Lords of the underground

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Swaleh and Zakah who make up the dynamic duo that is Wenyeji talk to MATILDA NZIOKI about blowing up the Kenyan music industry

Pulse: Hip-hop artistes are known to have beef with mainstream or commercial artistes, where do you stand?

Swaleh: Hip-hop is there to stay, but Kapuka and the likes will fade away.

Zakah: For instance all our songs, the former and new ones, still get the same response, because they have substance and rap positive rhymes.

P: In your hit track Mizani, you sing of “…tuko commercial but tuko macho…” How commercial can you go?

Z: That simply means, hata kama ngoma ni ya club, hatuja sahau mahali tumetoka. For instance, we are not the kind of hip-hop artistes who will shoot a video that shows us pouring champagne such stunts.

P: Why is your hit single Jina Kubwa featuring Abbas and Czar Genius not part of your latest album Taifa Leo?

Z: Because that was just an off-the-album collabo but it’s in our mixtape titled Jina Kubwa, which is out. There are other songs like Pressure.

P: Zakah, you came to the scene with MC Kah with the song Dandora L.O.V.E. What happened that you ended up with Swaleh forming Wenyeji?

Z: That was my big break, as the song was a success in the industry, but Kah and I were not a group. Again, it was just a collabo. Swaleh and I on the other hand have come a long way together. We’ve been boys since way back in primary school. We have a lot of common interests, that’s why we came together to form a group after the release of two Ukooflani Mau Mau albums; Kilio Cha Haki and Dandora Burning..

P: Your first album Siku Njema was well received. What were the sales?

S: Let’s just say that there were so many people who wanted it; it did fairly well, and paved the way for Taifa Leo.

Z: Especially given that we were doing this for the first time on our own, the promotion and all, which was quite challenging. We have since learnt the ropes.

P: What inspired you to name your latest album Taifa Leo and how is it different from Siku Njema?

S: Most of the songs are about day-to-day life experiences; things we as a nation face daily.

Z: Yeah, we have songs addressing the post election violence, poverty, unemployment, patriotism, and even love. They capture different real life feelings.

P: In light of your distribution, what is your anticipation on sales?

Z: After this interview with Pulse, we will definitely do well. We also welcome anyone who wants to chip in to the project.

S: Remember, we don’t have a manager, tunajiskumia tu.

P: In your new album, you have worked with different artistes, what about the production?

Z: We have worked with Ken Ring of Sweden, Mandugu Digital, and Nik Punk of Rags2Records. In videos, Bliss Ent, Duplex, Handskills and others, have helped make our DVD Mtazamo, which is also on the shelves.

S: We have worked with Nik Punk more because we started with him tukiwa down, tukia anza ku freestyle; ni boy wetu mbaya. And in any case he is a professional; mixing, editing, mastering, beat making you name it, nimdeadly.

P: Hip-hop artistes define underground musicians differently, what’s your definition?

Z: It’s the opposite of mainstream. Ni msanii ako chini ya maji by choice.

S: For us, we would say that we are both; we try to balance.

P: Do you think the media and other relevant parties are doing enough to promote hip-hop music locally?

Z: In present day, yes they are all trying. Sometime back, it was just Kapuka. We on the other hand have also improved on the quality.

S: At least nowadays when you switch on the TV, you can see some Chiwawa, Wenyeji, Abbas, and other local rappers.

P: Ukoo Flani Mombasa has had a lot of differences with the one of Nairobi. Where does the beef stand today?

Z: I think it’s all bullsh**. Nikiingia kambi nilikuta Ukoo Flani Mau Mau, and the Mombasa artistes even acknowledged that, so I don’t understand. But we still love them, we are still a big family, they are welcome any time. It is a society too, and everyone is a part of it, you included: all good people.

S: Ilifika mahali tukaona we concentrate on the name Wenyeji, and as per now, ni jina kubwa.

P: What do you think of the speculation that hip-hop rappers complain too much, like they have something against the world?

Z: Real hip-hop tackles issues and grievances of the downtrodden like harassment, political violence etc. If we don’t, who else will?

P: There was a time when it was alleged that police was harassing the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau rappers in Dandora, and some moved out of the hood, how is the situation currently?

Z: It is much better. Then, most people didn’t know us and that we were musicians, but now, even the police do.

S: Hata watoi, mtaani wanakimbia wakituita wakituona. Those who have moved out have done so to seek better living standards.

P: What else are you involved in apart from music?

Z: We have merchandise like T-shirts and Jumpers that we sell, and they are branded Ukoo Flani or even Wenyeji.

S: We also have a hip-hop school in Dandora. It is our way of giving back to the community. We teach kids from the ghettos how to rhyme. There are kid rappers Wafalme that we have formed. The others are Eastlando, who are much older and more experienced than Wafalme. Ukoo Flani is a movement that must go on.

P: So does music pay all your bills?

S: Absolutely, you can’t compare the situation with five years ago.

Z: Yeah, we get shows nowadays; we are pretty comfortable. We were recently in Zanzibar for Sauti Za Busara festival courtesy of Budda Blaze of WAPI. It brings together conscious musicians in Africa, and we were lucky to be chosen, as we shared the stage with big names like Samba Mapangala and Bi Kidude. We will be going to Europe in September for the AfroEuro festival in Old Trafford.

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