by Hanafi Kaka | Resident Techie
The last time I was in the same room with Sauti Sol, was in June 2013. The middle of the night. Mount Kenya University’s fresher’s night. Thika. I don’t exactly want to remember that night. And I’m sure neither does the band. The whole event was a disaster.
They, including Eric Omondi and M.O.G. were made to sit on these tiny, plastic chairs that make you feel every bone in your body. And they were in a tent stepping on soil under their Converse shoes. Not even palm leaves were placed under their feet like it was done for Jesus. They were crammed into that suffocated space with a bunch of groupies sneaking into their space for a picture. It was hot in there, and they were just too polite to complain. This was when Still the One had been released and all the girls in the country were brandishing their bras and knickers with excitement.
There were cameras flashing all around in that stuffy ‘VIP Tent’. Even my own cameraman, to my surprise, turned out to be a groupie. He was all over the place, acquiescing to girls pulling him left-right to take a picture with the band. He left me solo with my broken recorder, having to take notes on this worn out notepad I had been carrying around for back up. Half the time I didn’t know what I was even writing in that thing, the lighting was horrible.
There I was looking up to Baraza, literally – the guy is tall – craning my neck and standing on my toes to at least reach his waist during my interview, competing with a group of girls cursing me at the corner. They wanted to get into his trench coat and be carried home. Mudigi was crouched into his small plastic chair, all his attention on his phone, probably asking his lawyer to print out his Will in case the chaos in there hit the roof and he got buried in a stampede. I mean, it was noisy and hot. Smells of all sorts attacking your nose. It felt like a scene from Shameless.
Polycarp was seated quietly, he’s the calm one in the band, adjusting his bum every time the uncomfortable chair felt like it had stiffened a bone in his spine. Chimano was standing alone close to the entrance, unnoticed, I don’t really know why. Could be the heat, or his height. That place did not feel VIP at all. I felt like my PRESS nametag meant nothing at all in there. I could easily be confused with a groupie if Polycarp hadn’t said to me: “Bro, you are wearing a kangol just like mine.” Then he saw the PRESS nametag hanging from my neck like in Django Unchained. I’m not exactly the coolest guy in the world to talk to, but the guy looked relieved.
So the commotion kept spiking up in there. The bouncers at the door were sucking up to more girls and letting them in uncontrolled. They just kept pouring in. It became scary. All those girls, and just a few guys – even a blue pill couldn’t keep us up all night. If Cinderella’s shoe slipped off in the crowd, she couldn’t bend to pick it up. You couldn’t even keep track of your own hands in that space, because everyone’s hand was rubbing against yours. Sweat and stenches.
Then there was a moment where we all couldn’t breathe in there. It was like a movie. Gaps in your memory. And the next thing we know there were screams and wailing outside. The stage went dead silent in a second. What on earth was going on? Then someone came running into the tent, panting like crazy, and he called out that Chimano was outside, being beaten by one of the bouncers because he confused Chimano for a groupie. The guy had just gone out for air obviously, but there he was, bleeding from his nose and his lip split.
He couldn’t even stay standing, he was falling over, when Baraza came out of nowhere, going all Jet-Li on that stupid bouncer. Fly Kicks. Upper cuts. One. Two. Three. And all the other three band members joined in the fight. It was a terrible thing to watch, man. But some intervention came just in time to stop the mess. They couldn’t perform. They left angry and inconsolable. Drove off in their car and left disappointed fans behind.
That was two years ago, when Sauti Sol were treated like just another name on the performers list. But who they are today is a far cry from the guys gasping for air in a tent. Twenty award winnings, twenty-six Nominations and Three albums later, they are practically quaking up the continent.
Their latest album, Live and Die in Afrika, is a perfect demonstration of the band’s musical maturity from being just a couple of dudes singing about the bliss of warm weather in Sunny Days to making bold socio-political statements in Nerea.
From the very moment you hit play on the first song, you can feel the excellence and perfection taking you over. You won’t find a single boring track in the album, unlike in the previous two, that had some songs not everyone could relate to. Live and Die in Afrika is a collage of emotion, expressed in simple but powerful lyrics, and has not been defiled with pretentious representations of the band’s life experiences, like some of our artistes like to do.
They have managed to maintain their creative brand as musical storytellers and still grow both in musical and lyrical sense.
They collaborated with the magical musical prowess of band members Polycarp Otieno & Bien-Aime Baraza, Andrew Ngatia, Cedric Kadenyi, Benjamin Kabaseke, Isaac Mugunda, Aaron Rimbui, Idd, Muli,Tito Monako, Aaron Rimbui and the background vocal contributions of Lydia Ndwiga, Benjamin Webi and Naema Murindi.
The cover album arts, which have been the centre of so much speculation and anxiety in the last few weeks, are rich with eclectic photographic composition and an African rawness that lives up to the title of the album as well as the nature of the stories it aims to communicate.
It’s a beautiful conceptualization of the continent’s cultural diversity; from Baraza looking like a no nonsense African ruler with an obsessive military grasp on his territory, still holding his beloved chicken that had him ditched in the comical scene from the Range Rover video; to Mudigi showing off the results of time-well-spent in the gym dressed as a North African prince, with the traditional kohl make-up decorating his eyes and the turban around his head.
Credit for all that excellence is owed to the photographic intelligence of Annabel Onyango of Mia Collis; Osborne Macharia of- Sunny Dolat and artwork by Right Here
What still has many people scratching their heads though, is why they allowed fans to download the album for free from their website. All fifteen tracks. Unless, of course, there is a deluxe version we will have to pay for later. Otherwise, they might have to rely heavily on concerts to make up for the financial loss definite to be suffered.
There are some horribly excellent pirates out there, and the free release will most likely end up being shared illegally on torrent sites and other means.
All the same, Live and Die in Afrika is the kind of album you can never tire of listening to. Its stupendous rawness and virtuoso has set a new bar for both East African and African artistes in general, to match up to.
Hanafi Kaka is also our resident music writer. (I’ve always wanted to write that).