TEDD JOSIAH On life, music and losing his wife

During his heydays, Tedd Josiah was the undisputed music producer in East Africa. He had the proverbial Midas touch and every music he produced went on to become a hit. The soft-spoken award-winning producer opens up to LILY RONOH-WAWERU on life, all things music and losing his wife.

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Tedd Josiah is a cultured man in every sense of the word. It is evident in his mannerisms (he is very chivalrous) and his knowledge and proficiency in arts is unmatched. He is well travelled, too. What many people may not know is that not only does he have a knack for music, but also he is adept in graphic design, painting, sculpting and filmmaking. Tedd admits that he knew, from a very young age, that he was creative.

Born in Mombasa in 1970 to Rose and George Josiah, Tedd describes his childhood as one full of adventures, which included travelling from one country to another. So much so that by the age of four, he had crossed several continents.

“A few months after I was born, my father got a scholarship to study in the USA. My mother followed him a few months later. They left me in the hands of my grandparents who lived in Nyahururu. After a while, I went to the States to stay with my parents and moved with them as they traversed continents due to work assignments,” explains the eldest of four children.

Tedd admits that the travelling bit rubbed off on him and it is thus one of his favourite past times. He acknowledges that interacting with different cultures has enabled him to adapt very quickly to new environments as well as getting along with people from all walks of life, which comes in handy in his line of work.

The 47-year-old confesses that he is quite a loner who enjoys his own company. Growing up, he would spend his time creating things and it is no wonder he chose Eastleigh High School as his preferred secondary school as it had a well-developed arts department. At Eastleigh High School, he was able to nurture and hone his skills in art.

“I thereafter moved to Kenya Polytechnic, now Technical University of Kenya, to study graphic design. I landed my first job as a graphic designer in 1991 with a meagre pay of Ksh1900. I then moved to Sync Sound Studios that was run by the late Emil Juma who was then the lead guitarist for the award-winning musical group Mombasa Roots. I can say that it was here that I decided to go fully into music,” he narrates.

While working with Emil Juma, his interest in sound engineering was piqued and he thus left for the UK where he studied sound engineering and sound production. In the UK, he got a chance to work with SONY, Puma and Nike among other multinationals. He is grateful for the experience as it really shaped his knowledge in music and filmmaking. So much so that he later on did a course in film and motion graphics.

Shaping the music industry

Notably, Tedd Josiah’s contribution to the Kenyan music industry cannot be summed up in a story. His music career started when he joined HART, a four-member gospel music group that included renowned evangelist and musician, Pastor Pete Odera. In 2002, he founded Blu Zebra Records, which is credited with churning some of Kenya’s greatest music yet.

“At Blu Zebra, I produced great hits such as Unbwogable by Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji, Atoti by the late Wiki Mosh, Kisumu 100 by Suzzane Owiyo and all her three albums, to name just but a few. I have also worked with Necessary Noize which comprised of Wyre and Nazizi,” he reveals.

Tedd has won several awards as a music producer, a testament to his prowess in all things music.

In 1993, Tedd founded the now defunct Kisima Awards with an aim of awarding Kenyan artistes. Like all the projects he undertook, Kisima Awards flourished and managed to set the music standards in the country.

“Sadly, like many projects in the country, Kisima Awards became politicised and I decided to walk away from it. This also marked it’s death and with it, the promise of bettering the music standards in the country,” he says wistfully.

Speaking of music quality, I pick his brains on the quality of music being produced in the country and the backlash it continues to receive especially when compared with music from neighbouring countries such as Tanzania.

“The problem with Kenyan music is twofold. First, musicians, especially the upcoming ones, are not willing to sign a contract with producers and thus do not settle long enough for their music to take root. As a result, producers are not willing to invest much because they don’t want to burn their fingers. The result is poor music both visually and aurally. Sorry to say, at the end of the day, it’s the artists that stand to lose,” he explains.

I further prod him on the issue of awarding artistes seeing as it is he blazed the trail for musical awards in Kenya. “Awards should purely be based on numbers because numbers never lie. With this in mind, organisers should consider three things: the number of times a song was played on television, the number of times the same song was played on radio and the number of times the song was played on social media. This way, we will be awarding musicians based on merit,” he espouses.

So what makes the music that he produces tick? “I take time to visualise the music, I invest in it wholly and give it my best shot,” he avers.

Tedd opines that Kenya’s music industry could do better. He expresses concern at the rate at which indigenous music and its accompaniments are being disregarded in favour of pop music, yet our cultures have very rich music.

Has he hang up his boots in music production? “Not really. I currently work as an audio visual consultant,” he says

 

On losing his wife

Tedd was recently widowed and his wife’s death brutally, and painfully so, threw a spanner in the lives of the couple who, ironically, had their whole lives in front of them. His late wife, Reginah Katar, was a musician, fashion designer and a trained journalist.

“Ours was love at first sight. We had both gone through tumultuous times and we met at a point in our lives when all we wanted to do was to settle down and settling we did,” he says.

Like a pearl hidden in a shell deep into the ocean, Tedd’s marriage to Reginah was a closely guarded secret and the news of his wife’s death caught many people off guard. According to Tedd, as much as he is a celebrity, he prefers to keep his personal life out of the public glare. In addition, he and Reginah had agreed to work on their marriage first before letting other people in.

“We were a happy couple and the birth of our daughter Jameela, or Jay Jay as we fondly refer to her, was the icing on the cake. We had great plans for the future and travelling was one of the many things that were in the pipeline. We had also just launched a clothing line under her name,” he says nostalgically.

However, this was not to be as on September 30, 2017, Reginah passed on after a short illness. Their daughter was only three months old and Tedd’s life went into a tailspin.

Understandably, Tedd is still in mourning. He has barely managed to pick up the pieces of his life, but is grateful to close friends who are helping him raise his daughter. He only hopes he will be a good parent to Jay Jay. Tedd has two other children from a previous marriage.

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