Kiboma Kasambala alias Ten Ballz is a Tanzanian living and pursuing a music career in Kenya
Tell us about your upbringing and childhood.
I was born in a family of six siblings and I am the third born. As a child, life was normal for me. I loved reading and fishing. My parents were farmers and did small businesses. Life was not complicated. Ours was not a very rich home, but I didn’t lack.
What is the meaning of your stage name?
My stage name is Ten Ballz. It symbolises my ability. In school, I was always named in the top students list. I loved sciences and wanted to become a doctor.
How did your family react to your career choice?
I still hold on to the dream of becoming a doctor. I believe one day, I will be a doctor. I just need time to go back to school. For now, I need money to do the things I dream of. I will go back to study medicine when time comes. On family, my father supports what I do. I am firm on my decisions so it wouldn’t matter if relatives disagree. But my family is happy and they support me.
How can you describe your style of music?
My style is afro beat with a touch of bongo vibes. I grew up in Tanzania, so I adapted a lot of things from there.
Do you feel your music sounds like it is from another artist?
When you listen to my music, you realise it’s unique. There is no artist who sounds like me and neither do I think I sound like any other. I sing just the way I speak. I used to sing RNB but there were just so many people doing it and many tried to mimic my tunes, so, I stopped.
As a Tanzanian, what do you love most about Kenyan music scene?
I am Tanzanian but when I go home, people brand me Kenyan. They call me a Kenyan artist. I am proud to be a Kenyan artist, we are here to represent African heritage. There is so much I critique about Kenyan artists. Many artists are not serious about making music but are in it for money. I admire the business oriented minds of Kenyan artists. I chose to represent Kenya in the music industry. Tanzanian artists think they know too much. They have big names with no money, they are keen on getting fame.
What challenges do you face pursuing a career away from home?
Challenges are good, without them, it becomes difficult to move on. I love being challenged. As an upcoming artist, meeting someone who can genuinely help you is very hard. The established artists do not listen to upcoming artists. Recording fees for the studio is also another challenge. To meet someone who recognises and appreciates talent is hard.
Are you signed to any music label?
Yes. I am signed to a label called Home Music Empire.
Which artist do you look up to, locally and internationally?
Michael Jackson inspired me a lot. I loved his work and believed one day, I would be like him or better. Dully Sykes is also an inspiration to me. I have collaborated with him in one of my albums.
What runs through your mind any time you are recording music?
When in studio, I follow the beats, the mood of the beat greatly influences my music. If I get a sad beat, I am likely to write a sad song, a happy beat makes my mood to be jovial and I’ll write a happy song. The environment also comes into play, things I have experienced and things I have seen influence my creativity.
How were you received in Tanzania on returning home after years living in Kenya?
I have been in Kenya for 11 years now. A lot of things had changed on return to Tanzania. I can’t fit in either side. I lost the Tanzanian accent and in Kenya, I can’t grasp the typical Kenyan accent either. Kenyan artists are feared in Tanzania because once they gets an opportunity, they utilise it.
Why did you come to Kenya in the first place?
I came seeking higher education in Kenya. I focused on my studies but to be a doctor. I was told, it would cost me Sh500,000 to pursue a degree in medicine. I didn’t have the money. All I had was a piece of land back home, which I inherited from my father. My brothers were against selling the land. It was a hard decision. I worried on what I would go back to if my studies did not pay off. My brother warned me never to return to Tanzania for help when my plans failed. I sold the land at TSh20 million, which was so much money 11 years ago.
You got conned on your first arrival in Kenya, how did it happen?
I met a man who said he was from Taita. I got close to him as I felt he was like a brother because my grandmother was from Taita. Initially, he wanted Sh1 million but we could only raise half the amount after selling my piece of land.
So we came back to Kenya and for about two years, we kept talking about his brother, who was a doctor. The third year, I had my suspicions. I later learnt he used my money to invest in his music business and started managing artists. He lied to me, all the people he spoke to were fake. He deserted me in Nairobi and no one would give me a phone to call him.
I lived on the streets and got used to the cold. The challenges he put me through made me the person I am today. I haven’t spoken to him for over six years.
What happened next? Did this affect your relationship with your parent?
It became a police case. It was hard on my side because I was not Kenyan. The police threatened to deport me back to Tanzania. He gave me back Sh5,000 and I have never seen him again. My street friends and I would steal from cars in traffic jams. Five of my street family friends were killed and some are in jail. I give back to the street because I have been there and I know what they go through. I escaped going to prison 10 times.
For five years, I never spoke to my relatives or friends in Tanzania. Later, I went to live in in Kibera, in a children’s home. An Italian man took me from the children’s home. It was my talent that offered me a chance away from the street. He took me to Mombasa and I studied languages. Alongside Kiswahili and English, I speak Chinese, French and Italian.
I stayed with him for three years. He left because his wife didn’t want him to help me. So, I went back to the street as a hawker. I sold water in Mwembe Tayari and rented a house in Bombolulu. That’s how I lived until I met my management. It was very tough!
Someone took you in, what transpired next?
Later, another woman took me in. She ran a home for street children. I am a friendly person, I learnt English while in the streets.
What hopes do you have for the future?
I want to leave a legacy. I want to inspire and help others. I want to connect different people. I discovered myself and I think I am a bridge for people to use to connect their lives. That is my mission in life; to give light to people. I aspire to make people see the possibilities.