What Next For Sauti Sol: Chimano

After Sauti Sol announced their indefinite hiatus, Chimano and the other members of the band will pursue their individual and collective passions while remaining committed to their friendship and shared vision. The band is currently on the US leg of their world tour that will see them also visit Canada, Europe, and of course Africa. Fans of the boy band from Kenya and beyond continue to digest the news with mixed reactions. Some feel somewhat robbed while others feel the next step could be so much more exciting.

What Next Sauti Sol? Is a four-part series that looks at who each of the individual artists are their sonic identities, their impact on the culture, and a look into what the future of music holds for them. This the second instalment, You can have a read on the first one HERE.

Who Is Chimano?

Willis Austin Chimano is the special one of the group. Although he is the shortest, he shines in his own exuberant way, giving off the vibe of a star. His bold flamboyant sense of fashion made him easily recognizable. For most of Sauti Sol’s songs, he has always performed the bridge and the hooks in his signature deep base. In his own non-abrasive way, Chimano came to be a leader and to be loved by fans who eagerly waited for his sections in the songs. He was born on July 9, 1987, in Kenya and attended Upper Hill High School at the same time as his bandmates Bien and Savara. They were all part of the school’s famed choir, the Redfourth Chorus. After high school, he joined the University of Nairobi to pursue a Journalism and Media Studies undergraduate degree.

In December 2021, Mr.Chimano officially came out as gay in an interview with The Standard, a Kenyan daily paper with a huge customer base. This news confirmed the speculation of most of his fans, who jailed it as a positive step toward the acceptance of sexual and gender minorities in Kenya. In the interview, he revealed that he no longer wanted to live a lie and that he was tired of hiding his true self. In that same week, he released his first single-Friday Feeling.

Chimano’s Solo Efforts

Chimano has been much quieter than his bandmates as a solo artist, releasing only a single in 2021 that was part of his EP, Heavy Is The Crown, published in April of the next year. The project’s themes revolve around self-acceptance, love, freedom, redemption, and gratitude. The ideas flow into each other as the seven songs proudly and boldly celebrate queer love, queer joy, and queer experiences. The flagship song Friday Feeling mentioned earlier is a high-energy, retro synth pop track that heavily borrows from the sound of the 80’s when queer ballroom culture was at its peak in New York. Indeed the official video portrays, a ballroom floor where different houses compete in various categories encompassing fashion, dance, and acting. The songs Freedom, Beautiful Day, and Mad Love are quintessential slow songs that borrow from modern sounds such as dark pop, and bedroom. pop and lo-fi. The rest like Loser and Hallelujah follow in the upbeat path set by the first song. They also employ synth pop patterns infusing them with the funk and soul train sounds reminiscent of the disco era of the 80’s and 90’s. 

Chimano has had one collaboration, granting Zimbabwean 

Afro-fusion artist Gemma Griffiths a verse on the remix of her 2020 song Easy. In an interview with a Zimbabwean blog, Chimano used the same word to describe working with Griffiths, adding that he loves how precise she is, knowing exactly what she wants. This statement perhaps captures Chimano’s approach to making music: clarity.

Heavy is The Crown

How Has Chimano Influenced Culture? 

As a member of Sauti Sol, Chimano helped define Kenyan culture throughout the 2010’s. The band has always experimented with different sounds, reinventing upon the release of each album but keeping their unique identity, which has defined Kenyan Afropop for the last two decades. His bandmates have on several occasions in the past mentioned what a keen ear he has, and that it has helped the group release quality music over the years. The boys have been Kenya’s biggest music export in recent years- achieving extraordinary fetes. As a solo act, Chimano’s artistry is bold and disruptive. His EP does not use any Kenyan sound, nor does it take the easy route of giving fans something in a similar vein to what he did with Sauti Sol, instead trusting that they will identify with this completely new direction the artist is taking.

Chimano publicly stating his sexual orientation as previously mentioned, was hailed as a big win for the LGBTQIA+ community in Kenya. Despite promulgating a new post-independence constitution in 2010, the country retains a legal framework that acknowledges British era penal code that prescribes a sentence of up to 14 years for what it terms unnatural acts. Same sex relations are also seen as a taboo topic by most Kenyans as region and customary culture do not favor it. However, recent studies show that among millennials and Gen Z , attitudes are changing and that compared to our regional neighbors, Kenyans have more tolerance towards the marginalized community.

Chimano is certainly a fashion trailblazer. In the early days of Sauti Sol, he quickly became famous for his campy outfits that screamed Afro-punk, way before the Afro-futurism bug bit most of the negroid creative world. Like the rest of his bandmates, he embraced boldly colored African prints(khangas) but he painted them in a gothic way that even further subverted the standard ways in which men wear these prints.  Moreover,Austin has never shied from using makeup: toners, eye shadow and rouge for the face and polish for his nails. The latter fashion choice was a big talking point within the public, during those years, leading to speculation about his sexuality, almost a decade before he came out. He quietly but boldly became the face of challenging the status quo of male fashion. Lately, his wardrobe has evolved into an expansive array of fits for different occasions. Naturally, he is a red carpet favorite, where he has donned classier looks that feature monotone versions of bright playful colors like pink, yellow and orange. He has on multiple occasions also just gone full black. The outfits are grander and more opulent signaling the fact that he does not have to downplay his orientation anymore and also that his bank account is bigger than it was previously. 

Chimano is also an excellent actor or shall I say film subject. He has not traditionally taken on the role of an actor to like master a script and perform. It is worth mentioning he had an appearance on David “Tosh” Gitonga’s 2012 film, Nairobi Half Life. The drama was selected as the Kenyan entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards. It goes without saying that he was a subject in the Sol Family reality series. It was here that he shone brightest, giving fans memorable TV moments that even inspired memes. The well that is his cultural impact runs deep, perhaps even the deepest among the four members.


And now I will attempt to predict how Chimano’s solo career might turn out. His solo music catalog is very lean and his long silence may hurt him. While there is no concrete data showing the streaming numbers for his EP in the first week, it did come into the top 10 on Apple Music during that period, showing Kenyans find his music enjoyable. The songs Friday Feeling and Hallelujah are also officially charted on the Saana Charts, Kenya’s first such system that ranks the top 100 Kenyan songs and artists based on radio airplay gathered from the five largest urban stations. Judging by the EP, his music can appeal to a broad audience of English speakers not only in Kenya and the continent but also globally. Pop music may not be as popular as rap currently is but it has some of the biggest stars, a quality Chimano has and can harness.

His queer identity will of course affect his career.LGBTQ rights remain a divisive issue, but with supporters on both sides nonetheless. The political rhetoric against the community in the continent could see him even be unable to perform in some countries and any other number of roadblocks he might have to face because of prejudice. But there is a half of the glass that is full,and many other countries,fans, artists promoters and whoever will be willing to accept and work with him. Chimano’s future is the hardest to predict because of opinions about sexual minorities- there is a chance that he could flourish globally as the face of African creatives who are boldly challenging traditional values on love and sexuality but there is also another that conscious and unconscious bias may work against him. His comparative silence is also not inspiring to be honest. But maybe he has other plans. Maybe he is going in the artsy direction, being that his music is alternative, when juxtaposed with the mainstream sounds in Kenyan music. But for his own sake and for the sake of Kenyan music, I hope he proves my pessimism wrong.