Eric Wainaina grew up saying that he was going to be a doctor, but his love for music reigned supreme. Shocked at first by his career choice, Eric?s family supported his decision to venture into music from the very beginning. Whilst growing up, he was influenced musically by artists such as Papa Wemba, Youssou N’Dour, Lokua Kanza and Paul Simon.
Eric first stepped into the world of music in the early 90s with Five Alive, originally an a cappella group that performed in churches, functions and clubs. Eric was a founder member of this popular group in 1992. Even then his flair for writing was evident. He is credited as songwriter on eight of the twelve songs on their album.
Dominating Kenya’s airwaves in 1995, Five Alive even went on to tour Europe the same year. This experience convinced Eric of pursuing a professional career in music. When the group disbanded in 1997, Eric went on to join the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston USA, where he majored in Songwriting and Record Engineering.
During his years at Berklee, where his degree equipped him fully in the area of songwriting, arranging and production, Eric worked to produce a sound that would be distinctively Kenyan both in the music and the content of the lyrics. Making sure that he released a new track every time he returned home for vacation, Eric Wainaina was always assured of a place on Kenya?s music charts. The sound he created includes benga rhythm with modern harmonies. He describes Berklee as a musically charged atmosphere which challenged him to invest in his Kenyaness.
Eric’s notable releases include Kenya Only, a song that instantly made him Kenya’s favorite modern musician. After the 1998 terrorist bomb blast in Nairobi where over 200 Kenyans lost their lives, Kenya Only, originally written as a call to national unity in the wake of the divisive politics of the Moi regime, was adopted as the unofficial song of mourning receiving extensive radio and TV airplay nation-wide. He returned to the top of Kenya’s musical agenda with Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo in 2001, a song that launched his crusade against corruption in the country.
With the chart success of Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo and his noble message sinking into every segment of Kenyan society, Eric received accolades internationally. The song earned him a Kora Award for Best East African Artist. Transparency International supported him as an artist who would help educate people on the negativity of corruption. In 2001, Africa Almanac.com listed Eric Wainaina among the Top 100 Africans of the Year 2000, alongside high profile names such as Nelson Mandela, Joseph Kabila, Yash Pal Ghai, Baaba Maal and Ousmane Semb?ne.
Eric’s first album, Sawa Sawa (2001) remains one of the highest selling solo albums in Kenya. In writing the record Eric was making a decided attempt to break away from the all too common American influences in new African music. Challenged to be relevant he dedicated himself to spending six hours a day writing over five months. The result was a record which won critical and popular acclaim. His adaptation of a Kikuyu folk tune Ritwa Riaku was added to the playlist of every radio station in the nation, as was the eponymous track Sawa Sawa, which, six years down the line, still receives regular airplay.
He has been acclaimed for his outstanding skill and dynamism as a live performer in both his tours and festival performances. He has toured in Switzerland for four consecutive years and has performed at Holland’s Festival Mundial (2003) as well as Harare’s International Festival of the Arts (2003) receiving outstanding reviews for both performances.
Eric’s second solo album, Twende Twende (2006) has been very positively received. The title track is a duet with Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi, and it features other notable guest artists such as Kanji Mbugua and MC Kah of Ukoo Fulani Mau Mau.
Sawa Sawa (Sound Africa, 2001)
Twende Twende (2006)
Love and Protest (Rainmaker, 2011)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.