Simon Javan Okello is the founder of the Madaraka festival. This a project by powered One Vibe Media to celebrate cultural diversity and inclusion across the African diaspora in the United States. Born and raised in the slums of Manyatta in Kisumu, Simon steadily rose to be a beacon of hope among African artists seeking opportunities to perform abroad.
Since arriving in the US in 2010, he has organized events and digital campaigns that celebrate the African diaspora. Moreover, Simon’s humanitarian background, adds an extra layer of excellence to his craft. ”I served Co-Director of the Young Generation Centre from 2002-2010 where I directed humanitarian projects in Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, and South Sudan. I also worked as a DJ and producer, organizing Unite The People concerts in 2008 in the wake of post-election violence and founding One Vibe Africa.” He says.
Earlier in the year, the Madaraka Festival embarked on a tour of six cities across the United States, with Sauti Sol headlining the shows. The tour was a massive success, with all the shows selling out and reaching over 25,000 people. Notable artists such as King Kaka, Eddy Kenzo, Draze, and Anthony Cole have also graced the festival’s stage.
In November 2023, the Madaraka Festival team undertook an East Africa Media Tour, engaging with audiences and sharing their passion for culture and community. This tour serves as preparation for the highly anticipated Madaraka Festival 2024, marking a decade of cultural celebration. The festival is set to feature performances from superstars including Nyashinski, Naomi Achu, Victoria Kimani, Eddy Kenzo, Bien-Aime Baraza, Khaligraph Jones, Bensoul, Nviiri The Storyteller, and Fena Gitu.
Global Ambitions for Kenyan Artists
The dream of every artist is to have a global audience. Despite some opinions suggesting that Kenyan music is not going global as it should, Simon disagrees, asserting that Kenyan artists have significant fan bases abroad. “Kenyan artists should know that they have the biggest fan base that is yearning to see them abroad as much as they are needed at home and regionally.” He remarks.
Beyond musicians, Simon encourages other creators, such as DJs and podcasters, to explore global stages. “There are opportunities for Kenyan DJs and podcasters to get shows outside the country. They just need to build reliable relationships with the right people abroad and create content that is relevant to the diaspora audience.” He says.
Lastly, Simon takes pride in the fact that the Madaraka Festival has also contributed to the overall tourism growth in Kenya. The festival has played a crucial role in growing the international audience that supports Kenyan music and economy thus attracting tourists and investors who first learned about Kenya through its vibrant and talented artists