I recently had the chance to meet and have a conversation with the multi-talented music artist and producer Kagwe Mungai, known for his hits, Supa Seena, Kama Kawaida and Till the End. We talked about his musical journey, his future plans and everything in between.
KenyaBuzz: Who is the most interesting person that you found out was a fan of yours?
Kagwe Mungai: I would say Big Shaq but I think my fans are very interesting people. They are very dynamic. Like this show on Saturday (The Terminal Concert), a girl snuck backstage. First, she snuck from regular to VIP, then from VIP to backstage, then from backstage, to my dressing room and she just wanted to say hi. That for me was dedication.
KenyaBuzz: Wasn’t it weird though? That she could easily access these places.
Kagwe Mungai: I probably should be thinking about my security but that showed determination. I really appreciate that kind of thing because I have been in that kind of situation; when I tried to meet J Cole a few years ago and he was in his dressing room. I was banging on his window hoping he would sign my mix tape and he did. I had been waiting outside in the cold in the middle of winter to get that opportunity; so when I see something like that, it always warms my heart.
KenyaBuzz: The J Cole thing is interesting, how long ago was that?
Kagwe Mungai: That was back in 2012 the same time when I had my mixtape out.
KenyaBuzz: So did you give him your mixtape?
Kagwe Mungai: Yeah, honestly I was just trying to get him to listen to it. I was hoping someone on the tour bus would find it and play it and if they liked it. Hopefully they would hit me up.
KenyaBuzz: Did they ever get back to you?
Kagwe Mungai: No.
KenyaBuzz: Would you say that 2012 is when you started taking music professionally?
Kagwe Mungai: I would say that yes. It was after I moved back here from university. Around end of 2012.
KenyBuzz: Tell me about your experience when you were upcoming
Kagwe Mungai: Oh wow, I needed to be very creative in the way I sold myself because when you are new, most people think you do not have a lot to offer so you have to constantly prove yourself to other people. So I did a lot of free shows, a lot of good and bad shows.
I remember one performance I did at a place called Sheeben. I don’t know if it still there, and when I got up on stage to perform, it was actually one of my first shows in Kenya. I introduced myself and everyone started cheering and I thought to myself, ‘This is a really good crowd,’ then they started high fiving each other and I turned around and there was a big screen streaming a ManU game. I felt invisible because they weren’t even seeing me. So I sat down and I waited for the game to finish then I went back on stage.
KenyaBuzz: How did you bring yourself to go back? Because I’d have been so demoralised.
Kagwe Mungai: I don’t know; adversity is a strong motivator for me. If you put me in a tough situation, I am going to come out swinging.
KenyaBuzz: Is that the worst experience you have heard as an artist?
Kagwe Mungai: There have been many. But you have to develop a tough skin.
KenyaBuzz: Is a tough skin something that an artist should have?
Kagwe Mungai: Yes. There is also a lot of fakeness in this industry. A lot of people are willing to smile and tell you things that you want to hear at different levels of your journey. But you develop a thick skin and your bullshit detector becomes a lot stronger. That is the only way. You have to survive and adapt otherwise you get swallowed whole.
KenyaBuzz: What is your opinion on our music industry?
Kagwe Mungai: I think it has really grown and I am proud of where we are now. Many people say that Kenyans don’t listen to Kenyan music and I don’t think that is true. People also say that we need a Kenyan sound, which I also think is not true because that would really limit the industry. Because if we all decided to do Kapuka for example, then that is all we will get. The wider the array, the better. That is who we are as Kenyans. We are so diverse and we shouldn’t in a box.
KenyaBuzz: I first heard about you from the cover of Oleku. Is that how most people found about you?
Kagwe Mungai: Yeah, that was on the mixtape as well. I remember trying to shoot that video and everyone I was approaching kept giving me these insane prices. I decided to speak to a friend of mine who was studying film and he agreed to do it. We found a studio in town and hired some lights and that video cost me Ksh. 2,000.
KenyaBuzz: Is there a lot of improvisation when you are upcoming?
Kagwe Mungai: Definitely. You have to be creative in the way that you get things done because, you can’t wait to have all the money in the world. There will never be enough money. I was lucky because platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube had just started popping and I had a lot of friends and family who were supportive and came to all my shows. In fact, many people thought I had a lot of fans, but I have a big family so it was mostly them filling up the venues I was performing at.
KenyaBuzz: So this is coming from my experience with your growth as an artist. After Oleku, the second major thing I heard from you was Dutch that you did with Fena Gitu, and then you went quiet, or at least that is what I thought. Were you putting out new music or was it just because a lot of what you were putting out was not getting airplay?
Kagwe Mungai: I think a lot of what I was putting out was not cutting across a big fan base. I am very experimental with the sounds I make. Sometimes it is either not connecting or it is ahead of its time. But immediately after Dutch, there was a song called Bad Girls. It was what is now considered a Bruno Mars style. That was the vibe- very funk, very old school so I think that was ahead of its time for me.
KenyaBuzz: That was me following up because it seemed like there was a hiatus in terms of how mainstream your music was getting. Then you came back with a bang with Kama Kawaida and there was a definite difference with your sound at the beginning of your career. Tell me about that.
Kagwe Mungai: I think I was trying to find my voice, even within the fact that I like to experiment with different sounds and genres. That wasn’t coming out very clearly in the beginning. When Kama Kawaida came out, I had just signed to Taurus music and at that point I was not burdened by ways to sell myself and my job was just to create. All I had to do was make what I liked. And that was what Kama Kawaida was. We were just jamming in the studio; Mayonde, MDQ, Fena and I and the intention wasn’t to make this huge song. We were just making music that we liked.
KenyaBuzz: Would you say then that you have found your voice? Is this the Kagwe that we will be hearing from now?
Kagwe Mungai: I haven’t found it yet, but I’d say that I am growing. I am not the same person I was six years ago and six years from now I won’t be the same person either. There will be growth and changes. But in terms of understanding myself as an individual, I think I have a better understanding myself.
KenyaBuzz: Tell me about your creative process
Kagwe Mungai: I am loner. I don’t like people in my space unless I am working with them in the studio. Before I get to the studio, I usually have the song written down. I am very possessive about my creative space when I am making the song. When the song is done, then I don’t mind if people come in the studio. But I don’t like recording with other people there. Especially with this new album, it’s a lot of honest content and I don’t want to ever feel pressured by thinking about what this other person will think or if they are judging me. I want to be honest, give it out it honestly, and get it done.
KenyaBuzz: Let’s talk about this new album
Kagwe Mungai: It’s called Spectrum and it’s coming out towards the end of the year. It’s about what I have talked about not wanting to be put in a box and people expecting me to settle on a particular sound. I don’t think I should settle down. You can listen to a reggae song and then listen to Lamba Lolo and then listen to an RnB song. You can listen to so many different songs in an hour and as an artist, I want to be able to create as much as I want within an album. Spectrum is a soundtrack of life; for different stages or different moods and that is what it represents.
KenyaBuzz: Any features?
Kagwe Mungai: It’s not very feature heavy. I did not want it to be clouded with that type of thing. The song Till the end is on the album, featuring Niniola.
KenyaBuzz: Any plans, aside from the album?
Kagwe Mungai: Touring. After the album drops, we are going to be touring and taking the album around the continent.
KenyaBuzz: You wear many hats creatively. You are a producer as well. Does the fact that you are a producer make you have very hands on approach to making your music?
Kagwe Mungai: Yes, in fact, I find it difficult to work with other producers because I am a perfectionist and when a producer is making something for me, that is their art, and I don’t ever want to go and tell someone that I don’t like their art because it is very personal. And many people get very offended because it is coming from their soul. I have a very hands on approach to my music and even when I am having session musicians, I tell them exactly how I want I to sound like and if they try something different and I don’t like it, I ask them to do the other thing that I wanted.
KenyaBuzz: Tell me about your background and the lead up to you deciding to do music
Kagwe Mungai: I think it has been a series of accidents. In high school, at lunchtime, everyone would either be rapping or beat boxing and that is when I started taking rap writing seriously and so I wrote and wrote; I had an opportunity in church when i met someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew Wyre. After I met these people, I eventually got a chance to meet Wyre and I performed for him and he told me that I had my heart in the right place but I still had a lot of work to do so I continued to work on my music. Then I went to university and I was only producing music and I started looking for people to sing and rap on my songs, but I was having trouble finding the right people because they were either too expensive or they weren’t doing what I wanted so I started singing and rapping on my songs.
I remember in one of my music classes, the lecturer asked how many of us wanted to become full time artists and 90% of the class put up their hands and then he said, ‘About 1% of you will make it. The rest of you will end up in other jobs.’
That was the first class and I remember thinking, ‘This guy does not understand the sacrifices that were made for me to be here.’ So I wasn’t going to let that happen. I was not going to be the 99%. And I remember even in my graduating class, only about one or two of us became full time artists. It was at that point for me that I decided to do music seriously because I wanted to prove to him that I was going to make it.
KenyaBuzz: Do you play any instruments?
Kagwe Mungai: I do. I play the saxophone, drums and the piano.
KenyaBuzz: If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Kagwe Mungai: The ability to control time. Anything is possible if you can control time. That is the only thing we cannot create more of. We can create energy, we can fly, and we can even probably shoot lasers from our eyes if we worked hard enough. Time is a fixed resource.
KenyaBuzz: Still on that trajectory, if you could go back in time and give young Kagwe a piece of advice about this journey, what would it be?
Kagwe Mungai: I would try to be so cryptic because I wouldn’t want him to know or change anything but I would probably tell him something like, ‘It only gets better.’ Which also happened to be the title of my first mixtape.
KenyaBuzz: Dream collaboration?
Kagwe Mungai: Beyoncé. Hands down.
KenyaBuzz: And some who has passed on?
Kagwe Mungai: Michael Jackson.
KenyaBuzz: Many people say Michael.
Kagwe Mungai: I know. Sometimes it feels like it is a cliché but that guy was phenomenal. Which is why he inspires so many people today. I remember as a kid, I wanted to be called Michael because everyone great was called Michael. Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson. Everyone who was called Michael was touched by greatness and I remember saying to myself that when I got older, I would change my name to Michael but I’m glad I didn’t.
KenyaBuzz: Tell me about what you miss the most about being not so well known?
Kagwe Mungai: Grocery shopping. I don’t get to do that as much anymore. I enjoyed doing it in the middle of the night, at 3am when there is nobody there and I have my headphones on and sing and dance in the aisles.
KenyaBuzz: And what is the worst advice that you have ever gotten as an artist?
Kagwe Mungai: ‘Fake it till you make it’. I know it has worked for some people and I cannot take that away. But I believe in authenticity.
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