January 2016, I found The Alchemist Bar, but I also found something else, a new energy in Nairobi. Something not quite tangible yet, but something in the air, like that feeling in the air just before it’s going to rain. I couldn’t put a name to it or identify people it was attached to, but something felt different.
Movements are funny things, they can come out of nowhere, or conversely people can try to start movements and they go nowhere. It’s like an undercurrent of energy which has it’s own mind. I’ve been watching the talent grow here in Nairobi for the last 5 years. I’ve seen people succeed and stumble in the same broken systems. I’ve been to the talks and the workshops about finding an identity for Kenyan music. I’ve seen artists struggling under a cloud of hopelessness. So how did this #nunairobi movement gain momentum ?
I believe it comes from a very positive ‘fuckit’ mentality – young creatives no longer willing to be bent by broken systems, instead just wanting, needing even, to create awesome stuff; whether it impacts on career or money or success or anything. Creating because they need to create, they have something which needed creative expression, they needed to be seen and heard – whether it led to anything or not.
Real movements don’t just come from anywhere and no-one person or thing can take credit, but it’s only in hindsight the tracks can be traced. It’s people like Blinky Bill Music, Sautisol, plus organizations building skills and networks like Santuri Safari, media jumping onto the new wave like What’s Good Networks and Nairobi Underground, UP Nairobi, the real life experiences of the young creatives, the accessibility of internet to see and share each others stuff – many things have pushed the energy into a movement.
So far we have seen EA Wave push through, 5 hugely prolific young DJ/Producers who have been collab’ing with many others, in a variety of styles/genres, and who have also taken up the baton to curate their own events.
“We’re making an actual list of the snags, so that we learn, so that next time we do better” a comment from the guys during the hugely successful #nightdancers event.
Currently there are a number of names people are quickly associating with #nunairobi, Yellow Light Machine, Cosmic_Homies, Tetu “Troubador” Shani, Janice Iche, Trina Mungai, Inami, Mayonde, Bankslave and that is normal but its not the whole picture, a movement is both pushed and pulled forward by names but it’s not really a movement unless it has reach, has influence across multiple genres and many people. That’s what the drawing below is about – there are people, creatives across both sides of where we are now – all part of this same movement of new creative energy, but not yet recognized as part of it. Muthoni The Drummer Queen said at one of the Alchemy – The creatives sessions, about the #nightdancers event, the only criticism she had was that it didn’t reach wide enough (and given that it lasted to 6am and no artist got more than a few minutes on stage – just goes to show the depth of this movement already.)
From my perspective, the things that mark #nunairobi, are the energy, professionalism, the highly collaborative attitude, the prolific creationism, the constant search to be better, to learn more, to say meaningful stuff, to be distinctive for good reasons and passion for their crafts.
I’m not sure I have touched all of the creatives in all of the genres which could be described as #nunairobi and in any case it’s a fast growing list but here are some:
Osborne Macharia, Checkmate Mido KE, 2manysiblings, Beraccah Kisia, Labdi Ommes, Umojah Sound System Motion Image and Sound Ltd. Binti Afrika, Ciano Maimba, Jim Chuchu, SURAJ, EAST – East African Soul Train, Elsaphan Njora, Jebet Naava, Qaine, Embukane Vincent Libosso The Nest Collective, Camille Storm
I hope people will add more names to this list, it’s not even close to complete and nothing intentional if i have missed you off the list (or if you don’t want to be on it) – the point is not who’s on the list but that #nunairobi is tangible and real and it’s moving everyone forward who wants to be carried on the wave.
What all these people have in common is creative vision, a vision which includes no hopelessness, no interest in broken systems other than to work around them or build new ones, plus passion and energy to create awesome stuff.
As a side note – much has been said over the past few years about finding a Kenyan musical identity, what it should sound like, where it should be rooted, there have been many experiments, none of which seem to have caught – it took those new to the business to come up with something which is uniquely Kenyan without being a genre – it’s an expression of growing up now in Nairobi, an expression of what they have been exposed to, culture-wise, experience-wise, internet-wise – it cuts across genre’s and even across different creative sectors – in a similar way pop culture did in the 60’s in the west – in the way it was just as much about a movement in the audiences, as in the creators. Its hard to describe but you can feel it!