Fresh from Terminal Weekend, fast-rising Kenyan-American act, Steph Kapela is tapped to be the biggest musical talent locally. Despite a record deal gone sour, the aggressive singer/rapper feels unsatisfied by his quick rise to fame since returning to 254 in 2015, writes Alfayo Onyango
Karibu and congrats Steph, but where is the much-anticipated Steph Kapela album and what can your fans know about it to this point?
The album is ready and should drop this August for download. It’s called The Prodigal African in the sense that I relate to the prodigal son’s story. Ivan Odie is on production, and we have told a story through 13-15 songs. A launch will follow in September and October.
You had a relationship with Atwal Adwok, who produced Got the Sauce, probably your biggest hit going by numbers. What’s the real story behind you two falling out?
I was signed to Atwal’s label, but because of legal issues, I can’t speak on the matter. There was a fallout. It got to a point where I felt creatively limited and couldn’t be myself anymore, and I presume the same for him too.
I wish him the best in life, but we are neither friends nor partners. I’m content with my team right now, and when you hear the music coming out, you will barely feel like our relationship made a difference to my art.
Rumour has it he denied you a deal with major international labels…
It could be true. For now, I’m happy working independently, and as far as record labels go, if the money is right and the terms are good, why not!
Musician Barak Jacuzzi announced a joint tape between you two during his set, which he pulled you out at the recent Kaya Fest. Is something cooking in studio?
I think he was joking, but I’d rather stay tight-lipped. I love his energy — it reminds me of myself. I consider him top tier in the business, so if we team up, just expect this to blow your mind.
Are you seeing anyone special?
Yes, I have a prayer partner who’s been with me through the grind to where I am.
There’s a beautiful surge Nairobi is currently experiencing. The tides are shifting in favour of Nairobi going international. What Kenyan acts make you want to do better?
Nyashinski, Octopizzo, Khaligraph Jones are all great, together with the Nu Nairobi wave that’s picking up. From Jovie Jovv, ADF, Vallerie Muthoni, so many acts…they challenge me with the great work they put out.
You’re an energetic performer — it doesn’t seem fair to play for about half-an-hour while international acts grace the stage on for hours. The system is rigged, which begs the question, what’s the way forward?
I’m trying to take my music national, tour Kenya and then international. I love playing with genuinely talented musicians and I’m blessed to have shared the stage with many.
I have a passion, and I can say how South Africa’s Nasty C brought his tour to Nairobi, that is a standard we can match up to. People have hardly seen a fraction of what I can do, I would love to make the stage a theatre and change outfits, have choreography. You know? Make art. We will get there no doubt.
For most of your life, you lived in the US and kicked off your career. In your opinion what holds us back from reaching an international standard?
In Kenya, we do not hold ourselves to international standards, so we make Kenyan music for Kenyans to listen to, while Kenyans love international music as you can see what they gravitate to. We need to love ourselves more. It’s still sad when we talk about recognised international acts, locals are never mentioned when we have so much dope music.
Racism is getting out of hand in Kenya with stories take the Chandarana incident cropping up. Where do you stand in all of this as a Kenyan?
These are always sensitive issues to talk about, but Kenyans just love to take abuse in whatever way. If I can see police brutality on the street and not raise my voice, I am part of the problem. There are many issues that attack us daily and we need to stand firm to them.
Are you living your dream right now?
Yes. It’s insane. I do that stuff on the regular basis. Huge stages to perform at, songs playing on radio, great musicians around me. Groupies (jokes). It’s nowhere near the full picture, but its beautiful.