Wildcard Wednesday: Why Sauti Academy is one of Kenya’s music scene best asset


Talent is God given, skills are earned.

While going through the ‘I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life’ phase  I auditioned for Sauti Academy. Story for another day. Anyway, how Sauti Academy works is that you audition. An aspiring musician will go and sing their guts out in front of Natalie Lukkenaer, director Penya Africa among other panelists for a chance to sample their madness hoping that they get a chance to follow a passion that keeps them awake at night. If you make it, this is followed by a one year program of intensive training vocally, learning the ropes in songwriting and working on live performance. This is the push that many artists need to jump start their career.

Sauti Academy has produced the likes of Dela, Sauti Sol, Royalty by Black and Elani. They were all made by Penya to the gems they are today. Sauti Academy is a hub for these artists to be themselves and we in turn get to have good music. That is what a music school does. When we recently got an invite to the graduation of the 2015 class, I was deprived of sleep and peace. There was so much going on in my personal life,I almost told my partner to go without me. Something urged me not to and it was worth it. It started late  by almost an hour. Having the chance to get in before the rest of the audience, I sampled the final sound checks. Sy Leslie was doing his chorus under the strict supervision of one of the tutors.

The show finally began with Alison Nyawira doing the national anthem before handing over to Robby Voice who was the MC.There were 3 curtain raisers:Irene,  Gachago and Imani. Gachago got the crowd excited setting it up nicely for Imani.Imani is only 11 years old and she wowed  the crowd with a cover of Sam Smith’s ‘Not the only one‘.She was impressive managing to hit those high notes. She is being mentored by Natalie and we can only wait for her star to shine.





For the next three hours we were entertained and we danced, at some point we all had a high that is brought about by good music. We have talked before on how hard it is to stand out in a crowd but there are those who earned their place. If an agent from a recording label was to sign artists based solely on that night’s performance they would have snagged good artists to invest in including the following:

Sy Leslie – Young, fresh energetic ,talented can sing and dance. He is the complete package. Easy sell as he is not wanting in the looks department. Downside, he easily gets carried away and loses focus but that is something that is harnessed with time. He would easily be the guy constantly on the radio.


Sy Leslie

Alison Nyawira – This girl can do no wrong vocally. Something tells me they would make a hit with Mercy Masika or Kambua. She is a contemporary gospel artist who has a good head on her shoulders. The crowd resonated well with her and it did help that she served us a starter during the national anthem prior to her performance. She is going to be a force to reckon with in the gospel industry.


Alison Nyawira


Omari – This was the second time to watch him on stage the first one during the 2015 StoryMoja Festival. He is the easiest sell of that night. He sings in vernacular and has a pair of good legs. He had bouts of madness those that were so captivating.  He makes Kisii sound like French. He has the ability to communicate in his own language even though you do not understand a word. That is the kind of an artist you sell to the world.



Phyllis – She is a good fit for urban youth. Her wardrobe had a hint of goth. She would do rock perfectly. Think of Pink, the American rocker, how she manages to show vulnerability but remains tough at the same time. When she channels her emotions, it is beautiful. You would buy a ticket to her concert.



Shantyelle – Now she is the real deal. She had a lot of hair, short dress, killer shoes , dance moves and the confidence of a star. She will easily dominate the Kenyan music scene if she keeps at it. She does the grown folk sexy music. The kind of music that you would play when you want to spice things up with your significant other. At some point we all blushed but there was no stopping her.



The students are the ones who organize the event.So for them to pull off this event is really an achievement.However there was no ventilation at the venue and we were packed to the rafters,  some electric fans would have helped alot.Stage management was poorly done save for one group(Omari’s). There were so many guys around and the girls kept on asking for help to move stuff around.Not cool guys.Stage lights are usually hot so we had people sweating and also panting.Clearly there was no initiative or thought taken into this department.The worst of it though was the sound. The amount of time that had to be taken just waiting for the sound guys was really not a good show,especially if you are looking to make an impression.  Dancers are  very tricky to incorporate into certain acts, especially on a small stage. Please do not start learning your moves on stage. ( Refer to Katy Perry Super bowl performance look up Left Shark.)You will hear many times the phrase image is everything.Put thought into your outfit as an artiste.Make sure it’s comfortable ,it fits and it’s memorable.To sum it up, put your best foot forward. You never know who is watching.


Natalie Lukkanear

On the flip side there were some really good moments.Natalie is such an animated character and a good teacher.She remembers each student’s journey and  was very observant looking at how the crowd responded to each performer so it is safe to say she knows her stuff.Mordecai (he of H_ART the band) is the one who taught them songwriting.Some of those students compositions were really good.The BGVs though are a story on their own.It was so entertaining watching them.Shout to one girl who was doing back up for Yabane. She was doing the most in a good way. Interesting thing I observed there was a student(Mariga) who did not graduate as a singer but a manager.He managed Omari’s performance and you know what, it showed.I really hope Sauti can consider more people like him,the people behind the music.

Everyone put in a lot of effort but the  difference was the  preparation that went into each performance. It was easy to tell who took their craft seriously. All this has been made possible by Sauti Academy giving them a shot. We need more of such institutions if we are to fully exploit half the talent in this country. There is nothing standing between us and the global scene.  If you are an artist watch out for their next audition. The rest of us, go for the concert and support these artists, pay for their music online. do something and be part of the solution.




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