KANJI MBUGUA’s dream was to play in the National Basketball Association, but he ‘stopped growing tall’ and had to abandon his basketball dreams. He, however, has no regrets about venturing into music.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Nairobi. I have two sisters, and am the last born. I discovered music when I was a child, and was enrolled in piano, guitar and voice lessons at a young age. I am grateful that my parents were open to the arts. Part of the reason for this was that my dad studied Pharmacy, but ended up being a writer. I attended Makini Primary School, Nairobi, and then Nyeri Baptist High School.
What was your childhood dream?
I wanted to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and so, when selecting a high school, I chose Nyeri Baptist because they had the best basketball programme. My dream was, however, cut short because I stopped growing tall (smiles).
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music?
Even though I loved music from a young age, and even began a music group called Turning Point in high school, it was not until I was picked as the Kenyan ambassador to the World Vision Youth Choir in 1997 that I decided I wanted to do music. I had just sat my Form Four exams, and in this choir I met people who were not only passionate about music, but who were serious about turning it into a career.
Where did you study Music?
I left for the US in 1998. I went to Biola University, where I did my foundation in Music. Afterwards, I went to Musicians Institute in Hollywood — one of the best Music schools in the US. I later went to Dallas Sound Lab in Texas, where I learned about audio engineering and the music business.
While in the US, you were in a music group called Milele; tell us about that…
During my first year in the US, I formed the group with three Kenyan friends, and we toured and performed in churches in various states in the USA.
Why did you come back home when most people prefer to stay abroad?
I came back in 2002; I always knew I would come back. The question I had to ask myself was whether I wanted to be a drop in the ocean or a splash in the bucket.
What was it about your wife that made her ‘the one’?
We crossed paths in the US, where she was also studying. Mwendwa is beautiful, not just on the outside, but also inside. She is also a great mother to our two children. When you find a woman who makes you want to be better than you are, you know you have found the right girl.
What do you love about being a dad?
Selah, my six-year-old daughter, is a singer and ballerina. She loves to sing, and has even sung during some of my concerts. She once asked me if she could sing a solo at my concert, and so I rehearsed with her, and she performed. My son is called Benga. He is four years old and is into sports. He is good in tennis, but I think he will also surprise us when it comes to music. Many people did not think I could sing because I have a husky voice, but look at me.
What do you love doing with your family?
Every Friday afternoon, my wife and I have a date with our children. We do all manner of fun things that the children love; we go for walks, and to the movies. A parent’s job is not only to have children who are obedient and positive contributors, but also to create wonderful memories for your children.
What is the secret to a happy marriage?
You must put effort into everything you want. If you want to be friends with your spouse, then you have to put in time and effort. You have to be intentional about it; it does not happen by chance.
Tell us about your company, Kijiji Entertainment.
It is an all-round entertainment agency that deals with film, events and music, but over the years, it has undergone many changes. We started as a distribution company, but evolved and branched into music, event planning and film.
What inspired the evolution?
I wanted to start a business that revolved around music because it was what I studied, but when I noticed the gap in music distribution, I began Kijiji Entertainment. We worked with the likes of Ogopa Deejays and Mad Ice.
Later, we opened a studio, where we started recording music, and became a record label. We signed Aaron Rimbui, Joseph Hellon, Chizzy, A-Star and Esther Kahumbi. At the time, they were new artistes, so we had the opportunity to mould and craft their careers, and release their singles and albums.
While doing album releases, we began doing events to accompany the launches, and in the process realised that event planning was a viable market we could branch into.
How did you get involved with Village Musicals?
When we began, we were not really doing musicals per se. It was more like a variety of shows, where we would do everything, from poetry to songs, and then have a story linking all the different performances. After about two years, we decided to try musicals, and that was when the Village Christmas and Village Easter musicals were born. After doing the Village musicals for seven years, we reached a point where we felt we needed to grow, to expand our audience. That is how the idea of a television series came about. This year, in partnership with Zuku, we produced the first musical series in Africa — Groove Theory.
Producing a musical series that is one of a kind in Africa is no mean feat. What has been the experience so far?
Although it was a stretch for us, it was an easy transition as we had been doing theatre musicals for about eight years. We wrote 30 to 40 songs for the series, and worked towards having international standards like in shows such as Glee and Smash, as we want to distribute it all over Africa.
You are also doing corporate events; tell us about that.
Originally, we were doing small events connected to albums or the Village Musical, but in 2008, we launched the Spread the Love Festival and brought in Kirk Franklin, Deitrick Haddon and other international artistes.
We are now doing corporate events. I believe in doing what I am passionate about, but, more importantly, evolving to fit into the market.
How about the Milele group? Do you see a comeback in the future?
We did six albums as a group, and we are still good friends. You never know what may happen in future. Two of us are in Kenya and the other two are in the US.
You have been quiet about your solo music career. When can we expect a new album?
I released A decade in 2006 and Stories in 2007. Early this year, I worked on a special concept album called Simplified, together with Aaron Rimbui. We took old hymns and reworked them. I am also working on a new album that should be out soon.
So far, what has been the lowest point in your career?
You will always have high and low points in business, but my lowest was in 2008, after our first Spread The love Festival. After the events, we found that we had incurred a loss of Sh4 million.
What kept you going?
My faith in God is very important to me. We started Kijiji Entertainment to introduce culture-defining entertainment that teaches good morals. I have children, and I want them to grow up in an environment where there is wholesome entertainment. When you have a dream and face a challenge, you do not give up; you look for a solution. In fact, I believe that it is during the hardest times that you have your highest moments. After our financial loss, we branched into corporate events, and it is the best decision we ever made.
What are your plans for next year?
This year was exciting, and we hope to do better next year as we do more television music productions. We also plan to revive the Spread The Love Festival as an award ceremony for people who are giving back to the society. I also hope to get involved in more television productions.
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