We all know the “cliché” of “follow your dream,” but when that cliché manifests itself into a reality—well, then it’s no longer a cliché. Sila’s dream of becoming a celebrity musician began as a youngster growing up in the mountains of Kenya. Chasing after his dream, he found himself in the Bay Area closer to realizing it with his Afrofunk band. After releasing his sophomore album Black President completely DIY, then receiving the award for “Best International Album” by the NAACP (over Zap Mama and Omou Sangare), his dream is within his reach. Before his March 20th show at the Great American Music Hall, SFCritic spoke with Sila.
SFCritc (SFC): Will you tell me a little about where you grew up?
Sila Matungi (SM): I grew up in a town called Machakos. I grew up in the mountains, listening to Voice of America with tunes from James Brown, Bob Marley, Kool and The Gang, and Jimi Hendrix. I was hooked to music. Growing up listening to that music was very helpful, because the struggles of growing up in a village—all I had was my grandmother and music. In my room, I had photos of guitars that I had cut out of newspapers. My dream was to have a guitar.
(SFC): When did you get your first guitar?
(SM): I got my first guitar when I was maybe fourteen, or fifteen-years-old. I got a guitar because I had an aunt who got one for me. When she came back to Kenya she gave it to my dad. I remember I was in boarding school. I was in class, and I was walking out of class and all the way down [the hall] is my dad walking towards me with a big smile on his face.
(SFC): So what are you up to these days?
(SM): I have a concert coming up March 20th at the Great American Music Hall, for the celebration of my award. I am also running back into the studio to record a follow up album to be released in May. I’m hoping to move forward in my music career.
(SFC): Are you hoping to go to a larger label?
(SM): This whole time I’ve been under my own indie label, self-produced, self-released. So out of this, I’m hoping that better things come around. Unfortunately, until someone says “you’re the shit,” no one listens to you. Mostly, what I need is more management than anything else.
(SFC): That’s interesting. I spoke to an artist earlier this week and they’ve been quite successful having opted to self-release their album. So it’s interesting that you want to be on a major label and it likely has to do with having never been on one.
(SM): It really boils down to a very simple fact: a label is a bank. If I was independently wealthy, I’d absolutely prefer to be an indie label. They [major label] have the connections. If you’re an artist that has already had a certain amount of success than it makes perfect sense to go on your own. I’d love to go on my own. Even after I’ve received all these awards, it doesn’t move because people don’t know about the album.
(SFC): Why did you put Barack Obama on the cover of the album?
(SM): Many Africans see him as one of their own, and hope that he’ll look after his own people. Because of the genocide in Rwanda, and policies–trade policies–it will hopefully be a better relationship. In these times of disaster, and recession, music must speak the truth. It’s up to artists and musicians who are there to promote for change all over the world.
(SFC): Let’s talk about your award from the NAACP. How did you feel when you received the award in terms of what you had accomplished, what you still wanted to accomplish?
(SM): The whole thing was an absolute shock to me. To be honest with you, I had no inkling or thought that I was going to win at all. The whole thing was very surreal because I’ve never been around Hollywood. I remember walking in and seeing Tatyana Ali, this gorgeous actress.
(SFC): Oh I know who she is.
(SM): She’s so damn gorgeous! I had no nerve to talk to her. She looked at me, and smiled—and I smiled, but was speechless. I’m right behind her, and there are photographers, press, and everything. They go mad around her. I had never seen anything like it, like a caged bull with all of them shouting her name. As I walked up behind her on the red carpet, nobody took my picture. It was like tumbleweeds and crickets, man. One of the photographers shouted, “Who are you?” I was like “Hey! I’m Sila from Kenya and I’m nominated for best international album!”
(SFC): Oh man that’s rough. [laugh]
(SM): That’s the beginning of my night, so I have no expectations what-so-ever. When I hear “Black President,” the way they announced it was kind of backwards. I didn’t even know who “Black President” was, and so I’m looking around trying to find who is this “Black President.”
My friend is there and she grabs me because I’m in shock. She shakes me, and says “Get up! You won.” What really made me happy is that they made me get out of my chair and go to the red carpet; but, this time they took my picture.
This article is reprinted from SF Station.