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Q&A with Sila of Sila and the Afrofunk Experience

SF's King of Afrofunk

Sila Matungi’s dream of becoming a celebrity musician began as a youngster growing up in the mountains of Kenya. Chasing after his dream, he found himself in the Bay Area with his band, Sila and the Afrofunk Experience. After releasing his sophomore album Black President completely DIY, then receiving the award for Best International Album by the NAACP — over Zap Mama and Omou Sangare — his dream is within his reach. He recently spoke with SF Station about the award and his career thusfar.

SF Station (SFS): Will you tell me a little about where you grew up?

Sila Matungi (SM): I grew up in a town called Machakos. I grew up in the mountains, listening to Voice of America with tunes from James Brown, Bob Marley, Kool and The Gang, and Jimi Hendrix. I was hooked to music.

Growing up listening to that music was very helpful. Because of the struggles of growing up in a village, all I had was my grandmother and music. In my room, I had photos of guitars that I had cut out of newspapers. My dream was to have a guitar.

SFS: When did you get your first guitar?

SM: I got my first guitar when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen years old. I got a guitar because I had an aunt who got one for me. When she came back to Kenya she gave it to my dad. I remember I was in boarding school. I was walking out of class and all the way down [the hall] is my dad walking towards me with a big smile on his face.

SFS: Why did you put Barack Obama on the cover of the album?

SM: Many Africans see him as one of their own and hope that he’ll look after his own people. Because of the genocide in Rwanda, and policies — trade policies — it will hopefully be a better relationship. In these times of disaster and recession, music must speak the truth. It’s up to artists and musicians who are there to promote for change all over the world.

SFS: How did you feel when you received the NAACP award?

SM: The whole thing was an absolute shock to me. To be honest with you, I had no inkling or thought that I was going to win at all. The whole thing was very surreal because I’ve never been around Hollywood. I remember walking in and seeing Tatyana Ali, this gorgeous actress.

SFS: Oh, I know who she is.

SM: She’s so damn gorgeous! I had no nerve to talk to her. She looked at me and smiled, and I smiled, but was speechless. I’m right behind her, and there are photographers, press, and everything. They went mad around her. I had never seen anything like it — like a caged bull with all of them shouting her name.

As I walked up behind her on the red carpet, nobody took my picture. It was like tumbleweeds and crickets, man. One of the photographers shouted, “Who are you?” I was like “Hey! I’m Sila from Kenya and I’m nominated for best international album!”

SFS: Oh man, that’s rough. [laughs]

SM: That’s the beginning of my night, so I had no expectations whatsoever. When I heared “Black President,” the way they announced it was kind of backwards. I didn’t even know who “Black President” was, and so I’m looking around trying to find who is this “Black President.” My friend was there and she grabbed me because I was in shock. She shakes me, and says, “Get up! You won.” What really made me happy is that they made me get out of my chair and go to the red carpet but this time they took my picture!

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