Tiktok stars Michael Bundi and his son Fayez relish their success
Michael Bundi, 26, and his son Fayez Bundi are Tiktok stars. They share videos of themselves singing together and have amassed a following of more than 1.5 million people on the platform.
Sometime in March, Bundi posted on Facebook a video of his son and him singing. It was Inner Circle’s song, “Tenement yard”.
At the time, there was no end goal. It was just another day to chase fate with music. For the 26-year-old, who was inspired to join the industry by his father – a music teacher, all he wanted to do was become an acclaimed artist.
But even with dozens of recorded songs and being on the list of 2019’s Grammy awards nominees, music was the last thing working for him.
Four years ago, when Fayez was one, Bundi noted that he enjoyed to watch him play music and sing. “I had this reggae mix that I used to play on repeat. On one occasion, the song started to play and I heard him sing. First, off key then he got in tune. I interested him to make videos with me and that is how the journey started,” he says.
Before his videos started attracting millions of viewers, there were many times when getting 50 likes was a miracle.
“On the day when it went viral, I remember feeling anxious. What do you do when your video has attracted more than 200,000 views in a matter of hours?”
“My phone was incessantly buzzing — texts and calls. I should have been excited because I have been dreaming of being a famous artist but I was edgy.”
Seven months later, the duo has become a household name on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Titkok, a streaming service popular with Gen Z. On short videos sharing app, the two, who go by the name Michael Bundi have a following of more than 1.5 million and their video challenges have been done by thousands of viewers from across the globe.
“People come to our socials and ask questions in all forms. “Are you Kenyan?” “Is that your son?” or “How long does it take to practice?” it is surreal,” he says.
For Bundi and his son, the rise to fame and TikTok stardom is a rocket ship, and potentially a ceiling, too. Things have changed for the better. Fayez, who is his first born and home schools, has since got a partial scholarship to study.
A few months ago, one of their fans sent him money to replace the piano and he has since settled most of his bills, including months of unpaid rent that was weighing him down.
“I have also partnered with some brands for adverts and merchandises. Also, I have created a Patreon-like programme that allows our fans to subscribe to our behind-the-scenes content. By paying a subscription fee, they receive a monthly newsletter from us — what we have been up to and our budget for the subsequent month,” he says.
Socially, things have also changed for them in that they can no longer walk as freely as they used to. “When we walk around the estate, some people stare, call us by our names or even start singing along to our song covers. It is humbling as is frightening because we now have to be more careful than before,” he says.
Before the duo became Tiktok stars, the father of two spent most of his time writing music, and selling studio recording equipment online. Sporadically, he would get artistes seeking for music recording services.
“I had tried music for eight years, and an album I was featured in was nominated for Grammy Awards last year. Against this backdrop, I couldn’t even afford most of my family’s basic needs. As bills piled up, I pondered over going back to the village in Meru County and start a new life altogether. Social media was my lifeline,” he shares.
With a huge following that expects music from them, the duo have maintained one routine. Every day, they work on their vocals then do a recording of at least five songs on Sunday. “That way, Fayez has enough time to attend school and play just like any other child,” he says, adding that they will be releasing an original song “Survive” this month.
To many people, music is a source of enjoyment. For Bundi, it was an escape from all that was happening around him.
“I was brought up in a toxic environment and bullied a lot in secondary school because I used to wet my bed. I realised that whenever I sang, my classmates drew closer to me and some schoolmates committed to protect me as long as I continued to entertain them,” he says.
That, coupled with issues at home, thrust him into depression and he confesses that he tried taking his own life five times.
“It felt bad that things were not working for me. When I completed a course in music production, my songs were not getting airplay as I expected. I worked as a caretaker to earn a living,” he says.
Bundi attributes their growing numbers on social media platforms to the fact that they sing music from different parts of the world.
“We have done cover songs from artists in South Africa, Jamaica and Malawi, among others. All these have been successful,” he says.
At the end of most of their videos, they say “kaboom!”. “Because our growth and success has been rapid —kaboom!”