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Revealed: Strategies that propelled Burundian bongo flava star A.T.M. Jeff to fame (exclusive)

For millions of musicians across the world, seeing their music transform into hit songs that captivate audiences and receive massive airplay beyond borders is the dream and highlight of their careers.

Seeing audiences engage with their music on various streaming and social media platforms and reaching diverse cultures and backgrounds is one of the top motivators for them to keep churning out great, quality music. Achieving local, national and global recognition not only validates their artistic talent but also fuels their creativity and passion, driving them to produce music that has the potential to become universally beloved anthems.

The journey of A.T.M Jeff, born Etienne Baheza in Burundi but raised in Kigoma, Tanzania, has not been a bed of roses.

His is a grass-to-grace story of overcoming tribal stereotypes from his country people who were not receptive to his music, of overcoming international boundaries to churn out hit songs in Tanzania, earning his niche in the bongo flava music and dealing with distance, time and money challenges of having to produce music for Tanzania while living in Australia. Today, his star shines bright. With several awards and recognitions tucked in his belt and great musical collaborations to boot, Nairobi News caught up with his manager, Mr Eddie Khalikawe (EK), to trace his rise to fame and understand what he had to overcome to make a name for himself in East Africa.

NN: What strategies have you found most effective in promoting Jeff’s music across Eastern Africa?
Eddie Khalikawe: To be honest, it’s not an easy job. I like to see who is doing better in the industry, what are they doing, and what I can take from them and do for Jeff to see if it works. I also have to see if it works or not because it could be financial strategies that do not align with our goals, but most of the time, I see what another manager is doing for another artist and see if I can apply the same with Jeff. Most of the time, it works. I also believe in humbling oneself. If you welcome someone for the first time, you say “Karibu” so for me, if you come to Jeff and want to do something because you like something of his, I will go and say “Thank you so much, we appreciate it and we hope you stay’” That has been key for me to drive his music to be loved and heard.
I have also leveraged social media and streaming platforms. I’m in a position where I ensure I know the right contacts and people to get the right results for our investments. It doesn’t need a lot of finances here (on social media). At the end of the day, music is a business. You ensure you are investing and connecting with the right people.

NN: What messages does A.T.M. Jeff continues to convey through his music?
EK: For Jeff, his music has to be authentic. He wants something that, if you listen to it, you will say it touches your life in a way, whether it’s love or challenges. He wants his music to relate with the audience. He is not the type to say “Just because this sounds nice”, but if the message does not align with his goals, then he will not do it. He cares about what message he is putting out.

NN: What legacy does he want to leave with his music?
EK: One of the things I remember him telling me is that he wants to be the saviour of Burundian music because it would make him so happy. Being the first artiste from Burundi to represent on a global stage. He wants to be where Diamond and Davido and all these people are. That’s his measure for him, and that’s always been his goal.

NN: What is his musical collaboration wish list across the world?
EK: In Tanzania, it is Diamond, Diamond, Diamond, Diamond, Diamond. It is Diamond five times because of how he started; his story is similar to what Jeff did. Diamond is a different breed, and they are both from Kigoma. Diamond used to live in Burundi too. He used to do songs with local artists. The difference is Jeff is abroad but doing music for Tanzania.
Should the occasion arise and we get an opportunity to work with Diamond’s Wasafi Record, it would depend on the contract and what they are offering.
In Kenya, it would have to be Willy Paul and Otile Brown. Khaligraph Jones, too, though he’s a rapper. In West Africa, it would be Davido. If Jeff is big enough, I believe doing a collaboration with Davido would not look like he is getting clout off of Davido, so I would say, why not? In South Africa, I would say Chley, who recently collaborated with Diamond, and Tyla, though she sings more pop and doesn’t sound African; as well as the group that did a collaboration with Juma Jux- that’s Dj Tarico and G Nako.
Outside of Africa, I would say Chris Brown and Rihanna because they are into Afro beats.

NN: What upcoming projects or releases can fans look forward to from Jeff?
EK: There is way better music coming. I don’t want to reveal too much. There is great work coming up.

NN: Any final message to your audiences and anyone looking to make it in the music industry as A.T.M Jeff is doing?
EK: Just because someone has a different background or beliefs, that shouldn’t stop them from putting out good work, and if there is something Jeff needs to improve on, please, we need your feedback. Tell us what he needs to focus on, what people love- because at the end of the day, he is doing music for everyone.