Eric Wainaina born 28th, August 1973 is a Kenyan singer-songwriter. His career was launched with his debut album, Sawa Sawa, in 2001. Wainaina’s music is a blend of Kenyan Benga rhythm and East African guitars, with some modern harmony.
Wainaina first stepped into the world of music with Five Alive, a gospel a cappella group. Five Alive consisted of Victor Seii, Bob Kioko, Chris Kamau, and David Mageria, who was replaced by Joe Kiragu. They drew their musical influence from Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Take 6. Dominating Kenya’s airwaves in 1995, Five Alive released their debut album ‘Five Alive’ in 1996, and even went on to tour Europe the same year.
His experience with the group convinced Wainaina to pursue a professional career in music. In 1996 he performed and appeared in the video for Get in the Driver’s Seat, a song commissioned by the United Nations Drug Control Programme for a highly successful anti-drug campaign spanning 20 countries. This not only set the stage for his eventual emergence as a solo artist, but also got him into the social concern and activism that characterizes much of his music
When the group disbanded in 1997, Wainaina went on to join the Berklee College of Music in Boston—USA, from which he graduated with a degree in Music, majoring in Songwriting and Record Engineering. He graduated with honours.
During his years at Berklee, Wainaina and his band traveled to different parts of the country to perform, as well as holding regular shows in Boston. Together with his producer, Christian Kaufmann, he worked to produce a sound that would be distinctively Kenyan both in the music and the content of the lyrics. In order to do this, he made sure that he released a new track every time he returned home for vacation, This was well received by his growing fanbase, with his performance at Kenya’s ‘Beats of the Season’ concert in December 2000 being watched live by 15,000 fans and broadcast nationally.
His notable releases include ‘Kenya Only’, a song that instantly made him Kenya’s favourite modern musician. After the 1998 terrorist bombing in Nairobi where over 200Kenyans lost their lives, ‘Kenya Only’ was adopted as the unofficial song of mourning, receiving extensive radio and TV airplay nationwide. His adaptation of a Kikuyu folk tune ‘Ritwa Riaku’ was added to the playlist of every radio station in the nation soon after.
Wainaina returned to the top of Kenya’s musical agenda after he released ‘Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo’ (‘Country of Small Things’) in 2001, a song that launched his crusade against rampant corruption in the country. With the chart success of ‘Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo’, Wainaina received international accolades. Transparency International (Kenya) supported him as an artist who would help educate people on the negativity of corruption, appointing him an ambassador.
He was also appointed Ambassador for the NGO MS Kenya, Kenya Human Rights Commission and by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights for his commitment to fighting the abuses to justice through music. This anthem against corruption (Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo) was not so highly appreciated in all quarters, however, with the government of the day putting up resistance to it by refusing to air it on the national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.
In one instance several attempts were made to keep him from performing at a national event, the Kenya Music Festival, including intimidation and attempts to switch off his microphone.
Following the suspicious death of Father Anthony Kaiser in 2000, Wainaina was commissioned by the Mill Hill Fathers in 2003 to write a song about this. This became Ukweli, a call for justice despite efforts that were being made to cover up the true nature of Father Kaiser’s death, which was reported as suicide despite strong evidence to the contrary.
In 2001, Africa Almanac.com listed him amongst the top 100 Africans of the year 2000, which included high-profile names such as Nelson Mandela, Joseph Kabila, Yash Pal Ghai, Baaba Maal and Ousmane Sembène. His first record, Sawa Sawa, released in 2001, remains one of the highest-selling solo albums in the country.
Eric was also commissioned in 2010 to write the UN-MDG anthem to be performed at the closing ceremony of the Fifa world cup in South Africa to be performed alongside Jimmy Dludlu, Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjo.
In 2013 Eric was designated a National UN Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) alongside fellow Kenyan singer Suzanna Owiyo.
Eric Wainaina performed during Mata Amritanandamayi’s 60th Birthday Celebrations at Amritapuri, Kerala, India on 26 September 2013.
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