Nelix is a visionary, a dreamer who can’t shake the artistic reverie, the kind who believes they can achieve everything they set their mind to. Born Nelson Cassian Ngamilo in the Iringa region of Tanzania (an 8-hour drive from Dar Es Salaam, the capital), he is a go-getter. A leading voice of the Tanzanian House music scene, Nelix has just released his debut album, Kamwene, which means Hello in his native Hehe language.
A little boom-bap, some Big Room, and now Amapiano to Afro House – his Soundcloud is a treasure trove of sounds. Moreover, as an autodidact, Nelix knows he has to push harder individually but still understands the power of community. There have been moments of crossed-fingers, “I am building and they will come.” He is conquering the diverse Tanzanian music scene by doing everything he’s not supposed to. “The media is not ready for change – they play the same artists and the same type of music.”
Notwithstanding, Nelix has gotten where he is more or less organically. His music is currently playing on BBC Radio and an upcoming radio show with the prestigious Ibiza Sonica Radio is in the works. On the whole, he is making huge international strides with hype at home bubbling under and rising steady.
Sound Safari caught up with the artist via Zoom. Our conversation, edited for content and clarity, follows as below.
Sound Safari: Tell us a bit about Nelix.
Nelix: I’m from Dar es Saalam and music has been pretty much in my whole life. I started as a dancer at a young age then took to music production. If you check my Soundcloud you can hear the journey: from trap music, boom-bap, Big Room to what I’m currently making. I started music production about 10 years ago.
It was a bit challenging when I was starting because it was a new sound to the people. The market here is designed to focus on people already in the market. The media is not ready for change – they play the same artists and the same type of music. There’s also the issue of payola where they hustle you to get airplay. I’m glad there are streaming sites right now that we can push our music internationally.
How has the internet helped in marketing your music?
For one, it has democratized the music space. As I said, the media here focuses on the people who are already in the market. With the internet, you can do your thing and blow there, then they will start noticing. It’s easier if they come to you rather you go to them.
As one of the leading artists working on building for the future of House music in Dar, how has the experience been?
I play House music every time I deejay. If it was that bad people would have left but they vibe to date. They do hear the music, you just need to keep on doing it. I am building and they will come. However, there’s a mentality that House music is background music, compared to genres like Afro Beats and these other genres. The culture is rigid about expanding.
If you go to a gig and play 80-90% of the music people have on their phones, honestly, I don’t know how they handle it. We need a fresh new sound, we need another type of hanging out. I can assure you, if you manage to play House music, people will look for you cause it’s new and fresh. When they start rating it hits them that we’ve been there all along. As artists we should engage and start having conversations, coming together for events, house parties and all that.
Our Kenyan scene has also taken time to build…
I know! I am in a very strategic place as I am among the few who play the music that I make which many DJs don’t have. When I play the crowd knows this is Nelix, they already get the Nelix brand. Additionally, they have the anticipation of what I’m gonna play cause it’s something new every time. I love it when the crowd starts Shazaming the songs, like, okay, I’ve introduced someone to a new record.
How did you get into House music?
I studied Civil engineering in China and I hang around people from Botswana, South Africa, all over the continent. The music they played all the time was House and it was really interesting cause it was new. I started researching and got into people like Black Coffee, Da Capo, and the likes of Shimza. I started building my sound based on that.
What if there was House from Eastern Africa? There’s one from the South so how would we sound? I collected sounds from Tanzania, a bit of Swahili to see how it turns out and here and here we are.
How do you manage your 8-5 and music?
I’m a full-time musician. I’m at this stage where I am pushing cause if I stop, lose focus, there will be a huge gap between me and the people I’ve worked with. The movement has to continue 24/7, I have to push and push. I have the time and energy now. Professional work will always be there. You have the education, you have the certificates. It’s just a matter of practice, refreshing the memory in class and then everything goes well.
With music you have to be there, you have to be innovative cause things are always changing. You have to be on the ground.
How do you feel about the current demand for artists to create and release content constantly?
The demand is so high. You might think people are not listening or watching but they are. They might not tell you straight up that what you’re making is good or other compliments. As you keep going you start seeing the impact.
For artists, feedback is an essential part of the creative process. How do you continue if people don’t tell you?
In the beginning, you’ll only get a few people. I believe that I have a vision. Then again, it’s not only me whose doing this type of thing. I’ve heard and met countless and countless of others my brother. The world needs to hear these people. Then again, sometimes it’s not about you as an individual but creating opportunities for others.
That’s the thing about House music. It’s community-based. Let’s say for example how Black Coffee has worked with Zakes, Toshi etc. People get to know them through collaboration. I believe that will open doors for other artists in working widely and grow together.
How important is building the Tanzanian House Music community for you?
My main aim is to just find talent and work with them. We blow up and make a fortune out of it and life goes on. We all win and when you get to sit down and look back, you’ll see that you made something that lasts forever. You can’t eat the cake alone cause it is too big. If you have a talent, come out and have a piece, show us what you got.
In your new album, Kamwene you have worked with 5 artists, tell us about your collaborative process.
I used to make Amapiano back then in 2017, then I was like okay, this can’t work this way. I needed to add vocals into it. Tanzanians know that music without vocals is just a beat, it doesn’t make sense to us. I got some equipment and I started working with had people who I had known since I was young.
We dropped like six different songs and each one has a purpose. I don’ just make anything – we believe that if you make a song it has to have a purpose: some message, content. There are brainstorming sessions from the production, arrangement, the vocals, etc. so by the time you get to the end of the song there’s something you get. When you replay you get to appreciate the song more.
I am a Hehe from the Iringa region, about an 8-hour drive from Dar. Kamwene means “Hello” in my language. The main purpose of the album was to let people know that hey! we’re here. We are coming and pushing. A song like Kizembe is about not letting people undermine you.
Your Soundcloud is a journey, have you finally found your sound?
I’ve found my sound. If you play my music to people, they don’t need to ask whom it’s from. As Nasty said, the producers here aren’t that conversant with producing House music. They throw in a bunch of instruments and sometimes the arrangements are questionable. You can’t blame them cause it’s the market. The most you can do is push your sound. With time things will come around.
How is the artist booking process there?
The promoters reach out to me then I use the opportunity to do my thing. They already know what they are getting when they call. There’s space for House music in our industry. What we need to do is now take it to the media. 90% of people listen to the radio and there’s no House music playing there. People only get to hear the music when they go out to the limited spaces where people like Nasty Nate and myself play.
What can be done to bridge the gap between the media and House music artists?
We need to sit down with media practitioners and arrange on House programs. If the music is from Tanzania, just play it, man. The music is growing rapidly. Kamwene has already been played on BBC Radio, we’re in talks with people in Ibiza and all these places. I won’t be surprised though that I will get international recognition first before getting any at home.
You guys are already in a good space. You have MGM on the radio, shows like Aduma. When I go to the group and see you guys do your thing I feel nice. I’m proud of you guys. It takes a huge effort and time for you to build such and for people to accept it. But when I look to where we were and where we are right now, I appreciate that too.
In your version of Tanzanian House music history, when did it start?
I came back in January 2020 and that’s when I met Nasty Nate (read our conversation with Nasty Nate here). He was playing somewhere in Kidimbwi and I was like, okay, this is my guy. Same sound and everything, so we exchanged digits and we’ve been pushing since then. The thing is, they fear that if we get a chance and make an impact, we are gonna move with all the people. They know House music has a huge impact.
Who are these that fear your take over?
Nelix: The people who are already up there. The ones who already have a name. They know and feel that they are people who are coming to shake things up. Gatekeepers are in all industries.
How has Amapiano helped you break into the mainstream?
Them doing Amapiano is spreading the sound. Once the fans listen to us the cognoscenti they become hooked because it’s the real deal. Sometimes you give people what they need but don’t know they do.
What more is coming on your catalogue in the future?
I have three more Amapiano albums which are ready and one for Afro House. I’m thinking of dropping two Amapianos and the other one next year. There’s plenty of work. By the time we blow up, we’ll have so much content. It’s preparation for that moment so that it finds you ready. Consequently, we are building a team of people and creating every day.
We want to host big events, we want to be able to call artists from outside like South Africa, Kenya etc. It’s never happened here on such a scale. There’s a lot of work to be done honestly and a lot of pushing – Time is everything. Once we get to that stage, I know people will appreciate and congratulate us. We make music that will live forever. At the end of the day when we are old, this thing will evolve and we’ll be proud we laid a foundation.
Any plans for shows in Kenya?
If possible, I want to come to Kenya this year together with Nasty Nate and vibe with you guys. It all starts with the music and everything else will fall in place. Before I forget, I had a mentor in high school called Kevin Otiswa who was a music teacher. I wasn’t in his class but I’d consult him occasionally and we are in contact up to today. He is Kenyan, I had to give him a shout out. It has been a journey, my guy.