My Hero: Eric Wainaina

Part 6 of the 10 things I wish I knew before I left Africa

1) Erwin Mcmanus

2) Kirk Franklin

Eric Wainaina 1

For some biographical information on Eric Wainaina please check out Eric Wainaina’s Wikipedia page or check out his biography on his site (which is pretty much a carbon copy of the Wikipedia biography). Eric also has his own page on the Berklee University website (where you can hear one of his SUBLIME tracks ‘Ukweli’-which means truth)

**All images taken from Eric Wainaina’s official website**

Whereas until recently I always thought that I had no living African males who I considered heroes or role models, I recently realized just how much I admire Eric Wainaina. Here is why:

1) He marches to the beat of his own drum: Look around at majority of the people you hear on the radio and they are carbon copies of each other. As soon as a hot artist comes out, the record company, in what I think is an act of pure genius, goes to the assembly line to create a second, third, fourth, fifth, fixth etc etc version of that artist. Not Eric!

Eric’s been in the music industry for a long time (10+ years) and even with the explosion of African music he continues to make the same Africa-grow-and-realize-your-potential music with the same focus on creating an ‘African’ sounding sound and constantly expanding his musical horizons within the continent. I don’t think we should expect Eric to come out with a collabo with Young Grillz entitled ‘Get My Money Biatch!”

Eric Wainaina 2

2) He is an artist: Any man who can sing in Luo, Kikuyu (‘Ritwa Riaku’ which is below), Somali and Kiswahili (check out ‘Twende Twende’ below ) while collaborating with Indians and Zimbabweans (check out ‘Twende Twende’ below ) on one album deserves our respect. You can tell that he is a student, a lover and a pure expression of music and musicality. If his second album, Twende Twende was that artistically diverse, so much more so than his-still-bloody-phenomenal-album-’Sawa Sawa‘, what can we expect from his third studio album I wonder. I am also excited to see what he will come up with because:

3) He Keeps Learning: Please correct me if I’m wrong but the last I heard, Eric had a Bachelor and a Masters in music. First of all going back to the point of marching to his own drum, how many Africans do you know who have the courage to do that. I certainly don’t: I dropped out of film school. I can’t wait to see what his constant exploration of the world of music will make him produce when his next album drops.

Eric Wainaina very nice shot with instrument

4) He Speaks Truth, Even to Power: Whether he is reminding us of the corruption of an African country in a song like Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo (not the direct translation but basically its a reference to a nation of bribes) or telling us just how silly and unfair this world is in Dunia ina Mambo, Eric has no problem making you take a hard look at yourself and the world around you. As artists should do……

5) He Speaks Common Sense: I won’t even expand on this too greatly. Tell me that the verse below isn’t something that makes a helluva lot of sense.

The Devil asked St. Peter

Ni kulala mnalala au vipi (hallo hallo)

Are you guys asleep or what?

Mnaruhusu viongozi wa nchi tajiri

You allow wealthy nations

Kumiliki nchi masikini

To control poor nations

Kwa mfano wananchi wa nchi zilizokuwa chini ya ukoloni

For example, the citizens of former colonies

Waliporwa mali zao au siyo (au siyo)

Weren’t they robbed

Basi mbona waliyonyanyaswa wasipande ndege

Then why can’t those were oppressed jump on a plane

Na kwenda ng’ambo ili kurudisha…haki zao

Go abroad and claim what’s rightfully theirs

6) He Has Many Tricks Up His Sleeve: He has written songs for the UN. He has written songs for marathons. He has performed at award shows and Big Brother. My personal favorite: He was the man behind the music of the wow-that-was-good-I-am-so-glad-I-visited-home-that-year play Lwanda. To anyone who is behind that play, release it on DVD, I as sure as hell will buy.

Eric Wainaina 4

7) He Creates Music: You can tell that he takes the time to choose the instrument, write the lyrics and blend them all into a complete whole. When I listen to his music and music by cats like Phil Collins, I imagine them sitting in the studio at odd hours of the night, mixing and matching and blending instruments until they vibrate and sync together at the just the perfect frequency with the perfect pitch.

Hope you enjoyed my rantings and ravings on an absolutely phenomenal artist. Got something to say, leave a comment or contact me.

Be ‘Sawa Sawa’ and strive to make others lives ‘Sawa Sawa’,


icon for podpress  Eric Wainaina - Ritwa Riaku [3:37m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

icon for podpress  Eric Wainaina - Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo [4:08m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

icon for podpress  Eric Wainaina - Twende Twende: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

icon for podpress  Eric Wainaina- Sawa Sawa teaser: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download


  • By Dorina, April 18, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

    I love Eric Wainaina’s music… that comes from the heart…what of the voice…ooh my God given…Bravo Eric

  • By Mwangi, April 19, 2008 @ 12:10 am

    @Dorina: Thanks for stopping by the site.
    Couldn’t have put it better myself. You actually get a sense that what he puts out is the product of his heart and soul as opposed to a marketing plan somewhere.
    As for his voice, all you need to do is listen to songs that are not heavy on instrumentals such as “Too Far From Home” or even listen to his stuff from when he was part of the acapella group “Five Alive” to know he can more than hold his own in the vocal department.
    May I ask your favourite Eric Wainaina song. Mine at the moment is definitely: “Dunia ina Mambo” because of the lyrics…..

  • By Caroline, June 3, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

    Eric is definitely a force to reckon with, he came to perform at a vumakenya concert in Boston which was for a benefit dinner regarding the aftermath of the 2007 elections and I can tell you for a fact he brought the house down. I definitely think that most if not all the upcoming Kenyan artists should borrow a leaf from him…….on the note, you should definitely check Karimi Gituma out, she is the founder of the vumakenya initiative and she has some great things in store!!!!!!!!!

  • By Mwangi, June 3, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

    @Caroline: Any links to share to do with Karimi Gituma? You know one of the great tragedies is to this day I have never had the good pleasure of seeing Eric live.
    I definitely agree that a lot of up and comers in Kenya should borrow a leaf from him and first of all just become artists who are willing to play with music and do something new and remix things in ways they have never been done before.
    I have only heard one song by Caroline Atemi but I think she is a pretty talented gal as well.

  • By Sims, February 27, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

    Wanted to sample twende twende but the link is broken, of all the songs!
    Can you help me out? Send me a working link, please!

  • By Mwangi, February 28, 2009 @ 12:57 am

    @Sims: You can find it on Itunes or on Youtube. It appears the source I got it from must have gone down.

  • By Rence, May 8, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

    Hi Mwangi,

    I’m Eric’s intern currently and I’m working on an e-newsletter; do you have any ideas to share on that /would you object to my placing this article there of course(of course stating your name and blog)
    And about Eric performing live I hope you know about the regular Club Afrique gigs- every Thursday from 8pm to 11pm and this Thursday, Atemi is performing as well,her grand finale so if you want to drop by you can.
    Also you can be Eric’s friend on facebook- Eric James Wainaina; just send a friend request there.

    Again, it IS true that Eric is a wonderful song writer and singer and especially because he thouight his music important enough to go to school and learn more abt it( I think currently the only other artist I know who’s done that is Kanjii)

    Keep up the good work. And get ready for the 3rd album: Love and Protest which will be out in July.

  • By Mwangi, May 8, 2009 @ 11:32 pm

    @Rence: Ideas of what nature? No problem, you can put my article there. I am actually in Kenya for a working holiday, I went to see him 2 weeks back and am going to see him next week and have been on his FB for a while. I tried to interview him for an interview by going through email and facebook a while back but folks gave me the run around for months and so I gave up……

  • By bisem, January 15, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    You should have seen me almost `amen’ing as I read your article, so so true. I just bought his album off iTunes wednesday and been listening constantly ever since. What I can add on his Twende twende album, there songs are off the charts awesome! The singles such as twende twende and joka are great but the other unreleased singles are even better, the mark of every great artist I know. I have had the pleasure of watching him and Kanji live, there is just something about these two, muziki yao ni ya kiwako cha kipekee.

  • By admin, January 17, 2010 @ 3:49 am

    @bisem: Twende Twende is aweessome, it has been on my ipod for the last year or so and is still doing the rotation. Joka, Adhiambo, Dunia ina Mambo….awesome.

    The most recent album I have downloaded in the same vein from itunes is Sauti Sol, which is great so far. Check out their track Lazizi on Youtube, very smooth.

  • By Samuel, July 4, 2010 @ 11:47 pm

    Hi there? Please please please somebody tell me where I can get the lyrics to the “Ritwa riaku” track. I so totally love that so. I don’t really understand kikuyu but would like to sing along to it when I’ll be liistening to it for the umpteenth time.

  • By admin, July 5, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    @Samuel: I don’t know if its the same but for his second CD, when I bought it from itunes, the digital booklet came with lyrics for all his songs. The name of the album with ritwa riaku is sawa sawa and its a great album.

Other Links to this Post

  1. My Hero: Anthony Robbins » The Displaced African — March 16, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

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