After 10 years, guitarist Fadhilee finds his voice

Fadhilee Itulya, a singer and guitarist.
Fadhilee Itulya, a singer and guitarist.  

Ten years is a long period for an artiste to work on their first album, but that is the time it has taken for the singer and guitarist Fadhilee Itulya to produce a full set of original songs.

The album “Kwetu” was officially launched before a packed crowd of fans at a concert at the Alliance Française in Nairobi last Friday night.

“This is a product that describes who I am, I have done music professionally for a decade, studied my idols and decided exactly what my sound will be,” he says.

The album launch also featured performances by guest artists, Tetu Shani, Serro, Slim Emcee from Uganda and Swahili Ally from Tanzania.

Fadhilee describes himself as a World Music singer, songwriter and guitarist; he is the director of a multicultural festival known as Utam and host of the monthly gig Fadhilee’s Garage.

Though the guitar is his primary instrument, he is also a strong advocate of African traditional instruments and plays the deodeo from the Teso, the kalimba (thumb piano), and ngoni (West African harp).

“I play percussive technique on the guitar rather than the conventional chords on my guitar,” he says.

He has explored similarities between the contemporary guitar and the omutibo, a fingerpicking style that was popular among pioneer Kenyan musicians in the 1950s notably George Mukabi composer of the classic “Mtoto Si Nguo”.

“I have used my interpretation of rhythms from Western Kenya with the influence of traditional songs and been able to create a sound that is unique from everything else you’ll hear.”

That technique can be heard on tracks from the new album like “We Don’t Know”, “Sherekea” and “Chombo Mama.”

The first single from the album “Freedom” with its high-energy electronic beat is an exhortation to take greater responsibility for one’s actions in life. “My cry is ‘stop complaining because blame is the enemy’.”

He explains that if we keep blaming our circumstances in life then we will never truly be liberated, hence the title of the song.

The video that has been posted on YouTube shows a collage of historic images associated with liberation movements of different eras, from Jomo Kenyatta at Kenya’s Independence to the fall of statue of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
There are also scenes of contemporary protests like the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and the Black Lives Matter in the US.

Towards the end of the video there are shots of a girl dancing in the gymnasium, which is symbolic of the fight against gender stereotypes.

“This girl is in the power section of the gym with the weights that is often regarded as the preserve of men and that is a message about breaking the stereotypes,” he explains.

It is not an accident that Fadhilee uses his music as a commentary on social issues. As a young man he admired former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and studied International Relations at the University of Nairobi for two years before dropping out of the course.

“I realised that I don’t have to be seated behind a desk to have a positive impact on bridging differences in society, I can use my music as an ambassador for reconciliation,” he says.

He has chosen the title of the album “Kwetu” deliberately because it is the word that best sums up the spirit of unity and inclusivity in a world that is increasingly parochial.

According to him the album has broad appeal across different audiences and it takes him a long thought before responding to a question about his specific target in today’s dynamic music market.

“I want to reach out to people who may think that this music is not for them, for those who say they only listen to Nigerian music for instance, I would say ‘how about you listen to the song “Flora” on the album’”.

While the physical copies were released during the album launch last Friday, the music is now available via digital platforms including Songa, iTunes and Boom Play.