One of my favorite things about being an events junkie is discovering new artists and music I probably wouldn’t have heard of. This is why I attend so many events, for those who’ve been asking. And that is exactly how I met Mr Jemedari.
Sometime last month I got a Whatsapp from an old friend from primary school. Jeff surprised me with an invite to an album launch called Kaya by a certain hip-hop artist. He also happened to be his manager.
With nothing to lose, I said yes. Still, I didn’t know what to expect.
Since events rarely start on time, I arrived an hour late at 19:19 (angel number hello!). I found Scott the Violinist on stage, not alone but with a jazz band! Am I the only one who thought he was a one man band?
In this new formation, they performed instrumental covers of familiar 90s R&B songs. Can We Talk? By Tevin Campbell had me loudly filling in the lyrics from myself. Girl I want to know your name.
The band members also did individual solos, as focus periodically changed from the keyboard to guitar to drum set to violin to bass guitar. They finished off with instrumental versions of popular Kenyan hits that sent us into deep nostalgia. Jua Cali would have been honored.
Until then I hadn’t seen Jemedari. I only spotted familiar faces of Ythera, Tess, Mufasa the poet, and Chizi who were there to support.
As we waited for the main show, the intimate crowd held cups filled with juicy cocktails from 2Soc Bar. I opted for a taco that resembled a chapati with chicken and vegetables wrapped inside.
Fidel of Le Band walked in later during the show. He sat a few seats from me. We said hi to each other with our Colgate smiles.
At 8 pm a burly man in a clean-cut suit and well-trimmed beard came on stage as if on cue. Before the show’s MC introduced Jemedari, he did an intense rap verse that left me wondering who he was. I didn’t find out until later.
Then the man of the night showed up. He looked dapper in a fitting black suit, black belt, and matching shoes. The Kenyan man in black. And an African choker for an accessory.
Real name Joseph Wambua, Jemedari looked neither Giriama nor Kamba – maybe because he’s a blend of the two. He appeared taller than he is in real life. The stage must have uplifted him.
Jemedari promised us a live hip-hop experience during his album launch. I didn’t understand what he meant until he called up his three-man band and three female background vocalists to stage. Ythera was one of them.
Armed with his suit and mic, he kicked off his one-hour performance.
As a starter, he introduced a new word to us. Artism: art with a hint of activism. His first song A Letter To The President deeply reflected this. To emphasize his pain for the state of the nation, he fused Kanye West’s Heartless in his performance.
This was only an introduction.
After warming us up to his sound, he lightened up the mood with his love songs. Ms. Okinda, Ythera, and Ashley began singing the popular Swahili song, Aisha. Surprisingly, it turned out not to be the original but his own version of the song.
I still remember the line “kifundo chake chanizengua”. It really takes a Swahili man to be turned on by a woman’s ankle.
During the one-hour show, the three ladies fused other songs like Mfalme Wa Mapenzi and Kwaheri by Kenyan singer Sanaipei with his own original songs. Jeff later told me it was to make the songs sound familiar to the audience. Smart move bro.
I was quite surprised when Jemedari called my neighbor Fidel up on stage. Apparently, they had worked together on the album to create a sexy song called Do It (Like Your Ex Can’t). Ladies couldn’t hide their exhilaration as the two men shouted “legs up like a peace sign!”
He then invited Dan Aceda aka Chizi whom he referred to as the Prince of Benga. As he rapped the Benga love song Zaidi Ya Wote, Chizi conducted the band in the background like it was his own. Kibali Muriithi also got screams from the crowd as he lent his mellow voice in God Engineering.
Jemedari lured his Swahili beauty with Aisha, seduced her with Do It with the help of Fidel. And when it was time to move on, he reminded her “nilikupenda kutoka Jadi”.
The burly man came back on stage, this time introduced as Point Blank. Together with the main act, they performed Slave Now King Later – a heavy hip-hop track that brought the house down. Jemedari showed us he knows how to trap too.
By now Jemedari had already lost his well-pressed jacket and choker. He had also opened the top buttons of his black shirt. One by one he rolled up its sleeves to reveal a thin black watch, blending with his dark melanin skin.
He also showed us his cocky side, something even the greats possess. In a freestyle session, he shut down some Kenyan rappers who claim to be kings yet ran away from Ulaya. But soon we went back to Kaya.
He wasn’t afraid to admit that at one point he had lost his faith. But after recently finding God, he knew it wasn’t all about him. You can’t brag all the time.
Jemedari’s music was drenched in Swahili from the beats to the lyrics. His final song turned Kaya into a full blown Swahili party. With a taarab like sound playing in the background, he asked the ladies to shake that Kiuno, and we gladly obliged.
He even got his own sister seated on the front row to move her flexible waist. His Giriama mum refused to be left behind; soon she was also up on her feet showing us how to do it right – with a leso loosely tied around her waist You almost wished you were in their family.
If you can get your mum to dance in your show, you’re doing things right – Point Blank later pointed out.
During the encore, some ladies formed a mduara aka dance circle in front of the stage. I was tempted to join them in whining their waists but settled to take a video instead. KAYA truly became a Swahili party.
The live performances ended exactly at 9 pm, just as it was advertised. So sometimes we do keep time. (Unlike a certain somebody, my editor says).
Before he left the stage, Jemedari poured out his gratitude to his fans and friends who attended his previous concerts and listened to the album before it was released. He confessed he had doubts about it and wanted to know what people thought. You’re not alone bro.
Like a gentleman, he also thanked his mum but in a unique way. He stepped off stage and bowed down in front of her in humility. And all the ladies said awww.
As promised it was truly a live hip-hop experience; thanks to the band that helped him create live music amiss in most local hip-hop shows. Willo was on the drums, Karuga on the bass and Mwema Nzomo whose keyboard skills had me wishing I was his apprentice.
He was grateful to the artists featured on the album including Ythera, Fidel, Dan Aceda and Chris Adwar. He also shouted out Kaki of Flag 42 studio, his brother who produced Slave Now King Later and Keys the humble producer who did not want to be known.
Jemedari’s journey all started with being pushed to perform a choral verse back in primary school. He recalled how he once performed in an empty bar to the waiters only. Now he was launching his album to an urban crowd at the Michael Joseph Center. The guy couldn’t be more humbled.
He deeply appreciated Point Blank, who reminded me of Fred Omondi, for pushing him relentlessly to record and write. When your mentor booms in front of everyone in the room that no one works harder than you, you know you’re doing something right.
It was beautiful to see the underdog rising.
Before I left the Nu Nairobi underground scene, I still had to know one thing. Why the name Jemedari? Looking shorter now, he told me he had dreams of being a general when he was a kid. So the Swahili name stuck.
He also revealed that Kaya is a Giriama word for village. That’s when I realized what makes Jemedari unique from any other Kenyan hip-hop artist. He constantly reaches out to his Swahili roots to create authentic African music. And looks good doing it too in his 56 Authentique suits.
He has a great team behind him. Jeff the guy in charge of Tronic Entertainment does the tough job of making strategic decisions. He also has the coolest mentor Point Blank who has over 20-year experience and raps like a charged beast.
After thoroughly going through Jemedari’s Soundcloud music, I cannot wait to hear and see more from his second album KAYA. And if this is how album launches go, please sign up the events junkie for more.
Now to look for the next local event to attend.
Event photos courtesy of Live It Live
Instagram : @mrjemedari