You 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.
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.
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
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.