Making millions in the Kenyan music industry has never been this easy.
I mean, look at me!
I travel around with my photos tattooed all over buses. I spend millions of shillings making music videos. Important people take selfies with me. And I do everything first class - just check my instagram.
Pole guys. I’m having the Sautisol dream again.
*Orders Double Mocha; a single for you and a single for me*
Being a familiar face in Kenya has changed. Fans have quit the old “Niachie ya macho”. Nowadays they are more like,
“Juliani! Niaje hako ka selfie?”
They’ve given a new meaning to “kuuza sura.”
That works for me though. I’d rather give a smile than dish out the last coin I was saving to fill my tank with.
In other civilizations, it’s the other way round; fans shower you with cash and presents if they like your record or performance. Huku Kenya guys make it look like you owe them for listening to your songs.
“Juliani mi ni fan wako. Niachie kakitu."
“Hakuna noma. Basi nitajie ngoma yangu moja.”
“Siku hizi nada…”
My motivation isn’t to make money, to travel or to be a familiar face. I started out as just a guy in Dandora who didn’t have good grades. Book worm? I was more like book cold. Cold as Betty’s heart, Betty with the cheap wig, telling me, "Hebu jiangalie alafu uniangalie.”
I couldn’t be a thug. I saw what stealing a black and white Great Wall TV can make people do to you. Young people don’t become thugs because they are poor. It is to find an identity
My education started at Wangu Primary School. Eight years later, I joined Dandora High School. Just a few steps away. Dandora High was one of the schools without bullying. You didn’t know who was who’s brother or sister. You’ve heard about us. Our school strike made headlines; we overturned a lorry carrying beer, putting the slogan “Stand Tall"to the test ; hijacked a KBS bus and took it round the whole of Dandora with one of the students driving! His name is Oscar. A Dandora High Hall of Famer.
We lived by the street code. Every disagreement was settled at the dumpsite. Knuckle to knuckle. A fight began with one guy knocking a stone off their opponent’s hand. If you were badass enough, you’d use your foot to knock it off thus officially commencing the fight. Many fell like the stone. If you were beaten up, you’d walk it off like a middle class Kenyan at the Beyond Zero marathon.
My deskmates were Robert “Mwenyeji”Gakuya and Dominic Lunjala. The Ukoo Flani MauMau camp was literally steps away. I got introduced to them and immediately fell in love with the brotherhood vibe. We ate from the same plate called “kibakuli”, courtesy of Kama K-Shaka’s mom, standing next to Johnny K-Shaka. The guy was cool and the only one with clean dreads. Kalamashaka had a number one song in the country “Tafsiri hii”. We would buy Kitu Sewer a bag of Mogoka (hence the name “Mogoka Genius”) to earn the right to sit next to him trying to figure out his secrets to writing lyrics.
K-Shaka gave the Dandora youth a cool alternative to the street life. We did everything a gang would do apart from stealing and killing. Those were the good old days. Before “Yego” and “Bank Otuch”. Did I just say that? Yes, I said it!
I did a few things to sustain myself as I pursued art. On weekends I performed at the F2 Disco. On weekdays I sold eggs in the neighbourhood. I was like the egg peddler. My source was Njuguna. I had asked him if he could allow me to distribute because he used to have piles of supplies decorating the front of his shop. I made five shillings per tray.
I also helped at my mom's kiosk. She had the best chapo dondo around. And I’m not saying that because it’s what boys say about their mom’s cooking. She really had the best. Ask around K-South. We were like Safcom; for an extra BOB you could get MORE than just a mixture of flour and water.
I handled production; preparing dough at night, boiling the beans and put them on the jiko so they’d be ready by morning. I loved waking up 5 am to open the shop. She would come in at 6 am. This explains why I hardly appeared on MauMau photos. I was mostly at my mom’s kiosk. I wrote the Mtaa Mentality ideas during this period of my life.
By evening we’d only have samosas left. To complement this, I began selling coffee. At ten shillings a cup. I made some extra coins because, at that time, guys would converge at my mom’s kiosk for freestyle sessions after a day of school, work or idling in other areas. We had a guitar we played until the first gunshot or two rang out, interrupting the calming sound of the guitar coupled with the lyrics flying off our tongues. We did this every night.
I have never gone for my school certificate. I kind of have an idea of what I got in my KCSE results. It wasn’t an A or a B. Education played a big role in my life. I could read, write and articulate my thoughts. This was well demonstrated in my lyrics and particularly in fasihi and literature.
There is a big difference between learning and education. I learn everyday. Education ended with a certificate framed on the wall. My brothers came back home with good grades. Maybe grades are the only language some people understand. But a rainbow has many colours. Let’s explore other dimensions. Especially now that a PHD doesn’t guarantee or rhyme with a J.O.B. You can’t judge an elephant by its ability to climb trees.
Being a member of MauMau Camp was a privilege. It was the royal family of Kenyan HipHop. We used to go for concerts as opening acts for K-Shaka. You had to be the best or to have made an impression to be on the lineup. That’s what led me to put extra work in my art. I needed to be exceptionally good. I was like a teaspoon of sugar trying to be sweeter than a drop of honey. I worked on my freestyle, my delivery, my lyrics... We went to the extent of washing Johnny K-Shaka’s boots just to be close to him and feed on the crumbs of his creativity. Be close just incase he decided to give away a clue on how he does it. If he smoked, we’d smoke. If he stayed up all night, he wouldn’t sleep. If he listened to someone, we would study them even more.
We wanted to know the ways of the master.
Kilio Cha Haki was the beginning of my rise. I wrote one of the most explosive lyrics in the HipHop industry then. I wanted K-Shaka to take me to the top of a dumpsite hill, lift me up and declare to the world, “He is the one we have been waiting for!” LOL!
“Nants ingonyamaaaaa... bagithi Babaaaa”
I was played on The Beat. “Fanya Tena" was the single off the album. Mind you, it was the last song to be recorded in the album. You don’t wanna know how it felt. Nilisumbua sana. With my bald head occasionally being on TV, my walk changed. Heck, clothes changed. My confidence went off the roof! Off the roof like the 42 Brothers when they came to steal . 42 Brothers was a well known gang in Dandora and Eastlands. They came in such big number (obviously 42) that they used a lorry. They carried machetes and could rob a whole estate. Tales have been told about them. Apparently they were so confident that they had time to cook ugali as they robbed you.
Crime was so big in Dandora that criminals were celebrities. They were the crowns of your neighbourhood. Batman vs. Superman my foot! We saw that in real life. Unfortunately many perished, but we never said they died. We wore it with pride. The term was “alibaki”. It directly translates to “he was left behind”. Kinda like the Whatapp “left” when a guy is pissed at your positive forwards in the middle of the month as he survives on ugali and avocado. Yes, he left!
We acted like it was a choice to die. A badge of honor to be killed by mob justice. The raining stones would flatten your skull. That’s how we realised that after all, “Kumbe hakua kichwa ngumu!”
My first tour out of town was in Zanzibar at the Sauti za Busara Festival. In 2005 I think. I wasn’t suppose to go, but, somehow, at the eleventh hour, there was an opening. Guys were leaving on the same day. I ran home, excited, and began packing. I couldn’t believe I was actually about to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to another country. My joy couldn’t be hidden as announced to my whole family how I was going to Zanzibar just for being rapper. My mum and dad were thrilled! My siblings patted my back affectionately. At least one of us was showing signs of success. After our meal, my mum held my hand and prayed, thanking God for opening doors and asking him to protect me.
So I finally took a bus, my heart racing and my smile getting wider the closer we got to town. I couldn’t wait to take a bus to Dar Es Salaam, then the ferry to Zanzibar. We got to town and I still couldn’t believe it. Then we realized we had the wrong information. The bus had already left. My heart stopped like for a second. Like... How? Why hadn’t one of my MauMau mates confirm the time? This was to be my only chance to prove to my dad that there was light at the end of the tunnel; that music could take me places; that finally a path has been laid out for me. I didn’t have to settle for what my grades dictated or end up living in the confines of Dandora. It was a possibility. Seeing as the first time I had ever ventured out of Dandora to the city was in 2000. When I started performing at F2.
I couldn’t face my parents. I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t know where to go. But I had no choice, I had to go home anyway. So I took my bag, went to the bus stop and started my journey back to Dandora. That’s the longest bus ride I have ever taken. I stared outside the window as thoughts raced through my mind. How could I have been so stupid. How could I ever think that there was something for me in music?
Finally, I arrived at our compound’s gate, took the stairs and dragged myself to our house. I sat outside for like 20 minutes, then wiped my tears and knocked. My brother opened the door. He was surprised to see me back. He called my parents. My dad came over first, looked at me, and told me some of the most powerful words I have ever heard.
“It doesn’t matter what happens outside in the world. Never be afraid to come back home.”
Those words encouraged me.
Fortunately, the mishap was sorted out and we took the first bus the following morning.
The one thing I have learnt throughout my career is that; these stories, struggles and work are what contributed to making me the person I am today. They validate me. I know many “big people”. I have worked with corporates. I have travelled a lot. But truthfully, the accumulation of my past is the foundation to my music and my career.
People book me for their stages or get me to work with their companies not because they like my looks or because I know people. NO!
It’s because I can deliver.
So I urge you not to look down upon yourself. Work on your talent, your ideas and your thoughts. It doesn’t matter whether you are a cobbler, an athlete or a clerk.
Be the best you can ever be.
Rely on yourself; on what you can offer. Reality changes. Things change.
Your value remains intact.
Edited by @Ngartia of @StoryZetu