Every other Thursday we feature a musician in our Mics And Beats segment. Today’s Mics And Beats artist is Dan Aceda, a Kenyan musician. He has 3 albums Suluwe (2005), Benganology (2010) and Made in Kenya (2013). He has had the wonderful opportunity to work on many different projects with many different people and artists in many different fields. He is thankful for this and also excited about what the future will bring. Find out more about him at www.danaceda.co.ke.
When and why did you start playing? Which instruments do you play?
I started out singing. I didn’t play anything back then. I was just a choirboy, singing alto at St Luke’s Church Kenyatta. Later I picked up the bass and some piano. For about 2 years I was a drummer playing in church and at weddings. Then I came back to singing. I do whatever is necessary to make a gig successful but I would never say I am a great instrument player. I just dabble and do short riffs in the studio. Over the past 8 months, I have picked up the guitar which I now play at small gigs. I have to say I should have done this much earlier on in my life.
I did about 6 months of Vocal Training at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music but that’s it.
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?
My father was a huge music buff. We had music Saturdays when we were growing up. He would break out all his records and tapes and play them on an old turntable machine. He shaped my tastes a lot. My mum too. She had almost as many records as dad did. I would say there are a few songs that I remember: Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Thank you Mr DJ, Aurlus Mabele’s Embargo, The entire album by Helen Mtawali Vol.2 and Shari Martin’s Rafiki Pesa. At least these are the ones that stand out. In 2 minutes I can maybe add 100 more songs.
Has your family supported your talent and your career as a musician?
Very very much! I wouldn’t have done it at all if not for their support!
What musical influences did you have as a child?
Heavy Rhumba and Reggae because of my father who was a huge fan of both sounds. But mum was very big on fusion and African music that was sung predominantly in English so I took this on too. There was a little bit of soul and funk in there but not a lot.
How is the music different from what you listen to now?
Well, being a practitioner changes things a little bit. You are always trying to learn from the things you listen to. So these days I have become genre blind. I listen to everything that I can find and I have no favourite styles/genres. Only favourite songs. A list that changes every week.
What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Well, somebody paid me. Before then I was just doing it because it was a fun thing to do rather than sit at home and do nothing. One time I sang at a Church Crusade type of thing and the Pastor there gave me Ksh. 50. Haha! It changed my life. Later I got a job singing Congolese rhumba tunes between 2 am and 4 am for Ksh. 50 per day. Things were now moving!
Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?
I am very keen of late on musicians who are pushing some sort of philosophical agenda. I don’t mean some NGO hard to reach political idea but a musical idea. People that are advocating for the diversity of sounds, and the diversity of music. So people like Tarrus Riley, Richard Bonna, Koffi Olomide, Japheth Kassanga. Angela Kalule, Angela Chibalonza, Eunice Njeri, Size 8. Lady Maureen, Bosco Mulwa, Dennis Mutara. Music that is not even in a language that I understand but that tells such a unique story that one has no choice but to love it.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I am the worst. I laugh! I laugh out loud. It’s terrible. I should probably change that but with performances, it helps nobody to dwell. Just laugh and sing the next song. Life is too short to wallow.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
I say there’s no such thing as a beginner. At least not in music. People who have only played 1 year have the same capacity to grab the imagination of an audience as somebody who has worked for 40 years. Just be open, be honest and sing your song. Haha! Nervousness is not helpful. Be fearless, you will sound bad at times. That’s life. Sing another song.
How often and for how long do you practice?
I sing for about 2 hours a day on average. A lot less than I used to do back in the day then because I have additional commitments these days. If there’s a project/gig coming up then this can go up to maybe 4 hours a day at least 3 times a week at minimum.
Do you teach music?
Nope. Not gotten the opportunity to do that yet. Maybe I will open a School of Benga one day. Who knows…?
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?
I tell them that it’s Benga music. The music of the gods. The music that will be played in Heaven. The music that they should buy today, listen to every day, and keep at their side forever. I also tell them that Benga music is about sweet melodies, storytelling and soaring guitars.
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
People can expect to dance. They can expect to see and watch a group of people that enjoy what they do and that are happy to be there. To be honest, when I am on stage I don’t really see it as work. I see it as results. We are absolutely focused on what we are doing but it’s the result of 10,000 hours behind the scenes. So we play hard because we are ready!
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
I think Wyre stopping on the side of the road to talk to me and give me his number was my biggest break. If he had walked past me that day I would have probably never gotten into music. He’s the man who has taught me the most about this industry and he believed in me when there was nothing to believe in. I have a lot of respect for that man! I hope he lives forever!
How much creative control do you have over what you play?
I have total control! And I am a little dictatorial. Ha-ha! But the great people who play in my band tend to bully me quite a bit. We have played together since 2009. So they are entitled.
If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?
I think airplay is the big thing right now. We are not generating enough of it. Dj Kumbaffu is blocking us. He’s a demon that we need to exorcise. (DJ Kumbafu is anyone who spends their day talking down the industry)
Did you play for other bands before you started playing for yourself? How was it?
Yes, I did. I was in a Church Choir, then Congolese band then Kanjii Mbuguas’ band then part of the chorus of a musical then back to church!
What are the lessons you have learnt being part of a band?
Harmony. This is very important. Music has three pillars, melody, rhythm and harmony. The last one is very important. Without it, the other two cannot exist. Being in a band is a stark lesson on this. It’s a band. Not guitar featuring drums or vice verse. Ego should be left outside. Otherwise, everybody looks bad. Nobody ever says “the band was terrible but the guitar player was a star”. It’s always just “the band was terrible”
How is it being the frontman of the band?
Being the frontman bring a lot more responsibility. For example, if the guitar player is lost and playing a different song, the lead man has to own this. In Kenya, it also comes with the responsibility to provide admin and marketing because one becomes the face of the band. It’s true leadership. Everything that happens tends to be your responsibility. Whether or not it was your fault.
What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?
I don’t have a favourite type of music. I just have favourite songs.
What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?
The beat man. Everybody keeps going because of the beat.
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist? What are your long term career goals?
I still want to be here making music and playing gigs. I am not really into that megalomania of “I want to change the world” I don’t see myself in this way and don’t spend time thinking about it. I want to be able to tell my story and share it with as many people as I can. If good things come out of that then great. If not, tough. Life can be like that.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be? (You can name a couple of people)
I would have loved to have played with my Dad. He quit too early. Other people, I have never really thought about except maybe Dennis Mutara though I don’t know a word of Kikuyu.
What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News
I have been working on a project called KaAcoustic which involve doing acoustic versions of popular Kenyan songs from the past decade or so. You can find it on YouTube at this link.
That’s really it. Next year I will do something different and see where that goes. It’s very likely going to be a gospel record!
If you would like to interact with Dan Aceda find him on Twitter at @danaceda.
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