It’s the friendship that put us together – Sauti Sol on staying relevant after 15 years

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Sauti Sol are one of Africa’s most successful bands.

The Kenyan outfit have been together for 15 years, which is quite a feat in the modern music scene.

Their hits include Suzanna, Melanin and My Everything on which they collaborated with Grammy award-winning African-American singer India Arie.

They grabbed a Grammy of their own last year as producers on Burna Boy’s album Twice as Tall. It won the award for best global music album, making Burna Boy the first solo Nigerian artist to win one.

Formed back in 2005 as an acapella group, Sauti Sol have grown and developed and enjoyed international success, packing out venues wherever they go.

Band members Bien-Aimé Baraza, Willis Chimano and Savara Mudigi met in secondary school, later hooking up with guitarist Polycarp Otieno. They released their debut album in 2008 and told me how they first got together:

“We were lucky because we were friends first. So actually it’s the friendship that put us together, and then we discovered we love music. The bond became stronger, and we’ve grown like that. We only argue about music! It doesn’t get personal. It’s a brotherhood.”

We were lucky because we were friends first. So actually it’s the friendship that put us together, and then we discovered we love music. The bond became stronger, and we’ve grown like that. We only argue about music! It doesn’t get personal. It’s a brotherhood.”

To make sure that everything stays on track, the band have a life coach and conduct therapy sessions.

“It’s a healthy masculine relationship. I think all bands and guys who are co-working need to invest in that mental health side of things, to make sure the ship is running smoothly.”

It’s a healthy masculine relationship. I think all bands and guys who are co-working need to invest in that mental health side of things, to make sure the ship is running smooth.”

They released their latest album Midnight Train when pandemic restrictions were still in place, and describe their return to live performance as exciting and humbling.

“”For the first time, the fans were singing word for word a whole album. You can’t take that for granted. It just reminded us how beautiful this thing called art and music is.

For the first time, the fans were singing word for word a whole album. You can’t take that for granted. It just reminded us how beautiful this thing called art and music is.

“It’s fun. Once it stops being fun, that’s when it becomes work. So it’s enjoyment – and you find yourself jumping for two hours, and you’re like: ‘What the hell? That was a workout!’ You go home and you’re tired for a whole day! But you still wake up and do it again, because of the love of it.”

It’s fun. Once it stops being fun, that’s when it becomes work. So it’s enjoyment – and you find yourself jumping for two hours, and you’re like: ‘What the hell? That was a workout!’ You go home and you’re tired for a whole day! But you still wake up and do it again, because of the love of it.”

Sauti Sol have stuck to their core sound throughout a time of change across the African music industry, sticking with their close harmonies and rhumba influence even if it wasn’t necessarily the popular thing to do.

Having won their Grammy the group are keen to thank Burna Boy for allowing them to be part of his journey, but also their fans.

“It’s just nice to see that the hard work is starting to pay off. To have recognition of that magnitude is both a blessing and a confirmation that we’re on the right path. So we’ve got one foot in the room. We want to put the whole body into the room.

It’s just nice to see that the hard work is starting to pay off. To have recognition of that magnitude is both a blessing and a confirmation that we’re on the right path. So we’ve got one foot in the room. We want to put the whole body into the room.

“Being a big band in Kenya has put us in positions where we can talk about policy, where we can have strong opinions – and we’re living proof that this music makes sense. People can say now: ‘Oh Sauti Sol have done it, we actually can do it’. We meet people who tell us: ‘I’ve been able to take my son to music school because I’ve seen it working with you’.”

Being a big band in Kenya has put us in positions where we can talk about policy, where we can have strong opinions – and we’re living proof that this music makes sense. People can say now: ‘Oh Sauti Sol have done it, we actually can do it’. We meet people who tell us: ‘I’ve been able to take my son to music school because I’ve seen it working with you’.”

During the coronavirus lockdown, the band members each embarked on individual releases. They called the project “alone together”.Quote Message: We were isolating and each of us came up with an amazing album. All of them were written, mixed, produced and published under our label Soul Generation. We’re pushing out four very unique projects that are going to give our fans a taste of who we are as individuals.

We were isolating and each of us came up with an amazing album. All of them were written, mixed, produced and published under our label Soul Generation. We’re pushing out four very unique projects that are going to give our fans a taste of who we are as individuals.

” We don’t walk around together all the time! We have lives, and is there a better way to show you people who we are as individuals than through the art?”

We don’t walk around together all the time! We have lives, and is there a better way to show you people who we are as individuals than through the art?”

Sauti Sol will be releasing their latest group album together in May.

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