Story of Kevin Watani-From Rejection to Successful Music Producer in US
A Kenyan Diaspora Story of Kevin Jeremiah Watani who navigated through challenges of dealing with a lot of rejections, alcohol abuse to being a successful Music producer in US.
Kevin, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My name is Kevin Jeremiah Watani aka KevJ. I was born and raised in Nyeri, Kenya, Africa on December 11, 1987. I’m the oldest of four siblings. I was very fortunate to have a loving family that provided me with a great childhood as I was exposed to music at a very young age. Growing up with my grandparents was when I discovered music and the piano. My grandfather would always listen to African dance and pop music such as Fela Kuti, and Michael Jackson, country western artists such as Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton, and funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Isley Brothers just to name a few.
My first formal performance was at my late Uncle’s wedding at the age of six. I vividly remember right before the performance rushing to the restroom due to anxiety and my mother running frantically looking for me to perform.
As I was walking through the crowd, I could hear people cheering my name as I looked on ahead, my Late Uncle had his arms wide open and gave me the biggest hug and told me, “Kevo, relax, you’ll be fine.” As I performed, I could see the biggest smile on my mother’s face, late grandparents, late uncle, and the cheers from family and friends that followed. Afterwards, I instinctively knew I had a gift. During this time, my parents had a plethora of cassette tapes of music that they listened and sometimes I would sneak the radio into my room and listen. More importantly, there was a VHS tape of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and ‘The Making of Thriller’ where I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do someday. I spent many weeks and months learning the dance and would show off my moves and dance with my neighborhood friends and classmates.
As I attended Moi Nyeri Primary School in Central Province Kenya, I sang in the school choir in 4th grade. However, it wasn’t until I attended Bungoma Primary in Western Kenya, Standard Six (6th grade) that my choir and dance teacher told me that I had a passion for music and should pursue music in conjunction with my education. Within that year (1999), during summer break, a few life changes came along. I got the news that we had won the green card lottery to go to the United States.
Fast forward to September 2000, I moved to the U.S. in Fairfax, Virginia. I attended Holmes Middle School and performed my first talent show to Usher’s song ‘Can U Help Me’ with the help of my English teacher as she heard me one day in the back of class singing an Usher song. Prior to the talent show, she asked me to come up with a stage name, hence “KevJ” was birthed. It’s a combination of my first name, Kevin, and my baptized name, Jeremiah. Shortly after middle school, I attended T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and by this time I had discovered R&B on a different level. I learned to write poetry through my Literature and English classes. I would share poems I wrote with my class mates and sing the songs that I had written to my female friends who urged me to perform at the talent show.
In my 10th grade year, 2004, I vividly remember coming home and telling my mom that I had signed up for the talent show which was called the Gong Show and she bought me a cream tuxedo. The Gong show was similar to Showtime At The Apollo and it could go either right or left depending on the crowd’s reaction. I performed “How Do I Say” by Usher from the ‘8701’ album. The performance was a success and towards the end, I gave a rose to a girl in the audience and the crowd went wild. The following year was a year to remember. By this time, I was known around the school and this time I had built my confidence to sign up for the Gong Show. I had signed up to sing “Let Me Love You” by Mario. During rehearsals, there was also another student who was singing the same song and they suggest I sing another song, however, I declined.
On the night of the show, my mom nor my family did not attend. In addition, I was incredibly nervous because, in the back of my mind, I knew I should have picked another song. Welp! As my name was introduced by the host, the crowd applauded giving the performer confidence to step to the plate, this plate was definitely different. Backstage, I was giving myself a pep talk and the DJ started playing the music and I walked on stage singing the intro. Lo and behold, as I was about to begin the verse. Suddenly, the crowd started BOOING and the BOOs got louder, and out of nowhere, here comes the person who hits the GONG to indicate that I get off the stage. I walked off backstage in utter shock holding back tears as my heart was pounding and in pieces. As I was backstage, other performers could not believe what happened either. Well, I had a friend named Edwin [Thank you forever Edwin] who was on the bill to perform and he was a breakdancer. He gave me a hug and told me that he went through the same thing in middle school and asked me to go on stage with him but I just couldn’t. During the show, I stayed backstage the whole time and waited until the show ended to walk home. As I walked home, I was just replaying the whole event in my head wishing it was different. It wasn’t until I was close to home that I broke down in tears and I remember it like it was yesterday. This was my first major rejection.
In that same year, in April 2005, I moved to Houston, Texas where I am currently, and began school at Alief Taylor High School. It was at this time that I learned how to produce, engineer, and write music through Cool Edit Pro [Adobe Audition now]. I frequently visited Radio Shack to buy equipment; microphones, mixing gear, etc. I graduated in 2006 and attended Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. During my second semester, things took a turn for a change. I developed a marijuana addiction and gave more focus to music. I befriend a couple of friends with whom we would have Freestyle Friday sessions, and recording sessions, and started recording music in my dorm room. On March 17, 2007, I completed my self-produced, arranged, and mixed CD called ‘KevJ Mixtape Vol. 1’ and started giving copies around campus. To my surprise, there were some who gave up to five dollars for my work since they liked what they heard and told me to keep going. As I was getting known for being an artist/producer, my grades were in jeopardy, and for the first time, I had straight F’s. I had to drop out for a year and returned in 2008.
By this time, my focus shifted to school and by then I had put music on the back burner.
It wasn’t until I went through a few rehabs that I picked up music seriously again and started my YouTube channel in 2012. I uploaded a few videos of covers and gained my confidence back all while waiting to join the United States Navy in July 2012. I still had a passion for music but I just couldn’t find the time due to my drinking problem which led me to leave the service early due to a DUI. Nine months later in 2013, I was discharged under Honorable conditions, to say the least. Looking at the brighter side, I was a free man, still uploaded a few videos on YouTube but still dealt with my addiction and had to go to rehab again. I started working odd jobs here and there and it wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to make a changing focus to music. By this time, social media such as Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and others were great platforms for artists to get discovered. There was one particular challenge that was going on by R&B Artist Joe where fans would sing his song and I was lucky enough to get posted and this gave me a boost of confidence. I started social networking and meeting peers in the same lane as myself who had performed locally and were making a name for themselves.
On March 26, 2017, I had my first official show in Houston, TX and it was a success. Moreso, that February I had the chance to see Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, and Avant in concert gave me a confirmation that I was on my way to getting my own spotlight. In the following years, I was working, saving money, and developing my artistry, and had a network of associates that pointed me in the direction of performance venues to get heard. During the 2020, pandemic year, I was still busy writing, singing, and performing and uploaded my official song “Blow My Mind” on streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, etc. On September 9, 2020, I was invited by V-Live Houston to perform. Two days later, I uploaded the performance on my social networking sites and the video went viral on YouTube with over 350K to date.
I am currently working on my self-titled EP which will be coming out soon and looking forward to making the world dance and feel again.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have definitely been some challenges dealing with a lot of rejection, alcohol abuse, and losing my confidence during a time when I should have kept on working on myself but I would not change any of that.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a singer, songwriter, engineer, and producer. I am most proud of the fact that I never gave up on myself even when everyone around me including my family had written me off. What definitely sets me apart is my resilience, confidence, and my Faith in God to keep waking up every day and accomplishing my goals.
Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
I have been to Baltimore a few times back when I was living in Alexandria in the years 2004-2005. I actually liked the city in the areas that I visited and frequented due to attending churches and Youth Christian Conferences. However, what I did not like about the city was the crime rate and the streets were not so clean compared to the part of Virginia where I lived at the time.
Kevin’s Contact Info:
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kevjmusic
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kevjmusick
- Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kevjmusic
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/kevjmusic
- SoundCloud: https://www.soundcloud.com/kevjmusic
Story of Kevin Watani-From Rejection to Successful Music Producer in US