Photo of Mike Muema smilling
Cover Story

Mike Muema is Present For The Moment

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Mike Muema arrived in the Kenyan House music scene as if from another world. The multi-instrumentalist brought a sense of authenticity and outré artistry to a sound finding its footing. Compared to his peers, Mike Muema operated the EDM sound with flamboyant remix choices and unparalleled studio work. While other antecedents like Hip Hop overlapped with EDM to make emergent genres like Trap, Mike Muema’s sound ran parallel to that. His music reached mainstream representation, taking Mike’s name in rooms he was yet to enter.

It’s just gone six-thirty PM at Muringa Studios, Nairobi, and Mike Muema is just about finished his day as a lecturer. “I take on challenges, diving into the deep end and work hard to earn my stay,” the producer tells Sound Safari. “Most things I learned on the job.” This statement is especially striking, considering all that Mike Muema has done. It speaks volumes of the artist’s love for his craft, constantly improving – first as a producer, second as a chef and thirdly as a DJ.

Mike Muema’s rise in the Kenyan music industry has been great to witness – all 11 years of it. Like most people in the music scene, the talent was first nurtured at home. To his benefit: his dad had a penchant for collecting vinyl, his mom was a vocal coach and the choir director, his sister was a piano teacher, and his brother was a drummer. Being in that space allowed Mike to find pockets within music where he could create his lane, vibe and mood. “I play a couple of instruments: bass guitar, main guitar, drums and piano – with the bass guitar being my main instrument.”

“I stumbled on FL Studio (a music-making software) on my brother’s computer and experimented with it,” Mike Muema says. “However, I would say the church is what prepared me for the outside.” After high school, he did short courses at Kamata School of Music and Shang Tao Media Art College. Notwithstanding, his mum wouldn’t let him pursue music as a career. She nudged him into culinary school as Mike already had an interest in cooking. Not a fan of Utalii College at the time, Mike Muema enrolled at the International Hotel & Tourism Institute. He wouldn’t last a semester as the fee was unaffordable.

With a few weeks of school in him, Mike Muema went to his church, Faith Evangelistic Ministry, and applied for a job in the High Kitchen department. They accepted him. This is how he met and got to pupilage under the late musician, Peter Kaberere, who was the head chef at the High Kitchen. “Kaberere is the main reason I stuck to being a chef. He took me in with love and gave me the tips and tricks to make cooking a sustainable career,” Mike Muema recounters.

With a stable job as a chef, Mike Muema could balance life and music. It is during this period that he signed up for the Kenyan Beat Battle Challenge. By his second try, Mike Muema was automatically upstreamed to the finals. “After the first presentations, I knew I had to switch up or lose out. I requested a piano and guitar to incorporate into my act. This hadn’t been done before,” he remembers enthusiastically, “and the crowd loved it.” This was a huge feat considering the bench included veterans; Fancy Fingers, Nazizi, Saint P and Othole. Mike Muema came first and left with gear from Sound Creations and a deal with Sony.

This encounter led to Mike Muema working with Saint P and the rest they say is history. Fast forward to today, Mike Muema is both omnipresent and in the background. A figure whose footwork is in public works but the print is largely unknown. He has been in radio, advertising, tv shows and much more. He is one of the most respected producers, probably more relevant than he was a decade ago. As we conduct this interview, Mike is in the final stages of polishing MGM’s EP. For Mike Muema, whose production credits appear on brands like Crown Paints, Presidential Delivery Unit, Coca-Cola, Safaricom; food giants like KFC, Indomie, Urban Bites and more, this is just a regular day.

I ask him what’s his takeaway from working in advertising. “It needs someone with a backbone and commitment. It is very consuming.” It is through these experiences that he learns new skills like copyrighting. On one level, it is the nature of an artist – to locate the flavour and make entertainment from it before the feeling moves on. To illustrate, Mike Muema has billed Nairobi’s biggest shows: Earthdance Music Festival; Totally Sold Out concert; Aduma. Name it all. Additionally, he hosted the first Gospel EDM radio show in Kenya. For the past year, he has been working at Santuri Safari as a music lecturer. He first taught at the Africa Digital Media Institute (ADMI) 3 years ago, substituting KMRU who was going on tour.

“I still cook too,” he shares. “Recently I was in the presidential kitchen detail which was huge for me. I met the president’s chef. I’ve also been to a wedding where we cooked 4 full cows for three days in the rotisserie. I stretched myself on this one and it turned out good.” Other standout moments include cooking at restaurants including the Intercontinental Hotel, Hemingways Hotel, Gogol Italian Loresho, Lukenya Getaway, and Laico Regency, as well as cooking for various delegates as a private chef.

Whilst recounting the chronicles, Mike Muema lets me know that his second DJ performance was at a gig I organized. We glide across his story of origins all of which add gravitas to his character. “I met Bruce Odhiambo in 2013 and he changed my approach to music production completely,” Mike eulogizes the deceased music paragon. “Bruce taught me everything I know about mixing, recording and all studio work. He went even further and employed me as his chef so I wouldn’t give up on that.”

On top of his watershed breakthroughs in shows like Coke Studio, 2018, Mike Muema is present for everything. His story, still in motion, excavates new pivotal paths yet to come. Apart from working with other artists like Suzanna Owiyo, Abbas, Amos & Josh; new school acts like MGM, DJ IV, Matata and others, he still pushes his music. With an album to his name, all the songs that he has been involved in pinpoint references to his world – both good and bad. More than anything, however, Mike Muema is grateful for his good health and the opportunity to do all he does.

djfita

DJ Fita is a Kenyan DJ, music producer and music journalist. He is the founder of Sound Safari.

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