In Conversation with Romi Swahili, The Griot of Nyagathanga

Kenyan Hip Hop artist and poet Romi Swahili is currently working on a new mixtape, the wordsmith is one of the best acts among the new generation Hip Hop acts from
the East African country.

We sought out the artist to get his views on the Kenyan music industry, his upcoming project and the recently released tracks ‘Barzenga’ and ‘Usisahau’.

The artist tells Amos Mabinda about what defines him, his music and future plans.

Mabinda: Tell us about you… The Griot of Nyagathanga

Romi: Romi is a writer, poet, rapper and educator of Kenyan origin. Nyagathanga the Griot is just an alias that I picked when my rap met “kukariri” to birth RapKariri, a style that is notably predominant in my upcoming work.

Mabinda: When did you find your voice in Hip Hop?

Romi: I grew up in a musical background. My father was a devoted record collector and my mom had these huge books where she wrote her compositions and transcribed the lyrics to her favorite songs. I spent much of my childhood beside my paps listening to albums from all over the world. Other times we would listen to the radio in the evenings and that was my first encounter with hip hop. ‘Radio Free Afrika’ played more
rap than any of the stations back then. When I bought my first radio I continued to learn more and more about hip hop. Suffice to say I had always been a curious writer. Hip Hop saw me evolve from an aspiring novelist to a rapper. I was confident and
pretty much articulate with this Rhyming thing while still in high school.

Mabinda: As a rapper-poet, what inspires your pieces?

Romi: I have watched my creative process grow from having to have read or listened to some inspiring piece of art to writing from the purest of experiences. My pieces are inspired by my moments.

Mabinda: Between Rapper & Poet which comes first?

Romi: First all I am a chronic writer. I have used cigarette packets for writing spaces. Once I am soaking myself into the creative process I give it my all. There is this eternal flow I feel in me that gives me the needed push to do it the best way I know
how. The most important lesson I have learned regarding any creative pursuit including this rendered life of mine is jump right in, enjoy the process and appreciate what you are presently in the presence of. After all, being there gives birth to the most spiritually pure poetry if we surrender to the present moment.

Mabinda: You are also a literature buff, tell us about this and how it fits with your music

Romi: There’s a thin line between my Poetry and my music. Most of my songs start out as poetry pieces and even songs in their raw form are really poems depending on the structure of the project I’m working on at the moment. It’s all in the stylistics. There is something always forming in my mind, some people even accuse me of Rhyming while I’m talking. Haha!

Mabinda: Haha…Your project Knowledge na Mashairi turned three this year, how do you feel about it?

Romi: I have a lot to say looking back. Hearing people talk about the album three years down the line makes me develop so much respect for the creative process. I honestly didn’t expect the reception. It’s amazing how many people I have met through the album. It’s a great precedence not only for my career but also for MCs in the game. The feedback on the album has been inspiring if anything. To my new subscribers, I see ya’ll,
I’ll make sure to embrace you the best way I can.

Mabinda: You have two songs out so far ‘Barzenga’ and ‘Usisahau’, tell about these projects and story behind each…

Romi: ’Barzenga’ is one of those random joints that happened while I was in the process of recording an EP that was to later turn into an album. I remember the producer Edd Da BeatSmith playing the beat after I was done with my recording for the day. The beat reminded me of some barz I had been typing in my phone that morning on my way to the studio. Out of that happenstance came what is now BARzenga. Edd would
later make the lyric video for it, working with him is such a wholesome experience.
‘Usisahau’ is one of those old songs that didn’t belong to any project. It is produced by DuBoiz who produced well over half the Knowledge Mashairi album. When I told Edd I needed to urgently work on a mixtape ‘Usisahau’ was one of those gems that I counted would start off Fungu the mixtape.

Mabinda: The two are part of your next mixtape, what should your fans expect from this mixtape?

Romi: The content of the mixtape is so diverse. Expect rawness, hard hitting lyricism, storytelling, thought provoking one liners and all these over dope beats by Edd Da BeatSmith, MC Spook, Yakov the Jew, Ndugus Uswakamili and Mike Wudz. The tape
is inspired by my home town, Nyahururu. It reminds me of my early years as an upcoming mc. It’s a bold statement.

Mabinda: To drift a bit if you were a book which would you be fiction or non-fiction?

Romi: A mixture of both. I feel that, at least from my interactions with people, my lyricism is a reflection of life as we know it. However, it’s not on all occasions that I have been able to accurately capture my experiences. Language yangu ni elevated maTime. Ni kama vile nilisema kwa Ngoma inaitwa Real, “…yangu ni interplay ya imagination Na reality.”(My language is elevated at times, like I said in the song ‘Real’…Mine
is the interplay between imagination and reality)

Mabinda: What is your opinion of the Kenyan Hip Hop music scene? Do you think the industry is working?

Romi: I love the scene. I am a listener who earnestly enjoys music by the artists I follow. Kuna wasanii interesting sana kuwaskiza.Wengi Wao naunda mikakati ili nifanye kazi nao (there are interesting artists to listen to, many of whom I’m planning to work with). Hip hop is in a very good standing with many avenues to push our content being open for it. There are efforts to document the Culture by good people such as yourself which is also a great thing.

Mabinda: Which is your favorite Hip Hop hangout spot in Kenya?

Romi: There is just something about The Pit bro. Events by the 254 Battle Rap League also have a great vibe. Also look out for Dunda Sektion courtesy of my homeboy DJ KayPaul. The next edition of it is happening soon as we will be launching the mixtape

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