I meet Bien Aime Baraza, a member of the celebrated tetrad band Sauti Sol, one chilly Thursday at Alpha Fit Gym, Nairobi.
He is all sweaty. His athletic body, envied by many of his fans who see him on stage and on video, is now at a close-up gawk. He is on a mat working on his six-packs with five-kilogramme dumbbells.
The artiste informs me he is preparing for a show over the weekend in Botswana, but that is not why he is intensely exercising akin to middleweight MMA champion Israel Adesanya.
“I have been working out all my life since my elder brother Melo (actor Melvin Alusa) introduced me to exercises. He taught me how to do my first push-ups. He was always working out in the house. Then I played basketball in high school, something I have gone back to doing. One way or another, I have always indulged in physical exercise. It’s part of wellness I value,” he says.
Bien exercises with a personal trainer, a calm young man (I missed his name) who plans his exercise programmes, counts the workout reps, and keeps pushing the musician to new limits.
“These days I usually try to execute a full-body workout. Today, I did squats which is basically a leg workout, then boxing. So my plan is simple, six rounds of different workouts and then I do four rounds of boxing,” he says.
The vocalist strictly works out for 45 minutes to an hour every four days.
“Depending on how my body feels, I do about an hour but on most days I like timing myself to 45 minutes maximum.”
Bien starts his day at 6:30 am and the first thing he does once he kicks off the blankets is: “Listen to music for about an hour, then I come to the gym for my workouts which begin at 8:30 am. Sometimes I start the exercises earlier depending on my itinerary. Generally, I like being done by 10 am.”
Even on days, he is not busy, he still starts with a workout session at 8:30 am, which he says sets the mood of his day.
“After my workout, there is nothing difficult because this is the only physical thing I do and the rest are mental decisions. If it’s business, it’s a business decision, if it’s music it’s a creative decision,” he says.
Bien has also been using his workout sessions as a meditation tool.
“Your mind has to be there, it gives you focus otherwise you might drop a weight and pick an injury.”
As he listens to music once out of bed, he teases his insulin levels with a bowl of oats, and groundnuts or sometimes he takes a cup of hot black coffee. Coffee is known to be a very effective energy stimulant.
After the workouts, he replenishes the exhausted glucose levels by eating fruits.
But even with the intense training regime, Bien has some guilty pleasures.
“I am not as strict on diet as I should be because I believe in living and enjoying life. I love the finer things in life but also some unhealthy meals. I like eating French fries, Oreos and soda. I guess going to the gym offers a chance to pay for my sins in the kitchen,” he says, adding “but even as you live life, remember moderation is very important.”
Of all his guilty pleasures, he tries as much as possible to stay away from sugar.
“I do basic dishes like ugali, rice and lots of vegetables. I eat meat once a week. I don’t like chicken anymore because I ate so much growing up. So the substitute to that has been fish,” he says.
Because of his love for Oreos and French fries, Bien has set Sundays as his cheat day. He indulges and then dedicates the entire week to eating clean.
The strict exercise regime has paid off. A few weeks ago, he hosted a reunion of his high school classmates at his Manhattan nightclub on Nairobi’s Mombasa Road.
“It was funny when I looked at some of those guys, they looked much older than I am. I kept telling them they should consider working out because it’s the best way to maintain your body,” he says.
A globetrotter because of his career, whenever he travels outside the country, Bien ensures he is booked in a hotel with a gym. His personal trainer then sends him his workout programme of the day.
“It’s even better when we travel because we will always exercise together as Sauti Sol [Savara Mudigi, Wills Chimano and Polycarp Otieno], something we rarely do when we are at home because everyone has his life commitments going on. But most days you will find me and Savara working out together and sometimes Polycarp joins us. Once in a week, you will find us all,” he says.
Of the four, Bien picks Polycarp as the fittest and strongest Sauti Sol member.
“When we started working out about 11 years ago, Polycarp barely did five push-ups but he is now the fittest member of the group. I even dare say he is the fittest African artiste. He is a beast; his training sessions are crazy. You need to work out with him to understand what I am talking about,” he quips.
The Nobody song hit-maker however advises that one does not necessarily need to go to the gym to stay fit.
“Everybody has a different body type and everyone has their own theories of what you should do, what you should eat, and so on. I think all you need is to understand your body. If you want to win you have to play, if you want six packs then eat right and do crunches.
If you want to tone then do cardio. Generally, everybody needs to commit to some form of fitness. My wife is into dancing. She dances for an hour. I can't do 20 minutes of her session. Savara is into cardio more, and Polycarp is into strength training. Pick what works for you,” he says.