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Nairobi based singer/songwriter Ku Kim’s latest single ‘Peridot’ is a titillatingly vibrant and atmospheric cut that strikes quite the chord. Driven by a crisp beat penned by Mzati that features some stunning woodwind sections, ‘Peridot’ shines brighter with Ku Kim’s enchanting vocals, encompassing an energy that’ll soothe your soul from start to finish.
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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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.
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’.
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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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.
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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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.