- All along I used to be an admirer of singers because my sister had once told me I wasn't gifted with the singing talent.
- I couldn't sing, not until I met this two, who used to sing from way back in high school.
- So when I met them for the first time, just before I enrolled at university, there were auditions for a (singing) competition called Spotlight Kenya going down at the Alliance Francaise.
What happens when you get musical lawyers and an actuarial scientist together? Elani happens. Lawyers Brian Chweya and Maureen Kunga and actuarial scientist Wambui Ngugi formed a band in 2008 and seem to grow from strength to strength with hits like “Jana Usiku”, “Milele”, “Kookoo”, “Hapo Zamani” and “Barua ya Dunia”.
Nation.co.ke recently caught up with them for a candid chat about their beginnings and the experiences that shape their music.
How did you guys come to be?
Brian: We were friends first before we became a band. Anyone out there who wants to start a band needs to remember that the friendship will override everything else.
We were nothing. I mean, we started from scratch. Some of us couldn't even place a harmony but all we had was friendship, which acted as pillar onto which we anchored the journey of our musical career. By the time we were wafting into the showbiz circles, we had been good friends for over five years. We had already learnt each and everyone's strengths, weaknesses and faults.
Our friendship extends to our parents, with whom we occasionally hang out. Friendship is what still keeps us together and we thank God for that.
And who was that who couldn't place a harmony (couldn't sing)?
Wambui: (Laughing) Let me tell you something — harmony is no joke as many would think, and it’s for this reason that we still attend the vocal classes. These two (pointing at Brian and Maureen) are the ones who told me that I can sing. All along I used to be an admirer of singers because my sister had once told me I wasn't gifted with the singing talent. I couldn't sing, not until I met this two, who used to sing from way back in high school. So when I met them for the first time, just before I enrolled at university, there were auditions for a (singing) competition called Spotlight Kenya going down at the Alliance Francaise.
Spotlight Kenya would audition singers, produce and package an album for them and then take the groups for musical tours in Europe. The idea of touring Europe made my heart skip a beat, but I knew I couldn't sing. It just happened that I had tagged along my friends who were preparing for the auditions. There was a voice teacher taking them through a song for audition purposes. After teaching the song, he asked us to sing, mistakenly thinking I was also part of the group. He started by pointing me out, asking me to sing what he had just taught.
I was shocked, because he didn't know why I was there and that I couldn't sing. When I saw he was getting agitated that I wasn't responding, I went for it, and to my surprise, everyone loved it!
So basically you only followed your friends to see how they would fare in the competition?
Wambui: Honestly, that wasn't the reason I went to the auditions with Brian and Maureen. The truth is, I was there because Brian had a close friend, Patrick, whom I had a crush on. We had met before (in high school drama festivals). He is the one who had actually invited me. Clearly, my agenda there was a side agenda. But it happened that I also sang and everyone loved it and kept encouraging me to keep going. It’s at that point that I started singing.
Do you still keep in touch with Patrick?
Wambui: Ooh! Yes, all the three of us do.
I meant you?
Wambui: (laughing loudly). Yes I do. He is still my friend.
Brian, did you know your friend had a crush on your friend?
Brian: Yes I did! Patrick had already alerted me that something was cooking between them. In fact, he told me during the auditions, because we used to sing together since high school, that I should look elsewhere for lady singers because he already found one. He made a call and, boom, Wambui was there. And that’s' how Elani came to be.
What upsets you guys in the cause of your musical work?
Wambui: We get irritated when people meet us and say, “You guys are so lucky, you are famous yet all you needed to do is sing”. Clearly, they don’t understand what kind of a hustle this is, sometimes you sing until you sweat. Singing is a mind game, so many factors come into play.
You have to coordinate your muscles from the throat, lungs to the diaphragm to be able to express that note. It’s very rude — don’t tell singers that!
Why is it that most of your songs are about love?
Brian: We would say that we are love ambassadors and our music is and will always be inspired by love experiences. And this is because every time we release a love song the kind of reception we get is overwhelming and so touching. We see this as our purpose.