Kenyan-born, US-based Owuor Arunga is flat out a wild man on stage and the third cog in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s musical machine. Cheptoek Boyo caught up with the Grammy Award star to talk music
and Coke Studio Africa
Who is Owuor Arunga?
I am the ‘Sultan of Swag’, the ‘Sweet Prince of the Ghetto’, the ‘Pied Piper to the Universe’, a father, son, brother, activist and advocate. I try to do as much as I can to make the world better than I found it.
What’s the story behind shaving your dreadlocks?
My grandfather passed away. He was the oldest patriarch alive and his passing was the end of an era. I was in Amsterdam at the airport and my sister called. She said, grandpa died.
And right at that moment, I was like, I’m gonna have to cut my hair. I got home to Seattle and my mother had cut hers, which were all the way down to like her legs. Shaving is a way of paying respects to the ancestors.
Most interesting projects you’ve done so far?
Being part of the ongoing season of Coke Studio Africa. It’s an incredible project. For me that’s the most exciting, although there’s also American hip-hop duo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which is exciting in a different way.
Coke Studio is exciting in the way that it’s bringing a new dimension of culture to the artistic realm.
As artistes, we’re experiencing art on a different level. We get to be on TV, to produce, to be creative with sets, costumes, music and video production in all facets of media.
It’s really exciting. It’s definitely a game changer for Africa to have like the entire Diaspora come together and collaborate on art.
Visually, musically, sonically and develop relationships, friendships that last forever and that’s gonna make Africa’s music scene grow.
Are you in a relationship?
Yes, with my partner of eight years. I had just gotten out of a divorce. A year later, I met her at a club. She was a big girl and she was doing her big girl thing, like popping and I was like, this girl got swag, I gonna go talk to her. We’ve been together ever since. She’s an amazing artiste.
She choreographs for Maclemore and Ryan Lewis in videos and live shows. Her name is Anna Machiseski but I call her ‘Boo Boo’. We have a five-year-old daughter.
I also have a eight-year-old daughter from my previous marriage. I’m not planning on remarrying. I’ve been through what they call…relationship trauma. I can’t do it. I can’t make the leap. But I try my hardest to be a good partner.
What are your thoughts on Kenyan artistes?
The deejays are incredible. They think for themselves. All the deejays I’ve seen in all the world, I think the deejays here and Finland are the best. I love that they spin like old school music. It’s like a stream of consciousness and that’s healthy for the musical ecosystem.
People hear a lot of different sounds. It’s not like you’re brainwashed by the Top 40 or Top 100. I also love what Elani, Blinky Bill, Rabbit, Victoria Kimani and Sauti Sol are doing. I did a show in Seattle with Sauti Sol not too long ago. They’re amazing.
Best experience you’ve had in terms of stage performance?
When both of my daughters joined me on stage and played the trumpet together. That was a joyous experience to see that the seed that was bearing fruit. Playing at Times Square, Midtown Manhattan, New York City, was also a big moment for me. It became most watched show on New Year’s.
Advice to upcoming artistes?
Obsess over your art form, do it all the time. The only way to be familiar with what you are doing is to truly develop a relationship with your art form. Give it your all and always think about how you can contribute to the people around you whether it will teach, heal or give them love.