Fundi Frank: Pioneer Kenyan hip-hop artist and fashion designer (Part 2).

By Stanley Gazemba

Fundi Frank
Fundi Frank

SG: Were there any major camps in Mombasa competing against each other?

FF: By the time I left Mombasa no one was actually doing hip-hop apart from Budda Boaz and me. Later is when many artists emerged, influenced by us.

SG: What influence did the FM stations have?

FF: Yes they had a huge influence, especially Metro FM. There was a guy called Dan Oloo who started playing lots of hip-hop. He was the first person who embraced hip-hop. Back then stations were not playing hip-hop because even globally, there was something called gangsta rap which was associated with a lot of violence. After Metro Capital FM took it up, and Jimmi Gathu was a big influence because he was on TV and radio as well. On TV he had a programme called Rap ‘Em and on radio Hits not Homework.  He used to play a lot of hip-hop, including interviewing hip-hop artists. He actually pushed hip-hop a lot. He used to tell us that the bosses were against it but he insisted on playing it for the youth.

SG: Tell us about fashion. How did you get into it?

FF: As I said it came out of a need to look like the hip-hop artists in the US who inspired us. The clothes we received from the US marines in Mombasa were too big mostly because they were big guys. The clothes were 3x or 4x, the shoes Size 11 or 14. So we needed to adjust them in order to fit. We had to find a way to copy the fashion styles. I decided to stitch something that would look like that. There was a tailor called Alfani in our neighbourhood in Likoni. I used to take the clothes to him to adjust and make them look funky. Later I started buying khaki material and take to him to stitch according to my design. There was a machine I had at home which I started playing with. It was just a manual zig-zag machine that could do embroidery. I used to draw patterns like Karl Kani and then stitch them. It came out so perfect that people started coming to me to do embroidery of whatever they wanted and then I’d take them to Alfani to stitch their khaki. People couldn’t believe how well it came out. As we went on I decided to now use my name Fundi Frank to make it locally made so that I could get business out of it. I realized I was losing business. We used to go to Jam Sessions and we really stood out with our outfits with the big pockets and names… we really looked cool. There was a guy called Mahendhra who used to have all these accessories that looked cool and people would come to Likoni looking for me to make them.

SG: Tell us about Kalamashaka.

FF: I met Kalamashaka through Hardstone, who was friends with Poxi Pressure. I first started designing for Hardstone, who was already big, and later Kalamashaka, who were coming through. I was approached by Ted Josiah who wanted me to design them, and because I was hanging out with them we became friends. Their management wanted them to wear the known names like South Pole but they refused. They liked my designs because they made them look unique. There was a trader in Hurlingham who used to stock the designer clothes. So Kalamashaka would get them from him and bring them to me to customize. I accepted to design them because I was also marketing myself. The first time they wore my clothes was at the Coolio concert. I remember Jimmi Gathu was the MC and he was really impressed and he announced that the clothes were actually made by a Kenyan. That’s how I now became known and started getting interviews from newspapers and everything.

SG: And Gidi Gidi Maji Maji?

FF: Gidi Gidi were actually influenced by Kalamashaka. They grew up in the same neighbourhood in Dandora. Maji Maji came from Kisumu and joined Gidi Gidi. We used to go to jam sessions in F2 (Florida 2000 discotheque) where there were competitions for upcoming artists. Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji got into the finals and people really liked them. And since they were from Dandora and all that we started hanging out. It is Kalamashaka who actually told them to form a group.

SG: When you came to Nairobi, who were the artists you found on the scene?

FF: Back in the day there was a camp called NWA, Nubians With Attitide, Reffigah and his group from Kibera. There was also the Mau Mau camp from Dandora. There was also One2Moja and Redsan. There were ragga artists and hip-hop artists, then within the hip-hop artists there were camps, and there used to be battles and fights and all that. Mau Mau became popular, and then NWA started calling themselves Wakoloni, teaming up with artists from other slum areas. There was also K-South Flava who were actually bigger before Kalamashaka came. They were recording at Samawati, but they were all friends.  The studios were few and people used to record at the same studios. K-South were already famous before Kalamashaka but Kalamashaka came in with a big hit (‘Tafsiri Hii’) that made them big. K-South was made up of Doobiez, Bamboo and Doobiez’s brother called KC the Bartender who got lost somewhere. The jam sessions used to have all these groups performing and battling.

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