|© February 21st, 2006 by Juma4 for Africanhiphop.com / pics by Sir Prestige
Once again, the internet was the place where we got to know about a new name in African hip hop: Wawesh, a Kenyan producer/emcee who had moved to Sweden as a child. From the first tones of the mp3 shared on his personal Myspace page, it was clear that Wawesh was going to make some heads turn. And he did more than that: the track ‘Mjanja' (meaning ‘clever person') was well received by some international media including the BBC and our own African Hip Hop Radio and you may have heard the ‘dubplate' intro that Wawesh did for one of our previous shows.
Six months ahead, Wawesh's tracks get high rotation on the Kenyan airwaves and he has a video playing on Channel O and MTV Base Africa. In February 2006, he makes his first trip back to Kenya in a long while together with UK based Kenyan producer Sir Prestige who is doing Wawesh's management. This kind of career path doesn't occur every day or to everyone, so we were kinda curious to talk to Wawesh in person. Since he already landed in Nairobi and we were in Amsterdam, the next best thing to sitting around a table with a Tusker was to meet in a MSN chat, transcript of which you can read below.
J4: How's it going?
Wawesh: Ok, though I've been food poisoned.
Dahh pole... feeling sick right now?
It's ok, I was at Shagz yesterday where I was treated for some good old Mokimo
Shagz? Is that a restaurant?
Shagz is the country side, where my grandmother stays.
Is this your first visit back to Kenya in a while?
So much must have changed...
Crazy, it's like a different world in many ways, but the same in others, such as people being unemployed and corruption etc.
I realized recently that you are actually Kiboi from Blao entertainment... That is your company right?
Yesh that's my producer name, I actually spell it Kiboy though the correct spelling is Kiboi. I started it late 96 together with MALii and Qwadjo. It was after mad frustration in which we felt a need in becoming independent.
Why were you frustrated?
I had been working for two other studios as an intern and I found myself being limited when wanting to use the studio and also I was restricted to working on projects that the studios where prioritising.
In working in the music industry in Sweden, did you bump into obstacles because you have an immigrant background?
Yes indeed, I first encountered this when attempting in connecting with the major recording companies.
Still it seems like in Sweden there are many non-Swedish artists doing their thing. Is there a kind of underground, informal scene or structure for them to release work and to perform?
There are many non-Swedes making music but mainly it's independent due to the politics that exist when one wants the major back up. I mean this in all aspects of launching the music to the public (media, distribution etc).
Still, Blao has been able to work with some big names from the states, i saw your bio mentions Floetry, Nas, CNN... Did you have to hook that up yourself?
We were lucky to connect with a respected person in the industry, Peter Swartling, who loved our production from the get go and has been offering support throughout the way, he has also set up an office in New York, therefore the connection with the States artists.
Now, when did u decide to make music from a Kenyan perspective - using Swahili and talking about things that are relevant to the people back home. Is that something you always wanted, or were you mostly inspired by the recent boom in hip hop culture back home?
Well I first started off as a rapper that looked up to the States and whatever they had to say. I soon after decided to put it to rest cuz it felt wrong writing lyrics that I couldn't relate to. After focusing on production and hundreds of artists a voice grew within me, it gave me ideas on how I could create something original and yet meaningful. This was the birth of Wawesh, the project which is meant to inspire and help push things forward in the name of African Urban music.
You are describing Wawesh as a project; does that mean that there's more people than you alone involved?
Ok, as far as the music goes: lyrics, production, arrangement, mixing and so on I have done it all, management wise I'm helped by Sir Prestige and Lisa Forsberg. I plan to involve more people as Im building, through launching the Wawesh project first it feels as a perfect way to enter the scene instead of being the guy that ‘came from Europe and wanted to set up a studio'.
Now to take your music from abroad to Kenya... seems like a big step to me. There are rappers who recorded abroad and sending their music back home, found it difficult to break into the market for several reasons. Most importantly, since they stayed abroad for several years, they had lost touch with what is happening back home such as the latest slang etc... So did you experience any of that? Do people embrace you as one of them?
I have kept very personal and the album takes you on a journey from the small boy that stayed in Nairobi into the transition to the European lifestyle. Already I have got lots of love and support from the Kenyan community and I even hear my song on matatus. People have had comments of the usage of my old school Swahili though I have seen it as a way in showing respect to the generation that came up with it plus also that it would be false of me to come back and pretend like I speak the latest slang, I'd rather put that energy in adding more content and meaning into the songs.
So now that you are in Kenya, is the reception you got also what you were hoping for?
Its even more than I hoped for, manze, people are really feeling the project, especially the ones who have listened to the entire album. I have been dreaming of this trip for the past 16 years and I don't regret a moment.
When listening to other kenyan hip hop, do you place yourself anywhere among them (in any predefined category) or do you feel like you are in a league of your own?
The music I make is uncompromised and therefore I don't want to fall under any label. I do music for all souls, I have shared a story that made sense to me and I presented it through painting a different landscape for each and everyone. As for my ties with the scene, I have hooked up with a collective from Buru Buru called D.R.U.G.Z and also there's an upcoming artist called Mc Patow from Kibera that I've connected with and intend to work with in the near future.
Apart from bringing your music to the Kenyan airwaves, these days the pan African market is more open. For example if you get your music on East Africa FM or your video on Channel O or MTV, an even bigger audience will get to know you. Have you been able to work on that international level yet?
Yes, matter of fact the networks mentioned have picked my videos and are currently airing them throughout Africa. It was crazy fun hearing people from Nigeria feeling my tracks. I'm also involved in the JAQEE project in which I discovered and produced the soul queen born in Uganda. She has been grammy nominated and is currently on the top 10 chart on Mtv base (see jaqee.com for more info on her).
Do you see ways of getting your music distributed, and doing performances in other African countries then?
Definitely, we are currently in talks with different alternatives.
Any interesting stories from your stay in Kenya?
I have met so many people, artists, producers, media people and I would have to summarize them as I get home. I wouldn't know where to begin and yet I have a week to go.
What are your plans for 2006, for Wawesh and for Blao?
I plan to release my album in April in Kenya, hopefully followed by an East African tour when a suitable promoter is found. Together with the album launch there will be a third video of the project also. As for BLaO we are to go back to the lab for Jaqee's sophomore album which I'm really looking forward to. Keep updated with the Wawesh project at wawesh.com
Is there anything u really wanted to talk about still?
Well, I'm currently promoting my second single and video ‘Wawero' and am open in connecting with people that find themselves in a position that may benefit the project.
Shukran sana mzee...
Asante J4, tuko Pamoja!
Diary & Video
More about Wawesh's Kenya trip in a diary at Wawesh.com. You can also watch the videos to his upcoming second single 'Wawero' (release February 2006) and the first one 'Mjanja'.