Kenyan Olympic swimmer-turned-broadcaster Jason Dunford is back on the mic with a feature on a new hit song: Baila Baila.
Performing with Jua Cali and Romantico, Dunford, under his stage name Samaki Mkuu (“Auspicious Fish”), is making his 2nd appearance on a song in the Genge genre, as a follow-up to Mbaya, which was released late last year. That track, a collaborationo between Dunford and Romantico, caught the attention of “King of Genge” Jua Cali, and together with his producer Benjah Beat, the 3 made a plan to record together.
Jua Cali has won 2 Kisima Music Awards including the 2007 award for Best Male Artist. He was also nominated for Best Male Artist at the 2008 MTV Africa Music Awards.
Dunford is featured throughout the song, but his verse begins at 1:58.
A live performance at Distant Relatives Eco-Lodge in Kilifi on Kenya’s coast, and a couple days of filming at Beneath the Baobabs, completed the creation of the music video for the song.
The 32-year old Dunford’s day job is currently as a broadcast journalist on the Africa business team out of the BBC’s new bureau in Nairobi. He reports and produces 4 shows (a daily in English and Swahili; and a weekly in English and Swahili). See a recent piece by Dunford about gym entrepreneurs here.
Dunford won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 50 fly in Delhi in 2010 and also holds 17 All-Africa Games medals and 3 World University Games medals. His best Olympic finish was 5th-place in Beijing in 2008 in the 100 fly. He was 12th in that same event in 2012, on both occasions racing with his brother, David, as the country’s only Olympic swimming representatives.
He’s not the only musically-inclined Stanford alum: Eugene Godsoe has released several singles and albums.
The Samaki Mkuu Origin Story:
Romantico came to Kenya as Edgar Manuel Vargas Gallegos, a missionary from Vera Cruz, Mexico, the birthplace of La Bamba. Romantico has been a song writer his whole life, but it was only in Kenya that he started to take his passion to new heights. Knowing not a word of Swahili or English, Romantico immersed himself in classes in Mombasa and Nairobi. His
missionary posting then took him to Kibera where he studied towards his degree in Theology having previously completed a philosophy degree in Mexico, at Universidad Intercontinental in Mexico City. Whilst studying in Kibera he was also designing and coordinating programs to guide at-risk youth in living holistic and productive lives.
You may remember Samaki Mkuu when he swum representing Kenya all over the world as Jason Dunford, OGW from 2004 through
2014. Jason Dunford hung up his cap and googles after his second Commonwealth Games in 2014, where he reached the final but did not win another gold medal to add to the one he had won in the 50m Butterfly in Delhi, 2010. That final international competition capped a career that saw him reach an Olympic final, win Kenya’s first gold medals in the pool at the All-Africa, Commonwealth, World University Games and the African Swimming Championships. For his services rendered to the nation he was awarded an Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW) in 2010 by President Mwai Kibaki. In 2018, Jason graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of
Business with an MBA and joined the BBC as a business broadcast journalist on Larry Madowo’s team.
A chance meeting between Jason and Romantico happened whilst Jason was out gathering for a story on gym entrepreneurship in Nairobi. Immediately upon meeting, Jason knew who he was and was already a fan having heard his first two songs “Mkora” and “Tai Tai” on the radio. They connected over a shared love for language, rhymes and reggaeton. They also connected over sports, when Jason found out that Romantico had been a high-level athlete
who played American Football in Mexico and won a national award as the best offensive lineman in the country. He decided to turn down a scholarship to play in college, to follow his path into the Church, because his desire to give and help others was so strong.
Romantico was then hit with a harebrained idea and in an inexplicable moment of spontaneity, asked Jason to join him on a song he was writing. At first Jason declined, saying “Mimi? Siwezi. Sijaimba wala kufoka tangu nilipokuwa mtoto. Sitaweza. (“Me? I can’t. I have not sung nor rapped since I was a child. I won’t be able to.”) Romantico was insistent and so Jason finally relented.
So began a two-week process of writing, in which Jason found his voice and new name Samaki Mkuu (Auspicious, Prime or Great Fish). They met in the studio of Rukuz Producations, run by Producer Rukuz, who came to Nairobi in the 1990s as Ndayisaba Hubert, a child of Rwanda. What followed was the creation of their first song Mbaya and so the journey began in earnest.