One on One with Abbi
Abbi, the 2003 Kisima award winner for the Best Male Artist and the Most Promising Artist, has performed at various International music festivals and shared the stage with numerous musical legends, but he has still maintained the humble mien of yester-years as a shoe-shine boy and a car wash ‘expert.
Kimani: What have you been up to?
Abbi: I have been journeying through experiments with new sounds. Call it an adventure break that allowed me growth. I have also for the last two years been happy to spend a lot of time in my studio enjoying production of myself and other artists.
Kimani: You have pointed out that your latest project is a reggae album. How can you describe it? What inspired the album?
Abbi: All I can say is that it’s a lovely sound and after my whole musical experience, I discovered reggae is a wonderful rhythm for telling stories. At the same time I observed that a large part of Africa listens to reggae, yet we have very few African artists in the genre locally and internationally. I also know the pre-perceptions that a lot of people may have when it comes to reggae, yet this is simply Abbi-reggae and that’s enough.
Kimani: Why did you change from what you have previously done?
Abbi: My doing reggae now is more of an expansion in expression than a departure from afro-music, because I still love and do enjoy afro-groove. Then again isn’t reggae African essentially? I will in the near future release my Afro album.
Kimani: What is memorable about this reggae project?
Abbi: One sure thing was suddenly waking up to how many people love reggae or at least identify with it, through its simple messaging process. I am happy to see “maboys” jumping around even as I take the new sound to stage. The album has also made me meet so many people from around the world. There was always a new musician in the studio willing and ready to play on the album as it was rare for them to hear a Kenyan artist doing live reggae. People along the way commented that YES, this is reggae, but not Jamaican reggae, which was a great boost for me as I won’t pretend to be Jamaican though I love them as brothers.
Kimani: How would you say this project has been in your musical journey?
Abbi: I have for a long time been known to do Afro-beat and it has been what I vibed and played…then one morning, the wind blows the reggae tunes my way. At first, I was tempted to do it only as personal moment kind of thing. Then more and more people actually kept urging me and telling me that it was still truly Abbi as Abbi is, and that it sounded to them as though I had known this all along, only to hide it from the world.
As I pursued it further, there were these incessant coincidences that brought too many people softly twisting my hand. And as they say it, “when the mystery is too strong, don’t resist it.” So, here I am even working with reggae artists, musicians and producers locally and internationally.
I say that destiny yanked me from the familiar into the unknown, and my fear became my only courage to try, and guess what, it is so much fun to dare be more. I love it.
Kimani: Take me through your musical journey.
Abbi: After high school I joined an acappella band, later christened Safari, for 7 year that led to a European tour. Then we had Abbi and Kikwetu for 5-years and we played at international festivals. Now I go simply as Abbi, happy to do reggae for my next album and look forward to a world tour.
Kimani: Did you always want to be a musician?
Abbi: I won’t say I always knew I’d be a musician and if anything it was seriously discouraged as a career. Yet beyond the dreams of piloting, doctoring, and all the wonderful other career possibilities, I am deeply fulfilled being who I have chosen to be today. I love connecting with people, and a nice melody shall always do that.
Kimani: You know the perception that was always associated with being an artist—(as people who are not serious). Did you suffer from these perceptions?
Abbi: I know this all too well. I have seen it, felt it and lived it. Nonetheless, there’s only the truth that you are truly who you are and can become even more by being aware and attentive to your soul-passion. That’s where your arsenal of creativity lies and thrives.
Kimani: Where do you draw inspiration for your work?
Abbi: I am inspired by all that is here, there and everywhere in life. It is people, and events, experiences and memories, yet also deep seated inexplicable urges play a major role in my expression and composition as an artist.
Kimani: What is your opinion of the music industry in the Kenyan and African scene?
Abbi: Africa is Africa, and that is ok, since Africa is speeding like the wind into its fantastic future with an open mind. I am happy with where the industry is and am even more hopeful that given the direction as a people and developing society, we will soon entrench the proper framework for the music industry to be accorded security, respect and support into evolution.
As an artist is the expression of a people, we can see through the music industry the vibrant teething challenges that beset our self-understanding and resolve as Africans. Yet, this is all an opportunity to find the will to forge into a greater future together.
I also know that when Africa shall pause for a moment and listen to the songs of her sons and daughters, it shall remember and find all that’s needed to become more than everything that plagues her existence at this moment. I believe that Africa is close to herself through her peoples’ expression traditionally and also the contemporary new youthfulness, as we are now all part of the big global village.
It can be better, and it shall get better, for after rock bottom the only other way is up, for Kenya and Africa.
Kimani: What are the other things that you like doing when you are not making music?
Abbi: I enjoy being with people and amigos, I love reading, movies and would love to play in a Hollywood film. I have my seasons where I simply love mingling with nature, travel is good for me too.
Kimani: You were also involved Kisumu 100 that was sensational. How did you get involved?
Abbi: I actually only played on the video but wasn’t Suzanne Owiyo’s co-singer on the audio record. I got a call one morning and was told to be in town within half an hour and two hours later I was made very famous and popular as many people simply addressed me in Dholuo as I walked the streets (myself a Luhya, yet Truly Kenyan), I should have vied for mayor.
Kimani: What are some of the other big names that you have worked with in the industry? How did that feel?
Abbi: I am thankful to have had the pleasure to work with so many great Kenyan artists, and great because the industry has come a long long way in the last few years, where before it was “ngumu sana”, as everyone stood alone. I carry fond memories of artists like Achieng’ Abura, Suzanne Owiyo, Suzanne Gachukia, R Kay, Tabu Osusa, John Katana, Dave “Mobb” Otieno, The Kikwetu band, Gogosimo, Afro-simba band, Ndungi Githuku, Mutinda, Ulopa Ngoma, Manu Uzele, Ukoo Fulani, Barbara Guantai, and all of you wonderful great Kenyan artists all around.
I am also happy to have the collaboration of so many other beautiful artists from other parts of the world and plan to continue doing so…as music for me is a tool through which I adventure my life always.
Kimani: What are some of the other extraordinary things that have happened to you and also added invaluable experience to your life as a musician?
Abbi: I shall say that becoming an artist was one of the most extra-ordinary things that happened to me. It has enabled me to experience and exchanged with persons, places, things, moments and seen me through so many events. Now through my art I have fought my battles winning and losing some (and I know many losses) but am happy to find the tool through which I know myself better and dialogue with life wholesomely, Life is now become the greatest ever expanding Adventure.