By Karama Ogova
Published February 7, 2011
Electronica is defined as music created using electronic instruments like synthesisers, samplers, and drums and remains dominated by that electronic sound. It can be further characterised by its emphasis on melodic and harmonic structure, and also on its catchy, danceable rhythms and bass lines. This genre first made its appearance in the uptown areas of Europe and was mainly featured in Dance clubs. Hip-hop, on the other hand, is funky and is accompanied by a vocal style, which is popularly known as rap, along with rhythmic backing beats. It was first introduced in New York City’s Bronx neighbourhood by a Jamaican DJ named Clive Campbell (a.k.a “Kool Herc”).
With just this information one would wonder how, over all other things, these two could be mixed and matched. Well, the answer is not too far away as two pioneering cities have finally made it happen after a year-long project between artists from Germany and Kenya. The project, dubbed BLNRB-NRBLN, has allowed club music from the capital city of Berlin and street music from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to crash and meld together beautifully into a one of a kind masterpiece.
In what is to be an early spring release of their debut album, the collaborating musicians have come up with a sample EP album consisting of five tracks, which are later to culminate into a full CD release. Its live premiere will be at Worldtronics. Featured on the sample album are Kenyan artists Abbas Kubaff (considered to be one of the pioneers of Hip-hop in Kenya and a popular East African celebrity. He raps intelligently and ironically in Sheng, the quickly mutating youth code slang that mixes Kiswahili with English. He uses this on the album to add to the Hip-hop effect and familiarise with the Kenyan youth as well as in relating to both audiences); Necessary Noize (combine Hip-hop with Dancehall and Reggae); Radi (Six percussionists in an ensemble playfully sampling the diversity of Kenyan rhythms. No wonder they travel around with their drums in some of the strangest ways you could imagine); Ukoo Flani (12 MCs form the core of this Hip-hop collective, which enjoys a high profile in East Africa and has its roots in the slums of Mombasa and Nairobi. All told, it has about a hundred members and runs a Hip-hop academy); Just a Band (They play “the most-modern style claviature with a wink”. They produced their first Kenyan House record from their living room in 2008. Since then, they have soared to great heights as cartoon artists-cum-photographers and are now producing music that is ever more convincing as well). These are just but a fraction of all featured artistes on the compilation.
On the extreme end, those in charge of the techno bit are Gebrüder Teichmann (Minimal Techno producers and label managers who initiated the project BLNRB. Music crazy as they are, they formed their first band when they were only nine and 12 years of age); Modeselekto (A hyperactive duo which forced music critics to come up with new terminologies such as Bastard Dancehall, Euro Crunk, Acid Rap, Big Bass Techno, Happy Metal, Psychedelic Electro); Live (They are a force to be reckoned with); Jahcoozi (A multi-national, Berlin-based trio who perform a balancing act of “musical perfection and Dadaistic nonchalance”).
Of the five sample tracks on the EP, two did not specifically hit off on the right key with me. The first track, titled “Madhouse”, is somewhat of an introductory one into the album. It describes what one would expect on entering Nairobi from the “hood” view in addition to the glitz and glamour advertised to tourists. It is a work of Kenyan artists Nazizi Hirji and Abbas in collaboration with Jahcoozi. It is a hype track and gives the listener high expectations of the proceeding tracks in the album. It is a nice club hit and I must say the techno effect is apparent in addition to the Hip-hop rap style. To a keen listener it outlines the cause of the whole project within its rhymes.
The second track that doesn’t connect with me is “Dirty Laundry” by Teichmann, Lon’ Jon, Abbas and Kimya. It is about living honestly as opposed to people who do a lot of wrong things and expect others to take out their “dirty laundry” on their behalf.
The third track, “Zamaney” by Jahcoozi and Ukoo Flani, doesn’t amuse me much. It describes the path Kenya and moreso Nairobi itself has taken since the earlier centuries to its current status as a popular city. It advises the youth to be proud of their heritage. Though it has all the properties of a good track, it is somewhat slow and does not appeal to me as much as the others.
Necessary Noize have once again proved that they are a dominant force on the music scene by producing yet another club banger. In the track, ‘Very Necessary’, they acknowledge the Teichmann Brothers and though I have no further clue what they are rapping about, this is one of the best tracks on the EP.
The fifth track, “Away” by Just A Band, Jahcoozi and Michael Ongaro, emphasises on the fact that one need not fight but rather run away from all the trouble. This emphasises on the peace aspect that has been very rare in the past few years all around the country.
This album has a taste of both Nairobi as well as Berlin as it was recorded at Homeboyz Studio in Nairobi and Villa in Berlin. The collaboration was made possible by Goethe-Institut in Nairobi and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt of Berlin. Look out for the full CD release later in the year.