Category: Events + Concerts


France venueNever been with Sauti Sol (Best African Act 2014 MTV EMA) to a venue more magical than where they are performing tonight in Paris—Les Calanques.

Shaped like a ship and glass-walled, the venue lies along one of Paris serene water canals. At night I see a white ship cruising past in slow motion. There’s an all-white party with tables inside covered with all sorts of food, fruits and wine. It’s not summer or Christmas yet but people inside are having a merry time. How I’d give everything to be on a cruise (note to self when I go visit my sister in Florida). They are probably going to end up at Amsterdam harbour, just near where I was staying last summer.

SS Live in ParisThis Saturday night is beauty. Paris golden lights glitter through the glass from the back of the stage where Sauti Sol is performing like it’s their last. Right in the middle, I can see the The Eiffel Tower standing strong among skyscrapers. It’s always great to see Sauti Sol this content and confident while doing what they love to do. Managing backstage interviews, pictures with fans and celebrities in Paris, is one of my toughest times working as Sauti Sol’s Publicist. But we all pull through :-)

Having my friends (from across Europe) with me tonight makes me feel like I am not as far from home as I am. In fact, for some seconds, I don’t really know where we are, other than exactly where we want to be. The last time I felt like this was at Steve & Nynke’s Wedding. Home must be wherever you belong. Just the other day was with my Kenyan friend, Emo, in Nairobi and now we are partying in Paris. Same with the rest Nynke and Steve (Amsterdam), Sylvia (Stockholm) – from a happy summer in Netherlands, we meet again in Paris. I am in the city I always dreamt of visiting. And my first time couldn’t be any better with this kind of company.

BrennaIt’s also an amazing feeling to finally connect with my journalist friend Brenna, who lives here and works at France 24. We have the most meant-to-be-reunion. It’s almost like we always knew each other. And as it would turn out, this meeting only makes us closer and better friends. Brenna is the prettiest girl I’ve seen in France throughout my stay. I help facilitate her interviews with Sauti Sol for France 24 and RFI. And we can’t help but giggle at nearly every one of our conversations and discoveries like how much she resembles my Swedish friend Lisa. It’s so freaky, even Lisa comments on an Instagram photo of us saying, “I thought that was our TBT.”

Check out On the edge of stardom with African MTV winners Sauti Sol via France 24.

Lift friendship

My darling sweeties: Chimano & Sylvia meet Brenna.

I adore Brenna because I see myself in her. She’s as passionate as I am in journalism and a true lover of discovery and challenges. I just love how she mixes work and play, exactly how I do. She does part of the interview at the hotel and picks up every tiny detail along the way, even things I say in passing – this is my exact style.

We have a ball at the concert! When we are together, we can’t stop with the creative ideas on features we could file together. We have in the past shared a lot of stories and ideas, and even collaborated on some but our meeting makes us plan on doing our first official joint juxtaposition feature on Paris/Nairobi in 2015. We’re going to do something for radio and print—that’s all I can reveal for now.

Read Brenna’s feature on Children with cancer abandoned at Kenya’s largest hospital for France 24’s The Observers, inspired by a story I filed from my Visit to the Children’s Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital Children’s Ward.

Brenna sort of reminds me of my best friend Bunny. She’s got that cool I-don’t-care-I’ma-do-me vibe. She’s the kind of friend you can always count on, even when you haven’t seen or given them a call for a year. She’s true. Even before my arrival in Paris, she wants to know everything I would like to do so she can help in every way. “I want to take selfies by The Eiffel Tower,” my first request. “You’re pretty cheap,” she jests. A few days later, I see her true colours. When I almost miss my bus to Netherlands, she offers me a place to stay. When we think I am about to miss my flight back to Abu Dhabi, thanks to the grand affair that is Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), she offers me a place to stay. All these times, she is constantly texting and calling if not accompanying or receiving me at one end.

She’s like the best friend I never had, but could still have. Plus she’s met and interviewed one of my favourite musicians on this planet Lianne Le Havas. Keeping my fingers crossed so Brenna can come to Kenya in 2015 so we can work on that feature and I can show her around my country, city and hood.

BONUS: Thank you to MVC Events Paris for hosting Sauti Sol in Paris.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

10841221_10152834053202559_489482431_n“It’s an honour yet a challenge to be Tabu Ley’s son. People want me to be exactly like my Dad. But it’s impossible because I am another man,” says Pegguy Tabu Ley, a musician in his own right. His father is the celebrated Congolese singer and songwriter, Tabu Ley Rochereau, famed for his inimitable song-writing skills and extensive discography (250 albums).

I first got introduced to Pegguy’s music by Cleo (one of the ladies organising Sauti Sol’s concert in Paris tonight, where Pegguy will perform too). I found his voice extremely sweet and alluring making him one of the people I am looking forward to meet when I arrive in France.

When I am finally around him at the concert venue before kick off, nobody introduces us to each other. He is however kind enough to come introduce himself (just as Pegguy). We speak some French. I don’t recognise him from the music videos though I assume he’s just another awesome singer. It must be events that have occurred in the past 24 hours. To get here, I have just spent over 16 hours between airports and haven’t slept one bit since arrival.

Read the series: To Paris with Love.

I like his headphones and style. His harem sweatpants are dope. He’s very keen when any type of music starts to play in the room. And zones out in a dance when Sauti Sol run soundcheck. He seems pretty excited by their sound. I explain my work as their publicist, after which he tells me he would love to work with them. I only discover that Pegguy is Tabu Ley’s son after I’ve left the venue. Polycarp of Sauti Sol tells me, “You know that was Tabu Ley’s son you were talking to…” No kidding! I retort. This is long after we’ve already exchanged contacts.

Seeing Pegguy perform later on leaves me speechless. In Swahili we say, sauti ya kutoa nyoka pangoni. He’s got that kind of voice that will get you hooked like superglue. It’s almost like old meets new. It’s got some of that Tabu Ley finesse and a crispy run that can give Fally Ipupa a run for his money. Sometimes, he sounds just like Tabu Ley.

Tabu Ley is credited for pioneering Sokous (African rumba) music and mentoring some great Congolese singers like Papa Wemba (who I met and interviewed this year. I need to finish that report). In 1985, Tabu Ley composed for M’bilia the song “Twende Nairobi” (Na Ke Nayirobi) for their friends from Nairobi, after the Government of Kenya banned all foreign music from the National Radio service. The song soon became a Pan-African hit and one that resonated with many Kenyans forcing the then President to lift the ban. “My father had more than 3000 songs,” says Pegguy while trying to recall the song. I refresh his memory, “It means let’s go to Nairobi.” He remembers it quickly declaring his love for it.

“When Tabu Ley played, my life nearly came to a stop,” says Leonard Mambo Mbotela about Kenya’s attempted coup in 1982.

Renowned Queen of Congolese rumba, M’bilia Bel rose to fame after being discovered by Tabu Ley, who ended up marrying her. “Is your mummy M’bilia?” I’ve been itching to ask Pegguy. “No. My mum is Mundy, Miss Zaire in 1969. My father had many songs about her.” I see where he gets the looks. “And she is still beautiful,” he adds cheekily. Tabu had many women and many children (up to 68), the latter whom Pegguy says he knows most of. In fact he’s been working closely with his brother, French rapper Youssoupha.

Pegguy moved to Europe as a young boy together with his family. He is now based in Luxembourg. 2008 was the first time he returned to his native Congo since the move. He says, “I found my own way through my father’s music but Congo made me discover my real music identity.” Despite having worked as a composer and producer with some top artists in France like Vitaa, Diam’s and Booba, Pegguy is now concentrating all his efforts towards his solo career and reaching out to Congo. He has started a series of shows “Pegguy Tabu sings Tabu Ley” that shuffle in between Luxembourg and Congo.

In a few weeks (Jan 2015) Pegguy will be in Congo to promote his music. By the end of 2015, he will have launched his first solo album -“a mix of European, American and African music.” He sends me his new Lingala song,”Limbisa” (Forgive). The baby-making song is a distant relative to “Signs of Love Makin” by Tyrese. It’s unreleased and might be his next, he tells me. It’s got that Rico Love quiet storm R&B vibe, and vocals that will make the ladies wonder where Pegguy has been all this time.

tabu-ley-hidden-gems

“If you want success, you must be in the service of people.”- biggest life lesson Pegguy says he learnt from his Dad.

Tabu Ley died in 2013 while undergoing treatment for a stroke he suffered in 2008. Pegguy reveals that his Dad’s gregarious character and humour is the one thing the world never knew of Tabu. He says he also misses his Dad’s counsel the most.

A reveller comments after a Pegguy 2012 concert in Congo, “Pegguy is not a continuation but the resurrection of Tabu Ley.” While Pegguy can’t run from being constantly compared to his father, he’s on a mission to define his own sound. It’s a thin line that sometimes excites him just as much as it brings frustration. He beams, “People in Congo were impressed by the similarity of my voice to my father’s.” While many people want to hear just Tabu Ley in Pegguy, he’s cut out from a cloth that draped him for a bigger garment. “My Dad wanted me to be a singer for the people,” says Pegguy, who seems content living his Dad’s wish—just making music for people, irrespective of where they are from. In fact, he is interested in my PR services to promote his singles in Kenya, a venture I am considering very seriously.

Tabu Ley was my late father’s favourite singer. For the first eight years of my life, only Tabu Ley music played the most at our house. I tell Pegguy, who only responds with a “Cool!” Tabu Ley was and still is the King of rumba for so many of our parents; could you imagine the number of people who say that to any of Tabu’s kids? Either way – meeting his son makes me feel a tad little closer to the stuff that make legend.

BONUS: When I ask Pegguy if I could blog about him and his Dad, I am not sure I will be getting a yes. But he’s cool and even says cooler things about my Black Roses :-) Pegguy Merci beaucoup!

10628306_10152674425038713_3171467631350492403_nIn the 48 hours I spend in Tanzania (TZ), I never hear TZ radio playing a single Nigerian song or American hit single. My ears don’t suffer like they do in Kenya. In fact, I never even hear them play songs from East Africa but only their own, even though a lot of TZ people tell us that Sauti Sol songs: Soma Kijana and Shukuru are fan favourites. Once, I hear Sura Yako off a radio Saturday Mix.

The Kenyan music industry is still tied to the constant debate, about whether artists are producing shit songs or it’s the DJs who are not playing local content but instead forcing into our ears too much of foreign content. Because I am journalist and a strong believer in local content and creativity, I always put myself and my peers in the first position to take blame. Kenyan media hasn’t yet achieved what other successful and self-sustaining music industries have done for their own artists. In this instance what TZ media has done for Bongo artists.

On a fine Saturday afternoon, it’s so hot in Tanzania (TZ) and the traffic is maybe worse than Nairobi’s. But the venue where Sauti Sol is performing tonight, Escape 1 Mikocheni, just by the beach is so fly; we can’t wait for the show. After visiting TZ radio stations, we’re here for sound check. Before show time, at about midnight, I present the organisers with Sauti Sol’s hospitality rider. The organisers actually ask me if there is anything else the band needs. This is unlike many Nairobian promoters or event organisers who after paying artist performance fees, they care less about artist’s entertainment prior and after the show.

When we arrive at the event’s venue, the gentle nature of TZ people really shines. Nearly all mainstream photographers are generally obnoxious. They will click into messing the sound of your recorded interview and even get into your shot or trample you over at a press conference just to get a perfect shot. Well, that’s really like the softer version of real paparazzi but when Sauti Sol arrive at the backstage, several photographers and event promoters come up to them; stand at the side to ask me and the event’s organiser, Amarido, for permission to take photos with them or greet them. Like, what?

Outside I see a lot of people sitting patiently waiting for the band. And when they finally get on stage, the audience maintains it’s cool, while still not so up tight not to dance. It’s a really mature and cool TZ crowd and Sauti Sol really enjoy this. After the show, instead of being crowded by groupies, we meet a couple of radio producers and presenters backstage. It is a general Kenyan attitude that if you are not one of the biggest acts in the entertainment industry, every single person will act like they don’t know you, even when they do. Did the 8-4-4 system subconsciously teach Kenyans that art is shit? I am not that kind of journalist or person who will act like I don’t know you, when and if I do. I take pleasure in introducing myself to people and using the power I have through my journalistic voice to expose talent. But most Kenyans seem not to want to acknowledge talent or even some established artists. That’s why it’s very simple for many to shamelessly parade that fallacy that a majority of Kenyan musicians produce shit music, instead of taking time to give an ear to underrated artists with great albums like Jemedari, Chizi and Atemi.

Maybe, it’s true that a prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown. According to my quick survey about TZ’s music industry, I discover popular opinion has it that Ali Kiba still is the biggest act in TZ and not Diamond (though still beloved) as it seems from outside TZ. Few TZ artists have crossed over to Kenya’s music industry. Even fewer Kenyan acts have done the same in Bongo. However, what Bongo has done for their artists is what should be emulated in Kenya. It doesn’t matter that you’re not Diamond or Ali Kiba, you get airplay and to perform at Serengeti Fiesta (TZ’s biggest show bringing together different artists, big or small, from around the country), that recently ended in such grandeur by having T.I as the main act.

Bongo music rocks because they have found a way of supporting their local acts and even when most of them don’t cross over to other regions, they are accepted and get airplay at home. This has in turn, made artists localise their stuff to appeal most to local consumers. Authenticity in this industry is key. TZ promoters and organisers are trustworthy and know how to treat artists. Kenyan artists shouldn’t have to beg Kenyan media and DJs to play their songs; it should be the media’s duty to support local. Support will be directly proportional to better quality of productions; and the same way, other factors in the industry will only get better.

On landing back to Kenya, I quickly think about my observations and recall the constant arguments and battles I keep having online with Kenyans, trying to explain to them why they should support Kenyan music and why it should be their responsibility. “Why the hell wasn’t I just born in TZ and found myself working in the TZ music industry?” I wonder, but because I wasn’t, it’s my duty to make this better. A luta continua!

During my short trip in TZ, I am so tempted to jump into a ferry for Zanzibar, I have even prepared the fare and all but I save it for another time. I will have to do it when I have ample time.

Read the first part of this blog post here: To Tanzania and Back: Bongo Love (Part I)

BONUS: Read one of my articles on music entertainment published by Daily Nation on Why Kenyan music misses the cut.

10703992_787706441276339_1274066966158109720_nWhen a gig was too good that you couldn’t find the right words to describe it – then someone else did! Dickson Migiro on Sauti Sol …

“Let’s face it. Last night’s Sauti Sol gig at Tree House brought together a large group of like-minded strangers. For Social Skydivers (people who like to meet strangers) it was a gem. Digits were swapped, sweat broken and drinks bought. I first saw Sauti Sol perform at Alliance in a John Sibi-Okumu play circa 1999, I fell in love with them then and just when I thought I couldn’t fall any deeper, here I am posting. Over and above their music, which manages to be both old school and fresh, they seem to bring together a certain mix of people that even though they come from such diverse backgrounds have a common thread. They like experiences, they have traveled, they hate Kanye West and all that theatrics that pass for the music industry. These people want connection, they want to try a new cocktail, go somewhere new, meet someone new… Flirt without it having to go anywhere. Flirt for the heck of it and the unintended results that that has. And it is not always sex. No one fought. Everyone was gracious. There was some pushing and shoving as one would expect on any self-respecting dance floor. There was otherwise proper girls who dissolved into giggly fans. I liked it. It made a resonance with me. It re-affirmed my love for this really talented boy band … We live in hope.”

BONUS: No edit. This post is a replica of my good friend and writer Dickson’s Facebook post following another one of Sauti Sol’s successful concerts over the past weekend.

Signing out,

Proud Publicist.

The history of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops, where marijuana dealing is legal, dates back to the early 70s. And since, for most tourists, it’s not a complete taste of Amsterdam’s diverse culture without a good spliff. I am finally seated inside a coffeeshop with an Amsterdam native to oversee my experiment-cum-experience. We haven’t started smoking yet but I already feel like I don’t want to leave, more than I want to smoke. The freedom of it being legal here is grippingly unfathomable. But I keep calm and act like a trooper.

DSC_0577The self-service at Café 420 is simple: order your weed or coffee, or both – pay and sit down for a roll and sip. Dealers assume that smokers know how to roll weed. If you don’t, you can instead buy spliffs already done, for a few more cents or euros, depending on type. But my company, who I will refer to here as my Amsterdaman, is an expert at rolling. Tonight it doesn’t matter that I’ve never liked weed or that it stinks; I am about to have some. And if it works the same way a cigarette does after a satisfying meal, then after the kind of massive dinner we just had, I should be okay.

There is a very big black cat, lingering around like it owns this place. Sometimes, it’s sitting on one of the big stools by the bar, prying into private conversations. When it gets bored, it gracefully walks on top of the counter and impressively jumps across the bar into the shelf where it cuddles the old school stereo, smoothly emitting sounds of Kings of Leon, 30 Seconds to Mars and A Tribe Called Quest.

10536493_10152557457412559_1434802227_nThe harsh smoke smoothly grazes down my throat. “Take it easy,” Amsterdaman urges me as I cough. But with every sip of cappuccino, the next puff feels better. In fact, I feel irie. My head is slowly spinning in light of the moment and every micro situation emerging from it. We start to catch up; it’s been about four years since the last time we saw each other. Then we become silly. We jest about what could possibly be the black cat’s soliloquy. It’s funny. But it’s even funnier knowing that we are being silly but we can’t help it. We laugh out loud. I notice that everyone in the not so big café is calm and collected. The roar of our laughter and the riot we make out of the sheer pleasure of reuniting – is my only surrounding. I feel the need to take away something for myself, or someone, so I head over to the counter and buy a Café 420 Lighter and a fancy slice of lemon weed cake, for a friend at home.

DSC_0593We happily walk out of Café 420 and into the city for a walk, where we admire the beautiful illuminated canal rings (shining by night), and slanting buildings. I wonder if the buildings are really slanted or the weed’s high is rearranging architecture. It’s about 11 p.m. and finally pitch-dark. We end up at the only club I fall in love with while in Amsterdam—Bitterzoet, where we meet other friends. This is the place where I discover the world’s classiest and sweetest Rosé beer – the only thing I would end up drinking, almost entirely, throughout my trip in Netherlands. Soon, I’ve lost my people. Looking for them, I head upstairs into the smoking room. It’s crowded here worse than at mini coffeeshops. It’s like a smog storm going down; I can’t see a thing and the air inside is humid and dense—a mixture of all sorts of smokable things. I locate them after a few seconds and dash out immediately. I have finally embraced my two-faced vagabond spirit, I don’t care that the smoke probably has my hair smelling like shit. It’s never that serious.

DSC_1345DSC_1364DSC_1257DSC_1277As my stay in Netherlands elongates, I attend festivals, concerts and walk around town, hawk-eyed, checking out coffeeshops from a distance. Smokers are all over. There’s yet another weed crowd and cloud at Gyptian’s concert at Keti Koti Festival. However, there aren’t as many peeps smoking weed here as there would be in Nairobi, if Gyptian performed at Uhuru Park or KICC. On a different night, before heading out to Wiz Khalifa’s concert, I eat a yummy weed chocolate muffin in respect of Khalifa’s status as rap’s weed prince (Snoop is the King or Lion). At the concert, Wiz Khalifa’s full band is performing while smoking kush; half the crowd is smoking up too. I am hypnotized more by the fact that I am at Paradiso (one of Amsterdam’s legendary concert venues transformed from an olden church building) attending Wiz Khalifa’s concert. At some point, his Taylor Gang Crew stop the concert to make him smoke up the biggest spliff I have ever seen—it looks like a barrel-sized Cuban cigar. Amsterdam people cheer on! “Arrr rrr he heee heee hee hihihi” – there goes Khalifa’s sheepish signature high-on-weed laugh. My night is made. I’ve already had a couple of Vodka cocktails, and the weed muffin I took is finally starting to manifest. Wait. Wiz is singing: So what we get drunkSo what we smoke weed … We’re just having fun … We don’t care who sees … So what we go out … That’s how it’s supposed to be … Living young and wild and free …

The muffin doesn’t get me really high till about six hours later. After which I am hungry every 30 minutes. By the end of the night, I’ve disgusted myself, having eaten like four starved men would. I vow never to eat weed muffins again. Interestingly, with time, my perception of weed slowly transforms, from the stinky stick to just another thing equivalent to a cigarette or cigar. I think I am also getting high just off the ever-present weed clouds above the city’s social scene horizon. This must be why I am constantly laughing out loud while in Amsterdam.

DSC_1317On my last day in Netherlands, I am up to no good. I am also pressed for time but I have to meet a new friend in Amsterdam. I ask him to take me to so many places including a “a not so full” coffeeshop. He says,  “You’ve got so much to do in such little time,” so we end up at the 1984-founded Siberië (Siberia). This place, older than I am is perfect and private – there are only about 10 people in here. I like its café-style light mahogany furniture. But I don’t like the dealer behind the counter. He barks at me for answering my cell inside the coffeeshop (apparently cell phones are not allowed in here), so I step out. On returning, he asks to see only my ID – this is a requirement for anyone, if called upon. Rules into coffeeshops only allow 18 and over and if too strict – you have to be over 21. But don’t I look older than that? Grrrrrr!! Free at last, we end up checking out Siberië’s detailed menu, before embarking on discovering each other’s world over some coffee and hash (spliff made from concentrated THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): cannabis most active ingredient—“positive weed,” my friend calls it.

Lighter down the throat; hash hits the head faster. I am now a trooper. We have a great conversation revolving around South Africa, Kenya, Netherlands, westernization and African cultures. It’s a dope coincidence that we both work in music entertainment. There’s so much more to share and talk about but tonight my friends from Europe have organised my last-supper farewell dinner by the sandy beach at Scheveningen (district in Hague), so I have to make it there. Lost in the creation of a new bond, I end up missing my train to Hague, and almost missing the train after that. When I finally make it in, my Kenyan friend from Finland, accompanying me to Hague, won’t stop laughing at my newly acquired lisp thanks to hash highness. I also can’t stop laughing, and talking while simultaneously thinking about how an 85-minute long date left such a grand and lasting effect ;-)

Within no time, we have arrived at Den Haag. The slightly over 50-minute train ride from Amsterdam today felt like it lasted a mere five minutes.

Read the complete Love, Sex and Drugs series below:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam Red Light District (Part II)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

BONUS: The above series only account a section of my adventures and experience and should not be confused or mistaken for condoning salaciousness or the use of marijuana or any other substance.

 

 

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

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

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

I had too much music

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

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

“No more cigarette!” The Big Break

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

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

On Composition & Bamada Longevity

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

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

My private concert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might also dig my Interview with Anthony Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Japheth Kagondu. 

POF Exhibition Dates PosterEdward Manyonge’s debut exhibition “Pieces of Fortune” is opening at The Michael Joseph Centre, Safaricom House this Sunday afternoon 25th August starting 3.00 p.m.– 5.00 p.m.  

So excited! this is the second exhibition I am curating :-)

Nway, “Pieces of Fortune” celebrates the freedom provided by modern aspects of art and its collection is a touch of contemporary designs with some depicting architectural aspects while providing a minimalistic yet valiant feel to Edward’s paintings, most of which are acrylic on canvas.

Painter Edward’s bold and colorful works champion both figurative and abstract mediums that enthrall into an inward journey into his world. His style portrays vivid images and patterns painted “from the inside out” as he puts it, so as to allow for the present moment to inform the process of creation with an intention to feed heart and soul and instill a sense of peace and joy.

Edward started “playing with colors” while still as young as five years old. He would later emerge Second Best in Kenya in a national competition on painting sponsored by Kiwi at 12 years old. His works have previously been exhibited at joint exhibitions including at Alliance Française and at Braeburn Garden Estate. After studying Art, Design and Photography at the Buru Buru Fine Arts, Edward is now Braeburn Garden Estate High School’s Graphic Designer and enjoys painting at any given free time.

“Pieces of Fortune” exhibition has been supported by Michael Joseph Centre and opens for public viewing from Monday 25th August till 2nd September 2013. Surprise guests will grace the exhibition’s opening in an acoustic performance, after which Edward will give the guests a brief welcoming note. You are invited.

Exhibition curated by Anyiko Owoko. For reservations of seats/a chance to interview artist Edward Manyonge/purchase or have art work reserved, email anyiko.owoko@gmail.com 

 

 

(37 of 40)Erykah Badu loves her personal space. While at her exclusive press conference at Sankara hotel in Kenya, she first requests to move back the dozen microphones on the table staring closely at her. “Hi Nairobi, hello, how’s everyone doing?” The presence of the queen of neo soul in the room is overwhelming, so much that nobody greets her back, at first. It’s 3pm, about 14 hours since her arrival in the country and four hours since the cancellation of her first press conference. But despite jet lag and sleepiness that she confesses to fighting, Ms Badu looks pretty well rested. When the moderator opens the floor for questions, it’s not a fist-fight as you would expect, everyone seems to be intimidated—I am. But as soon as the soft-spoken singer starts to chat, the air around the room becomes more conducive.

She immediately states that music and performance is therapy to her. “Music is almost like the fifth element, it brings about emotion and change in many ways. Its frequency is specific; each note has its own vibration that can be measured. I write lyrics according to what the music makes me feel.”

Erykah is also a songwriter, actor, director, producer and activist—a personification of artistry. From her 90s turban, long dresses and Afros to now—long flowing and kinky hair easy-going with vintage hats; her image has evolved over the years. Erykah’s brass African-map-shaped ring stands out in her fashionable ensemble of cobalt pajama-esque pants, a navy blue top, and numerous humongous wooden bangles. “My taste in humor, fashion, music and film are all in the same category. I like to hear what I like to feel and see, I just gravitate towards things that I get attracted to aesthetically, it’s the art of creating an experience for people to share”, she says. Her music is however unmoved, she’s remained consistent, versatile and unparalleled— almost like she’s has always been in her own world.

The next day at exactly 9.15 pm at Carnivore gardens, Erykah gets on stage. From hard stepping hip hop to mellow sounds, Erykah is a fierce and fearless vocalist/performer. She’s also playing an electronic drum kit in a crazy dance-set with her band. Constantly sipping from her little thermos flask what could be water or vodka or whatever, that nevertheless fires her up at every sip. “At the back! What the fuck you looking at!?” She engages the audience who roar back at her. She sings out loud mixing cussing words with banter, unrelated. Here, she’s self-assured and at home.

I finally get the balls to shoot a question at Ms Badu on her connection to the motherland.

“My first connection to Africa is because about three generations back my family was brought to America from Africa. As Africans living in America, it’s hard to trace our roots so we have to sometimes create our own history, communities and tribes to identify with. Because our birth right is not in place we want to belong to Africa in some kind of way.” Erykah is also involved with the Kemetic community (the study of Egyptian writings) which influenced her stage name. Originally named Erica after a famous soap opera star of the 70s, soon after becoming a recording artist, she changed her name’s suffix to Kah (The inner self that cannot be contaminated). “I wanted to have a name that would have some kind of vibrational frequency that could connect me to my past and future. Badu means 10th born in Ghana, I don’t know why I am [one] but we’ll find out, I am still evolving and creating every day.”

Erykah is also a doula (an assistant to a birthing mother). And she equates birth of life to music. “As a doula I have to be like water, always out-of-the-way to help. But when am on stage am a different kind of servant, I am the mother and the audience is helping me give birth.” On stage, she feeds off the audience’s energy and seems taken a back at Nairobians serenading most of her songs word-for-word. This is where she gives her all. Her typical raspy voice suddenly sounds like three soul singers in one and still manages to outshine her two powerful vocalists paired with her tight six-man band—in a good way. When the ‘Badu, Badu, Badu!’ rhythmic chant overwhelms Erykah, she asks each member of the audience to yell out their own names instead. “What? Are you afraid to scream out your name?” She prods.

It’s a two-hour long concert (non-stop) that sees Erykah, after every couple of minutes shed something. From her shawl, socks to heels—period. When she performs Window Seat, nobody is certain she won’t drop more clothes. She doesn’t.

“Window seat video was performance art and nudity always played a big part in it because [it] demonstrates the bareness of the subject. My issue was group think, which affects all spheres of life from politics to media. I shot the video is Dallas as at the site where JFK was assassinated. As I took each step I eliminated a piece of clothing that represented a thought or something I had learnt forcefully or not here on the planet and as I was totally nude—I was assassinated. In America nudity is grossly misunderstood when it’s not packaged for the consumption of men, I hope a lot of people got the point but if they didn’t, they don’t have to, you cannot censor art.”

My best moment at the concert is her performance of Gone baby gone and Bag Lady. The drum and electric guitar provide a sultry bouncy beat—that deep neo soul. When performing Love of my life (An ode to Hip Hop), her  collaboration with former boyfriend Common, she glows like a woman in love. Should have asked her to pass over Common’s number or Andre’s. WTF.

IMG_9559The four-time Grammy award-winning singer has five albums. Her first album (Baduizim) came out in February 1997. Her second album Live came out the same year  in November. The same day her son was born. “I spent the whole of my first pregnancy working at the beginning of my career; I had to breast feed and create a home on the tour bus. I know no music business without my children,” says the mother of three.

Her last song Call Tyrone leaves an absolute sense of satisfaction. She’s incessantly chanting ‘peace’ and bids a gratified crowd goodbye displaying with her hands heliograph signs for love and peace. The undisputed queen of neo soul doubles up as queen of the night. She exits. It’s just a few minutes to midnight: 12.12.12, Kenya’s 49th Independence Day.

For more info: www.erykah-badu.com

There is a building at the well-groomed Kifaru gardens disguised as a house. Inside lies a recording studio, a music cum book library and even picturesque collections of Eric Wainaina’s musical journey. This was the venue for the listening party of his third album titled ‘Love and Protest.’ On that cold night, bonfires lit up the garden’s surrounding. Inside the ‘house’ was a different kind of fire fuelled by three special rooms separated by distinct sounds and tags on each door labeled, ‘Love’, ’Protest’ and ’Groovy’.

Up and about the partitions, guests sampled songs from ‘Love and Protest.’ Notable were groovy tracks like ‘Orutu special,’ a song bordering between the benga genre-fused with the orutu (a traditional Luo one stringed fiddle), this one made us (Wanjeri and I) dance at the first listen. The song ‘Mariana’ was harmonious and sweet sounding akin to the echo of saying that name. Ok, say ‘Mariana’… shhhhhh, hear the echo? Certainly a certified feel-good jam! (alliteration naaaayo! #ReasonsWhyIownThisBlog :-)

Do you remember when the Wainaina-Factor shun corruption using the simple yet brilliant hit song ‘Nchi ya kitu kidogo’? Well the muse behind all that seems to be intact as if frozen by time and now ready to melt again. At the center of his compositions are messages gunning for reform. That Wainaina- Factor has now given birth to the song ‘Revolution’ which was written to give a voice to the disempowered. “There is a Che Guevara saying that goes, ‘All rebellion comes from a place of Love’. Like the rest of Kenyans, I was saddened by the post-election violence. In trying to make sense of the sad occurrence I realized that people protest where there is no love, and that said; protest is just part of patriotism. At the end of the day, after voting we are still one despite the different tribes,” said Eric.

‘The road’ is a song collaboration between friends. Eric and Senegalese world star Baaba Maal who enriched ‘Love and Protest’ by adding distinct sounds of mbalaax, a stamp of a Senegalese music style. “From the look of things Eric isn’t going anywhere. In fact, he seems to be all over the place of late,” that would be Africa’s testimony is she would talk. Eric most recently graced the Umoja festival in Maputo. Just weeks before that he was among a lineup of African musicians performing at the Arts Alive festival in Johannesburg, S.A. In a fateful twist that came to be Eric’s opportune moment to meet Nigerian born songbird Asa, who was also present at the festival. “Love and Protest was actually ready in 2008 but when I heard Asa, her sounds gave me  a whole new inspiration, enough to have stalled the album till now. Meeting her this year was amazing and I hope to work with her on a song in the near future,” asserted the multi award-winning singer, actor and playwright.

So, why don’t I usually get loads of such exclusive invites to listening parties? Kenyan musicians, iko nini? I warmed up to the whole idea and loved the execution, I enjoyed it! Eric backed by Aaron Rimbui on the keyboard and The Mapinduzi Band even gave us a live performance at the ‘house,’ Shukran to y’all! S/O to Nanjira.

BONUS: Love and Protest is Eric’s first self-produced album. It covers elements of reggae, benga and R & B. Eric & The Best Band in Africa launched the 14-track album in DEC 2011. I got my copy, get yours! For more information please visit ericwainaina.com

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