In 2006, Tanzania singer Nakaaya Sumari left the Tusker Project Fame academy in tears.
She had not only been eliminated but also told by one of the trainers to consider a career change. But she went back to her country, and set out to prove him wrong.
She released enough songs to make an album and even began touring other countries to perform. And last December, while in Copenhagen, Denmark, on a performance tour, Nakaaya, now riding high with her hit song Mr Politician, was invited to a forum to speak about music development in Third World countries.
There were representatives of leading music labels in the world, among them Sony BMG. After the talk, the country director of Sony BMG called her to say they were pleased with her performance.
“They liked my performance and music, and, after listening to my album, they offered to sign me,” she says excitedly.
This was a major deal, since her music would now be distributed by the recording firm alongside that of renowned artistes such as Mary J Blige, R Kelly and Alicia Keys. It was a deal she could not refuse.
“I had to fly in my lawyer just to make sure that I sign the right deal,” says Nakaaya, has been in Kenya to participate in the Patricia Show, an M-NET production. She told Lifestyle that Sony BMG want to redo her album, re-brand it and “make sure that it fits the international standards it requires.”
Nakaaya’s musical success started after she released Mr Politician, which featured American rapper M1, who is a member the group Dead Prez.
“The song was done in Tanzania by Kenyan producer Ambrose of Mandugu Digital. M1 was doing a tour in Kenya and Tanzania and he liked my style,” recalls the singer with a powerful stage performance.
The two have done three other collaborations but Nakaaya says the songs will not be released this year because Sony wants to promote her album first. “There will be no new releases, unless it’s from the album. Next year, I will start releasing new hits,” she says.
Nakaaya is planning to launch the album in Dubai in May. “We want to start with Middle East, where East African music is becoming bigger every day, then we can do other launches in different parts of the world, Tanzania included,” she says.
In Tanzania, Nakaaya seems to be giving the established female musicians such as Lady Jaydee, Ray C and K-Lynn stiff competition.
“They are good musicians,” she says, “they have their own musical strategies, and they came into the industry way ahead of me.” Although she was eliminated in the Tusker Project Fame game, Nakaaya seems to be gaining a high profile, which some of the finalists crave, something she attributes to her hard work.
“I don’t hear much of them,” she says of the finalists. “I don’t really know what they are doing.” She thinks that Project Fame is a good platform for many up-and-coming artistes, but points out that the organisers can do better.
“I know the second winner came from Uganda, I don’t even know her name, as I watched about two episodes. That means there is something that the organisers are supposed to be doing that they aren’t,” she says.
Does she give credit to TPF for how she turned out? “I was already known in Tanzania before I went to Project Fame, so they cannot count me as their success story. When I left the academy, that was the last time I heard from the organisers. I’ve worked hard on my own to appeal to fans out there,” she says.
“I think I’ve worked hard to be recognised internationally, and at home too, something that Valerie should think about,” she says.
Valerie Kimani was the winner of TPF1. Linda Muthama, a finalist, has released a number of songs that are receiving massive airplay in Kenya. In 2007, she released a Christmas album Ni Muciare which was well received, especially due to the proper timing of its release.
Cedric Dambala, another finalist, has released a number of songs, too, and hosted karaoke nights in different clubs. Alvan Gatitu, the other finalist, has not released a song that has received recognition in the market.
Nakaaya has been performing at various functions in Tanzania , but still reckons she has enough ground to cover to get where she wants to be.
“I still need to do more. I thank those who told me that I cannot make it in music, because they made me work harder and become who I am today,” she says.