Mwachari Butiko has come a long way in his career and he is waiting for it to pick it up even better in 2019. He is one of the actors in NTV’s show The Trap House and also in Waliobaki. He is also into music, working with a producer from Sony and Universal Music Group. What does he think about the Kenyan music industry and his character Don in Trap House? Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA sought to find out.
Talk to me a little bit about your childhood.
My childhood was pretty much like any other childhood. I grew up around four sisters and I’m the only boy. I guess music and acting and the arts were a huge part of our lives. My mum was a singer in church since she was a child. My sisters have gone pretty much through singing groups in primary secondary and campus. It was a lot of art around. I was a kind of reserved; well, I’m still kind of reserved.
Did the music come first or the acting?
Music came first because it was pretty much there every time. Before the TV was switched on the radio was playing and before we went to bed we listened to music. In primary is when I picked up acting. I think that was the time I picked up acting.
When is the first time you performed a song?
Primary school; I think it was in Class Seven. It was a school event I and was soloing a song. I think that was my first performance in front of a lot of people.
So then you decided to branch into it professionally?
I always knew I wanted to do music but not professionally; maybe like a hobby. When I went to high school, I took it up seriously because in primary there is not much you can do. In high school is when I decided that I would want to take up music and acting professionally and seriously.
You joined music professionally first?
Yeah (pause). I would say all this things pretty much started around the same time. Professionally, one was building the other. Even when I was doing music professionally, I would do some acting projects.
You were part of a group called Songoma. What does Songoma mean?
Songoma is a combination of two words Song and Ngoma.
I didn’t see that coming.
(Chuckles) It came about from Fess (finalist in Tusker Project Fame season 6). He came out with it and we liked.
How different was it? Because you guys decided to do solo projects.
Well, it is not easy it is almost one and half years in, we parted ways. We used to do things together: composing, complimenting each other. I would start a melody and Fess would pick it up perfectly, and so would Abishai.
It was shared work and the joy of making music together is different from alone. Not to say alone is not joyous; it is just different.
But now, as we left, I had to form my own perception and that was a bit challenging. Decision making is easy now because, before, we had to consider everyone’s point of view.
There has been a lot of discussion on the Kenyan music scene coming from the pay to radio play on air. Are we as Kenyans underrating our music?
I think it is a cultural problem. We have to cultivate because it started kitambo. Kenya was a powerhouse in this region and this is where guys used to record. You remember days of Kalamashaka and the guys who were there in the ’90s and after independence? I think our culture changed and we opened up ourselves to the whole world and we were containing so much from our side and we forgot our own product.
I’m thinking: Yes, there is a problem because, yes we need more airplay but it is not just a matter of changing that overnight because of the internet. Anyone can go and get music from anywhere.
We need to socialise like in Tanzania. They keep on supporting each other but in Kenya we are so capitalistic. It is hard coming together.
I was to ask you about that. It is as if we are constantly fighting each other.
There is the aspect of fighting each other for showbiz and using it to attract each other. A perfect example is Davido and Wizkid; Burna Boy and Patoranking. At the end of the day, they are growing. In Kenya we take it too personal. We fight each other; we block each other. If I know an event organiser I block for someone. We need fights that can boost the industry. Nikiinuka na niinue mwingine then we build the industry. But when you are up there alone, how do we bridge that gap?
You have a song “Everytime” with DJ A-Boom. Actually a great song. What went through your mind what inspired you to do this song?
This is my second project with DJ A-Boom. He is a DJ and producer from Switzerland and he is subcontracted to Sony and Universal after the first project with him we decided to do another project. It was actually his idea. He made the track and sent to me.
I asked him what was the inspiration to make this track but it is a bit explanatory: He met a lady who was half Chinese half Portuguese and every time they met, she wanted to meet him again. That was basically an experience he had. For me it was about fitting into that story and trying to relate to it.
My parts are really basic talking about how he made him feel and the experiences they had. It is a playful kind of song and about going to a different place and meeting someone who you really like and would want to meet again.
How would you describe your sound?
My sound is generally Afro-pop with a general pop influence. I try to mix different aspects but I try to keep it local from the language with a little bit of my mother tongue. I also try to add in some RnB influence hapa na pale. I try not to define it like in the case of Kwaito in South Africa and Bongo Flava in Tanzania. But it very relatable.
Let’s talk about now acting. You have been on Waliobaki and now you are on Trap House. Is it “Trap House” or “The Trap House”?
The Trap House (laughter).
Let’s talk about The Trap House because it is your latest project. Do you think it brings out campus life in your perspective?
Yes, yes being a person who has been to campus I can relate to most of the things. It is very relatable. We have different people from different walks of life: jokers, rich kids and all kinds of people. You know how Uni imejaa you cannot know everyone and the only thing that brings you together is campus life. The rich kids who don’t have stress about fees being paid hang out in the boujiest of places.
Others go to eat at Kibandanski. Kuna watu wametoka Turkana; others are even foreigners. It is also about the struggles people go through in campus — from trying to live up to certain standards and at the same time juggling education, partying and the women and men and outside school.
I think The Trap House brings out typical campus life in Kenya and Africa trying to fit in here and there. At the end of the day, you learn you have to go through all of these experiences at some point in your life.
Don, your character, is going through a lot with his father and brother who has health complications. How do you envision Don in your head?
Don is a guy from the ‘hood. He is trying to find a way out like most people in campus try to do. You think nikiwa hapa campus ndio naeza pata namna ya kupenya kwa life because you meet people who are doing a lot of things.
For me, I think I can relate to it in a couple of ways. Getting to campus, it was never so easy mambo za fees and things weren’t good at home also fitting and the pressure to fit in. For me, I don’t think it was a big deal but sometimes you feel like you have to pick a side or somewhere you feel you can belong with certain people. It basically reminded me of how campus life was and the choices you make. Don is pretty much a super cool guy from campus who wants to make himself and his family get to a better place.
Who is your favourite character apart from Don? Don’t say Don?
Okay (laughter), aha there is Neb and Mike. Hawa ni wale politicians wa shule. They have taken keen interest in the system and how it operates. They try to get into a league where they can get a certain league of chicks. They try to get one of the slay queens. They try to gas each other up and they are generally looking for affection but the slay queens just want to use you for your money. I can quite relate to that, too, because at times you feel like you need to be seen with a certain clique of people but then they are like you don’t belong.
I thought you’d say your favorite character is Shi (Shistabu Kikana played by Ellah Maina) or Tasha?
Shi represents a lot of people, by the way: The people from mashinani who make it to campus and know nothing about the city and when they get to uni, they see the world is bigger than that. I can’t say I have a favourite character per se. Everyone has a special role in the way the show is fixed and they embody a certain role and they make campus life what it is and everyone is your favorite.
What is the kindest thing you have ever done as Mwachari?
As Mwachari (pause) it is hard to choose but let me say one. I normally make it a habit to give to needy people because sometimes you don’t have cash. I tell myself once in a week that I’ll just pack some food and give it to a random person without having to tell them your name.
Yes I think sometimes there is more effect to it rather than going to a children’s home and take a selfie and tell the whole world. The moment you tell others it is more about you than that needy person.
Are you happy?
Very… I think I’m a happy guy. Most people tell me that. Sipendi stress.
I think that was my last question
You: Are you happy?
I’m the one asking the questions but,yes, I’m happy. Did you enjoy the interview?
Yes. Thank you for going out and doing the research and wanting to interview me. Thanks so much.