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SNAPPY 7: Duane Stephenson – If you decide to be an artiste be a businessman first or you will die poor

Mention the name Duane Stephenson to any reggae fan and the first thing you will hear is August Town. He is one of the golden ages of reggae music and his hit August Town remains indispensable in Kenya.

Born in Kingston, Stephenson was a singer in the band To-Isis for 10 years before recording as a solo artiste. He began to release solo records in 2005, starting with the single 24 Hours.

He signed to VP Records, who released his first album, From August Town, in 2007.

He took time to visit Nairobi News studios and got personal about his life and his music.

1. Tell us about your new song, Sarah? – I’m visiting Kenya to do a promotion of my new song called Sarah which was produced by Kenyan – Swedish producer, Masa music records East Africa. All recordings were done in Jamaica at Tuff Gong records. This is all about supporting those who have been supporting our music especially Kenya who have been big fans and we decided to fuse everything.

2. What influences your music? – As a youth I was in a group of a six member known as To-Isis, which was formed with other members of the Cathy Levy Club in 1997. I decided to start a solo career and the first thing that you have to do is create your own identity.

For me August Town was that identity, there can be many songs by Duane but for me there will always be August Town. That is why the album was called From August Town which was my identity.

The one thing you can bring to the table and you are sure no one else can turn up to the table with is you. Your life experience, the way you view things and the way people view you because of your actions. I generally sing about life situations and August Town was something that shaped me in the early days.

PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU
PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

3. What has changed since you got into the music industry? – My knowledge of the business. Here is my advice: Please educate yourselves before you decide to go out singing or else you will die broke with a catalogue that is making millions and you will never see a dime.

I tell people that when I got into the music business, I was told to write music to a lot of people. I wrote music to Morgan Heritage, Luciano, and Jah Cure mega hit Reflections. I remember the first song I did I signed a contract to a company. First they used my own money to purchase half of the share of the song. I knew it was highway robbery but those days I couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Three years I returned and read the contract again and the last line read “All other money owed to Duane Stephenson and payable to Duane Stephenson will be held indefinitely to the account of xxx record label” which meant I did not have a card for that account. Which meant I will never get another dime. So if you decide to be an artiste be a business man first.

4. Who are your musical mentors? – I listen from Kenny Rogers to Britney Spears but in terms if reggae I have always loved Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh. I was more on the side of Peter Tosh. Also I have listened and learned about the life of Fella Kuti, later on Lucky Dube was a great influencer because of his music.

5. What would you do if you were not a musician? – I would be a refrigerator air conditioner engineer. That was what I was learning at school until I ran off to sing.

6. What Kenyan cuisine have you enjoyed since you’ve been here? – You know what, they just pass it to me, I like how it looks good and I eat it. Kenya has good food. It is not many places in the World you can go and take chances like that, especially not Europe.

7. What advice would you give to young Kenyans who look up to you? – It sounds corny when you say it, but to me it’s education. An educated man makes educated decisions. Educate yourself to make better decisions.