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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.
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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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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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.
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’.
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.
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Wanja Wohoro and Jinku’s DUST EP is a Nu-Nairobi gem. With melancholic yet inspirational songwriting, the soulful combination of Wohoro’s sultry vocals against the canvas of Jinku’s delicate production is shifting the perspective of contemporary Kenyan audiences. Where the acoustic and electronic scenes once remained intensely separated, such collaborations are a testament to the scope for these two styles to fuse seamlessly. Underground singer/songwriters and bedroom producers have been experimenting with genre-bending ideas for some time, and the results are beginning to pierce the veil of the mainstream. Following in the footsteps of pioneering Kenyan artists who have stepped out before into the global spotlight such as Karun Mungai and Blinky Bill, Wohoro is on a mission to overcome these barriers, taking the stage beside Jinku, who is perhaps best-known beyond the African continent for his collaborations with globetrotting artists like Jojo Abot.
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Mvroe and Joseph Kiwango are two artists whose continual musical collaborations have bred a unique fusion of trap and R&B within Nairobi’s diverse sonic culture. On ‘Love’, Kenyan Mvroe and Tanzania-born Kiwango offer a bitter-sweet blend of lyrics that combine sensual imagery with poetic romanticism over a brooding, ethereal instrumental landscape, featuring arrangements of both auto-tuned and raw vocals. The single is lifted from their forthcoming collaboration album “Let Her Come Over”, a project which is the product of a broad range of influences, reaching across English and Swahili, live and electronic instruments, African rhythms and psychedelic textures. Produced by elite Kenyan producer collective EA Wave, the track has become a late night anthem in the underground Nairobi club scene.
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Born and raised in Nairobi, RU.BY has been singing professionally since 2016. Few young artists in the city are able to say that their first release was the result of a collaboration with one of Kenya’s most well known artists and a highly respected pioneer of East Africa’s alternative/indie music scene, but the co-sign of Blinky Bill comes as little surprise given her confident delivery and natural knack for melody and playful rhythms. She cites the overwhelmingly positive reception of that debut song as the reason she was encouraged to keep creating, inspired by the “amazing journey of self discovery and mind blowing interactions with people” provided by her new path in the music industry.
Karun is a musical chameleon within contemporary African culture, bridging the alternative Kenyan scene with an approachability appreciated by her increasingly global audience. First finding fame in her teenage years, as a member of Nairobi hip-hop group Camp Mulla, after the group parted ways in 2013 she embraced her capability to write songs, play instruments and produce, and enrolled in Berklee College of Music in the US as an electronic music major. She collaborated with Kenyan producer collective EA Wave on the ‘Indigo’ EP in 2016, and on returning home she co-founded the collective Cosmic Homies, becoming a key player in the burgeoning ‘Nu-Nairobi’ scene. Occasionally using the alternative moniker ‘Runka’ (created by scrambling the letters of her birth name), she self-produces a large part of her own work but often collaborates with other innovative artists, as heard here in this track ‘Under’ with Mr.Lu.
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Kenyan musician Kato Change’s distinctive sound is the product of a unique combination of influences. While his nuanced guitar licks and elaborate playing style indicate a jazz background, he often strays into rock territory and flirts with classic hip hop and R&B grooves. His signature sound is marked by his own, original hybrid guitar tuning, drawing from traditional African instruments, blues scales and elements inspired by his time touring in Brazil.
‘Mr. Music Man’ features trumpet player Owuor Arunga and singer Lisa Oduor-Noah (whom Kato cites as “his favorite Kenyan vocalist”), and gives a perfect example of Kato’s adventurous collaborations, pairing his instrumentalism with vocalists and artists who stretch across various styles. The track provides a snapshot of how musical worlds collide in the contemporary Kenyan scene, where gifted artists from different disciplines come together to produce fascinating original music.
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Jason Kalinga’s music is a unique combination of spirituality, wisdom, and street-level realism. Though he remains on the fringes of the burgeoning Nairobi scene, his intricate lyricism makes him one of the most exciting talents in contemporary Kenyan music; his songs speak on youth, love, success and struggle in an honest, emotionally articulate style, with influences from the classic hip-hop era and contemporary RnB melodies. ‘Ego is the Enemy’ features compatriot Kahvinya, who lends her powerful vocals to the track’s outro.
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Fena Gitu grew up in a musical family in Kenya, exposed to gospel, soul and jazz from an early age, and while her music has explored the contemporary sounds of hip hop, R&B and dancehall, her original influences can be heard in church-style chorus vocals and consciously positive lyricism. Honing her craft through collaboration with an array of producers across the African continent, Fena’s music combines powerful production with a careful blend of live instrumentation and soulful backing vocals. Her skilled pop songwriting retains a playful edge, often rapping in quick cuts of Swahili before switching back to English choruses intoned with fearless energy.
Kijo is a Kenyan artist known her strong and sensual vocals as a member of Nairobi-based group Yellow Light Machine. While her magnetic presence has brought soulful songwriting and vocal skill to the band’s live performances, her solo releases are establishing her as an artist in her own right. She’s attracted attention for her new music, a blend of tripped-out beats banging fearlessly beneath a bed of sweet live instruments, as her fusion of hip-hop rhythms and jazz melodies creates a dreamy vintage futurism all of her own.