Sometimes life has a fantastic and perhaps ironic way of leading you to your purpose. Although Eric Wainaina is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter in Kenya, once upon a time, he grudgingly attempted piano lessons after his brother decided to pursue the game of football in lieu of music. His love for music was realized at a young age, and his talent has transitioned into a socio-political force to be reckoned with, not only in Kenya, but around the world.
Wainaina was born in Nairobi and grew up with strong musical influences of varied styles; from Youssou N’Dour to The Jackson Five, he developed an eclectic ear at a relatively young age.
It was his experience with the a cappella musical group, Five Alive that encouraged him to actively pursue a professional career in music. The group gained popularity in Kenya, opening for high profile performers like R&B legend, Barry White. After the group disbanded, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the United States to commence his studies at the Berklee College of Music. It was at Berklee that his popularity as a solo artist skyrocketed. He developed a sound that would be distinctively Kenyan, and maintained a solid presence in Nairobi traveling home every year to release new tracks that kept him in the hearts of his rapidly growing fanbase.
His passion for social activism embodies much of his music. You know you’ve made it big when your song receives national recognition without even trying. After the 1998 terrorist bombing in Nairobi, his song Kenya Only became an instant hit and was featured as the official mourning song for the period. He also released Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo, an award winning song that helped to address corruption in the country. He was commissioned to write a song about the death of Father Anthony Kaiser, a Roman Catholic priest and human rights activist who was murdered under highly suspicious circumstances. Wainaina’s stance against corruption and injustice is so unrelenting that in many circles, he is widely regarded as a champion of human rights, not only in Kenya, but throughout much of the continent.
In 2001, he released his debut album, Sawa Sawa which has sold over two million copies, and remains one of the bestselling Kenyan albums of all time. The multiple award winning artist saw a future well ahead of his time. And now, a household name, he plays the role of advisor, mentor and friend to many who are coming up after him.