists used social and economic stratification as their strong points of dividing Rwandans.” By 1932, the first Rwandese ID cards were introduced. Identification was based on physical features including height, length of nose, colours of the eyes, and wealth. “If you had more than 10 cows, then you were a Tutsi and it meant that you were rich. Hutus had less cows. Long noses indicated that you were a Tutsi and the short ones made one a Hutu.”

What this means is that you could be in a family with siblings who were half Tutsi or Hutu.

Over the next couple of decades, Rwandans go through a series of fascist governments and propaganda filled media to an extent that social revolution becomes a basic need. By the time the French colonisers take over Rwanda from the Belgians, there was already distinct animosity between the two tribes. From the 50s, Tutsis were singled out from the country’s system – it was total segregation. By the early 90s many Tutsis had fled the country and were ready to start a civil war against the country. Anything and everything that went wrong in the country would be blamed on Tutsis. “You are a Tutsi, you are a cockroach and you are a snake ” –Tutsis had to be reminded. “If you were Rwandan and you didn’t attack the Tutsi, then you were going against nationalism. This is the process that led to the institutionalism of the Genocide of Rwanda,” says Bonheur, adding, “This was taught in schools and every level of the country.”

The Genocide

“The country smelled of death, dogs were [mauling human remains]. Everything was dead, physical or otherwise.” – Bonheur sets the scene. “Families were completely wiped out without anything to document them. The country smelled like death, it was total turmoil and chaos. For 100 days, that’s what we woke up to – killing people. People looked for hiding places.” We are taken through the tools and weapons that were used to kill people. They included machetes, clubs, chains, bricks, stones and classic guns. Rwanda’s ministry of agriculture then imported clubs from China to facilitate the war. In schools, children were given assignments to make tools to facilitate the genocide, unbeknownst to them.

Mass raping of women was prevalent during the genocide. The chosen men to rape had been prior identified as HIV+ This was to ensure that women were left permanently scared had they survived the genocide, and the ordeal. “The genocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than anyone would have dared to believe. Rwanda was dead”– writes the memorial.

Pictures in this part of the memorial are very graphic.

BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. A huge thanks to my Kigali connect: Bruce, Bonheur and Nelson. For more, read the Genocide Memorial’s site

Read last part of my tales on Visiting Kigali Memorial Centre here.

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24 hours in Kigali: un séjour inoubliable

If its true that cleanliness is next to godliness, Kigali is heaven! Oh la la! This city is as clean as European streets. I don’t spot a single paper or heaps of garbage anywhere like is the case in certain parts of Nairobi. I am super bummed that I only have 24 hours in Rwanda, but super psyched that I am finally going to Kigali Up Festival, where Sauti Sol are headlining in the fest’s 2015 edition. My initial 72 hours in Kigali turn into 24 thanks to an impromptu call from State House, for Sauti Sol to perform on Saturday night in honour of President Obama (blog post for another day). Nevertheless, on arrival in Kigali, I am ready to not sleep and discover and experience as much as I can.

 

 

8:20 a.m. – Arrival Kigali International Airport

I am once again accompanying Sauti Sol, as their publicist and tour manager, to a festival I always wanted to attend and a country I always wanted to visit. Rwandese men are handsome and the women are beautiful. Kigali’s scenery is picturesque. The roads, built on steep mini hills, are winding and sliding – just like in Kampala.

You might enjoy my Ugandan tales about butts, matoke & music

The Wi-Fi is on point right from the airport – very impressive! The weather is nice and warm, unlike Nairobi’s current gloomy situation. Our hotel Gold Crest Hotel is pretty decent and very close to where we are performing – the Amahoro Stadium.

 

 

11:00 a.m – Brunch/Soundcheck

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With my colleague at SS Entertainment – Kelvin. Off to check out Kigali City. No makeup.

After making sure Sauti Sol and their full band are all checked into the hotel, I have a quick brunch and then head to Amahoro Stadium to check out the venue and oversee soundcheck. The drive down to the stadium makes me have a closer look at Kigali. I am astounded by the cleanliness of this city. There are no flying banana peals off moving vehicles on Kigali roads like is the case in Kenya. There is not one person littering Kigali like there are several foolish Kenyans throwing things around our cities. Our host Bruce Twagira tells me that every last Saturday of the month is a cleanliness day – where everyone, including President Kagame, comes out to clean. Standing on the massive Kigali Up stage, I can’t believe I am in Rwanda, I remember Mos Def asking me a few months ago about Kigali Up and why I hadn’t been there – but now I am right here. It’s such a gratifying feeling for me to be right at the place I always wanted to be and at the right time. Rwanda has been on my mind.

 

1:00 p.m. – Return to hotel

 

I had you just for a moment 😂😤😥😭 This calls for a return even before departure.

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I only have a few hours in this hotel room, made for a queen. It reminds me of the fact that I need a king. Nway I clean up nicely, do a couple of emails and press releases before mobilising my team to head to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Read my blog post on Visiting Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

 

8:00 p.m. – Dinner/Discussing African Music

 

11840174_10153392459782559_1069900193_oI have been starving the whole day, mainly because for the past few months I’ve been on a strict diet due to health complications. However, I can’t wait to eat up some local treats. But our host takes us to a restaurant serving none. I am so bummed. My starter – an avocado salad at Select Hotel & Restaurant is to die for! How brilliant that I gobbled it faster than I could take a pic. We all sit on a table of about 12. They get us the best spot right at the patio. The restaurant is located somewhere above a hill. We are overlooking city lights atop hills and mountains – it looks like the sky’s shiny stars are inverted.

We have great conversation about music in Africa. Our hosts Bruce and Nelson tell us about how much more Rwandese musicians need to pull their socks but Bien tells them, “Your artists are at the best place. Sauti Sol – we are well-known in Kenya but so are other artists. An artist based in Rwanda has a bigger space to fill and fans to satisfy, we’d like to come here more often and even volunteer our songwriting services at Kigali Up’s workshops.” I agree. I am also willing to volunteer my PR services in Rwanda. Bruce and Nelson tell me that a lot of Rwandese artistes don’t see the value of PR and networking, or so it seems. They tell us that about a decade ago Kenyan music used to rock Kigali. Somewhere along the way everything changed and now they only rock to Tanzanian and Ugandan music from East Africa. “We now like a few Kenyan artistes like Jaguar. But we only listen to Sauti Sol – you are breaking boundaries,” says Nelson. A few steps from where we are sitting, a merry table breaks into a bday song. One of the ladies sitting on the table is celebrating their birthday – she’s lucky she’s got Sauti Sol singing her Happy Birthday🙂

 

10:00 p.m. – Showtime

 

Sauti Sol are the headliners, literally shutting down the 2-day festival. I really love the outfits the guys have on – all white everything. For the first time, I didn’t know what they were going to wear. The vibe is awesome, the crowd is singing to Sauti Sol songs word for word. Apparently all public shows must shut down by 11:00 p.m. in Kigali – we didn’t know. When they are just half way through their full set, the boss of the fest tells me that this show must end in 15 minutes, as the police are already at the concert to shut down. It’s a little past 11. “Tell them to only sing Nerea and Sura Yako.”

This messes with the guys concentration and dejects them a little.

When they get to the part where the lyrics go, “ … huenda akawa Kagame … Atawale …” – I see the cops talking to the fest’s boss. He comes up to me and says, “Tell Sauti Sol we’ve added them enough time, they can continue however they want.” Wow! Power of uttering the name of Kagame in Kigali!

Sauti_Sol-Kigali-23The best part of the show however is meeting Ishimwe Daddy at the backstage. The organisers bring me this young artist who made a portrait of Sauti Sol and wants to present it to them. This is really touching. He is young and so shy, I literally force and push him onto the stage just when the concert is ending, to hand it over to them himself.

By the time we leave the concert venue, I have had the toughest time at any backstage in our touring career. There were so many girls in the backstage screaming, shouting, begging and crying to take pictures with Sauti Sol. At some point the organisers bar them from Sauti Sol but it breaks my heart. I insist that Sauti Sol must do all interviews and take pictures with all the fans. I somehow manage to handle the madness!

 

1:30 a.m – Hotel/Packing

 

You must wonder what’s there to pack when you’re in a city for 24 hours with no sleep – I am chief diva. As the rest of Sauti Sol clean up and head out to the club, I spend a couple of hours with Bruce and Chimano at the hotel, bonding and eating while reminiscing on stuff. We have had a great show so everything we talk about evokes laughter.

 

3:45 a.m. – Kigali International Airport/Boarding

 

I am so sad to leave Kigali but I have to. Work has to be done on the other side. I am so fatigued, when I get to the airport I don’t want to talk to anyone or any hostess in the plane. I just want to sleep. I will cover my head with my shawl until I hear the captain saying that we are descending into Nairobi.

5:30 a.m. – Arrival Kenya

 

Jomo Kenyatta Airport is damn cold, and my taxi driver overslept. 30 calls couldn’t wake him up. I am forced to grab a random taxi, to go through atrocious post – Obama Nairobi traffic, and finally to a crazy work-filled day ahead of me.

While departing Rwanda, I finished drinking a bottle of water just as I was passing Kigali airport customs. A policeman walked up to me and said, “Hey – I will throw the bottle away for you.” If I don’t get married to a King, I don’t think this will ever happen to me in any other place in the world. Kigali – je t’aime.

BONUS: Thank you Bruce and your awesome Kigali UP Team, we must return soon!

 

 

 

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To Uganda and Back: of Butts, Matoke and Music

I always wanted to visit Uganda so as to see the famed big butts, eat nice Matoke and experience the party zone. In recent months, however, I was craving Uganda to witness my No. 1 band Sauti Sol’s premiere show there, and dine at The Sound Cup – one of the most loved restaurants in Kampala owned by one of the artistes I also rep in PR – Ugandan soul musician Maurice Kirya.

 

 

If the beauty of Kampala and Nairobi cities were to go head to head, Uganda wins hands down. While Nairobi is a concrete jungle, Kampala has that Kitisuru green all over town, and a perfect view with winding hills and valleys smack in the centre of everything.

I finally find myself heading to Uganda this July with Sauti Sol as their tour manager and publicist. We are excited to be in Uganda for our first Ugandan media tour and debut concert. Sitting in the plane trying to read my new Hermann Hesse book is a waste of time because I can’t stop thinking about what I will discover in Kampala. I am appalled at my ignorance. I didn’t even know that Kampala is only 50 minutes away from Nairobi. Before I know it, the captain is beckoning us to check out the hills of Uganda and Lake Victoria.

 

 

Uganda’s first tease starts at landing. The idyllic Entebbe landing strip is located smack in the middle of Kampala’s competing beauties: the seven hills and Lake Victoria. Landing is like a dip in the ocean that never was – such beauty! I have been told that the trip to Kampala from Entebbe can be atrocious. The Mith tells me to be careful not to miss our flight back while returning. We are however lucky the drive to Kampala tonight only takes about 25 minutes. I wonder why Uganda’s international airport is that far from the city. Entebbe was once the seat of government for the protectorate of Uganda and historically remembered for the dramatic rescue of the 100 hostages kidnapped by the resistance group of the PFLP-EO and Revolutionary Cells (RZ).

It’s interesting that our hotel: Arcadia Suites is a former university space, and very impressive that the space has been transformed into a super homely and chic spot.

11774834_10153369119092559_2058944245_nOn Friday night, I dine with Maurice Kirya at The Sound Cup. It’s an experience I want to re-do over and over. While sitting across this gentleman, I can’t help but appreciate life’s little pleasures. For many years, I have admired Kirya, loved his music and thought him to be the classiest of all from Uganda. Earlier on this year, a surprise call from Uganda was Kirya asking for my services as a Publicist. It didn’t work out at first, and during our second meeting but like they say third time’s a charm, it is our meeting at Coke Studio Africa (where I work as Music/Entertainment Publicist) that officiates everything. Meeting and working with Kirya is such a pleasure because we are both workaholics🙂 Our evening is everything to write home about. And Sound Cup’s ambience is to die for!

Saturday afternoon after sound check, our chaperone takes us to Shaka Zulu restaurant to have some authentic Ugandan dishes. Fish in peanut sauce is served in banana leaves. I am absolutely blown away by the detail. The Peanut Fish and Matoke is what call meal of Life. Just writing about it makes me so hungry. My cousin Kevin meets me here, and later at the concert with his Ugandan wife to be. See – there are many reasons why I have to be back in Uganda.

 

As all the men I am with are dying for Ugandan women – I am dying for the food. Just look 😋😋😋

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

 

Our Ugandan media tour starts on Friday till Saturday. We visit Urban TV, X FM, Hot 100, Radiocity 97, Capital FM and NTV Uganda. It’s been such a great and rewarding experience. Discovering that I have been in contact with 98% of all the media contacts I meet in Uganda makes me so happy. “Ooooh you’re Anyiko! We get your emails,” they all say. They finally put a face to the emails and Anyiko PR. Radio and TV play some really dope local raggae songs, most of which haven’t crossed over into Kenya. I love Radio & Weasel’s new “Juicy” song.

Since our arrival, I’ve been talking to Ugandan musician Eddy Kenzo – the 2015 BET winner for Best New International Act Viewers’ Choice Awards. On Saturday just before our show, Washington – one of Uganda’s top producers, and Kenzo come to pay us a visit at the hotel. Kenzo has got an entourage of almost a dozen people with him. On reaching the hotel lobby, I wonder where today’s crowd came from. Kenzo says, “Greet everyone, they are my people.” Don’t even ask how all those men fit in Sauti Sol producer Savara’s suite – I leave them setting up a studio.

11749815_10153369157892559_1541836352_nThe Sauti Sol Live in Uganda show at Kampala Serena Ballroom is totally sold out and absolutely beautiful. 99% of all the ladies (even super publicist) at the concert are wearing dresses. Straight from the airport, in town and now at the concert – all female booties I see are well curved. All the TV presenters I meet are as adorable as dolls.

Ugandans paid a shitload to see Sauti Sol, without complaints unlike how it would be if it were in Kenya. Every time I’ve been to Tanzania and now Uganda, I ask myself why I had to be born in a country where a majority of concert goers don’t see the point of buying premium tickets to see our own musicians. This problem pierces my heart deeply. However, many Ugandans tell me that the kind of show Sauti Sol put up isn’t ordinary and Ugandans expected nothing short. “We are a particularly choosy audience. We either like you or criticise you,” my main Ugandan contact – Just Jose, tells me after the concert. We later head to Sky Lounge for the after party.

If my first Ugandan virgin experience is anything to go by – I want to relocate to Uganda. We leave behind glowing reviews but carry with us fun times, warm hospitality and a reminder of why we do what we do. Uganda – Weebale!

BONUS: To Aly of Talent Africa and your team, Kirya, the awesome Sound Cup team, Uganda’s Definition Africa Store, my cousin Kevin and every single person I met – Thank you for making my time in Uganda awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Bread with Cobhams Asuquo

IMG-20150622-WA0006
From left: Digital Diva – Waithera, me, Cobby and Queen Ipaye

Before meeting Nigerian musician, producer and songwriter Cobhams Asuquo – I hear a lot of awesome things about him and his work. I am particularly curious to understand how he works around his equipment and production – being blind – yet – hands down one of the best producers hailing from Africa.

When we finally meet in Nairobi during his time as producer at Coke Studio Africa season III, I start to understand that things actually aren’t as complicated for him as I feared they’d be. Like most professionals, he’s got a manager and an engineer – Sola (who also doubles up as his right hand man) – I discover that things work for him, pretty much the same way they work for most of us with the gift of sight, if not more seamless.

Cobhams is a jolly good fellow. There’s almost always an air of laughter around him while on and off duty. For the first two days, I am keen to introduce myself to Cobhams every time I meet him. But on the third day, he says, “I know its you.” Of course he does. It’s rather silly how the human ability to see deceives us to think that everything must be – because we see in a certain way.

By the second week working around the same production – we’ve become buddies and constantly enjoy exchanging opinions on cultural topics. Cobhams’ mind is beautiful. If you are shallow, he’s the type of person you could never have a conversation with. No offense. I am taken aback by his sentiment that he hasn’t experienced Nairobi’s pulse properly as he had “expected more and heard amazing things about this city.” I know Nairobi is all that and more, and I am also curious to know what ticks Cobhams. “I like great food, fine restaurants, events where things are happening just like acoustic sets and great company,” he says.

I immediately set up an upcoming evening for dinner for his crew to meet mine. I have invited a few of my close friends, most of whom are musicians, writers and colleagues at Coke Studio Africa. We dine at Karen’s Que Pasa. It’s the best thing to dine with Cobhams – trust me. Small conversation turns into important life lessons. Some of the topics we discuss change the ways I have been thinking and end up inspiring me big time.

Cobhams has got so many genuine qualities that I wish every human being possessed. For instance, he’s open speaking about his blindness and greatness (unbeknownst to him), all in modesty. “I don’t wish I could see or feel that things would have turned out differently if I did because things might have actually been different for me. I think that seeing can also sometimes be a distraction. At this point in my life I am passionate about empowering people to realize that they can be,” he tells me and my assistant Tracy.

Cobhams is the writer and producer of the phenomenal song “Jailer” by Nigerian French singer, songwriter and recording artists Aṣa. “Jailer” finding a life of its own in this big saturated world of music, has left Cobhams more than content. “Wow!” He marvels when we explain to him how big that song was/and still is, to us and in Kenya. He explains how he wrote the song out of frustration. He supposed it was an irony that those who deny us opportunities and chances are just as much denying themselves as much, just like a prisoner and jailer are both inmates – “depending on how you look and them and where you are looking at them from.”

Somehow we end up talking about the debate on who needs to be empowered more. The boy child or the girl child? Cobhams says, “Men need to be taught to be leaders and take responsibility. A man needs to be taught to take bullets for his family,” directly telling me, “It is important for your cause as a supporter of the girl child to support the boy child. For in order to give the girl child the attention and the positioning that she deserves, their needs to be real men … It’s in the place of empowering the boy child and to make him understand the power of a woman’s intuition.”

This guy is deep. I’ve sared.

We also talk about books and I discover that we share some things in common. We both love to read and we both recently made a conscious decision to read an African author after every book by a random author. I tell him about my love for George Orwell, Hermann Hesse and Zukiswa Wanner.

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The Epic Union, Honourable Raila meets top producer Cobhams and his engineer Sola.

In the last hour of dinner, former Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga happens to sit on a table close to ours. These things only happen when you are dining with Cobhams. Cobby insists that  he has to meet Raila so I work my Publicist magic. We end up being the only peeps at the restaurant who take pictures with Raila. They end up discussing music and African politics. It was really cool.

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Two of my Fave People in the world. True story

In the last 40 minutes of dinner, another one of my great friends – Blinky Bill makes it! He just came in after a studio session. They talk studio time and musical notes with Cobby. “Do you love Franco?” Asks Blinky. “Like who in Nigeria doesn’t listen to Congolese music?” They start to sing out Lingala tunes as we head out of Que Pasa, way past 11:00 p.m… “Kekekekeke Gala Mingeli …”

“I have to stop or people will think I am crazy,” Cobby says as we get to the parking lot. But in the real sense I am the one looking crazy dancing to no music🙂

BONUS: Coke Studio Africa TV Show represents a great wealth of music from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique and Uganda. For the first time 29 artistes from these countries will in the new season collaborate in a unique format of mash-ups. The show will feature performances and collaborations from popular artists who have made a mark on their local music scene.

Notice I haven’t really talked about his music production? Look out for the continuation of this post: Talking Music with Cobhams Asuquo

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Taking stock of Stockholm: Part II (Visiting Old Town)

DSC00132DSC00138When in Stockholm, make sure you visit Old Town (Gamla Stan) – Stockholm’s original city centre nestled in the islands of Stadsholmen and islets of Riddarholmen, Helgeandsholmen and Strömsborg. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve been to since I can remember. On our way to the Old Town, we meet a super cute Just Married couple taking a stroll. I think I want to do it this way when I get married.

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From the cobbled streets, tiny alleyways, old big doors like Zanzibar’s – I loved Old Town! Most of the walls are partitioned in two colours – mustard and coal. Most of the stairs to the tiny apartments and houses here are made of wood. The town’s picturesque setting overlooking the waterfront reminds me of a scene from Dirty Dancing. Wasn’t Patrick Swayze’s house by the beach? There is a piece of graffiti in Old Town – a paradox of sorts – rebellion smack in the middle of reserved history.

 

 

DSC00135 DSC00134Visiting Europe’s smallest theatre Dur & Moll located in Old Town is too cool. I understand that its space only accommodates about an audience of 17 and only one or two actors. Their website says, “Dur & Moll recently celebrated a very proud 15th anniversary. The theatre has been chosen to weave fantasy and fact in the historical environment to move the visitor in time through stage design, mask and attributes, and using ingenious solutions for sound, lighting and scene changes.”

 

DSC_1144The best part of Old Town is checking out Stockholm’s narrowest street: Mårten Trotzigs Gränd. The street was named after the famous German merchant who immigrated to Stockholm in 1581 and bought properties in the alley in 1500s. The 36-stepped alley is Stockholm’s most famous tourist attraction. I am with my host in Sweden – my dear friend Sylvia. She’s been going on and on about how I will love Old Town. Just as we are about to leave Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, a towering man approaches us, “Excuse me –do you know that this is the narrowest street in Stockholm?” We know.

BONUS: The Old Town dates from the 13th century but most of the buildings standing there today are from the 1700s an 1800s. The best part about it all is the fact that the government of Sweden restricts citizens from pimping the old town houses and buildings here.

 

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Few of my NOT Favourite Things

I am not the one to dwell of negativity or rant all day and night. But when I don’t like something, I don’t – and I will speak, or write about it. I hate people who want to censor art, and other people’s art. Art to me – is not a piece of tangible art, or music, or words, or innovation but a far-fetched idea that lies beneath any expression. Art to me – is like the lone bird. It flies in whichever direction it deems and feels right, even though to others it may seem to be flying in the wrong direction. Art to me – is like a chameleon. Its camouflage can disguise and rub other people the wrong way, many times – especially if the colours you see aren’t the ones you love.

So how do we measure what’s right and wrong, what’s acceptable or not? What’s perfect or not? What’s a perfect world like? What’s offensive or not? True artists not only deserve to be respected for what they stand for, but they need their space respected. I recently allowed someone to censor my expression and my space, and thinking about it now – I am pissed me off that I allowed them to have a say over me and my expression. While other writers’ biggest worry is writer’s block, mine too is – but an even bigger worry for me is not to express myself or the fear of not writing my truth. If I don’t have inspiration it’s bad enough but for anyone to tell me how to feel and express myself is my worst. I let it happen once. God help me never allow it again.

— Roses.

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Meeting the Great Yasiin Bey | Mos Def

yasiin bey 2-2Note to June – May was so uplifting, inspiring and awesome. I never thought that I’d one day meet the hip hop artist Yasiin Bey, let alone work with him and closely relate to him. Working as new PR Manager at Nairobi Rapsody (which in May hosted Yasiin Bey’s first showcase in East Africa) put me in direct contact with Yassiin as his Publicist while in Kenya.

First how wonderful would it be to see him in my country? I can’t wait. In official communication like press releases and emails, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def wants to be referred as Yasiin Bey – and I keep to that. About 36 hours before Yasiin’s first East African showcase, I have organised a press briefing for him and all the Kenyan hip hop acts set to showcase to engage with the media. However, he hasn’t made it in Kenya in time. Thankfully for his right hand woman and DJ – Samira Bin Sharifu (renowned writer, filmmaker, festival curator and DJ between Amsterdam and London) is present to represent his management.

Sharifa, whose got roots in Zanzibar, is enthusiastic to be back in East Africa. She is looking forward to her stay in Nairobi and tells Kenyan media that what is to expect of Yasiin “will all depend with how he feels when he gets here.” However, she explains to us that Yasiin gets a little crazy on stage and most times, “it’s not what you expect. He loves to dance, something not typical of most rappers.” This makes me even more curious to see him on stage now.

“Yasiin is an artist of feelings,” co – founder of Nairobi Rapsody says at the briefing. He’s told me this a couple of times as I prepare Yasiin’s media schedule in advance. I already know that I will roll with his flow when he arrives as I have planned a couple of interviews and appearances for him.

He’s happy to receive the Maasai shukas and Kenyan flag my friend Wanjeri and I have brought him. As soon as we get him to his hotel – Tribe, I request to take photos of him to post on Nairobi Rapsody Facebook Page to update anticipating fans. Yasiin is graceful enough to pose, after which he candidly tells me, “I don’t like taking pictures. Tell everyone that I am willing to do anything but not take pictures.” I immediately reckon that like anyone would have their unique preferences, Yasiin likes his space, and image protected. But there’s no way I am not in his first Kenyan selfie with him. “So can we at least take a selfie?” I have already held my phone up high. He doesn’t know much about me, still, but he kind of gets my twisted humour and gently holds my phone. “Aiiight … I’ma do it myself. What’s up with all these photos though?” he hands my phone back and wanders off into his executive suite, marvelling at the beautiful ambience.

Just that gesture of not wanting to take a selfie and wanting to be in control of the one he takes – tells me that Yasiin likes to control his portrayed. I am not surprised because we are living in a world of news made from Instagram posts; a world of people obsessing over numbers. It has always been wondrous to me what the world would be like if the internet suddenly disappeared. “Please tell everyone that I don’t like to take any pictures, it makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll do any other thing you’ve organized for me,” he tells me.

You might like my story for DStv Mos Def comes to Nairobi

Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?

In the continuation of the Yasiin series, look out for The Other Side of Yasiin Bey

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Taking stock of Stockholm: Part I

DSC_0824It’s been a few weeks since my trip to Sweden. I think it was so cold that my mind has since, still been thawing. But thankfully I now am good to recollect all my thoughts🙂

Last November while in Netherlands, despite having someone to hug me during my entire trip😉 I found Amsterdam so chilly – winter was kicking just kicking in.

Unbeknownst to me, that was preparation for my arrival in Sweden in a few months (March 2015). These were the last days of winter but they teach me what it really means to be cold. I had never experienced such cold that requires life to only exist with on and a load of clothes on, literally making you feel like you are forever carrying a load on your body. The streets are empty and I am told it’s because of the cold weather.

DSC_0755Interestingly, I receive such a warm welcome for such a cold country. The first people I meet as soon as I arrive at Bromma airport are the usual hungry taxi men. I ask one of them if I can use their phone to call Sylvia (my friend and host). Her phone is on voicemail so I promise the kind taxi man that we will take his taxi if at all I find her and we need one. I end up purchasing a week – long bus ticket that I start to use asap. As we walk out of the airport, I don’t want to glance at the taxi men as I am headed to the bus station. Sylvia tells me that their kindness is unique and unlike most taxi operators. When I finally steal a glance at them as we leave to the bus stop, they are all standing tall, smiling at me and waving goodbye.

I am lucky the sun comes out on my first day, as soon as I arrive. It’s so beautiful to see snow for the first time. Sylvia couldn’t be happier to share my first-snow-moment with me.

DSC_0786As we get into the city centre, I am amazed at Stockholm’s beauty. First, the buildings in Stockholm are located between Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. I find something I totally love about Europe’s architecture here – history that dates back to the 13th century, if not earlier. Sweden’s list of islands fantasizes me and sometimes while driving around town, I can’t imagine what a beautiful view those who live on these islands have every morning, especially during summer time. One building even has its top shaped like a ship.

I find the design of some Stockholm buildings quite similar to Dutch architecture. Sylvia tells me that a lot of Swedish architecture has foreign influences. Indeed, during the 1600s and 1700s, foreign architects were recruited to build the city and in recent periods Swedish architects often drew inspiration from their tours to Europe.

DSC_1129On a different day we pass by the eighteenth-built Swedish Royal Palace, one of the largest palaces in Europe. This is were His Majesty the King of Sweden resides. It’s so grand with 600 rooms and the whole shebang. I am wowed by the fact that it’s open to the public. As we walk in and out its lovely court area, Sylvia tells me that national events or announcements are actually made by the King, many times, here. Its Italian Baroque style, coronation carriages and magnificent coaches from the Royal Stable make me feel like I just walked into Disney World. I miss to see the parade of soldiers but indeed there’s that one soldier by the entrance who is so still, she looks like a statue.

Look out for:

Taking stock of Stockholm: Part II (Visiting Old Town)

Taking stock of Stockholm: Part III (Dogs, Music and Cuisine)

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Visiting Fotografiska Museum: Herb Ritts Exhibition

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While in Stockholm, I visited the Fotografiska, a Swedish photography museum and centre for contemporary photography opened in 2010. Its location is perfect – just by the Baltic Sea and habour – both providing beautiful scenery.

 

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I was glad to discover the space showcasing an exhibition on Herb Ritts – one of the world’s most sought-after fashion photographers. “In Full Light” (21st Nov 2014 – 15th Mar 2015) was a retrospective exhibition of Herb’s famous, iconic images and pictures that have never before been shown.

 

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At the moment, I didn’t know much of Herb Ritts – the person, mainly because his career’s high point was during 70s and 80s just when I hadn’t entered the world or was too tiny – but when I started viewing his work, especially the portraits, I realized that I had already seen some of them before.

 

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The exhibition’s images were so powerful, it amazed me how in just one image, Herb managed to capture the aura of superstars and personalities created over decades. For instance, there was a Prince image where he is gripping at his black leather cap tied to chains that cover is face – truly representative of Prince’s style and the facade he’s built around him to date. These are iconic images that evoke memories of an era like when King of Pop was alive and when Madonna was Queen of Pop.

 

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There are several nude fashion images but my best is of two male models sensually holding themselves like it’s the last time before the world robs them of their sacred moment. They look like sex gods, something I would only expect to see in sculpture at The Louvre. The museum writes of Herb’s inspirations, “There was an emerging fixation with the body and a fashion world inspired by gay culture.”

 

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Herb, who was good friends with Richard Gere, loved people and looks like he ended up making friends or creating working relationships with many celebrities. It shows in his choice of his images. Seeing an image of Patrick Swayze in such a beautiful portrayal that only reminds me of his sexy self in Dirty Dancing—one of the best films that I first watched as a child thereby my definition of classic. This and many images of “Full Light” are the “illustration of a rare equilibrium, expressed via a careful combination of natural elements. The result is a visual game that is apparently seductive and simple but which conceals elaborate technical skill.” This image balances between Swayze’s masculinity and femininity – a rare equilibrium to display via lens. I miss him so much.

My other favourites include portraits of Antonio Banderas, Magic Johnson and images of Cher’s butt (puts Nicki Minaj’s fakeness to shame), Naomi Campbell and a psychotic looking Denzel Washington (reminds me of his role in Flight).

“Herb Ritts died in 2002 of pneumonia at the age of 50. He is remembered as one of the major lifestyle photographers of the 80s and 90s. Mixing commercial commissions with portraits, music videos and his own projects, he broke the boundaries of fashion, art and advertising.”

 

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During his illustrious career in photography he worked for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. He also worked in music videos for the greats like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. He worked with fashion brands like Calvin Klein, Versace and Giorgio Armani.

 

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After visiting the exhibition, interestingly I was served at the centre’s bookshop by a Swedish gentleman who asked if I was from Kenya. “Your earrings do look like Kenya’s flag,” he said, adding, “I am actually going to be in Kenya soon for a holiday as my Dad used to work there.” I am amazed at this. When I am away from home, I always see signs that remind me of home. Ended up buying an awesome lens cup at Fotografiska.

BONUS: Thanks Sylvia Ziemski​ for the awesome company. Herb Ritts exhibition was a production of Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia, Milan, in association with Herb Ritts’ Foundation. It was curated by Alessandra Mauro and designed by Jessy Heuvelink, Head of Design at J. Lindeberg.

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12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup (Book Review)

DSC00437Few stories have brought my heart such despair as much as hope as this 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup that I chanced upon in a small hidden bookshop in Amsterdam.

Solomon has “common hopes, and loves, and labors of an obscure coloured man, making his humble progress in the world”. He is born and raised a free man. The lower-middle class industrious man is married with three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Together with his wife, Solomon tries to make ends meet by running various short-lasting projects, including a career in music. Solomon is among few black males from Saratoga who can make some good money off his violin playing.

Two circus promoters approach Solomon offering him a job in Washington and promise to pay extremely well for his services as a musician. In desperate need for providing for his family, he follows them immediately without alerting his family. By tricking and drugging him, they kidnap him from his native Saratoga into slavery deep in the south of Louisiana – where he would be bound for 12 years.

“My subject is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage,” Solomon writes in the first page of the first chapter. I sobbed occasionally while flipping through his pages and now I balance tears reflecting upon the book as I write this. How a free man or anyone could find himself bound in chains and shackles then subjected to utmost inhumane treatment is heartbreaking.

This is a solitary tale yet a painting of the lives of so many – cast and condemned as slaves, either born into it or captured like Solomon.

Life of a Slave

tyas_cvrIn chronological order, Solomon explains to the reader the process of how he was enslaved, and the day-to-day life of a slave. The life of a slave is worthless. Some slave owners feed their animals more than a slave. And some let dogs maul their slaves. A slave’s history, if any, doesn’t exist. The words freedom and liberty must never be uttered from a slave’s mouth (lest they receive several lashes as punishment). The subject of freedom and liberty however was always spoken or thought of in private as revealed by Solomon, discrediting the old assumption that slaves never understood or even fathomed what it meant to be free. Before his kidnapping, Solomon recalls, “I frequently met slaves … Many times they entered into conversation with me on the subject of slavery. Almost uniformly I found they cherished a secret desire for liberty …”

Slave buyers bargain for human beings like they would for any commodity. Their qualities are rated just as a mule’s would. If need be, they are stripped and signs of scars from lashing indicate tendencies of a difficult animal to be made servant – the price immediately depreciates. Once bought, slaveholders can hire out their slaves just like animals or trucks. A slave can be forced to work tirelessly under the watchful eye of the overseer day and night while being whipped all through. They are also whipped if they don’t produce as expected during the cotton-planting season or if their produce fluctuates. If a slave is found walking to other plantations without a pass written by their master, any white man is permitted to seize and whip them.

At this point of the book, I am appalled at the utter darkness of an era when some life was so worthless to be branded with a price tag.

Throughout a whole year, a slave only gets about three or four days off during Christmas season – when they can eat up and meet with friends from other plantations. This is where and when married couples only unite and parents meet their children. Lovers unite too, “cupid disdains not to hurl his arrows into the simple hearts of slaves”.

The Great Escape

During his bondage, Solomon spends every day scheming how to escape and many times attempts it – a dangerous endeavor that always puts him trouble or risk with its worst punishment being death. During his first attempt, he notes, “we resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives.” At times, he starts to lose sanity. “Were the events realities indeed?” He is constantly baffled.

After a deathly flogging for declaring that he was indeed a free man soon after his kidnapping, Solomon writes, “I resolved to lock the secret closely in my heart … trusting in my own Providence and my own shrewdness for deliverance.” It’s a chance meeting with a good-hearted white man that sees his road to freedom start. Bass risking his life to write for Solomon is show that good can always trump evil. The important letter they both draft finally reaches the right and lawful office in charge of rescuing those illegally sold into slavery.

In the 12 years, Solomon’s spirit defies, among trials, a deadly smallpox outbreak that claims lives and causes him temporary blindness, thorough flogging, whipping, the jaws of hunting hounds, hunger and an escape that forces him to walk miles and camp in a swamp (amongst wild animals like deadly snakes and crocodiles). He also writes that he wouldn’t have made it out alive without music. Many times, his violin granted him solace, favours and visits to other plantations.

This is an extraordinary story on the resilience of the human spirit, especially in the face of the worst of life’s challenges and deepest of sorrows.

America’s Dark History Vs Redemption

This book totally immerses the reader into the darkest period (18th and 19th centuries) of American history when slavery was legal. It brings to full light the brutal horrors and injustice of slavery and how historically it was associated with African descent – contributing to a system and legacy in which race still plays a dominant role.

The book balances a memoir and objectivity – even though a mere slanted moral weighing machine. Not all slave owners or white people were heartless and inclined to slavery. Many times, Solomon expresses his regret in a “unjust, barbarous and cruel” system that empowered slave owners and a mindset that disregarded a people of one race. “It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives.”

Solomon’s mistress cries at losing her most handy servant, as his master is furious at losing their most-priced property. “Ten years I toiled for Epps without reward … I am indebted to him for nothing, save undeserved abuse and stripes,” writes Solomon. But at the book’s ending, his lawyer and associates who come to the rescue, ask him to bid his former master and mistress goodbye, which he does. Though subtle, this is a sign of a forgiving heart on Solomon’s side and it reflects upon one side of how a whole generation and a people would need to deal with the deeply scathing injustice of slavery and racism in pursuit of healing.

Unsung Heroes

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Steve McQueen and the cast and crew of 12 Years a Slave accept the best picture award at the Oscars.

Poor 23-year-old Patsey of Guinean descent was a slave brought over to Cuba on a slave ship. Solomon writes that had she lived another life, she “would have been chief among ten thousand among her people.” Patsey’s life was the epitome of a series of unfortunate events. Among slaves in Bayou Boeuf area, she was known as the queen of the cotton fields and would produce twice as much as any cotton-picker but would be whipped thoroughly at the end of each day if she either picked less or didn’t pick more.

Patsey is also caught in between the lust of her master and overflowing hate from her mistress. “She wept oftener, and suffered more, than any of her companions. Her back bore the scars of a thousand stripes; not because she was backward in her work, nor because she was unmindful and rebellious spirit, but because it had fallen to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress.” In the film adapted from the book, it is indicated that their master Epps would also rape her yet in Solomon’s tale, he only insinuates such activities. However, the girl would be branded by hot metal or thrown at glasses by her mistress just for kicks. And even though Solomon endured severe lashing as well as others, he writes that no other worse lashing did he witness during his 12 years as a slave that was worse than that subjected on Patsey by Master Epps.

Patsey is the only one who dares to run after Solomon as he finally leaves Master Epp’s farm as a free man. As she weeps at him, he says nothing at all. This is potentially a sign that even though Solomon left the bondage of slavery, he would remain enslaved by the empathy for his former comrades for as long as they remained enslaved. That’s why he is unable to bid the slaves farewell or urge Patsey to stay alive or strong – for a part of his spirit forever remains in those slave pens.

If you read and reflect upon this book, you will realise that Solomon Northup and everyone who helped him regain his freedom, and tell this story (including the director Steve McQueen) – are the silent unsung heroes of both today and a past time when calling a black man a hero would be despised. It is this unforgettable memoir that would inspire the director Steve McQueen to make the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave.

The movie befits the story, especially because its characters match the spirit of the slaves as described by Solomon, but it doesn’t come close to the actual suffering and horror slaves in Solomon’s account were subjected to. However, for these two dark-skinned actors in the film adaptation: Chiwetel Ejiofor (BAFTA Best Lead Actor) and Lupita Nyon’go (Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) to win for Solomon’s story is triumphant indeed. I wish he were alive to witness people of all colour and race live and be accorded equally and rightfully. He would assert that the producers, cast and directors who brought his story to life did not trump colour or race but the darkness of an era. He would be proud that they upheld liberty, equality and justice for all.

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Alas! The stories of the voiceless slaves have been told, again, hundreds of years later.

BONUS: You might love my review of To Kill a Mocking Bird. Can’t wait for the book’s sequel coming out this July.

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How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V @TheDangelo

DSC00208This moment right here is surreal even though I haven’t met D’Angelo yet. I am inside the backstage of D’Angelo’s The Second Coming Tour meeting his tour manager, Alan Leeds. I later discover that the legendary American music executive has won a Grammy and managed Prince and James Brown. He’s had a hand in the careers of serious soul music men though generations.

Alan asks so many questions about D’Angelo’s Kenyan and African reach. I hate that I am fully preoccupied by the thought of meeting D’Angelo so I decide to politely cut to the chase amidst our conversation.

“So how’s D’Angelo?” Alan must have dealt with a million journalists before as he immediately gets the code for the “Can I now meet D’Angelo” question. He says, “He’s okay. Tired and resting. You can’t meet D’Angelo or see him, especially after the show. I thought I also made it clear that no interviews. He’s not doing any interviews and doesn’t do interviews.”

Bummer. How I handle this conversation is what will either make me meet D’Angelo or not. I decide to be straight up honest and lay all my cards on the table. “I know you said no interviews but I thought that if I made it to the backstage I’d at least meet him and introduce myself, and maybe ask a few questions off the cuff.” Alan towering over me, looks at me pensively with that ‘what do I do with this girl’ look, while chewing gum and shaking his head. “No. You can’t meet D’Angelo. He’s not meeting anyone. Listen. Even his record label executives were at the show tonight and haven’t met him and will not meet him. I am with my cousin here, and she won’t even meet D’Angelo.”

In this moment, I understand and don’t want to be fussy – even though I am not moving an inch. “I also work with artists as a Publicist and I understand how sometimes they want time to themselves, especially before or after a show,” I tell Alan. He wants to know who I work with and I mention Sauti Sol and their recent MTV EMA Best African Act Win. Alan wants me to share with him more on Sauti Sol.

Our conversation immediately shifts from D’Angelo to music business. He starts to ask me about which international music stars have been to Kenya recently and seems pretty impressed that Erykah Badu was here a few years ago.

Read my 10 Mins with Erykah Badu

“Do you frequent Europe? Because we have a couple of shows lined up for summer” – an extension of The Second Coming Tour (which at the time was about to conclude). I respond, “I come to Europe once in a while, I only had to come this time because of D’Angelo and was hoping to interview him for Kenya’s National Newspaper: Daily Nation. He’s got a big audience at home.”

My article published by Daily Nation: A triumphant return: D’Angelo’s second coming a big success

We continue to discuss music business and at some point, I feel like we’ve talked about just about everything possible. Alan keeps thanking me for coming and says he hopes to see me again. We have also agreed that I will be interviewing D’Angelo via email – which totally works for me! Of course! But for some reason, I can’t go. Something keeps telling me to stay behind because ‘you might just meet D’Angelo’ – it says. But it’s getting late and looking over at Sylvia, she looks weary. I am also tired from the concert and long day that we have had. We are still carrying stuff from shopping from earlier in the day because we didn’t have time to return to hotel, have dinner and make it to concert in time so we carried everything with us.

I am so honoured to meet Alan and talk to him. He reveals a lot about the mystique around D’Angelo’s privacy and scarcity at interviews. “D’Angelo is very private and never likes to meet people. I try explaining to him but he’s an artist and he thinks in a certain way. I keep trying to make him open up more.” I totally understand, I tell Alan. He’s trying to explain to me why I have to go without meeting D’Angelo. By now I know I am not seeing him and am cool with that. Plus Alan has also told me that the whole band and crew is flying to Amsterdam tonight ahead of their twin shows at one of my favourite venues in the world – Paradiso.

Read about how I attended Wiz Khalifa’s concert at Paradiso

For the umpteenth time Alan bids me farewell and I finally feel like I can stop being a bother and leave. In my quest to seeing D’Angelo, two hours or more could have already passed in this backstage. We walk through the corridor and into the red-coloured lift, when Alan runs over to us and beckons me to return. “I will show you to a different exit,” he says. Suddenly, Alan is walking us through D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Second Coming Backstage, through the twists and turns – I feel like I am in a music video or movie. There are about 10 security guards, all tall and buff – some standing and others sitting on chairs by the walls. I don’t suspect anything, until I start to see signs with band members names on doors and arrows leading to D’Angelo’s Dressing Room.

We reach a dead-end. There’s only a red-coloured door here and a guard dressed in black sitting right outside. “Wait here,” Alan tells me and enters through the door. I am not sure if D’Angelo is here or he simply wants to pick something before leading us to ‘the different exit’. After about two minutes he returns closing the door behind him. He stands right in front of me and opens the door for me, signaling me to enter. I look at him like W-T-F-Dude! Inside – I see D’Angelo in the large room, all by himself. He quickly stands and holds his hands in respect, like how people pray, as I approach.

I stop half way, wondering to myself why I didn’t see this coming. I would have prepared a speech or a better introduction. For a split second everything that led me here plays in my mind. The drama and bad service at Brusells Airlines. My last-minute decision to travel all the way from Kenya to Sweden for this concert and the ambition to even try meet D’Angelo. And then there are lots of childhood memories of jamming to D’Angelo’s music and watching Untitled.

I drop all my bags on the floor and start to softly (I think) mumble things to D’Angelo. “Hey D’Angelo – Hey D” I am not too sure what to call him, “I am so honoured to meet you. This is unbelievable! I have loved your music since I was a little girl so this moment is too special. I am also a journalist …” He moves closer and hold both my hands, as if telling me – it’s okay you don’t gotta rap.

I take a breath and introduce myself saying I am from Kenya. “What!? Are you kidding me!? You came from Kenya? No way!” He won’t believe me. “That’s why I also want to interview you,” for the first time Alan cuts me off saying, “I told you no interviews.”

I respond to him and D’Angelo, “I know what you said, I am just explaining who I am and what I want to do because we’ll do it via email. I am not trying to interview him now.” D’Angelo is dazed. He looks like he just saw either and angel or a devil. He keeps rubbing my hand while saying, “Sister bless you!” He also gives me that respectful European cheek kiss and hugs me. I introduce Sylvia to him as my good friend and host in Stockholm and ask to take a picture with him. He’s cool.

All this time Alan is watching us like a movie scene playing out. “So did you enjoy the show?” D’Angelo asks me, and then asks Sylvia too. What? D’Angelo wants to know if I enjoyed his show? Me? Dreams are valid because having grown up in Molo, a small town in Kenya’s Rift Valley, I would never believe that I could even ever come close to meeting D’Angelo and get that kind of VIP treatment in that setting in a foreign land. When I walk out of Annexet, we hug again. My gloves drop and Alan calls me back to get them. D’Angelo is just standing there looking at me …

BONUS: My article on D’Angelo published by Kenya’s Daily Nation:  A triumphant return: D’Angelo’s second coming a big success

Read the full D’Angelo series below:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

Inside Second Coming Tour: How I Met D’Angelo: Part IV

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Inside Second Coming Tour Backstage: How I Met D’Angelo: Part IV

DSC00146I know that it’s pretty easy for anyone to consider my plan to meet and interview D’Angelo in Sweden a pipe dream. But I have put all my energy to make it happen. I spend a good amount of time to research on how exactly this is going to happen because my spirit tells me that I can do it.

After several unanswered emails, tweets, Facebook inboxes, more emails and then a few fruitful viber and whatsapp chats with my Europe contacts – I have finally got through to D’Angelo’s Management thanks to Cleo.

Read about Sauti Sol’s debut Paris concert in 2014 organized by Cleo

I have finally made it to Sweden and to D’angelo’s concert. It’s over. I have Backstage passes that I only know can get me to D’Angelo’s dressing room but I wonder how exactly. Who will get me in? The security officers say that even they are not authorized to that area of the backstage.

DSC00203The best part about Europe concerts is people scatter as soon as it ends. No after parties like Kenya. So right after the concert, the concert hall clears up and I start to look around thinking about my next move as I plot to see and interview D’Angelo. I see someone who looks like The Vanguard’s keyboardists Cleo – who my friend from France – Cleo says I should look out for. “Hey are you Cleo?” He isn’t and tells me to quickly follow the real Cleo who just returned into the backstage. He’s already entered through the black velvet curtains that lead into a hallway. The guard at the entrance won’t talk to me and doesn’t care that I have the Backstage passes. But I am not moving an inch.

It’s until Cleo appears again though the curtain that I peep and beckon him. I think he thinks at first that I am one of those persistent groupies after a show – because he first refuses and then comes after my adamancy. “Hi! I am Anyiko, the journalist from Kenya and Cleo’s friend” – I have never seen someone so happy to realize who I was. Cleo hugs me tight and says, “I am glad you made it!! Where is your friend?” I introduce Sylvia to him and in no time, we are whisked into D’Angelo’s Second Coming Backstage – the security guards only being alerted – “We are together.”

I am inside such a fancy backstage for the first time in my life. Everything looks surreal. The hallway looks exactly like where Lupe Fiasco’s Superstar video was shot, without the lights. After several turns and a lift ride, Sylvia and I are led into what seems like the Annexet Arena’s main office, where we are received by a bespectacled dark-skinned man. He is sitting behind a desk full of newspapers, pizzas, magazines and files. “They are Alan’s guests, please let them wait here,” Cleo tells him. He is kind enough to offer us seats and asks us to wait.

As we wait to meet Alan and hopefully D’Angelo, a million thoughts cross my mind as I observe each and every detail around me. Apart from Sylvia, there are three other Swedish ladies in the office with us. They all look like they are in their 30s and don’t look like journalists but PR or marketing people. I really hope they are not journalists because I don’t want them to mess my chance to meet or interview D’Angelo. There is a lot of talk, chat and banter amidst laughter seeping into the room from the one right next to where we are seated. It does sound like this is The Vanguard reviewing the concert we just experienced a few minutes ago. I can’t hear anyone mention D’Angelo, and can’t tell if he’s among them. I can hear some heavy black American accents though.

Kendra Foster, the only lady in The Vanguard bursts into the room. “I am so hungry, could I grab some pizzas?” She asks the bespectacled man – who I would like to refer to moving forward as the venue’s manager. “Sure! They are all yours, take as much!” I am dying to talk to her or take a selfie but judging from the way Mr. Manager has been eyeing us from across the table, I don’t want to seem groupie-ish. But Sylvia, the classic PR lady has got this under control. “Hi! You were so wonderful on stage, we really enjoyed your concert.” Kendra seems genuinely surprised and taken aback by our praise and starts to ask more about us. She is so impressed that I have come all the way from Kenya. She is keen to tell me, “I am an artist by my own right and have co-written a lot of songs in Black Messiah. Check me out, I am coming soon with my own stuff.”

Read my review of Black Messiah

DAngelo_The_Vanguard_live_Soulfest_Melbourne_2014_Beaver_on_the_Beats_5-e1420427619375A quick check later and I discover that Kendra Foster has written songs for D’Angelo that include Till its Done, Really Love, The Charade and 1000 Deaths. I am curious as to who this girl is and how she met D’Angelo, and so I pull that journalistic trait of doing an interview in pretense of holding a conversation. “He found me!” She says, “I have worked for a long time with George Michael” – the American singer, songwriter and music producer who is the principal architect and band leader of P-Funk (Parliament-Funkadelic) and the mastermind of the bands Parliament and Funkadelic during the 1970s and early 1980s “I met D’Angelo during my time with the band and he’d checked me out and expressed interest in working with me.”

Black Roses: So what it’s like to work with D’Angelo?

Kendra: OMG it’s soo amazing and wonderful. I’ve learnt a lot from him every day and he’s so down to earth, chilled and fun. We have fun writing songs together too.

She quickly jots down her contacts in my notebook, gives us both a firm handshake before rushing out with a big slice of pizza. I am feeling like I am now moving closer to knowing and meeting D’Angelo. We have been sitting here for about 45 minutes waiting for Alan. I am anticipating the moment patiently…

The legendary Alan LeedsSuddenly, I see all the Swedish ladies stand up quickly in respect as soon as a bespectacled and tall man walks in. This is Alan. Unbeknownst to me at the moment, he’s the man who has worked directly with three generations of soul music men including James Brown and Prince.

“Hi Alan! We just wanted to say thank you for the Backstage VIP passes, it was such a great concert.” The ladies are brief. I am so happy they are leaving. But one of them stays behind.

We are also standing when Alan turns towards us and says while shaking my hand, “You must be the journalist.” It feels great that he remembered our conversations and recognized me as it’s the first time we are meeting in person. A quick re-introduction and I can already tell that Alan is super curious (in a good way) about what kind of person left Kenya to attend and interview D’Angelo in such a foreign land.

To be continued …

Read the first parts of How I Met D’Angelo series:

How I Met D’Angelo: Part I

How I Met D’Angelo: Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

The last Part How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V features D’Angelo🙂

 

 

 

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Men of the South – Zukiswa Wanner (Book Review)

DSC_2613~2Zukiswa Wanner has written an enticing tale about finding love and making ends meet. Set in South Africa’s Johannesburg, this is a story about what happens next after finding everything in life or losing just as much.

Mfundo, Mzilikazi and Tinaye are the Men of the South. Their self-narrated stories in first person divide the book’s three chapters. Zuki does more than shine through the voices of her three main male characters and doesn’t grapple with writing in the voice of an opposite sex, like many writers do – leaving me in awe at her beautiful mind.

Mfundo and Mzilikazi are childhood buddies and have shared a lot, from secret youth pleasures like threesomes to tough challenges as grown ups. They both grow up under the scrutiny of a society that expects them to achieve certain things and live in a certain way.

It is Mzi who is everyone’s connecter. He is best friends with Mfundo, and ends up introducing him to the future love of his life – Slindile. Mzi also indirectly introduces his friend Tinaye to his other best friend Sli.

It’s a swirl of events when, after years of friendship Mfundo discovers that Mzi has a queer sexuality. Mzi, a married man, breaks up his marriage to find his sexuality. How Zuki writes about a blooming relationship between two men simply plays out the innocence of how true love unfolds between two, irrespective of sex or cultural inclinations. Mzi’s finding of true love reminds me of Frank Ocean’s We All Try. As the song goes, “I believe marriage isn’t between man and a woman but between love and love”.

Read my review of Frank Ocean’s EP Nostalgia, Ultra

Through Zuki’s characters, the 2010 book brings to light pertinent issues in African societies like being homosexual (considered a taboo by many) and xenophobia. It never escapes her for a moment that, like many other countries, South Africa and its society is not a perfect picture – as painted by many. At the tail end of the book, her main characters all unite over some beer and end up discussing xenophobia, a recurrence in modern-day South Africa. Recent South African government figures indicate that the unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25%. Many residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes, yet it is a crime what the very same residents are doing – murdering and attacking foreigners, even blazing up their business premises.

As Mfundo’s sister Buhle defends the intent behind violent attacks directed at people of other nationalities living and working in South Africa, Mfundo interjects saying, “Some of our people are stuck in a comfort zone, waiting for the government or someone else waiting to do something for them”

To acquire a work permit Tinaye, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, is forced to marry or risk losing a job that he’s worked for all his adult life. Sli discovers that she can’t be with the man she fell in love with. Mfundo thinks his life is over if he can’t have both his music and family by his side. When the perfect couple Sli and Mfundo break up; though unexpected there is something for Mfundo and surprisingly someone for Sli. Mfundo and Mzilikazi both turn out quite differently from what the society deems fit. How everyone rises above their seemingly non-erasable mistakes is powerful for the reader, Zuki’s way of telling us one thing – you could never be so fucked up not to start over again.

Zuki’s triumphant twist to all these scenarios is the ultimate beauty of Men of the South. How her characters’ life challenges play out is a reminder of my own life and that of my friends. It’s extremely attractive how Zuki’s writing is so original yet so relatable in relation to city life and the challenges of modern societies.

You will love Zukiswa Wanner’s wit and charm. Like a good stir-fry, she has mixed up some comedy and thought-provoking tales that dance around our everyday reality. I really love Zuki for twisting the book’s ending. Just when you expect it to end this way, she takes a different route that either leaves the reader with the power to re-write it or the feeling that the book just started afresh.

Desperately needing to know what happened next, I ask Zuki (a friend of mine – always good to namedrop where you have no other choice), “I am dying to know – did Sli respond to Tinaye’s text? And what did she say????” Her response, “Kwaa. I don’t know. Imagine that’s the end? But as one of my more intelligent readers I know you have your own good ending🙂 ” I actually do and I am considering blogging it out for fans of the Men of the South.

BONUS: The South African writer Zukiswa also blogs. She has written about why we should all #Boycott South Africa till South African government takes stern action against xenophobia, what she terms afrophobia.

Men of The South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. To my lovely cousin Sharon – thank you for lending me Men of The South – my first Zuki book🙂 Now can’t wait to read her other books: Behind Every Successful Man, Maids in SA and The Madams.

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Still a Princess – Yvonne Chaka Chaka at 50

Watching the music video of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Umqumbothi is one of my fond memories from growing up. How could men drinking beer from pots look so fresh? While still a child, I immediately decided that Yvonne was the coolest African woman on TV.

Fast forward. 20 years later and Yvonne Chaka Chaka – the Princess of Africa, remains one the most respected voices in and from Africa. She has performed everywhere. From New York, Italy to Nairobi. Name it. She’s performed alongside world stars like Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Bono and Queen, among many others.

DSC00254I am the last to interview Yvonne during her recent Nairobi visit. ‘Damn – I have to make this good’ – I tell myself. “Are we ready? Twende sasa” She tells me as my camera crew takes forever to set up. We are seated in a tiny room by a café situated in the upper floors of Intercontinental Hotel. She seems a little agitated and tired. Thankfully, she quickly warms up to me as soon as we start, and even makes jokes you would only share with your friends. “I am not as skinny as you! You can see that now I am a mama,” she jests in realization that March 2015 is her special birthday month – she’s turning 50 and celebrating 30 years in the music industry. “Half of 100 is amazing. I can only be happy.”

DSC00256She is pensive throughout the interview. However, she answers all my questions without a second thought and thoroughly. She’s either done too many interviews or is extremely sharp. I think both. I am so intimidated and at the same time inspired by Yvonne – a true representation of a strong African woman with beauty and brains. “You are what you eat and drink” – all she can reveal about her beauty regime.

Yvonne beams with pride when I tell her how in 1990 – I was the little girl dancing to Umqumbothi in my mother’s living room in a little Kenyan town. She says, I don’t know how I got popular in countries like Kenya, Senegal, Ugandan and places like Mauritania. It must have been the power of radio, TV and my manager at the time because there wasn’t social media then. I did not expect to be so popular in this beautiful continent of Africa. But I am very pleased that I am known in this continent as am a very proud African.”

I wrote songs of freedom in the name of women

With a rich discography including other monster hits like I’m burning Up, Thank You Mr. DJ and Makoti; Yvonne’s songs and music videos remain catchy and popular, still dripping cool. However, only the clever listener can decipher the message behind most of her lyrics.

During the apartheid (1948 – 1994) there was more than racial segregation in South Africa. The ruling government did not allow musicians to directly sing about their own struggle or that of their country. These challenges heavily influenced the direction Yvonne’s music would eventually take. She says, “Growing up in South Africa I knew things weren’t as rosy as everybody thought they were. However, I had the platform and the voice and it was my right to disseminate information and air my views.”

Yvonne then found a secret avenue. She would write songs and then rewrite them to hide direct message. She explains her part in the South African rebellion against the apartheid government, “I Cry For Freedom was initially written for South Africans but SABC could not play its original lyrics.” Yvonne was forced to change the lyrics and had to battle with the idea of balancing the new message with the original. “It became a song about women empowerment and against women abuse”

Meeting Madiba 

Another one of my favourite Yvonne songs: Let Him Go was originally written for Mandela. “The message said let him go to his children and family but obviously I couldn’t say Let Mandela Go – I’d have gone to jail, so we changed the song’s packaging to be about a woman loving another woman’s man – you always there when he needs you, where is he now? Let him go.”

The song Motherland was about South Africa and Africa. Produced in 1989, its lyrics were directed to the colonizer: “Who’s that man calling me stranger in my motherland?” Yvonne says, “Things weren’t that bad then because we knew that people were fighting for South Africans to have their rights and to be taken out of the misery of apartheid.”

A year later, Mandela was released from detention. Yvonne recalls meeting Mandela in 1990, soon after his release. “It was amazing! I was lucky to meet Madiba. When you are in a room with him, you felt love and humility. You felt so good. I don’t know how it’s like with people amongst Jesus but when you were around that man you felt such love. I would never want to compare him to Jesus but really he was one of Jesus.”

Yvonne’s latest album, Amazing Man, released in 2013. It’s a “dedicated to Mandela and all the African leaders,” she says, adding, “I could never stop recording, it’s who I am.”

It’s hard for women to break through even in the 21st century 

Yvonne is a mother of four boys, “and that includes my husband – the fifth man in my space.” Of all her children only one took after her. Temba is a musician, music producer and writer, and has produced some of her music. She however hopes that he can put the music on hold to complete his degree.

She explains her mission in Africa to Black Roses …

“I have seen how easy it is for men to do whatever they want to do, and how hard it is for women to break through, even in the 21st century. Why can’t we give women a platform to air their views and be what they want to be? Women are still disenfranchised, disintegrated and married off early. I am strongly opposed to 12 to 13 year olds getting married to older men. Why can’t we just let the children be children? Why should I be married to a man who I don’t even love and just be given to him as a young girl? Why am I a woman who when my husband dies his brother will forcibly marry me, why can’t I chose my Peter or James?”

“I respect culture. If people or women are comfortable with that – that’s what they are comfortable with but some people find themselves in those situations or are coerced– those are the people who need us to rescue them.” I also get very upset when Africans fight and kill each other. I would like to have children (both boys and girls) live and learn.”

Awards and accolades

Just like music, Yvonne’s humanitarian work has made a mark and garnered her recognition. She became the first woman to receive the World Economic Forum Crystal Award. Other notable accolades include the 2015 Ubuntu Award for Diplomacy in Arts and Culture and a Continental Lifetime Achievement Award from the president of South Africa.

She says, “I don’t count awards I’ve received because whatever I am doing is not to achieve an award; it’s because I have time to do it, I see the need to do it and I am helping somebody. I appreciate awards and I get very humbled. It means once you are doing something you like, someone is watching and acknowledging. I am thanking God for life and being able to do all the work and the things I love. I do it out of the goodness of my heart and I’ve been given a platform. Maybe, it’s a calling from God.”

Yvonne’s first trip to Kenya was in 1987. Since, she’s become a Kenyan of sorts. She constantly throws in Swahili words and tells me about her friends who include wives of two of the most powerful Kenyan politicians – Aida Odinga (of Kenya’s former prime minister Mr. Odinga) and Margaret Kenyatta (the First lady of Kenya). She says, “I do come to Kenya a lot. My second home is in Kakamega where I work with Vestergaard Frandsen and have a lot of children.

DSC00267By the time I wrapping up, we’re cool and both relaxed. Yvonne tells me that today is a typical Yvonne-crazy-day with over 10 interviews to do. Her realness reminds me of my mum. “On a normal day I can sleep for 12 hours if I am not at rehearsal,” she says. So what would Yvonne do if not music? I wonder. “I’d have been a hopeless lawyer” – she says with that ‘I’d still be rocking!’ twinkle in her eye.

BONUS: I loved interviewing Yvonne. Thank you very much Chao, Susan Wong and Capital FM Kenya Team.