Iddi Achieng'
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Iddi Achieng'

Band World Singer/Songwriter


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"The Essential Iddi Achieng'"

In an earlier interview Iddi Achieng told ZuQka that one of her biggest fears was the media because she preferred her work to speak for her. Very ironic for someone whose business card reads: singer, actress, poetess, theatre consultant and facilitator.

Lately, her achievements scream revealing just how multi-talented Iddi Achieng is.

At a time when the industry is normally quite, Iddi’s hands are full. The 32-year-old songstress has just returned from Zanzibar where she was one of the star artistes at the annual Sauti Ya Busara International Music Festival. (Afro-fusion artiste Mutinda was the only other Kenyan artiste invited for the festival thought to be the biggest in East and Central Africa.)

“I am chuffed that I was invited because it is a good way to start the year, I was however surprised that the crowd knew songs from my Thim Lich album, says Iddi who shared the stage with more than 30 other musicians from Africa and Europe.

Upon her return to Kenya last week, her fans got to see her other artistic side. Iddi is one of the stars in the newly launched TV series Siri.

In Siri, Iddi appears as Emily, the learned woman tea taster at the banally named Majani Farm, who represents the modern woman pushing behavioural change at the work place.

“This, by the way, is Iddi’s second appearance on screen having acted in the long running Broken Vows on KBC five years ago.

In an era when Kenyans are crazy about local productions, it is not surprising that Iddi was picked for a role in Siri given her track record. She has appeared in some of the biggest productions houses in Kenya including Heartstrings, Mbalamwezi Players and Tufani Arts Ensemble.

One of her most memorable play was Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again which has been re-staged over five times thanks to public appeal.

Vernacular productions

One of her theatrical concerns is the waning interest in vernacular productions. That is why her Culture Spill Productions company specialises in such plays.

Towards the end of last year, Iddi and Fanuel Odera produced Mar okwako which attracted crowds at the Kenya National Theatres late last year.

“We should never forget where we come from or lose our languages for the sake of English,” says Iddi.

Last year Iddi captured her musical journey in the DVD titled My Heritage, My Pride. Her first work to hit the music shelves was the Kaboum boum in 2001, which unveiled the rich powerful ‘Makebasque’ voice.

Her second album Kalapapla was produced by Tabu Osusa and released in 2004. It featured Owuor Odhialo (now in the UK) and Giddi Giddi Maji Maji.

The third one titled ‘Thim Lich’ is heavily influenced by ohangla and benga genres. The album features popular tracks such as Fitina and Dodo.

In 2006, Iddi and the Nairobi City Ensemble landed a sponsorship from the German Embassy to produce an album with Hans Klaus Quartet Band from Sweden. The product of that collaboration was the widely acclaimed album Mama Africa.

Other than her recent performance in Zanzibar, she has also entertained fans in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Mali Norway, Sweden and the UK. - Daily Nation

"Iddi Achieng: Kenya’s Rising Afro-Fusion Diva"

On this mid January Monday in 2009-a day celebrated across the Atlantic as Marin Luther King Day in memory of the slain Nobel Prize winning African- American civil rights icon- on this day I am comfortably ensconced upstairs at the Kenya National Theatre enjoying the creative ambience of Wasanii- the sassy, jazzy, artsy crafty restaurant/pub doubling as an artists’ hang out located around the corner from the main campus of Nairobi University, across the street from the Norfolk Hotel and adjacent to the studios of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

The weather has been in a cranky mood over the last few days. Just last Friday, it was raining monkeys and donkeys with the heavy downpour leading to a split decision among the city’s dwellers- those with their roots still firmly planted firmly on rural soil blessing the ancestors for the watery gift while urban bred hipsters seeing the rain as a curse, out to drench their hip freshly pressed clothes.

Iddi Achieng’ has just arrived and here she is, in all her bubbly, courteous Kenyan splendour, resplendent in her familiar African attire and accessories. I later learn that the huge rectangular copper (or is it brass) ring she wears together with others on one of her fingers is a keepsake she picked up in Gabon.

The chemistry and authentic camaraderie that Iddi Achieng’ generates is immediate.

She has that unique magnetic charisma that I have encountered in musicians like Senegal’s Baaba Maal and Benin’s Angelique Kidjo that I have had the honour of interviewing over the years.

Even though I am sitting down with her for the very first time, I feel as if I have known Iddi for ages.

Way back in 2002, when I was still residing in the Notre de Grace neighbourhood of Montreal in Quebec, a Kenyan friend who had just come back to Canada after visiting home passed by my place and gifted me two CDs for Xmas. One was by Kayamba-before it split into its many offshoots.

The other one was Kaboom Boom by the Nairobi City Ensemble.

I enjoyed both recordings but was simply captivated by the lead female vocalist on Kaboom Boom.

Listening to tracks like Tony- an endearing tale of woe in which the singer adopts the persona of a mother lamenting how her son went to America never to return; or the Jakongo track castigating an irresponsible drunkard who left his wife and children to starve while frittered away all his income in bars, I was quite impressed with how the vocalist (who was Iddi Achieng’) and of course the Nairobi City Ensemble as a whole were able to fuse rhythm and blues inflections with benga and come up socially conscious compositions backed by superb instrumentalists like Mobb Otieno.

Surely, I thought, this was the new Kenyan contemporary pop sound and it was exciting to me over there in the North American diaspora.

After Kaboom boom, Iddi Achieng’s talents were further showcased in another Tabu Osusa produced Nairobi City Ensemble offering, Kalapapla which made it to Number 14 on the UK world music charts soon after its release in early 2004. Again you find Iddi shining through on tracks like Adhiambo Lady and Nyar Gombe.

Outside music and theatre circles, few of Iddi’s admirers know that she actually first her mark on the stage as an actor and director. She started early- as the chairperson of her drama club when she was still a secondary school student at Asumbi Girls and as an active member of her church choir. She was later to form her own theatre company, Culture Spill Productions. Her most recent stint in mainstream plays was playing one of the leads in the West African classic Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again. Iddi is also a playwright who has worked in conjunction with NGOs to develop skits which educate and sensitize. Iddi Achieng’ used to be a radio host with Ramogi FM hosting a development issues talk show in Dholuo called Piny Masani (meaning “The World Today”).

But it is her music that I came to talk to her about.

Thim Lich her first full length solo effort was a major breakthrough. It has 14 tracks including: Thim Lich,Aloo ,Switina,Jakong'o (Remix),Wololoi,Dodo,Hera Mudho,Kamfube (Feat. Ambassada), Born To Be, Garang (a tribute done in the Dinka language and featuring the Sudanese artiste JKP), Rieko En Ngima ,Wiwa Wil ,Nyar Dande and Hera (done in the South African Kwaito genre) Thim Lich has received considerable air time on television across the various channels. As a direct result of the CD’s popularity Iddi was invited to perform in Norway, Sweden, Zanzibar and other places.

As we were sitting down with her at Wasanii on that Martin Luther King Monday, a courier walked in and handed her an invitation from the US embassy to attend an Obama Inauguration party at the residence of the American ambassador.

She leads her own full band which includes back up singers like Jackie Nyaminde (a television actor who is well known for her hilarious role in the popular Papa Shirandula) and Lydia Dola (familiar in social justice circles as part of the 5Cs Theatre group) as well as accomplished instrumentalists and dancers.

Iddi Achieng’ sings from the heart in Dholuo, Kiswahili and English. Her song Dala Gunda (deserted or empty home) chronicles the tale of a rural homestead so devastated by AIDS that it is only the houses of its former occupants which remain, with the homestead itself with graves and while Wololo, makes the case that the face of HIV in Africa is that of a woman.

Achieng’ is passionate about development and empowering women and girl children. She is even contemplating forming a foundation or trust where she can devote her energies on matters dear to her. At the height of the post election violent crisis in 2008, Iddi teamed up with fellow artists like Kanda King, Ken wa Maria and others in the Wakenya Wote initiative, using their songs and music to preach national harmony, peace and diversity.

Her fans can look forward to another CD from her by the end of this year. She is going to the Sauti ya Busara music festival in Zanzibar in February which will feature among others the legendary octogenarian taarab legend Bi Kidude.

Iddi drops me a hint that she is involved in a television family drama series that will hit our screens very soon.

Contractual obligations have legally gagged her from revealing more.

“Just look out for it,” is all she can say.

Technologically savvy, Iddi is riding the crest of the digital revolution. You will find her on Facebook and My Space- that is not when you are not surfing her own website

What advice does she have for other upcoming artists and musicians, especially young women who want to emulate Iddi Achieng’?

“Go for it. Follow your heart. Know that it is not for the faint hearted. There will be many challenges ahead, but do not give up, “she says.

Iddi is currently pursuing a degree course in sociology saying that her life experiences and interests makes it the discipline she most wants to pursue academically. In the future, Iddi hopes that she will continue using her musical talents and achievements to become one of the voices of reason in the larger Kenyan and African society.

“Music is a serious tool of consciousness, a mirror held up to society which can be utilized for social change” she observes as our interview draws to a close. - Ziwani


Kaboum Boum (Nairobi City Ensemble) - Album
Kalapapla (Nairobi City Ensemble) - Album
Thim Lich - Album
Nyar Gombe - Single
Switina - Single
jamriambo - Single
Thim Lich - Single



Born in Nairobi, Iddi Achien’g was introduced to music by her mother who sang around her as she went about her daily chores. Growing up in a musical family, with a brother who played guitar and piano and sisters who sang in the church choir, she was exposed to music both in church and at home. It wasn’t long before she too joined the youth choir.

After school, while pursuing music and drama professionally, she met one of Kenya’s best renowned music producers and arrangers, Tabu Osusa. Impressed by her vocal prowess and stage command, he signed her onto the Nairobi City Ensemble as the lead and only female vocalist. Under his tutelage, she further sharpened her musical intellect.

She kicked off her solo career by recording and releasing her debut album, Thim Lich, earning a nomination at the Kisima awards in the afro-fusion category.

Iddi has toured and performed at festivals and shows worldwide. In October of 2007 she was in Oslo, Norway, for the World Music Festival, and the Bergen International Festival. Iddi has performed in Djibouti, Sweden, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Most recently she was in Zanzibar for the Sauti za Busara Festival.

Iddi sings in Luo, her mother tongue as well as other languages including Kiswahili, Luganda, Dinka, Arabic and English. She sites her musical influences as Angelique Kidjo, Dobet Gnahore, Haddy Njie, Ogoya Nengo and Baaba Maal, among others. A socially conscious artiste, through her music Iddi addresses social issues with emphasis on co- existence, love, peace, freedom, development of African women and a deeper understanding and appreciation of her culture.

Currently in the process of recording her fifth album, Iddi Achien’g says her music style is termed as “afro-fusion contemporary benga” growing in popularity around the country and abroad. It is a fusion of traditional music interspersed with modern beats, styles and arrangements. The traditional instruments orutu, djembe, nyatiti always feature in her songs as heard on Thim Lich (the forest is an unpredictable place) It can be described as ‘A Truly Kenyan Sound’. Globalization is not all about economic standardisation. We should all make a pro active contribution to our diversity with an objective of appreciating the very best of one another’s culture.”

Iddis' strongest aspect, as far as her music is concerned, has been in the live performances.It is here that she brings on board her other artistic faces in the way she interacts and connects with the different audiences she comes across, creating an atmosphere that makes each of her shows.