Sauti Sol are Kenya’s biggest Afro-pop band and one of the nation’s cultural gems. The Nairobian quartet, known as much for their socially aware lyrics as their award-winning music, took some time out from their hectic schedule to raise awareness of some of Kenya’s tourist treasures. Kevin Widdop caught up with them after they had skydived onto the white sands of Diani Beach.
Nairobi’s Sauti Sol (or ‘voices of the light’) are Kenya’s biggest band. They have just capped their most successful year by picking up the Best African Act at the MTV European Music Awards (EMA) in 2014. Formed in 2005 and known for hits such as ‘Sura Yako’, the quartet – consisting of vocalists Bien-Aimé Baraza, Willis Chimano, Delvin Mudigi and guitarist Polycarp Otieno – have already jetted between Lagos and Las Vegas this year, performing ahead of the launch of their third studio album, Live and Die in Afrika.
Q How was skydiving for the first time?
Chimano: It’s like you are an ant in the air. It’s mind-boggling to think just a few hours earlier you were safely inside a Kenya Airways flight to Diani. It’s such a liberating feeling when you jump out of the plane and you’re free-falling at 100mph.
Bien: The anxiety of jumping out of the plane was like going into a big show, but once you’re in it…
Delvin: You just have to deliver it…
Polycarp: None of us are scared of heights, so that wasn’t an issue. There is that heart-in-mouth moment, though, when you step to the edge of the plane and somersault out.
Bien: It was perhaps the most sobering moment of my life.
Q Would you recommend skydiving to local and foreign tourists?
Delvin: I want to take a course and get a license to do it. It would be cool to shoot a music video based around skydiving.
Bien: I would love to see more people support local tourism by doing a sky-dive. It’s such a shame that it is not so well-known in Kenya. But Sauti Sol are definitely going to be ambassadors for this sport.
Chimano: Kenya is not just about going to the Masai Mara and taking pictures of lions. There’s great diversity to our country’s tourist product.
Delvin: It’s important for us, as patriots, to encourage other people to get to know their country more. We have to educate people that it’s important to have fun at home first; celebrate your own assets; travel all around Kenya and talk about Kenya with pride and passion.
Chimano: Ultimately, it’s about a perception that’s presented to the people. Some Kenyans have a mentality like, ‘I want to go to Greece, I want to go to Cape Town’. We have assets, from amazing hotels like the Swahili Beach Resort, that can rival anywhere in the world. We need to remind ourselves of this.
Q What impact do you hope that, as a band, you will have on people’s perception of Kenya as a travel destination?
Delvin: Perceptions of homegrown artists are changing in Kenya. We met a couple at the Swahili Beach Resort and they approached us and said, “We are so happy to see you guys”. We just spoke a little bit and we were surprised that they knew who we are. We were getting some tea and they saw us and said, “You guys are from Sauti Sol.”
Polycarp: And that can influence people positively, whether it’s about our culture or our tourist attractions.
Q How important is promoting Kenya as a touristic brand?
Bien: If we could, we would never go anywhere else. It should be a source of pride to be Kenyan; a source of pride to be African. Our upcoming album, Live and Die in Afrika, is all about celebrating homegrown culture. You can be born in Africa, grow up, live here and, one day, die here. You no longer have to emigrate.
Delvin: Our tourism product as a country is so diverse. It makes me smile when friends of mine, from all over the world, talk about travelling to far-flung parts of Kenya. But we need to start by supporting our own first.
Chimano: There should be more discount packages available, making flights that are cheap to Kenyans. Hotels, agencies, those offering tourist products, need to work together more. When you make it a mass product, that is when you will start to see more numbers coming.
Diani Beach is ranked as one of the top ten most scenic places in the world to skydive. The south coast’s most famous white sands are tropical, pristine and would adorn any picture postcard in the world.
Skydive Diani was founded by Gary Lincoln-Hope in December 2013 (www.skydivediani.com). The skydive outfit is a not-for-profit company that was set up to introduce Kenya to the extreme sport of skydiving. Located along Diani Beach, just a few hundred yards from Forty Thieves Beach Bar, Skydive Diani have given tourists the thrill of a lifetime in seeing Diani from 12,000ft more than 5000 times since they opened.
Sauti Sol stayed at the five-star luxury Swahili Beach Resort in Diani, which offers sophisticated accommodation with seven cascading pools plus unparalleled, panoramic views of Diani from its rooftop suites. www.swahilibeach.com