By Stanley Gazemba
Born in Bunia, Eastern DR Congo in 1986, Ricardo Benon came to Kenya aged ten. Besides being a talented musician and poet, he is also multi-lingual. He can speak Spanish, English, French, Swahili, Lingala, Rwandese and a number of local dialects...
Nairobi has lots of promising young musicians performing quietly in the many entertainment spots in the city. Unlike those who take shortcuts at their personal computers at home cobbling together songs using the myriad music software programmes available on the Internet, this lot take time to learn and perfect playing instruments, and they have their eyes firmly set on becoming full-fledged professional musicians. They don’t take short-cuts, and would rather wait until the time is ripe. One such musician is Ricardo Benon, who thrilled his fans at the Dass Ethiopian Restaurant recently.
Born in Bunia, Eastern DR Congo in 1986, Ricardo Benon came to Kenya aged ten. Besides being a talented musician and poet, he is also multi-lingual. He can speak Spanish, English, French, Swahili, Lingala, Rwandese and a number of local dialects.
He was born into a musical family, meaning he started playing around with instruments quite early. His late father, Dr Calvin Chelo, had a band back in Kisangani in the late 70s which at the time played secular music. He later switched to gospel, and signed with Kassanga Music Studio, with whom he released the album Tika Tolingana in the 90s.
Born Benon Benjamin Kamara, he earned the nickname ‘Ricardo’ from students he was teaching Spanish at Emmanex College in Nairobi due to the way he pronounced Spanish words. Ricardo started singing in church as a child, where he perfected playing the guitar and piano, even though he leant more towards the former.
He mostly sings in English, French, Spanish and Swahili, although he throws in other native languages depending on how the melody swings. He prefers to pen the lyrics first as poetry, which he later converts to music. Meaning every poem written by him has a song version.
As a performing artiste he was discovered by Joy Mboya at The GoDown Arts Centre, where he made his debut in the 2009 ‘Dunda Mtaani’ event. Thereafter he became a regular. Other than The GoDown he has also performed at the Alliance Francaisé, the All Saints’ Cathedral’s ‘Poetry Spot’, and ‘A Ray and a Moonlight’ organized at Spoilers Lounge in Karen. He is a regular at the ‘Slam Africa’ show at Dass restaurant.
Other than his father, the other musicians who inspired him are Spanish singer David Bisbal and Congo’s Lokua Kanza. Of his own compositions his favourites are Chuki na Ukabila and Mama Nakupenda (Ma te Quiero in Spanish). They are the songs his audience reacts the most to during live shows. The two songs will form part of his upcoming album.
He is at work recording at renowned gospel producer Papa Emilé’s studio in Fedha Estate, where he is fine-tuning his song Send me an Angel. However, he is not in a hurry to release an album yet, citing rampant piracy on the local music scene. Instead he is concentrating on popularizing his single releases on radio and during live gigs- the same strategy that musician Nameless used at the beginning of his career.
He mostly performs as a solo artiste, but whenever he lands a corporate gig he usually has Ashley Nyambura backing him on vocals, Bunny Blaze on vocals and guitar, and Chagala on percussions.
“I would like to have a full back up band at my shows,” he said during an interview. “The problem is it is very difficult and expensive to maintain one.”
Benon runs a blog, email@example.com, where he publishes most of his poems and music. As a trained IT specialist, he understands the enormous power of the Internet in music publishing. But he also knows the shortcomings. Which is why he has his eyes set on an online marketing system where he can release his music through a secured website where his fans can pay to download, and the money can actually trickle back to him instead of ending up in the hands of fraudsters. With the advent of affordable Internet connections and cheap Internet-ready phones he believes this is the next frontier in the music business. Besides music and poetry he also doubles up as an event organizer to keep the bills paid.