The Kenyan Music industry has provided notable names in the international scene since time immemorial. The likes of Fadhili Williams and Fundi Konde wrote songs that transcended African borders and got recognized internationally. However, in the last few decades, the current crop of Musicians have fallen short.
But when an internationally acclaimed Hollywood filmed “Love, Lilly” was released, a Kenyan Musician – from Meru (am I shouting this enough?) – starred as a Doctor and went ahead to win numerous awards; Silas Mwenda – we linked up with him and had the following chat.
Silas, what first got you into music and who inspired you to make music?
I started singing way back in Sunday School in my church in Meru town at the age of around six years. I grew up watching great artistes like Esther Wahome, Cece Winans, Rufftone, Shari Martin on Joy bringers on KBC TV, which was a huge music show in Kenya then.
I also tuned in to John Karani on KBC English service, who always played great jams. I loved singing songs done by other musicians and performing in front of people.
When the evolution of Kenyan urban music came, it really caught my attention. I was a teenager then and I loved the sounds, the energy, and I yearned to be part of its creation.
When I was around 19 years old, I approached Ogopa deejays studios in Nairobi. That was the time when E-Sir, Wahu, Nameless were the biggest hits in the studio. I didn’t have any money to record but I still went to their studios at South B, I sang my demo song to Lucas Bikendo, who was the head of the studio and he liked it. He invited me to record the full song ‘Nakuhitaji’ at the Studio the following day and after one month I got signed.
They were paying for all my videos, recordings, promotions, and interviews. I saw God. It was unbelievable!! The Rest is history!!
So how did you end up in America after being the first Gospel Musician signed by Ogopa Djs?
As I was finalizing working on my first 10 track debut album at Ogopa deejays studios. The record label decided to test the waters and release my first video to see how people and media would receive it. When they released my first video NAKUHITAJI on the media things changed all over a sudden. I would be booked for a show in the evening, the following morning I would be in an interview, and then another and another. God opened surprise doors and within six months after we released the song, I got nominated for an American Music Award “Talanta awards” in the best Upcoming artiste – Non-USA Based category.
I was invited to grace the Award ceremony which happened in Seattle Washington. I traveled there, won the award, and God took over the wheels. The song also got nominated and won at the Newsome AGMA best international artiste. The same year in Washington D.C. I was invited to sing at the United Nations Annual General Assembly at the presidential dinner in New York the same year.
How did you find yourself in Hollywood as an actor?
I got signed to Lincoln Film Agency manned by Elgin and Wendy and got to star in several films and commercials. The company has exposed me significantly in film and Broadway.
Right now am working on film music scores/soundtracks. Again our new film RYDE OR DIE is out across the US. It’s a film based on the Uber ride-sharing app. It’s very cool. People should watch it!
How is life like as a Musician in America?
It’s good but it has its own challenges just like any other industry. It’s actually harder in the US than most people think. The industry is overcrowded with very talented people already.
The industry here doesn’t work like the Kenyan industry. It’s a bit different. The system is different. The untapped talent that sleeps right in the middle is massive. You will always come across great actors, great singers on the street, or subways who have not yet been taped or noticed in the mainstream media yet and they are too looking to find a breakthrough, so it makes it harder for the players to pay attention to the outsiders. Especially the talents that are non-American. People here prefer live performances over playbacks. They also pay attention to the sounds they are familiar with.
The stakes are very high, and the bar is higher. It’s an industry with less mediocrity. You have to work very hard and pray hard as well, especially to get radio airplay or any inclusion. It’s a very competitive industry. Being in love with what you do is what keeps you going. Unfortunately many foreign artistes can’t stand that. Being you, very authentic, unique, versatile, and flexible with audience taste is the Key and finding your unique style, which makes you stand from the crowd.
That’s the reason very many great popular Kenyan/African artistes and actors come here, and they get so much discouraged right away. Many quit, Others remain silent and are forced to go back to their native countries to make a meaningful come back in their game again.
Do you still perform your Kimeru songs in America?
Yes, I do! I always perform them confidently here. The majority of diasporans love them. I believe good music transcends language. It’s a universal language. Recently, when I was invited to curtain raise for Davido’s show I sang Jukia Nkatho. People loved it. That explains why Mafikizolo’s music and the majority of South African music are huge in Nairobi and no one understands Zulu.
Where have you performed and what are your favorite and least favorite spots?
To be honest I don’t have favorites places. To me, every stage is important no matter how small or big it looks or how many people are present. As long as people get reached by my music and message. That’s what really matters. I’ve performed in many places in more than 30 states. Texas Summer Music Festival is my favorite though, Soiled Dove in Lowry Colorado is a great place too.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Soothing, happy, entertaining, Feel good, Uplifting, encouraging, informative, educative. I focus on music that rotates around those aspects because I believe as human beings we need a very special touch at one point or another in our lives.
How is your creative process like?
Most of the time I write lyrics with its own melody from the scratch with no music accompaniment, then present the idea to the music producers and instrumentalists who listen to the demo and create music accompaniment. I usually send the idea to the producers depending on the genre of music I want the song to take. Other times some producers send me a demo track they have already created and I play the track while writing lyrics. I don’t have a specific formula. Whichever works. There are many ways of killing a cockroach hehe
What’s your favorite song to perform?
It’s definitely my brand new song ‘OVERCOMER’. It’s yet to be released song from my forthcoming Album. Overcomer is a song that makes me feel so alive and happy and is always received very well by All audiences whenever I sing it. I can’t wait to release it!!
Any Collaborations? Say with Beyonce? Who would you be most likely to collaborate with?
I am not very picky in choosing people to collaborate with, but first, it has to come from the heart. We have to share the same vision and mission. The only collaboration that has ever done was with my label mate Alfah Fakoly when I was signed at Ogopa deejays studios Nairobi. We were requested to do a patriotic song by Dr.Alfred Mutua for his campaign ‘Najivunia Kuwa Mkenya’ which was very successful. For now, I don’t have much planned. Whatever God brings on my table. (I agree, even Beyonce or Kanye, go for it man)
Which Famous Meru musician do you follow?
Wow! The list is really long! I can only remember the ones I left before I left Kenya. I like Kamanu, I love the way he owns his sounds and authenticity. Single L, Ameru Crew…they have amazing energy. Betty Mwesh, Rosemary Njage. I can’t remember more though but there is an amazing talent from Meru that needs to be tapped for the greater audience.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Well, A lot…fair AirPlay for all artistes, fair distribution of loyalties, and clear all those fake cartels. It’s so sad that’s these days a very talented upcoming artiste with great music, deeper content gets shunned by media at the expense of mediocre artistes by these industry cartels. Crap music rules and dominates the airwaves! Good content doesn’t sell anymore. Especially in Kenya, it’s very sad. If those cartels don’t like you. You are a gone case no matter how good you are! The same faces rule the music and entertainment shows throughout the years. Very many media won’t play your music no matter how good it is if you are not known elsewhere or if you are not affiliated with someone big. It is horrible!! This has to change. Come on now!! Our talented young generation needs to get fair treatment.
How do you feel COVID-19 has impacted your Music business?
Covid-19 pandemic has been crazy to everybody! All places are currently closed here apart from health care and Grocery stores. Many people are locked in their homes. Casting places are closed, Churches closed, all entertainment spots closed, Recording studios closed, Theater closed. Everything is at a standstill.
Give some shout outs to your fans
Thank you very much for supporting me since day one. I couldn’t have been where I am if it weren’t for your overwhelming love and prayers from people like you, who believed in me and gave me the strongest shoulder to lean on. I pray that wherever you are, God will open surprise doors for you and yours too. I love you and I will make sure you always get the best content from me.
What’s next for Silas Mwenda?
I am getting ready to launch a new project that has been in my heart for a while. The project is called Jawabu’ a Swahili word meaning Solution. Jawabu is a Mental health awareness project that I have been working on and it’s finally ready. I want to tell a Mental awareness story through music, film, and documentary. Jawabu is a project that is shedding light on the mental health monster. It’s a silent killer. Onboard I have Mental health experts ready to help you. Many people of all ages and races are fighting and dying silently with no one to talk to. I am praying it’s gonna be of great help to many people. I would like to encourage anyone who is struggling with Mental health issues no matter where you live to reach out to me.
Fans would want to know where to get your content and how to get in touch, How do they reach you?
Join us in welcoming Wyclef Muthomi to the Ameru family! An odd statement, because he has always been a member of The Ameru Crew band that we featured here some time back. Wyclef is an accomplished musician, actor, trainer, scriptwriter, and now, writer! Being an insider, we know that he will bring all of us the very best of Meru entertainment.
Karibu Baaba 🙂