Talented albino and blind artistes serenade crowds
| August 31st 2012
By ALLAN OLINGO
If you want to move fast, move alone but if you want to move far, move as a group. These words are the pillars James Imwari Mutai also known, as ‘Kamano’, and David Mwendwa Muthengi use in their pursuit of a music career.
Kamano belts out a tune while playing with the guitar, occasionally throwing his dreadlocks back and forth. All this while, Mwendwa silently fiddles with the piano, a smile playing on his face. You would not imagine he is partially challenged. The two, graduates of Kenyatta University, are now a favourite country music band. At the university is where Kamano’s music journey began.
“During the Kenyatta University Cultural week in 2004, my room mate pushed me to the podium after the MC requested anyone in the crowd to come up and perform. When I got there, I did a rendition of the song Aisha and the crowd loved it,” says Kamano.
According to Kamano, the then Deputy Chancellor George Eshiwani asked him to play a rendition of old country music and when he sang Senorita by Don Williams, Eshiwani was impressed.
“I went ahead to be the second best solo performer during the cultural week at the grand finale at Kenyatta International Conference Centre. I was awarded the guitar that has become my musical companion,” explains Kamano.
“When I was given the box guitar, I learnt how to play it because at the time of receiving it, I had no idea how use it. I used to carry it everywhere I went. That’s how I bumped into my partner David.”
Kamano met Mwendwa through his brother. Mwendwa was then doing his masters in Linguistics at the university and he was Kamano’s elder brother’s roommate.
Mwendwa, a gifted pianist and multi-linguist, is partly blind while Kamano is an albino — a combination that makes their band unique. And it is working for them as they elbow their way into the competetive music scene.
According to Mwendwa, together with Kamano, they could meet at the Piano House in the university, where Kamano would play the guitar as Mwendwa played the piano then they would sing.
In 2005, they finally decided to work together and do country music. They picked the name ‘Serenade’ but it sounded ‘foreign’.
After a few other names, they settled on Savannah Maestro Beats, the name their band carries.
Kamano sang some Meru tunes using computer software and recorded Kamano, the song that earned him the nickname.
But Mwendwa discouraged him from using computer-generated tunes. Instead, he told him to come up with something authentic that Meru people — his primary audience — could associate with.
“I recorded my first song Ti-maruru which is in my first album Kamano. The song talks about the perceived arrogant nature of the Ameru people. I explain that it is just the way we guard what belongs to us.”
The Kamano album basically is about the Ameru people, their pride, culture, business and commercial ventures.
The album has some gospel music in the song Tigiti, which has a wedding theme. It also has other songs such as Susana and Kathambi.
Kathambi is about a girl Kamano left in Meru when he came to Nairobi in search of opportunities but instead met another town woman who fleeced him in the name of love and his profound love for her.
In Susana, he shares a story of a girl he loved so much but she disappeared one day at night with his neighbour and left his door ajar. “The reception has been good so far both as a solo Meru artist and as band member. Initially, most people were skeptical especially because of the language used but that changed and they are now very supportive.”
Mwendwa speaks fondly of the band that he co-founded.
When they started off as country singers, they sang in English, French and Spanish. Because of the high demand especially from weddings, the two decided to also include African touch to their singing. They picked songs from Kenya and the continent.”
“Our plan was to come up with music that would cut across the board like the likes of Yssour N’dour and Seif Keita,” says Mwendwa.
“Most people doubted our abilities but after listening to us, they paid us back by giving us referral business. That’s how faithful the lord has been to us.”
Kamano is optimistic that they will leave a footprint in Kenya’s music industry.
“We now have a fully-fledged band that we use for events. We play every Wednesdays at Galileo’s Lounge and are also working on a new album,” says Kamano.
“Music isn’t easy and you need to be resilient and follow your passion,” says Mwendwa. “It’s never smooth but when you are able to make it through, and then the fruits of your labour are worth the while. Be persistent despite the pitfalls. There is always a reward at the end of the struggle.”
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