Joseph Wambua, aka Jemedari, is a spoken word artist, MC, music composer and a carpenter. He shares the secret to remaining relevant in the fast-paced industry with Christine Odeph
Where did the stage name Jemedari come from?
Most people expect a profound story behind the name but the truth is, when I was growing up the two most influential figures in my life were my two uncles in the army. I wanted to be an army general; so I referred to myself as Jemedari. I even attempted to join the army unfortunately I was too short to make the cut. To make it worse, I failed miserably at the physical running test I don’t think I made it past the first lap!
What did you study in campus?
Tell us a bit about the trajectory of your musical career
After high school, I got into a talent show that promised Sh10,000, a trip to Nairobi and a record deal with the hottest DJs at the time. I won, but all I saw of the prize money was Sh2,000 and I never made it to Nairobi. Still, I kept going. In fact for a while before I started university I was known as the guy to call to curtain raise.
When I joined university, I was introduced to open mic night by my friends at a local club. The owners enjoyed my performance so much that they offered me (laughter) two drinks to perform every Wednesday. After a while, in 2009, I connected with someone who had studio equipment in his house which he offered to me. I was so hungry at the time; we recorded 13 songs in two days! In 2010 we recorded my first album titled Numero Uno. After that it was a butterfly effect with me performing everywhere I could get into ranging from poetry events, music and hosting.
How did you branch into being an MC?
I was attending the Kenya Music Week which used to happen every second week of December at Sarit Centre. On the second day I realised the MC had not showed up. I approached the organisers and offered to host for them and everything sort of spiralled from there.
What is the biggest lesson learned from your early career?
Nothing is easy; but nothing is beneath you. You never know who will notice what you do and when. A lot of the gigs I did taught me the value of social capital and how to benefit from it – not necessarily money but something else that can move your own personal goals forward. Respect comes from the (consistently good) work you do. The second lesson is that it is okay to say no to certain offers, and it is okay to be told no to certain pitches. That’s just life.
The third lesson; never under-sell yourself. Once I was asked how much I wanted to be paid for an MC gig. Before then I was being paid in exposure or at the most Sh5,000. I asked for 20,000 and the person didn’t even flinch; that’s how I knew I had messed up. Later I found out other performers were taking home from around Sh50,000 - Sh 100,000. That hurt.
How did you evolve from just purely rap into song writing?
It became apparent to me that not everyone was listening to rap. I would go to events and be the performer who gets the slot that no one pays attention to. For instance at a show that begins at 9pm; I would be the first one up or last one after everyone is exhausted or is leaving. So I needed to make sure that what I was making was seen and heard too.
I am quite interested in experimenting and trying something new. At some point I decided to take a different path and find new ways to write, record and even perform music. As a result, in the last five years I haven’t gone on stage to perform with a DJ backing me. It’s all bands; giving me more space for creativity in studio and on stage.
Why did you choose a motorcycle rather than a car?
Because I am now in the league of the few Nairobians who can be anywhere in 15 minutes! I don’t enjoy driving especially in Nairobi. There is no discipline and too much chaos on the roads. It’s also quite fuel efficient for me.
How do your real life experiences feed into your music?
My music is always based on my true life stories. Like the song Msenangu was a song I wrote with someone in mind. I was in love and wanted to express it in a sort of traditional, non-urban, purely African way.
What are your views on social media?
I have mixed feelings about it personally and professionally. Social media has certainly raised awareness on the different creative projects that I do and almost 90 per cent of my carpentry clients have been from social media. Oddly enough I don’t get as much attention when I post about tickets or shows that I am performing at and I have not directly received any new MC gigs from social media – those happen from referrals.
Speaking of love, you recently got engaged. How did you two meet?
True love is one pixel away. I say that because I experienced it. In late 2016 as I was performing at the Alliance Français, a photographer took a very intense, very close up photo of me in action then later tagged me on it via Instagram. A month later, we met at another concert and struck up conversation that lasted hours. From that day I just knew there was something special there. We started talking more after that and in March 2017 I officially asked her to be my girlfriend. Then we just grew together in our relationship until I proposed.
Both of you experienced an almost viral trolling when you posted the engagement photo online earlier this year…
Someone from the states made a rude comment about my fiancés nails and later it was another one from South Africa then at some point it even got to Nigeria. My first reaction was instant anger and defensive mode; replying to everyone with fire. She deleted her account because it was too much. But then we just stepped back from it all and had to remind ourselves we are authors of our own story.
Do you listen to other kinds of music?
My favourite genre is jazz.