An intro to the EDM and Dance Scenes of Kenya
Kenya is stereotypically a country you associate with naturalistic, tribal sounding music. But in the blossoming East African country, that stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth, and today it has one of the most vivid and thriving electronic music scenes on the continent. With its capital city Nairobi acting as a hub, there are now more and more producers making Disco Benga, Equatorial House, Nairobi Bounce or East African Wave, all with their own characteristics, artists and energies. And the acts making this new music aren’t content with simply rehashing clichéd western sounds, but instead are pushing the boundaries of electronic production whilst never forgetting the roots of Kenya’s musical identity.
Perhaps tired of the constant barrage of imported music from Europe and the America’s, Kenyan’s have sought to create their own sounds that they can relate to, sounds that are just as exciting, fresh and well produced as anything the west can offer but from a cultural standpoint that they can understand. And through platforms like Soundcloud, Kenyan’s have had a free, accessible, and popular platform to easily distribute their music.
And it’s this engagement with technology that typifies Africa’s youth of today, and perhaps one of the reasons why electronic music has never been more popular in the continent, especially in Kenya. To introduce you to the new and unique sounds coming out of Kenya today, we’ve run through some the most popular forms of dance music currently heating up the clubs of Nairobi.
Stemming mainly from the collective calling themselves the East Africa Wave, Nu Nairobi is a sound that blends hip hop, funk, soul and house, mostly instrumental, but sometimes with singing or rapping over the top.
Probably most typified by the rising star of EA Wave called Jinku, who blends traditional east African sounds and samples with cutting edge modern day production skills that drift between head nodding bass kicks and drifting melodies, the five strong collective are firmly putting Nairobi and its current modern day sounds to an international audience.
Jinku’s most recent, frenetic sounding EP, Amedayo, is a perfect summary of the Nu Nairobi sound, but it’s worth checking out the Soundcloud pages of his EA Wave peers Ukweli, Nu Funk, Muroe and Hiribae as well to get a fuller picture.
In Kenya Benga is nothing new. Since the 1940’s-60’s, it was the most popular form of dance music in Nairobi and the surrounding east African region, with an emphasis on fast paced drumming rhythms reminiscent of Cuban dance music and nimble fingered electric guitar playing that imitated the eight string lyre instrument of the Luo people called the ‘Nyatiti’.
But since then it’s taken on newer forms, with disco, house and afro-groove producers taking its traditional form and breathing new life into it with their own ideas. Now in most Kenyan clubs the sound has become the norm, and you can hear synth heavy 80’s or modern day disco or house over the top of tribal drums and east African guitar sounds, all underpinned by booming basslines.
In Kenya, the Afro-pop group ‘Just A Band’ are probably the most seminal and legendary of most recent times. Making inch perfect pop with an east African twist, their sound mixes rap, soul, funk and disco with afrobeat and benga to make the perfect summarisation of modern day Kenyan dance music.
Their genre hopping style has meant that they have influenced all different types of act in the contemporary Kenyan music scene, and even though as a trio they are currently taking a break, one of their group, Blinky Bill, is still making songs with the Nairobi Bounce sound whilst producing and remixing for other artists too.
Check out Blinky Bill’s E.P ‘We Cut Keys While You Wait’, or Just A Band’s album ‘Sorry For The Delay’ for the perfect introduction the Nairobi Bounce vibe.
Perhaps the most straightforward dance music on this list in Equatorial House, which is instantly recognisable not as a blend of all different types of dance music but as a variation on the classic house sound with an east African twist.
The main proprietor of this sound is the hugely influential DJ and producer Saint Evo, who describes the Equatorial House sound as ‘a sound that captures the lived narratives of the indigenous communities along the equator as relayed in their traditional sound stories fused with the modern electronic sound of House music’.
Equatorial House uses drumming and vocal samples from all regions of Africa and underpins it with classic house bass kicks and grooves, so in terms of sound it’s probably most similar to Disco Benga on this list, but with a slightly more modern bass heavy feel to it.