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There’s a slang word Kenyans use for what French/Kenyan artist Stephane Stalon and producer KiliHippie have achieved with their collab track “IMMM.” The word ‘tamu’ (directly translating to “sweet” in Swahili) is hummed and howled by Nairobi audiences when they hear a silky smooth, jazz-infused track, led by laid back melodies and spaced out drums with brave lyrics and vocal vulnerability delivering subtly powerful truths. Stephane Stalon is a member of young music collective called “Bahati Bookings” on a mission to transform the Kenyan scene with their heartfelt energy, fearless fusion music and skilled lyricism, bridging the space between rap and jazz culture.
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Don Ngatia’s voice exudes an angelic melancholy spirit that belies his youth. Graceful melodies weave around a soulful plucked guitar, echoed by delicately layered harmonies to build a eerily beautiful atmosphere. Born in Kenya, Ngatia relocated to Boston after attending Berklee College of Music. His songs speak of mortal pain and resilient spirituality, painted by poetic lyrics revealing his deep-rooted romanticism. His 2014 breakout hit “Solitude” seamlessly ebbs and flows from sadness to joy, channeling raw acoustic energy to create a truly poignant piece of music.
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“Oh Wah” is a powerhouse collaboration between Kenyan artist Blinky Bill and Nigerian singer-songwriter Nneka. Featured on Bill’s new album “Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Tales”, the song showcases his rich production skills, as a heart-wrenching blend of echoing guitars, tribal chanting and driving percussion interweave beneath lyrics crying out for peace. The chemistry between Blinky Bill’s thick, low voice and cryptic wordplay and Nneka’s husky voiced howls creates a distinct energy, making for an infectious anthem with an important message from an African perspective.
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Nairobi based artist Loa Myst drops her debut single “In The Waters”, a soulful blend of synths and live instrumentation side chained to the pulsing heartbeat of minimalist drums and a surprising bassline that slides across an intricately layered sonic collage. Myst’s voice is strong, smoky, soothing and sweet all at once, switching effortlessly from rich RnB melodies to percussive rap breakdown as the track’s production morphs fluidly as the track progresses; the song is produced by Kenyan artist Nu Fvnk, a co-founder of the fast growing Producer/DJ collective, EA Wave, producing an eclectic cross section of some of the most alluring alternative pan-African artists. The pair’s full length collaborative EP “WADE” is set for release in November 2018.
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Sage’s songwriting prowess wields the power of her skilful instrumentalism. Whether leading jazz-driven ballads or adding an artfully minimalistic touch to electronically-infused tracks, her music bridges the gap between the indie and mainstream cultures of Kenya’s diverse scene. Produced by her longterm partner Dillie, “Watching You” is a soulful blend of timeless melodic RnB and down-tempo trap that emphases the strength of her harmonised vocals, ahead of a delightfully unexpected twist.
Kemunto’s delicately smooth vocals belie her raw, emotional vulnerability. Born and raised in Nairobi, the artist describes her sound as “afro-urban soul driven music”, penning a range of RnB inspired slow jams infused with reggae grooves. Accompanied on guitar by Edwin Majanta, her new acoustic version of the track “Maybe” is angelically haunting, consoling and beautifully heart wrenching all at once.
Rotation combines with fellow member of Sudanese collective nuslang. on banger ‘Affin Affin’. The track adopts a ‘trap-zanig’ style, fusing Sudani instruments with contemporary hip-hop to inject a refreshing dynamic energy. Driven by Rotation’s unique flow and a spine-chilling guitar solo by producer WillyWill, “Affin Affin” is a powerful example of the strength of the East African country’s vibrant rap scene, incorporating Western influences to create new original gems.
MaMan’s triple-threat ability to sing, rap, and produce with equal strength mark him as one of the most notable talents to come out of Sudan in recent years. Entitled after the year of his birth, his latest album “1991” aptly represents the struggle of a young Sudanese creative fighting their way through the country’s economic and socio-political strife, a scenario that many of the marginalised young generation can relate to. Sonically, “1991” boasts genre-fusing electronic beats and diverse hip-hop flows, running the gamut of emotions as the mood shifts from uplifting positivity to brooding introspection, tied together by dark, swirling production.
Vallerie Muthoni raps with the conviction of legends like Foxy Brown and “Left Eye” Lisa Lopes. Delivering subversive content and controversial quips with a smile, laughs and cracks jokes in a collection of dialects, setting up stories in English before the punchlines come in Swahili, drawing listeners into her youthful world and then hitting them with a wisdom that belies her years. Collaborating on the playful energetic, track “Brown Suga”, producer Kahealbeats brings out the best in Muthoni, demonstrating his ability to enhance and evolve his artists’ vocal delivery as Muthoni finds melodic pockets in his hard-hitting beat. “Brown Suga” is the first release off of Muthoni’s upcoming EP “the Wavey Soul.”
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Sudan-born, Ontario-based A7MD is an artist who deserves to be watched closely. Aside from his archives of releases under the pseudonym Skripter, his new moniker and new sound brings a refreshing, original approach to the contemporary trap sounds that dominate North America’s rap scene. His successful single Zombies, produced by DBLCRSS, boasts a distinctive melodic lilt to his bars, and he is equally comfortable flexing his lyrical skill in the verses as he is delivering a catchy mantra in the chorus; “I only did this for squad, and my only witness is God”.
Two members of the Tribal East collective, Somali-born HasH and Hand Bandz combine their creative talents to create ‘Darkside of the Moon’. Bandz’s haunting melody is difficult to shake once heard, and is offset by his emotionally charged bars, delivered over the chilling production of Evrgreen (now known as AKA Blobby).
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21-year-old Egyptian artist Pharaohgamo creates music with a maturity that even veteran artists struggle to achieve. On his debut mixtape Survivor Series, released in December 2017, the Virginia-based wordsmith pens lyrics with an engaging balance of intellectual social commentary alongside clever punch lines and humour. With imposing, gravelly vocals that have iconic potential, Pharaohgamo’s dark tone and contemporary twists on old-school flows is symbolic of the struggle of artists who must rebel against the restrictions of their culture in order to push the envelope for those who wish to follow in their footsteps.
Kenyan born, multi-cultural DJ/producer Suraj, globetrotting German turntablist/producer Max Doblhoff and Kenyan afro-fusion artist Alai K team up to create a contagiously funky track. ‘Bana Bana’ embodies the eclectic energy of East Africa’s finest musical collaborations, effortlessly spanning afrobeat, reggae and house influences.The uptempo beat is carried by raw, soulful vocals and reverberating crooning melodies, echoing a sound Alai K refers to as “Disco Vumbi” – a homegrown form of street dance music. Individually, each artist brandishes a strong personal style, with Suraj known for infamously percussive afrobeat and melodic house, Doblhoff (fka MDgroove) known for roots-inspired techno, and Alai K known for everything from hip-hop to traditional kamba, but together their collaboration paints a fuller, truer picture of East Africa’s contemporary creative sector, innovating both electronic and acoustic genres in unique fusion.
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Producer OKZharp and vocalist, artist and dancer Manthe Ribane work closely with photographer and film maker Chris Saunders to create a unique collaborative audio-visual project. Though all three originally hail from South Africa, OKZharp cut his teeth in London as a member of LV, one of the first acts to sign to pioneering label Hyperdub. When OKZharp left LV, he spoke to Saunders about an idea for a film, and was introduced to Manthe, who was then a dancer and choreographer for Die Antwoord. They hit it off, and upon hearing Manthe singing to herself, they started collaborating musically, releasing two well received EP’s on Hyperdub, recorded in Johannesburg and London respectively. The recording of ‘Closer Apart’ reflects the song’s title – started on tour, with most of the music borne out of “headphone moments” in hotel rooms, planes and airports in the brief periods of time that the trio spent together in Paris and later Vienna. Okzharp describes Manthe as a co-producer; “she selected instrumental sketches and we developed them together, sometimes just keeping the bare bones or a melody or rhythm, or trying different elements or sounds.” In tandem Pearson worked with Manthe to develop an umbilical visual identity, feeding back into the music, for the live show but also for the audio-visual elements of their work. Even thought the album was built long distance, the short periods they spent together were the basis for creativity; Okzharp recalls one particular moment in Milan last year; “we had a whole free day before our flight so we visited the Salone di Mobile design show. We were so inspired by an installation there just walking around, listening to the amazing soundtrack. That evening our flight was delayed, so we sat on the floor of the airport terminal putting musical ideas down for ‘Time Machine’ on the laptop speakers and writing the lyrics: ‘Tic Toc time, we’ll be fine / Airport queues, cerulean blues / Viper trails cross the skies / Lights reflect in your eyes…'” The album has a softness and openness that contrasts the tougher sound of the preceding EPs; Manthe explains that “the new music is a 360 turn. It an expression of my ‘Lady’ side – I grew up listening to jazz, classic and gospel, I am a very soft spoken person, and it resonates with being confident with that. It’s been crazy finding balance and finding a smart way to strengthen my weaknesses, I had to trust the process. I hope everyone feels motivated and inspired to be more after listening to the album.”
While Baraka’s energy on stage is wildly contagious, his vocal control on record is skillfully composed. He sails across heavyweight beats with a light tongue, perpetually crafting a free-flowing stream of consciousness. Touching every consonant with clear articulation in an effortless delivery akin to unique wordsmiths like Smino, Baraka carves the wave of his signature “future bounce” beats produced mostly by Bahati Bookings – a collective he founded with fellow Nairobi artists Ekumbo & Stephane. Gathering a fast-growing following with their consistently evolving content online and passionate live performances, Baraka and Bahati Bookings are being paid close attention by established acts in the Kenyan alternative scene, excitedly supporting their unstoppable rise.
The producer Stephen Of Kent has linked up with rapper 2Lee Stark to create some of South Africa’s most cutting edge contemporary hip-hop. Kent’s first commercially released body of work, ‘There May Be Wolves’ is a joint EP project between the two that draws inspiration from the popular TV series Game Of Thrones; 2lee’s name references the House Stark, whose symbol is a wolf, with the tape’s concept revolving around the fable of “the boy who cried wolf”, framing this project as the genuine breakthrough they’ve prophesied so often before.The pair worked on this album in the OFF BOYZ Recording Label “Winter” campaign, which will also include two upcoming individual singles from each from the artists.
Ondi is a Kenyan artist who considers her poetry as important as her music. Her voice is reminiscent of the soft, husky haze we attribute to classic blues legends like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, and although Ondi looks young enough to be a high school student she performs with a soberly mannered, delicate movements of someone twice her age. While she is considered a cultural outlier, moving indiscreetly through the shadows of the alternative scene since parting creative paths Nairobi based funk/soul band Yellow Light Machine some years back, she has continued to influence the city’s collective growth in independent artistry through self-released music, pop-up art installations and impactful community-focused events that challenge traditional societal norms through musical gatherings. Her forthcoming crowd-sourced album is composed mostly on the ukulele, featuring stripped down compositions of bare instruments and vocals, much like the spacious atmosphere of her beloved song ‘Empty Pages’.
Botswana born singer-songwriter Mpho Sebina incorporates hip-hop, soul, jazz, traditional Setswana music and folklore into her sound. Authentic and experimental, the self-taught musician has built a loyal audience through her signature a cappella mash-ups including Brenda Fassie with the The Fugees and Boom Shaka with Erykah Badu. She’s performed in venues across Botswana and South Africa, as well as hosting a monthly live music co-operative ‘NakedSoul Sessions’, curating a performance line-up of yet to be discovered local music and merchandisers.
Sebina released her debut EP titled Neo in October 2017 with the first single ‘Black Butterfly’ a soulful hip-hop track with sonic facets of the new generation of melancholic trap-soul. “My music is autobiographical; the stuff I’ve written is self-reflection time for me,” she says. “As a 28-year-old African woman my music is about the journey to discovering one’s self through this world. I would like to stir up that quest for self, to bring about a healing type of vibe. It’s a lot about overcoming and focusing on the personal stuff. Sometimes we get wrapped in anxiety, myself included. My music is about providing an outlet for listeners to forget.”
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Pounding palms against African drums while simultaneously performing live beatbox patterns with seasoned vocal versatility, poet & hip-hop artist Checkmate Mido splits his verses between slang Swahili-English and an intricately crafted, multi-cultural rap language all of his own. Channeling a fearless MC’s cadence akin to the legends of the London underground, Mido is a Kenyan artist who, whilst known in the old school hip-hop circles of Nairobi, has made a conscious effort to collaborate with the city’s nu wave of artists and producers such as Ukweli and Nu Fvnk of EA Wave, who worked with Mido to create the haunting blend of electronic and organic sounds and styles featured in “Maria Salaam.” Renowned for his intensely energetic shows, he released a studio EP “Box Of Beats” in 2016 that expressed the artistry beyond his stirring live performances.
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Sounds drenched in reverb and reversed synth textures echo together to create a dreamy musical backdrop, painted with Jim Chuchu’s intimate lyrics. With vocals seemingly inspired by 70s psychedelic crooners like Robert Plant, Chuchu is part of a new wave of artists transcending the traditional pigeonholes of creative media. Known today as one of Kenya’s bravest contemporary filmmakers – he grabbed attention at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for his locally-banned, internationally-acclaimed indie film based on true stories of homosexuality in Africa – Chuchu rarely mentions his core musical role in Nairobi’s legendary group, Just A Band. While co-producing the band’s first three studio albums alongside Dan Muli and the renowned “Blinky Bill”, Chuchu also largely drove the group’s visuals, including the beloved music video “Ha-He” – which CNN, Wall Street Journal deemed Kenya’s first viral internet meme. After breaking away from the group to pursue his solo career and co-founding film platform “The Nest Collective”, Chuchu continues to produce and release his own music.