Today on Mics And Beats we feature Gilad Millo. Gilad Millo is an international musician based in Nairobi, who records and performs soulful reggae music together with The Superband. Their lyrics are fused with Swahili and English, in what has growingly been identified as music for the soul. Gilad recently formed Harmony Africa Limited, a company focused on Brand Positioning, and is its CEO.
A former Israeli Diplomat, TV Journalist and Corporate Executive, Gilad’s debut single ‘Unajua’ ft Wendy Kimani, in mid 2015, shot to the top of many Kenyan charts immediately after its release and has remained popular since. Following up with ‘Sema Milele’ released on his 18th wedding anniversary and dedicated to his wife, Gilad continues to release hit after with songs like ‘Salama’, ‘Rangi ya Bahari’, ‘Karibu Nyumbani’ and his latest chart topping release ‘Nakuahidi’ with Dela Maranga.
Following the success of his maiden concert ‘Gilad Live’ featuring leading Kenyan artists, Gilad headlined a show at The Alchemist and followed this by producing and headlining the recent ‘Westgate Live’ Concert alongside music legends Nameless & Nyashinski.
When and why did you start playing/singing? Which instruments do you play (if any)?
I started singing at around 6 years. I played beginning piano, violin, flute and guitar and none of them really took.
Do you have a formal musical education?
No I don’t.
Where did you learn how to speak in Kiswahili?
I learnt Kiswahili when I came to Kenya and I am still learning every day.
Do you perform full time or like Kenyans you have another side hustle?
I keep telling people I deserve Kenyan Citizenship simply based on the fact that I hustle like a Kenyan. I definitely perform more these days, but much of my energy is devoted to my new company, (another 10 years dream fulfilled) Harmony Africa Ltd., which focuses on Brand Positioning, my area of expertise.
What brought you to Kenya?
I came to Kenya originally as a backpacker, returned as a Diplomat and then came back again as an expatriate working as a corporate executive.
What made you stay?
I chose to make Kenya my home because I fell in love with the people, their spirit, and generosity. Kenyans humility has captivated me and changed me for the better I believe.
Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music for the first time like. What song do you remember most as a child?
At the age of 7, I had the chance to sing in a Jewish Boys Choir in London. The lyrics to the songs were taken from Psalms with melodies written by my first music teacher, Yigal Salek. I remember all the songs and still enjoy singing them.
What musical influences did you have as a child?
My first musical influences came as a result of the music my older brother listened to, which in those days included Pink Floyd, The Police, Bob Marley, The Beatles and The Eagles.
How is the music different from what you listen to now?
I still listen to that same music today and I have also enjoyed very diverse taste in music, I can listen to classical, reggae, rock, pop, ballads, cultural and ethnic music, pretty much everything. Today I spend most of my time listening to East African music, mostly Kenyan, but also from Tanzania and Uganda.
What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
When I was 25, and part of a band in Jerusalem I wanted to be a musician, but it didn’t work out. This time around twenty years later, I only decided to take music more seriously after ‘Unajua’ and ‘Sema Milele’ had been received so well.
Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?
I am a hard core Sauti Sol fan along with most of Africa and love the entire ‘Live & Die in Africa’ Album. I am more a fan of songs than of specific artists and listen to a very wide variety of music from King Kaka, Juliani, Elani, Ali Kiba, Chameleon, Nameless, Nyashinski, Avril, H_art the Band, and there are more.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Just keep singing.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Imagine the worst case scenario and accept that it’s not so bad. Then take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the show.
How often and for how long do you practice?
With Superband we rehearse every week and often two or three times a week, depending on the type of show and artists we are performing with.
Do you teach music?
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?
‘Swahilish’ lyrics with a reggae vibe or music for the Soul.
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
Lots of passion and energy together with plenty of musicianship and artistry from the band. Live means live, not playback or backing tracks. It means musicians who are each artists with an instrument, whether guitar, bass, keyboard, saxophone, drums or vocals, coming together to create live music. I have always been a live performer, my first time in a real studio was July 2014, when I walked into MG Studios to start recording ‘Unajua’.
Out of the songs you have performed which is your favourite song? (If you have your own music which song of yours)
That is almost like asking, which of my kids I love more, it is impossible to choose. The answer depends on my mood, sometimes the high point of a show is singing ‘Salama’, sometimes it’s ‘Rangi ya Bahari’ and sometimes it is one of the new songs we perform even though they have not been released yet.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
How much creative control do you have over what you perform?
I have complete creative control over everything related to my music.
Do you write your own music?
Are you mentoring any young musicians?
Not officially, but I do spend a lot of time responding to questions and offering a bit advice on the different social media platforms.
If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?
The industry lacks capital investment, whether from within Kenya or from outside, there is very little turnover in the industry and that makes being a musician not commercially sustainable, even for those who make it big. That’s something I would change.
Have you ever performed with a band? What are the lessons you have learnt being part of a group?
I have been performing with bands for over 20 years. It is important to remember that every musician is there to enjoy making music and should be given creative space. There are no real ‘stars’ in a band as everyone has a role in making the end result – music.
What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?
I like lyrics and a soulful melody and tend to listen to that type of music, which also impacts the music I create.
What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?
I’m a social person and enjoy spending time with people, whether my close family and friends or random people I meet. That is when away from listening to music, writing songs and singing pretty much everywhere.
What keeps you going as a musician?
I am enjoying the journey, literally every aspect of it including the more challenging parts, which tend to be very educational and as a result empowering.
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist? What are your long term career goals?
If I am still making music in fifteen years I will be a happy man.
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)
Bob Marley, John Lennon, Lois Armstrong and most recently Chronixx.
What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News?
30th July – Gilad & Superband at Samantha’s Bridal Wedding Fair, Sarit Center, Nairobi
1st October – Rise Up Reggae Festival, Carnivore Grounds
In addition, I am working to complete an album, which I hope to call ‘Music for the Soul’. I have released 6 singles and I am in the process of recording 6 additional songs, each at different stages of development.
I am also working on the music video for ‘Nakuahidi’.
If you would like to interact with Gilad you can find him on twitter @GiladMillo.