Dancehall artiste Ali Yusuf who goes by the stage name Arrow Bwoy may have found a steady footing in the music industry going by his club bangers ‘Digi Digi’ and ‘Murder’. The musician is still waiting for his music to make financial sense, but meanwhile, raw passion is his driving force. He spoke to Josephine Mosongo
Where are you from?
I’m a Kenyan, I was born in Huruma but my mother is Ugandan. I studied in Uganda for a while so that’s why I have a grasp of the language and use it in my songs.
How old are you? I’m 24
How often do you visit Uganda? Not that much because my mother lives here, my dad too. Maybe once a year.
Do you have relatives there? Mainly my uncles.
Coming from these two background, how does that influence your music?
It helps a lot because I’m trying to fuse two cultures and the diversity that comes with it means I have two types of audiences which is really cool. It’s an added advantage because when both sides (Kenya and Uganda) hear me sing I like to think they say ‘huyu ni wa kwetu’.
What pulled you into the world of music?
I think it’s always been in my blood because I started out young. After high school I fully immersed myself into it. I was inspired by those who came before me like Chameleone, E-Sir and Redsan.
How long was it before anyone noticed you?
About five years. In 2012 I was part of a group and we did three singles, and when I left in 2015 my fan base began to grow. After I released three of my own singles King Kaka discovered me. He was a fan of my music. We met before I released ‘Murder’ and today here we are, I’m signed to Kaka Empire.
What is your genre? I do dancehall in simple English and Swahili.
Do your parents listen and watch your music videos?
My mother is a big supporter, but sometimes she doesn’t see all my work because of the nature of my videos (chuckles). She heard ‘Digi Digi’ on radio. Sometimes she will learn a word or two and tell me “inasema sijui nikupende hadi mwisho wa kalenda, ni nyimbo nzuri”. She really has been a big fan.
Does she come to your shows?
Not yet, ever since I started I haven’t booked a major gig that I can invite her to. There are a couple here and there to keep me going though.
Are you making enough money to sustain yourself?
I can’t complain, but I’m not doing this for the money. Show or no show I will keep singing. Passion drives me.
How do you feel when your songs are popular, played in clubs and radio, but haven’t yet translated to financial stability?
Of course you will feel bad if money is the driving force. Music is a process, it takes a while before you get back what you put in and it finally becomes a business. The first achievement for an artiste is airplay, if you get that you feel proud and appreciated. So I feel good that people are appreciating me and that I’m growing.
You must be a patient person then...
Of course, I have to be. There are people who wait for 10 years to get a hit, others make it after a year… it’s a process.
How many songs have you released this year?
Three songs that I think are doing well, ‘Digi Digi’, ‘Murder’ and ‘Lover Man’ featuring Voltage Music from Uganda. Hopefully by the end of the year I will have worked on two more. Before those three I had released others that I thought had an impact because I’d worked hard on them. It’s when I felt I needed help on a management level.
Did you seek out Kaka Empire? I was looking for management but I hadn’t approached them yet, though I had them in mind.
How easy is it to get lost, let things get to your head in the world of showbiz?
If you believe in your own hype you will surely get lost. At one point in your career the hype will fade so you should revisit and ask yourself why you’re there, are you doing it so that tomorrow you can benefit others or is it just to get girls? Everyone has their own reasons.
What lessons have you learnt from your parents that you can impart in your music?
I’m close with my mother, and I saw the effects of domestic violence. So the first lesson is that you can never solve anything with violence. It’s something I saw in our home. But that aside I had a good childhood – yes we struggled but that’s what made me be aggressive in chasing my dreams.
What do you think sets you apart from other artistes?
I leave that up to my fans to decide whether I’m what they are looking for. They know what’s special about Arrow Bwoy because I came into the scene doing my thing like any other artiste. My fans know why they like me or my music and why they embraced me.
Your real name is Ali Yusuf, why do you call yourself Arrow Bwoy?
I used to call myself Ali Cure, it’s a nickname I got in high school from girls because I used to “heal” them (laughs). But I changed it to Arrow Bwoy, I like the way an arrow is designed, once it pierces you it’s hard to get it out and it leaves you with some kind of effect. That’s what I want my music to do, to leave an impact, educate and entertain you.