What you need to know:
The wise Swahili men (Wahenga) left a saying; ‘Jogoo la shamba haliwiki mjini’ (A village cockerel doesn’t crow in the city). Well, true to their wisdom it has been rather very difficult for Coast artistes shifting base to Nairobi to reign or at least top the charts.
Nairobi, at least for artistes who try to relocate from the Coast, continues to be a boulevard of broken dreams for artistes who arrive with dreams and hopes of conquering the Capital – and with it the country.
It doesn’t take long, the City, which is famed for devouring ambitions sees that the “immigrants” quickly pack their music load and move base.
There are statistics, music producer and MC Bably Omar, Rude Boyz, CLD, Sharama, Tiera Gee, Hassan Majid, Cannibal, Ukoo Fulani and many others have had to return home to Mombasa after the City proved a hard nut to crack.
CLD is perhaps the one Coast based musician who nearly took Nairobi by storm. His collaborations with big names in the industry like Abass Kubaff, earned himself a spot among the musical elites in 2005.
His star was rising fast and he seemed unstoppable. His collaborations were hits and his melodious voice was a must have for top acts.
Rapper Abbas featured him in his runway hit single “Mofaya”. He featured rapper Bamboo in the remix of his song “Kabinti” which rose to number one spot on several FM stations and placed him among the most sought after acts.
Homeboyz entertainment even signed him and did his single “My Video”, which was, however, not well received. He did several songs with Bongo Flava acts and even joined Mr Blue in the group they called “Kabysa”.
But things began to go haywire and today CLD is nowhere to be heard or seen. It is not even known where he is based. “I am no longer based in Nairobi. I moved from Nairobi to Mombasa,” he says.
CLD says that “Nairobi guys are not to be trusted. They are selfish and self-centred; they disregard coastal artistes and are users. Once they use you, they dump you. They cannot allow a stranger to rule,” he says without mentioning names.
CLD is one of the acts who before then was a household name in Mombasa but could not rule the city. He still feuds with rapper Abbass Kubaff after the latter refused to feature him in the video of their single “Mofaya”.
“I can never work with Abbas Kubaff again. I helped him reach the top,” he says. But the singer is full of praise for Nairobi, saying it’s the best place to do music.
“But just like in politics, there are cartels who identify those they want to work with. Ali B is big in Mombasa but a nonentity in Nairobi.
For his videos to even get airplay he had to feature Size 8,” he adds. CLD has new song “memories”, and is signed to Nairobi-based Busy Bee studios.
Once known as the Queen of the Coast, Tiera Gee is no longer a top voice, musically. While in Mombasa, the singer was a fast rising star who posed a threat to Nyota Ndogo who has been dominant for years.
But just before she made it even big in Mombasa, she moved base to Nairobi. She was signed to Grandpa Records and her music career has been heading the tail direction in Nairobi. Just another confirmation of the Swahili adage.
Since the death of the Cannibal/Sharama music duo, little has been going on for the latter. He disappeared from the limelight and is in Nairobi doing music and other jobs to earn his daily bread.
Sharama who moved to Nairobi four years ago says that all has been well with him. “I have an album “Vunja Winger” that was sponsored by Goethe institute and I have toured Europe promoting the album.
It’s not easy to make it to the top but you can hang in there,” he says. The rapper, just like the rest, is still an underdog.
Rapper Cannibal also shifted based after he split with Sharama. To his credit, the rapper has tried to remain visible despite the fact that he has not made any major breakthroughs.
He has mingled with the big names like Habida and Prezzo and looks destined for greatness. Cannibal says that for a Mombasa artiste to make it in Nairobi they must make music that is acceptable all round and to work with the industry managers.
“For you to succeed, it depends on your music and the people you connect with. If you do Bongo-like music you lose out.
“If you hang around underground you cannot make it. You have to play with the big boys. To make it in a foreign land, you need the goodwill of the local players,” he says.
Sudi Boy of the popular “Banati” also booked a ticket with a Nairobi bound buses and landed himself in the city which rapper Kitu Sewer described as “Nairobi mji wa wezi na Malaya”.
Hoping for nothing but to conquer, he set off working with Genge singer PiliPili who gave him a presence in Nairobi. But things never went rosy for him after he disagreed with PiliPili and had to return back to Mombasa.
Producer Totti also went public that he had shifted to Nairobi and that Mombasa was no-longer relevant for him musically.
He worked with Pilipili and was later ditched in a now common fashion between Nairobi entertainers and their Mombasa counterparts.
Bably Omar shifted to Nairobi as an events organiser and MC five years ago. He was the talk of the town and took almost every deal in Nairobi from the industry top “dawgs”.
Things did not go well and he was ejected out of the city by the so-called showbiz cartels of Nairobi. Sources say he tried to control all the big showbiz deals, a thing that the players couldn’t allow.
It is said that the same people were the ones that had introduced him to that business. Contacted, Bably said “Nairobi ina wenyewe (Nairobi has its owners). You have to bow to them to make it,” he said.
Rapper Sokoro ruled the rap scene in Mombasa and was the rhyme master at the Coast. With few singles like “Hii Mziki” among others, Sokoro shifted based to take rappers like Abbas Kubaff head-on.
But his move backfired as he could not even get space to do freestyle rap. So were veteran hip hop group Ukoo Flani who moved to Nairobi to do an album at Headbangerz.
They had their videos played but still remained underdogs in the city where rap group Ukoo Fulani Mau Mau were kingpins.
Former Tabasam producer Hassan Majid moved to Nairobi with the plan to launch his multi-million recording studio upon returning to Kenya after five years in the UK where he had pursued a degree in sound engineering and later got employed at BBC studios in Nairobi.
“The Nairobi music market is not the kind that you’ll wake up and go and dominate. No. It has the movers. The circle is well organised and it’s “who-knows-who” industry.
“Plus there’s a high powered cartel that runs the industry in Nairobi. So Mombasa artistes will always kill their careers if they don’t have a strategy.”
“Working with a big artiste might help but might not keep one on the top,” he notes. Hassan is quick to blame the artistes though.
“Coast artistes are not consistent and are not exposed. Nairobi artistes are so humble and they don’t squander opportunities. Besides, they’re well connected and have influence,” he says.
“You think you can come and topple an artiste who hangs out with Bob Collymore, Martha Karua or even Jimnah Mbaru? It can’t happen.”
Getting somebody out of the village is easy but not the village in him as Fingaworks’ DJ Peter Adamz quips.
“Mombasa artistes think the Nairobi market has a gap where they walk in and just fill it immediately. They think the land is virgin. Most Nairobi artistes are looking beyond the borders.
“Selling Mombasa music is a hard task. Most artistes do music that has not national appeal and shifting base to Nairobi is a career suicide,” he adds.
Adamz further notes that most of the artistes are cash strapped and cannot manage the living costs. “To reign requires deep pockets. A village cock can only crow if it has deep pockets.
“The expectations are usually too high. Most established studios in Nairobi have their own artistes and there’s no room for them on charts,” he notes.
Cannibal, who was the first Mombasa artiste to be nominated for Channel O music awards three years ago, adds that when you go to Rome you do what Romans do.
He blames CLD for killing his opportunities. “Instead of working with the Nairobi artistes well, CLD began to beef around. And that’s how his downfall began,” he says.
All said and done, few names like Shuga actress Brenda Wairimu, TV news anchor Janet Mbugua, Swaleh Mdoe and Eve D’ Souza have raised the bar for Mombasa in other areas of showbiz so the Coastal artistes need a new strategy.