HE is taking the music industry by storm and already has a Grammy to his name. Until a year ago, Brian Soko wasn’t used to being recognised by the wider public nor was he familiar to a lot of people, unless you scoured through the list of credits of some of your favourite r‘n’b and hip-pop records.
Soko is part of the production collective, The Order. They are the talented producers behind some of the hit songs of the biggest stars in the game such as Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj. The work on Minaj’s album, The Pinkprint, earned them another Grammy nod at this year’s awards.
In 2015 Brian Soko became the first Zimbabwean, and one of a handful of African artists to receive the most prestigious award in music for Drunk In Love.
Drunk In Love was one of the biggest tracks of 2014 and critics commended its appeal to urban radio. It peaked at number one on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Pop songs chart and number two on the US Billboard 100. It also reached the top ten in more than five countries including France, Ireland and the UK.
That was not the only accolade Brian received last year. He also won the coveted International Music Artist of the Year Award at the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards. Battling against four other global hitmakers that included Tinashe Kachingwe and Hope Masike, Soko edged out on top.
With the 6th Edition of the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards fast approaching, Tidi Kwidini caught up with the award winning producer to talk about this year’s nominees, hit records and his plans for 2016.
TK: Tell us a bit about yourself, who is Brian Soko, the side that nobody really knows?
Soko: My name is Brian Soko; I am a 25-year-old Music Producer from Zimbabwe. I was born in Tshovani, Chiredzi and moved around a lot when I was younger, some of the places include Masvingo, Harare, Kwekwe, Mutare, Chinhoyi and Lusaka before moving to the States at 14. When I left Zimbabwe one of my dreams was to become a pro-golfer. However, golf was too expensive in the States so I stopped and focused on my other passion – music.
TK: How old were you when you first knew that music is what you wanted to do?
Soko: I knew I wanted to be involved in music full time when I was 14 or 15. I didn’t find my calling (producing) until I was 16. At this age I wanted to be a rapper but my mother brought me back to reality when she offered a sobering view about the hip-pop industry. I remember her saying that the likes of Eminem had stories, what was mine, and from that day, I focused on producing instead. I made my first beat and stopped rapping that same day. Advertisement
TK: What keeps you motivated?
Soko: My family and my team keep me motivated; also, I always remind myself that somewhere in Zimbabwe is a musician way more talented than myself who didn’t have the opportunities I had, so I must make the most of it.
TK: You won the International Music Artist of the Year Award at the Zim Achievers Awards last year, what did it mean to win?
Soko: We as Zimbabweans are not always quick to acknowledge each other’s accomplishments; I’m just as guilty. So for me to have won an award voted for and chosen by my fellow countrymen meant the world to me. I never really needed anybody’s approval for anything but knowing that the people of Zimbabwe appreciate, support and are proud of my music is the biggest compliment. Just being nominated was amazing for me and boosted my drive.
TK: This Year’s Zim Achievers nominees have just been announced and to think this time last year it was you…
Soko: Wow, the time has certainly flown. I look back at last year and how thrilled I was to be nominated and I can only imagine what this year’s nominees are feeling. There is nothing greater than being recognised by your own people. Zim Achievers is a great platform for recognising the hard work and achievements of so many people and I wish all the finalists the best, they are all winners. It will be interesting to see who takes home the International Music Artist Award; there are some strong contenders there.
TK: You are part of a group called the Order. How did you all meet?
Soko: The Order is made up of Andre “Dre Moon” Proctor, Rasool Diaz and me. Dre and I were randomly placed as roommates in our 1st year of college and Rasool had the same classes as us. Weirdly enough as time went on we realised we worked well collectively rather than individually and we decided to stop competing and team up!
TK: How do you all work, do you each have specific responsibilities or do you all pull together?
Soko: We all just work on separate laptops and every now and then we collaborate on the same tracks; but mostly we collaborate by harshly and brutally critiquing each other’s music until we get better.
TK: You have been in the music game for a while, what have been the highs and what have been the lows?
Soko: The Biggest Highs have been getting our first placement, “No Worries” by Lil Wayne, the day Drunk In Love came out and winning at the Grammys. There have been too many lows to count, such as not getting credit on music we worked on amongst other things. Nevertheless, we were just excited to be making music professionally. The biggest low would be our Partner KaeLou passing away in 2014 and him not being able to come to the Grammys with us.
TK: You won a Grammy last year and were nominated for another this year for the work on Nicki Manaj’s album. Has this given you more of a hunger to keep doing what you are doing?
Soko: Winning the Grammy was one of the best days of my life, and it has put way more pressure on me to deliver than before! However, I work well under pressure. It really has been a wonderful two years and has only boosted my confidence and encouraged me to keep on working to achieve my dreams. Winning awards is always an amazing feeling. From the Grammy nod to the honour I received at the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards last year, I have to say, it is great to be acknowledged and I am humbled by it all.
TK: Nicki has a unique musical style, what was it like working on her album and where did you draw inspiration from for the tracks you produced?
Soko: To be honest, we didn’t know the tracks we were doing would end up on that project, we were just working on music and it was being picked by various artists. All the same, we were still very happy to have been involved with a project of that magnitude.
TK: You and your brothers Prince and Arnold formed Anashe Media Group a few years ago. Can you tell us a little about it and what the vision is?
Soko: We formed Anashe Media Group which is a management, marketing and production company specifically focused on the African creative industries. We see ourselves as a platform and driver for knowledge transfer as well as business development around the entertainment industry, and we are looking to build on that and create more opportunities for up and coming artists.
TK: The second half of 2015 proved to be a very busy but fruitful one for you, what would you say were the challenges you faced and what was the biggest high?
Soko: I travelled quite a lot last year and it was hard to be consistent and focused on one thing as I was constantly on the road. I would say the toughest thing in 2015 was moving from Atlanta to LA and starting again. However, performing EFT on SABC1 Live on National TV was a major high for me.
TK: Let us talk about music. Congratulations on the success of track EFT, quite a tune! What was the inspiration behind it?
Soko: Thank you! The inspiration for EFT came during a trip to South Africa. I spent a few days in a small mining town in Limpopo. There was nothing to do so I mainly stayed indoors and worked on music. At the end of the month while I was still there, I remember it being payday for the miners who worked in that town and how the small shopping centre went from barely having anyone to being alive. I used to see the miners walking to work every morning around 4am and to see the excitement on their faces after getting their hard earned money inspired EFT.
TK: What was it like working on both sides of the pond, and apart from working with Chad when you were in South Africa which other artists did you work with?
Soko: Apart from my introduction as an artist on Chad’s song, I featured on the song Menina Bonita by Runtown and DJ Maphorisa of Uhuru. This song was actually produced by one of my very good friends Mr Kamera who won the South African version of the Zim Achievers awards last year.
TK: Do you follow the music scene in Zim and are there any artists you have identified recently that you would like to work with this year?
Soko: Yes, I try my best to follow the Zim music scene, I am already working with Simba Tagz, he’s a very talented and humble guy and I’m also working with Thai, he’s a producer/songwriter/artist and he’s also the Head of A&R for Anashe Media Group. I have been accused of being “too big” to work with Zim artists but that is not the case and I am looking into some collaborations at some point soon- watch this space.
TK: Who do you still want to work with?
Soko: Kanye West! Aside from him, Rick Ross, Oliver Mtukudzi, Davido & Wiz Kid are on the list.
TK: The African and Western music markets have their differences, what would you say is missing in the African market compared to that of the Western market?
Soko: I think the tracking and paying out of royalties is the biggest difference. In the US they track the music so every time a song is played on the radio, in a club, on TV, on a plane, the writer/producers of that song get a few pennies.
TK: The music industry is ever changing and has a certain level of trials as well. How do you adapt to the changes and what keeps you ahead of the game?
Soko: I try to listen to music from different parts of the world and to different genres. I also like to blend certain foreign elements into my music so what I am doing is always fresh, different and relevant.
TK: What is next for Brian Soko, what is your 2016 calendar looking like?
Soko: I have got my own studio in North Hollywood, California, so I will just be focusing on song writing, networking and doing more music in LA. I am also planning another trip to Africa towards the end of the year and looking to release music in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa.
TK: Finally, what advice would you give to all those aspiring musicians and producers trying to catch their first break?
Soko: Do it for the love of music not the money! Always put the music first, you have to lose A LOT before you can win in this game. Work hard, stay humble and make the music YOU love! #OrderUp.
The Zimbabwe Achievers Awards have over the years become the standard platform for recognising the outstanding achievements of individuals and organisations from various sectors in the Zimbabwean community in the UK and abroad. Bringing a touch of class and elegance the awards ceremony continues to demonstrate the outstanding work that Zimbabweans are doing and their commitment to building a stronger community.
This year’s event will take place on the 7th of May at the Royal Garden Hotel in London. Tickets are being sold exclusively at zimachievers.com for £89.95. Voting for this year’s finalists will commence on Friday 25th March and will run until the 29th of April.