Who’s Taking Over? Nairobi’s Taking Over

“Who’s taking over? Nairobi’s taking over!, confidently called out Muthoni Drummer Queen. The crowd, electrified by her and Blinky Bill’s performance of ‘Feeling It’, enthusiastically echoed the braggadocious chant. And what a takeover. Blinky Bill Live 3 was more than just one incredible performance after another, it was a statement of the burgeoning talent of Nairobi’s music scene, talent that demands and deserves to be recognized. It’s been a week since that night but the memory of what was an iconic evening is still freshly etched in my mind.

 
Image Source: Monica Kemoli-Savanne

Image Source: Monica Kemoli-Savanne

 

So...my flight lands at 7:20pm, the first act goes on at 8:30pm. Ok, that gives me an hour and ten minutes to get through the pandemonium that is Kenya Immigrations, and then Mombasa roads hectic traffic...

Spending most of my time away from Nairobi means being perpetually plagued by FOMO. More than that, it means the agony of detachment from the exploding creative scene. Tonight is Blinky Bill Live 3, organized by producer, DJ and all-round musician Blinky Bill. This is set to be his last live performance of 2018, one I am determined not to miss. Blinky Bill has always been at the forefront of Nairobi’s alternative, underground music scene. As a member of the eclectic Just A Band, he and fellow bandmates, Mbithi Masya and Dan Muli, were responsible for iconic moments in Nairobi’s creative culture, perhaps most recognizable being the creation of Kenya’s first viral video (Makmende). His recently released sophomore album, Everybody’s Winging It And Other Fly Tales is an exceptional, multi-dimensional body of work that fuses hip-hop, rap, funk, and traditional sounds from across the continent. Blinky has put together an impressive line-up featuring some of Nairobi’s most talented musicians: DJ/songwriter and all-round creative Taio Tripper; dynamic, trailblazing DJ/Producer Suraj; Tetu Shani, the poetic Afro-indie storyteller; rising DJ/producer Sichangi; and soulful, afro-indie singer/songwriter Wanja Wohoro. Therefore nothing, not even a gruelling 18 hour journey back to Nairobi is going to stop me from being there tonight (what even is jet-lag?).

 
Image Source: Monica Kemoli-Savanne

Image Source: Monica Kemoli-Savanne

 

The collective, creative energy of Nairobi’s entertainment scene is palpable tonight at The Elephant, one of Nairobi’s trendy live-music venues. Filmmakers, artists, photographers, producers, stylists, promoters, managers, everyday music-lovers cluster and mingle between performances, and in true Kenyan fashion, the bar is perpetually buzzing with activity. It’s time for the headliner. Blinky, donned in a blue and white tie-dye jumpsuit and his signature straw boater hat, commands everyone’s attention with his hypnotic and electric energy as soon as he takes his place centre stage. His setlist takes us on a journey through his discography: from his more recent ‘Atenshan’, ‘Mungu Halali’, ‘Showdown’; to We Cut Keys While You Wait’s ‘Wacha Maneno’; and throwing it back to Just A Band’s iconic ‘Ha-He’. His set also features some of his key collaborators. Sichangi, Shappaman, Mvroe, Sage and Lisa Oduor, Octopizzo, and Muthoni Drummer Queen join him on stage respectively, their joint performances as effortless as old friends catching up.

 
Image Source: Monica Kemoli-Savanne

Image Source: Monica Kemoli-Savanne

 

Nairobi’s creative scene is characterized by a spirit of collectivisim and DIY. Lack of support for the creative community from the Kenyan government in the form of outdated legislation and regulations, exorbitant permit and license prices, lack of protections for artists and their music, and not enough airplay of local music causes making a living as a musician in Kenya practically impossible. Despite these hindrances, this has been a groundbreaking year not only for music, but Kenya’s creative scene at large. Growing with elecrifying energy reminiscent of the creative explosion of hippie subculture in the late 1960’s, this was the year of Rafiki, Wanuri Kahiu’s delicate, controversial tale of first lesbian love. Initially banned by KFCB due to it’s LGBTQ motif, the film went on to be Kenya’s first film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival. This was the year that saw Supa Modo, a touching story of a terminally ill 9 year old girl who dreams of being a superhero, nominated for an Oscar. This was the year that Kenyan Cool Girls, through the pages of Vogue, showed the world what Nairobi is all about. This was the year that the Nest Collective introduced #StrictlySilk, Nairobi’s first-ever girls only dance party.  It’s bizarre to me that the Kenyan government doesn’t see the value in investing in Kenya’s creative industry. But hey, when have Kenyan politicians ever gotten it right? Suffice it to say, Blinky Bill Live 3 was the perfect, final defining moment for Kenya’s creative scene. I, for one, cannot wait for what the scene has to offer in 2019.