I have been to Kilifi New Year twice. Both times it was magic. I was so enchanted by the bush beats and bass in 2018 that I had to go back for the 2019 countdown. But I have a feeling this year’s edition will be the most epic one.
In case you’re wondering, Kilifi New Year is a 3-day fun-in-the-sun music festival that invites party lovers from far and wide to the Kenyan coastal town. It’s a celebration of love and music beneath the baobabs. And a dazzling array of stars.
After complaining about the lack of live African music in the previous edition, somebody heard us. Kilifi New Year 2019 felt like a white man’s festival with local and international DJs serving an overdose of EDM on two of the three stages. For 3 days straight!
The only live performers on the main stage were African roots percussion troupe Abaki Simba and Benga legend Makadem, which was less than satisfactory.
Thus Kilifi New Year 2020 promised a more Afrocentric lineup with more live acts. Before the much-anticipated announcement, they teased fans with a #GuessTheGob game on their Instagram page. Those famous lips revealed the names of Kenyan favourites Taio Tripper, Vallerie Muthoni and Blinky Bill.
They also held a DJ contest on Facebook where Max Theuri won the most likes and a slot to perform at the international music festival.
The Artist Lineup
On October 5th 2019, Kilifi New Year finally released the announcement video with bouncy music by Blinky Bill playing in the background. And it was just what we needed. It revealed 40 of the most eclectic and eccentric artists predominantly from East Africa.
Kilifi also delivered its promise of diversity and balance between distinctive East African DJs, singers and emcees. As one music lover commented, “This is our Tomorrowland!”
This December, live music lovers are in for a tasty treat. We can expect positive vibes by Kenyan reggae band Cheif and The Marshalls who've been captivating Nairobi all year long. And the mellow Yellow Light Machine who've been laying low; I’m curious to see their evolution since those Alchemist days.
The funky Kaya Collective led by MUZE club owner Matthew Swallow will also be rocking this new year’s party beneath the baobabs.
2019 has been a fantastic year for Kenyan music and particularly NuNairobi. The latter will be led by DJ and producer extraordinaire Blinky Bill who’s been making international waves since the release of his 2018 album Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales. But let’s not forget his illustrious run with Just A Band who revolutionized electro-disco music in Kenya.
Kweli Mungu Halali oh.
There are many more familiar names from the NuNairobi hip-hop music scene. It’s indeed a spicy szn for Vallerie Muthoni, TAIO, Shappaman, Barack Jacuzzi and Rafiiki. Even Mikel Ameen aka The World Changer will bring his UK hip-hop grime and mad energy to Kilifi for the first time, joined by the new Nairobi band Blac Projekt.
And to celebrate 2019 as the year of gengetone, Ochungulo Family also makes a special appearance.
The international DJs who dominated last year's edition have finally stepped down from the throne. Representing on the decks this time will be Kenya’s Coco EM, DJ G.I., Dylan S, Foozak, Paps, Gregg Tendwa, Imran Mwangi, Jack Rooster, KMRU, Monrhea, Mr Lu, Hiribae and many more. Expect a wild fusion of urban hip-hop, bass, dancehall, Afro-house and experimental music which clearly define NuNairobi’s diverse sound.
Even with the proudly Kenyan lineup, we cannot forget our neighbours. Uganda is also represented, led by everyone’s favourite DJ Kampire of Nyege Nyege Collective. She is one of East Africa's most talked-about electronic artists, and it makes sense why when you watch her killer Boiler Room set at Nyege Nyege Festival.
Following her grand footsteps is fellow Ugandan Faizal Monstrixx. Remember the Afrofuturistic dancer and music producer who blew our minds away at Africa Nouveau Festival 2019 with his out-of-this-world performance? I do.
Reggae dancehall artists Blessed San and C Wyne will also be inna di area.
Kilifi New Year 2020 will be headlined by a fairly unknown name. Founder of Yoruba Records, Osunlade is an American musician and producer who dips Afro-house rhythmic roots in West African melodies and their deeper spiritual interpretations. He’s a perfect headliner as Afro-house music events have been dominating Nairobi nightlife in 2019.
For In less than a year, we’ve already experienced South African legends Black Motion and Karyendasoul at MUZE, Lemon and Herb at Alchemist, Sun El Musician and Da Capo at Captain's Terrace Restaurant.
Parisian DJ Afshin will jet down from his legendary club DJOON in France to serve us his disco-funk grooves. And we can’t help but welcome back Seth Schwarz from Germany who is a wizard on the violin and decks. The Kilifi regular is truly a beauty to watch.
The Music Stages
Beneath the Baobabs will house three main stages just like last year. The main performances will be on the main stage thanks to its world-class, state-of-the-art Funktion One sound system. There will also be a hidden pop-up stage between the baobabs and bamboo for those who love to discover secrets.
Kilifi welcomes a new sonic space this year. As you might tell, MUZE stage is named after the alternative Nairobi nightclub where we #DanceDifferent. It will be replacing the mighty Umojah Sound System stage which has blessed us over the years with healing reggae and dub music.
Even though we’ll miss the tropical Jamaican festival vibes, it will be interesting to experience MUZE’s intimate parties in Kilifornia.
Wellness lovers, Kisima is coming back. This recently introduced space is where you go to renew your mind, body and soul after partying all night. You spend the day taking care of your mental, spiritual and physical well-being while learning from the friendliest practitioners and teachers. Come relax with yoga, dance, meditation and art therapy in the outdoors.
Kilifi New Year University will also open its doors for its second year. This is a school you want to attend; you walk in barefoot and sit wherever you want (preferably next to your festival crush). And engage in enlightening forums & discussions on current and emerging issues plus film and documentary screenings from dusk until dawn.
Since there’s no beach nearby, Kilifi New Year has a water park instead. This allows festival goers to cool down on the water slides, umbrella showers and swings during those sweltering Kilifi afternoons. Here, you can unleash the forgotten child within you without fear of judgement.
And the Kilifornia experience is not complete without lazing around the epic baobab deck. Overlooking the indigenous forests of Coastal Kilifi, you breathe in their serenity and share in the wisdom of the mighty baobab tree.
Meanwhile, every night comes with its own festival magic. It unleashes trippy light shows and smoke effects that might actually make you think you’re in Tomorrowland. And don’t be surprised to see giant praying mantises on site glowing in the dark.
The Burn is arguably the highlight of Kilifi New Year Festival. This annual tradition involves burning a large recycled wooden structure in a grand ceremony. It’s like fireworks but bigger.
The whole community comes together to celebrate the art of letting go of the past in order to make room for the future. You watch your 2019 regrets go up in flames as you usher a new year, a new beginning. On 1st January 2019, we paid tribute to Sudan, the last male Northern White rhino that died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia.
Kilifi New Year was conceived in 2014 at Distant Relatives Eco-Lodge & Backpackers with 400 attendees. It is now Beneath The Baobabs flagship festival - after the first Kilifi Roots Festival couldn’t happen in April due to logistics.
I’ve only gotten to experience the 3-day festival on this new site: a vast 25-acreage lush plateau surrounded by epic thousand old baobab trees on Takaungu Creek.
Even with the move from beach to forest, Kilifi New Year has kept up with its ethos of maximum fun with minimum harm to the environment. Signs of conscious living and sustainability are everywhere: eco-showers and toilets, art instalments created from up-cycled waste and natural materials, and a permaculture garden by Barefoot Soulutions.
The East African music festival has since attracted a community of 2500 eco-conscious festival fanatics from across the world to celebrate the space between one year and the next. It’s no wonder early bird tickets for the next edition have been selling out since March. In consideration of the target audience, tickets are cheaper for East African residents than for non-citizens on Quiket.
For 5,250 Kenyan shillings, which is a huge discount from last year, you get a festival pass between December 30th and January 2nd. And it’s inclusive of free camping space - which is my favourite way to live in a festival.
But if you’re allergic to sleeping on the ground, worry not. There are boutique glamping tents and drive-in camping options for an extra fee. You can also book a hotel or Airbnb in Kilifi town. Just brace yourself for long expensive boda boda rides in the dark.
Kilifi New Year has proven it not only cares about the environment but also East Africans - a joy for both local artists and music lovers. We finally have a music festival made for us wellness hippies, curious intellectuals, party animals, adult children, wild baobabies and most important live music lovers. Truly, African festivals do it better.