Before Michael Maweu performed a rendition of his hit song Kungulu Kwangala during the recent Madaraka Day celebrations, only a few of his fans could identify him.
Yet the 40-year-old already has more than 100 songs to his name and has been in the Kamba secular music scene for more than two decades. All along, the head of Mutulani Boys Band had not entered the charts of star musicians even in his Ukambani backyard – until January when his latest song became an internet sensation.
For the last six months, Maweu has been basking in the glory of the song that has broken the internet. The Saturday Nation met him while cutting a deal with the proprietor of a popular joint at Mlolongo Town in Machakos County.
"Kungulu Kwangala, our latest project, became an internet sensation in January, two years after I recorded and published it on YouTube,” he told the Saturday Nation in an interview.
In the song, he weaves Kikamba onomatopoeia for a heavy falling object and relatable anecdotes – such as the danger posed by marauding wild animals – with fast-paced rhythmic beat and the repetition which characterises Kamba benga music, to create an eight-minute song which urges caution and tact in response to stimuli.
In the song, Maweu says one should study situations carefully and prepare properly before responding to avoid imminent danger.
Although Maweu does not link Kungulu Kwangala to any particular inspiration, he says he has been gravitating towards music which evokes a sense of pride to his fans and feels that his latest music epitomises that commitment. Kungulu Kwangala has been trending on social media for six months in a row with communication and governance expert Ben Mulwa terming it “a breath of fresh air”. A study on the Kamba benga music conducted by Mr Mulwa on behalf of Kenya Film Classification Board in 2016 linked lewd messages which lace most of the songs with eroding the country’s social fabric.
“With Kungulu Kwangala, the artist has shown clearly that clean content sells and that one can still be a sensation without publishing songs which promote voyeurism,” Mr Mulwa said. He is among public figures and celebrities who have fanned the Kungulu Kwangala craze through Facebook and TikTok. This has pushed the viewership of the song on YouTube to about a million. Maweu expects that the song will break the internet when he finally produces and publishes its video.
Way before the Permanent Presidential Music Commission noticed Maweu and convinced him to perform before President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Sierra Leone counterpart Julius Maada Bio during the Madaraka Day celebrations, the father of three had benefited immensely from his composition. He revealed that he draws Sh30,000 on average monthly from Google Adsense for publishing the song on YouTube.
“We are getting a lot of attention as well as more and better showbiz deals to perform at events and high-end establishments. The latest deal was the performance during the launch of Azimio manifesto. We are in the process of signing a performance contract with a giant telco,” he said, illustrating an acquired celebrity status which sharply contracts his humble beginning.
Although the composer, singer, songwriter and guitarist grew up in a family of secular musicians, Maweu traces his music career to Kavete Salvation Army in Machakos County where he sang and played the guitar in the mainstream choir.
“Music took us to many parts of the country and significantly expanded my worldview. After performing for the choir, the church used to allow me to take the guitar with me as I headed home. Over time, I started drifting towards secular music and ended up assembling a small secular music band that comprised my elder brother, our cousins and friends. We used the church choir to perform secular music under the cover of darkness,” he said.
Mutulani Boys Band has since enlisted 12 young people who perform mainly in Embakasi clubs. In one of his first songs titled Keka Ninasomie, Maweu regrets dropping out of primary school. And with Nithaiwe, the song which made him the talk of the village, Maweu seeks spiritual intervention to explore his budding music talent. By that time, he worked as a farmhand around his home at Mutulani Village in Makueni County.
When he left the village for the city in 2002, Maweu dreamt of reaching the same echelons in the Kamba secular music industry as David Kasyoki of Katitu Boys Band whose stardom in Kamba music predated that of Ken wa Malia of Yatta Orchestra, Alphonce Kioko of Kithungo Raha and Alex Kasau of Nguuni Lovers whose compositions have dominated the airwaves.
Two decades after venturing fully into music, Maweu is convinced that he is walking the right path. The music has enabled him to set up a salon business in Nairobi.
He has inspired his first born son who sings and dances in church. Maweu’s main concern is how to maintain the celebrity status. He told the Saturday Nation that he is searching for a manager to handle the growing business.