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The music power players of 2020

By Jackson Onyango
Friday, December 4th, 2020
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In summary

Looking back, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in the recent times. In the music industry, the Covid pandemic put an indefinite dent on key areas, especially the attendance shows. However, immense opportunities in music streaming, virtual shows, and brand innovation cropped up. Jackson Onyango takes a look at those in the centre of this progress.

Faiza Hersi 

Had 2019 not been a solid statement, 2020 was the year Faiza made her mark and solidified her status in Kenyan music.

An R&B stalwart, she manages the two of some of the biggest names in Kenyan R&B in Xenia Manasseh and Karun.

The behind-the-curtains music executive has virtually spent this year securing artistes’ placements, bridging East and West Africa, and giving us collaborations we never thought we needed.

The founder of the Nairobi R&B enterprise ends the year on a strong, with a four-show run this month including an exclusive remote Tems live stream party, which rounds her up as a true innovator.

Matata 

Boy bands move aside, there’s a new sheriff in town! The Norway-based group stole Kenyan’s hearts with their macho, choreography, consistency and creativity.

What started with a superbly shot video for their hit track Mare Mare, the ode to Kenya’s hawking of things was captured spectacularly for anyone’s liking.

They brought a new element to Kenyan music fusing music, dance, fun, and art to the industry and this makes them unicorns in an industry that relies a lot on imitation.

Their follow-up songs Ruracio, Gengetone Love, Kata and Denge will surely blaze up the stage when things are back to normal.

Nadia Mukami

The pop star may boast her most successful year yet. Her foot was on the neck of the music industry with hit songs such as Wangu, Tesa, Jipe and Nikune.

The multitalented songbird has set her precedent of nothing less than one million views per track on YouTube without any sideshows, profanity, publicity stunts, or shady showbiz.

Leading by example, it’s these gestures that make her Kenyan music royalty in that right.

In an industry people buy views, sell out for clout, she is surprisingly a breath of fresh air the showbiz can look up to for a blueprint.

Ruby V 

In the spirit of women empowerment, Ruby V has been bossing up since she first came into the industry as an intern on Muthoni Drummer Queen’s team.

Her evolution into being the only woman in Kenya to have a guild show—The Hennessy Unkut Hip-Hop Awards—has been merging the corporate world and hip-hop culture albeit without causing too much noise about it.

As she gears to host her second edition of the awards in social-distanced fashion this month, she continues to unlock new levels.

John Andrews 

Universal Music Group’s henchman and Kenya’s representative through AI Records is responsible for making brands such as Ethic, Sauti Sol and Nikita Kering internationally palatable.

Dwelling in the shadows, he is a keen scout and Kenyan music lover, giving such acts the keys to global success through publishing, licensing, managing, and distribution.

Ivan Odie 

Ivan Odhiambo, 29, is the brains behind Jovie Jovv, Steph Kapella, and Silverstone Bars’ content.

Each of these artistes produced debut albums with high replay value in 2020.

Ivan, alongside highly sought-after commercial photographer Osborne Macharia, was the key photography director in the latter’s Tatu project earlier in the year.

With that said, his enterprise Callivan Creatives has become a household name in producing top-drawer audio and visual media with a good percentage of Kenya’s pop acts gravitating to do videos with the media and arts boutique that is likely to expand its operations into advertising.

Camille Storm 

The multi-faceted media and music executive Angela Kariuki aka Camille Storm is growing to be among the most connected woman in African music business.

Making women look good, her ties span from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa and America.

Whilst she’s only getting started, the part-time journalist is an anchor in Kenya’s music industry.

This year, the 24-year-old got her distribution company C&C Distro off the ground to go hand in hand with her PR company C&C, promoting acts such as Willy Paul, Blaqbonez, Kiineka and Wizkid, among others. 

A-Star 

A much needed history class of Kenya’s urban music scene was inevitable. Through the stay at home period, the master-class of a web series show dubbed Cleaning The Airwaves hosted by former gospel rapper Richard Njau aka A-Star, uses A-Star’s access to sit down with key players in Kenya’s music industry both new and old, on and off-camera personalities, all for a comprehensive interview sessions that includes storytelling, episodes, and a light trip down memory lane with these legends.

They have shed a light on a lot of information while cracking people up with acts such as Prezzo able to share his mysterious personality with the public for the first time. 

Mejja

Relevantly speaking, Mejja keeps getting better with time. With 15 years worth of experience in the music industry, and one trio of the Kansoul has managed to be a critical musical influence locally, fervently preserving the genge sound.

On a light note, he can single-handedly keep careers afloat. For much of the pandemic year, Okwonko has had the pleasure of being the ‘feature king’ with anything he touches ultimately becoming an anthem.

He has handed the stimulus package to the likes of Ssaru, Jovial, Rekles, Paroty, Mbogi Genje and Femi One, among many more.

Anyiko Owoko 

In the publicity front, Anyiko PR has been the premium public relations agency in East Africa. Anyiko has been in the forefront of promoting African music by any means all-year round.

Even when things were more uncertain earlier in the year, the Afrika Loud founder was curating playlists for companies such as the media streaming and download service Boomplay, to push African music to help masses keep their spirits up.

Besides putting Africans on to every opportunity with flexible budgets for both green-field and start-up acts, she has been socially aware calling out injustices such as racism in the Kenyan hospitality industry. 

Xenia Manasseh

Another 24-year-old Xenia Manasseh continues to soar higher and higher, and the best appears to still be ahead of her.

Not only was she a music director on Nick Mutuma’s Sincerely Daisy film, she co-wrote two songs on a Number One album in America for R&B star Teyana Taylor.

Prior to that, her work on Sauti Sol’s Midnight Train was also remarkable, hence why she stole the charts and hearts of many in 2020.

DO Speaks

Grammy award winning Kenyan producer Derrick Okoth aka DO Speaks continued his meteoric rise in music with another stellar year.

The Hussle and Motivate producer was selected among a chosen few to curate music for 50 Cent’s Power Book 2, whilst producing hits for Bey T, Kagwe Mungai, and Siverstone in Kenya.

Continuing his unstoppable run of Kenyan excellence, you could catch him lacing and cutting records for some of the most elite acts in hip-hop including Gunna and Dave East.

Sol-Generation

Kaycyy Pluto

An Atlanta-based Kenyan is on this list for too many reasons. Mark Mbogo worked with heavyweights Lil Baby, Travis Scott, Kanye West and Justin Beiber yet is still to be held to a much-deserved acclaim on Kenyan soil.

His song writing, versatility, and outward fashion sense have made him one of the most revered artistes in USA where he is plying his trade as a rising star.

Signed to Akon’s brother record label Bu Vision, he is in the company of giants, and his debut album Patiently Waiting was a launch pad to greatness.

The Rhumba Japani committee consisting of Nviiri The Storyteller and Bensoul has been scooping all the awards lately.

Known for their on-the-surface good music, a lot of what they do remains behind the scenes and may easily go unnoticed, but not Bensoul’s Grammy nod among Sauti Sol for their song-writing input on Time Flies featuring Burna Boy.

For the Sauti Sol prodigy to have his recognition at such a high level, this is a new pedestal for him and for Kenyan music in general.

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