Cover Image: All rights www.sauti-sol.com
My body is so sore. Buut you know what? Every bit of the aches and pain was worth it. It rained last week; I wasn’t going to traverse the city in that mess for dance class. Missing that one week, on the other hand, was awful. My body needed some fire to jump start it again. And yesterday’s class with Chiluba was so worth it!
It was an Afrobeat class with a whole lot of waist shaking, jumping, and a whole lot of contemporary afro dance styles whose names I can’t recall. All my muscles ache. I won’t lie; I enjoyed it more than belly dancing.
After the class I had a chat with Chiluba the dance instructor who spoke to me about his interest in transitioning to music.
“Really? Like produce your own music in your studio?” The skepticism was in my voice, in my mind all I could think was why would anyone want to do that?
This is a man who has choreographed for one of the country’s biggest acts – Sauti Sol, he travels abroad periodically to run dance workshops why make the switch?
“It’s time.” Chiluba resolved.
Chiluba went on to school me on why some local artists have made it commercially and those who struggle. “You need to understand the market and give them what they want.” He said. I cringed, I was hesitant then he pointed out the evolution of the Sauti Sol sound, from their first album, Mwanzo to their current album – Live and Die in Africa.
“It’s the way of the music world.”
“Bubble gum variety huh?” I snorted.
“People are so quick to talk about how some Kenyan music is crap,” Chiluba continued to passionately plead the case of the Kenyan artist. I quickly asked why Nigerians make it big.
“First Nigerians are many and they support their own. Nigerians don’t need to go international to become big. They can make it big in Nigeria and survive.”
I had heard that before, but I was hoping there was a different theory.
“You can’t complain that Kenyan music is crap, yes some music is bad but not all of it. Do you remember the early 2000’s Nigerians played our music, they knew our artists, Tanzanians and Ugandans would record at Ogopa DJs and with other local producers and shoot their videos here,” Chiluba continued.
All rights to this video belong to the artists and their producer.
‘”I spoke to a Nigerian music producer recently who was stuck in Nairobi traffic. As he shuttled from one meeting to the next, he tuned into local radio stations. Within that 2 hour time frame he only heard one local song across stations, there was Nigerian and Bongo flava from Tanzania. We only had one Kenyan artists’ song.”
I felt a sense of guilt sweeping over me.
“This man missed a chance to hear a potential new act that he could produce. He laughed; he said there is no way our music can grow if we do not give prominence to our own sound.”
“How can I, as an individual Kenyan help the local artist grow.”
“You said you are a writer? Write about it, buy our music. I get it, you may not like everyone, but for those whose music you like. Buy a ticket, attend a concert, more airplay in matatus, buses, radio stations, at weddings.”
Chiluba made a very interesting statement, “you complain that Kenyan artists can’t afford to buy shoes or are constantly bargaining when they need to do a professional photo shoot or produce a video. Where is the money coming from to build them, if Kenyans don’t support them. You need to see that when Kenyan artistes thrive. YOU THRIVE AS WELL.”
He pointed out that some of our local top acts don’t attract similar booking fees. Sauti Sol is the only one that can book about 1-2 Million bob (10-20,000 USD) a show like Diamond Platinumz and other Nigerian acts. But the truth is local artists even veterans like Wyre or Nameless range at the 200- 500,000 bob (2-5,000 USD) max.
Chiluba did admit that when it comes to quality of production- music and video – our quality can’t compare to Nigerians. Why? Because they can afford the best equipment and talent to produce their music and videos; it’s cyclic, the artists get paid, and they can afford to spend. That simple. “DJs in the club and on radio, more people listen, more people like your play lists you get more gigs from the music. Choregraphers and dancers ; we get the calls for gigs to work with them in concert tours and in music videos. We all grow when the musicians grow. People need to see that.
I felt guiltier listening to Chiluba on the matatu ride which soon came to an end and we needed to part ways. Not before he said something that pierced my heart.
“Imagine it was your brother or sister who was the artiste. Wouldn’t you want them to succeed?”
Just as we parted ways Chiluba said something very powerful, he said,”I look at Sauti Sol, I know their struggle to get to where they are. Knowing that they have made it thus far, I know that I can make it.”
Then a flood gate of artists I know and respect came to mind who invite me to gigs that at times I just don’t want to attend. Albums launched that I don’t buy. I do feel bad. Not out of malice, I have never really been the concerts person.
I don’t like all the artiste’s music, but for the few I do, I guess it’s time to make a few calls and buy some albums to listen to. Let’s be honest, Kenyan music will only grow if we offer support. I started with this blog post; I guess we can all do more in our own way.