Sauti Sol Band Members Talk High Style With An African Twist
One of the hottest bands in Kenya right now, Nairobi-based Sauti Sol, is looking at a bright future ahead. With three successful albums, performances at SXSW two years in a row (2011 and 2012), and several prestigious awards under their belts, Willis Chimano, Bien-Aime Baraza, Delvin Mudigi, and Polycarp Otieno show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. We can't get enough of their irresistible sound, which the group describes as "warm resonant pop with traditional Kenyan influences" and their vibrant, head-turning style. Flashy, colorful outfits have become their fashionable trademark alongside their disctinct music.
We asked the members (all friends since high school) to share their thoughts on everything related to their personal style, from their inspirations and where they like to shop, to their favorite fashion blogs.
How would you describe your personal style?
Willis Chimano: We'd describe our style as the new normal, or the more cliché way — out of the box. But for real out of the box. I personally look forward to a day where I can make my own stuff because getting what you want here sometimes can be so hard.
Polycarp Otieno: We've come a long way when it come to personal style — some more than others. For example, Chimano used to need saving, and it's surprising how now he has an eye for what looks good and what doesn't.
Bien-Aime Baraza: Also let me point out that I've always been with it, even when it looked almost like a disaster. But trust me, everyone was wearing it! As a group I can confidently say we've pretty much carved out what our style direction will be.
What inspires your personal style?
Delvin Mudigi: We are very different from one other, but at the same time we're very much the same. There are some things Chimano or Polycarp can wear but are a major no no for me. I'd say personal style is an acquired taste, but in general we all research what trends are out there by checking out blogs. Then we fuse it into our style and put an African touch to it.
Chimano: I buy every issue of GQ. I think it's the basic magazine every man should have to know what's going on. I'm also a fashion blog enthusiast. My friend recently introduced me to this blog The Three F. It's a really awesome blog for any guy who needs to up his game.
Do you coordinate outfits for performances?
Baraza: Yes, we do coordinate, but then again we don't want to end up looking like a quartet. We all have different personalities and there's a way each one of us would want to look, so yes, we coordinate but not everything. For example, if we're all wearing blazers for a performance, each blazer will have its own special idea or look. So you might find that Chimano's has chains, Delvin's has two brooches connected with a chain, and Polycarp's has different lapels with an African print. We try make it interesting. It's quite boring if its the same — no offense to those who do that.
Chimano: Also let me add we want our style to be called "African Avant-Garde." Especially when performing so we can promise y'all that we're about to do more interesting stuff. As for appearances, it's pretty much the same or each of us wears something that represents our personality.
Is your street style different from your performance style?
Mudigi: Our street style and performance style is slightly different because it's a watered down version of our performance style. For stage we feel you have to exaggerate the look a bit more because at the end of the day it is showbiz. You may be a talented artist, but it's also good for you to be identified according to your style.
Baraza: Hypothetically speaking, if I wear a heavily studded leather jacket with spikes, I think wearing that on a normal day would be overly ambitious. But that's just me.
Where do you like to shop?
Otieno: Well in Kenya we have to have most of what we wear made from scratch because it's really hard to get what we want. But at least there are designers here and also a couple of tailors who, if given the right specifications, can make what you need. Otherwise, stuff is brought in from China and Turkey that aren't cool, and the sizes are just something else. I think when it comes to stores I'll speak for everyone and say we get to shop properly when on tour in Europe, especially during the summer. Then stuff is on sale — who doesn't love sales? And if you shop on time, I mean before everyone grabs everything, you will get cool stuff.
Chimano: I'd love to shop at high-end stores, but I guess we'll have to work harder to afford that stuff. Also, I'd like to point out that there are some flea markets that have loads of decent vintage stuff worth buying, especially in Amsterdam.
What are some of your favorite pieces in your wardrobe?
Baraza: I love the jacket I wore in our new video “Range Rover.” It was made by a really good tailor here, y'all should check it out.
Chimano: I love my half leather gloves because they're one in a million, not like any other. Plus, it was a long search for that kind of glove — they had to be hand made. Also my polka dot bow tie.
Mudigi: My huge Maasai bracelet is priceless to me. And my new owl chain given to me by a good friend.
Otieno: My hats! Period.
What are some of your favorite designers?
Baraza: To be quite honest, we're pretty local people and typical guys. So we won't have names of designers at our fingertips, but when going through magazines we're good at picking whatever looks amazing and maximizing it to the fullest. Chimano: In Kenya we have really cool designers though, like Patricia Mbela and John Kaveke, who we've worked with and continue to work with. Katungulu Mwendwa is awesome. There's something about her designs that is so intriguing.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Chimano: We're currently touring the country with a series of concerts. There are six in total under a project dubbed Niko Na Safaricom Live. Safaricom is the biggest and most successful mobile phone company in Kenya.
We also just released a new video last week called “Range Rover,” which has received very many mixed reviews. The song is in our self-titled EP that we released about three months ago. It was produced by South African artist Spoek Mathambo. He's under Sub Pop Records. In a month we'll also be releasing another video that we shot in Amsterdam together along with “Range Rover.” It's for the song “Love or Leave,” which is also on the EP.
Images courtesy Sauti Sol