Freaky Freda countinues her musical junket across Africa, stopping over in Nairobi, Kenya
The walls of Upper Hills School, Nairobi echoed the beautiful symphony from three friends namely Willis Chimano, Bien-Aime Baraza and Savara Mudigi. Their break time was shared between soccer and singing sessions. Admired by teachers and students, the trio knew they had to take music seriously so they joined a music band in the school named Voices in the Light.
A promising guitarist Otieno, who attended Strathmore School, at the Alliance Française in Nairobi joined them and together, they would go to the French cultural hub. They formed one of the most successful African music quartets known today as Sauti Sol meaning “Voices of the Sun.’’ For starters, they participated in the Spotlight on Kenyan Music competition, hosted by the Alliance Française, Nairobi in 2006 and later got signed to Penya Records.
Meanwhile, they didn’t drop out of school to pursue a career in music as many of their peers would. Instead, they completed their university education. Baraza studied Journalism at the United States International University while Savara studied Commerce and Finance at Africa Nazarene University. Chimano studied Journalism at the University of Nairobi while Otieno studied Actuarial Science at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Their debut studio album, a critically acclaimed one, Mwanzo was released on August 4 2009 on their record label Penya Records. Two years later, their second studio album Sol Filosofia was launched. The music video for the album’s second single, “Coming Home”, was named the Best Music Video award at the 2011 Kisima Music Awards, with the group itself also winning the Best Fusion Artist/Group of the Year award. The stage was set more recognition for this Afro-pop group. In 2012, they were nominated for and won the Most Gifted East African award at the 2012 Channel O Music Video Awards for their song “Shukuru” which featured Tanzanian rapper AY.
With several successful tours in Africa and Europe, Sauti Sol had topped Kenyan charts and gained international attention with shows in Europe and the US, as well as television appearances and various accolades and nominations, including their 2011 concert performance in Kenya with the Grammy-winning South African acappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The band has also received both local and international accolades and nominations, including at the Kisima Music Awards, the Channel O Music Video Awards, the BET Awards, most notably winning Best African Act at the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards, becoming the first Kenyan musicians to receive the award.
Their third studio album, ‘Live and Die in Afrika’ was an early Christmas present. Made available to Sauti Sol fans globally for free download within its first 48 hours, it hit 400,000 downloads before the free period came to an end. Released under their imprint label Sauti Sol Entertainment as a self-produced work, the band continued to make vocal and artistic statements with every hit song.
One of the most popular songs on this album was “Kuliko Jana” which later feature RedFourth Chorus, a gospel group based in the group’s alma mata, Upper Hill School. On July 28 2016, Sauti Sol made a special homecoming appearance at the school, assembling the students for a refreshing acapella performance.
Predictably, the atmosphere was frenzied but the decorum was an indication of the respect accorded to the “old boys.” But it didn’t end there. The RedFourth Chorus would later be featured in the monochrome video to the song.
Fast forward to January 31, 2019, Sauti Sol’s fourth studio album ‘Afrikan Sauce’ was released. It is an Afropop and R&B record, is markedly different from the traditional acoustic sound of their previous albums.
It was star-studded and dubbed an “art and cultural exchange” project. Stars such as Patoranking (Nigeria), Tiwa Savage (Nigeria), Burna Boy (Nigeria), Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania), Yemi Alade (Nigeria), Khaligraph Jones (Kenya), Nyashinski (Kenya), Bebe Cool (Uganda), Mi Casa (South Africa), Toofan( Togo), Jah Prayzah (Zimbabwe) and C4 Pedro (Angola) were involved.
The 13-track album also featured previously released singles such as “Melanin”, “Girl Next Door”, “Afrikan Star”, “Short N Sweet” and “Tujiangalie.”
Sauti Sol’s fifth studio album ‘Midnight Train’ was released on 5 June 2020. The album features guest artists from Africa. The artists include Burna Boy, Sho Madjozi and India Arie. The album’s lead single “Suzanna” was released on 7 February 2020. Sauti Sol recorded five different versions of the song before settling on the one they released. The accompanying music video for “Suzanna” was shot in Lagos, Nigeria. Another hit track from the album, “Insecure” fuses Swahili and English with its video shot in a classic vinyl record store in Cape Town, South Africa.
Throughout the history of pop culture, the boy band phenomenon had been highly criticised for being too mechanical, heavily choreographed and following a formula rather than being original. Sauti Sol is far from that description.
Sauti Sol has remained an emblem of friendship and well-deserved fame, and a reminder of a culture that paraded the likes of Style-Plus, P-Square and western counterparts such as Shai, BoyzIIMen and more.