STL’s Unconventional International Music Success


Kenya’s Stella Mwangi’s (STL) “Work” was chosen to be the official trailer soundtrack to the movie “A BadMoms Christmas”, which will hit theaters on November 3rd. The girl hasn’t even recovered from the song being used as the campaign theme soundtrack for Tommy Hilfiger’s Summer/ Spring line 2017. Or the same song being featured on BET‘s hit series Being Mary Jane‘s Season 4. Did I mention it being the official theme song for Reebok Classics ‘Free Your Style” 2017 campaign?…And that the beats to her song “Set it off” was also featured on the second season of HBO‘s TV Series “Insecure“? (I know! I’m jealous too).

With piracy being the major challenge that it is for artists, there’s very little hope (if any) left for album sales as a source or revenue. Those that are a step ahead are exploring alternative ways to earn from their music. In Nigeria, ring-back tones are making Nigerian artists millionaires. In Tanzania and Uganda, local artists plan for self titled concerts where they are the main acts and fans actually show up. Some of these concerts are even sold out. Try that in Kenya and tell me how it goes. No, actually- don’t. (I’d hate to be the reason for your career misfortunes.) Unless there’s an international act headlining the concert, you can only depend on a few family members and a handful of friends to show up. (And maybe your friends’ friends’- who have probably been promised free booze or a free to and from ride home). It could be a cultural thing- where we just don’t have it in us to support our very own or maybe I am wrong- (which I honestly hope I am).

If STL’s international success this year is anything to go by, it’s about time Kenyan artists start exploring different avenues to earn from their music. We’ve had endless battles between artists and MCSK over “insulting” royalties .While the system needs a change, artists need to be creative and open enough to see what else  can earn them what they deserve. What really works for you as an individual? (Because hey! just because Avril was a brand ambassador to Oriflame doesn’t guarantee that you will score a brand endorsement deal yourself. Or because Diamond Platnumz has a “Peanuts” business you can succeed by launching your own).

If you are an artist reading this, you’re a creative, I will leave it to you.




Of Dancehall music in Africa; Imposters or Risk Takers?


Picture source:


According to pioneering Ghanian Dancehall artist Root Eye, Ghanian artists claiming to be doing pure Dancehall music are in fact doing Afro- Dancehall (basically Urban African Music inspired by Dancehall Music) .

Root Eye said that there have to be certain crucial elements present in a song,  for it to qualify to be labelled as Dancehall, which Ghanaian artists aren’t keen on as they even speak fake patois. He however commended Ghanian Dancehall artist Shatta Wale for his work, but advised him to work on his sound as he had greater potential.

Whether what Root Eye says is true or not is debatable. And honestly,  this is a subject that I wouldn’t be in a position to argue on, considering I do not have an in depth understanding of Dancehall music, and the aspects that contribute it to be labeled as such. However, I do know of a few Dancehall artists from Ghana and beyond (of course within Africa- refer to my blog name :-)) – including Stonebwoy, Samini, Patoranking, Cynthia Morgan, Redsan and Wyre.

My question is this; what’s wrong with music that is inspired from something that is foreign? Different artists have different inspirations. Those that understand the music business even better use such inspirations to guide their creations into something that is uniquely theirs. If it gives you an edge over what everyone else is doing, then why not? A perfect example is Ole Themba by Tanzania’s Linah, that was inspired by Contemporary South African Music and creatively fused with Bongo Flava.

Just don’t forget who you are and what makes you unique while being inspired (in whatever it is that you do).


My top 5 picks; Best African Rappers

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I think spitting rhymes was one of those things that our forefathers did just after a hunting session, as they carried the day’s meal home. Seriously, think about it…”Yoh! My name is Onkule the great, the man in charge of today’s fate, cause all I do is catch that prey and  make sure that my fam is fed”(drops mic)…  no?

I don’t know about you but I would personally rather listen to an artist that sings or raps  in a language that I don’t understand, but has me getting at least 70% of the words (or at least have me thinking that I am getting it). That for me is way better than someone who sings/ raps in a language that I understand and yet never making sense of what exactly they are singing/ rapping about.

While there are plenty of African Hip Hop artists that I would have on my list, these ones have consistently proven themselves over time, with a unique style that makes them uncontested pace setters.


K.O (Image courtesy of


He defines his music as Skhanda Music.  Simply put, “vernacular poetry over authentic South African Hip- Hop beats that are driven by traditional elements.” 


Besides being effortlessly smooth with his lyrics, K.O is one of the very few artists that  I wouldn’t care as much to listen to, because I wouldn’t understand what he would be going on and on about (considering he often raps in his native language).  And yet still, I find myself straining to get his flow.  They say that music is a universal language, but it takes an exceptionally talented artist to wow a foreign audience.



King Kaka
King Kaka (Image courtesy of


To be honest, when he first started out, I knew he was good but did not think he would last long in Kenya’s rap scene.

For me, King Kaka lacked that “umph” that made other top rappers in the country (at that point in time) successful.

He has however proven me wrong over and over again and I am glad he did. His poetic style fused with his being a great story teller more than anything else makes him the timeless rapper that would have me tirelessly listen to him all day, any day.




Muthoni Drummer Queen

MDQ sought to explore Hip Hop upon realization that she had a lot to say and this was the only genre she could use to express herself with as many words as possible, unlike with singing whose structure is limiting


MDQ (Image courtesy of

She is bold and embraces her art fully for what it is- a platform to explore and discover. Creativity has a whole new meaning thanks to MDQ, who isn’t just about having great lyrical flow, but making sense with every dropped bar. Certainly a refreshing approach to a genre that was initially used purely reserved for entertainment, especially in Kenya.



Best International Act in the African category at the 2012 BET Awards,  Sarkodie has got to be one of the best all time rappers of Africa.

He often raps in his native language (which again would have me thinking I could be doing something more meaningful with my life other than trying to figure out what he could possibly be rapping about).

However, his commanding presence leaves me no choice than to stop whatever it is that I am doing and to pay attention. And here is the thing about Sarkodie,  I cannot count the number of times after listening to him I’ve thought “Darn! that was so good I have to listen to it again.”- that ladies and gentlemen is a powerful artist.


Joh Makini

Joh Makini (Image courtesy of


I can’t think of anyone’s lyrics that are as fresh and well thought like Joh Makini’s .

He unlike most modern day rappers does conscious music other than strive to be musically correct or sell hype, which constantly has him on my radar and looking forward to what he would have to offer next.

A Hip Hop pioneer that has remained true to what attracted people to his style of music, he doesn’t call himself a Swahili rap king for nothing.






Did your best African rappers make it to my list?

Vote or/and drop me a comment below and let me know.

3 Recommendations that could help Ugandan artists gain relevance beyond Uganda’s boarders

Ugandan artists (Image courtesy of

I am a frustrated Ugandan Music Lover, tasked with a responsibility that really isn’t mine. While most African artists are investing in strategies that are having them known across the continent, most Ugandan artists have left the discovery of who they are and their music (and especially beyond their country’s boarders) to the very few interested people like myself.

Here are 3 recommendations that could help Ugandan artists gain relevance beyond the Pearl of Africa’s boarders and to catch up with the rest of African music doing oh- so well:

  1. Make relatable music


You have probably heard that music is a universal language that does not consider language nor comprehension: as long as it is good, people will listen. IT’S A BIG LIE…..Well…Maybe not entirely but here is the thing, people have to identify with music at whatever minimal level, in order to enjoy it. Be it the song’s message, a familiar beat or a few words that they can sing along to, it has to resonate with them. Take Nigerian AfroPop for example which most artists are doing in Nigerian Pidgin. You may not speak the language nor understand the entire song, but you can at least sing along to a few of the words. Eddy Kenzo may be singing in Luganda, but has made his music relevant outside Uganda through his incorporation of dance with a hint of comedy, which as you watch his music videos, retains your interest as an audience.

  1. Quality lacks substitute

You have no idea how disappointing it is to listen to an amazing audio to a song, only to search for its video then have a major brain freeze and voices in your head telling you how you should start spending your time more wisely because you are getting too old for such games. This is not to say that all Ugandan videos are unappealing (trust me, I have seen some of Sasha Vybz’ work and had to confirm if indeed it was a Ugandan Production) but it is time Ugandan artists start investing in better quality music videos. As an artist, have to have a good audio with an equally good video that your audience can enjoy watching while listening.

  1. Bank on content

I can safely say that Uganda’s Music Industry is amongst the most vibrant in the East African Region. Unfortunately though, this vibrance is more about hype/side shows than actual work. From nudes to cheap publicity stunts by artists, there is simply no dull moment in the Ugandan Music Industry (I use “dull” loosely). So artists are making headlines, but very few are doing so based on their music. Here is the truth: people wake up to equally (or even more) exciting gossip each new day, which means temporary relevance for you as an artist if you cannot keep up with the side shows.  You may therefore want to put in some actual work into your craft as an artist in order to survive the industry long enough.


5 Lessons artists can learn from Diamond Platinumz’ music career

  1. The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.

7 Years ago, no one thought of the possibility of Diamond being bigger than any other artist in Tanzania. While some artists are blessed enough to have a pretty face (no pun intended), sick dance moves or even wealth that has them at an advantage as they launch their music careers, Diamond only had a voice needed for what would pass for a good song. Yet, he still became the iconic figure that he is today for East Africa’s Music Industry.

Don’t put your dreams on hold as you wait for the “perfect life conditions”.

  1. Be true to who you are even as you try to attract a larger and more diverse audience.

Diamond has become an international artist by working with different artists from across Africa while remaining true to his sound and the reason why we fell in love with him as an artist.

The only person you should strive to be in an attempt to be successful is the best version of you.

  1. Consistency

It’s hard to keep track of just how many songs Diamond has done since he began his music career in 2009. Some have made for hit songs while some…..well, you only get to know of their existence when you search for his YouTube channel. As an artist, you only get better with song after song to perfect your art, make mistakes while you are at it and learn from them. Ensure that even with the emergence of equally talented artists each new day, you remain unforgettable.

  1. Build an undeniable respectable brand

Love him or hate him, Diamond has packaged himself in a way that many African artists have failed to do so. Even with his collaborations with such successful artists such as Flavour, Mafikizolo and Papa Wemba, he maintains an independent respectable brand that has managed to do so without riding on other people’s fame and success.

  1. There’s much more to a successful music career than talent

Listen, we have so many talented artists from Tanzania. Heck! From Africa Difference is that Diamond has invested in building a brand, with a proper strategy and marketing that makes him stand out.

“You can’t look at the competition and say you are going to do it better, you have to look at the competition  and say you are going to do it differently,” Steve Jobs.


The Bongo Music Take- Over

Tanzania's music duo Navy Kenzo
Tanzania’s music duo Navy Kenzo (Image courtesy of

A few years ago, Kenyan music undoubtedly led the pack in the East African region. Yes, people did listen to Ugandan and Bongo Music, but with artists such as Redsan, Longombaz, E- Sir and Necessary Noize, the country had one hell of a vibrant and unshaken music industry. Flash- forward to 2016 and Tanzania has taken over in ways that make it almost impossible for other countries in the region to catch up.

Have you seen the quality of  music videos being put out there by Bongo artists?…. Just in case you haven’t noticed, most Tanzanian music videos are shot by A- List African music  directors among them Justin Campos, Nicky, Mike Ogike (aka God Father) and Meji Alabi. Their  demand for quality shot up so fast that at one point, most (if not all)  Tanzanian artists were shooting their videos in South Africa and even having their audios done there which in turn birthed a new Tanza/ S.A  sound.

In a recent interview on Ebru TV, Shetta (also known as Baba Kyla) revealed that Tanzanians only know of a few Kenyan artists, such as Sauti Sol, Jaguar and Prezzo. He went ahead to explain that in Tanzania, there is literally an artist in almost every house hold, leaving very little room for the accommodation of foreign music. Hence, the competition is very stiff among Tanzanian artists, forcing them to bring their A- Game, lest they be rendered worthless in the industry.  This has called for quality videos, investing in one’s brand as an artist and generally putting out good music, which are such important elements that play a major role in shaping their music.

Let’s face it; Tanzanians do know how to appreciate their own artists. Getting one million plus views on YouTube is such a common thing for Tanzanian artists that you may want to reconsider your entire music career if you are not hitting the six figure mark. The turn- out of their locals during their performances are insane (it’s typically what happens in a Kenyan concert featuring a Nigerian artist- and not just any artist, an A- list WizKid type of artist)

Artists of the Swahili Speaking nation without a doubt know the value of investing in their brands, an aspect that is unfortunately not taken with the seriousness that it deserves in other parts of the region. Considering artists such as Diamond, Ali Kiba, Vanessa Mdee and Lady Jay Dee, you would understand how they have slowly created such great interest in their art beyond the East African Region. Talk of Diamond’s appointment as the official brand ambassador for DSTV and Ali Kiba’s recent signing with Sony Music Label, it is clear that well renowned brands trust them enough to have them represent their image within and outside the region.

During an interview on NTV’s the Trend,  Vanessa Mdee attributed the success of Tanzania’s music to its  structure that she revealed to be more disciplined with an entire lifestyle and culture in place, which guides artists.

Every other country in the region may have the right talent for their music industry but we can do with a few lessons from Tanzania, that will help elevate us as a continent to greater heights.

What other elements do you think have contributed to the success of Bongo music?

Black Coffee’s win was more about having the best songs as opposed to hit songs; Rapper Fid Q weighs in.

BET 2016  Best International Act Africa Nominees (Image courtesy of
BET 2016 Best International Act Africa Awards Nominees (Image courtesy of

Yes!Yes! I know that the 2016 BET Awards are long gone but just one more conversation to go. So while we all thought that the Best International Act award would be bagged by Wizkid, considering how big a brand he has become..(with his recent collaboration with Tinie Tempah, tour with Chris Brown,  topping UK charts along with Drake for 11 straight weeks…what were these people looking for?….seriously), life slapped us right in the face with one among its many surprises and instead had Black Coffee scoop the award.

Whether you knew Black Coffee or not prior to the BET nomination, Tanzanian Rapper Fid Q during a recent interview had the records set straight as to why the South African DJ won over every other nominee under the same category (that for some reason seemed way popular than him).

According to  Fid Q, most people expected big wigs Wizkid, Diamond or AKA to bring  the title home but  these expectations were not met due to the difference between  having “hit songs” and “best songs”, a concept that most artists rarely think about.

Fid Q pointed out that most award ceremonies focus to reward artists with the best songs as opposed to hit songs. The rapper also went ahead to explain that Black Coffee may not be well known due to his unique style of music  that would rarely pass for “hit songs”, but that the South African star receives wider recognition than it may seem like it, getting heavy rotation in South African Clubs as well as other parts of the world.

Truth be told, I hadn’t really thought much about what Fid Q said until he did and then I had to start thinking if at all our modern artists have any best songs. (Because at the end of the day, you want a song that will be in high rotation and have everyone talking about you….which unfortunately means a hit song would work more as compared to a best song)

So what exactly is the difference between a hit song and a best song?…(*clears throat*)… According to Wikipedia, a hit song is a recorded single that is popular, gets repeated air play and makes it to an official music chart. Most hit songs are seasonal, getting an audience excited for a short period such as a month or two, after which they get phased out. On the other hand, a best song is a timeless song carefully thought through and put together with great structure, creativity and with the ability to impact. A good example of a hit song could be Koo Koo by Elani, while a best song that wasn’t  necessarily a hit song is Hapo Zamani (I use the same band so that it make more sense).

Is it possible to merge the two?…(i.e.  To have a best song that can pass for a hit song?)…I am not an artist (do not quote me) but I think that it is. You just have to be creative enough and ensure that you meet your target audience’s demands.

What do you think?…..Do you agree with Fid Q or not?



Davido signing record deal with Sony Music (Image courtesy of
Davido during his record label signing with Sony Music (Image courtesy of

The past few years have seen growing interest in African Music, within and beyond the continent’s boarders, thanks to a gradual evolution that has redefined the industry.Unlike before, African artists who were largely independent are now being sought by regional and international record companies as a key strategic step to widen their (that is, the record company’s) influence in the music world.

Among others such artists include, Tanzania’s Nakaaya Sumari, Congolese Natalie Makoma, Nigeria’s Davido and the recent Ali Kiba signing with global record deal company Sony Music Entertainment. While for most artists this may be considered as amongst the greatest milestones one would achieve in their music careers, it might be about time African artists re- evaluate major label record deals offered to them and the impact of the latter on their careers.( Allow me to play the devil’s advocate for this particular article, with the hope of reaffirming African artists that  a major label record deal may not necessarily translate into more success.)

Most (if not all) of the decisions made concerning an artist’s music career are made by the major label record company, with a main goal of ensuring a return on their investment, just like for every other business.  In an article dated March 21, 2009 on the Daily Nation, Tanzania’s Nakaaya Sumari, who had just been signed by Sony BMG (now Sony Music Entertainment) explains how she had  done a couple of singles ready for release, but that they could not be released during that year as Sony wanted her to promote her album first.

In addition, Nakaaya went ahead to reveal that Sony wanted her to re- do the album that was by then complete, re- brand it and “make sure that it fits the international standards it requires”. And while the record company would finance the expenses involved, this just goes to show the creative restriction to an artist working under a major label record company.

In a different article dated May 28 2016 on the Daily Nation, Kenyan Rapper Xtatic signed to Sony Music Entertainment Africa revealed that she cannot release music without the label’s permission; neither can she walk away from the contract, unless someone buys her out. She goes ahead to explain that she signed a multi- album contract and that the label can extend it  for as long it needs to, until it recoups its investment. “Because I can’t do anything musical unless it’s with Sony, I have put aside my music; I’m just doing an ordinary job now. One day I hope to mentor new talent, but for now I will focus on providing for my family”




Being signed to a major label record deal company (which has many other artists signed under it) means that an artist becomes a fish in a great sea amongst other bigger fish. This could sometimes inevitably lead to fighting for attention from the record label; which is resolved by the company alternating attention and time to its various artists, such as a whole year to promote an individual artist’s brand entirely (at the expense of other artists under the same label). This also means a detached working relationship between an artist and the record label, being a large company that will mainly have agents or third parties working directly with their artists. (Just like a big company has structure, making it hard for a mid- level employees to reach those working at top management level).

Now that I am done playing the devil’s advocate, I might as well share some of the perks that come with being signed to a major record label company.  Needless to say, artists such as Ali Kiba and Davido who are now signed to Sony Music Entertainment have acquired an international stature and can use that to negotiate for higher pay with clients.

Artists signed to a major label record company no longer have to worry about the costs involved in producing and promoting their content, as that is handled entirely by their record company. This is in addition to the record company having significant contacts that they can use to further push their artists’ content, which would have been harder for an independent artist to do on their own. Due to the many artists that they have under their record label, they would also have the advantage of conducting business in bulk and therefore cutting down on the overall costs spent on individual artists (e.g distribution costs of artists’ content)

I am certainly not advocating for artists to let life changing opportunities pass them by, but this is just a call to weighing one’s options before choosing to ink that deal.



Wizkid; Revolutionizing Africa’s Music Industry


Wizkid (Image courtesy of
Wizkid (Image courtesy of


Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun better known by his stage name Wizkid is a Nigerian recording artist, songwriter and performer.  The singer who started his musical career at age 11 signed a record deal with Bank W’s Empire Mates Entertainment (E.M.E) in 2009 and then later released “Holla at your Boy”, a song that marked his rise to fame. The singer has since then revolutionized Africa’s Music Industry, arguably establishing himself as the most influential African Artist of his generation.

Here are some of the major strides made during Wizkid’s music career that are molding him into legend;

The Nigerian singer prides himself in numerous awards to his name including the most notable 2012 BET Best International Act Africa Award. In addition to this, Wizkid has been nominated for two Channel O Music Video Awards, three MTV Europe Music Awards and four World Music Awards for the highly contested World’s Best Live Act and World’s Best Male Artist titles.

As if that was not enough, Wizkid has been ranked 5th on Forbes and Channel O’s 2013 list of the Top 10 Richest/ Bankable African Artists. It is however important to note that his is not just riches in terms of money, but also an amazing  distinct voice with equally rich content in his music, which explains his being profiled as one of the 12 most innovative singers in the world with the coolest sounds.


In 2014, the Ojuelegba singer became the first ever Nigerian musician to have over 1 million followers on Twitter. Wizkid also had his influence earning him a one- year endorsement deal with Pepsi, alleged to have been worth 350, 000 U.S dollars with the contract later renewed for another two years. He then signed another endorsement deal with Guinness for the “Guinness World of More” concert, before landing an alleged 128 million naira deal with multinational Telecommunications Company GLO.

Wizkid has performed at the BBC Radio 1Xtra Live  alongside big names Trey Songz, Kendrick Lamar, Tulisa and Angel. The Nigerian star recently became the first Nigerian artist to debut in Billboard Top 100 charts, for the song One Dance, in which Drake featured him alongside Kyle and have managed to stay on the charts for one consecutive week. With this, he also made it to Twitter’s Trending 140 charts worldwide.

Wizkid was  listed as the 11th most downloaded artists worldwide  on iTunes along 200 other artists from around the world, again being the only Nigerian artist on the list. He was among world top artists among them Beyonce, Jay Z, Whitney Houston, Justin Beiber, Prince and Iggy Azalea. And if you thought that the huge Nigerian population made up his fans, think again because Wizkid’s songs were said to be downloaded most in Denmark.

In matters fashion, he was named as the best dressed pop star in Nigeria in 2016’s February edition of Vogue, with his sense of style being described as a “trendsetting style just as his sound, with a thoughtful and fun approach to his wardrobe; clean lines and minimalism; a mix of fresh street wear with traditional Nigerian clothes; and bold, bright accessories.”

Wizkid is indeed making a name for himself not just in Africa but the world across, flying the continent’s flag high and having the world look at us and see the great potential in us. His music career can be best summed up as one that involves being bold enough to take risks and standing out by creating your own niche rather than following a crowd.

The Business of Artist Management

Wanjiku Kimani is an artist manager under RedRepulik managing some of Kenya’s top artists;  the Kansoul, Timmy Tdat, Majik Mike and Ndegz. Previously an events manager at Bernsoft Interactive Limited, she was approached by Madtraxx to manage his music career for a year, after which he was to review her performance and decide whether to keep her or not. Wanjiku has since proved efficient, signing various artists under her label and even employing other artist managers, to help manage her fast growing brand. She shares her experience as an artist manager.

Janet Wanjiku Kimani (Image courtesy of
Wanjiku Kimani (Image courtesy of

What’s a typical day like for you?

I am at the office from 9 AM to 5 PM. If my artists have shows or appearances to make, I have to work through the night. My day to day job is mainly publicity. Different days, different artists, getting to know them better and where they see their brand. My work is to ensure that they prosper in their careers and to implement strategies based on where my artists see themselves. My artists give me their vision, I execute it.

Creating a balance between what and artist wants and what is right for them…

We work as a team along with other artist managers under my label.  We always have an opinion poll that we use to take a vote before we decide to work on something. The artist’s opinion counts but their main focus is on making good music and giving their audience good performances while on stage.  Decision making depending on the artist’s vision therefore largely lies on artist managers, who are more concerned about the business aspect of an artist’s career.

Challenges experienced as an artist manager….

Being in a male dominated industry as a female, promoters will sometimes only give you a chance because you are a woman and they want something from you in return. Secondly, my artists rightfully have egos, which I have to know how to manage in a way that will not bruise them. It is also quite a challenge to maintain a professional relationship with them, considering that they were my friends first and should remain to be my friends for a better working relationship, but then again to ensure that business remains to be business.

Changes you would like to see in Artist Management as a profession in Kenya….

It is about time that artist management is treated with the seriousness it deserves. Had I taken a course on artist management or had someone in the industry mentor me, I would have taken my artists further. Unfortunately, we do not have any institutions in the country training artist managers, meaning you have to learn on the job which is costly, both for you as an artist manager and for your artist.

If an up- coming artist wants you to manage them, what are the requirements?

There are no requirements really; all I need to see is your effort and determination, that’s it. Everything else, we can work on it together.

On payment; monthly salary or commission..

I was initially paid on a monthly basis but that was not very sustainable. I am now paid on commission basis. I am therefore ever on my toes to ensure that I have food on my table.