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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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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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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 spend 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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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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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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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

11815827_10153392531117559_490744727_n
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!