Taio: All grown up

Mathew Wakhungu (Taio) of Camp Mulla. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU

What you need to know:

  • At 21, Mathew Wakhungu has lived out the showbiz dream as part of the trailblazing Camp Mulla trio. He told BONIFACE MWALII about his unfolding plans to reinvent his musical identity as a solo artiste.

BUZZ: So what do you go by these days?

That’ll be Taio ‘Thee MC Africa’.

Taio was coined by my biology teacher in high school. It’s a colloquial for Matayo which comes from my name Mathew.

‘Thee MC’ is me asserting myself as more than just a rapper while the “Africa” implies my aspiration to one day become one of the strongest MCs on the continent.

You’ve been off the radar for a while now, what have you been up to?

I took about eight months off because I felt I needed to look back and restrategise on my musical direction. It was a much needed breather to help me try out other things and also build some expectation for what I’m planning next.

And what does this new strategy entail?

A lot of things. Core among them is my desire to reinvent my live performances and infuse a lot more quality into my live act.

I’ll also be exploring a new direction with my audio and visual material based on the feedback I’ve received from guys around me. It’s all about me rechallenging myself and my entire approach to music.

Does this mean it’s a wrap as far as you and Camp Mulla are concerned?

I can’t say it’s completely done but it’ll be a while before we all ever do something together again. At the time of our split we all felt we needed to make our own contributions to music in our different ways and that’s pretty much what I’m focusing on at the moment.

Was there ever a moment when you regretted the break up?

Yes. The responses we received after the announcement of our split made it feel like there were a lot more people who supported us in Kenya and outside than we had previously imagined.

In many ways, the reassurance that people actually valued us as a Kenyan brand was what we had always looked for.

But then again, like many creatives, we had mutually grown tired of doing the same thing over and over again so the change was somewhat inevitable.

So what really is next for you as Taio?

My desire is to be the musical flag bearer for the region. Just as Ice Prince has established his presence in Nigeria and Diamond has conquered the East African space, I’m looking to solidify my place on the continent by earning respect from Kenya and Africa as a whole.

And how exactly are you planning to achieve that?

Well for starters, the sound I’m developing is informed by my interactions with all the leading artistes I’ve had a chance to meet from across Africa.

It’s something I hope Kenyans can relate with and all of Africa can enjoy. Because of this, my target audience now is a lot more diversified.

That’s why I’m building a new, cleaner public image. One that will be a role model for the younger generation and that attracts enough corporate appeal to get them to invest in my brand.

What makes you so sure it will work?

Nothing. There’s always that fear of failure and I realise now that I have a smaller window of opportunity to establish this new direction than I ever did before.

Besides, I’m no longer in a group so there’s less room for preference in what I put out. People will either like what I do or they won’t. But this is a personal mission of mine and I’m quite stubborn.

Tell us about your new material

I just released my debut solo EP called “Man Made Machine”. It’s a six-track compilation of sounds I find to be more popular with the youth.

There’s a mixture of hip hop, funk, jazz and a couple of other stuff in there. Basically something for everyone. It was produced by Jaaz Odongo and Kagwe Mungai and I’ve also featured Lisa Oduor.

What’s the reception so far?

I actually expected more criticism than love but the response has been much better than I’d anticipated. I’ve also performed the songs at a few shows and the feedback has been really encouraging.

I’m looking forward to releasing the videos which are currently being developed so hopefully we’ll have something out around July. I’m also planning to do more shows and tours to showcase my live act as I work on more material and collaborations in the studio so it’s all quite exciting.

Going by what you’ve been associated with in the past, you realise we’ll be expecting some really high budget videos from you right?

Definitely. High budget and high quality. That goes for the audio productions and live performances as well.

Camp Mulla was repeatedly accused of failing to connect with the larger local audience because of the choice of language. How do you intend to overcome this?

When it comes down to it, I have an identity to maintain and to some extent I intend to preserve that. But I’ll also be doing collaborations with various artistes to bridge that gap so hopefully that will help me connect with more local audiences.

Care to share some names?

A lot of that is still in the works for now but if I was to mention a few guys I’d love to do something with Wangechi. I have a lot of respect for her and what she does.

I also like Just A Band simply because I find their creative process intriguingly weird. Across the borders I’d love to work with Khuli Chana and M_anifest.

What lessons from your past musical experiences inform your present plans?

For me, it’s important that we invest in relationships between artistes, corporates and fans in order to grow our entertainment. We don’t appreciate our own enough and the result is that artistes never really feel like they’re important players in society.

For this reason artistes will always put out half-baked material because they can only expect and receive half-baked responses.

With you and Karun working under the same label, it does feel like you simply bailed out on the rest of the crew, wouldn’t you agree?

It’s true we’re both signed to Motion, Image and Sound Agency but it was purely by chance. We just happened to know the same people so we ended up under the same label. But then Karun and I really think alike so it was always an easy decision.

Speaking of labels, word is there was bad blood between you and your former label Sub Sahara following the split?

There could never be bad blood between us and Sub Sahara. They were like our home and Suzzane has been like a mother to us. We still support each other to this day.

There’s talk that your parents collectively orchestrated the breakup of Camp Mulla. How do they feel about your current ambitions?

They’ve seen the transition from when I was in the group to what I’m working towards and they’re more on board now they ever were. They’ve been to my recent shows and are more involved and interested in my music career which makes everything much easier for me.

You’re back in school?

Yes, I went back to school to pursue a degree in Communication at Daystar University. It’s awkward and challenging. When you’re in school you just want to be a student but people always ask a lot of questions and that can sometimes get frustrating.

For example, we’re in the same class with MC Jesse from Churchill Raw and people see him only as a comedian until he beats them in exams then they realise he’s actually a very smart guy.

Where do you see yourself by the end of 2014?

I hope to have the hottest hip hop act in this region. I want my songs and videos on the continental platform. I want to bring more energy and show people more sides of me that they never knew before. I am that person. I’m all grown up now.