Today I am starting a new segment called Mics and Beats which will appear Bi-monthly. For this first Mics and Beats I have two of my favourite musicians Allan “Sucre” Wanjohi and Charles Ademson aka Makadem as my first guests. Let’s find out more about Allan Wanjohi who you have probably seen in the background playing Bass guitar or Acoustic guitar for artist such as Elani, Eric Wainaina and Atemi. .
Let’s find out more about him.
Allan Wanjohi is a bass player/singer/songwriter, who has been actively involved in the writing, producing and arranging of both live and studio music for a number of years. Ranging from large concerts to small acoustic sessions, his past musical involvement covers the likes of directing music at Mavuno Church, for artists such as Dela, Mumala Maloba, being band director for Elani, vocal director for the acapella group Jasmine, as well as working with Chris Adwar, the Villagers, Ma3, Winyo, Sara Mitaru, Eric Wainaina, Atemi, Stan, Idd Aziz, Rigga, Neema Ntalel, Kanjii Mbugua, Rebekah Dawn and Nairobi Lighthouse Church. He’s a believer and is very passionate about gospel music.
When and why did you start playing? Which instruments do you play?
I started singing when I was about 10 years, mainly in church. I play three instruments: Drums, Bass Guitar and Acoustic Guitar. I picked up the drums when I was about 14 years and being exposed to other musicians for a couple of years, I picked up the bass guitar after a few years. I’ve played the acoustic guitar for about one and a half years.
Do you have a formal musical education?
I don’t have any formal musical education. I’m totally self-taught however, I’d love to go to school one day to study and expound more. I’m also working towards getting accredited by the ABRSM and LCM music examination bodies.
Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music for the first time like. What song do you remember most as a child?
I grew up in a house of people that appreciated authentic music. My dad loved listening country and reggae artists such as Bob Marley, Kenny Rogers etc. and my elder brother got into music a couple of years before I did. The song I remember growing up to was “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and “Prisoner” by Lucky Dube.
I have known you a long time. Actually we sort of grew up together. Your brother is also a musician. How has your family supported your talent and your career as a musician?
My family has had my back from the beginning. They have supported and prayed with me tirelessly. My older brother, Andrew Ngatia, was an inspiration growing up, giving guidance and he was kind enough to let me use his instruments before I was able to acquire my own.
What musical influences did you have a child?
I grew up listening to Bob Marley, Lucky Dube. On the gospel end, I loved listening to Mark Schultz, Michael W Smith, and The Winans.
How is the music different from what you listen to now?
There’s been a tremendous change in how writers, composers and producers have been creating music over the years. The pop culture has taken over and more often than not, most artists are geared to putting together ‘hit songs’ that would make them remain relevant and bring in the big bucks and somewhere along the way, the heart and dedication to the artistry of composing music has slowly been neglected. The musicians who put in lots of time into developing their craft have become a minority and the society has labelled them the ‘less popular’ just because they probably don’t reflect the numbers that some of the ‘more popular’ acts can show.
What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
The moment I picked up the bass guitar, I was sure that music is what I love and would like to keep pursuing as long as I live.
Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?
Israel and New Breed, Marvin Sapp, Take 6, Richard Bona, Marcus Miller, Brian Culbertson.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I usually just laugh it out!! The audience will never know there’s a problem if you’re able to convince them that is was all part of the show.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Follow your passion and dream big! You can never play / sing like anyone else. You’re biggest competition and supporter is you.
How often and for how long do you practice?
A minimum of twice / three times a week.
Do you teach music?
Yes I do. I’m currently teaching at Braeside School.
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?
My music is my life’s journey. I find genres very restricting. I love creating fun music that has a message of hope and love. I express my thoughts and how I feel in words and put a melody to it.
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
A lot of fun and spontaneity. I believe that it’s very unlikely that you can repeat something the exact way you did it the first time and that’s what makes life exciting.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
God has given me numerous opportunities over the years to travel and interact with different people and share my craft all over Africa and the world. I particularly remember sharing the Lagos Jazz Festival stage with Marcus Miller in 2013, a musician I admire and respect highly.
How much creative control do you have over what you play?
I’m super particular (well, most times.. haha) I’m very specific about how I would like the ideas in my head to executed and this makes me a bit controlling at times.
If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?
Transparency and professionalism. In the time I have been in the industry, I’ve found myself in situations with individuals who either don’t take your craft and work ethic seriously and it gets frustrating at times. Although there’s been a huge improvement with time and musicians are now able to vocalise issues that they would have previously swept under the rug. There’s still a group of people who don’t consider musicians and artists across the board in the same regard as other white-collar jobs, causing them to treat the same individuals differently and place them in a different class.
You have played for many different bands. I know it pays the bills but are you at the stage in your life where you can have a band that’s your band as opposed to playing for others?
I’ve worked with many musicians and bands locally in the past: Elani, Dela, The Villagers, Winyo, Atemi, Eric Wainaina, Sara Mitaru Maia etc.
I direct my own band and I’m currently compiling material for my debut album and I’m really excited to share it when the time is right.
What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?
As a musician, I can’t really say I have one favourite. However, I love listening to gospel music, jazz and big band. I’m a big fan of acapella music too.
What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?
When I’m not pursuing music, I’m behind the lens of my camera. I love bringing out the beauty of the world and the people in it.
What keeps you going as a musician?
My passion to see growth, not just in me but to those around me who have been in the industry for sometime and especially those who are working hard everyday to make it to that level.
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist? What are your long-term career goals?
I would love to have released at least one record and share God’s love though the gifts he has invested in me with as many people as I can.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be?
Take 6 for sure. Others would be Planet shakers and Marvin Sapp.
What are your up to date performances plans? New releases? Tours? News
There’s a lot of planning going on at the moment. However, I’m part of the band that plays at the annual Twakutukuza Concert, that’ll take place on 23rd-25th October 2015 at Nairobi Chapel.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat