Born orn 28 August 1973, Eric is a Kenyan singer-songwriter. His career was launched with his debut album, Sawa Sawa, in 2001. Wainaina's music is a blend of Kenyan Benga rhythm and East African guitars, with some modern harmony. Whilst growing up, Wainaina was influenced musically by international artists such as Papa Wemba, Youssou N'Dour, Lokua Kanza and Paul Simon.
In 1996 he performed and appeared in the video for Get in the Driver’s Seat, a song commissioned by the United Nations Drug Control Programme for a highly successful anti-drug campaign spanning 20 countries. This not only set the stage for his eventual emergence as a solo artist, but also got him into the social concern and activism that characterizes much of his music.
In 1997, Wainaina went on to join the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, from which he graduated with a degree in Music, majoring in Songwriting and Record Engineering. He graduated with honours. During his years at Berklee, Wainaina and his band traveled to different parts of the country to perform, as well as holding regular shows in Boston. Together with his producer, Christian Kaufmann, he worked to produce a sound that would be distinctively Kenyan both in the music and the content of the lyrics.
His notable releases include 'Kenya Only', a song that instantly made him Kenya's favourite modern musician. After the 1998 terrorist bombing in Nairobi where over 200 Kenyans lost their lives, 'Kenya Only' was adopted as the unofficial song of mourning, receiving extensive radio and TV airplay nationwide.
Wainaina returned to the top of Kenya's musical agenda after he released 'Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo' (‘Country of Bribes’) in 2001, a song that launched his crusade against rampant corruption in the country. With the chart success of 'Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo', Wainaina received international accolades. Transparency International (Kenya) supported him as an artist who would help educate people on the negativity of corruption, appointing him an ambassador. He was also appointed Ambassador for the NGO MS Kenya, Kenya Human Rights Commission and by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights for his commitment to fighting the abuses to justice through music.
In 2001, Africa Almanac.com listed him amongst the top 100 Africans of the year 2000, which included high profile names such as Nelson Mandela, Joseph Kabila, Yash Pal Ghai, Baaba Maal and Ousmane Sembène. His first record, Sawa Sawa, released in 2001, remains one of the highest-selling solo albums in the country.
Wainaina returned home from Berklee in August 2002 after his graduation with two degrees. He was also honored with the Jack Maher award for his exceptional performance as a songwriter. The annual award is given to students who have been recognized for their potential to become leaders in the international music industry.
Wainaina's music receives international appeal. He received the MNET (South Africa) award for favourite male vocalist in February 2001, and was one of the first Kenyans to receive an award for Best East African Artist at the pan-African 7th Annual KORA All Africa Music Awards on 2 November 2002. He is also the only Kenyan artist to have performed live at the KORA ceremony. He was nominated for another KORA Award in 2003, and in 2005 he received his third Kora nomination, this time for the prestigious Artist of the Decade award.
In 2002, he played at the launch of the International Criminal Court at the UN Headquarters in New York, presided over by Kofi Annan. He has toured in Switzerland for 4 consecutive years and performed at Holland’s Festival Mundial in 2003. The same year he performed at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).
In December 2004 Wainaina premiered a 21- song musical theatre piece, “Lwanda, Man of Stone”, based on a local folk story. One of the first of its kind in Kenya, the show ran for a hugely successful theatre season, and a concert version of the same show continues to be performed at major cultural events. Together with Mumbi Kaigwa and Andrea Kalima, Eric co-wrote and arranged the music for Kigezi Ndoto, a Kenyan play written and directed by Kaigwa, which went on tour in Europe under the auspices of the World Theatre Music Festival- 2006. He has also written the music for Owen & Mzee, an upcoming documentary about the touching story of an unusual friendship between a tortoise and a baby hippo at the Kenyan coast. This documentary is based on a bestselling children’s book by the same name.
Wainaina was involved in the 2006 launch of Kenya’s National Civic Education Program (NCEP II), Uraia, which aims at fostering a mature political culture in Kenya: a culture in which citizens are able to exercise their rights and responsibilities—and to participate effectively in the broadening of democracy.
He produced the musical Mo Faya, shown at the 2009 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Wainaina himself also features in the musical as a singer. It is directed by John Sibi-Okumu.
Eric was also commissioned in 2010 to write the UN-MDG anthem to be performed at the closing ceremony of the Fifa world cup in South Africa to be performed alongside Jimmy Dludlu, Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjo.
In July 2012, Wainaina was among the 25 prominent Kenyans appointed as goodwill ambassadors by The National Cohesion and Integration Commission to help steer its core mandate of enhancing peace in the country. The team includes former decorated military officers, businessmen, athletes (Tegla Lorupe as well as Paul Tergat), scholars and media personalities. The ambassadors' first assignment will be to spearhead the Commission’s campaign dubbed Kenya Kwanza (Kenya comes first) which is to deliver peaceful general elections.