An Afternoon at Sofar Sounds

The way that we listen to music is just as important as the music we listen to.  Music is a living breathing thing with varying effect and changing forms, even when it comes to a single song. Hozier’s ‘Cherry Wine’ is beautiful enough with headphones on but imagine experiencing it from a rooftop. His windswept hair accompanying that delicately strummed guitar and quiet for miles around. This is the experience Sofar Sounds brings to your city.

In 2009, Rafe Offer invited some friends to his flat in London for a gig. Eight people and one performer were in attendance. They sat on the floor, shared a drink and listened to their friend perform. Ten years and 433 cities later, Sofar is still the intimate experience it started as.

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Sofar Sounds exists as an attempt to redefine the music experience through regression and not innovation. Instead of an elaborate stage and speakers the collective height of the NBA All-Stars, there’s a carpet and an acoustic guitar. Instead of a blinding light show and hundreds of roaring attendees, there’s the bulb above you and 10 other people just chilling.

In one word, Sofar is unique. Even acquiring a ticket is unconventional. You first apply online, subscribe to the newsletter and if you’re lucky enough, win a ticket. Considering that they purposefully host a small number of people, the chances of that are slim. Chia can tell you that for herself lol.

(Chia’s Note: I  am personally salty because I applied for a ticket twice and never got an invite.)

Another reason people are drawn to the concept of Sofar is the anti-concert experience of it all. It’s BYOB so there’s no cash bar queue blocking your way. Attendance is small and controlled so you aren’t forced to clamor to the front to see. The best part is, you know how every concert-goer is doing the most to record every performance like it’s a contractual obligation? Well, Sofar has a no video policy. Imagine attending a concert without dozens of phones in the air? Strange, I know.

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I had the privilege of attending a Sofar gig this past Sunday. The setting was intimate. It was hosted inside a music store, guitars hung from the walls around the room. There was enough floor space for two dozen or so people. At the center of the stage, there was a mic and drum set right behind it. For a moment, I felt like I was in high school again, waiting to hear (and enthusiastically clap for) a classmate fumbling their way through ‘Wonderwall’. Instead, I witnessed a host of talented musicians who one by one blew me away.

Another interesting characteristic of the Sofar experience is that the lineup is secret. You only know who is performing when they are right in front of you. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t make sense because the purpose of going to the concert is to see the acts. But this is no ordinary concert.

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The performances felt natural and unrehearsed. It felt like a bunch of musicians who happen to know each other and found themselves in the same room. In fact, many of the artists joined each other’s performances. No one seemed to be performing because they had been paid too.

Bensoul performed everyone’s favorite song, Tito Monako showed us what it means to be talented, YUBU music gave us a lesson on the connection between Blues and Reggae while Red Acapella entertained us with a profanity-laced performance that had many of us laughing long and belly-deep.

Sofar is doing the most to redefine what it means to see an artist live. From promoting artists that deserve more credit than they’re not receiving from the industry, to creating a space where everyone feels and is, comfortable. I hope my next invite application succeeds. I hope this isn’t the last Sofar I get to attend.

hedgehog 1

(Thank you to Sofar Nairobi for providing us with the opportunity to experience live performances in a whole new way)

(Also, thank you to Hedgehog Creative for hosting the event)

 

Nairobi Nights: Musing at MUZE

I didn’t feel like going to the club. It was a Thursday, I was broke, and social situations were starting to feel like interrogations at a time when I needed to be alone with my thoughts. But Nairobi is Nairobi. There’s always something happening. My mind was distracted, but in a conversation with my body- they decided that going would be good for the partnerships I was trying to forge for the year. After all, I was meeting a friend, for a birthday gift they owed me. It would be rude to cancel last minute.

Getting ready. “Make-up set. Basic outfit. Do the thing with your hair that makes you look like you actually wanted to show up. Fuck. You lost *that* lip gloss so I guess…Arimi’s? That should work. Wait, mum said you have to cook the chicken. You have like two hours so you’ll get to that. Okay, you’re done. Not so bad. Now, where’s Mwenda? He’s outside? Let’s get going for that movie. Shit. Traffic – we’re going to be late, guess we don’t have to go anymore?”

I didn’t know what I was doing exactly, but I needed a drink. There are serviced apartments with a bar area nearby, thought we’d grab a cold one and scope the place while we were at it. Cider for 300 shillings? No smoking? Fuck. No smoking. I’m not even much of a smoker but considering how bad that day was, I could have used a drag. We sat there and talked about why they were playing nothing but Ed Sheeran covers. He said it was something about the ambiance of the place: secluded, cute pool area and all. Something about the music irritated me to no end.

 

Done with our drinks but my phone is at 44%. He wraps up an episode of Doom Patrol and offers to charge my phone for me. I agree, it’s almost 6 and I wanted to be at the club by 8.30 PM. Seems like ample time. Scroll, scroll, scroll through Twitter. It’s 7.30. My phone is at 95% by the time we leave the house. We walk to the club – it’s not very far.

And then it hit me.

I can’t remember what we were talking about. A conversation about people who make their art work for them, they maneuvered even if they eventually cracked – at least what the outside world refers to as ‘cracking’: leaving the formal education system at any point to get a breather and recalibrate your life to figure out why any of it matters – they still got to make considerable strides, probably larger than anybody at that time had ever conceived possible of them.

“But then there’s sitting in the shit and actually making it work for you. Getting out of it.”

“And since it’s a pile of shit, there’s a chance you won’t make it out.”

Shit. Mwenda’s still here.

He noticed that I’m in my thoughts. “He would understand your rant but you’ve given it so many times before. You don’t even know how to explain where it all started. Ah yes, the chicken. Blame it on the chicken. Why was Mum so mad about the chicken? You cooked it. You missed your movie but you cooked it. Because you only think about your friends? A friend you hadn’t seen in months took precedence over the chicken you were making for your family. Why, Nyaguthii?”

He knows it’s not about the fucking chicken, because you cooked it and left it on the stove for them to enjoy. But he lets me go on with my rant.

I stopped. It came like a flood and I’m glad I didn’t let it drown me before we got to the club, because I would’ve spent hours in the (very comfortable) bathroom at MUZE. Can you tell I’ve broken down there before?

It came in flashes and the thoughts and imagery were heavy enough to make me physically nauseous. The urge to die. Actually trying. Calling on my mother just a minute too late to survive. Actually surviving. Looking at the disappointment in my parents’ faces. The helpless look on my lover’s face. Dealing with the fact that it didn’t actually happen, and I have to keep on keeping on. Feeling as trapped as Jon Snow in the 8th season of Game of Thrones, like my character arc was done ages ago and they’re only keeping me alive to appease the telenovela storyboards they borrowed from.

jon snow

He noticed the flood. I had to tell him what happened, but not enough to trigger him too. We’re not strangers to the demon of suicidal ideation. It knows us well. Visits us simultaneously. Makes us tea, spikes it with white rum and by the time we realize just how long we had been in its living room, weeks have passed and we have to rebuild, replenish and return to the land of the living because it chose us again. The ouroboros that has been my sadness has gobbled me up and spat me out like this for seven years now. I’ve forgotten what life looked like before it. I don’t remember because I never got the chance to see it.

We’re here.

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It’s Gallery Night at MUZE. Janice Iche is showcasing her work. We walk in as she finishes her live installation- I know her as a visual artist but part of the exhibition included a performance piece titled “Life Excerpt”. A few friends had taped it on their Instagram stories so I got to see it, but wished I’d been there earlier. They said it was the most beautiful thing they’d ever witnessed.

 

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There was a mattress right down the middle of the aisle, where the stage was supposed to be. She used it as her bed, propped up with one of her pieces, ‘Mutuma’s Departure’ – a piece inspired and dedicated to the memory of the late Jason Kalinga. The performance: Janice would get out of bed. Paint. Watch a film. Paint. Get back in bed. Get up. Paint. Interact with the piece. Get back in bed. She painted the words “I’m too much for most” on one side of the black canvas, and “Doing these things without support is hard” on the other.

PEOPLE JUST TAKE & TAKE.

 

YOUR FREEDOM IS FAKE.

 

I was taken by how raw these statements were. How much they resonated with how I was feeling at the time.

ji

I’d been out of a job for about five months now. I quit my 7-7 job as I was graduating from law school and  didn’t see any career progression where I was working, plus I’d landed a creative contract that would act as my parachute and give me time to explore something I’m really passionate about while continuing to give me the financial independence that I’d already established. I worked throughout school but it always felt like it was only to get me the money to fuel my creative pursuits and give me full control over it, without the fear of debt. Even so, I try to make sure that the job aligns with my personal values, in a field which I am qualified for.

The contract ended. As creative contracts go, time passed before I got word of any payment. I picked up smaller contracts to give me enough float but time caught up with me. As an adult, being broke means going back to dependence. A tip: contracts that don’t explicitly state when they’re going to make your payment are open to ambiguous interpretation. Making the contractor’s work sustainable for everyday life is a game where they constantly feel like they’re nagging for money that was promised to them. Money they could use to sustain other projects. To pay the bills, to continue doing what they love, free from the shackles of debt.

Dumping a 9-5 for creative living sans the cognizance of the issues that hamper its sustainability or establishing a cushion will char you from the inside out.  Doing these things without support is hard. People do just take and take.

So how do you keep your creativity going in the midst of corporate bullshit?

Back to our night out.

Janice gave a brief speech thereafter. She talked about how the late Jason pushed her to exert herself into her art by preaching self-love. It’s always the first step: once you love yourself, once you’re comfortable with yourself, your art captures the same. For as long as I’ve known Janice, she has produced thought-provoking pieces in different art forms: music, photography, and now as a fine artist. She is always at the center of her art; she is a quintessential element of it in a way I can only compare to the late Frida Kahlo. Her experiences and the influence that others have impacted are stories she tells through her art. It’s inspiring to watch and experience fragments of her life in this way.

I believe in kismet. I didn’t want to leave the house, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten to hear and see the things that I did. The interactions I had that night with other creatives and people navigating the creative industry in different ways was a message that I should continue to try, even when I am forced to consider otherwise. The urge to quit is always strongest when your life feels like it revolves around your bed. Don’t limit yourself to one medium of expression, either. There are too many ways to make your mark to limit yourself to just one.

Oh, and love yourself. You are important. No flowery language for that because it makes sense as it is. Do as you will with this information.

Nairobi nights, no sequels.

 

Sookie Murage is a dog-loving gin aficionado who spends her days conjuring concoctions with edible flowers & spends her nights as the flaneur of Kileleshwa. Sauntering about, thinking things.

Sookie Murage’s Instagram

Sookie Murage’s Twitter

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Royce Bett. 

Royce Bett’s Instagram

Royce Bett’s Twitter

Nairobi is not a safe space for festivals: Africa Nouveau 2019

This year’s Africa Nouveau was exactly the same as last year’s. Okay, maybe not exactly the same, but it wasn’t different.

This isn’t meant as an attack on Africa Nouveau and Muthoni The Drummer Queen, the festival is merely a pawn piece in the chessboard thesis that festivals don’t thrive in sprawling congested urban cities.

But at the same time, I simply just didn’t have a good time at Africa Nouveau. Here’s why:

 

  1.      It Didn’t Feel Like an Adventure

Festivals must swallow you. You must enter their gates and feel as if you are in the belly of the beast, ready to be digested by life.

This was my 3rd time at Africa Nouveau. I was at the first one in 2015 and then three years later in 2018 and finally this year’s. Maybe because it was the first one in three years, last year’s felt incredible. The space themed maasai décor was immediately captivating, the cucu with the outer space shades-  and Kwesta’s performance came right in the fever of ‘Spirit’. Vallerie Muthoni performed Brown Suga and snatched all our lace-fronts. I can’t forget.

I marched back through those gates this year expecting the same. I waited to feel the heavy beast breathing down the back of my neck, goosebumps on my skin for the sole reason that I am excited to be exactly where I am. I waited and I waited some more. There was no novelty (apart from a wicked art installation by Kenya’s Basquiat, SheepGoat). The beast stood me up.

belly of the beast

The Belly of The Beast?

 

  1.        The Money Bracelet

They’d INSISTED at the gate that you MUST load all the money you intend on spending, onto the cash bracelet. Turned out most stalls weren’t even using it at all. That’s cool for people like me who only came with cab money , bummer for you if you got wasted and went home without getting your Ksh.5000 back now you’re stuck looking at a weekend’s worth of drinking money trapped inside a bracelet. Very fyre festival-esque.

 

  1.       The Police

Sometimes I forget that weed is a Class A narcotic in Kenya, punishable by 20+ years in prison or a Ksh 1 Million fine. It feels like the equivalent of calling Smirnoff Ice hard liquor. Activism for another day, perhaps. Or maybe I’ve spent too much time dancing at reggae stages where I can’t see the person next to me through the thick cloud of smoke obscuring my vision. And maybe I’ve shared too many joints with artists on stage and relished in the feeling that I’d built a connection with said artist, my heart swelling watching them take their two puffs and hand it back.

Drug culture and festival culture are like the Kenyan Government and corruption. Inextricable. So when kanjo are dressed in Alexis Nereah sunnies and bell-bottom pants so that they can arrest people for chiefing to their favourite song, the environment rapidly begins to feel unsafe.

Nobody wants to end their night or their high shivering in a cold dirty cell.

 

  1.       The Line-Up

The line-up was poorly planned. The itty-bitty Pyramid Stage had more action than the Main Stage for this reason. I love H-ART the Band, and on a good day- they can croon their socially conscious dreadlocked voices all the way into my soul. But placing their slow-jam romantic songs at 9pm, when most people just want to cut up at 9pm, was not a good call.

pyramid stage

Pyramid Stage

  1.       The ‘Nap-Pods’

The camping site was 100 metres opposite the Main Stage. Who can nap with a 5 foot sound system blowing the walls off their tent?

 

  1.       It Gets Uncomfortably Cold At Night

In another city, in another life – I would have fallen asleep under the stars by the bonfire, snuggled inside my sleeping bag with 3 blankets and a hot water bottle. 

Instead, I waited 40 minutes sitting as close as I could to the wood fire without burning my fingers and knees, as my uber driver untangled himself out of Ngong Road Traffic. I’m not blaming this one on the festival, I’m blaming this one on Nairobi. 

You can imagine that by this time, my soul was exhausted and I was fed up with Afro-Bubblegum. Especially with the extensive ‘outer beings’ visuals that came with it. It felt less like a concept created to embrace a “Fuck-It-I’ll-Do-What-I-Want” attitude and more like one created to seem avant-garde in order to receive funding from NGO’s and private investors.

maasai mama

Afro-bubblegum Shosh

In conclusion, Nairobi is not at all a conducive environment for music festivals. Unless it’s in the outskirts, Nairobi has too much wahalla and dog-eat-dog for the lackadaisical free-spirit-free-mind escapism which festivals incite. Nairobi will eat you up and spit you back out. Even within the ‘safety’ of a festival, there’s no running away from the big bad city.

Shout out to DJ Faysal Mostrixx for hypnotizing us with his bejeweled mask & shirtless glistening chest.

Shout out to Sho Madjozi for absolutely cutting it up!

And shout out to Kenyan Originals for their 8% Pineapple mint cider.

Featured Image courtesy of Mutua Matheka.

Images courtesy of Africa Nouveau’s Facebook Page.

Me and my Nibbling Conscience: Life Lessons from Earl Sweatshirt (Part I)

Honesty as Catharsis

Good grief, I been reaping what I sowed

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Grief‘.

I almost died twice last year. But what do we say to the God of Death?

The first time I nearly died, it was five a.m on a Monday morning and I was on my way home completely off my rocker. Five hundred meters from my destination, I lost my fight to the alcohol-induced sleep. The car hit a curb a meter of the ground, the impact spun it around and my sobriety instantly set in when the back wheels ascended the same curb. I came out physically unscathed.

The second time I nearly died, it was 2 a.m on a Sunday morning and, again, I was on my way home. My judgment impaired, characteristically, I took a sharp turn at an unadvisable speed. The car flipped through the air like a sous chef with a pancake and landed inches from a ditch. I came out physically unscathed.

At this point, you’d assume these near death experiences would have left me with some wisdom. Or impart some common sense, at the very least. Drive slower. Drink less. Maybe try and be responsible? What I didn’t know was that the hardest person to be honest with is yourself.

Why ain’t nobody tell me I was sinkin’?
Ain’t nobody tell me I could leave

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Shattered Dreams‘.

The scars were all on my psyche. It hurt to wake up. The insignificance of these near death experiences really got to me. I vividly remember flipping through the air. I always assumed this would be the grand moment where my life flashed before my eyes. Opening credits; my emergence from the womb; the time I got my first tricycle and refused to get off it for two days; making out with my best friend under the sheets; falling from my bike and breaking my arm; my first crush; closing credits. Nothing of the sort happened. The only thought that passed through my mind was, ‘Fuck, my dad is going to be so mad if I die.’

I kept waiting and waiting. All this had to mean something. It had to! Don’t people suddenly turn their lives around and pursue their heart’s desires? Climb Everest, cross the English Channel and take up knitting? But that’s where I was wrong. Encountering death doesn’t mean leaving with a gift bag of resolve.

 

The Necessity of Vulnerability

Try to make some sense of all this shit in my brain
One foot stuck in a tar pit of my ways

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Solace‘.

It took me a while to come to terms with these events. At first, I dealt with it the way I dealt with everything prior. Avoid sobriety like the plague, act like everything was fine and run in the opposite direction if anyone saw through my facade. I thought that, because of everything, my lust for life would grow stronger. I’m barely halfway through my bucket list, I’ve never had a cat and I still haven’t seen Coldplay live.

We stay on your ass
Your sense of safety melt in a flash, bang

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘December 24‘.

Instead, it had the opposite effect. If my existence is so uncertain then what’s the point of it all? Do I need to look both sides when I cross the road? Wear my seatbelt? Avoid stepping on cracks? I didn’t know it at the time but this is was an existential crisis manifesting itself in my head.

“You die and then you live, huh?”
Your heart and then your limbs break

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘December 24‘.

On the first day of 2019, it all came crashing down to earth. “Who knew that not dealing with trauma had its repercussions?”, he said jokingly. For the next three days, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was a pressure cooker. A cork no longer sealing its champagne. A can of coke dropped on the ground, it’s contents sputtering out uncontrollably. Eventually, I got some sleeping pills and had my fleeting sanity restored.

 

To Have a Home is Not a Favour

And I don’t know who house to call home lately
I hope my phone break, let it ring

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Faucet‘.

The next day I came out to my parents. My staunch Catholic parents. I had never confided to them to this extent. The only time this topic was ever broached was when I was eleven and my dad found me under the sheets with my best friend. Keeping everything to myself only let my mind spin round and round in circles until I began to doubt my own sanity. Everything was so close to my chest I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t keep it all to myself anymore.

Thankfully, I still have a roof over my head.

Can you see them now?
stumble from nowhere
to no
where
between
nothing
and nothing
I should just borrow
the rememberer’s voice again
while I can and say
to have a home is not a favour.

-Keorapetse Kgositsile ‘Anguish longer than sorrow‘.

BENEATH THE BAOBABS: NEW YEARS IN KILIFI

It’s funny. When you think of the Coast, one often conjures up visuals of palm trees and ocean. Not baobabs and forest; the coast less traveled.

Once a year in this little pocket of the earth, a 3-day festival occurs. One filled with sun, water, music, and magic. Over 3000 bodies on 30 acres of land, vibrating various energies and sweet release.

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Image courtesy of James Patrick

Nothing is as it seems.

Every structure on site: the 3 stages (Main Stage, Umojah Stage, Hidden Valley Stage) to the unicorns and shower swings- each a product of tireless human labour.

Image may contain: one or more people, plant, tree, sky, outdoor and nature

Image courtesy of James Patrick

Imagine a group of friends decided to throw a New Year’s party but instead, they threw the biggest festival Kilifi’s ever seen. No corporate sponsorship – just regular folk, sharing their corner of paradise with the rest of the world.

I went as a volunteer- partly because I’m underpaid, shit at saving and I don’t have Ksh.9,000 begging to burn a hole in my wallet.

Partly because I wanted the experience of contributing to this massive thing. Of camping in the bush in my little tent big enough for only one. Of being part of a community of people from different walks and spaces of the world – finding ourselves in the same place for the same purpose.

I spent 8 days in Kilifi. A baby, compared to the volunteers who had been there for 20 days by the time I arrived.

26th December:

I arrive in the dark with no tent and no torch. Luck is my homegirl, the first volunteer I meet has a spare tent that he & his girlfriend were happy to get rid of. The guy who promised to buy it off them never showed up. You know who showed up though, conveniently homeless – me.

Fate. It’s convenient.

I get lost every time I try to go back to my portable house from the kitchen. Mark, a kind man with locs grazing the top of his butt and a flashlight, would lead me back to camp any time he saw me stray a bit too far into the distance.

I feel like a bougie outsider, with my ironed clothes and un-sunburnt skin. They work from 8.30 – 5 and drink mnazi every day. By evening, their spirit is one of leisure but one of exhaustion as well. But it’s worth it otherwise, they wouldn’t be there.

After half a mboko of mnazi, my body decides it’s time for us to go to bed. Mark shines the way home for me.

27th December.

Billy Blunts made a pipe from a maize cob and two hollow sticks. He’s part of the team building the Hidden Valley stage. Blunts is his real last name. How apt. I breathed in the smoothest hit I ever had, endorsed by mother earth herself.

Every now and then, I drown in my own face sweat. Jay, a lithe girl with spaghetti blonde hair and shiny obsidian skin suggests a ride on the shower swings. Her days are spent in a bikini for this purpose, this freedom to get wet anytime she wants. I take notes.

Rasta weaves through every activity on a daily. It’s in the way they do their work, in how they relate to each other. Rasta is respectful, and equally, it calls for respect.

Image may contain: one or more people, tree and outdoor

Image courtesy of James Patrick

Rasta is the art of letting it go. A verbal dispute in the morning calls for a group meditation after lunch to heal the community vibes.

Long moist days are capped with nights spent drinking mnazi and searching for weed under a light fluttering breeze. A sky pregnant with stars.

The administration house is where it’s at. Shade from the burning sun.

That was the theme of my trip: burning.

burning sun

28th December

Tuk tuks are like taxis. Expensive.

It cost me Ksh. 400 to get to town from the plantations by Tuk Tuk and Ksh. 150 to come back by boda boda. Cruising down brown sandy side streets at dusk is more fun in a boda boda anyway. You can see the baobabs waving at you from all sides.

In the morning, I break up with my boyfriend. In the afternoon, I’m sorting dreamcatchers. In the evening, I’m at Distant Relatives BackPackers and Eco-Lodge with six other volunteers. I came to see Bruce J Rooke perform but I was late and missed his husky crooning acoustic set. He wasn’t mad, he’s a good friend. I’m the bad one.

enchanted

Lucky Birdi’s set is a zig zag of electric synths under banging basslines and drums that slap harder that mvuli wood. His set merging into Lemi’s set like lost twins, reunited. Lemi had the tom-tom drums and ankara fabric weaving through the sound. In the heat of his set, I imagined me and a young Fela Kuti, rhythming the night away to this new funky electric Africa.

My break-up came at the right time. I felt like sleeping beauty, finally opening her eyes after what felt like an eternity of sleep. It felt like a weight off my shoulders. It felt free.

That was another theme: freedom.

free

29th December.

Spent shrouded underneath a fog of hangover and fabric. Still, no regrets.

The festival begins tomorrow. I go to bed early. We have a long 4 days ahead of us.

30th December. Before the Baobabs.

before tb

I was put on media liaison together with socially conscious rapper, InsectDudu, and a girl from the area called Hope*. We made press packets and got to interact with photographers, journalists and artists coming in to document the festival. Reggie and Arriana rode from South Africa to Kilifi on a motorbike. Eventually, they’ll ride to Casablanca to raise funds to support young upcoming artists in South Africa.

reggie

Hope and Insect vented about working from 8-5 without a stipend, about the Ksh.2000 deposit volunteers had to pay. Even though it would be returned to them at the expiration of their contract, they didn’t have the 2 grand to part with in the first place.

They hated that no-one cared to find out whether they had a tent to sleep in or not, or whether Hope could afford the Ksh.300 bodaboda home and still have enough to eat the next day.

Hope left at the end of the day and never came back. InsectDudu stayed. He sees the disparity but he also the opportunity. He’s trying to raise a point and he will not leave until that point has been made.

Volunteering is for the rich who want to know what it’s like to be poor, the professional savers & budgeteers, and for the broke.

Volunteering is not for the poor. It’s not for the people whose daily reality is struggling to make ends meet. You don’t earn money as a volunteer. In fact, you spend money.  The work is really all there is to it. Whether it fulfills or not, is one man’s white bread and another man’s wholemeal.

31st December. Day 1.

A group connection session led by Ronan and Gayle taught us to vomit bullshit. Any bullshit that comes your way, purge that shit. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Not that they were teaching us bulimia.

“Kilifi is a city full of hippies,” someone muses.

“There are 4 white people for every black person,” someone else muses.

“But we all found ourselves here. We’re all here for the same reason- we’re here to experience something that will change our lives.” The stranger with the shell necklace sips his baobab juice and grins.

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Image courtesy of James Patrick

I get sucked into the Main Stage in the middle of my afternoon rounds by Eric K (editors note: of no relation) playing electric sunshine and flowers through the Funktion One sound system. I love having a dancefloor to myself, it’s like the moment you didn’t have to share a room with your siblings anymore.

Regardless of color or language, we are here because we are trying to liberate ourselves. It’s safe to be you on these grounds. We’re here. We’re alive. We’ve accepted it.  But most importantly, we’ve accepted ourselves.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

Image courtesy of James Patrick

“We are the generation of transition.” The DJ at the Umojah Sound System Stage chants into the microphone.

We love ourselves for what we are and while we know it can always get worse, it can get better too.

The countdown begins 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.

Happy New Year.

1st January.

“You have started the new year on a journey. Your whole year will be a journey.”

I need to stop having these kinds of conversations.

It’s a bushman’s carnival. By day 2 (day 6 tbh), I’d danced at all the stages. Showered under all the swings and mushrooms. Climbed all the jungle gyms and wooden animals. Slept on all the decks and teepees.

Image may contain: one or more people

Image courtesy of James Patrick

 

In the admin. house, renamed ‘The University’ for the duration of the festival, there’s a forum on racism at 2pm. A discussion on feminism at 3pm. Sexual Wellness and Secrets of the Yoni at 4pm. Documentaries showing back to back for most of the night.

At 7pm, I had a micro-racist experience at the Umojah Stage aka The Reggae Stage. After two hours of gyrating and dutty whining, I was tired. I reached for my bag which I had stored in a pocket in the subwoofers. ‘Coincidentally’ at the same time, a white woman decides to adjust her bag which was sitting next to mine and move it further away. I guess it can’t lay on one side for too long lest it gets bed sores.

Flatline: She thought I was trying to steal her bag.

Flatter line: Racist.

95% of my time was spent at the Umojah Stage. Umojah was where I’d go to escape the harsh EDM boom booms and lose myself in smoke and irie.

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Image courtesy of James Patrick

Flattest line: Not even racism could ruin the Umojah Stage for me.

It’s almost midnight. I join the burn procession for the sole purpose of face glitter and a bedazzled rhino horn hat. This year’s structure is a 30-meter tall man with a rhino mask on, in memory of Sudan – the last male Northern White Rhino. I name him Sudan Man.  I’m so caught up in the circus of it all, I lose my fellow rhinos.

Henry, straddling drums made from recycled plastic, and the man on the Kayamba communicate with no words- only hand gestures, facial expressions, and pure rhythm. They play perfectly in sync despite only having met 5 minutes ago. I accompany them on the shakers. Our feet digging up mini-storms of dust with every downbeat.

They set Sudan Man on fire and cinders of his body fly into the air. The sky is painted with glowing dots of burning wood and makuti. I sit down on the ground and watch Sudan Man burn until he’s nothing but a pile of ash. The fire cleanses me of all the bullshit of 2018. I reflect on all the choices I made and the ones I did not, and how they all led me here.

To this fire. To this earth.

It’s my birthday.

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Image courtesy of James Patrick

2nd January. Day 3.

The music goes hard all night and all morning. Fast Pumping EDM at insane decibels. Despite this, the beauty of the Main Stage’s Funktion One Sound System is that regardless of how loud it gets, you can still have a conversation with the person next to you without having to shout in each other’s ears.

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Image courtesy of James Patrick

7am. I’m sitting on a jungle gym specially built for hyperactive adults to climb. From up here, the stragglers walking around look like sleepless zombies, waiting for the last of their mnazi, MDMA or whatever they’re on to leave their system so that they can fall into the sweetest slumber of their life.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

Image courtesy of James Patrick

I take in the final hours of the festival and hold it in my lungs. I buy my last Rollex and eat it on the baobab deck, feet swinging over the forest.

Eventually, I go to sleep.

It’s 2019. I am 23 years old.

 

 

For more images, follow James Patrick here:

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For more on the Beneath The Baobabs Festival, follow Distant Relatives and Kilifi New Years here:

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A Conversation with Vallerie Muthoni

-Kahvinya singing in the background.-

FLOABS: Should I mention the context of where we’re doing this?

Vallerie Muthoni: Yeah sure sure.

homegrown.jpg_large

 

How did you know J.Kali?

I’d always been a fan first of all, from the beginning. And then we kinda met a few times. Y’know, and then he followed my music and I followed him back. There’s a time – actually, at a very recent performance – we met and had a really intimate conversation where he really just advised me. I was very isolated. I was in a deep dark place and I wasn’t talking to people, but he was like “Yo, we’re talking before you leave,” and we sat on the grass.

So through the short experience I had with him, and now all these things I’m hearing: you’re seeing all the people who’ve shown up for him, you see his love. Sorry this a lot-

It’s fine, go on.

I’m so happy I met him at the time I did because he’s made an effect on so many people after his death. So many people who know “We have to do this for him.” It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Alright, onto you. Are you a singer or a rapper?

I really wanted to be a singer like Beyonce…is that Terrianne?

-Terrianne Iraki on stage singing “I was here by Beyonce.”-

-We listen to Terrianne for a few minutes.-

Sorry, where were we?

Beyonce.

Yeah I started out wanting to be a singer, and then I started rapping and people loved it. And it’s fun, it’s easy for me to do honestly, so I’m both. I embrace them both.

And when did you start singing or rapping?

Girl, I’ve been singing since I could talk.

Rapping, I’d always do poetry in high school. I’d do little raps in high school, and then I toa-d No Chances and I was like “Oh, people are fucking with this shit. I’m so dope.”

Taking no chances.

Taking no goddamn chances.

Vallerie Muthoni 1

Can say that’s when you started taking this rap thing seriously?

Yup. No chances. And then Brown Suga came and I was like “For sure”

For sure you’re a rapper.

For sure.

This is your first full length project?

Yes.

How many tracks?

5. It was gonna be 8, but we made it 5.

You cut it?

Yeah.

Why?

Quality over quantity. I had a conversation with MDQ a few hours ago, it just helped me understand and see some things.

Are you excited / nervous?

I am! I think so.

VALLERIE

What’s the one message you want to be the takeaway from your album?

There’s a song at the end of the album called ‘End Rape Culture’. It’s a story but just something that’s happening so often and something that frustrates me.

I could never articulate how I feel. I was never the type to post on Twitter or Facebook. Music was just the way that I could get that message out there. It’s one that makes you think a little bit.

Tell us about your songwriting process.

The minute I hear a beat; the first 30 seconds of a beat I’ll know if I like it. Singing wise – I kind of first freestyle a little bit, see where it goes; whatever vibe I go with, and then from there I can just stop and say “Okay I like where this is going” and write it down.

I use paper to write my songs ’cause a lot of artists these days actually use their notepads.

Yeah, on their phones.

Also I was on Kabambe life for very long so I didn’t have much of an option.

What producers did you work with?

Kahaelbeats. Fvzzkill. MANU-

Avionix?

Khasakhala?

I think that’s him.

He’s has so many aliases, I’m like “MANU pick one dammit.” It’s a five track EP, it’s not much. And then one international producer.

Do you remember your first live show, and how that felt?

Does high school count?

Yeah.

No, that doesn’t count. I’ll talk about the first one after school, when I finished highschool and I knew I wanted to take this music thing seriously. It was at Alchemist, of course. That was my first proper live show with a band. I took my friends – I was studying music production at ADMI.

You did ADMI?

Yes, for two years I did a diploma in music production. I had friends who could play guitar and drums and I was like, “Ay, let’s do this.”  It was actually The Lounge, remember YLM’s [Yellow Light Machine] event The Lounge that used to happen every so often?

Yeah. ylm

It was really dope. I enjoyed myself. I loved it. It’s usually when I’m on stage, I’m comfortable. I’m not nervous anymore.

What’s the most recent “Ohmigod is this real life” moment?

I’m so overwhelmed with happiness because I just got featured in True Love Magazine. And Colors did a feature on Brown Suga. And the Freshman HBR list.

colors

So you’ve basically made it. Why are you still hustling with the rest of us?

Manze no. Until the money comes, then I’ll start saying I’ve made it. Until then, I’m still a struggling artist.

What inspires you?

I don’t want to die doing something I don’t like, and I love performing so if I can get to a place where I’m no longer stressing, sijui fuata-ing who for money, and I’m just performing & traveling around the world. That’s what motivates me. That’s what inspires me. That’s what I’m doing it for so I can get to that place. Does that make sense?

It makes a lot of sense. Who are your biggest influences?

Beyonce. Anderson .paak. Michael Jackson. Masego.

Uncle Sego.

It will happen. And you’ll find him mysteriously missing after his show. Don’t ask questions.

VALLERIE 2

I will not ask. We’ll know where he is. 

Burna Boy. Childish Gambino.

In Kenya? 

Muthoni the Drummer Queen. Blinky Bill.

Cool. Any last words?

The Wavey Soul on Mookh.

the_Wavey_Soul_FINAL_COVER_ART_tlnUyma

Vallerie Muthoni is a Kenyan songstress and rapper. You can purchase/stream her debut EP The Wavey Soul here:

Buy: Wavey Soul on Mookh.

Stream: Apple Music, Spotify

 

The Wavey Soul: Vallerie Muthoni

I believe in the power of tides and waves. I believe the moon controls the tides and waves and since human beings are 70% water, the moon controls us too. We have that in common with the sea. Wavey souls gang gang, let’s dive into and under Vallerie Muthoni’s debut EP, The Wavey Soul. 

  1. Waves Never Die (Intro)

The static when you first switch on the television, back in dem days. A V.O.K public broadcast.

vok

I am the ocean the sea there is a world inside of me

The poetry is finger-snapping powerful.

What a cinematic ride. I’m in a dark cinema, popcorn on my left, soda on my right, squeezing the arms of my seat, goosebumps washing over me as the first scene begins.

She sounds like Ursula except in this version of The Little Mermaid, we’re rooting for Ursula. And if Ursula was Beyonce and Beyonce absorbed Jay-Z’s spirit for herself, thus making her more powerful (Ed: if that’s even possible).

As powerful as the ocean, as beautiful as the sea. 

As a PFC (Person from the Coast), I approve of this ocean-themed message.

 

2. Me, You & The Sea

Waaavvyyy. I’m surfing 70’s Japanese technicolor VCR waves. It’s a vibe.

Is this about God? No, it’s about love. A love by the sea.

Beat switch.

Her vocals are stripped down, it gives it a live performance feel, oscillations lapping at our ears like we’re barefoot by the ocean, digging our toes in the soft warm sand.

I’m homesick.

 

3. Brown Suga

I love it when she raps. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when she sings. But I love it when she raps.

Like heaven’s favorite angel drank too much Henny and smoked the dankest of blunts. Brown Suga is sweet angelic Lucifer with fire in his soft golden eyes.

Flow- hard. Lyricism – hard. Beat – full hard-on.

Shout out to Bongo Sawa – wavey apparel for the wavey soul.

Those 808’s banged me upside my head, I wasn’t not ready, who produced this? Imechizi kama Mathare {Ed’s note: Kahael beats}

 

4. Lover’s Game (feat Harawa)

Who produced this? It caught me off-guard, tripped me off my surfboard.

Why is it so hard for people to be consistent with their vibe? Just keep it real all the time and don’t make games out of people, is that so hard? (Raw nerve)

Harawa enters like slow trickling honey. Bryson Tiller and 6lack had a baby and named him Harawa: a prince.

Damn, that harmony.

Harawa’s husky crooning and Vallerie’s thick nectar stew vocals on top of each other taste like a BLT with all the right sauces. (Shout out to honey mustard).

In that last chorus, they’re talking to each other. Each one has their reason for why things went wrong but still, they crave that closure; the need to ask him / to ask her “How did we get like this?”

Ah yes. The extreme euphoria or the unsettling resentment of romantic love.

 

5. End Rape Culture

The title is culminative. It brings this film to a close. If you don’t leave this EP with anything, at least leave with this.

Where’s that sample from? {Ed’s note: It’s a T.D Jakes Sermon}

It’s a story. A sad story.

Life is an ocean- I’ve known this all along. The ocean is beautiful, the ocean is immense, the ocean exists in different parts and in vast multitudes.

The ocean is salty the ocean stings. The ocean is choppy. The ocean can kill you without mercy. The ocean can consume you.

Tl;dr – Consent.

It’s all a test.

It’s almost like its an experiment. God’s experiment. 

When are we going to understand that we were put on earth to love?

 

 

You can purchase The Wavey Soul EP off of Mookh here

Also,wavey soul launch

Music: A Time-Capsule to the Soul

You move on, and just know that sometimes the past fully goes away and sometimes it just stays inside you, in a little strange heart-shaped box.

Beach House – IAmA

It’s November 2016 and I’m parked outside KFC breaking up with the person I love. We just had a meal and even though no mention was made of the coming event, the elephant in the room was in the next booth having a two-piecer. It played out like most breakups do so I won’t go into the details.

Many tears later, I’m driving away and PPP by Beach House is playing on the radio. Like a time-capsule, the song takes this moment and buries it deep in my sub-conscious – to be unearthed with each play.

 

Music is especially good at framing moments.

In a sense, this is what movie soundtracks are for. You can’t hear Hans Zimmers “Time” without tumbling into the dreamscape that is Inception or Vanessa Carlton’s “1000 miles” without picturing Terry Crews blaring his heart out (and if you don’t then there’s something terribly wrong and you should get that checked out).

 

As Africans, we preserve(d) our culture through song. Some chronicled individual experiences while others addressed the experiences of the community as a whole. Music conveyed our history from one generation to the next for centuries until the white man came and turned everything into shit. Still, the value of song to the African didn’t dissipate.

When we’re children we gain an emotional attachment to music even before we know what it actually is. Had you asked me whether I listened to Erykah Badu before 2016 my answer would be a firm no. But as soon as I hear ‘Next Lifetime’, it’s a warm Saturday morning and I’m eight again at the back of my mum’s maroon starlet with Ms. Badu on Capital FM. I can feel the sun through the tinted window, the cold belt buckle on the palm of my fidgety hands and the calm familiarity that only comes with being in the presence of a loved one.

 

The older we grow, the more ingrained this connection becomes. You are more likely to be emotionally connected to the music you listened to in your adolescence/young adulthood than the music later on in your life. That’s what the nostalgia radio stations (Classic FM ahem ahem) capitalize on.

Conversely, we all know a number of people that bash new music for the sole reason that it is new. If you’re anywhere in my age-group, listen. Cherish the music you’re listening to now. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself at forty-five backhanded by SWAT’s verse into an emotional spiral of fleeting adulthood. Find a room to cry in so as not to traumatize the children.

This is why it’s monumental to us when someone likes the same songs that we do. Listening to music is something that we do alone so when we find someone that shares their solace with the same music, we don’t feel so alone anymore. However, similar interests do not necessarily translate into compatibility as I’m sure we’ve all learned by this point in our lives. But I digress.

The songs that unearth all these buried emotions are good for you. Especially when it comes to heartbreak because remembering it is as essential as the heartbreak itself. If you forget then cycle is likely to recur. Try it. Put your phone on shuffle and dredge out all the muck from long-lost lovers. Remember the good and the bad.

After the breakup, the opening keys of Beach Houses ‘PPP’ now play like impending doom in my head. I’m standing at the shore watching the tsunami roll in and since all my bridges are burnt, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s almost beautiful, really. The guilt hits first (why do I feel this way if I’m the one that did the breaking up) and then the trauma comes next (more concerned with feeling than reasoning why). When my bones are shattered and my soul crushed, the clouds part and catharsis finally shines through.

So I brush away the sands of self-pity and play the next song.

Image: Masashi Wakui

 

Tupac and Notorious B.I.G: A Kenyan Millenial’s Perspective

“Why do you even give a fuck about two American rappers who died the year you were born? Si you write a piece on Lil Pump?”

A friend’s little brother, born after 2000, posed this question to me.

When I was a child growing up, Tupac and Notorious BIG were constantly referenced in the Friday Pulse, my older brother and his older friends had near fist fights on who was a better mc. I’d watch Poetic Justice with my sister and Channel O would bump either ‘Juicy’ or ‘Changes’ on every throwback countdown.

If this is indeed a quarter life crisis- insisting that everything from my childhood has to mean something, let’s start with my brother’s gangsta rap music.

Esketit then.

The word going round when I first heard about this East Coast/West Coast beef was that Biggie killed Tupac and then Tupac’s mom killed Biggie. I think the houseboy told me this version, and then he taught me how to bend my fingers to make the Crips gang sign.

“Bloods wanakuchinja kama mbuzi. Crips watakutafuna kama Krackles.”

-Edwin the houseboy.

As hard as I know Afeni Shakur was, I mean, she was a black panther – it doesn’t get any more consciously hardcore than that.

NY 21 Afeni shakur

But even at 6, that sounded a little far-fetched.

Turns out, no one really knows who the perpetrators in both murders were. A cold case.

Moreover, turns out their beef was primarily the result of a series of misunderstandings and colliding male egos.

‘Pac and Big met somewhere in ’93 and were boys for the most part- they smoked weed, ogled machine guns and shared meals. Who knows, maybe if they’d hugged it out over Henessy and a bowl of Green, Pac would be on his 12th Studio Album. Biggie would be getting a BET lifetime achievement award, and they’d both be accorded the same reverence as the likes of Dre, Snoop and Nas.

Instead, these raging bulls taunted each other.

After Tupac was shot 5 times at the Quad Recording Studio lobby, Biggie dropped ‘Who Shot Ya?’, poking the injured bear like a bored cackling witch. Now, I’m not gonna speak with certainty as to whether or not Biggie ordered the hit on Pac, but seeing an open window- he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to throw shots.

“East Coast, motherfucker (Who shot ya?)
West Coast, motherfuckers
West Coast, motherfuckers, hah!”

‘Pac took this track as confirmation that Bad Boy were the ones who sent the hitters his way, telling Vibe magazine in one interview that  “it came out too fast…”.

In retaliation, Pac takes a picture with Faith Evans in the club, Big’s girl at the time, and uses that as his below-the-belt ammo, claiming that they smashed.

pac and faith.jpg

That’s why I fucked your bitch you fat motherfucker

Let’s put this in context now.

I asked an African American friend who lived in New York and was attending a HBU at the time about this because by virtue of age and race, he was present in the geographical and social context of that whole drama. It didn’t shake his life, not even a jiggle.

In his words, “The East Coast and West Coast are so far away, you can say ‘Fuck the East Coast’ from L.A and then what? Who’s going to fly from New York to find you and shoot you?”

West-to-East-coast-of-USA-575990.jpg

This is an entire continent y’all

 

  1. Somewhere in Dandora. A bunch of young men are paying close attention. Kalamashaka is comprised of three members: Johnny Vigeti, Kama and Oteraw.

It started out as as imitations of American Mc’s in terms of their rugged flow and punchlinez kibao lyrical style.

The same way hip hop started as a social reflection of what’s happening in the ghetto, Kenyan hip hop became a reflection of life in the slums. English switched out for sheng. Dandora becomes Brooklyn. Police harassment stays the same.

  1. Rev. Timothy Njoya is wilding on the streets and in church, raging against the Nyayo machine. Moi is president again, going on his 19th year. Political tension sizzles like a wet fish on hot tarmac. K-shaka drops ‘Tafsiri hii’. Kenyan hip hop begins.

Tafsiri hii, maisha kule D ni mazii ninalia nikitumia M.I.C

Tafsiri hii, ingawa tuko chini bado tunatumaini. Sikiza kwa makini

KenyanGraffiti3.jpg

As Tedd Josiah said in the documentary Hip Hop Colony, “the hip hop beats met the Swahili lyrics.”

  1. Matatu culture is rising strong. Ogopa Deejays are dominating the club scene, dropping hit after party hit and setting the tone for the new millennium.

ogopa.jpg

The street prestige that came from associating with Ogopa Deejays is similar to the pride that came with rolling with either the Death Row or Bad Boy Records. The parties, the liquor, the girls- the staple of both.

A young man from South C wants to be a part of this. He finds himself in a room with Kenya’s reigning producer, Tedd Josiah, this is his chance. Tedd listens to the boy rhyme and then kicks him out of the studio. Who does this kid called E-sir think he is? The Swahili Tupac?

And just like his American predecessors before him, E-sir dies at his prime leaving behind his footprint on Kenyan hip-hop that can never be wiped; that can never fade.

Basically, if it wasn’t for Bad Boy and Death Row we wouldn’t have had Kalamashaka or E-sir, all of whom still stand in history as part of Kenya’s greatest emcees. We wouldn’t have Octopizzo, we wouldn’t have Camp Mulla or Khaligraph and his New York accent.

At least, we wouldn’t have them in the way that we have them/ have had them.

You see, it all comes full circle. Dunia ni Duara. It was all a dream.

BIG

Care For Me: Saba

Chicago rappers all have the gift of introspection. Common, Kanye, Mick Jenkins and Noname must have all looked into that giant metal bean and seen the inner depths of their souls.

Saba is taking this to new heights. Listening to this album feels like flipping through his black leather-bound journal, a live-band playing along in the background, his thoughts laid bare on the page. It’s impossible to turn away.

The albums running theme is family and loss. Like a collection of intricately done sketches, each song is something to marvel at. Saba is in mourning and this is his catharsis. For him and for us too.

In 2017, Saba’s cousin, John Walt, was stabbed to death. They and other friends formed PIVOTGang, a collective fronted by Saba. The significance of this event is visible throughout the entire album.

On the opening track “BUSY/SIRENS”, Saba marinates in his loneliness. He doesn’t complain about it but, rather, discerns it’s source. He wants it to change while accepting that it is a part of who he is. TheMind puts it succinctly when he says:

I don’t need nobody new to miss

Survivor’s remorse is the motif for the second half of “BUSY/SIRENS”. Walt is on the floor bleeding to death and there’s nothing Saba can do about it.

Sirens on the way, ayy
Now you’re lying where the angels lay 

I jumped to conclusions when I first heard the chorus to “BROKEN GIRLS”. At first, I thought Saba was romanticising mental illness. Using female pain as a stepping stone, as men have always done. It isn’t though. Saba critiques his feelings for the partners he’s had in the past. Instead of an ego trip, he gives us ego death.

This whole time, been obsessed, being sad
She was my, quick escape, made me forget
Hear her speak, see her weak, made me feel big

“LIFE” is the closest thing this album has to a banger which is a good thing really because this album isn’t supposed to bang. On it, we feel his rage. His handwriting tears through the pages as he laments all the people he’s lost in the short life that he’s lived.

They killed my cousin with a pocket knife
While my uncle on the phone, he was gone for more than half my life
He got out a year and then he died

On “CALLIGRAPHY”, Saba confronts his demons. All the running he’s done hasn’t gotten him anywhere (exercise≠exorcise). Anywhere he wants to be, that is. Instead, he’s going to write them away. Not for us or his career but for himself and, in this age of constant and perpetual oversharing, maybe that’s what we all need.

I can’t get out of bed
I’m not mad at God
But I can’t get out of bed

(I’m going to end up talking about pretty much every song on this album but hey, you’ve made it this far)

“FIGHTER” is one of my favourite cuts of the album. Like a white flag flapping in the wind, Saba surrenders. He’s tired of fighting and that’s perfectly fine. He subverts toxic masculinity without cuffing his jeans or wearing pastel like the icon that he is. There’s honour in futility but only if you admit to it first.

This is also one of the best verses of 2018 tbh. I have to put the whole thing here.

Me and my girl just fought ’cause I talked before she could talk
She was tellin’ a story, I cut her off with some shit not ’bout
The same topic so she just stopped in the middle before the plot
Hit the rest of the car ride silent like “You always do this”
Like “You don’t value my thoughts, either that or you too damn stupid
To realize that if you don’t hear me out then I’ma feel muted
You say that you care, well show it, I’m not askin’ a lot
I know you think you listenin’ but you just waitin’ to talk”

Damn.

 

The sun shines through on the next cut, “SMILE”. He channels his inner Aminé and exchanges gloom for a warm dose of nostalgia. Family is central to Saba and it shows.

Warmer outside and safe ol’ playground, grandma payroll cut, yeah

Whenever I’m trying to do anything to the best of my capabilities, I imagine someone important to me watching because their imaginary approval matters more than my own. “LOGOUT” encapsulates this by showing the weight we give to our virtual identities. Nothing we do matters if no-one is there to see it. It’s like the philosophical cliché “if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Ain’t no beauty in the absence of broadcastin’ to your followers

I’m a total sucker for hip-hop songs that double as stories. Immortal Techniques “Dance with the Devil” or Ab-Soul’s “Book of Soul” being prime examples. When rappers strip away the metaphors and get intimate, shivers run through my body. “PROM/KING” is this and more. I won’t do it any justice by writing about it, so in the immortal words of Frank Ocean ‘here’s what I think about music and journalism: The most important thing is to just press play’.

“HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME” is the perfect close to the album. On the first track, he imagines his cousin’s lifeless body on the floor, sirens wailing in the distance. Saba paints the ensuing chaos on this song. We can hear the hospital bed as it rattles through the hospital halls, the rhythmic beep of life-support machines, flowers on his bedside, the glint of the Grim Reapers scythe as he hovers away.

It’s alright though, Saba concludes. His soul is in a better place.

There’s heaven all around me, there’s heaven all around
No, I can’t feel no pain, and I can see the stars
No, I ain’t leave in vain, but I know we with God

 

 

 

beerbongs and bentleys: Post Malone

Quote: “If you’re looking for lyrics, if you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip-hop.”

Remember when Post Malone said that in an interview and we collectively pointed our pitchforks away from Kanye for a second, and pointed them at him?

Remember when his caucasity became the center of his career? Does this white mumble rapper from Texas know about the true meaning of hip-hop?”

But he was right. If you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life then don’t listen to hip-hop. Listen to beerbongs and bentleys. There’s a difference.

Post Malone is a circle trying to fit into the square that is hip-hop.

Let’s dive right into this with ‘Stay’. Listen to it more than once. Listen to it a couple of times more.

postmalone

Just like ‘Leave’ from his debut album, Stoney. ‘Stay’ sees him brandishing his acoustic guitar and pouring his melting heart onto the floor, hoping she slips and falls and falls back in love… back in love with him. ‘Stay’ is sweet on the surface and gut-wrenching at its core. Posty is 2 ad libs away from bawling like a man-baby.

You put your cigarette out on my face

‘Over Now’ is the worst way to break up with someone. It’s jam-packed with vitriol. He’s spitting venom at her with angry circa-Kevin Rudolph guitar riffs slashing through whatever was left of that relationship. The TL;DR version of the song is, “fuck you”.

I’ma put that bitch pussy in a motherfucking bodybag

You kept your heart on the counter in a Prada bag

Have you noticed how much Black rappers complain about how their newly amassed wealth didn’t make it better? Think about it:

  • “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” P. Diddy and Mase.
  • ‘All Falls Down’ Kanye West.
  • ‘Real Friends’ Kanye West.
  • ‘Speedin Bullet to Heaven’ Kid Cudi.
  • Drake. . . All the time.

The way I see it: White musicians tend to relish in their new found fame or say nothing about it (Mike Posner being a popular exception). I don’t know. Maybe I don’t listen to enough white rappers.

Post Malone is the bridge. He’s a white rapper complaining about his new money problems like a black artist. Hence ‘Rich and Sad’.

The song is exactly what it says it’s about. Lil’ Posty is a sad Ritchie Rich, crying in his Maybach, tears as cold as the ice on his rings.

I just keep on wishin’ that the money made you stay

So on one hand, he hates his new-found fame and wealth. But at the same time, he relishes in it. Like the twins, in “Zack and Codeine” we find Malone living his best life. If the Tipton was a trap house, that is.

The fast life is a rolling hill. The highs have breathtaking views. The lows are the sunken place. MDMA, but perpetually.

zach and codeine

“Candy Paint’ has a nursery rhyme flow, but it’s rude AF. I’d totally have rapped along to this in class 3, giggling like I’m in on a naughty secret.

Beerbongs and bentleys plays like shooting out your wildest pipe dreams over a blunt and a sunset with your best friends, and then having all those things come true.

And a sunset has never felt the same since.

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Cool Kids Only: DJ Mkuzi

This interview was recorded on 29th November 2017 and published on 22nd January 2018.

 

FLOABS: Where are we?

DJ Mkuzi: Hi, my name is Mkuzi. We are in Mombasa at Moonshine Beach Bar.

 

When did you know you wanted to be a dj? Like when were you first interested and when did you decide yes, I want this to be my life.

I think I’ve always been interested in music. The more I grew up, the more the burning desire grew inside me. Anything music related was just my thing. I always wanted to be a producer, I always wanted to be a dj and I’m so happy that im pursuing everything that I’m doing right now. Regardless of what I’m doing on the side, this is the one thing that drives me to wake up everyday; it excites me everyday.

 

How did your family react when you first told them about what you want to do?

I remember I was with my bro and my mum, straight out of high school. They asked “what do you want to be?”

I told them i wanted to be a producer and my bro laughed. He laughed so hard. He couldnt believe it. It got me scared kidogo, but as I kept growing up I kept on growing my confidence. They didn’t take it well. My older bro still doesn’t take it well right now as we speak despite the achievements that I’ve made but hey, one day as it comes. I guess one day they’re gonna realize how great of an achievement it is for me just to do my thing and be happy with it.

Talk about Mkuzi the DJ vs. Mkuzi the producer.

Mkuzi the producer is that sound that I really want to get out there, and it’s really inspired by my culture. I’m Mijikenda- Rabai to be specific and I think we have some really amazing music. I went up there, to the village, and just listened to those guys do their thing and I want to get it out there, make it cooler than it already is. Take it places. It deserves to be out there, enjoyed by everyone else, not just locally.

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Mkuzi the dj is a different dynamic. He kills it on stage all the time. He plays what people like- what’s fresh. He’s a cool kid.

 

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DJ Mkuzi at Diani Beach Festival 2017/2018

Real quick: Cdj’s or Controllers?

Cdj’s everyday. Yeah, controllers make things work a little bit easier but I think it’s just how I learnt. I learnt on cdjs and you have so much more control over what you do. There’s no guess work, let me just put it that way. If you see someone killing it on cdj’s, they really are. They dont need any help with anything, it’s just them expressing themselves musically.

And what’s your overall favorite piece of gear?

Favorite piece of gear, my headphones. These are my babies. Pioneer Hdj-C180. I would never appreciate music the way I do without a good pair of headphones.

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DJ Mkuzi (left) at Earthdance Nairobi 2017

What do you think about the music scene in Mombasa? What does it mean to be a house dj from Mombasa culturally speaking.

It’s tough. In the beginning, it was quite a challenge. Literally playing for no one. But I’ve put in a lot of work. This year especially, I’ve had the privilege of working with like minded individuals who also DJ. We formed the 808 crew, namely: me, Himmy K, Rathod and AQce. 

808 poster

As a collective, we’ve achieved quite a number of things and we’ve got other people who also want to come aboard and I think 2018 is gonna be bigger and better – watch out for that space.

I think we inspire most people out there to get out of their comfort zone and y’know, not just listen to what their used to listenening or what’s being given to them, but go that extra mile to look for good music and appreciate it. That’s our point. It was hard in the beginning but it’s looking up, it’s looking really good.

What does the art of dj-ing mean to you?

The art of dj-ing means being able to express the music that you want to play to someone and not in the same way that it’s been given, if you can manipulate it or add something extra to it it, even if you don’t do any of those- just playing the right music at the right time, the right jams at the right vibe. That’s it.

If you can make someone just a little bit happier, make someone remember something from the music you’ve played, make someone forget all the problems they might be facing or going through – that for me is the most important thing.

Do you ever play songs you’re not feeling, just because it’s a crowd favorite? How does that make you feel?

I’ve played songs I am not feeling, many times I’d say. You just have to look at who you’re playing it for. Like I said, if it’s gonna make someone a little bit happier or someone is going to get a little bit more content just from hearing something that they enjoy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to enjoy it.

Maybe it’s in a language that I don’t understand. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t enjoy it. As long as it’s making somone happy- that’s the most important thing. Don’t always look at it from your side, look at it from the other person’s point of view. If it’s making it better for them to enjoy their night, making it a little more pleasant for them, then why not?

Who are your influences internationally and in the Kenyan music scene?

Black Coffee. I used to play with the idea of being a dj but I really didn’t do anything about it for quite a long time until I saw Black Coffee doing his thing. There he was dj-ing with one arm and you could see he was going places. Each and every day, I kept looking up to him as he kept on growing bigger and bigger. That was one thing that gave me the extra push to just get out there and do my thing because I literally had no excuse- here’s this guy doing it with one arm. I started off and I took each day as it came. I still look up to him, he’s scaling higher heights than he was back when I decided to do this. One day I hope to grace a stage he’s played in.

Black-Coffee

Black Coffee

Locally, basically just the whole 6am crew. Drazen, Kuzi, Foozak, Suraj. They’re doing great things, they’re the pioneers of electronic music in Kenya. They’re growing bigger. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to get to where they are. Maybe even surpass it.

What does the future look like for Mkuzi? What are some of the projects you have coming up?

The future is looking good, so bright. Right now, I’m just prepping for the Diani Beach festival. I’m in Diani in December from the 26th to the 1st.

By the end of the first quarter of 2018 I should have an EP out. I think there’s gonna be a lot of production on my side. A lot of gigs as well, but personally I’m just keen on the production. There’s gonna be some really cool stuff in 2018. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Peter Mkuzi is a fast rising dj/producer in the Kenyan house music scene. He is a member of the DJ/Producer collective, 808, and is based in Mombasa.

Follow DJ Mkuzi on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/mkuzi

Follow DJ Mkuzi on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/djmkuzi/

Art & Its Connection to the Artist

I came across Joji when I fell down a Spotify-shaped rabbit hole some time ago. Mentally, I wasn’t at the best place so his music fit my mood perfectly. His lo-fi brand of melancholy was extremely soothing to my soul and I was going to do a feature but as always, procrastination decided otherwise.

Late last year, I meet this guy at a friend’s graduation and we get into a conversation about 88rising, an Asian label that’s been gaining a lot of traction lately. Dude asks me if I listen to Rich Chigga and of course, I do. He asks if I know Joji and again, I do. Then he asks if I listen to Pink Guy. I haven’t.

Now, for the uninformed, Pink Guy is, to put it simply, an extremely fucked up Teletubby. He does normal YouTuber things like prank videos, skits and occasionally, cooks rats.. This befouled cartoon character brought to life is a creation of George Miller who also happens to be the aforementioned artist, Joji. Turns out before Joji was Joji, he was Filthy Frank. A Youtuber I had only heard of in passing. Are you still with me? Good.

Think of the vilest, most repulsive troll you can think of and maybe then you’ll be close to imagining who Filthy Frank is. Currently, at 5.2 million YouTube subscribers, Filthy Frank embodies a brand of comedy that crosses unsettling, passes absurdist and lands right at the center of fucked up. Like a live-action family guy.

Filthy Frank and Pink Guy are both characters that George Miller plays. They exist in a universe of his own creation bound only by his rules and his moral code. They are in no way a representation of who he actually is.

This juxtaposition between Joji  (plaid-wearing mopey indie artist) and Filthy Frank (Satan incarnate) got me thinking about artists and their personas. At what point does the artist stop and the art continue?

I believe that there are roughly two ways to answer this.

You could choose to see the art that one creates as separate and distinct from the one that creates it. A parent gives life to their child but ultimately they are two separate people. The good thing about this is that it allows us to appreciate art objectively. It allows us to listen to R. Kelly without thinking of golden showers or watch House of Cards without bile seeping down our throats.

At the same time, by separating the art from the artist you’re effectively turning your back on the things that they may have done. If your favourite musician beats his girlfriend and you continue to listen to their never-ending stream of music aren’t you continuing to support them? Or alternatively, to turn this question on its head, if you boycott whatever artist that happens to be embroiled in the saga of the day are you denying the others involved in the creation of that art their due? It’s kinda like the teacher making the whole class kneel because of that one loud mouth. Is moral indifference the answer? To quote an extremely articulate friend of mine:

The art and the artist may or may not be separate, but the fact that the art feeds the artist and the artist feeds the art means that we must link them together.

This brings us to the second perspective you can choose to take in your interpretation of this relationship. Art as an expression of its creator. Whatever you create, whatever you say, is an expression of you. Everything you’ve ever said or written is semi-autobiographical whether you like it or not. The children that I will have someday will be persons separate from me but I shall continue to exist in their big eyes and lack of facial hair. Oscar Wilde puts it brilliantly in The Picture of Dorian Grey when he says, ‘Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter’.

If you take this view, everything is ruined for you. The moment we hear George R.R. Martin got a little too frisky with his secretary, you can never go back to Westeros. Filthy Frank and Pink Guy, despite being characters, would then be inseparable from George Miller.

There’s no clear course of action. At least, I don’t see one.

For you, is art like the bible? An outpouring of words from people inspired.

Is art like a Picasso?  A broken and true reflection of society. Or are we not meant to understand any of it?

At the end of last year, George brought Filthy Frank to an end. He explains that he no longer enjoyed producing that kind of content and that playing all those different characters took a toll on his physical and mental health. Here, the artist has brought his art to an end. The connection is now severed. I wish I could say the same about Woody Allen.

Featured Image: The Great Wave off Kanagawa; Hokusai

Slide: BNRD ft. Mankind, Nomad

 

I used to think that alternative R&B was a genre I made up in my head. Something that sounds like R&B but think Babyface meets Octopizzo. So for anything that doesn’t fit into this well constructed box of genre, you get assigned the prefix ‘alternative’.

I don’t mind at all. In fact, I would like to exist in this alternative universe where this music is considered mainstream. It must be a pleasant universe with no black outs and fountains of pinot noir.

BNRD, Mankind and Nomad and blazing the trail for Kenyan chill-hop. The production on this is so meticulous, each percussion hit, the way it pans like the sounds are dancing around your head. All of it is intentional.

Plus the music video is the flyer for the wavy carefree Kenyan boy experience. It makes me want to smoke trees and kick it with these guys. And I guess that’s just the point- Life makes you feel bad enough, just let your music make you feel good.

 

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Top Ten Singles of 2017

 

Let’s face it, 2017 sucked. Everything that could have gone wrong mostly did go wrong. Chester Bennington and Lil Peep died. Sheesha got banned (we’re still reeling). However, in the nasty grey rubble that was 2017, a few diamonds were found – and they came in the form of music. Music is the only thing that saved us closing the curtains and calling it quits so, in appreciation of this, we have compiled our favourite songs from this year. This list is not in any particular order because we feel the songs may be too different to compare. Enjoy and forgive us for all the gems we’ve probably missed.

 

10. Dreezy, 6lack, Kodak Black –  Spar

Political dissatisfaction has been a major theme in hip-hop this year and Trump is the punching bag that every rapper gets a round at. Rightfully so, in fact. The most precise and pin-pointed attack has been courtesy of Dreezy, 6lack, and Kodak. Inhabiting arguably different spectrums of the genre, these artists came together to channel their anger against a broken system. All on a disgusting trap beat.

 

9. Tyler, The Creator – 911/ Mr. Lonely (feat. Frank Ocean)

Loneliness in 2017 is a cliche. Everyone is sad and wants to die, you don’t really need to say it anymore. Tyler turns this on its head and reaches out. To the cops. It’s a pretty standard ‘Tyler the Creator’ way of doing things but he commits to this feeling throughout the entire song. The most melodic cry for attention this 2017, featuring a hook from Daddy Frank himself.

 

8. Jorja Smith – On my mind

Jorja Smith’s fame skyrocketed this year. After her feature on More Life, Jorja’s run of epic singles began. Capping them off would be ‘on my mind’, my favourite of them all. On a UK garage beat, a largely dormant genre this year, Jorja voices her anger towards a, particularly shitty lover. It’s catchy and her soulful voice brings the point across clearly. Hope we can finally get an album in 2018.

 

7. Tunji – Mat za Ronga

This jam made traffic especially fun for me. Trying to find all the mats from the song was like bingo for particularly sunny days on Langata road. Tunji takes this part of our culture and gives it the recognition it deserves in a song that is as grand and bright as the matatus he describes. If there was a club anthem this year, it would be this song (right after Bablas, of course).

 

6. SZA – 20 Something

This is a survival prayer. It’s stripped down to just her voice and a guitar to guide you in traversing this borderline between childhood and adulthood: the summary of being in your 20’s.

It’s okay to be scared of an unknown future. It’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to be anxious. It’s okay to be a little sad sometimes because you’re not where you feel you’re supposed to be. I think you should give yourself more credit though. Clap for yourself, you made it through another year of driving blindfolded, but can’t you feel the mask slowly slipping with each passing moment? Isn’t your vision and the direction you want getting clearer each day?

You’re not alone, we’re alone. Together.

5. Thundercat – Lava Lamp

This drunken silly man just sang what might be the feelsiest song of any album this year. Free from judgement, it’s an ode to detachment. To distancing yourself from what is not of benefit. To letting go. Only then will you realize that you don’t really need everything you imagined.

 

4. Ibeyi – Me Voy

It’s December. Let the island rhythm set you lose and loose you. Raindance in the night time under a bamboo showers. Feel the humidity with every beat of the drum. Ibeyi might be this decade’s NinaSky. Channeling their ancestors. Vibrating on a higher frequency.

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you remember NinaSky right?

 

3. Col3trane – Penelope

I’m sorry but Coltr3ane is to Frank Ocean what Desiigner is to Future.

Hello ethnically ambiguous Frank Ocean jr. Even how he gets you bumping to the saddest lyrics is Frank. The beat switch ups are Frank. The heavy reverb that makes him sound like he’s singing in a fast speeding air-conditioned car – is Frank.

I’ll take it. This is what I prayed for all the years I sat gathering dust in a corner, waiting on Frank to finally drop Blonde.

2. Omousangare – Koun koun (Jinku remix)

The way it starts is like it’s on a jungle river rowing you at a steady pace. You trust where it’s going because it’s happening at the right time at the right place, even the transitions happen at the right time at the right place. It’s always the right time. It’s always the right place.

It breathes and gently hits. Like an entire village chanting for rain or harvest. A song of the people.

Like a song mother taught you when you were young, and you don’t know what the words mean, but you understand the feeling of it. The meaning is innate even though you don’t necessarily speak the language. You know what it means.

 

  1. Jaden Smith – BLUE

‘Did you listen and did you kind of understand the fact that it’s four separate songs that is one?’

SYRE, as a whole, felt like an entirely new approach to the arrangement of an album. The intro is four songs long and the outro is in the middle of the album. BLUE, the crown jewel of the album, plays out like an orchestral arrangement. We have a crescendo at the beginning of L, avant-garde chord progressions and the most random changes in tempo. I love it.  The entire album is inspired by the major artists of our generation. Kanye, Cudi etc. This bit, however, is entirely Jaden’s. Confusing and non-sensical but, ultimately, compelling.

Featured image: Masashi Wakui

 

 

No Chances: Vallerie Muthoni (prod. FireOneSam)

Ghai. She bodied this. This is the kind of fire that  spontaneously combusts you because you-did-not-see-it-coming. Dead bodies everywhere in the streets.

Vallerie Muthoni: Kenyan songstress. Kenyan rapper. She has come to snatch the hair off our scalps. Who is a 21 Savage? Who is an A$AP Rocky? Put her on an XXL Freshman Cypher now.

Don’t you love it when a person knows what they want and goes for it no apologies? Add a hard 808 to that and the world is yours Toni Montana.

Not a rapper tho.

Still bodied your favourite rapper tho.

Try not to burst into flames on the first listen.

on any block

Listen to Vallerie Muthoni’s Soundcloud here.

Stream No Chances by Vallerie Muthoni here.

Aromanticism: Moses Sumney

My relationship with love is murky. I can swear- and I have sworn- that I’ve felt it, but I really don’t trust myself on this anymore. I know that I’ve used the word when I shouldn’t have. I also know there times I should have used it but I didn’t. Have I lived life long enough to understand what it really is? Probably not. Even then, what is it really? I have all these questions to which there can be no definite answer.

Instead, what I want is the conviction that comes with lovelessness. I want my walls dark and cold and more importantly, I want to be okay with that.

Aromanticism—the incapacity or unwillingness to reciprocate romantic feelings or love

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Moses Sumney’s debut Aromanticism is active in its embrace of despair. Love is mandatory and we are all expected to be at some stage of it. Falling into it, falling out of it, searching for it or running away from it.

On “Don’t bother calling”, Moses knows enough about love to know that he can’t do it. He sees it and he feels it but he doesn’t want it. It’s honest and necessary. Better to not be loved than to be strung along. Even when you’re the one doing the stringing.

You need a solid, but I’m made of liquid
Trust in me, I am the son of the sea
And I’ll call you when I feel finally free

Through the lenses of gloom, Moses paints a relationship. He describes a love that is grotesque and bare. Undesirable to him and him alone.

Through the walls of Jericho
Lies a heart of stone
With you, half the battle
Is proving that we’re at war

Moses’s sullen voice is the soul of every song with every instrument rising and falling on his command. It is breathy and atmospheric and the production value is underplayed. The bass section stars Thundercat and Ludwig Göransson, the producer responsible for most of Childish Gambino’s albums.

Like Moses, we should ignore all the formalities that come with love. Love doesn’t have to be a cat and mouse game. Say what you want from the outset. Make it easier for everyone.

I’m not tryna go to bed with you
I just wanna make out in my car

“Doomed” plays like a dirge. Moses believes in love but he doesn’t feel it. Will he be punished for this? He asks himself. In not feeling love, is he doomed?

If lovelessness is godlessness
Will you cast me to the wayside?

Moses isn’t doomed. To quote Buddha, no one saves us but ourselves. It could be faith or it could be self-love but there’s enough in you to keep you sane. If you don’t know what that is for you then talk to someone.

 

 

 

“And if you couldn’t be loved, the next best thing was to be let alone.”
-L.M Montgomery

Image: NY Times

Rated: 4.2/ 5

Why Jamhuri Jam Sessions is changing the Kenyan music scene

Today’s post is brought to you by the ever charismatic, ever entertaining music junkie herself, Joy Ruguru.

 

Who’s that chic? I asked my events buddy as we sat in the dark auditorium listening to the bird on stage. She’s Achieng, he whispered back. Hmm, how do you know her?
“Kwani you don’t watch Jamhuri Festival?”

As soon as I settled home that night after the Mufasa poetry event, I went straight to my laptop. Typed ‘you’ and Google did the rest. There, I finally found my answer.

Since then in mid-2016, I spent a few minutes every other day on the Jamhuri Festival YouTube channel. Waiting for me were familiar Kenyan artists like H_art The Band, and Fena Gitu who was doing her thing tho. Bensoul was even singing on his own before Masheesha happened.

So this was the famous online music series called Jamhuri Jam Sessions. With already 2 ‘volumes’ and almost 20 episodes, there was a lot to see. The deal? A talented Kenyan artist performed an African song cover followed by their original song. Not on a wide stage like Achieng though, but in a tiny room that resembled a studio. Sometimes you’d also find a Sauti Sol member deftly playing his guitar with his Fancy Fingers.

I was even convinced Jamhuri Festival was his brainchild.

 

May the real founder please stand up. It was only this year that I met Tom Olang’o, a Nairobi-based bass player – who’s only 23! As the name suggests, he started Jamhuri Festival as an event back in August 2015. That night, both old and new Kenyan artists came together to perform to the youthful crowd at Alliance Francaise Garden. They went through a Kenyan musical journey traversing the last two decades – complete with electrifying performances from Mr. Lenny to Le Band.

 

I know, where were we?

 

But let’s go back a bit further. If you still remember your Kiswahili from school, jamhuri is the African word for republic. Tom and his friends wanted to give Kenyan artists the freedom and independence to express themselves through music. A platform to create and share their talents. So far, they’ve done this through community block parties, and even free creative clinics for upcoming artists.

Oh, and you hear about Twice Upon Yesterday – an event held by Third Hand Music that featured a host of other Nu Nairobi acts? Jamhuri Festival was there too.

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Their most recent collaboration is a yummy one – with Nyama Mama restaurant at Delta Towers in Westlands, Nairobi. You may have seen a video of Steph Kapela singing with kitenge cushions lying lazily in the background. Yup, our artists have upgraded from a tiny sitting room to the open seating space of the swanky new restaurant in town. But that’s not even the best part.

Every Wednesday night, Jamhuri Festival hosts a local artist or band to perform there in what is dubbed Mama’s Jamhuri Sessions. Free event by the way. This where you meet all the cool cats you only knew of their existence from the YouTube channel, either performing or supporting a fellow artist. Basically, it’s a gathering of music lovers. For example, did you know Phy is one petite lady? Kinda like Arianna: small body, grand voice.

In the urban crowd, you will always spot the tall and dark bass player, who looks nothing like 23. He usually has this cool denim jacket on with the colorful Jamhuri Festival logo plastered on the back; you wish he could bless you with one. But since you’re humble, you sit down and enjoy a cold drink or the gourmet version of your favorite Kenyan meal. And take it down with a glass of fresh Nu Nairobi music.

Okay, enough talk from me. Since you came here to watch videos, here are 5 of the best Jamhuri Jam Sessions to satisfy your curiosity (it wasn’t easy to narrow it down by the way). These fiery voices warmed my heart, proof that Kenyan music is golden. Don’t believe me?

Let’s see.

Wendy with the catchy songs. Slay, queen:

 

Introducing your next three favorite boys in town (after H_art The Band that is):

 

It was 2017 when the Kenyan Trapper went Spanish guitar on us:

 

Get your tissues ready, guys. I mean girls:

 

And of course, Ach13ng:

 

I know what you’re asking yourself… how do I get to watch these guys perform live? Well, Kemunto already slew the Nyama Mama stage and snatched my heart at the same time. I (and someone else I know here) cannot wait for Ayrosh’s turn. Yeah, Folk Fusion wasn’t enough new school mugithi for 2017.

With this post, I now give you the power to discover your new favorite Kenyan acts every week on Jamhuri Jam Sessions. Since I know all you cool cats are on Instagram, follow Jamhuri Festival to know the next Nyama Mama star. Because who knows, it might just be Achieng.

Cover Image: 1,2

For more writing that breathes into your soul, visit The Music Junkie. You can also catch her on The Music Junkies on USIU Radio from 12-2p.m.

Trip: Jhene Aiko

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Trip is a 4 sided dice that never stops rolling and you never know which side it will land on.

Side A- grief; the loss of a loved one. Side  B- experimenting with psychedelics. Side C- falling in love. Side D- falling out of love.

It’s about losing yourself and finding yourself all over again.

This project arrived with a masterful short film in which Jhene plays a fictionalized version of herself: Penny the Poet.

And how could I review something called Trip, without sprinkling some trippy imagery here and there?

Enjoy the trip.

drugs 1

 

We open with grief and psychedelics in ‘LSD’. Jhene’s brother, Miyagi, passed away in 2011 after battling cancer. On this track, she talks to him and tells him about her experience with the drug. How that tiny piece of paper made her feel closer to him, almost like she could talk to him and he’d talk back.

Everything you said I shouldn’t do
But those things bring me closer to you,

So the other night, I
Took a tiny piece of paper and put it under my tongue
This white guy said it’d be fun, and it was, but
What I saw
Oh my God, oh my God

‘Jukai’ is a forest in Mount Fiji, also known as suicide forest, where people go to die peacefully, amongst the sea of trees. She relates this forest to escapism; her need to run away to a place where she can never be found.

In an interview on Beats 1 Radio, she broke it down like this:

One night I was in [the studio] with the Fisticuffs and we were partaking in marijuana and we were watching a documentary about Aokigahara, the suicide forest in Japan. My great-grandmother was born in Hawaii, but she’s actually Japanese. My grandfather is Japanese, too. So I’ve always wanted to go. After my brother passed — actually, my whole life — I’ve been very interested in death. Not afraid of it, but interested and intrigued. I was watching that [documentary] and it was such a beautiful forest. Maybe people go there and they just feel at peace. Of course, everyone has different reasons for making that decision.
It’s definitely a place I’ve been in my mind: ‘Hmm, if I were to decide to do that, how would I do it?’ So we started with a guitar and I wanted to write a song about that place and go there in my mind. I know that sounds morbid, but it was true. It was a fantasy of me going there. It’s not super obvious in the song, but I say how my feet keep touching the ground [and] it’s not working for me. Then I’m saved by a guy. But in real life I was on a hike in Big Sur and I was getting emotional. Then I looked up through the trees and I saw the sun. It felt like the sun saved me, which, in itself, is [symbolic]: the Son of God or the sun in our solar system. It just felt like a love story.

‘While we’re young’ and ‘Moments ft. Big Sean’ are a summer of falling in love- with someone else, with yourself, with life. All guards and inhibitions thrown to the wind. The free-est you’ve ever been. ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is an upbeat pop synth number about fighting for that same love.

‘When we Love’. When falling into a love that seems too good to be true, be mindful- it just might be. It usually is.

drugs 3

But seriously, who is this man who keeps giving her drugs. Big Sean, is it you?

She gives us something for the aux in ‘Sativa’ ft. Swae Lee. Staying true to the substance theme, if this song was a drug (I know, it’s called Sativa), it would be lean. It’s a drowsy eyes-closed slow-bumping banger.

‘New Balance’ is a heartfelt poem, originally posted on her tumblr, dedicated to finding that someone who will patiently help you heal all your wounds. Guitar courtesy of John Mayer.

jhené aiko efuru chilombo new balance

‘You are here’ is getting to know this person deeper and finding out who they really are. Yeah this is fun but are you sure? Are you sure you won’t hurt me? The same sentiments are echoed in ‘Newer balance freestyle’

Shit hits the fan in ‘Never Call Me’ and her eyes are wide open now. She sees it, she sees that it wasn’t really love. It was mostly just drugs. Also taking this opportunity to land a few jabs at her ex-husband, producer Dot-da-genius.

So let’s stop pretending like we were in love
We never shared anything but the drugs
We were both numb, never had anything real between us

Ironic because the next track in the album is produced by Dot da Genius. ‘Nobody’ is learning how to be alone again. However, the drugs switch from psychedelics to prescriptions, partly at fault is Dr. Chill.  (Dr. Chill’s identity will be revealed shortly). How the issues in her life are mostly resolved with a “Here. Take this. It will make you feel better.”

drugs 2

 

Okay, so far we’ve met Lsd, Sativa, and prescription pills. ‘Overstimulated’ is coke.  The highs are short and fleeting. The come downs are cruel and unforgiving. Her addiction is rising. It’s an enchanting R&B feel and we get to swirl through Jhene’s mind along with her. She talks to the drugs like they’re a bad lover.

Why you never stay for long? You always go so fast
Who’s gonna hold my hand when I’m crashing

She’s coming down in ‘Oblivion’. That feeling of emptiness after it all ends. When nothing can fill the void. This one is my personal favorite- the sounds wave in and out of each other and the reverb makes it all the more ethereal and heavy. Everything from the percussion to Dr. Chill’s verse is a hovering darkness.

I love how direct she is in ‘Psilocybin’. Incase you had any doubts, yes. She is talking about shrooms. It’s calming (the song not shrooms idk I’ve never tried it) like a mantra i’d recite to myself to remind me I’m here. This is where I am and exactly where I am is exactly where I’m supposed to be. It is the right place. It is the right time.

Dear Dr. Chill, how have I lived without your smooth jazz wisdom all this time? Someone please give this psychedelic man a record deal and an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. (Right. Dr. Chill is Dr. Chilombo a.k.a Baba Jhene)

dr chill

I’m from the Universe soul
We’re all from the Universe soul 

Mummy and baby sing together on ‘Sing to me’ ft. Namikolove, her daughter. It’s as adorable and endearing as you think it is. Scratch that, it’s more. The beauty and vulnerable power in the image of a mother-daughter duo vs. the world moved me to tears in a feeling I haven’t felt since I finished watching Gilmore Girls.

The album moves through the stages of grief, finally ending in acceptance with ‘Frequency’. A prayer and a thanksgiving. And ‘Trip’ ft. Mali Music. Love pays but it also collects taxes. *shrugs* It’s a trip.

Life is a trip. Death is a trip. Family is a trip. Love is a trip. It’s all a constant unending journey. Breathe it all in, look around, learn, keep moving forward.

 

Rated : 4.3 / 5