Wanavokali is without a doubt one of Kenya’s most sought-after bands. Its members’ amazing vocals and out-of-this-world harmonies have put them a cut above their peers. Comprised of 6 members, Ythera, Mellah, Lena, Chep, Ricky Msanii, and Sam, this group is one of Kenya’s finest musical exports. The sextet came together after meeting at the Safaricom Twaweza Live Tour 2018 as background vocalists performing for various artists.
Last year the Rhumba hitmakers won the highly coveted Amazing Voices Award after competing with their peers from Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Wanavokali’s impressive discography is packed with hits such as Rhumba and Unioshe and covers to songs such as Mary Did You Know, Stella Wangu, and 2 in 1 just to mention a few. The group recently dropped their debut self-titled album and Kenyanvibe caught with them to discuss details on the album and their music careers.
How does it feel given it’s your debut album?
It feels great! We are excited to finally be sharing our original music with the world. As you may already be aware, we started out as background vocalists. So it means a great deal to us to now be the ones at the forefront.
In your own words, how would you describe the album?
In just one word we’d call it ‘Wanavokali.’ The album is a representation of who we are; amazing vocalists, skilled writers, six different personalities, and friends. We believe in being authentically ourselves as individuals and as a group. When you listen to the album, you will notice the diversity in writing and performing when we lead individual songs. The album has also incorporated very different sounds because we come from six different backgrounds, whereby we listen to and get inspired by very different genres of music. The album is self-titled as we couldn’t find any other title that perfectly described it.
How was the production process working as a group?
Because we are many, it definitely took us much longer to record. Having to record both lead vocals and harmonies for all six of us was time-consuming. Furthermore, there arose healthy creative differences, including those of producers and sound engineers. Lots of creative minds and perfectionism got in the way once in a while. We had to compromise and set aside egos to move forward.
In the album, you have tried the Gengetone genre, which is unlike your usual sound. What inspired the move? Is it the genre’s popularity?
We describe our sound as anything delivered with amazing vocal prowess. Therefore, Kula Tatu is as much the Wanavokali sound as Rhumba or any of our other songs. Genre-wise, we didn’t initially plan to write a Gengetone song. But one night during our writing camp, we were playing poker and the lyrics of the chorus came to us mid-game ‘Kula Tatu.’ It was catchy so we wrote more to go with it which is the full song you hear now. No doubt the genre is very popular and there are a couple of Gengetone artists we’ve worked with before such as Ethic. So we didn’t limit ourselves when the songwriting went in that direction, and it has quickly become one of our favorite songs to perform.
Which of the songs in the album did you have the most fun making?
Kula Tatu was definitely one of the most fun songs to work on. Just from how the idea of it originated to recording it together. You can hear a lot of fun adlibs in the song and that was us just having fun in the studio. Rhumba is another song that we really enjoyed making because it was the very first song we recorded in the album and we were so excited! We put so much energy into it.
How do you guys stay grounded as a group? What’s the one important component that makes Wanavokali work?
Friendship. We are not just colleagues who work together. Wanavokali is a family that is there for each other through our professional and personal lives. We have fostered that relationship for the last 4 years. This has helped build our connection, chemistry, and trust for each other. It further translates to our music and performances.
What are your individual strengths and how do you merge them to make amazing music?
Before Wanavokali, we all had, and still have, our own individual careers and experiences in the music industry. We all bring a lot of skill, talent, and networks to the table, and that has made us more of a powerhouse. It is definitely a tall order and even lonelier to do this alone without someone to reassure you that you’re making the right moves.
Do you guys have other jobs apart from music? Does the art pay?
We do not have other jobs apart from music. We are full-time musicians and so we literally breathe, eat and live music. It is the passion for us. Let us look at it this way, a coin has two sides so let us explore the head and the tail. The head is the art that is made through the use of imagination and creative skills by artists. So we don’t think that there will ever be a greater reward or pay that beats our art being appreciated and translated by the consumer as was intended. This is a greater reward than pay.
In regards to the latter, it is rewarding and affirming to see how the world has received our music. This makes us happy. The tail is, monetarily you really have to work hard to enjoy the works of your labor through pay and we would say that we are getting there and building our empire every day. We are working hard for the money.
Your fan base is growing very steadily. How would you advise an upcoming artiste who is trying to create a strong fan base?
Not only should you take advantage of social media (be active! Post and share regularly), you should also create memorable experiences with your audience, that will enable them to feel like they are part of the journey with you. It should be personal and relatable. Your brand should feel simple and effortless and accessible to your fans. Create experiences through sense- textures, storytelling, and colors. Create a sense of tribe and community. Interact with the audience on a one-on-one level.
What challenges have you experienced in your music career as a group?
As much as having 6 people in the group playing different organizational roles, is a big plus, the work entailed can also get financially, emotionally, and mentally overwhelming. Creating the right networks and knowing who to work with, in the industry is a challenge. However, we are learning and growing as we go. The experiences we are going through are making us more thick-skinned and stronger.
Who’s the comedian in the group? And the worst time keeper?
Definitely Lena. On both counts!
What upcoming projects can fans expect?
Looking forward to more live performances and collaborations with other huge names in the industry. ‘Wanavokali: The Album’ is just the beginning.
Images courtesy of Wanavokali