The New Sound of Electronic Music in East Africa

Recently I wrote an article about East Africa’s rising electronic music scene for bandcamp. Read it here.

As a 90’s kid, when Nas said, “Hip-Hop is dead” it seemed like something that needed to be said, albeit shortsighted. Responding to Nas’s 2006 proclamation, Palestinian kids were saying “Hip-Hop is not dead it lives in Gaza.” In Kenya, the disputed 2007 presidential election made the country explode into mayhem. 1,100 people were killed in two months. Most of them were hacked to death. Some say that the massacre was an attempt at ethnic cleansing. Others argue that it was a release valve to decades of built up frustration towards the country’s lack of leadership. For producer Jinku of the Kenyan artist collective EA Wave, the government is laughable. Becoming a working professional is the only way to be taken seriously. Art is a gateway to delinquency. With few creative outlets for kids to express themselves, they invent their own, which historically, becomes a catalyst for tomorrow’s cultural phenomena. Still, “As they say, ‘No prophet is welcome in his own home’,” said Jinku over the phone. Like the fiery rise of hip-hop out of the 1970’s South Bronx, East Africa’s electronic music scene is now emerging out of a similar fray.

Highly ingenious East African artists like Slikback, Sleeping Buddha, and Muthoni The Drummer Queen are disrupting America’s monopoly on rap and house music. They are expanding the sonic palette with sounds related to ancient indigenous language and instrumentation. The very noise that Africa makes is recorded and made into drums, melodies, ethereal expressions, and audio shanks. It’s as if Africa is reclaiming its birthright. Like Nas’s character Sincere in the movie Belly (1998), going to Africa is more than just fleeing the plantation. In the U.S. to see a black artist escape their impoverished neighborhood is a political act on its own. But when that same act plays out in the motherland, the potential for actual change is so seismic that it even dwarfs the night that America elected its first black president. Though the darkness shields our way, the outbreak is not just symbolic. Its courage is contagious. Control is cowardice. Peep the article, The New Sound of Electronic Music in East Africa.

I wish I was going to the Nyege Nyege music festival next month. It was an honor to write this piece. Talking to KMRU, the legendary DJ Rachael, Blinky Bill (with the conversing birds in the back), and Don Zilla was like an assurance that the music that raised me is still live like a wire. Through this article I discovered music that I would’ve never heard otherwise.

Exhibit A: Slikback’s collaboration with rapper Blaq Bandana is a must listen. Bandana’s flow has an x-acto knife precision. The language may be Swahili, but his incredible performance is easily transmitted.

Check out Pita Pata too.

KMRU’s grandfather Joseph Kamaru is a beloved benga singer and Kenyan icon. He’s got thousands of recordings. Before KMRU even started making electronic music, he grew up jamming on guitar with his grandfather.

I love this KMRU track featuring spoken word artist Poetra Asantewa.

George Mukabi has been getting a lot of rotation in my house. He was one of Kenya’s early recording artists. My six-year-old daughter, Kantra, digs him.

She likes this too.

I know I was late to post about this, but my daughter is out of school and daddy’s on lockdown. I got assignments. I’m backed up with material, some of which I’m feigning to scare myself into working on. Feigning. 

Us, sitting some where eating lunch. I start looking off into the distance the second things settle down. She’s too busy eating to run around and get into something. Soon as I sprout wings and run off a cliff I can see the earth’s curvature. Head first I crash into the ocean. It’s my daughter elbowing me, “Dad, stop it,” she says. “What?” I say. “I know what you’re doing. Stop it.” 

I love getting to know my baby again. Joy bullies me to submit. Suddenly I’m kicking it with a beautifully perfect version of myself that I still can’t believe I get to take half the credit for creating. She’s gunning toward her life faster than I can see her take off. Now I just want her to stay home with daddy, forever. “You ain’t gotta go nowhere. Where ya going? Come here, Daddy needs a hug,” I say. She collapses into my arms and breaks away. “Now you have energy. C’mon, dad, let’s play.” 

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