Sultry songstress Amani was the second female artiste in Kenya after Wahu to win an MTV Africa Music Award (MAMA), back in 2009. However, she has for the past year been missing in action, and recently opened up about the reason behind this: she wanted to focus on her marriage and hair business.
Nation.co.ke recently caught up with her and went down memory lane with the singer, whom R. Kelly once referred to as professional and hardworking.
You are one of the pioneers of genge music…what is your take on the industry today?
We no longer have taste-makers and that’s why tunachapwa viboko (referring to Tanzanian and Nigerian music that has taken over the Kenyan market). In our times, we had very good taste-makers, the likes of Lucas Bikedo and Francis Bikedo of Ogopa Deejays and Clemo of Calif Records. These individuals, just to name but a few, could foresee how far a song would go as well as last.
That’s why they were able to shake the industry, helping us produce big hits then. They had a strategy and vision for every particular song they produced. Nowadays, all we have is young chaps who only care about the beats. Even when Sauti Sol started later on, they had to persevere and survive with their kind of sound until it became mature and everybody accepted them. Look at them now. You have to have a vision and strategy for your sound as an artiste, it’s not all about creating a beat then jumping on to it with a feeling of accomplishment.
Apart from your family and business, could this lack of taste-makers currently, as you pointed out, be another reason for your decision to go slow on music?
Not at all, circumstances changed. Having said that, you should also understand that every generation has its own kind of music and it’s not good to force your type of music on another generation. They will still love your work but there is that particular kind of sound which they identify with. For example, if Usher Raymond releases a song today, everyone will acknowledge it but the kind of response he will get from the current generation would not be the same as that of the Chris Brown generation.
Many artistes of this generation seem to be living well off endorsement deals. Back then did you have these?
Yeah! They were. I signed three major East African endorsement deals back then with Airtel (then known as Kencell) as a brand ambassador in Kenya, Stella Artois and Star Lager beer in Uganda. Jua Cali and I also had an endorsement deal with MTN Uganda and that was around 2008 to 2010.
There is also this issue we tend to see every day where artistes pull publicity stunts by creating scandals (‘kiki’) so as to push a new song. Did you guys experience the same?
Kiki zilikuwepo (were there), the only difference between our time and now is the social media that has really revolutionised showbiz. I remember many incidents when I was under the Ogopa label, there used to be so much beef that I call competition between us and Calif Records. Both recording labels would create ‘kiki’ (scandals) just to outshine one another. They were the main rivals back then.
What major scandal do you recall?
Within Ogopa Records, there was always constant ‘fights’ between Kleptomaniax and The Longombas. You wouldn’t put the two to perform on the same stage. There was always something, real beef, and this really created a lot of showbiz hype then. If only we had social media then, the kind of ‘kiki’ you see now wouldn’t match what we had.
Most artistes we have these days love to show off and are always flossing, from the cars they drive, fake gold teeth, houses they own, designer clothes and such. Which artistes of your generation matched them?
Oooh! Lord. Our king of flossing was Prezzo. And like I said the only difference was social media. If those days you would have given Prezzo social media, then all hell would have broken loose.
How do you remember the late E-Sir, who has been touted as one of the revolutionists of Kenyan modern music?
He was extremely talented. From the moment he joined Ogopa, he really challenged us. We were used to releasing singles but when E-Sir came, before we could even blink, he had already dropped an album, with all the tracks from the first to the last becoming instant hits.
Back in 2010, you got a chance of a lifetime to record a song with celebrated RnB star R. Kelly “Hands Across the World” in the One 8 Airtel project. Out of the eight musicians who made that track, R. Kelly praised your and Alikiba’s work ethics. Have you kept in touch with him?
Not anymore but after that experience we kept tabs for a while. But you have to understand an artiste of R. Kelly’s calibre is not like any other here back home that you can email or ‘buzz’ any time you wish. He is signed to a reputable, respectable recording label, Sony to be precise, which basically manages him, so if you have to get to him, it would be through the management, which is not that easy.
R. Kelly foresaw a bright future in you and Alikiba musically, which left many fans yearning for a collaboration between you two, but that never happened to date?
I actually did a collabo with Alikiba, but when it came to releasing it, we got busy and that’s how it never happened. The track is still there at Ogopa Records studios.
You claim that there was enough dough in showbiz then as it is today. Would you state a rough estimate of what an artiste of your time would consider a hefty payday?
(Smiling). You really have a way of going round this money issue. Well, I will tell you this: it all depended on where one got those shows. I don’t know if the rates have gone up currently but back then, within regional Africa, a top-tier artiste would get paid between $10,000 to $40,000 (Sh1 million - Sh4 million). When it comes to East Africa, one would part with $4,000 to $15,000 dollars (Sh400,000 to Sh1.5 million). The rate would drop to less than $4,000 for shows within the country.
Which artiste of your generation do you adore for his/her work?
That would be Nyash (Nyashinski)
Do you say that because he is currently the talk of the town since he got back from the US?
Not really, Nyashinski has been my friend all these years but above all, he is a very talented person and I remember he did contribute a lot in the completion of one of my albums.
After all these years, you are still one of the most fashionable artistes in the industry. What informs that?
I wouldn’t say I’m fashionable, the correct word is stylish. Fashion comes and goes with generation but one's sense of style is what makes the difference. I believe this is the reason I have been able to remain fashionable as you put it (laughing).
Have you ever been employed in your life?
Oooh yes, I had a job before music. I used to work as a marketer at an online recruitment company called [email protected]. It was the first of its kind in Kenya. I also did programming.
What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
I have a sweet tooth. I love junk. I just can’t do without my chocolates and cakes.
Really! And how have you managed to maintain your curvy, sexy youthful body without adding on weight?
I exercise every single day. I don’t have a choice.
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