Sila Mutungi – The Musical Warrior

The album aptly titled “Black President” is a collection of funky Afro-grooves laced with strong socially-conscious lyrics and was written by Sila prior to the 2008 U.S. presidential elections.

Sila Mutungi, Kenyan musician who recently won the Image Award for Outstanding World Music Album

“Music is my lover, my mother, my father and my keeper. Nothing gives me more joy than doing music.” says Sila Mutungi, the 40-year-old Kenyan musician who recently won the Image Award for Outstanding World Music Album.

The album aptly titled “Black President” is a collection of funky Afro-grooves laced with strong socially-conscious lyrics and was written by Sila prior to the 2008 U.S. presidential elections.

“I wrote the album a year before Obama started running. The reason I called it “Black President” was to celebrate his presidency. His win was a historical moment and I wanted to make a historical album,” he says. “Many Africans believe that he is African. His roots are in Kenya and it was a time that was so amazing not just for Americans but for Africans. Everyone was excited around the world. There was a huge amount of pride and excitement that he was running.”

Released independently on Sila’s own Visila label, President Obama is depicted on the album cover holding Africa in his hands with the continent illuminated from the inside by the sun and it was an album cover choice that Sila was initially advised against choosing.

“My band mates and friends said [at the time] that it might not be the wisest thing to do because you don’t know how popular Obama is going to be a year from now and it might be a hindrance especially with him on the front cover.”

While Obama is still hailed around the world in almost messianic tones, recent polls indicate his approval rate is below 50% in the U.S. but Sila isn’t fazed by the president’s waning popularity.

“He [Obama] has made mistakes and has shown a lack of resolve on some issues, but I think he is doing the best job he can especially with the incredible amount of pressure and expectations on him. There was a lot of hope and expectations and I knew in my heart that it was going to be really hard to meet all of those expectations. I am hoping things will get better. We want him to succeed.”

With musical influences which range from James Brown to Fela Kuti, music was a form of escapism from a poverty stricken childhood for Sila.

“I grew up with very little and was very poor,” he says. There was a church near my village that a missionary donated a piano to and I used to sneak into the church in the middle of the night and play the songs I could heard on the radio. That is how I started learning music. I finally got busted by the preacher who said I would have to come to church if I wanted to play the piano. What I loved about music is the way it made me feel. It made me feel hopeful. That there is a better world out there.”

Sila soon moved to the United States with the intent of sparking a music career, forming the Afrofunk Experience in 2003 with like minded musicians who shared his vision.

“I use it [music] to reach as many people as possible and promote social change in my country. Africa is not about genocide, AIDS, diseases and violence. It’s a strong culture and beautiful music comes from there and we are very positive people in spite of the things we go through,” he says.

Now an award-winning musician, Sila recently celebrated the award with a concert at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and donated a portion of the proceeds to the victims of the recent earthquake in Chile.

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