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The Ruff and Tough

By - | January 25th 2013

Rufftone engages PETER NDORIA in a story of how a Kakamega-bred boy going by the name of Atom, grew up to be Kenya’s godfather of gospel music

Rufftone had for a long time considered himself an artiste. He remembers that as a Class Three pupil, he won a basin and jug for the best drawing in a competition.

“In high school, I was small in stature, my nickname was Atom and I landed girls’ roles in plays,” recalls the burly singer. He changed school and had to join Kakamega High School because they taught Fine Art. So intense was his passion that he did not mind repeating Form One, for this.

Rufftone the rapper emerged when he came across the MC Hammer classic Hammer Time. After Yellowman and Shabba Ranks visited Kenya, the young man’s interest in ragga was stoked. During talent shows, he would try out his thing alongside Man Ingwe, then a schoolmate.

After high school, he realised that he wouldn’t be able to impact the music industry from Kakamega, and immediately relocated to Nairobi. He never got the chance to work with Kalamashaka and Shadz O’ Black, who were at the time redefining Kenyan music. All the same, he recorded It’s Up to You at Hills Music Studio, working with veterans John Karani and Ras Kiplagat.

“One day, while commuting from town to Umoja, I heard my song in the matatu. I tell you, that feeling is incomparable,” he exudes, as if trying to recapture that exact moment.

He appeared on Mizizi, then a leading show by the national broadcaster and started landing performance shows alongside Majizee, Poxi Presha and the Gidigidi Majimaji duo. He also got to meet upcoming artistes like Nameless, Wyre and Wahu.

While at Sync Sound, he bumped into a producer who had just come in from Pakistan with a couple of tracks he wanted them to listen to. The producer’s name was Lucas, the soon-to-be head honcho of Ogopa Deejays.

Within no time, Lucas and Rufftone were recording the song Meeeh. Music was now gaining mainstream acceptance; there were numerous FM stations and shows. Corporates were also starting to look their way, when one day Rufftone decided to change course mid-stream.

“I was not at peace with myself. I was not at peace with my family, much as everyone out there looked at me like some hero. Then (Daddy) Owen was attacked too... At this time, I was just about to finish my album Ruff & Tuff,” he recalls.

He had been invited for a show, but didn’t have bus fare when Harry G convinced him to go with him to church since he did not have much else to do. By the time, the first day of the millennium would pass; Rufftone would start on a course that forever changed him.

After a whole year of reflection, in 2001, he joined other artistes who prayed for him and he joined them, as a gospel artiste. He let go of everything else.

With R-Kay, he recorded Mwikulu, a track that enjoyed favourable airplay in several FM stations.

So, did he start beefing with Daddy Owen when the latter started making the cheddar and hogging the limelight?

“We first recorded By My Side with Owen and until quite recently, he was staying in my house. We are tight, especially since he is mature and humble enough not to let the fame get to his head. I never got any disrespect. In fact, I would send him and he would go. Envy might fleetingly hold you, but since it is ministry, the last laugh is yours,” says Rufftone.

Thanks to their relationship, he was soon meeting and guiding new gospel artistes like SK Blue, Ringtone and Ambasada. He had by this time put his career on a backburner of sorts, focusing more on his studio, Lampstand Records.

He has produced hits like Dakika Tatu (Daddy Owen), Ugali Sosa (Man Ingwe) and Warn Dem (Gideon’s Army)

Keen to reignite a rebranded Rufftone, he is currently riding high with Confusion, a collabo with MOG. He is also working with the General Service Unit (GSU)... yes, those ones, choir on a peace song. A reality song titled Exodus to Stardom is in the pipeline, as well as an autobiography since, he does not want to wait until he is 50 to do the latter. Despite all these, he believes in staying true to the gospel.

“Do not mince your message; if you are a gospel artiste, do gospel music. That does not mean you cannot address universal social issues but be sure, if you doubt God, you will be erased from the industry — stick to what you do.”

On the family front, having gone for ruracio (negotiations) recently, he hopes to marry and settle in a conveniently ambiguous date.

“I am not sure what will happen first, the election or my wedding — but somewhere around there. I have fathered many children in the music industry, now let me get my own children.”

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