As one of the judges on the KTN Home reality show Sasini Talanta Mtaani, many have come to know Robert Waweru Kiboy aka Wawesh as the no-nonsense judge who says it as it is.
Contestants dread him during auditions for his straight-shooting, analytical and well-informed judgement, thanks to his deep understanding of pop culture and the creative world in general.
Few contestants know that this tough judge is one of the best showbiz personalities in Kenya.
Few entertainment personalities in East Africa today can equal Wawesh’s prowess as an artiste, music producer and director as well as mentor and researcher.
And the man who holds both Kenyan and Swedish citizenship is writing a fresh chapter; seeking to influence how people view African showbiz.
He is a man on a mission to give African music a divergent music identity with a unique cultural base.
To many Hip Hop lovers of his generation, the mention of Wawesh brings with it nostalgic memories of his 2006 hit rap song Wawesh Mjanja. This was from his 20-track compilation album, It’s Meant to Be, whose other popular song is Wawero – also referred to as Songs of Wawesh.
He made his mark as a rapper, addressing social issues facing urban youth.
“On December 13, 2008, at the height of this nation’s post-election violence, we had camped together with my family at the Kiwi Hotel in Nairobi. Our mission was to take up what Nynke Nauta, the Holland music promoter who had helped produce the original Kenyan Hip Hop projects with Kalamashaka and Ukoo Flani Mau Camp, had started,” says Wawesh.
“The success stories of productions like Kilio Cha Haki were inspiring. It is through these projects that I met Nik Punk, Moses, Muriuki, Stan and many others that now form the Kenyan Hip Hop legacy.”
The artiste, 46, was born in Kiambu to Lucy Njeri. She worked as a taxi driver and was friends with veteran singer Tabu Ley. In the mid-eighties, she moved abroad with then eight-year-old Wawesh to look for greener pastures.
Wawesh says his biological father died in an outburst of rage against foreigners after UN troops attacked fugitive warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid’s command centre in Mogadishu in 1993.
At the time, with his mother, they called Karlskoga City in Sweden his home. She died there, mysteriously.
Karlskoga offered Wawesh a chance to learn, produce and collaborate towards an ongoing realisation of self as a creative artiste.
This advantage pushed him to pursue a professional career in the entertainment business.
Thanks to the Scandinavian State, Wawesh was given resources and start-up support that would help him found the BLaO Entertainment AB production company with Martin Karlsson and Noah Hagan from Ghana. Between 1996-2007, it grew into a recognised brand in the city of Gothenburg.
The company won several awards and got two Grammy nominations.
“We had Tommy Mottola sending songwriters like Kara DioGuardi to our penthouse studio in Gothenburg as we had a good reputation and affiliations in the industry across Stockholm,” says Wawesh.
Then Wawesh got the urge to return to Kenya. He wanted to get back to his native land and use his expertise to grow the local industry.
“When I started working with the Nynke Nauta team in 2008, my vision did not match what was going on at their Rags to Records studio at the Buruburu shopping centre. This is also where our most celebrated and deserving kings would finally get the chance to record the classic Mwanzo album. This was the birth of the group you know as Sauti Sol,” says Wawesh.
The father of two recalls the simple desk they were using, soundcard, microphone and a laptop as they got down to start producing Mwanzo.
On Sauti Sol
“As much as I produced them, I can humbly say that no one really made Sauti as they were called then. They made themselves. They stuck to their plan and intuition; their inclination, and conviction that if they were patient enough a fellow village mate would return from a promised land, connect and enable their destiny,” he says.
It was Wawesh who urged the boy band to change their name to Sauti Sol (Sol meaning sun in Swedish). After the Mwanzo album project success, Rags to Records was transformed to Penya Africa.
His focus and approach has now shifted from the ‘Wawesh Mjanja’ Hip Hop feel to a general authentic expression of an African sound.
Through his Penya Africa stable, Wawesh has been seeking to play an active role in inspiring and enabling local musicians to become influential agents of change by supporting them in producing, distributing and promoting music.
Other artistes he has worked with include Stan (Kenya Debut), Dela (Paukwa), Sauti Sol (Sol Filosofia) and Muthoni the Drummer Queen (The Human Condition).
Wawesh also runs the Uwezo Awareness Organisation, a non-profit outfit that champions international youth development using national media, wellbeing, technology and entrepreneurship.
But the journey to success has not always been smooth.
The artiste admits that there have been mistakes made along the way, some that drove him into chronic depression.
“For many years, I tormented myself and was not able to take charge of my life. I am a dreamer and lost myself in the imagination of achieving great things. The combination of being pessimistic and optimistic at the same time caused me lots of unnecessary friction,” he says.
Today, however, Wawesh is in a good place.
“I am happy with what I am now doing with Sasini Talanta Mtaani. It is about talent search, mentorship and empowerment. It is giving life to a new generation of creative stars. It is giving back to society. There can only be one Sauti Sol. That we have. Who is next?” he says.