Veteran Mt Kenya Benga artiste Florence Wangari wa Kabera has dared area musicians to a duel to pick the queen and king of the beat, instead of “crowning ourselves”.
“We should cease this habit of crowning ourselves...who made you queen or king? You get this ridiculous habit where everyone is referring [one]self as king or queen...we have to settle this in a competitive event to have real ones identified,” she said.
“What we are witnessing is a confusing circus where all with a reach to a microphone just declare themselves kings and queens of Mugithi,” wa Kabera said.
The undoing of the industry is rivalry based on clout and beat “leaving us a laughing stock in the eyes of our fans.”
“We should cease rivalries, petty competitions that are divisive and instead concentrate on building ourselves as unique brands.”
The artiste added that so far there are promising talents in Mt Kenya Benga beat but the artistes “should know they are all unique in [their] own way, [they] cannot be the same and all will touch souls differently, hence why I don't even understand these politics about kings and queens.”
“But if we must have those titles, let us have a musical tournament where we will compete for crowning...Just like we have the ongoing World Cup tournament in Qatar, we organise our own and square it out.”
Wa Kabera, in a candid interview with Ala C who hosts Reke Ciume na ene (from the horse’s mouth), further urged artistes to invest for a rainy day rather than living life on the fast lane.
“I have been in this trade for over four decades now and I have bought for myself land, built a home and invested in a business. Some in this trade are only pursuing singing, eating, drinking and sleeping, only for a rainy day to come and finish them off,” the artiste said.
She said her journey so far now in the industry “is that of fulfilment with the little that I have earned and invested it to grow.”
A great grandmother now, she says that she has been ‘growing backwards’ “since I feel more younger than when I ventured into the industry nearly five decades ago.”
Widely respected in the industry where she is described as a legend and a mother figure, she is known for high voltage dancing moves full of energy and strong vocals.
She also urged President William Ruto to order the disbandment of the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK).
“This MCSK is not for us and for the past two years, it has not paid us royalties. It is being reported in the field harassing music users as it demands rates but the collections end up being loot for the few in it,” she said.
She urged the president “to do us justice and streamline this sector for us once and for all so that our creative enterprise can maximise benefits for us”.
Wa Kabera was born in Marmanet village of Laikipia County, but her parents came from Gatanga Sub County of Murang'a, she says.
She confesses that she dropped out of school in standard three.
“Books were not my vibe. I was in class one for three years, then three years in class two...I was growing old in class with no future. I struck out and escaped from home to Nakuru town where I was employed as a minor house help,” she said.
And in her struggles in the new town, she began nurturing her musical talent.
In search of identity, she partnered with industry greats like Wahome wa Maingi, Queen Jane and others.
“I was a dancer; I had the vocals; I was composing and I was a fast learner on instruments...I became an asset since I could earn as a vocalist, a backup, to play instruments or simply dance," she said.
This led to her recording her own gospel songs. She later realised that secular music was more promising.
“I performed in Nairobi and Nanyuki before the big breakthrough came in 2005 when promoter Dick Tiger, who also was a boxer, arranged for me to perform in the USA,” the artiste added.
It is while in the US that she met a friendly woman whom she identifies as Ms Anne Kihoro who hosted her for two years.
“She helped me enrol for English lessons and also helped me found a salon business. I was also performing for Kenyans living there. I came back home in 2009 a rich woman,” she said.
With over 200 singles to her credit, she today performs also as a one-woman guitar Mugithi artiste.
A mother of three, she says she will continue performing until she can no longer sing and dance.
“I have no retirement thought in my mind. [I’m] so engrossed in music to a point that I use dancing as my workouts. Every day I dedicate one hour of singing and dancing as my gym programme,” she said.
In her death, she wants to be eulogised as an icon of the music industry who inspired many.
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