”My background in music is not a traditional one at all, it’s not until 5 years ago that I considered myself a musician”, said Tetu Shani.
If you haven’t come across Tetu’s mood evoking music, then chemistry hasn’t hit you yet! Tetu Shani’s latest jam ‘Chemestry’, which was produced by super producer Jinku is arguably Kenya’s biggest song on Soundcloud. Forget the numbers, the very existence and expression of Kenya’s musical diversity in the flips of Nairobi Underground, is mind blowing enough.
Tetu came back to Kenya in 2010 having spent most of his life in Zambia, Mauritania, Senegal, Canada and the United States. Music has always courted Tetu from childhood, even when he tried his very best to avoid it. Tetu was introduced to music at a very young age by his folks, his mother enlisted him for piano lessons when he was just 9 years. She would occasionally teach him chords, while his father exposed him to a broad range of records and CDs that he kept. The cool, calm and collected gentleman you know today was an outgoing kid in high school. He played basketball and was a member of a garage band called ‘Indian Inc’, alongside his two Canadian friends .
Tetu moved further away from home when he moved to Canada to pursue his college studies . It was at Trinity Weston University, when Tetu gave in to music. After falling in love with a guitar given to him by a friend as a gift, he admits to playing the it for 4 hours a day, out of obsession and self-discovery. Tetu’s stay in Ontario was cut short, when he transferred his studies from the Canadian town to Los Angles, leaving his guitar behind for 17 years in the diaspora. Tetu returned to Kenya in September 2010.
” Thankfully my parents knew that we had to be grounded in order to have roots. Every year we come back for holidays. We have always looked forward to visit Kenya over the holidays, because we always kick it with our cuzos, who would teach as sheng and update us on what’s going on. That way we kept our connection with Kenya”.
His switch form LA was the most unlikely one. Teti headed straight to Olopolos, away from the busy hustle and bustle of the city life. For once he was settled, well-educated and back home, but nevertheless empty and disturbed. Against the family’s and friend’s pressure and expectations to follow in his father’s foot steps in the corporate world, Tetu decided to pursue music in a city he barely knew, amidst a unimaginable transition. He recollects being labelled arrogant, rebellious and disrespectful for pursuing music, especially to play traditional music instruments after spending thousands of dollars on high education abroad.
Tetu’s initial introduction to the Nairobi music scene involved a lot of jam sessions and live events, as he delved deeper into the city’s sounds. He joined up with the Sauti Academy singer/guitarist Dempsey and the newbie guitarist Tom Olango, as a percussionist/drummer. Together they formed a band dubbed Dempsey and the Boys, which was quite popular in the music scene for stellar performances. The trio opened for Sauti Sol at Shebeem and met H_art The Band during one of their earliest performances at IMAX, where the trio performed Uliza Kiatu, way before it took over the air waves.
Fast forward to 2016 Tetu Shani is pursuing his solo career building a sound out of creating ambiance, working with new generation artists and producers and giving peerless performances, whenever called upon. His first experimental song ‘Round and Round’ received an astounding reception. You could tell that Kenyans loved the mood evoked by Tetu’s strings, witty lyricism that he possessed and the unconventional composition of the track. In 2014, Tetu was accepted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music , to study Performance. However, he decided to stay back, sensing an artistic awakening in city. Since then, he released 4 singles and is reportedly working on an EP with the super producer Jinku from the EA Wave.
”How does one stay connected with the heartbeat of the city? The problem isn’t that there aren’t any talented producers in Nairobi. The problem is that I can’t rub shoulders with all of them. This is the function of the remix challenge…To bridge the divide between established artists and the gifted unknowns through the open source creation”, explained Tetu Shani.
After thousands rushed to stream his new song, Tetu called upon talented producers to create remixes of the song to bridge the gap between artists and what he calls the “gifted unknowns”, sparking a series of magical flips of the song featuring singer Mayonde. The #TetuShaniRemixChallenge has brought remixes ranging from tropical, classical, cinematic and raunchy, to uplifting tunes to the Nairobi Underground. So far, it got 12 incredible entries showing Kenya’s diverse production mastery, creating the most remixed Kenyan song on Soundcloud.