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Angela Ndambuki: Music is my business

Achieving Woman
 Angela Ndambuki: Music is my business (Photo: AN)

For Kenyans of a certain age, just hearing the words, “Mateso ya roho, umenivunja moyo…” is enough to bring back a nostalgic flood of memories from when the song Teso would be played on the radio several times a day, for months.

Angela Ndambuki, one-third of the group Tattuu, which was behind the song, remembers how charged the crowds would be when they performed, a memory she looks back on with fondness.

“When you are on stage and you are performing, people are excited and happy, cheering you on, it is a nice feeling, making their day. That feeling – that whole effect, the stage effect, is something,” she says.

It also brought some crazy moments, like one time some over-enthusiastic fans went overboard.

“There was a time we were trying to be cool with our audience. And then you know the way you put out your hand to tap their hands, Angie (Mwandanda, aka Shinde) started being pulled into the crowd. She made a mistake and put her hand out too far. For us, we were just hitting hands lightly, but she gave her hand and it was taken,” says Angela.

THE TATTUU FACTOR 

“I am the one who saw it and I was like, ‘She is going! She is going!’ It became like a tug of war. I had to hold her and then the other band members also came to help; we made a whole line behind her trying to pull her back on stage. We managed not to have her go over. That was funny. We always remember that and laugh.”

So you still talk?

“Oh yes! We are still good friends, although Debbie is not in the country,” she says.

The trio had started as Nameless’ dancers until he told them that they couldn’t continue because the dance styles had changed. “When booty-shaking started we were like, ‘Ai ai ai, not for us!’” she says with a laugh. “We loved singing anyway, so we just moved to that and stayed with Ogopa.”

That earned Tattuu the nickname, ‘Ogopalets’. Her time with Tattuu also led her to the love of her life, Roy Mutungi, a software developer. He had just arrived in the country from the US when he heard that there was a big show happening.

“Like 19 years ago was a divas night with all the big female musicians at the time – Mercy Myra, Wahu, Amani, Nyota Ndogo, they were all there. Those were good days,” she says, a twinge of longing in her voice. “Now I am even feeling old, my goodness!

Afterwards, Angela, who then went by the stage name Rabbo, happened to be at a party that he attended.

“He just came and started talking to me, asked me my name – and then afterwards we went to one of the clubs, talked almost the whole night, exchanged numbers. We came back to Nairobi and the rest is history...” she says.

BOY MEETS GIRL

the two have two daughters, Tili and Keli, and their love is still going strong. “He is my checker because sometimes I can be a bit extreme. I am extra!” she says, laughing. “He calms me down and tells me to chill a bit.”

“I am grateful, I got a very supportive partner. He has been great - a really important part of my growth and who I have turned out to be.”

How have they managed to have such a loving relationship after all these years?

“I think it is a give and take. It does not always have to be your way. You have to understand that you have come from different backgrounds, but as long as you have a main goal you should be able to make it work,” she says.

“Sometimes there will be heartbreaks along the way, but you also have to learn to forgive. You have to move on and have a shared vision in life. Be there and committed to making it work. It is not about revenge, it is about helping each other along the way.”

She says that she has been fortunate to have a strong support system. Even before Roy and the children came along, her family was her biggest influence. 

“My parents were never those who shied away from the arts, or my inclusion in the arts. As much as I was a lawyer, or studying even law, they allowed me to explore my creativity at that point, in music and everything,” she says.

“I remember my mum telling me that at work people who had seen me on TV were telling her, ‘I thought your daughter was studying Law! What is she doing in music?” And she would be like, ‘Please mind your own business.’ Because she could see that my results in school were good, so she was like, ‘If it was not affecting your studies, go ahead and do you.’

“My dad was also very supportive. And this was a long time ago when no parent wanted to hear that their child was doing music because, of course, it was not a lucrative business as such.”

Angela has since moved on to much, much bigger things. She now oversees 46 countries as the Regional Director of Sub-Saharan Africa for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). It is the trade body that handles recording industry issues globally.

“At IFPI, we ensure that there is a conducive environment for the recording industry to thrive. The sub-Saharan African office was set up in 2020.  IFPI has been around since 1933 so our office is still new,” she says.

“In a nutshell, we promote the value of recorded music through campaigning also for the rights of record producers, and ensuring that we expand the commercial uses of recorded music. We work to help our members licence the commercial value of music.”

THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC

one of the priorities for the office is in policies and legislative frameworks. The organisation has been pushing for the treaty ratification especially internet treaties, and specifically the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty that they are currently pushing.

“The last government had done a good job at passing it through the various levels until the Cabinet approved it, but with the new government, of course, there is always some form of handover and gaps, so we are trying to see where it has reached and see whether it can go to Parliament for approval and ratification. It is very important right now. It is one of the WIPO internet treaties. It was put in place in 1996 but Kenya has not ratified it to date,” she says.

With music consumption now being largely online, the organisation needs to protect the rights-holders in that environment. Having been approved by the Cabinet in the last government, the process is now in its final stages.  

“A big thing that we are also happy with for Kenya is that the tariffs for the broadcasting, for the collecting societies, have been changed after years of lobbying to a percentage format. At least it now stands at 10 per cent, which means that rights-holders can finally start getting their fair share of the broadcasts of their music,” says Angela.

Before this, Angela and others founded the Performers Rights Society of Kenya, becoming General Manager from January 2009 to October 2012, and then worked as CEO until September 2017. She is also currently the chair of the Kenya Association of Music Producers.

While being grateful for the trajectory her life has been on, does she miss the old singing days?

“Yeah. That is why I am still in the music industry, trying to sort out what I can with the policy issues and collective management issues – just trying to ensure that music players can make a living out of it,” she says.

A Tattuu reunion might even be in the offing.

“You know we say, once an artiste, always an artiste, so even if I am not actively recording, you never say die. We did not stop. Life just happened, and we always say that we are going to release more music,” she says.

“Like Debbie has not been around for almost 10 years. She moved to the US. That of course made it a bit of a challenge. Life happened. But we always talk and if she ever decides she is coming back, we might do something.”

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