Skype Series: A Conversation with Producer M3 on Creating Feel Good Music

 
PHOTO:  Imeldah

PHOTO: Imeldah

One of my pastimes, as with any true, avid music-listener, is travelling down the rabbit-hole of SoundCloud’s extensive library. It was during one of these excursions that I discovered Kenyan producer, sound engineer and DJ, Mbogua Mbugua Mbugua, aka M3. pronounced m-cubed]. I stumbled upon ‘Rastafari’, a wavey, bass-driven groove based off of a Facebook video. With all the hype around being a producer these days, a lot of tracks being put out end up being disappointingly sloppy and over-processed. I was therefore impressed with how clean and crisp the production on this track was. Needless to say I spent a decent amount of time on M3’s page and quickly became a fan.

 

His SoundCloud bio aptly reads, “It’s all about Soul & Groove” while his Spotify about page describes his sound as being #FeelGoodMusic. And that’s exactly what it is. Whether its happy or sad, he creates music that will leaving you feeling some type of way. Additionally, he is extremely versatile, drawing from a medley of influences. Listening to his songs is often like going on an unpredictable journey - dreamy vocals sit on top of African influenced percussion; blues inspired bass-lines walk over subtle reggae beats; jazzy piano riffs are interchanged with graceful guitar melodies.

 
 

Born and raised in Nairobi, M3 has been steadily proving his prowess as a versatile and talented producer, working with some of city’s top songwriter’s and vocalists including Tetu Shani, Khavinya, Emma Cheruto and Mayonde. His most recent work ‘Serve Chilled’, a collaboration with singer/songwriter and guitarist Ciano Maimba, is a refreshing, tasteful, meticulously produced project that will leave you feeling

Monica Kemoli-Savanne: How did you get into music? I know your dad is a prominent figure in the Kenyan entertainment industry and so you grew up with that but how did you personally fall into music?

 
 

M3: My parents saw music as something I was interested in. When I was about 6 or 7 they got me into piano lessons. I did ABRSM till grade 3 then gave up because I was so bored. Then in primary I started playing other instruments - drums, I was playing keys. We also had a marching band so I played trumpet for a bit till like class 8. Then in high school I played drums for different bands. About 4 years ago is when I got into production.

What have been your major musical influences? What did you grow up listening to? What are your favorite genres?

I grew up listening to what my dad listened to so it was a lot of jazz. We also went to a lot of live concerts, so I got to see a lot of live acts too.

Music-wise I listen to everything: from rock to country to gospel to R&B to yeah, a lot of stuff.

That's dope. Can you remember the moment when you decided that producing music was something you genuinely wanted to pursue? That this wasn’t just a hobby?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was probably 3/4 years ago. I tried doing architecture for some time then I tried [studying] business and I was like this is just not for me. And I was like I'm good at music and I have everything at my disposal, so why not?

What's your journey been like so far since then?

At the beginning it was hard. Learning about different people who are in the industry [in Kenya] is hard because a lot of people are not as welcoming as you think they seem. So you'd approach someone and be like let me come chill in your studio sometime and then they're reaction is like send me your music via email then you'll never back hear from them. But then people started realizing that we need start supporting our own and realizing that there's so much talent. Then more people were more responsive to that.

But it's been good for me personally because of the response from a lot of people and what they think about my stuff.

Earlier on you mentioned that you play lots of instruments. What led you to wanting to become a producer specifically?

Oh, yeah. I love putting things together. I used to play in church and there was a pastor who mentioned producing. He showed me a couple of producers who just amazed me. Especially a lot of gospel producers and R&B and hip-hop. Since then I was just like this is exactly what I want to do.

That's cool. When I listen to your music I get very “feel good” vibes from it. How would you describe your sound?

Since the beginning I've always felt like it's that. Just feel good. Something that would resonate with other people. Just listening to it will put you in a different mood or make you feel a certain way. That's really what I wanted to pass on, always making someone feel something even if it's something sad or happy.

One of your more recent releases is, which I love, is “Gloomy Morning” featuring Emma Cheruto and Matt Owegi. Walk me through what putting that song together was like?

I had wanted to work with Emma for like the longest time. And also Matt. There was a time there was a live concert happening at Nyama Mama. Me and Emma would always bump into each other at these venues and I just told her, “Yo, I really want to work with you. I have this song.” Then I sent her the song and told her the layout and she just wrote to it. Then I told her to meet at the studio and we went from there.

Then there was a guitar part I wanted for the song and Matt was the best person for it.

You also recently released an EP, ‘Serve Chilled’ with Ciano Maimba. What was the process behind that?

Ciano and I have been friends. Even before the music we were friends first. Then we found that we were into the same type of music. For this project, it took a while before we went into the studio because Ciano is a very systematic person - he knows what he wants. I applaud and respect him for that. Once we finally got to the studio we started working on the first song, 'Earned It'. That took a full day. After that we realized we had great chemistry so we worked on a second song and then we were just like yo, let’s just do a whole EP. Then for the next 3,4 months we were just recording and recording and that’s how it came together. We got some other musicians to come in and record other parts as well.

Out of the projects you’ve worked on so far, which has been your favourite why?

I’d say the one with Ciano. It was fun recording it and the whole process was dope.

Besides music, what other stuff are you into?

That’s a good question. Umm, I’m into documentaries. I’m into learning about weird and strange things, facts and stuff. I’m into things that stimulate the mind.

A lot of people stereotype African music as being all the same and very tribal. If you met someone who had never been to Nairobi but was just discovering the music, how would you describe the current music scene and what that’s sounding like?

It’s diverse. And diverse in a good way. Once you listen to stuff from Nairobi, there’s always something you’ll vibe to. There’s always something you’ll catch on to and like. You’ll find producers who are crazy, singers who are out of this world. There’s a lot of good stuff.

Kenyan creatives have been coming together over the last few years to really grow the industry but the government hasn’t necessarily provided a support system and certain regulations have been barriers. What are your thoughts on that?

The government says they do support but in reality they really don’t. They are so many ways in which they can help in boosting the industry that we have. With airplay especially. Just putting in mandatories that ensure that anything that artists create and put out, they’ll be able to get in return. Also, do you know how hard it is for a promoter to put up a gig in Nairobi? There are so many permits they have to pay for that are ridiculous. At the end of the day, promoters and event organizers end up having to pay so much which is impossible for them to make back. Such things [permit prices] should be reduced.

Yeah, I get that.

PHOTO:  Paul Munene
 
 

Who are your top five favourite artists of all time?

Top five, of all time? Hmmm. Okay, I’d say Bruno Mars. Bob Marley for sure. Richard Bona, he’s an amazing artist. Eric Wainaina and Stevie Wonder.

Who’s your favourite producer?

Pharrell.

What’s your dream collaboration? The artists can be dead or alive.

I’d still say Pharrell.

Who are your favourite Kenyan artists?

Blinky [Bill], Sauti Sol. I’ve been liking Khaligraph [Jones]. Wanja Wohoro. And there’s a guy who’s so underground but he’s amazing. His name is Dempsey. Also Sage, and The Movements.

I know ‘Gloomy Morning’ and ‘Serve Chilled’ have been pretty recent but are you working on anything more that we could expect soon? Or are you taking a break?

I wouldn’t say taking a break. I’d say more like improving and working and crafting. Now that I’m in Cape Town - I’m studying sound production till the end of the year - I’m just working and improving on myself while I’m here and looking to hopefully work with some artists here.

That would be so dope because South African music is crazy.

Yeah, it’s something else. And then the fact that these guys love music so much. Each and every person here loves music and appreciates it. It helps them [the industry] so much more. Even people’s reactions. Once you tell someone you’re an artist/musician, it’s so different from when you’re back home.

I’m just looking forward to the day when it stops being such a stigma to be a creative in Kenya and people respect you for choosing to be a creative. Hopefully we’re moving in that direction.

I feel like we are. I feel like in the next couple of years, East Africa is going to be the place to be.

What are your aspirations? Five years down the line, where do you want you and your music to be?

I want to make more music for more artists. I want to produce more albums, more records for other musicians. I want to write film music and music for movies. Also go into live music as a solo act and hopefully even music direct and arrange for other artists.