Arts and Culture

Jua bado ni kali

I wanted to interview Jua Cali, a leading Kenyan musician, on the launch of his fifth album for this story so I reached out to his manager through the number provided on Jua Cali’s Twitter page. The guy I talked to asked me to send him a detailed request through WhatsApp which I did. However, my messages for a request for an interview received no reply.

Be as it may, I was not disappointed. Being a journalist, I have had my fair share of failed or rejected interviews. But that is beside the point, I am an avid follower of Jua Cali’s music since back in the day and once he dropped his latest and fifth album, I could easily tell why he is still the king of Genge and getting him for an interview will be a challenge.

Since he dropped his album, Jua Cali has been fully booked with radio and TV shows queueing to get him into their studios. This is in addition to weekly performances in various towns across the country by the artist to promote his album. What’s more, he even travelled to the United Kingdom last month to promote the album. Since Maudhui House is an up-and-coming newsroom, I had to swallow humble pie and hope that once the dust settles, we might still get a chance to have the interview with the original Baba Yao.

The fact that Jua Cali’s fifth album is titled Utu Uzima says it all. Jua Cali has come full circle and his music has finally matured. Professor Jay once said that ili nifanikiwe nahitaji marafiki, ili nifanikiwe zaidi nahitaji maadui. Telling by the number of online haters who mushroomed after Jua Cali dropped his album, Jua Cali atafanikiwa zaidi.

Immediately the album dropped, some online users started deriding Jua cali with claims that the album was a flop. Some users based their arguments on the fact that a song like Wajakoya, one of the favorites from the new album has only garnered sixteen thousand views on You Tube since the album was dropped two months ago.

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However, Jua Cali took this criticism in his stride in a true Utu Uzima fashion. He reminded the haters that being an established musician, his music has been shared on different streaming platforms and judging the performance of his songs using one platform is underwhelming.

“Fans wangu! Don’t be fooled na hawa haters trying to push a certain narrative. Landscape ya music industry imechange currently my 1st single ‘WAJAKOYA’ is BIG (Trending) on Tik Tok na Tik Tok sai ndio kusema YouTube is just part of the ecosystem. Fans are listening to the album thru different platforms numbers za UTU UZIMA Spotify, iTunes, Audio Mack, etc. so far ziko sawa; said Jua Cali.

I have personally listened to the whole album and I dare say that like fine wine, Jua cali has indeed matured with age. The Utu Uzima album is a classic balance of antique and new school sound. Listening to the songs, one cannot help but appreciate that the writing and production of the album is vintage Jua Cali infused with beats and lyrics reflecting growth and an appreciation of current trends.

The album addresses very current themes, has a good mix of collaborations and the production is top notch. However, in my opinion there is more to Jua Cali than an album arrangement that has made him relevant today and that is persistence, hard work and being true to self.

“I took 3 good years to record hii album; the way it is structured you are supposed to love the music on your own without outside influence, kuna watu kadha already wanainconsider a classic so ukipata time skiza utapenda UTU UZIMA Available on all streaming platforms. Shukran WAGENGE,” Jua Cali noted while responding to one of the online naysayers, and he is right.

One of his detractors on social media quipped that Jua Cali is old and should leave the stage for younger artists. In his earlier song Bidii Yangu, Jua Cali said ‘Ata nikigonga (miaka) soo bado mziki zangu sitaacha kusambaza’. It seems like his detractors were not listening.

Unlike many of his peers, Jua Cali has strived to remain relevant by staying abreast with the latest trends while still staying true to his original style. When gengetone erupted onto the scene and threatened to render old school musicians irrelevant, Jua Cali still swam with the flow by releasing songs like WaleMang’aa featuring gengetone artists like VDJ Jones, Swat Ethic and Odi Wa Murang’a.

Jua Cali has also been collaborating with new names in the game and this has earned him a spot on the listeners’ radar for long. Among the musicians who started out with him, very few like Nyashinsinski are still filling concert halls and selling music today.

The slow death of gengetone which once threatened to render musicians like Jua Cali irrelevant should be a lesson to upcoming musicians – do not rush the process because good things take time. It took Jua Cali three years to create the Utu Uzima album and I would advise music lovers to take time and listen to it. It’s the kind of album pundits say ‘grows on you’.

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