|Article by Ogova Ondego
Published December 24, 2006
How do you describe a music album that addresses issues like caution in life, poverty, love, AIDS, spirituality, and bride-wealth using styles such as benga, omutibo, rhumba/soukous, taarab, chakacha, R&B and funky hip hop all rolled into one but without the foul four-letter ghetto words reeking of violence? Such is the kind of recording by Canada-based Kenyan musician Emmanuel Mutsune better known in music circles as Fulani. OGOVA ONDEGO reviews Fulani’s self-titled album.
Recorded, produced, mixed and mastered in Nairobi, Kenya, and Toronto, Canada, the 11-track album aspires to tackle various issues without necessarily tying itself to a specific genre or categorisation, just like the artist who chose the name Fulani (“non-specific” in Kiswahili) for fear of being boxed.
“Like the West African nomadic Fulani, I have chosen this name in order to grow Africawide without being tied to a geographical location,” says the artist whose music career started in his childhood when he started taking piano lessons along with his siblings at an early age.
“While in primary school in Nairobi, some of my friends would drum on desks at lunch time as I rapped, something which did not please teachers,” Fulani says. “I later teamed up with a friend to form a rap short-lived group that ended when we joined different secondary schools.”
He joined the school band at Nairobi School where he played Euphonium and trumpet and later learnt to play the drums.
Before going for further studies in Canada, Fulani performed with several gospel groups at Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Valley Road. But it was not till 1999 that, he says, he decided to take music seriously.
“This was when I recorded my first single, Saira, which earned me the opportunity to perform before a crowd of close to 10,000 people at the 2000 New Year’s Eve celebration in Nairobi, an event which was televised locally,” he says.
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Saira is based on Ecclesiastes 2 that states that everything in the universe is vanity, empty and meaningless. Fulani therefore prays for his soul not to pursue wind to the four ends of the earth at the expense of spirituality and true value in life.
The listener, even the one who may not understand the Luyia dialect in which Saira is rendered, is likely to enjoy this melodious song. I like the arrangement of the instruments and the harmony of the singers.
In the first song, Mahari, a poor young man in love with the daughter of a rich man wonders what he can do to get the woman he loves but whose parents have made it almost impossible by demanding an exorbitant bride-price otherwise known as dowry that the young man cannot raise.
Of the song, Fulani says he respects African traditions and customs but that some parents are abusing this by forcing young men interested in their daughters to borrow heavily in order to pay for dowry. Some fathers, he says, ask for up to Sh300000 (about US$4300) brideprice from their prospective sons-in-law before they can permit them to marry their daughters. “This enormous expense is besides the cost of the wedding, housing and other costs attached to marriage,” says the artist who says his artistic inspiration comes from the desire to tell stories on behalf of the lowly, voiceless in society.
Fulani adapts well known Luyia folksongs like Mwana wa mberi (first born son) and Mama mbe tsimbindi (mother give me cow peas for sowing), changes their rhythm a little in what he says is “my own way of identifying with my roots.”
Linda moyo, the second song, like Mahari, is composed simply without being simplistic. The song cautions against contamination from the world to a person lacking in discernment.
Both songs almost sound like taarab save for the instrumentation. But perhaps in no other song does the experimentation of Fulani clearer than in Cha Cha Cha, a song in which he blends rap and soukous to produce an indefinable style that he himself wonders if it should be called “roukous”.
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Pole pole, that appears to live up to the adage, “Hurry hurry has no blessings”, sounds like Chakacha, another Swahili music style.
In Mwambie, Fulani urges people to verbalise their feelings if they really love someone. As one would expect, he follows this filial love song with one of romantic love: a man expresses his love to the woman he loves.
But perhaps what may endear an East Africa listener to this recording is the fact that it is predominantly in Kiswahili and Luluyia though using modern instruments and styles.
Cha Cha Cha uses the Luyia children’s storytelling and play folk songs that blend with Lingala soukous rendition: highly danceable tone, tempo, and texture. One can almost feel the pull to get up and dance. But then the song ends rather quickly, leaving one yearning for more.
As he wraps up the recording, Fulani ends with a patriotic song in praise of Kenya, the land of his mother and father.
Fulani is the album for any one who enjoys listen-to album more than one who prefers highly danceable music.
Some of the producers the musician has worked with on his album include Robert “R. Kay” Kamanzi and Steve Ominde, two accomplished Kenyan producers.
After coming to Canada in September 2001, Fulani says he joined a gospel choir at Rhema Ministries, Toronto, and sang with the group for close to six months as he wrote and recorded some of his own music that he performed solo at several local events.
After collaborating on a recording with Kenyan-born guitarist Adam Solomon in 2004, Fulani joined his band, Tikisa, as a drummer and vocalist. He continues to perform with Adam Solomon and Tikisa Band.
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|Musician and filmmaker Fulani appears to wonder about some paradoxes he cannot understand
The cross-over appeal of Fulani’s music may be receiving widespread acclaim from fans across North America, but to Fulani, some things are paradoxes seeking answers. For instance, people who appreciate African music in Canada are not usually Africans but white people. The second paradox is that Canada is not as open as USA, forcing the minority to “work a lot harder and smarter”. The third thing he finds difficult to understand is what he refers to as “US colonialism of the screen” that denies independent arty films theatrical releases. Consequently, festivals remain the main avenue for such films. But then one may ask oneself what qualifies a musician like Fulani to comment on audiovisual productions.
Besides his musical pursuits, the last of three siblings Fulani is also a filmmaker, having graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film and Video Production. As he awaits graduation with a Master of Arts degree in Inter-Disciplinary Studies that focuses on film and political science, Fulani has already directed two of his own music videos as well as two documentaries, both of which featured his own music. The first docu is 20-minute Dreaded, tackling what he calls the politics and spiritual connotations of the hair. The second, Raadis, runs 50 minutes and is on the search for identity for Kenyan Somali. He considers the latter as “work in progress” that he would like to present at major African film festivals like the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, Fespaco.
Fulani says it was while on internship at Vivid Features after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Daystar University that he decided to pursue film as a career. Music, writing and editing go together, he says. “I went to Canada for further studies because I felt something was missing. I make films of international appeal.”
|The cover of Fulani album
The Fulani album, that may be considered experimental but never pretentious, is now on played on local radio in Kenya and is available in music stores for US$10 or Sh500 per copy.
Emmanuel Mutsune alias Fulani’s musical influences include Stevie Wonder, Wycleff Jean, Bob Marley, Prince, Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Papa Wemba, Wenge Musica and Alpha Blondy.