Rapper Chanda Mbao spent most of his life living overseas. That makes his musical influences very distinctive, which can be heard in his music whether he raps in Spanish or infuses different styles of music together. Locally he has found success working with frequent collaborators RnB singer Scott and Kaladoshas. I sat down with the elusive Chanda Mbao to find out what makes him tick, award wins, to discuss his ground-breaking endorsement deal with Neonova technologies as their first music talent as well as his upcoming Mixtape “The Patriot”.
The 2016 release of his hit song Selfish put Chanda on the mainstream radar. The song tackles the interesting subject matter of a relationship that is on the verge of breaking because the man is focused on his career. In his own words Chanda explains that “life inspired the song, it is something that I’ve experienced as a young professional trying to do all these different things and being in this building stage of your life. The main tragedy of this life is endless possibilities and limited resources, the most valuable resource being your time. Sometimes in life you have competing priorities, you want a really good love life but you also want to be successful and you are going to sacrifice.”
He recently won the CBC Television “Choice Hip-hop video of the year” award for the video. “It was my first award for music, full stop! I would say the significance for me was two-fold. Firstly when you are working really hard on something and you are intrinsically motivated you forget that people can connect with that. Outside of the satisfaction that I get from making music there is some effect on the outside world. Secondly this was voted for by the public not the industry, I almost quit making music when I moved back to Zambia because I thought the type of music that I do wouldn’t make it in this market… so to have people vote for my video meant a lot.”
“An award is like a college degree. A degree is a stepping stone for certain opportunities in life! If you win a Grammy you are now afforded opportunities that others are not; so it’s about how well you use the award, it legitimises you as a musician. One of the challenges of the local industry is the lack of infrastructure; in the US there is the “machine”. A long established system of how an artist is a monetisable business. There are clear-cut rules of how as a musician you become a viable business. So you follow those rules and you will most likely achieve a level of success. Here in Zambia it’s a different environment because that system doesn’t exist. Monetising music can be hard for artists because they may have other opportunities or business that are bringing in more revenue than the music.”
At the start of the year it was announced that Chanda signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Neonova Technologies. “Neonova Tech is a really fast growing relatively young Information Technology focused company. Locally and as a growing brand they’re trying to associate themselves with a young crop of entrepreneurs and trying to find creative and innovative ways to reach brands as well as the public they want to associate with young movers and shakers. I am one of the first music talents they have chosen to work with, they are trying to find unique stories and highlight them and provide linkages with brands and the artist. Growing both brands in tandem as such they are in charge of my Digital Content as an artist.”
Chanda is not just a musician however. He is a strategy manager for a financial services company. His role is to look at the development of new business lines, new product lines, analyse and model them consequently projecting and providing recommendations on the ultimate direction of the business. He looks at the size of potential markets and the kind of competitive advantages the company possesses to provide their services. This helps him as an artist because he is able to understand the financial side of the industry.
As in independent artist he has his own views on the digital music landscape, which has grown exponentially in Zambia. “Everything is relative to the options artists have available, there are physical stores that will charge you to stock your music anywhere form 30% and up depending on your pricing. Digitally iTunes as an example works in a similar way where the artist can get up to 60c on the dollar for their sales. It all depends on the platform or store; alternatively there are options like band camp where the money made from sales is fully yours. It’s about where your fan base is and what you have at your disposal. As a financial professional one of the things that I’ve learned is “rather 10% of 100 million than 100% of nothing” because people tend to have this obsession with ownership on everything. And singular ownership without understanding the value of the overall thing. It’s better for you to have a minority stake in a huge revenue generating business than to be full owner in a business that doesn’t generate revenue. The economics are tough right now for musicians everywhere in the world and what is saving the western world right now is streaming. In recent years it’s been the only growth factor in global music revenues! If it weren’t for streaming the global music revenue would have declined. We live in a digital landscape and you should leverage it as an artist, just know the economics will vary depending on the platform. You have to be digitally present!”
One of his latest singles Waves went viral internationally when US Internet dancing sensation YvngSwag (YoungSwag) made an Instagram video of him dancing to it! It has over 77,000 views. Chanda notes that “It’s dope to get validation from somebody like that who is obviously an influencer, making waves of his own and in a completely different geography so to know that our song can translate is cool. It definitely spiked the plays of our song and has people making dance videos of our song.”
His highly anticipated mixtape The Patriot is being released through Neonova, and he shed insight into what his fans and listeners can expect. “The first song called The Patriot describes where this project is rooted, I say reference to my time in boarding school in Spain. A big part of my story is that I have lived in a lot of different countries but when I was living in Spain I read a book by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o who is famous for both fiction and his scholarly works like “Decolonising The Mind”. Some would call him a linguistic determinist; he posits that the human experience through the lens of the individual is very much defined by the language that they live in. He observed that Kenyan society was at a detriment for being so Anglo-centric; he rejected that Anglo-centrism and put his Kikuyu roots and language at the center of his work. Reading that book was illuminating for me, I didn’t realise it then but that is part of what made me start calling myself Chanda Mbao, which is my name, I just ditched the Anglo part (Carl). I wanted people to know and to ask “where is that from, what is that the M and the B, the double constant thing?” I wanted the question from people so that I could tell them I am from Zambia and this is my story.
“It’s The Patriot because that was the turning point and I am proud to say that everywhere I went after that I made sure every single person I met knew I was from Zambia. That is a part of my story and the most important part, so the message is ‘this is who I am’ and some people may perceive me differently even in Zambia because of the way I speak and dress. The aim is to explore this idea that there is a package in which people think patriotism comes and I am saying that it doesn’t have to be that way. Patriotism is an ideology, it’s partly an emotional thing, it’s an attachment, something that you don’t need to speak or look a certain way to have.”
After sitting with the eloquent business savvy Chanda Mbao one is left with a little inside information of what to look forward to on the mixtape. One of the first tracks, Coming to America, written from a migrant perspective is one that has never been more relevant in the current global climate. Another is Vice City a song about living in Miami and interpreting the Miami lifestyle from an outsider’s perspective. Last but not least something for all millennials in Zambia, Brand New, which is an ode to Zambia and the current Zambian Experience. As Chanda says, “The mixtape is a journey, my journey and the one I want to take everyone on.”
Follow him on twitter: @ChandaMbao
Listen to him on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/chandambao