Kidum, the quintessential African musician. He sings in Kirundi and Swahili. His songs cut across ethnicity, languages and countries. They are songs whose tunes are expressive. Simple but seductive. Colorful yet subtle. And the lyrics…woven together by a veteran of the art.
I first saw Kidum performing live about a year and a half ago at Kengeles, Nairobi West. When Kidum is on, vehicles run out of parking space and the seats are filled by men and women who are eager to have a good time. Men and women who are dating, secretly dating, or looking to start dating. Kidum’s songs call for having a partner in present or in mind. But if not, they’re not the kind of songs that discriminate, on the contrary, they’re inclusive, they call for your attention, for your ear and for your feet to move towards the dance floor.
Late last year, I watched him perform at Le Palanka in Lavington. Seeing as this is Africa, there were the usual late comers. Someone must have whispered to a group of seemingly upwardly-mobile ladies that Kidum and his Boda Boda band play at Le Palanka on Thursdays, and, out of their FOMO, they must have somehow Ubered their way through the Nairobi night to catch about three of his last performances.
With a glass of wine and a friend, we watched as a lady walked up to the stage, said something to him, made him blush (or simply made him very happy) and managed to convince him to sing two other songs. These were signature songs that had already been performed, but this was Kidum, and no one in the audience had an objection.
That, is Kidum: easy-going and humble. However, as jovial as he may often seem, his demeanor must not be misinterpreted for a lack of hardship. Kidum has been through incredibly tough times. His younger days consisted of a reality that many will only ever get to read about. When we met at the extremely elegant, and particularly convenient Eldon Villas furnished apartments on Ngong Road, Kidum opened up on what it was like fleeing his native country Burundi, finding happiness after divorce and the fulfillment of living his musical dreams.
Is it “Kidum” or “Kidumu?” I heard it might be the latter…
It’s both. Most people call me Kidum but in Burundi they call me Kidumu and in Rwanda, Kidume. But the meaning is all the same.
The meaning being?
It refers to a 20 liter jerrycan.
Okay…and in the context of your name?
I was born fat, neighbors came to congratulate my mum and they told her, “You’ve got a kidum baby.” And it stuck. But my full name is Jean Pierre Nimbona.
Kidum, you have fans all over Africa and the Diaspora too, does it surprise you how many fans you’ve earned?
No, I’m not surprised. Music is my calling. I’ve been doing this since I was 10, like the late Michael Jackson. I’m used to singing before people and making them happy by now. And that translates into fans.
Do you sing for the money?
Not at all. For me, music is my passion. It’s life to me. The money is secondary.
Would you ever consider trying something other than music?
I tried playing football when I was young, and people said I was fairly good, but I never really had the passion for it. In this world, you may find yourself in an office, with a very nice job, but there’s something else you’re itching to do. Something you love doing. And for me, that thing is music. I’ve learnt that passion is key to a fulfilling life. Passion can be everything.
Your songs are mostly geared towards love, why love? Why not sing on politics or life in general?
I do sing about some of those things, it’s just that here in Kenya, people discovered me through love songs and they thought a new guy had arrived in town. But I’ve been here since 1995 as a refugee. In fact, the song that got me discovered in Burundi was a political song. I was advocating for peace and encouraging reconciliation. The song made me serve as a peace maker.