More than a decade ago, Hubert “Nonini” Nakitare was the musician whose pieces parents and their children could not listen to together. The discomfort that would be created when listening to his blatant portrayal of perversion in his singles like ‘We Kamu’, ‘Keroro’ and ‘Mtoto Mzuri’ was indescribable.
Not surprisingly, he named that album Hanyaring Game which, loosely translates to “the game of promiscuity”, when he completed it in 2004.
Fast forward 13 years later. Now a father, husband and respectable artiste with three albums that recorded massive commercial success, Nonini stands in stark contrast to the image he had when he entered the limelight.
He does not deny that he was a “spoilt little brat”.
“I was young, just out of high school, carefree, living for myself and life was not serious,” he says laughing.
Today, Nonini, the man who sang; “Ushawahi guzwa mahali ukaskia kukojoa?” runs a foundation, Colour Kwa Face, whicht provides creams and mentorship for people with albinism for free. He is also one of the directors of the Performers’ Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK).
Before the interview begins, he asks whether Zuqka can accompany him today to a school in Embu for his charity.
“The children would be really glad”, he pleads, and then adds, “I will ensure the safety and wellbeing of anyone coming with me.”
As the interview progresses, the artiste oscillates from a feeling of pride at his involvement in charity and being a director at PRISK to a portrayal of vulnerability about how much he loves his three-year-old son, Jaden.
COMING OF AGE
“You cannot describe what you feel the first time you hold a person that you helped create and bring to this world… every feeling, priority and energy is converged on that little human being”, he says.
Should books be written about the growth of contemporary music in Kenya, Nonini would probably be listed among the forces that contributed to shaping its evolution from a peripheral craft to the multifaceted, crowd- and money-pulling vibrant industry that it is now.
Both sides of Nonini have brought him fame and fortune. He has not only won many awards for his craft, but was also named by the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) as the highest royalties’ earner for his songs broadcast in the media in 2013. He took home slightly less than Sh1.5 million.
Yet, despite his rugged, bad-boy image, Nonini, just like other musicians, communicates what troubles him within and without through his music.
An analysis of his character and the theme of his music points to a transition from an arrogant teenager with an I-own-the-world attitude to a selfless man who can also feel vulnerable.
Nonini says that after his frowned- upon album, Hanyaring Game, his second album, Mwisho was Mawazo (meaning an end to thoughts), released in 2008, marked the beginning of his journey to maturity.
“I had just got a job as a radio presenter, where I was held accountable for my time and what I said… life began changing”, he told Zuqka. The change came with some bitter lemons, but he did not resist.
The 17-track Mwisho wa Mawazo album also marked a stage where the then 25-year-old fell out with Clemo of Calif Records, the producer with whom he had laid his musical foundation. Born and bred in California Estate, Nonini was badly shaken by the the break-up.
“I did not know the ropes of the game. I was not sure whether the grass was really greener on the other side or whether I would regret this decision, but I knew it was a bold step that I had to gather courage and take”, he says.
Despite his scare, singles in Mwisho wa Mawazo ended up being hits and songs like Mtoto Mzuri became a club anthem.
Nonini had also garnered enough popularity to collaborate with established artistes who did not take the spotlight from him such as David “Nameless” Mathenge in Furahiday and the P-Unit trio comprising rappers Bon-Eye, Gabu and Frasha in Si Lazima Tudo and Kushoto Kulia whom he helped launch to the public with massive success.
Nonini says that he partly attributes the manner in which he handled his move from Calif and the success that followed to his “resilient and real character”.
“In everything I do… it may be my friendships, work or music, I am always real and what you see is what you get”, he says. “I give my all. I do not pretend to be who I am not, so it is either you take it or leave it and that has always drawn people who are genuinely interested in working with me to stick around.”
Wearing his heart on his sleeve unapologetically would explain why he stopped working with the P-Unit trio — but he insists that they are still friends; there are pictures of him in a happy mood with Frasha on his Facebook page.
That characteristic also sheds light into the profound difference in his third album, The Godfather of Genge.
During the production of this album, Nonini was in a stable relationship, which resulted in the birth of his son, who he fondly refers to as “Jay”.
When the little boy turned three on May 7, Nonini posted an emotional message on his Facebook page: “I am grateful and still continue to thank the Almighty Father for each and every day na how far he has brought you. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my little KING JAY JAY…May 7th Babies ROCK!!! [Sic]”
The change that the relationship and his son brought in him, was not conscious, he says, but terms it “a big blessing”.
“It was not deliberate but I realised my life was no longer just mine to think about. I want to be there to see Jay’s future, spend time with him. It’s consuming in a blessed kind of way”, he says.
Nonini says that gradually, he began to spend less time out out in the evenings and more thought went into his actions, much to his surprise and those who knew him through his music.
“I cannot believe that I go to the park and play at the swing and climb miniature bouncing castles to play with him” he says.
He has noticed also that his changed countenance surprises many too.
“I see the funny looks people give me whenever they see me with him in the supermarket and I wonder. ‘kwani hawa wasee wanafikiria mimi sikustahili kuwa na mtoi? (These people think I wasn’t supposed to have a baby?)’.”
His paternal instincts also changed the way he relates to younger artistes because he was aware of the way his relationship with them affected them.
He chose his lyrics carefully and shot videos that were conservative.
“You cannot be called a godfather without you adhering to certain rules… there are things that you need to do that you never used to do and there are those you stop even though you were used to them.”
Towards the end of the production of his fourth album, Nonini was ushered into charity.
While recording the 14th song, his video producer, Willy Ousu, took him to the airing of the documentary, In my Genes, which was shot and produced by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in 2012.
The event, he recalls, “Humbled me profoundly”.
He explains: “At the end of the documentary showing the plight of people living with albinism, Lupita said anybody in any career could participate in making their lives better and I felt convicted that she was speaking to me.”
He says the documentary made him question the myth and bromides he had heard being floated around about people living with albinism.
“I started wondering why I never used to see many of them on the street even though I knew there were more people around with the condition. I wondered why there were very few obituaries of their deaths. I remember being told that when they died, they disappeared,” he recalls.
Curious and concerned, Nonini went on a reading spree on of albinism. And what he discovered made his heart go out to them.
“We would drink Sh5,000 in one weekend while someone could not afford a tube of cream that would enable him walk in the sun.” he said.
Stubbornly, he sought sponsorship from Safaricom and organised the first walk in 2012 to raise awareness about the condition.
Since then, he has visited institutions that host people living with albinism, journeys that he always makes with successful people with the condition to inspire the students that he visits.
“You do not know how fulfilled I feel when I see those children smile when people play with them or talk to them during the visits,” he explains.
The visits also unearthed Nonini’s religious side as a Jehovah’s Witness member. “You realise the only rent you can pay to God for being on earth and alive is doing good to another human being”.
He says he goes to church whenever he gets time and that his faith forms a big part of his values.
Last year, the 800 or so members of PRISK voted him one of the organisation’s directors.
Early this year, Nonini was selected by the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and the Arts, Dr Hassan Wario, to be part of a 10-person committee to draft a national music policy.
He says his involvement in PRISK is partly due to inspiration from the late rapper, Poxxy Presha of Otonglo Time.
“That man always rapped against the unfair manner in which Kenyan artistes were paid for their royalties, so I became interested in the Music Copyright Society of Kenya and how to join it,” he says and become members and how it operates”, he says.
As the director of PRISK and an artiste of an industry whose ladder he has scaled, Nonini says he feels responsible in making sure that that the life of younger artistes in the organisation and the entertainment industry is better.
With the other directors, PRISK introduced insurance cover for its members.
He is working on his next album where he says, he will speak against the lack of patriotism in the industry.
“We are free to borrow from Nigeria, the West and everywhere else to incorporate into our music but we cannot abandon our sounds altogether”