Jua Cali (Real name – Paul Nunda), also known as “Baba Yao”, the king of genge music (a style that fuses hip hop, dancehall and traditional African music) has done about 15 years of narrating the ‘genge’ culture in hypnotising lyrics and easy rhythm. Additionally, he has a lot to show for that venture – accolades, nominations, fanatics, globe-trots, and now a family.
He brings the roof down every time he steps on stage. Jua Cali is known for his authentic messages – putting colour to Kenya’s ghetto culture that was previously not widely celebrated. The lyrics easy and clever, the tempo easy – giving that boy-next-door feel. He is definitely a charmer that speaks to the souls of those that understand his language and culture – ‘Ki-genge’.
Interesting, the charm doesn’t lift when he steps off the stage. The BLN team, at his new home, are treated to his great stewarding. He is an amazing listener – he knows how to follow a story and enjoy a joke. And he is a great story teller. Flow, wit and humour are not in lack as he narrates what has been happening behind the scenes – a wife and babies.
She asked for his number
“Nilikuwa stage na perform event ya Mr and Miss Zetec. Na nilikuwa na cheki dem moja hapo kwa corner na dress ya black amechangamka yake yote… – ameimba lyrics zangu zote. Ililkuwa inanibamba. (I was performing at Miss Zetec when I saw a girl in a black dress singing along my songs – word for word. I liked it),” remembers Jua Cali. After the show the lady went back stage to say hi. She asked for his number – Jua Cali gave his manager’s. She called. They met up on a date. Jua Cali said, “…You can call me Paul.” Now she is his wife and the mother to his son, Evans, and three months old, Doreen. That’s beautiful Lilly Asigo, who is in the hospitality industry.
She is easy, beautiful and honest, explains Jua Cali. She lets me be who I am. He says he has never had the need to change into a ‘weirdo’ so that his wife is okay. He says she tells him what she truly thinks. She trusts me… even with the nature of my work. Na hiyo hufanya nifuraiye sana kukuja home after job (and that makes me eager come back home after business). And he rubs Evans head saying he appreciatesLilly being a great mother.
Why Jua Cali
“I have been his big fan since childhood,” Lilly recollects. She remembers being riveted to the radio – cramming and dancing to Jua Cali’s music during most of her quality time. Now, being in his show that night was the climax – culminating into their happily-ever-after.
“I am not the kind of person who “vumilias” (perseveres). I am NOT the kind of person that stays in a bad relationship – no. So I can comfortably tell you that our relationship is beautiful,” she says matter-of-factly as Jua Cali nodes smiling as though chanting his popular word “Waaatuu….!”.
“Both of us are black and white people,” she goes on. So nothing spins out of control because they would have already have addressed it. He is very loving, very easy, cool and nice to be with, Lilly says. “In fact the kids ‘love’ him more,” she chortles, “I am the disciplinarian.”
They would not exchange what they have for anything, they express. They consider themselves very blessed. For the whole time BLN is visiting with the Nunda’s, he keeps stealing moments to snuggle up to or kiss the children. He almost cannot get enough of them.
“He took me to all my clinic appointments,” she goes on to say. “He used to record the whole doctor-ultrasound events on his phone and kept replaying them after we got back home,” says Lilly. He is a great dad and a passionate provider for the family, she adds.
“I am now a stay-at-home mum… And I like it. When I was working, before Baby Doreen came along, I kept feeling Baba Evans and I were not having quality time. Now it’s great,” she says.
Of names and the house
‘Jua Cali’ (derived from Nairobi’s California Estate where he grew up) is a brand that does wonders on stage, in media, in the streets, everywhere……. In the house… err… it sits silently on the CDs, DVD’s and other merchandise. He is simply Baba Evans or Paul. “I don’t call him that,” Lilly laughs, saying the few times she happened to call him ‘Jua Cali’ felt really funny.
Does she take part in his music?
Yes. She is usually the first one to know when his creative juices are churning, and of the message that so utterly needs to get out of his chest. She doesn’t go to the studio much but is usually the first to go through the diamond-in-the-rough versions. He absorbs a good part of her critiquing tempering it with what the industry demands. Lilly is also first to enjoy the sparkled version. “Nikiimaliza miuileta tuna dance pamoja as the Nundas (when I am done I bring it home and we enjoy it as the Nundas),” That’s Paul himself, Lilly, Evans and now Doreen who gets to be rocked along.
She can sing Jua Cali’s songs backwards. Is she musical? Does she have plans to join hubby on stage some day? “No,” she laughs. “There can only be one of us there. Someone has to attend to the other stuff,” she says adding that she supports him religiously – from the house.
More fatherly ways:
Arguably the most successful artist in Kenya’s music industry runs a cause by the name Ng’arisha Initiative with a friend. Here he rallies artists and other well-wishers to donate clothes to needy children. He is partnering with Uchumi which avails its retail outlets, the supermarkets, as the clothes’ drop off points.
“Business? No. I can’t force it. It will come like a calling. Bizna… – heart ni lazima. Siwezi fanya kitu bila heart. Ati mabeste wanasema ‘…eeh tufungue butchery…’halafu nafungua… aah zii. (I have to do business that comes from my heart. I cannot do business without my heart. For example guys say, ‘let’s start a butchery… and there I am opening one. No way). He says he is looking forward to it showing up – especially through Lilly. He will be happy to support it.
Had he been part of the powers that be, he’d quickly address…
Housing. He is sad that the biggest part of many a Kenyan’s income goes into rent and that some of these houses are not ideal for family habitation. They are cold, wet and with poor drainage, have insufficient running water and no healthy social space – to say the least. He believes that housing in Kenya can be made more affordable and habitable. He is convinced that everyone who wishes to own a home can be empowered to work towards that…. “Mazee hio stori ya landlord jo… ni ka LORD! Anaanza kukuwa ka mungu wako…. (That kind of makes the landlord – a real lord – a god of sorts), says the genge king. With evident conviction, when someone resides in a comfortable healthy home – without a ‘lord’ on their case, there’s almost nothing they cannot do.
Music and the times
His music genius has permeated the corporate and NGO world thus keeping his diary mostly at choker-blocked. He became Motorola’s Ambassador in 2007. In 2009, Telkom Kenya made him the Orange Ambassador for their youth market by fronting the ‘hello tunes’ advertising campaign. Then following the victories of the Kenyan Rugby Sevens team, Orange shot a series of infomercials on Rugby featuring top Kenya rugby players and Jua Cali, the genge artist.
He is also the ambassador of a non-profit charitable trust, Bloodlink Foundation Kenya, and has featured in adverts like Protex soap.He did the music track of Pamoja Mtaani (together in the hood) a video game in Kenya developed by Warner Bros. The plot is about a youth band together making their way through a maze of challenges in East Africa, with a subtle agenda of HIV prevention. The general returns have been in millions of Kenya shillings.
His fans out there inspire the content of his music
Jua Cali says he does have his fans out there that inspire the content of his music. As he settles into fatherhood and hubby-hood, however, his lyrics are mutating along. The songs have a thrust of the masculine mystic’s desires. The power to change things for the better and the need to provide are palpable in the song Bidii Yangu (My effort). You notice that settled feeling – identifying with your roots; the pride of your genus/ heritage laced in the song Karibu Nairobi (Welcome to Nairobi).
The proverbial Baba Yao (Their father) exudes the protective instinct over the upcoming artists that are at the larvae stage – where you soon turn into a butterfly and rule the world with ballads, or (which happens to the many) topple out of the industry – courtesy of an injured self-esteem.
There is more stuff in the oven. He will not divulge a lot of information on the next release. But from the little said, we can pre-empt that he is genge-nizing the confessions of a man wielded by the power of beauty, friendship and charm of a woman – his wife, Lilly.
Juacali Sekta (October 2006)
Ngeli ya Genge (December 2008)
TuGenge Yajayo (December 2013)
Awards and Acknowledgements
2006 Kisima Music Awards – Boomba Male
2007 Chaguo La Teeniez Awards (CHAT Awards) – Best Male and Celebrity of the Year
2007 Kisima Music Awards – Best Male Artist and Boomba Male
2007 Pearl of Africa Music Awards (PAM Awards) – Best Male Artist – Kenya
August 2007 – Among 100 most influential Kenyans as selected by The Standard newspaper
2008 Chaguo La Teeniez Awards – Favourite Male Artiste & Best Live Stage Performance & Best Collabo Song (‘Kwaheri’ with Sainapei).