Let’s do a little recap, shall we? In part 1 of Waithaka’s story, the former athlete reconnected to his first passion in the States. He started by playing piano in a Pan-African band and later evolved into the music producer we know him as today.
In 2010, he came back to Kenya for the first time in 10 years. And he met a plethora of Kenyan musicians, thanks to Provoke. But he found the perfect partner in Kwame Rigii and they made sweet sweet music together.
Two collaborative EPs later, Waithaka met his next big artist.
As they were organizing Kwame’s first show at Michael Joseph Centre in Nairobi, social connector Kibali Muriithi announced: “There’s this guy called Ayrosh, there’s this girl called Ythera”.
“Bring him as an opening act,” Waithaka responded.
And so he was summoned. But on D day (13th December 2014), Ayrosh was missing in action. He went for another gig, something he regrets to this day.
The tables quickly turned. “Now I was not the one looking for him, he’s the one looking for me.” Eventually, they caught up and started talking. The first beats he sent to Ayrosh were for Uka Mami and Nikikukosa. I’m still surprised that these Afro house tracks from his Murasta EP were recorded way before Shuga Mami.
But when he sent Shuga Mami to Ayrosh, he was beyond impressed. He recorded the 2017 hit single in Jay Mukasa’s Tawala Beats music studio. And that segues into another story.
“In 2010, Jay approached me on SoundCloud saying he liked my mixes. He needed a mentor, so we moved from Soundcloud to phone.”
They met in person in 2012 in Utawala while Jay was in law school. Waithaka saw this as the first piece of the puzzle for everything he was doing. While Jay needed a mentor, he needed a lawyer as he was thinking about pushing the Waithaka Ent brand in Kenya.
“I’ve been teaching him what I’m doing. Jay invests a lot in his work, he has become better than me,” Waithaka admits. When he was away in 2015, he sent Kwame to re-record Aki Wewe and Benjamin to play the guitars for Nipe Mapenzi in the Malkia EP.
Okay, back to Ayrosh. After recording, they send the files back and forth between Kenya and the US. Giggz, who mixed and mastered it, was equally blown away. Waithaka had a different response.
“I didn’t think Shuga Mami was all that; I was the last person to buy into it.”
Because of it, Afropop became a defining sound for Ayrosh. It was the song that made me know Mr. Karikiimani. And everybody loved the onscreen chemistry with Kenyan actress Nyawara Ndabia (whom you might recognize from the award-winning Kenyan film Supa Modo).
In 2017 when Shuga Mami was released, the Kenyan diaspora artist was introduced to Kenyan duo Jivu Music by Calvo Mistari. “They were on the come up and needed help.”
Form Ni Gani, their second single, was produced by super-producer Dillie. And Waithaka was (and still) is a big fan. After receiving the vocals, Waithaka remixed Form Ni Gani and Giggz did Different Response.
“I had the same feeling with Jivu Music as I did with Kwame 7 years ago.”
Around the same time, he also convinced Sasabasi, who had not released a new song since 2015, to go back to music. After the monster track Lakini Bado which was produced by Giggz, he told him “You can’t stop.” And he listened.
Waithaka mentions he had a phase of four good tracks released between 2017 and 2018. It was Jolie by Sasabasi, Mariru by Jivu Music, Love Respect Repeat by Ayrosh and an unreleased song by Ythera. “If you listen to these songs, they have a similar vibe.”
Ayrosh had also released Maheni in 2018 and Commoni in 2019. Produced by Mutoriah, they had a more urban mugithi sound than Love Respect Repeat’s Afrovibe. So when putting out his debut EP, Ayrosh was solid.
Even though it was released in 2019, Waithaka had entered the Afro house scene way before. He met DJ Satellite from Angola in 2014 at Goethe Institut during the Ten Cities Festival and got sucked in. And thus TheXchange project was born. A musical amalgamation of Angola (Satellite), Kenya (Waithaka) and Sierra Leone (Festus).
How the EP came together was quite unconventional. The trio produced the track for Murasta which was initially the remix to Kwame’s Mapenzi Yako in Rugendo EP.
Uka Mami was produced by Waithaka and he teamed up with Kenyan house producer Saint Evo in Nikukosa. Festus sent the funky track for Got Hitched. And Ayrosh sent what he and DJ Mura were doing with Kirinyaga.
But how did Brackish get into the picture? After doing an Afro house remix for Malkia alongside Saint Evo, Nali Katana and Jinku, Waithaka sent him the vocals for Love Respect Repeat. But it didn’t feel quite right to Waithaka. So he took out the vocals from the Brackish remix and sent the beat to Ayrosh. And that is how Ngutunge came to be.
Guuku’s instrumental was also a Brackish remix for Kwame’s Reke Ngwende. For this much-needed collaboration, Waithaka called Kwame and Ayrosh to the studio. As soon as Benjamin played the guitars, Kwame understood where Waithaka was coming from and recorded his part right away. And Ayrosh fed off his energy.
When they put it out, there were mixed reactions. “Some people said it’s a good song but it’s the wrong beat. They wanted to keep the beat Kikuyu like Samidoh.” But Kenyan Afro house DJs love Guuku and Malkia remixes. And so do we urban Gikuyu kids.
Odes by Queens
It all began in Java. Ythera brought the 10 ladies together to meet the Kenyan music producer. Ironically, she did not finish recording her ode as she was busy juggling other balls including BGVs and her award-winning group Wanavokali.
Waithaka had to restart that track in the US, build around what she did until they were both satisfied with the final product.
Recording for the all-female Kenyan album lasted a month, from mid-June to mid-July 2019. The fun part for him was getting to know the Queens. During lunchtime, they would order food and just talk.
“I wanted the ladies to be as comfortable as possible. A calm environment that would make them say – I wanna work with that guy again. Not just his musical ability but how he does things.”
Jay Mukasa’s Tawala Beats studio had now moved to 87 Uthiru. He would go to work in the morning, giving Waithaka a dedicated working space between 10 am and 9 pm. Jay also introduced Waithaka to KU graduate Lloyd Ondimo who was in the same class as KMRU. He was getting a dose of the new generational Kenyan music producers.
“It came full circle, Jay mentoring someone who was teaching me new stuff. It was important for my own growth.”
He proudly reveals Odes by Queens is the highlight of his career. Not just because it was his debut album but because he achieved something never done in Kenya. And the reaction has been amazing.
From the queens, he learnt that the Kenyan music industry is tough for women if you’re not doing mainstream music – like Nadia Mukami. He also didn’t realize how hard it is for ladies to find a trustworthy producer; you have to think it through before working with one.
The ladies were naturally sceptical at first and he had to convince a couple of them to trust him. But after it was done and they heard the responses, it was different.
“What I’ve learnt is how to manage projects. If I was given a major project by a major record label, I wouldn’t panic. I’d be looking forward to it. I’ve done it so many times at a high level with limited resources. Can you imagine if I had access?”
The Future for Waithaka Ent
What’s cooking now in Waithaka’s home-studio? Well, he’s been working on another album concurrently with Odes. In 2019, he released the intro where he finally shows his African face and dance moves. The first single is the classy Girls by Steph Kapela. After the second single, he wants the album to drop by the end of the year.
The upcoming Kenyan album will also feature Kipsang, Jivu Music, Ythera, Ayrosh, Shukid, 125, Meryl Paige and Sasabasi. He admits topping Odes, Murasta and Kwame’s Cama Wendo EP is going to be hard. “It’s some of the best work I’ve ever done.”
Another major project he wants to do is what he did with the ladies but with guys. He’d also want to collaborate with major music outfits such as Boomplay or Universal because why not.
“I know what I need, what I wouldn’t compromise on. When you have a budget it’s far much better.”
But even on a low budget, he’s found different ways to offset. One way is song exchange: I do one song for you, you do one song for me. He believes it’s a better way to work as it’s beneficial for both parties.
Following this philosophy, he owes all the ladies a song. He paid for recording, feeding and dropping them in Nairobi CBD afterwards. “It was my responsibility, I am the one who called them”.
I ask him whether he’s thought about relocating back to Kenya. Especially now that repatriation of Africans and African objects is a global phenomenon. He says he tried moving back in 2015 but it didn’t work out.
“Because of the kids, I don’t think it’s best. If there are guarantees in the Kenyan music industry such as royalties and people paying well for production, I’d move in a heartbeat.”
For now, the benefit of networks means he can still work from far away. “My biggest resource is network; I trust my network.” Nonetheless, the ladies are willing to wait for him to come back home.
Covid19 has taught us many lessons, and for him, it’s the importance of family. “The one person who has been my biggest supporter is my wife. Since 2002 there’s no step she hasn’t been there for.”
Corona has also made him become more visible. He’s stopped being a reserved and behind the scenes person.
“People wanna hear the process, how you think. 3 years ago you wouldn’t have convinced me to do this.”
He’s talking about the Let’s Talk Odes Instagram series where he’d go live with one Kenyan female musician every other Saturday and discuss their song together.
Thanks to his detailed captions on social media, Jay has gotten a lot of work with Kenyan musicians Serro and Mutoriah. Waithaka insists on giving credit – when you post something tag the person. Because no matter what your differences, you wouldn’t have done it without them.
I mention his appreciation post for Stan, the ‘Wangechi hitmaker’. He explains that by Wawesh – another African diaspora artist – producing Stan’s album, he learnt from the mistakes he didn’t make with Sauti Sol. Thus the second wave becomes more successful than the first. And the third wave is for perfection.
In 2019, Waithaka received his first-ever award nomination at the Cafe Ngoma Awards. And he won. Kwame and Ayrosh were on the rise and being associated with them was a big honour for him. “They’re really changing the music for our generation. People like Muringi say they started singing Gikuyu music because of them.”
Speaking of longevity, “I want my music to be a legacy, to have a cross-generational impact like Michael Jackson. Like how Babyface’s Waiting To Exhale album is still relevant, I want someone to write Odes years later.”
He wants his music to last, not to follow trends but to express what he wants. “I wanted to feel part of the Kenyan music industry, to feel like I’ve contributed a big deal.” And this former track athlete truly has.