Meet introvert journalist who found his voice in love ballads

Graham Kajilwa [Photo: Samson Wire]

Whether it is fate or destiny that coerced The Standard reporter Graham Kajilwa to wade into music where he is now a sensation, is debatable.

But sometimes in early 2017, his colleagues remember a bespectacled slender man dressed in a striped sweater who turned up late for an interview for the Standard Media Academy 2017 scribes.

One of the panellists ‘punished’ his late coming by demanding that he performs a song which he willingly obliged. He sang and made hand gestures with ease, earning admiration from the interviewees, some would later become his colleagues.

But it was at the academy that Kajilwa revealed his true element as a withdrawn character who compensated his disconcerting silence by singing, writing or broadcasting. He was accepted in the circle of colleagues despite his unusual character: that he could walk past his accomplice in the corridors without even responding to greetings. He still does.

“I think I am an introvert,” Kajilwa would occasionally explain when his unpredictable character abandoned him for a while. He would make jokes and laugh audibly before the moody spirit repossessed him, turning him into a near statue.

At the academy at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communication, he demonstrated his potential in music when he devised a podcast programme for a practical lesson.

“Pepeta! Pepeta!” Graham sang along a tune he created for the podcast lesson before introducing the programme, “Kama kawa hii ni show uipendayo ya Pepeta… (This is your favourite show, Pepeta).”

Graham would then sing or rap along with music of selected artists, especially his demi-god Otile Brown and he sounded equal or better off than the original composers.

In the process, his colleagues gave him many nicknames including Real OG (Original Gangstar) and Boy Child. This writer nicknamed him Otile Brown, owing to his taste towards the songs of the Kenyan artist.

Two years later, the upcoming artist with his stage name Graham has fully plunged into the music pool shaking the waves, so far with three singles since May. The songs are inspired by contemporary experiences of the youth as well as his own.

They are Mapenzi bila Pesa (moneyless love), Nikijiua Leo (If I commit suicide today) and Kwa Ground Vitu ni Different. Released towards the end of May this year, the first song has received over 1,221 views on YouTube, the second has over 10,358 while the third has over 2,922 views.

Graham Kajilwa [Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri]

The artiste-cum-journalist is singing and rapping his way to stardom, producing a unique baritone voice between tenor and bass.

The suicide song is the only one with a video, done in black and white to illustrate the timeliness of the subject. He opened up saying he wrote the lyrics during his lowest moment.

Inner voice

The song reflects experiences of the artist as a journalist, alluding to the tales of victims of attempted suicide and how to overcome the temptation. In the song, he argues that there is an inner voice of reason speaking to victims against the temptation. It is a sensitive topic which the journalist has been writing about since he joined the media.

For an individual whose love-life is shrouded in mystery, the song Mapenzi bila Pesa came in handy. His attempt to understand the concept of appearance versus reality also led him to produce the third song Kwa Ground Vitu ni Different.

During this interview, the 28-year-old Graham was in his musical element and his dark blue rubber shoes spoke this with a small-font inscription, “Take me in time. Time to the music. Take me away to the twilight zone.”

Graham revealed that he experienced challenges while growing up. He found himself seeking solitude in loneliness, yet at most times seeking the company of friends, a real case of divided personality.

“While at Kakamega High School which I joined in 2008, I developed an interest in music but I was too shy to sing or join the school choir. I started off performing a role in a French play during drama festivals to fight my shyness,” he said.

The struggle to fit into society stuck on him past high school where the dream of singing remained suspended in the skies, waiting to be assured of a perfect landing. 

“I was a stammerer at a young age until I joined Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology to study communication in 2014. It has not been easy,” he said as his fingers shook in anxiety.

Graham Kajilwa [Photo: Samson Wire]

About six months ago, he let his suspended dreamland and released the three songs consecutively. He said he was slowly overcoming his challenges but was faced with another test of producing perfect songs that the market demands.

“There are songs I would love to sing but I would be advised by my producers that they do not have space in the current market. You are forced to swim with the wave. That is why you find Gengetone such as the song Wamlambez very popular,” he explained.

But how does he manage music without compromising his journalism work? Graham said the two perfectly work in harmony.

“Journalism is my passion. I do it all the time while my music talent fits into my out-of-duty schedule,” he said.

His Kibera-based producers Mkostii of Mkostii Beats Music, Stephano and Flexible Artist spoke highly of the upcoming music star.

“He is a good artist with great potential, very creative and easy to work with,” said Flexible Artist.

The devoted Christian who worships at CITAM church is working on a song criticising gospel music.

“There is a disturbing change in the gospel music industry, some kind of secularisation of what should be serious music advocating Christian values,” he said.

Now, Graham is often seen walking about in his trademark style; backpack and headphones, is working on a busy schedule planning performances to popularise the songs.

“In future, I want to be a music executive,” he said.