There have been a lot of great Kenyan songs released in 2019, but not like this one. I have never seen a song pick up that fast other than Extravaganza or Khali Cartel 3. Which to be fair, featured a cluster of Kenyan music superstars.
But what is it about Kasyoki Wa Mitumba that made Serro suddenly blow up?
It all started on 28th August 2019. That morning, the Afro-fusion singer posted an innocent acoustic version of her Kamba inspired song on social media. In the black and white video, she sings alongside her guitar in a heavy Kamba accent: “My ndear Kasyoki, come let me tell you something about the way I feel I labyu”.
Now I had heard this simple love song a couple of times during her electrifying live performances, but not in this intimate way. Her skin was glowing, her smile dazzling, and her vocals enticing. She was singing it just for you.
Well, guess what? The video went viral! In just a month, it was shared over 200 times on Facebook and watched over 200,000 times over different social media channels. Nothing she saw coming.
The Kenyan music pioneers were impressed. It even got a stamp of approval from Bien Aime of Sauti Sol. A strong hint of the ongoing support among Kenyan musicians of all levels and genres.
Interestingly, the last music video I saw that went that viral was the Short & Sweet Gikuyu cover by Ayrosh in 2018.
After the overwhelming reception, Serro realized it was time to release this song which she had recorded 2 years ago. Even though it was silly and comical, Kenyans loved it.
And so she dropped not one but two music videos on 22nd September 2019.
The first is a benga version. Its playful video was shot in an open-air market in Nairobi (Toi fans anywhere?) It captures the lovestruck Serro, sorry Syombua, trying to woo Kasyoki wa Mitumba with all the tactics she can think of. Syombua looks like your ordinary Kenyan girl who will do anything to get what she wants.
With an infectious melody and familiar guitar riffs, the upbeat Kamba benga track makes you want to dance like the other second-hand clothes traders in the video. Or at least smile like Serro.
The acoustic version is a few seconds longer. In this one, Serro is away from the sunny streets of Nairobi and seated alone in a room. It’s just her and her guitar under a spotlight, adorned in a flattering Ankara gown while serenading her crush.
Kasyoki is truly a lucky man.
Both music videos were shot by the seasoned director Johnson Kyalo. And once again, Serro collaborated with the multi-talented producer Mutoriah who is working on her debut album. And who was recently recruited to Muthoni Drummer Queen’s music incubation program perFORM.
After the official release, this is when the real magic happened. Kasyoki Wa Mitumba surprised everyone (myself included) when it garnered 10k YouTube views in just 3 days. The benga version leapt ahead of the soft version. It was spreading like a wildfire.
In the first week, the two videos hit 50k views in total – a new record for her.
Her stunning success was elevated by the rare chance to perform at East Africa’s Got Talent on the day she released Kasyoki Wa Mitumba. It helps to know people she says – like Anyiko Owoko. And no matter what we say about it, exposure works.
If you scroll below, the music video comment section is flooded with remarks like “EATG brought me here”. And new fans announcing how she is their favourite Kenyan musician – join the party folks.
It makes sense when you watch the mesmerizing acoustic performance. Serro completely charmed the new audience who barely knew her and even got them to clap and sing along to “I labyu”. Plus Kenyans love romantic songs.
This show should have been called “Serro’s Got Talent”.
The beauty about Kasyoki is its easy-to-sing-along-to lyrics which your 3-year-old (niece) can learn in one day. And as soon as it reached 10k views, Serro announced her #KasyokiDanceChallenge with 10,000 shillings up for grabs.
This might remind you of Bensoul’s dance challenge for his first hit single Lucy under Sol Generation Records.
For one week, Serro reposted the creative fan videos on her social media pages. The post with the most likes scooped the cash prize. On the flip side, she won more fans and followers thanks to organic reach.
For someone who just discovered Serro, one might think this is her first song. But Kasyoki Wa Mitumba is the fourth release off her upcoming debut album KUWE.
Her first ever single was Rongai in 2016, a reggae tune dedicated to the male heartbreakers. And in 2018, she sang to Okello, longing to go back to her countryside lover.
This second single of 2019 was preceded by Ya Dunia. Unlike Kasyoki, it’s a refreshingly honest Swahili song about the real lives of Kenyan artists away from social media glam. And as soon as it dropped in May, it sparked an emotional reaction from artists and fans alike.
Now the queen is back with a cheeky love story. A song she says she never planned to release. “I thought if I released it people wouldn’t take me seriously” but it had the opposite effect. She proved that she’s a versatile artist in regards to message as well as musical style.
Serro is also one of those Kenyan Afro-fusion musicians who go beyond representing their own ethnicities. Just think of Eric Wainaina who sang all of Adhiambo in Dholuo. And let’s not forget Makadem who borrowed the melody of mugithi classic Tiga Kumutii by JB Maina (with permission of course) and infused his Nyanza roots.
The result was Mogidhi Kona Kona, another Kenyan song which went viral online.
But who would have thought such a silly Kamba song would take Serro to such serious heights? She has already appeared on The Trend, Roga Roga on Citizen TV, KBC and even iNooro TV.
The African queen is taking her crown.
For her day ones, Serro has always been a star. The soulful singer-songwriter weaves authentic stories that capture our emotions while celebrating Kenya’s diverse cultures. As a live performer, she is engaging, charming and hilarious on stage.
She will make you sing, laugh, dance along even though it was not the plan.
Thanks to deliberate practice and consistency, her star is shining more brightly in 2019. And more people are noticing. You could say she’s becoming a household name – even my mum knows her.
As Bensoul always says on his Instagram, Timing.
What’s your favourite version of Kasyoki Wa Mitumba? Well, Serro embarked on a Kasyoki mini-performance tour for fans to watch her live at these events in Nairobi. You could either sing along to the acoustic version or shake your legs and kwata kawaya like a Kamba. Your choice.
Serro has brought back benga, the original Kenyan sound, in a fun fresh way. She is also proud to sound like a Kamba even though she is not one. And it automatically makes us proud to be Kenyans.
This unexpected hit hints at a thirst for African-rooted music. Just like Kasyoki wa Mitumba, we can’t resist art that reminds us of who we are. Kenyans. Africans.
Images courtesy of Serro