Interview with Kenyan artist Fadhilee Itulya

A chat Kenyan artist Fadhilee Itulya on his music, art, aspirations and a bit about his life.

“I want to be on stage with my band and start together not to be called in after everyone and walk in majestically, I want to bring my tea to the stage and zip my fly if I forgot, in a rush backstage and act normal and stop presenting a facade of what is expected” –Fadhilee

He is one exceptional performer, from Kenya, who also doubles up as UTAM (Utamaduni) Festival Director. Fadhilee is the man behind a unique live performance concept dubbed ‘Fadhilee’s Garage’, an exclusive music listening experience which allows artists to give their best performance to audience in the most intimate of ways, as he puts it ‘space that allows music to be consumed respectfully’. Some of his works include: ‘Sherehekea’, ‘No Lwanda’, ‘Keys to My Heart’ and many other gems. Fadhilee is currently on tour in Europe, with appearences in Norway, Sweden Germany and Greece.

Afroway caught up with the man whose passionate love for tea, will make you adore any cup.

Afroway:  To kick this off, who is Fadhilee Itulya?

Fadhilee:   Hmmm, I must say I have been a lotta things, hehe I’m still recovering from some of me hehehe but in this moment right here I can say I am an artist and not just so but a creative entrepreneur.

Afroway:   Where did you grow up, what’s the best thing about it and how has it influenced your art?

Fadhilee:   I grew up in Nairobi’s townships so to speak, wasn’t born there though. I was born in Kakamega western Kenya, to a family of four. I’ve got two brothers and a sister. My family came to the city in 1996 and there’s where it all started. The best thing about Nairobi’s Eastlands where I grew up is the exposure to the realities of life from such a tender age of 8. I had to learn ‘sheng’ to fit in and my Luhya accent was a laughing stock in the urban new school so I’ve had to pretty much work my way up against the odds. Circumstances can make you into a whole new person but it’s those times that have shaped my writing, and my style which still has no box to be classified into, as it fetches from so much influence.  I’ve lived in Buruburu, Umoja, Tena estate, Njiru, Gacie and currently Kilimani.

Afroway:  Who are some artists that you really connected with earlier in life?

Fadhilee:   Simba wa Nyika, Oliver Mtukudzi, Angelique Kidjo, Jonthan Buttler, Ringo, Lokua kanza, Frank Sinatra, Diana King, Michael Jackson, Richard Bona man the list is endless and explicitly diverse lol.

Afroway: How do you, personally, define your kind of music?

Fadhilee:   My music is a whole new sound. I break the rules often. I’m quick to surprise my audience with paths they haven’t expected the music to turn and breaks and open endings, shift in arrangements etc. im quite playful, Soulful and  very experimental one just has to hear it..

Afroway:   What instruments do you play and slay? 

Fadhilee: Hahaha slay?? I love that… I’m not slaying anything yet but my strongest instrument is the guitar. Besides that I can play the Adeu Deu from the Iteeso community in western Kenya, a bit of drums, bass, keys, harmonica and so on…

Afroway:   If we were to switch places with music instruments, which one would you be?

Fadhilee:   I wouldn’t be drum, I can’t take the hitting and kicking, my wife says I can’t be a guitar… I’m too ticklish, then I guess… id be a saxophone. Classy, fragile, romantic, expressive LOUD!

Afroway:   What can you tell us about your latest or upcoming projects?

Fadhilee:   I have a few running like Utam Festival, Fadhilee’s Garage, and my album under my music campaign tag #fadhileemusic. They all seem to be holding steady I can say.

Afroway:  Tell us a bit about the unique Fadhilee’s Garage performances 

Fadhilee:  It’s an intimate evening of fun friendship and good vibes, acoustic live-music experience for both our listeners and our featured artists in a garage. It’s a space that allows music to be consumed respectfully.

Fadhilee Garage Performance Photo Courtesy: Nyangesh

Afroway:  What are some of the misconceptions about your music? 

Fadhilee:   Before I’ve heard comments like “your music is sooo hard” “it’s too arranged, simplify it”, “it’s not commercial” 

Do they irk you? 

Fadhilee:  NO, Hehehehe I have come to accept one thing. Music for me will always be an avenue to express myself. Not everyone else’s but to voice my opinion on issues I experience with others YES but offer my own point of view on the matter. So I have become quite personal with it. Not that I don’t want to grow or sellout concerts by conforming my writing to what is commercially acceptable and dilute the possibilities but that I value my art, my skill and I know there’s an audience for every kind of music… I want to explore the musical world with my ideas, I want to sing on tracks that artists have feared to traverse on , I want to shout the words in our language that we fear , I want to sing off key and start over , I want to be on stage with my band and start together not to be called in after everyone and walk in majestically, I want to bring my tea to the stage and zip my fly if I forgot in a rush backstage and act normal and stop presenting a facade of what is expected… I just want to be me, even with my music…and this I know is something my genuine audience appreciates. To meet artists that are human and not snobby Godly celebrities.  My music is authored it’s not only for party and entertainment, its educational, I take time to sit and write and re write and fit every part of the song like a handmade gold ring at the goldsmiths  or a handmade leather shoe or belt. 

Afroway: Do you have that ‘hands on’ in all your production?

Fadhilee:   Yes and No. I have the skeleton but it takes more than just me to make a complete piece. As far as writing is concerned, yes I write my own music and arrange it but I value teamwork and often it’s seen in my performances. That’s where the energy of collaboration just shines out a show.

Afroway:   Any artists you’ve worked with?

Fadhilee:   I have worked with lots of artists, surprisingly I have a hand in a lot of music on airplay and that is of course whenever I’m invited to contribute  arrangement in the studio for a guitar piece here or a voice idea there or a bassline. And sometimes artists have sung on songs they have no clue who’s behind the music. I have worked with and on music for,  Rabbit, Wangeci, Naomi Wacera, Dela, Kiu, Mumbi, Avril, Cece Sagini, etc.. I have been on stage with Teardrops the poet, Shoe Shine Buoy, Sarabi Band, Stan Swahili Ally ,etc
How have they influenced you art?

Fadhilee:  I’m inspired by how collaboration is such a force that unites artistes across the divide of genres or styles of music they play along. I guess I just get a kick out of that. Its unity in diversity and of course then you’ll find influences from there in some of my works I suppose.

Fadhilee Garage Performance Photo Courtesy Nyangesh

Afroway:  What are the three stages you’ve graced as an artist locally and internationally? 

Fadhilee:  Spotlight on Kenyan music, Cool Wtares jazz Festival, Umoja Cutral flying carpet (Kenya Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia), Allsång I linneparken (Sweden) Bc.

Afroway:  Tell us about Utam festival, why does it exist?

Fadhilee:   UTAM FESTIVAL is a Kenyan Annual Multi-Cultural Music Festival that gives a platform for global cultural integration using Art. Utam festival has been conceptualized with an aim of showcasing and sharing East African arts and culture to the world, as well as displaying and sharing cultures from around the world in Africa to build peaceful coexistence lasting friendships, exchange program opportunities in all fields of performed and visual Art. 

Afroway:  Would you say Kenya has a functioning music industry?

Fadhilee:  I wouldn’t say it is fully functional but I know we have unions and corporations working hard to see that Kenya has a stable music industry, but honestly there’s a long way to go. From just civil education about ones rights as an artiste, intellectual property and copyright laws are unknown to many not even touching on revenues for as far as anyone is concerned- Industries, the countries they reside in, and the economies of those countries are interdependent and with no indication of accountable revenue contribution to our economy as a country and reasonable living standards for the average artist -insurance and suchlike securities included, it’s a shame to say we have a music industry.

Afroway:  As an artist how much are you putting in to become an African Influencer?

Fadhilee:   I can say I am putting into my music everything I can to affect the emotions, the opinions and the behaviors of many a people in Africa and beyond. I have got the passion, I’ve got the ideas and music is my vehicle there.

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