With many Kenyan artistes complaining about the state of music affairs, Kwame has cut a niche for himself and it’s working for him. Manuel Ntoyai finds out how he does it
Kindly introduce yourself.
My name is Kwame Rigii but my stage name is Kwame, born and raised in Kenya. I have three brothers and three sisters and I am the third born.
When I started doing music, it was a away of escaping negativity and peer influence. But in 2007, I realised that I could make music a professional career instead of a hobby or a second job and still be happy.
How was it growing up?
I was born in Umoja area in Nairobi, and my dad was a fine artist working with the Catholic church. Due to his job engagements, we were moving all over and finally settled in Gaitumbi in Kikuyu.
My father passed away when I was 16, and I had to become part of the bread earners for my family together with my older brother and mother. We had domestic issue cases with relatives which were really bad, so it was not all that smooth.
Then I realised that whenever I wanted to be at peace, I found music as a platform to express my feelings and thoughts and pacify my thoughts and soul.
Take us through your music journey.
Since 2007, I have been experimenting and trying to learn new stuff from different people on the niche that I can do best. It has been a tough journey but when you meet people who understand what you do, it becomes a bit easier to move forward.
I have met producers, friends and fans who are willing to correct and critisise me on what I do in order to see growth of my brand.
Tell us about the experimenting
I have been trying to work with different sounds and music genres to discover where my strength lies. It also involved understanding the music business and I am still learning different stuff including sound quality and sound production.
How would you describe your music?
My music is soulful. Not the hype type that attract majority of the young urban people. It’s laid back and more of story telling, so we call it Urban Folk.
How many songs/albums have you released upto date? I have done two EPs and several projects including theme songs for TV programmes. I have done some other projects which we did with an NGO from UK.
They had a concept on HIV/AIDs and I did a song called Holela for them. I also have a tribute song for the late Wangari Mathai. I have done a couple of singles, Malkia and Aki Wewe.
You have done a song which featured the First Lady, Margret Kenyatta, How did that come to happen?
I was working on a Kikuyu rendition of If Tomorrow Never Comes with my friend and producer Bruce Odhiambo. At some point he asked if I had done something on HIV and when I told him about my song Holela, he suggested we do something new and we did a reggae vibe song.
The next day Bruce called me and informed me that the First Lady was working on a HIV campaign and was looking for a song to headline the project. The next day we went to location where the First Lady and the rest of the team were and shot the video.
Your target market is something other artistes fear to venture into, how do you do it?
From the introduction of my show, it is a story that connects circles of life and you have to be part of it. Those who attend never leave the same as it is an experience that we try to impact on them.
I do music with a live band and it is not all about the mellowness, there are hype songs but not the same way they are done by other artistes. It is all about delivering good music and good content.
I have learnt that people want new stuff apart from what they hear on radio and see on TV. Maturity also plays it’s part and there is a paradigm shift with people crossing to live music.
Are you off the hook?
Yes I am. I am married to my lovely wife Salome and together we have two great kids, a boy and a girl.They contribute so much to who Kwame is.
Apart from music, do you have a second job?
I do music full time. That is my job, but when I am not busy I help with my family business which my wife runs.
It’s a business firm that deals with children entertainment including making of playgrounds, kids event and such. Other times I spend with my family and we have fun together.