Joseph ‘Safe Joe’ Mugweru is a Kenyan music producer who prides himself on being self-taught through YouTube.
Safe Joe is also known for clinching the second position in the first season of reality show ‘Blaze: Be Your Own Boss’.
He talked to Nation about his upbringing in Dagoretti Corner and being the breadwinner in a family of four at a young age.
How did all this start?
I remember at the time I was in Eldoret working at a timber yard and, because we did not have skills, we were carrying big logs from morning to evening. I remember one day, when there was no work at the yard, I went home and asked myself “What else can I do?” It hit me that I can also produce because I had seen many producers produce my work; I was a rapper and a poet before moving to Eldoret. I loved music but I was broke.
How did you get your first studio?
In 2013, I met an uncle, one of those uncles who you do not talk to because they live in the US. He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a music producer. He bought me a studio, which I called Safe Con, and I now had a business to run in Nairobi. My studio was initially closed down three times because I did not have any customers. It was hard and I’d charge between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000, depending on how broke I was. Not having a track record, no one wanted to work with me despite my extremely low costs. Often, I couldn’t meet the rent.
You learned all your skills through YouTube?
Yes, almost 100 per cent. I already had some knowledge about music production but not enough. I spent nights watching YouTube videos, and then during the day, I’d try to find artistes who needed songs recorded.
You were doing well and then something went wrong?
For some years, all was well and my name and business had started to flourish. I was comfortably making rent in a much better neighbourhood, and I had consistent clients. I lost my mother in 2009 and things got tough for our family. According to our culture, I had to be the father of the house which meant I had to work twice as hard. So it was ironic when I broke down and went into depression in 2016 because I had not mourned my mother all that time. The doctor said I needed to rest, so I closed down the studio.
How did you bounce back?
I carried my equipment to Eldoret because I am a workaholic. Someone I had worked for approached me and asked me to do some work to show how devolution had changed the lives of Kenyans. I was tasked to produce the soundtrack. After the project, an artiste I was working with told me about a competition that was taking place called “Blaze: Be Your Own Boss”. I had no idea what it was about and went on to Google it. I was surprised what they were offering, but my major interest was the show. I auditioned for it and three weeks later they called me. After further auditions I got into the Blaze house.
Why do you think they called you to participate?
I was an upcoming music producer and I was dealing with upcoming artistes. That experience changed my view of the industry. With the various challenges that we were tasked, we dealt with the best people in the industry. Right now, I know the right channels to use and how to run my business. The Blaze package also took us through Centomony, which is an entrepreneurship course that focuses on how to handle finances in your business and personal life. That completely transformed how I operate my business.
Have you noticed changes about yourself since then?
First, my financial status, let’s say that. My mindset and business sense in general are much sharper now. What they taught us was not what I was doing, they gave us the tools to be able to get out there and apply them. At the end it has made me more of a businessman and given me the networks that are important for my business. Apart from music, I was also a photographer. I realised I couldn’t do everything alone, so I partnered with people who had different expertise so that I could do what I love, which is producing music.
What are you working on now and with whom?
I’m working with partners now to make the brand grow. I also have a few artistes I’m working with including Stone Jiwe, among other upcoming artistes. I also did some tracks for the soundtrack of Wanuri Kahiu’s controversial film, “Rafiki”. I take on projects that I know will get me out of my comfort zone. I believe if we stay in one place for too long, we shrink. My aim is to consistently move forward. I also recently started teaching music production at Talanta Institute.