If you spend three minutes talking to Nonini, you’ll never question why he’s a celebrity.He’s fascinating and thoughtful, alert and witty — without ever seeming to try.
When he talks, you hang on to every word that comes from his lips, and when he laughs, the baritone belly laugh takes over his whole body.
“Now, don’t go and write that I also like cooking” says Nonini as he helps me to another serving of spaghetti and mincemeat.I am seated with Nonini at his house. Dressed in a simple white vest and pair of shorts, the Genge luminary is at peace.
‘At home, I am just Habo. Not Nonini. I can relax. No cameras…’ he says, forking another heap of spaghetti into his mouth. He is easy and relaxed.The one-time star, who started his career as a rapper, then became an actor and movie producer and is now practically a one-man entertainment industry, has a simple philosophy: “I can do it.”
Though he seems happy-go-lucky, the former Calif Record protégée didn’t end up where he is by accident. Like a pilgrim, Nonini through a painfully orderly and painstakingly way, managed to build his rap career by being consistently in charge, on point and thinking ahead. And recently, not satisfied with his rap success, the Genghis Khan of Kenyan hiphop, has now thrust himself, headlong into the world of movies.
“One of the things that attracted me to the idea of doing a movie is the challenge.I was seated with Willie Owusu, discussing video ideas from my single, Killa Mmoja. It metamorphosed into a movie.’ Says Nonini, now done with the meal, he pours orange juice into a glass and hands it to me. I mumble a thank you, as he continues.
‘I think the prevailing feeling was that people were taking the project very seriously. Willie’s not the only video director I’ve worked with. Some of them were good, some of them were competent, and some of them were terrible, but working with Willie and the whole team was just brilliant.’
Nonini’s new film, Killa Mmoja,will be released in October 1st.Killer Mmoja is a Genge drama starring a host of celebrities. Produced by Aleks Kamau, Killa Mmoja stars Nonini, Lady Bee , Chege Chigunda from TMK Wanaume, Hanako, Jaymz Kiama, Mustapha, Sandra, Stephanie and Danny. The movies swivels around three musicians who get into trouble with a very wealthy family. The rich parents don’t like their daughter’s association with the musicians or Genge music, and will do anything to stop the musicians from leading their daughter ‘astray’.
Taking a long sip of orange juice from his glass, Nonini turns to me and continues, ‘The release date is also important to me as it will be my birthday.’
‘Being my first film venture, I had no qualms about the viability of the project. It definitely had its doubters. Some of the people advising me… they were very keen that I shouldn’t do it, in fact adamant that I shelve the plan.’ says Nonini, his hands now holding the television remote, he scans channels on his flat screen. ‘Let’s watch discovery channel.I love natures…’ he veers off our interview.
Having set the channel, he learns back on the sofa, hits the mute button on the remotes and says ‘Incase anything interesting comes up, we will watch it, but about the film, I gave it my all. Everyone would notice this film, and if it was a catastrophe it would be a very, very noticeable one.’
Very few fans realize that Nonini’s rise to the top is one of Kenya’s most meticulously planned and executed showbiz careers. ‘From my very first performance, I said I wanted to make it big. And I set towards it. There is no decision I ever made without thinking of how it will nurture my career. Everything to me was all about progression to the next level.’
From his father, who worked seven days a week in the family business, Nonini inherited his work ethic and learned to look for patterns in life, and figure out how to make them work in his favor. From his mother, he derived the notion that “hard work is the elixir for all problems’. And from somewhere, Nonini discovered an unshakable belief that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.
In 2002, at 20, the rapper got his first hit out, Nonini na nini, essentially introducing himself to the fans. His friend MC Tito told him, “‘Listen, if we’re going to make it as a rapper you probably should have a goal,'” Nonini says. “I said, ‘I want to be the biggest rap star in the country” MC Tito, seeing promise that few others could see , took his friend seriously and wrote a list of the top rappers locally and internationally.
“We looked at them and said, O.K., what are the patterns?” Nonini recalls. ‘I then came to realise the mistakes other made, and the paths other chose to success. I copied all the good and avoided all the mistakes’
Despite his growing fan base, during his career’s formative years, very few radio presenters would play his music. “Nobody cared,” says Nonini. “‘You’re a rapper. You got lucky, and had fews fans but one presenter told me, to my face,I won’t play your music. Our station doesn’t play such music. ” At this point, many would-be rappers would have been weighing Plan B. Not Nonini.
“I don’t want to get too metaphysical, but by even contemplating a Plan B, you almost create the necessity for a Plan B,” he says, now clearing the table. He dumps the dishes in the sink, and like any other typical man, mumbles, ‘The dishes will be washed later’. He comes back and flops into the sofa, finding me slowly going over his music collection. I see Jay Z,Nas, B.IG, Tupac, a couple of 50 cts CDs. ‘Jayz is the entrepreneur extraordinaire ,Nas has the rhymes, B.IG has the style and Pac has the intensity. 50cts is the businessman.’ he says, before taking me through his entire rap CD collection. Pharell Williams, Kanye West, Necessary Noise, Ludacris, Timbaland… ‘I buy nearly every local album I can get. I even have a Don Moen collection’ he says when I raise eyebrows upon stumbling on the revered gospel artiste’s album.
I slowly navigate him back to the interview. ‘I had a lot of challenges but I think believing in yourself and talent, you can take on anything obstacle and emerge victorious’ says Nonini who in 2009 was named International Lifestyle Ambassador by the Limkokwing University in Malaysia.
Nonini’s single We Kamu turned some heads. But it was the cheerful, over-the-top 2004 Keroro that established the erstwhile Calif Records emerging star as a Genge Godfather in the making. Since then, he has consistently delivered hits, most often controversial club bangers, though of late, he has toned down and appears to be doing ‘world music’.
‘It’s been almost ten years since I burst into the limelight. So definitely, there have been a lot of changes in age, physically and perception of life. Back in 2004 I was new to the industry and trying to discover myself but in 2011 I know who I am as an artist and where I want to be in life as a Man. When you embrace changes then you manage to be consistent in the industry. Technology has totally influenced my life, I now have my own IPhone App called Nonini’
The math of music business enthrals Nonini, who calls himself a “student of universal patterns.” To hear him talk about analyzing the music sales with his manager is to see flashes of brilliance mostly associated with blue chip company CEOs.
“Every Monday morning, we sit down–‘O.K., let’s get to business. How can me develop brand Nonini? How can we develop brand P Unit? How can we make Pro Habo better? What is it that is hasn’t been done that I can give my fans?’ he says, expressing a level of self-knowledge rare for people whose lives, as celebrities have no privacy.
Speaking of all boy group P Unit, Nonini unabashedly glows with pride. ‘It’s wrong to say I help the boys or they depend on me. They work so hard on their own projects. They are stars in their own right. They work harder than most artistes I know and they are destined for greatness.’ He speaks glowingly of the unit he formed in 2007.
A career axiom that Nonini figured out early on still stymies plenty of big-name hiphop stars. “Music stars are made with the revenue they make off music,” Nonini says. He has built his regional audience systematically: with each new single, Nonini introduces himself to a new people, often piggybacking on a local event that will attract attention.
Nonini applies the same kind of arithmetic and discipline to his personal life, and as a result, he enjoys a celebhood rarity: a stable relationship with his girlfriend. “I am not single anymore.I can’t divulge any more details but I have come to realise, there’s nothing you’ve ever been successful at that you didn’t work on every day.”
Nonini wasborn October 2, 1982. Initially signed to CalifRecords.
He was introduced to the Kenyan urban music scene through his debut single “NonininiNani?”
His steady rise to national and regional popularity did not begin however until his 2002 track “Manzi wa Nairobi,” a song which praised the beauty of Kenyan women and follow-up single “WeKamu”. He went on to release his debut album Hanyaring Game in late 2004 which included the hit “Keroro”
Later, NaniMwenza, his collaboration track with Tanzanian musician Juma Nature, became a regional hit. In his most recent great creations, he has collaborated with local artist Nameless to create a Friday anthem appropriately title “furahi-day” which has received much airplay over the weeks. His second album MwishoYaMawazo,was released in 2007.
The album featured number of more guest musicians, including Nyota Ndogo, Mercy Myra, Professor Jay, P-Unit and Q-Chief. In August 2007, Nonini was among 100 most influential Kenyans as selected by The Standard newspaper. In 2009 he was named International Lifestyle Ambassador by the Limkokwing University in Malaysia.
• Hanyaring Game (2004)
• Mwisho ya Mawazo (2007)
• Godfather (2009)
• 2004 Chaguo La Teeniez Awards – Best Male Artist
• 2007 Chaguo La Teeniez Awards- Best Song (“Si Lazima”) & Best Collaboration (“Si Lazima”)
• 2008 Chaguo La Teeniez Awards – Best Music Video (“MtotoMzuri”)
• 2008 Pearl of Africa Music Awards- Best Male Nominee(Kenya)