If it is true that music transforms lives, then few artists have had their lives as dramatically altered as rapper, poet, entrepreneur and humanitarian Kennedy Ombina, commonly known as King Kaka.
When he was unveiled as brand ambassador for the “One Life Live Them” campaign by French cognac maker Rémy Martin this week, few would have appreciated how circumstances have changed for him.
“I want to inspire because I grew up in the ghetto where we could not afford just Sh500 to pay rent and here I am endorsing an international brand. I want people to know, everything is possible,” says the 31-year-old.
The Rémy Martin campaign salutes the “slash generation” who are not defined by one thing they do, but by the multifaceted lives they lead.
King Kaka is the embodiment of such a modern man juggling between his career as performer, mentor, entrepreneur and humanitarian.
“I was surprised when I was picked for the campaign because Rémy Martin is a big brand and by choosing me, it means I am a big brand, too,” he says.
This is the latest in a string of high profile events in which King Kaka has been involved. Last month, he was invited for the First Menstrual Health Management Symposium in South Africa in recognition of the King Kaka Sanitary Bank.
This is a campaign he started this year with money from his concerts to provide sanitary towels to 100,000 girls in Kenya.
He will attend the Goal Keeper Conference on the Millennium Development Goals from September 23 -27 in New York at the invitation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It has been a long journey for the father-of-three.
Kennedy was the last born in a family of three boys who grew up in Nairobi’s Kaloleni and Marengo estates.
He admired one of his brothers who used to rap and after high school. He started writing his own poetry.
He got his big break performing as a backup artist for rapper Chiwawa and was among the artists whose talents were spotted at the Words and Pictures (WAPI), a monthly event that was organised by the British Council.
“I was making money both from rap and graffiti because when you are from Eastlands then it’s all about survival,” says Kaka.
His original stage name Rabbit was a childhood nickname because he used to rear rabbits and coincidentally his primary schoolteacher often described him as “cunning as a rabbit.”
“I rebranded when I got to a point in my career when I needed to elevate and take my music to the boardroom. I needed to figure out how to translate my music into money,” says the artist who is also a professional accountant.
“I could not just walk into the boardrooms with the Rabbit dress code so I suited up and said ‘from now on, I am called King Kaka.’” His debut album “Tales of Kaka Sungura” released in 2012 changed his perception of the music business because he hawked copies of the album on the streets.
“I used the money from the sales to buy food at home, pay the electricity bill or just pay the rent,’’ he says.
He has since released four albums and the fifth album will be launched in about a month’s time. His music catalogue also consists of eight mix tapes with 17 tracks in each of them.
His new album that he describes as an adventurous cocktail of poetry and raw rap is set for release on November 30.
Since the beginning of the year, he has been in the studio and recorded more than 40 songs, 17 of which will make it to the album with guest artists from the US Jamaica, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda.
Partnerships and collaborations are a major priority for King Kaka: “Why get 100 per cent of Sh100 when you can get 50 pr cent of Sh1 million. When you have an ability that I don’t, then we should work together,” he says.
His advice to artistes is to have a business sense, rather than just do art for art’s sake.
“The energy that you have at the beginning of your career is not the same energy you have at the finish line. What are you doing to maximise on your peak for the future?” he asks.
“If you don’t have the ability in make business of your music, then get a team that can do it for you as you concentrate on your craft,’’ he adds.
He also spends time shuttling between different companies, developing and selling concepts.
The Kaka Empire is an artistes management company with a roster that includes Avril, Femi One, Timmy T — Dat, a unit of DJs and comedians.