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Mejja's secret to success

News
 Mejja performs at the Choma na Ngoma Festival in 2022. [Silas Otieno Standard]

Mejja’s style of music relates to the streets, reflecting on what goes on in typical neighbourhoods across Kenya.

He is a funny and comical lyricist, bringing humour to ordinary situations that people experience through his mastery of storytelling. His unique wit has been his forte. 

He is without a doubt a national gem, humble and down to Earth. Rarely does he carry himself as a big deal and talks softly to whoever is around. He is chilled, easy to talk to, and funny while at it.

Through talent, perseverance, and the support of his mentors, Mejja has overcome many hardships to become a pioneer of Kenya's Genge wave. His evolution from an unknown artiste to a multi-award-winning musician has made him an inspiration to many.

His open-mindedness has seen him collaborate with many upcoming artistes without discrimination.

“I am an easy person, and I talk to most of these young overnight sensations to give them a piece of advice. Whoever wants to listen is welcome, and to some who assume they know it all, I leave them,” he says.

While most artistes disappear into oblivion at some point, Mejja has been consistent, which has seen him bag ambassadorial deals and hold sold-out shows.

“I am serious with my art, I always endeavour to make people happy through my craft. I carry my fans in high regard since they give me pleasure once they jam to my hits,” he says.

His early life was characterised by struggle.

“My childhood was pretty basic, the usual ghetto lifestyle. We did not have much in terms of financial muscle and at times my mother would give me her food to eat, but it did not hit me that we did not have enough food at the time. All that mattered was my happiness,” he says.

Later on in life, he forged his path in an industry that lacked structure and support for upcoming artistes. He helped build Genge into a distinctive Kenyan sound and genre that is now inspiring future generations of artistes.

Though his music career is still evolving, Mejja has already secured his place as a pioneer who shaped contemporary Kenyan music. 

Born in the slums of Majengo in Nyeri, his first taste of stardom came when Celtel was holding a talent search all over Kenya. Mejja happened to be among the top three contestants in his region. He, later on, became the first runner-up nationally.

Back in the day, Mejja would copy his brother who was also musically talented. Although he could barely write his songs during that time, he used to rely on borrowed content.

“I looked up to my brother who was also musically gifted; they had a group called Ghetto Clan who gave me a reason to do music. I would copy their verses and go rap in school and my peers were impressed. I would later start rapping Kwa base ya jaba” he says.

Mejja came to Nairobi where he met Clemo of Calif Records, who helped mentor him music-wise. He got signed to Calif Records by Clemo, where his star started shining.

In 2008 Mejja had his first breakthrough song Jana Kuliendaje.

“I remember when starting there was this particular TV programme that used to play music and people would watch in masses, but when I approached them with my music they blatantly told me they would never play Jana Kuliendaje. All in all, some people believed in my craft,” he says.

This single bagged him an award at Kenya's Chaguo la Teeniez the same year. His single Landlord later cemented his status as one of the most prominent Kenyan Genge artistes.

The track will be remembered as the song that properly introduced Mejja’s unique style and sounds to many. This crossover anthem transcended barriers of class and culture, uniting Kenyans.

 Mejja and DJ Flash during the Oktobafest Launch in 2022. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Since his debut in the musical scene, Mejja’s journey has been one full of hits. At some point, he joined hands with Madtraxx and Kid Kora to build what was known as The Kansoul.

“In as much as we parted ways they are still my friends and I do not regret teaming up with these talented individuals. It was a good experience as we taught each other some lessons here and there,” Mejja says while admitting he is on the verge of forming a musical group.

“I am going international this time round and this won’t be a Kenyan group,” he says while intimating that he has crossed borders and has contacted artistes from outside Kenya.

And without a doubt, he is a master storyteller.

“I pick a track that resonates well with me, then I sit down looking for ideas, then break down the project into different story ideas until I get the storyline. Afterwards, I start doing the lyrics. My agenda is to make them as relatable as possible for anyone to sing along,” he says.

He is the ultimate ‘king of collabos’ due to the many collaborations he has done with  upcoming and established artistes.

He has worked with Khaligraph Jones, King Kaka, Femi One and upcoming artistes such as Trio Mio, Ssaru and Reckless, pushing his artistry in new directions.

Mejja has an expansive catalogue, something he says did not come about easily. Earlier this year, he took a break from his illustrious music career after his throat developed complications.

“I have been releasing at least a track or two every month, but this year took a nosedive when I was forced to take a three-month break. This was necessary for my health,” he says.

This was a difficult moment for Mejja and he says this slowed him down, but it was for the better since he got to recharge. He says he has worked on a couple of songs, which he will soon release.

Sticking with Genge all through, Mejja claims it was a big win for the industry and Kenya at large when the genre was listed in a new category for the 66th Grammy Awards.

“I was excited when I had the news because some of us have stuck with the genre all through. This is an indication that once you stick to your beliefs, something will eventually happen,” he says.

Mejja is gearing up to release his debut studio album Mtoto wa Khadija later this year.

"In as much as this craft looks easy, I promise it is not. I have been in the game for a minute and I think I am ready to finally drop my masterpiece of an album. I have incorporated other artistes from different regions," he says.

The secret for his longevity in the industry and remaining relevant to the masses for years on end, shows his patience and heart to go on.

“This is not for the faint-hearted - we did not get fame overnight, we worked for it. Unlike most artistes who change with time, I have been true to my stuff and will forever keep going,” he says.

He says his major motivation is his fans.

Mejja has helped forge a new Kenyan musical identity that resonated with youth across the country.

By incorporating Sheng, addressing issues relevant to urban youth, and fusing local styles, Mejja's music reflects the experiences of a new generation.

Genge music promotes a sense of shared Kenyan identity during a time of political and social transition. 

“We all wanted to have a distinct sound and we worked for years to get to this juncture and I am not relenting,” he says.

On the other hand, Mejja is synonymous with his plastic tumbler, which he moves with almost everywhere he goes.

 Mejja shooting one of his upcoming songs. [Instagram]

"There is nothing serious behind the tumbler image,  it has been documented all through. People become excited every time I carry a tumbler and that is why it stuck with me,” he says.

His hard work recently saw him bag the ambassadorial deal with the rum brand Captain Morgan.

"It is a good thing that corporates are supporting artistes, an indicator that the industry is on a good path. This also showed me that despite whatever you are doing, someone is watching and you should always strive to do your best. The campaign is about 'spice on and be you'. I have always told people to believe in themselves," he says. 

 

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