Listening to him strumming the guitar, it is inevitable that a sense of awe and admiration will instantly grip you. So because the skill and precision with which he plies his trade is simply amazing. Jean Pierre Nimbona is his name, but few recognise him by it. Most know him by his stage name, Kidum. Interestingly though, very few know the origin of the name ‘Kidum’.
“I was given that name at birth. The word Kidum refers to a 20 litre gallon of water. I was born a big baby, and my family likened me to a ‘Kidum’ due to my size,” he chuckles.
Well, what Kidum’s family did not know then was that the name would not only be symbolic of his size at birth, but also of the huge success he would become. Today the name Kidum is a household name in among people from East Africa, especially those who enjoy the sound of good, original and well-refined music.
But just when did Kidum’s musical journey begin?” I was born a musician, even though I am the only one with a musical bone in my entire family,” he says.
Born in Bujumbura, Burundi, Kidum had a growing and steadfast audience by the age of ten. “I would sing in church, at home and on the streets, with the many people who flocked to my performances encouraging me on. My vocals would always be accompanied by sounds of the drum -’jua kali’ drums which I made by hand using materials I collected around the homestead. These drums produced amazing sounds,” he says, proudly. “You do not need sophisticated equipment to create good sound. All you need is creativity to improvise your own musical equipment from locally available materials,” he stresses.
By the age of 16, Kidum’s reputation as a young musician was fast growing, as he sang and played the drums to his own compositions – teaching, directing and guiding himself through it all.
“I had no teacher, no music trainer, no vocal coach, no producer, no music director… it was just me teaching myself and learning from my mistakes as I grew from strength to strength. I knew my future lay in music, so I was prepared to do whatever it took to achieve my dream – with or without assistance.”
Kidum’s parents no doubt had their own set of worries as far as his future was concerned. They simply could not understand why he was persistently pursuing a career in music, an industry that was not highly regarded or recognized.
“People who had achieved success in education were employed in big jobs in the government and in the private sector. My parents wanted me to follow the same path, as that way they were sure I would secure a good job. They were doubtful of any success in the music industry,” says the 36 year-old.
But nothing was going to deter the young musician, as “I knew what I wanted in life and nothing was going to stop me from pursing my goal.”
But something happened that almost shattered this dream.This was the political unrest that hit his country Burundi and neighboring Rwanda in 1994. Kidum and his family were forced to flee Burundi and they soon found their way into Kenya.
“I arrived as a refugee in Kenya in 1995 aged 21. Adjusting to my new status as a refugee was not easy,” he recalls.
“When I entered Kenya, I was uncertain of my future. The only thing that gave me hope was the fact that I knew I had this talent in me which no one could take away from me. Even as a refugee, I still held on to my dream of making it big in the music industry.”
In Kenya, Kidum’s first home was the Kakuma refugee camp, where he stayed there for only three days. Kidum says he left Kakuma because he thought he had better chances of pursuing his music outside the camp, so he took the risk of leaving and heading to the capital, Nairobi. He joined a music band The Hot Rod Band in 1996, with whom he played drums and sang for eight years before forming his own band The Boda Boda Band in 2004. The band, composed of six members still exists today and is recording great success, going by the number of performances they register in a month.
But the success of the Boda Boda Band has not come easy. “We did not have penny to our name. When I was recruiting band members, I did not just look for anyone who could sing. I looked for people with a passion and commitment for music; people who put music above all else,” he says.
Kidum says he did this because he did not have any money to pay band members. The band was not recognized, and it was a struggle getting performances. And even when they got gigs which were rare and far between, they bought equipment.
Sheila Kanja and Linet Muthike supply vocals and were the first to join the band and have stayed.
“The road to where we are now as a band has not been easy,” Sheila says remembering days when they would go without pay.
“We believed in Kidum and were able to see his vision and share it, so we hang on because Kidum inspired” she says.
In keeping a band together, Kidum says trust is of paramount importance. “Band mates need to trust each other, and most importantly, they need to trust their leader and have confidence in him. Without these ingredients, the future of the band will always be in doubt,” he says.
Today, the Boda Boda Band plays regularly at different entertainment spots around the country. “When you offer quality service, word goes round and your reputation will always precede you,” he says.
As a solo musician, Kidum has recorded four albums. The first two are dedicated to his countrymen and to neighboring Rwandese, and primarily focus on promoting peace and harmony. As he speaks, there is no doubt Kidum has come a long way and has lessons to share with both musicians and non-musicians.
“The first thing we all need to do is discover our talents. Not all of us are born to be musicians, in the same way that not all of us are born to be athletes. For example, even though I admire David Rudisha very much, it would be difficult for me to become an athlete of his repute,” he jokes, pointing at his big belly. “Just because someone else is successful in one field does not mean that you too will be successful in it.”
Kidum criticizes those who seek easy fame and fortune, saying that patience is a virtue that is lost on many. “Some people start singing today and expect to be millionaires tomorrow. Success does not come overnight!” he stresses.
As a strong Christian who draws lots of inspiration from the Bible, Kidum says he depends on the Lord for direction.
Story: Caroline Kageche
Photographs: Daniel K. Njung’e.
Make-Up: Wacuka Thimba
Kidum – Mapenzi
Kidum – Namba Moja