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UP Magazine, Interview >>

To Mali with Love: Exclusive Q&A with Sauti Sol

Last Updated on 16/1/12 08:03 Anyiko Owoko

Just about to hit their mid- twenties, Sautisol, Kenyan top afro-pop band have brought vibrancy to the Kenyan live music scene. They are about to score another first. The group comprising four members Delvin Mudigi, Austin Willis, Polycarp Otieno and Bienaime Baraza, all aged 24 will make history as the first music group from East Africa to be featured in the globally acclaimed Festival sur le Niger (The Festival on The Niger River) in February this year.

Beginning 15th to 19th February, the annual festival (in its eighth straight year), will bring together some of Africa’s top musical acts on one stage in Segou, the capital of the ancient Bambara kingdom in Mali—keeper to the most ancient histories of Africa.


At only 24, the group will be the youngest act on stage that will also feature some of Africa’s biggest stars such as Lokua Kanza, Selif Keita, Habib Koite, Boubacar Traore and Pape Diouf among others.  “24 is a good number!” exclaims Bienaime, singer of the group Sautisol which found fame with their 2007 breakout hit single “Lazizi” off debut album, “Mwanzo”. Their sophomore album “Sol Filosophia” was launched in 2011.


Do they have jitters or are they ready to do “the jagger”? Here is their take.

UP: Mali’s most famous export is music. Being included in Festival sur le Niger, one of the country’s top music festivals is laudable. Tell us how you got the coveted slot?


SAUTISOL: We applied for the festival early last year then, later on in November we had a show in Amsterdam. It turned out the festival’s Director, Mammou Diaffe, was in attendance and was quite impressed by our performance. He had previously stumbled upon our application but after seeing us on stage, he immediately approached us and said that we must play at his festival. We got a confirmation last December but when the official lineup came out last week, that’s when the reality really hit us. It’s a typical ‘being at the right time at the right place’ scenario, a dream come true.


UP: You have often cited Lokua Kanza and Habib Koite as among your biggest music influences from Africa. Will your turning point be- performing alongside these icons?


SAUTISOL: Most definitely! It will be a moment of self-realization. For a long time we have been considered to have the potential of going fully international, this is the breakthrough!


Bienaime: All big African stars like Youssou N’dour have been on that stage, it might finally see us get lost into that world. If we do, there is no turning back.


UP: What are your general expectations from Festival sur le Niger?

SAUTISOL: Networking! We are also ready for any challenges. The levels of performance at such a festival are high as artists there are seasoned in terms of the world arena so we must also conquer. We have been in contact with Lokua Kanza before, and somehow we lost touch. This will be our chance to re-introduce ourselves and hopefully get a chance to work together.


Polycarp: I would sell off my guitar, my most valued possession just to meet Lokua. I have sent him countless emails and I had vowed to not to die before meeting him and that neither would he! (Chuckles)

UP: Take us through your planned set and preparations for the festival.


SAUTISOL: We are performing on February 17th; our set will last about an hour. In that short time, it has to be tight! We are rehearsing three days a week till then because we want this show to be the best we’ve had so far!

UP: What authentic sound are you planning to ferry to the Malian listeners?


Delvin: We are not bound to any genre, but a need to satisfy our audience. This festival is where people who know music converge. If they listen and dance to our music then that will be what we carried for them.


SAUTISOL: We don’t have a predominant genre though our sound is very afro-pop. We are taking the ‘Sauti Sol sound’ with us; we have songs in various genres including Reggae and Twist.

UP: The stage of the festival will be set up right along the Niger River. Doing “the jagger” might get someone falling into the river, have you thought about that?


SAUTISOL: (Laughing out loud.) We don’t think there will be such accidents but if it does occur it will be pure comedy and definitely part of the experience. Talking of experience we will be keen on the other artist’s performances and musical styles. If time allows we will also sample Mali nightlife.

UP: The festival will also have a forum with a theme titled, “Artistic creation and development”. What needs to be done to help create more spaces and development for art in Kenya?


SAUTISOL: A lot! Artists who have been around long enough should mentor the upcoming ones. The government needs to set up more policies in support of building arts in Kenya. Parents and teachers should encourage a general art culture at home and in schools.


UP: Exactly five years ago, you were fresh and delving into music as a career. Now you are about to perform alongside Africa’s “Who’s who”, did you picture this coming and where do you see yourselves in the next five years?


SAUTISOL: We saw it coming; it’s every artist’s dream. We just didn’t think it would come to life this soon.

Austin: About the next five years and our future, we borrow a quote from Coldplay. They once said, “You might not know us, but one day we will be the biggest band in the world.”

Sauti Sol will also make a return to the annual South by South West (SXSW) music festival in the USA this March—the festival brings together over 2000 bands from across the world. They will then embark on a European tour. They are also organizing a Kenyan concert in February as well as a short Kenyan tour (specific dates to be announced later). For more information visit

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