The coming together of Sauti Sol and I was based on our creativity. As a band they are very creative. When you listen to their voices what stands out is the harmony -there are three harmonious voices, and one guitarist, a powerful fusion. Yet for the band, that unique sound has never been enough. For them it has always been – this is who we are, this is what we are known for, but what else can we do? How else can we represent our country, our Continent? When we first met and I heard their voices and they told me their story, I knew they had something going on that was unique. The problem was their sound was so different that every producer turned them down. A lot of people did not understand their sound and did not want to be part of an experiment. At that point half of Sauti Sol and l were studying French at the Alliance Française. So we went to the Director, Harsita Waters, and said we are students and could we sing for her, and would she mind giving us space – and that is where we had our first concert.
The biggest challenge at any point of Sauti Sol’s career has always been how to get to the next level. I would like to tell creatives out there especially in the music industry- do not wait to have a number one song or a video on YouTube with a number of hits before you present yourself. Sauti Sol had no recording at all and we held a concert that was full house, and soon had a second concert at Goethe Institute.At their first concert at the Alliance Française they were lucky to meet their first manager, Ninka Nauta, the founder of Penya Africa record label. She approached them, said she was from Netherlands and was in Kenya to support Kenyan music,and that theirs was the kind of group she would like to work with. They were like,are you serious? As creatives, if you don’t take risks you definitely will miss out on a lot of chances. I have seen Sauti Sol’s metamorphosis from boys to men. They have grown up and are taller, their voices have changed and you can hear this when you listen to the new album that is set for release this year, Live and Die in Africa. But even their thought processes have changed. When they started out they wanted to be known, and to share their music. But when you get known, and share your music,then what next? You start to create for a particular audience, you start to create for a particular achievement. Their publishers have really helped them and they are getting to that level, but it is a slow process. Right now Sauti Sol is packaged for Africa. We have no business making it big in America or in Europe when we are not the biggest band in Africa. Who are we making music for if Kenyans, East Africans, or Africans don’t understand our music? How do we expect the rest of Europe and America to understand our music? Our new focus is to make our African tours a success, and ease up on tours across Europe and America. The band has been playing in Tanzania and South Africa, Mali, Namibia and Nigeria. We are planning shows in Uganda, Kigali and now with the new album we will have a lot of shows out there.
I am going to talk about Sauti Sol’s success story especially when it comes to Nishike. Nishike is the baby you don’t want to keep showing off to people, what you might call a ‘necessary evil’… It started with a young producer, Kagwe Mungai, relocating to Kenya. Kagwe is one of the youngest and most innovative and brilliant producers in Nairobi right now. I remember interviewing Kagwe on my TV show Grapevine and he told me very clearly – I am here to work with big artists, I am here to work with phenomenal artists, I would like to pick the sounds of artists like Eric Wainaina and I would love to work with the young creatives like Sauti Sol. Sauti Sol are very choosy,very particular and have set such high standards for themselves it makes them really choosy when it comes to who they work with. So in my head I was like – way to go.Their producer called Sauti Sol, met them and told them this is who I am, this is what I want to do with you. The timing was perfect because Sauti Sol had just started working on the new album, so they said bring us a track and if we like it we will do something with you. So [the producer] came to the studio and played the instrumentals of the song that would become Nishike. Immediately the guys heard the beat they knew the kind of lyrics to put to it. They did the song in just one night. They called me to the studio to listen to it. The first time I heard the song, I thought it futuristic, the kind of song that international artists like Usher, or Boys to Men might sing. For Sauti Sol, this was bold; not like an African band. I immediately gave it the go ahead because if you are going to make a difference, you have to make a big difference. It should not be something comparable to anything close to home.
To prepare for the video, we had a week of intense brain storming with Sauti Sol’s manager Malek, a brilliant mind, the Director of Nishike, Enos Olik, Assistant Director Marvin Obaga and their team plus a few girls who wanted to cast for the video. It was important they understand the concept of the video with its celebratory adult theme,over which we had agreed. It was not supposed to make women look like objects.The band sang lazizi, then Coming Home. Next was Mama, Papa, directed at parents,and eventually came the raunchy Nishike. Everything went well, the video came out and when promoting it I remember this one time I was awake for two hours straight because of the conversations it provoked. It has not been an easy road. The song has received a lot of criticism, but we stand by Nishike because it is part of us, it is our song and it is one of the most sexiest songs in the album. The video got us to one million hits, after which Sura Yako music video officially got a million hits. The first video of Sura Yako was very close to a thousand hits.
It is the coming together of strategy and consistency and minds that change trends .Sauti Sol doesn’t just want to be big in Kenya. They work hard. Three days a week in studio, and three at rehearsals. For Sauti Sol and me, this is what it is. We don’t have another career. We are doing this to make money. When it is your business you don’t sleep; you obsess and you work hard. Nishike getting a million hits translates to currency. So artists should take not only radio, but also social media platforms seriously. One needs a team: a manager, a publicist, a communication team, and you need to make sure the social media is active at all times. No serious artist can afford to have social media on pause for more than three hours. I am happy to say that Sauti Sol Facebook page currently has 170,000 likes, we have 136 thousand followers on twitter, 54,000 on Instagram and our YouTube now has millions of genuine views. The best thing any artist or creative can have is a true fan base, a true followership so that the conversation continues even when you don’t have a new product out. When Sauti Sol fans, for instance, said ‘we don’t like what you did with Nishike. It is not who we knew you for,’ Sauti Sol answered, ‘okay, but you need to know that we are growing up but we have other stuff for you.’
So for me it is an honour to represent Sauti Sol at this very important conference. I just love to say that Sauti Sol is not really in competition with other artists; they are in this to bring a huge contribution to the industry and to inspire up-coming bands and musicians. Together with Sauti Sol we would love to see Kenya’s entertainment scene move a notch higher and match up to those of the West. We would love to see artists make money off their music; we would love to see artists promote a culture and a lifestyle of celebrities and pop culture. We would love to see artists being given the VIP treatment that they deserve.