Mics And Beats: Philip ‘Filah’ Tuju Sijenyi

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Today on our Mics and Beats segment we feature musician Philip ‘Filah’ Tuju Sijenyi.  I discovered Philip Tuju on Power Breakfast on Citizen TV and I just loved his music. Filah desires to be an inspiration through his music. Filah developed an interest in music early in his life through his parents, who sang in the church choir. At home Filah and his siblings were encouraged to sing. He received basic music theory training at Lavington Primary School and Kilimani Junior Academy Primary School.

At Upper Hill High School Filah focused on song writing and composition. While in high school Filah joined the school’s a cappella singing group, Voice In The Light and later was part of Votaries, a vocal group consisting former members of Voice In The Light members.

In 2002 Filah and his friends left Votaries to form Pentamony. Immediately after graduating Pentamony was slotted for major performances, opening for some of the most established artists at the time. At the age of 19, Filah continued to be a volunteer choir and voice trainer at his former school Upper Hill and also at Moi Girls School Nairobi. That same year he led both Upper Hill and Moi Girls’ to win at the Kenya Music Festival. Filah volunteers at different primary and secondary schools where he teaches vocal technique, sight reading and conducting.

Over the years Filah has run several charity programs in not only vocal music but also instrument instruction. At his church he run a program to teach, Violin, Piano, Voice, Flute, Clarinet, Guitar, Drums and other instruments to kids who were home for the holidays. At Upper Hill he carried his five violins that he had used his saving to buy, to teach his singing students how to play. Through his volunteering culture particularly at Upper Hill, he gave vocal foundation lessons to various notable singers and musicians that include Sauti Sol, Josh of Amos n Josh, Bryan of Elani, Antoneo Soul, Ciano, Scott the Violinist, Christ Cycoz and Enos Olik.

At Michael ‘Rizeye’ Kariuki’s studio, Pentamony finally completed their debut album ‘Everything We Feel’ in 2007 which was well received among the Kenyan urban audience. Success of their album and vocal prowess earned the group numerous awards including, Kisima Music Awards and Chaguo La Teeniez.  With that success followed an invitation to tour Norway, but after the successful tour the group disbanded after a number of successful singles and performances.

Filah decided to pursue a career as a solo artist. He set up a home studio Four Red Studios, where he has produced numerous singles for himself and other artists. It is at his home studio that he worked on his debut album ‘Every Dream’ Filah has been actively involved in the Kenyan Classical music scene. He had a short stint at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music as a violinist, and taken part in various operas staged in Kenya as a baritone soloist. The Operas he has performed include, Papageno in the opera ‘The Magic Flute’, Leporello in the Opera ‘Don Giovanni’, Don Alfonso in the Opera ‘ Cosi Fan Tutti’, Figaro in the Opera ‘Marriage Of Figaro.

Filah was the 2nd runners up in the Maisha Superstar Competition, where he was mentored by Nameless. His gift for song writing and arranging was noted by accomplished musicians that include Eric Wainaina, Chris Adwar, Carol Atemi and many others. He got to collaborate with these artists on his four songs that were hits at the competition. His latest release is “Fatuma” an Afro pop composition produced by the legendary Robert ‘R Kay’ Kamanzi. Filah is a scholarship recipient from the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

Philip Tuju Filah

When and why did you start singing?

I developed an interest in singing from about 12 years old when I was part of a Christmas music concert in church. Earlier though I was fascinated by harmony when I listened to my mum harmonising my dad’s tenor at family alters. I believe those why my early years of interest in music and its creation. Later I of course took it seriously in high school at Upper Hill School, singing in the school choir and ended up volunteering on finishing.

In music I found a place where I could speak about my deepest feelings, desires and nothing else made me feel more alive. The idea that I could connect to anyone who dared to listen made me feel that I could communicate in a most sincere way.

Which instruments do you play?

Apart from singing, I play the violin, flute, guitar, piano, clarinet, chivoti, recorder, bass

Do you have a formal musical education?

My formal music education is purely self taught. I studied theory of music and sat for exams on my own. I got a partial scholarship to the prestigious Berklee college of Music but didn’t attend because the remaining fee was still too high.

Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music for the first time like. What song/s do you remember most as a child?

‘Dunia ina mambo’ from the popular show ‘Tahamaki’. That song made me love song writing. It was deep and its use on such a captivating show at the time made total sense to me.

Has your family supported your music career?

My family have supported me fully although it took abit of convincing for my parents. My mum still insists that I need to go back to school.

What musical influences did you have a child?

My Mum, Dad with their church choral background influenced me at an early age in harmony. My eldest brother David also had a big influence in my music simply because he looked cool singing while he was in high school at Upper Hill School and I vowed I was going to work at being cool like him. I did!

How is the music different from what you listen to now?

Now music is more of visualising through song than sharing feelings that are almost impossible to explain. Its simply different.

What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

The day I realised there was nothing else I do better and feel most alive doing than music. That was in high school.

Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?

My favourite group right now is Sauti Sol. They have understood what it takes to remain relevant and have an amazing thirst to push the envelope. Their song writing skills stand out for me.

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

I go into full denial mode!! Hahaha! I act like I did nothing wrong. I have for a long time struggled with lyrics in songs, even my own songs. I end up changing lyrics and various sections. Many times it throws off my band but they have now learnt to expect new lyrics when I am singing. I focus more on the spirit of the music so even if I mess up on lyrics I quickly figure out new words that would give the same message.

filah Philip Tuju

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

If you mess you have learnt what you did wrong. That’s a good thing! As a performer you never get over stage fright or the fear to put yourself out there. The other option is to do nothing at all, then you would never know how far you would have gone. As hard as it is. Make that first move and learn from it.

Do you write your own music?

I write my own music. It’s a blessing to be able to share my thoughts through song and I don’t take it for granted. Once in a while I am wowed by other writers and their approach of lyrics and melody and ask that they write for me a song and its always beautiful when you make that great collaborative connection.

How many hours do you practice?

I practice every day on average 3 hours.

Do you mentor any musicians?

I strongly believe in mentorship on all levels, I started training singers while still in high school at Upper Hill School. I noticed that many of the junior choir members looked up to me, though I didn’t consider myself the best, I believed by helping them develop their singing and stage performance, it was a reflection of my musical level at the time. It was then that I vowed to volunteer at Upper Hill and any other school that would need choral training that included Moi Girls Nairobi, State House Girls, Ngara Girls, Starehe Boys and many others.

The result of this mentorship has seen the success of notable singers in Kenya that include, Sauti Sol, Bryan of Elani, Anto Neo Sol, Scott the Violinist, Ciano, Enos Olik and so many others.

It was after realising the impact I had created with offering musical mentorship for free, that I decided I was going to open a music school where majority of the students would be on scholarship and I did this year when I opened my Redfourth Academy of Music.

How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you sing before? What can people expect to see at your live performance?

At my live performances I pour out emotion more than anything else. I am not the dancing kind of artist. My music is largely heartfelt. If you want to shed a tear or two? Come to a Filah concert

Out of the songs you have performed which is your favourite song? (If you have your own music which song of yours)

My favourite song to date is Lem Na (Pray For Me)- I wrote it for my mum and my late dad. I imagined how important their blessing for my music and life was and asked that they continue praying for me. Without them I am nothing

What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?

I believe being chosen by my musical mentor Nameless to be part of the Maisha Superstar Competition put me on a new level of musical bargaining power. Though humble, my audience has grown since the show and I have been able to work with notable musicians after they heard me on the show. I am thankful for such an opportunity and believe greater levels of growth are in store.

How much creative control do you have over what you perform?

As a director of my label Four Red Music, I have total control of my music. I of course sit down with my peers for them to critic my music before I put it out which I believe is important. In terms of content I have complete control.

Do you write your own music?

I write my own music. It’s a blessing to be able to share my thoughts through song and I don’t take it for granted. Once in a while I am wowed by other writers and their approach of lyrics and melody and ask that they write for me a song and its always beautiful when you make that great collaborative connection.

Philip Tuju Filah 2

Have you released any albums? Singles?

My first album was Everything We Feel that I released with my former group Pentamony. The second was Every Dream that I released with my students at Upper Hill School. My most recent single is Lem Na (Pray For Me) in honour of parents.

If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?

I would Change nothing, music just like politics and fashion is a mirror of society at that particular time. I will do my music and hope that it impacts in the way I desire. The audience decides what they want as a hit not the musician.

Have you ever performed with a band/group? What are the lessons you have learnt being part of a group?

I was part of an amazing vocal group Pentamony. Being in a group builds musicianship a lot because you are constantly challenging each other. In terms of decision making, it takes longer but all in all the support system in a group helps build musicianship and creativity.

What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?

I have always been into heartfelt music. Emotion is my motto when it comes to music. Any music that is more emotion than entertainment wins for me. That’s why am mostly in RnB and Worship music.

What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?

My other interest outside of music is Media. My relaxation would be movies.

What keeps you going as a musician?

Seeing that my music has touched someone’s heart and was their inspiration to aspire for greater things keeps me going

Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist?

In the next five years I want to have gotten a bigger niche for my music nothing would make me happier.

Philip ‘Filah’ Tuju Sijenyi

What are your long term career goals?

My long term goals are to build my musical empire wider to levels I myself cannot fathom

If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be? (You can name a couple of people)

I would love to perform with

  1. Ray Charles
  2. Jonathan Butler
  3. Andrea Bocelli
  4. R Kelly

What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News

I am releasing my single “Find Another” in August 2016. I am also working on the team for new music show ‘The Lead Sheet’

If you would like to interact with Filah you can find him on twitter at @filah_tuju. You can also check out his Facebook Page, and Instagram and listen to his music on Soundcloud.

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