‘Kimani Killi Show.’
We honestly can’t blame you if you have no idea who Victoria Kimani is. The Kenyan-born Nigerian starlet was the first non Nigerian Chocolate City signed. She was also their first female singer. At this point Kimani had already done some extensive songwriting in the US and was looking to launch a career in Africa. Her first single M’toto was supposed to help Chocolate City make headway in the burgeoning (at the time) East African contemporary music market. Youtube hadn’t quite caught on the way it has now and the music video tanked spectacularly, despite garnering serious airplay on all the cable channels.
Chocolate City decided to change tack and reinvented Kimani, playing down her Kenyan heritage and crafting her a bonafide Nigerian pop star persona. Her follow-up single Oya was the culmination of this change and even had M.I (himself in the process of reinventing his image from a gritty street battle rapper to a jollof ‘chairman’) lend a verse. It was a marginally more successful (thanks to M.I) but didn’t do what everyone hoped for Kimani. People knew about her now,but didn’t care enough to seek out her music.
She put out a handful of other singles, marketing them as part of the Queen Victoria mixtape. None of them managed to dent the market, and slowly Kimani began to gain attention for her very experimental style and her minor controversies. Then in late 2014, she hooked up with producer Tekno and made the song Show.
Perhaps she’d begun to despair she wouldn’t manage mainstream success in Nigeria, because a few months later she made Prokoto, with Platinum Diamondz (who in 2015 would become one of Africa’s biggest stars) and Ommy Dimpoz, both of whom have a strong fan base in East and Southern Africa. She abandoned Show, focusing all her promotional work instead on Prokoto. That turned out to be right decision as Prokoto quickly gained nearly a million views on Youtube, Kimani’s highest since she started her career and her first runaway hit. Probably under obligation from her label, she released a second song Two of Dem, made a video for it, and pulled back from active promotional work.
But while her attention was turned away from Nigeria, the unexpected happened.
In the last quarter of 2015 the phrase ‘Kimani Killi show’ transmuted into a proper slang among the millennials that barely gave the song that spawned it a summary glance the year before. Perhaps it was tied to Tekno’s meteoric rise on the wave of his hit Duro, or Yemi Alade’s success piquing the curiosity of Nigeria’s social media influencers. Whatever the reason, Show’s Youtube views skyrocketed, gaining 200,000 views in 4 months. Two of Dem followed suit, gaining an extra 100,000 views. Kimani was actually being talked about, for her music, and her ability to craft a killer hook.
And then, just when her Nigerian audience was starting to get into the idea of Victoria Kimani as proper contender, she goes and releases All the Way, featuring South African rapper Khuli Chana. The song has whole swaths of lyric taken from Angelique Kidjo’s 90’s hit Agolo, the words skewered so badly they lose their meaning. This is not to mention that Angelique is Beninois, not Nigerian, and the Yoruba dialect she sings Agolo in is one most Yoruba speaking Nigerians don’t understand, let alone the larger country. This song, more than anything else in Kimani’s discography is indicative of her career as a musician, trying to find a sound by blindly borrowing sounds from already established people and subcultures with little respect for the source.
Predictably All the way tanked and Kimani grew silent.
Unlike Skales, we are not sure why Chocolate City has held on to Kimani this long, even through its change of management and roster shuffles. We also aren’t sure to what extent her management decides what music she records and how she goes about promoting it. We don’t even know why she hasn’t put out an album after three years and M.I has put out two in the same time. But Show and Prokoto prove that the singer has the pedigree and creative chops to become a Pan-African superstar the way Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade have.
Perhaps Chocolate City might need to sit up and give her career the attention it really deserves, or maybe she needs to leave and go it alone. Whatever she decides, one thing is certain, she can conquer Africa but not if she’s too busy trying to be everyone and no one.