Benga musician, Dan Aceda, was only 19 or 20 when he released the smash hit, Sana Sana. You could hardly go anywhere in Kenya without hearing it.
His parents’ love of music had rubbed off on him. He also credits the church for having nurtured his musical side.
He would spend whole days as a child at St Luke’s Kenyatta church, along Mbagathi Way (now Raila Odinga Road) over the holidays playing instruments.
When he changed churches in his teens to Mamlaka Hill Chapel, there were more instruments he was allowed to practice on and more musicians to learn from.
Here he interacted with music heavyweights like Kanjii Mbugua, DJ Moz, Eric Wainiana, and Wyre.
“I remember I was singing one time and there was a gentleman called Mwaniki Mageria. He was a former board member at Kenya Film Commission,” Aceda told The Sunday Standard.
“So Mwaniki said, ‘You know, you are a very good singer. I think you should sing professionally.’ He became my manager, introduced me to a few other people, and suddenly I was in the industry. I was about 15.”
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That was how Aceda recorded his first single as a teen, and by 20, then going by the name Chizi, he had recorded an album with a smash hit and was a veteran in the industry.
A journalist once said that he was too young to understand Benga, and was not the king of it.
“Maybe you are the crown prince of Benga,” the journalist told him. And that became his tagline, ‘The Crown Prince of Benga.’
“That phrase made my career. It gave me a lot of gravitas. I have put it on my posters,” he says.
Aceda also has two degrees in architecture, and he still dabbles in it but mostly for fun.
“I guess I just pivoted from it. It became more interesting for me to be more involved in the creative industry than the architectural industry, although over time I have gone back and I have done things in it,” he says.
Today he boasts of Baraza Media Lab, where SemaBOX, his latest venture, is housed. It is a plug-and-play, specialist podcasting studio and podcast incubator, which he says is the biggest in Africa, having had over 200 podcast creators making content in it.
It was borne of the pandemic. “At first I was a musician primarily, and then I started to produce music. When you are producing music, you buy equipment. When you buy enough equipment, you open a studio,” he says.
So he had a studio already, but when the Covid-19 pandemic happened, they ended up closing it.
“During the pandemic, my phone went dead. Nobody was calling. The only people calling were the people who were making podcasts. I kept wondering, ‘How many of these guys are there if they keep calling me? There must be a lot,’” he says.
Together with Baraza Media Lab, who had also been getting calls from podcasters and where he was still working at the time, they decided to open a temporary podcasting studio.
“It was a studio that we would set up in the morning and set down at 2 pm because curfew was at 7 pm. So we started to record and we started to give these guys a lot of support. We discovered that it was very helpful to them when we recorded podcasts,” he says.
“They were happy because it was easier for them. They would come, record the podcast and go home. They did not have to know how to edit and package.”
The first podcast was the Wamathai podcast, in September of 2020, and eventually, they started charging, with people more than happy to pay for the service.
“SemaBOX is a plug-and-play studio. You walk in, we switch on the machine, you record your podcast, we edit, and we send it back to you. So you do not have to touch any technical gear. That way, we help the podcasters be more consistent. We are helping them produce more often and we are helping them grow their communities because, with consistency, their communities grow,” says Aceda.
SemaBOX has now produced around 700 podcast episodes, and earlier this year, they announced earnings of Sh5.5 million, and have had a total of 5 to 7 million listeners.
Aceda says that the podcasting scene in Kenya is very exciting. “More people are joining, the stories are getting better, the podcasters are getting better, their delivery is better, their storytelling is better. They are beginning now to also be able to pitch to a customer and get money,” he says.
Out of the 200 podcasters that have been at SemaBOX, 19 are making money, and Aceda says that it is mostly because of leveraging their networks.
“What we need to do is to find a way to make this a standard. The creators also have to become very good to grow. Right now only the top are making money. So we have to think about that and see how we can share skills and also inspire creators,” he says.
“I think that the next five years will just be growth. I think podcasters who are working very hard are going to be growing in the next five years.”
Aceda says that storytelling in Africa has a lot of potential.
“Africans are storytellers. The stories that can come from Africa can change the whole landscape of the world. Just by way of example, when these guys made a story about an imaginary place in Africa – Wakanda, it created this big sensation because it is new,” he says.
“I think African storytelling can make a lot of money for African governments. If your story is told well technically and culturally, you will do very well,” he says.