Tamba Hali spent his entire 12-year NFL career with Kansas City. Now — as an Afrobeat recording artist — the home of the Chiefs still factors heavily into his career.
On Valentine’s Day (and two days after the Chiefs Super Bowl victory), the former Pro Bowl linebacker released his latest music video — “Fine O” — which was produced by Elaina Paige Thomas, the founder of The Next Paige Agency, Kansas City’s first Black-owned talent management agency.
After football, Hali — who was born in Liberia before his family fled to the Ivory Coast and then New Jersey to escape its civil war — decided to stay in Kansas City. There he met his wife and built a recording studio in his home.
Hali — who described his music as fun, easy on the ears, and rhythmic — shared that he likes the laid-back, chill living that the area provides for his family.
“It’s been a tremendous journey for me being in Kansas City,” he said. “They love football here. Shout out to Chiefs — we just won another one and I do get a ring for that as I’m part of the Chiefs Ambassadors. But the people are just welcoming, warm, and God-fearing. They support whatever you want to do as long as it’s helping and as long as it gives back.”
A KC landmark — the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — serves as the setting for Hali’s recently released music video and it features a ballerina from the Kansas City Ballet. Thomas — the recording artist’s manager and an elite-trained dancer — was the creative director for the project.
“When I heard the song and it was ‘Fine O’ — like ‘oh, you’re fine, oh’ — and I thought of fine arts,” Thomas explained. “How do we show the parallels between the two art disciplines and bring them together as they collide into something beautiful?”
She immediately envisioned a ballerina — who is taken out of her element of classical music — surrounded by art and dancing to Hali’s song, which was released on his 2021 album Love and Lights, Thomas said. Courtney Nitting — a New Jersey native who was named KC Ballet’s Emerging Dancer in 2022 and one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch — is the featured ballerina.
“I thought, let’s go to the Nelson that’s one of Kansas City’s historical places for art,” Thomas continued. “So we go into the museum and we scope out some really dramatic frames from an artistic perspective and we put Courtney and then this big football player in the same scene. It was beautiful.”
This isn’t Hali’s first video that features KC, according to Thomas. His “Yea Yea” video honored the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and featured many youth athletes from the KC area.
“(We wanted) to basically to uplift the youth here in everything that they have going on,” she noted. “Tamba made it to the league — which is a dream come true for many youths — so we’re like, ‘Whatever it is that you want to do, don’t let people steal that dream. Don’t let people kill that vibe that you have going on.’”
The mission of his music, Hali shared, is to highlight his passions. As someone who couldn’t read or write in English when he arrived in the United States at the age of 10, he said education is a big priority. He now partners with Literacy KC — which often works with immigrants — and raises money to help students in Liberia.
“Me doing music is to tell my story and bring awareness to things that I feel needs attention,” he added.
Although he chose to focus on football at Penn State University and in the NFL, Hali shared, music has always been a factor in his life. It started in Liberia, playing drums and singing in the choir at church, where his mother and stepfather were ministers.
“I remember the time when the war started,” he recalled. “I was sitting in a tree, singing a song, before those planes came and started shooting at us.”
In New Jersey, he was introduced to and inspired by East Coast hip hop and rappers like Biggie and Jay Z, said Hali.
“American culture has played a huge role in me being a musician,” he added. “They go for this bubble gum music, but they really want to hear truth in their music.”
Then at Penn State, as a broadcast journalism major, he noted he learned more about the technical side of audio recording and production, which led to him starting his own label — Relumae Records. After working with several artists on his label, Hali said, he pivoted to focus on his own career.
“I started to brand myself as a musician,” he continued. “I started taking piano lessons and I met a (Nigerian) producer — his name is Masterkraft — he really inspired me to take the journey as a musician and to learn how to be a musician myself.”
Right now, Hali noted, he is working on new music with Masterkraft. And Thomas mentioned she is hoping to get him on tour soon.
“It’s a passion and I love it,” Hali said about his music. “I just chose to continue to grow in it.”
Turning the page
Thomas — who also works with former Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe — met Hali in 2017 when they both were at a crossroads in their career, she shared. She was trying to figure out life after dance and he was trying to figure out life after the NFL. Before he asked her to be his manager, she helped him with choreography and was his personal assistant.
“He’s transitioning out of football into this new world, where before he was put on this platform for so long,” she explained. “And then I have to transition into not being on the stage as much and now I’m in the back. … We’ve been rocking ever since.”
Two years ago, Thomas fulfilled her dream of opening The Next Paige Agency to help artists in Kansas City thrive. In August, she noted that they bought a building at 59th Street and Troost Avenue and are in phase two of renovating it into a studio for acting, modeling, and dance classes, plus an event and performance space.
Even though she’s helping those on the stage now — like Hali — instead of dancing on it herself, she said she’s still doing what she loves.
“One thing that keeps my blood flowing is creating,” she shared. “Even when I’m here and I’m doing all this business — I have to wear multiple hats —it’s still the most fun wearing the hat of the creative because it keeps my heart beating.”