Chris Kaiga is making his mark as a hitmaker in the industry with songs like ‘Zimenice’, ‘Niko on’ and ‘Bundaz’. His success is however not something that took place overnight. He has been in the game for close to 10 years perfecting his craft and studying the industry - enabling him to create the path he has made now.
He has spent half his life living and growing up in Lang’ata aka L.A. aka route 15/34. The social and cultural influence is obvious. His associations, who he makes music with and even his sound are a sneak peak of what I consider the influence of L.A culture in Nairobi.
I had a sit down with him on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Nairobi where he keenly described himself as an artist and studio owner who enforces a unique sound from his studio in L.A to the rest of Nairobi/Kenya.
Around when did you start making music?
I recorded my first song around 2011, but did not release it. It was just a trial and error type of thing just to see how it felt to make a song in a studio and hear how I sounded. I then released a mixtape later in 2012 before releasing ‘Pombe Bhangi’ with a group I was in called Ususal Suspekts.
How would would describe your current sound, Debe?
It is a mixture of Sheng, uptown beats and conceptual videos. My producer is the one who came up with the sound and the name of this genre. He’s very versatile and also makes other beats but he decided to call this one in particular ‘Debe’. He as a producer also calls himself Debe.
After ‘Pombe Bhangi’ circa 2013/2014, you seemed to have gone on a slight hiatus before fully making a comeback, what were you up to?
I was freelancing most of that time before I joined another group around 2016 called ‘Kwenye Hii Masaa’ when I opened up my studio Up & Up Creatives with my business partner. That group consisted of me, Nelly The Goon, Stevie Don Dada and Rojay. We spent a lot of time in studio recording music, but by 2017 we had decided to go our separate ways. Nelly started releasing the Gengetone sound, I split off with Debe and the rest went on to do their own thing.
How would you describe the process of the journey you’ve taken so far? And what lessons has it taught you?
It’s been quite interesting. Right now I’m blessed to be working with the team I have now. I can say that I am way more deliberate with recording sessions and releasing music than I was before. In the past we would spend so much time in studio fooling around and making songs that never saw any platforms, but now we’re very intentional with rolling out content instead of just sitting on songs and not releasing them. That’s been the biggest change.
How else has having a team impacted you as an artist, and what is it like having one?
My team has been built up over time and what I would call the gradual laying of my foundation. I’ve known some of them since I was in high school, others from my Uni days and others through different creative spaces and associations. It’s a team that I can say I trust, and I’m thankful for that. Nothing was forced and it all aligned almost perfectly at the right time. Having a video director, a producer, a publicist - me having my own record company and studio and working the way we work now, is a blessing. The only thing I don’t have yet is a manager. It’s hard getting good management out here, especially the type who understand your worth as an artist, your brand and how to build it. We’ll see how things go in the future.
You mentioned that part of your sound and brand is conceptual videos. Talk more about that.
I met my videographer/director Frank through Debe (the producer) about a year ago and we just hit it off. We had a similar liking to our ideas and need for wanting to make different content from everyone else, especially in terms of music videos here in Kenya. Him and I became really good friends over time, and we eventually got to sharing concepts with each other after listening to songs. We basically bounce off each others ideas and settle on our favourites before planning the production process. We started off with ‘Niko On’, then followed with ‘Zimenice’. We recently released my latest music video for ‘Bundaz’ which we also worked on together, so we’ll probably keep up the momentum on creativity.
Before releasing ‘Zimenice’, did you or anyone in your team have that moment where you realised that this song would be a hit?
The idea for ‘Zimenice’ started out around 2017. That’s when we had the general idea of the song concept from the beat that was made by Wes on the Keys, which also had Tezla on the original. When I met with Debe later on, we decided to fuse his sound with the original beat and made what you guys hear today. For most songs if not all, we try to make them the best and hope for the best. We knew it had something special, and that’s probably why we decided to continue making it and finalise it to its best product. I’m always happy to know that my music can make people feel good, so I definitely appreciated the reception regardless.
What inspires you and keeps you inspired as an artist?
I mostly get my inspiration by observing. Observing myself, the people around me and the different environments. I tell stories from the things I see, hear and experience. I also like to make people feel good. The beat inspires me to do that. How the beat influences me will influence the process of making the song and the end product. The keys are personally my favourite instrument to listen to and work with. Progression is my favourite thing in a song because it evokes emotion and cremates space for a story to be told. So yeah, stuff like that moves me.
Do you have any upcoming projects coming up before the end of the year?
Yes actually. I have recorded a track with Ochungulo and Barak Jacuzzi that I’m excited about. The song is called ‘Anadwaro’ which is Luo, and should be released very soon.
What’s your take on Nairobi Culture at the moment and where do you see it going?
I think we are a very diverse culture and we therefore produce very diverse sounds/art. This is a big advantage to us as artists and as Kenyans. There is so much to listen to, see and hear, regardless of which part of the country or city you are from. The mix of classes in arts is needed more and while in some ways struggling, we can see it happening and progressing. If we continue like this and continue supporting each other overall through things like #PlayKE, then I think we will go even as far as South Africa (or even bigger) in terms of international stages and platforms as a culture. So I’m excited to see what the future holds for all of us. All in all Nairobi is a very fun city with vibrant people and lots to offer