On October 21, 2015, Kenya’s new pop “it” guy, Gilad, released an official video to his single, Sema Milele (Say Forever). Like his chart-topping Unajua (Do You Know), Sema Milele is a love song that has struck the right chord with Kenyan music fans.
The Jerusalem-born Gilad Millo is the most unlikely African pop star you’ll ever imagine. But Millo, the 44-year-old former deputy head of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Kenya, has won over the local radio stations and is making his mark on social media.
He sings in Kiswahili, one of Kenya’s two official languages.
“Many couldn’t believe Gilad was really singing because few white people in Kenya speak Kiswahili,” Kenyan singer Wendy Kimani, who duets with the Israeli on Unajua, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Millo told Kenya’s Standard Digital News that learning the local language was crucial to being part of the local community.
His first footprint in Kenya was as a backpacker in 1996. He returned in 2002 as the Israeli government spokesman following the Kikambala terror attacks on Israeli tourists. In 2003, he was back as deputy ambassador of Israel to Kenya.
After a stint in Los Angeles, Millo left Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 2008, and settled with his family in Nairobi permanently. By day, he heads business development and public relations for Balton CP Group.
“There is something really unique about this place. If you want to get philosophical, in my language (Hebrew), Kenya means ‘nest of God.’ What keeps me here and what I like most about the country are the people. Kenyans are generous, welcoming and loving. I’m a diplomat’s son and was a diplomat myself, so I grew up globe-trotting every few years of my life. This is the first time I have no deadline about moving somewhere. So, for as long as Kenya will have me, I am happy to stay. My family loves it here,” Millo told SDE.
The song Unajua raced up the radio charts to No. 1 before most Kenyans knew what Millo looked like.
“For [Kenyans] it’s all about the music. If someone has the music, that’s all that they care about,” said Kimani.
And this mzungu (Swahili for “white man”) corporate executive, who says he’s been an amateur musician all his life, is showing he’s no one-hit wonder.
“It is the perfect wedding song,” declares Nairobi Wire about Sema Milele.
Millo – who sang in a boys’ choir growing up, had a band in high-school and then a Jerusalem rock band in his mid-20s — has said that his venture in music is for his soul and that any profits he makes will be donated.
He says it was his dream to be a musician long before he became a diplomat and then businessman. Noting that music would not feed his growing family at the time, he chose a different professional track.
While he has no plans of leaving his day job, at the same time Millo is working on a third single with a Kenyan artist, 22-year-old HK Gachago.
“The word ‘celebrity’ feels strange, but, yeah, people now ask me to pose for selfies with them,” he told JTA.
He’s also invited to television appearances and radio talk shows.
“After we establish that I’m white, that I sing in Kiswahili and that this place is home for me, there’s still 10 minutes of airtime, so the interviewers and I often go into other things that I’m passionate about,” Millo told JTA.
Those “other things” include promoting a campaign about farming for the company he works for and getting the word out about Israel for Africa, a nonprofit his family established in memory of his father, longtime diplomat Yehuda Millo, that promotes Israeli innovation and culture in Africa.