Over the past decade, Kenya’s musical industry has undergone tremendous development to become a powerhouse in Africa. This rise has spawned a new generation of artists, merging traditional African sounds with external influences to create unique neo-Kenyan music. One such artist is Redsan, known to many as East Africa’s king of Dancehall.
Redsan, whose real name is Mohammed Swabri, had a passion for dancehall music from a very early age. With influences from other major dancehall artists like Beenie Man and Shaggy, Redsan started working on his music featuring in a competition organized for young artists in 1996 in Nairobi.
He later won the Star Search competition at Nairobi’s Carnivore in 1998 before progressing to become the opening act for Hardstone in cities like Nakuru and Mombasa. Later that year he joined with Lucas Bikedo from Sing Sounds, one of the only record companies at the time for artists like him, who formed Ogopa. While with Ogopa, he joined fellow musicians Chameleon and Bebe Cool from Uganda for a tour in Africa as the East African Bashment Crew.
Redsan continued to work on his music putting out two albums and several hits along with being nominated for and winning awards like Kisima and Chagua la Teeniz until he left Ogopa in 2004. He wanted to be mentor to smaller artists so he formed Dutty Sounds which caters to artists in the Dancehall, Hip Hop and R&B genres. He is currently working with new artists Shantrel and Naomi who appear to have promising futures in the industry. He acknowledges that Ogopa did a lot for him and for Kenyan music, taking it to the next level, but he also knows that it is time to aim higher.
Redsan’s meteoric career has not been without its share of problems. He has had a few feuds with media personalities and with some local artists. His most widely publicized fallout was with CMB Prezzo, a Kenyan Hip Hop artist. Redsan attributes the rivalry to the many cliques that exist inside the Kenyan music industry.
“Kenyans believe in cliques and if you don’t belong to their clique, then they feel like they must attack you,” says Redsan. “We didn’t start Hip Hop, so to follow [American gangster rap] feuding attitude is wrong”.
According to Redsan, the conflict started when Prezzo had a problem with a lady friend of his. Speaking on the resolution he says Prezo called him earlier this year and apologized after which they met at a party and smoothed everything over.
“Kenyan music has come a long way, the music industry is maturing” he says.
For Redsan, music is not just a career, it is his life’s passion. However, he admits that music cannot just be about passion. It is a business and those who say they are only in it for the love of performing are not being honest. Although Redsan’s sales figures are some of the best in Kenya, bootlegging is still a huge problem. To him the silver lining is that bootlegging allows artists to reach a wider geographical area.
Redsan passed through Minneapolis after a tour of Europe which included France, England and Sweden on his way to Miami. Watching him on stage performing one of his titillating hits one may find it hard to catch a glimpse of the young man from South B estate (a middle-class suburb in Nairobi) who was captain of the Parkview Academy soccer team. These days he can hardly walk on the streets of Nairobi without being recognized and approached by fans. After a show, you would most likely find him mobbed by female fans wanting pictures and autographs.
“After a concert you can’t talk to everybody, but it’s important to be professional about the fans,” he says on fans mobbing him.
He is scheduled to be in talks with Universal, one of the largest record companies in the world with an immense marketing power. He’s currently working on plans to collaborate with some of the reggaton artists under Universal.
His new cd The Pioneer is strictly a Dancehall affair and has received good reviews from fellow Dancehall artists: Sean Paul and Shaggy. Although Redsan’s new album was primarily made for his Kenyan fans, it has been modeled to appeal to worldwide Dancehall lovers. Redsan decided to call it The Pioneer because he is one of the few artists who have survived Kenya’s developing urban music since its inception in the mid-nineties.
Redsan is currently planning a massive 29 State tour of the US with Nagi Events and Kilimanjaro Entertainment starting early 2007. His music can be found at Stern’s Music and Virgin Megastores in the UK.