For readers who may not know; Johnny Isaya is Eldoret’s one-man Sauti Sol equivalent who has played in almost every arena around the town. And he has packed arenas while at it. As his tagline “I sing for food” suggests, he does it quite literally! Here is what it means to him:
“It means that music nourishes me in more than one way. Currently, I am exclusively earning from music, so it pays my bills, feeds me, cloths me and it also feeds my mind, soul, and spirit.”
Isaya, who is 27, is a singer and songwriter based in Eldoret, Kenya. And from what I have gathered, he probably can play any instrument you’ve ever thought about; piano, acoustic guitar, solo guitar, bass guitar, violin, percussions, voice, saxophone, recorder, clarinet…name them, as I catch my breath!
His distinctive music style, which is a cocktail of creativity, real-life experiences, and fresh storytelling, and his charismatic voice delivered by a live band makes up for a chill evening of coffee/cocktails, one that has made Eldoret residents appreciative of his work.
For our phone scheduled interview, a very enthusiastic Isaya picks up and immediately apologizes for not replying to the questions I had resorted to sending him via message. My intention for the call, however, was to steal some of his time and get him to answer the questions on phone. To my surprise, he accepted without any sign of resistance and even asked how paced it should be so that I do not miss any information. Phenomenal!
Moving away from cover music to his own original songs
Johnny Isaya who is now intentionally moving away from cover music to his own original songs, describes his daily routine as writing a few lyrics every morning and then listening to songs, “mostly I listen to my own songs” says Isaya. Before he can now proceed to either practice or go to the studio.
My inability to meet him for a physical chat counts for the fact that he has just released his second single ‘Koinange’ from his new Ep, Naliaka coming out in February, and although he describes himself, as not a big deal yet, I can say that there is nothing ordinary about the places he’s been performing for sure.
Jonny Isaya “I’d rather write a timeless songs”
Isaya who sings from purely life experiences describes his motivation factor as creating timeless music. “I’d rather write a timeless song, that 10 to 16 years down the line, I can still listen to and it still makes sense. Rather than a quick fix.”
Makes sense that his number one inspiration is Sauti Sol. “You know, to be the best, look at whoever is the best and work towards it either as hard as them or even harder than them.”
“Apart from Sauti Sol, of course, I also look up to Nyashinski. In Africa, there is a guy called Richard Boner, and then there is Burna Boy. (Burna Boy! Me too!) and internationally, Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar. “
Well, after a few seconds of “appreciating” Burna boy, our chat takes a different tangent to the situation in the Eldoret music scenes. Isaya admits that it is quite young and well, diverse at that. “ “As a live performer, I can’t personally say I have majored in a specific genre, since each of my gigs is different. I have also interacted with fellow artists who do folk among other different genres. So, yea, very diverse.”
Mentoring upcoming artists
Talking of other artists, Jonny Isaya passionately expresses his desire to help upcoming artists by working together. He insistently expresses how people don’t understand the power of music, hence don’t feel the need to help others with it. “There are people who are able and have the power to help the younger artists but they really don’t do it. But I understand the market dynamics, it’s quite hard and it’s easy to be selfish. Personally, I like to involve as many artists as possible coz growing up and establishing myself, no one held my hand and told me what to do.”
Hence why he has a band of his own, where he welcomes other artists with the same desire for music as him.
Two Eps down the road and another one in the oven, Jonny Isaya plans on taking over.
“I plan to release a couple of projects hoping that people will like them. After the release of the Naliaka EP in February of next year, I plan to do a tour with it and hope to inspire as many artists as possible. That way we can change the country and change the continent and even the world.”
Together with his band, Isaya performs on Fridays alternating between Kikao 64 and Wings 23 on Daima towers, and also you can catch him every Sunday at Boma Inn at noon and Zaika lounge in the evening. Entry is free!