Sauti Sol: Taking Kenyan music to the world

Saturday August 4 2012



You just got back from a tour of Europe, how was the experience?

It was phenomenal! We spent three weeks touring different cities and countries across Europe and it was amazing to say the least. We performed on the main stage at the Colours of Ostrava festival in the Czech Republic which is their equivalent of the Cannes Festival and also at the Karlovy Vary International film festival. We also did a street party in Prague and had several other shows in Holland.

How was your music received?

Well, first of all there weren’t many black people and this drew a lot of positive attention to us. People kept taking random photos of us everywhere we went. It was sort of like what happens when African’s encounter mzungu.

When we got on stage, everyone was eager to hear what we had to offer and halfway through our performances they would be dazed. One thing we noticed was the high level of professionalism from the sound and stage setup to the audience. It was totally different from what we have in Kenya.

Please expound

The equipment used was quite superior and the organisers paid keen attention to detail. Unlike with most events in Kenya, they provided us with everything we requested in our technical rider for our performances. The audiences were also very disciplined and attentive whenever there was a performer on stage. That was quite remarkable considering we performed to large crowds of up to 10,000 people.

You shared platforms with some pretty prominent names

It was both amazing and humbling. We performed alongside the likes of Janelle Monae, Hugh Masekela and Alanis Morisette. When you interact with such people you realise that they are normal human beings like the rest of us. The only difference is that they have perfected their art to a level where everyone else recognises them for what they do.

The lesson for us was that we need to push ourselves a lot harder. We used to train for four hours everyday but since we got back we’ve been doing at least six hours. We want other people to look at Sauti Sol and admire what we represent.

How were you able to put together such a trip?

We have a good manager, Nynke. She manages all the other acts signed to Penya Africa. From her networks in Europe where she is based, she was able to get us booked for the various concerts.
Nowadays you don’t wait to get invited to performances, you need to pursue them. It takes a good manager to know the right doors to knock.

You have a new extended play (EP)?

Yes. It was a collaborative project we did with a South African rapper and producer called Spoek Mathambo. It’s very different from most of our other stuff. We launched it at MC Theatre in Amsterdam. It’s very experimental and even we admit it was quite a big risk. But life is all about risks, isn’t it?

For us it’s a sign of musical growth. We can only hope our fans will feel the same way. We believe that music from the heart speaks to the heart.

Why did you choose to work exclusively with Spoek Mathambo?

A friend of ours, Lisa, used to date one of Spoek’s friends. She introduced us and he liked our songs. We had a few Skype calls and email exchanges and within no time he was in Kenya. We recorded the songs in the EP within the week he was in the country. There was no theme, it was one of those “why not” moments.

Working with him was a great learning experience because his style is quite different from ours and he has a lot of cred not just in South Africa but around the world. He has a very different mind from ours and he taught us a great deal about the music business. It was very eye opening.

How has the response been so far?

It has been largely positive although naturally there are those who don’t like the direction. You can’t always please everyone you know. We released it online but we will officially introduce it to the Kenyan market during our performance at today’s Blankets & Wine event.

Word is you also shot a couple of videos while in Europe

In Holland we got the opportunity to shoot the videos for “Range Rover” and “Love or Leave” from the EP and we just couldn’t resist it. Initially we were meant to work with the guys who direct LMFAO’s videos but that didn’t work out.

The locations were amazing and we managed to convince one of the corporates there to give us a Range Rover Evoque, which is the latest model to use in the video for “Range Rover”. What’s weird is that we had tried the same in Kenya but no one was co-operative. The video is also quite different from what people are used to seeing but you can only either love it or love it. It will be out in a couple of weeks.

Are you satisfied with your music careers so far?

We’re getting there. Singing pays our bills and takes care of us but we can’t compare ourselves to artistes like Nameless who have been doing this for over 10 years. But we will make it work.

At the same time we’re keen to keep our heads clear of all the hype and hate. If you have nothing positive to say about us, we will block you out. And that goes for those on Twitter as well.

What next for Sauti Sol?

We will continue making timeless music for as long as we can sing. Our next album will be out in 2014 but in the meantime we will continue on our mission to take Kenyan music to the world stage.