photo of Double B at the studio by Ozzy
First up, Emma and the baby are alright despite a case of heavy malaria. She says thanks to all of you who mentioned her in emails over the past 24 hours. She's kinda down, but for an adult Kenyan malaria is more like a bad case of the flu than the life threatening illness it is for children, the elderly, and white people (what's wrong with us??). Emma even cleaned the house, including my homeless shelter of a room, while we were out yesterday, making me feel like a complete loser for saying I was "sick" the other day. Hard out.
Yesterday brought us to yet another studio, the famed Starlink, where Brio recorded his first album and where we were set to meet Double B, a young rapper who opened for Nairobi rappers Wakimibizi at the show we saw on Sunday night. His passion and hunger on stage impressed us much more than the corpulent headliners, so we got his contacts and set up a session.
If you recall, we visited Starlink earlier in this journey, but producer Dave Oray was out with his girl at the time. He was there now, and Double B led us upstairs to the bedroom studio in a spacious family house.
Unlike most producers in town, Dave has had the chance to study some of the equipment and programs he uses, and his studio hosts a large mixer along with the requisite desktop computer, Fruity Loops package, speakers, and cardioid mic with windscreen. He's also versatile, making Afro-soul, O'hangla, and R&B tracks along with the hip hop and club anthems that pay the bills. According to many, the man is the best.
We tracked through some Double B songs while Dave told us his vision for Dala Music, a sound and vibe unique to Kisumu that would help the city compete with Nairobi and Mombasa on the music scene. Dala, fittingly, is Luo for "Home." "Guys are playing Tanzanian Bongo, not even thinking where it came from," Dave said, "So why don't we have our own music?"
A good question, and he and his crew are well on their way to solving the problem. The track posted above, "Queue Kwa Bank," is currently #6 on Kenya's club charts and steadily moving up (the version we have above is not the actual song, but a lo-fi cut I recorded yesterday in the studio, with Double B rapping live over his verse). It's a collabo between Kisumu artists Nebulazz (from Total Vibez) and Double B, along with Nairobi star Kenrazy. The song deals with a universal theme: getting paid on Friday and partying all weekend. The beat is Dave's own. "People couldn't believe it came from a bedroom studio," Dave said. Fire.
Dave's quest to help Luo influenced music overcome tribal prejudice on the national scene echoed the ongoing discussion about the ICC trial in the Hague. Yesterday, the chief ICC prosecutor, O'Campo, released his list of six people he deemed "most responsible" for the month of devastating ethnic violence that took over a thousand lives in Kenya exactly two years ago. Perhaps it's cause I live with chilled out Rastas, but I didn't realize the potential volatility of this situation until moments before the announcement. "So if he names Raila (the Luo prime minister), will there be riots in the neighborhood?" I asked Ozzy. "Oh for sure man." "Well, uh, I guess we'll have to get pictures..."
Thankfully, the names were a mix of old favorites and a couple unknowns, and no one set shit on fire. Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first president of the country, named after the Swahili word for "freedom" that was the rallying cry for the Kenyan independence struggle (and several classic reggae bands), was number one on the list. It's hard to tell whether language becomes corrupted or is an agent of corruption.
But people have seen this shit too often, and they don't have time to deal with it half ass philosophically on their blogs. One person on the list was a relatively unknown journalist and radio personality. "If you're accused of crimes against humanity as a radio broadcaster, you must have really fucked up," Ozzy said before going on with his day. A Kenyan news broadcaster, after reading the names for the hundredth time, moved to the next segment by saying, in Swahili, "if you eat too much chicken you get tired of it, so let's move on to something else..."
After the recording session we grabbed a couple beers with Double B. He told us about his upbringing in Kisumu's most notorious ghetto, Nyalenda, the same place Brian lives. "I saw everything growing up, all these things around me, and I needed a place to put it," he said about why he started rapping. "As many times as I've tried to leave Nyalenda, I keep coming back, and since I'm always there, I'll never run out of things to rap about." Sounds like the back story of rappers everywhere, and we talked about that too.
Ozzy and I shared the discussions we've been having about "competitive advantage" with Double B. "No matter what you do, you're not going to sound like 50 Cent, but that's a good thing. You have hundreds of years of musical culture behind you that you could use to make your music sound different from the American guys. That's your advantage, and you should use it!" We talked about some of my wilder ideas, like putting a nyatiti line (traditional 8 string Luo instrument made of fishing wire) over a rap beat and setting him and his crew free over it. Double B seemed excited. Dave suddenly showed up at the bar. He sat down and began speaking unprovoked. He was saying the exact same things we had just been talking about!
"I'm dreaming of hooking up some traditional Luo music with some rap, seeing what happens, something to make us truly unique." Yeah man! Yeah! These guys have the talent, and I want to keep encouraging them to take the risks (not that they really need me, but sometimes an outside perspective helps). It'll be pretty exciting to see what goes down.
We bought some fried chicken and came home to chill with Emma. It was really exciting to talk to these creative and passionate guys about music and to share our ideas all afternoon. We come from the same place a lot of the time, and we look for many of the same things in music. We talked about heart versus craft, and we all landed on Bob Marley as the master--so much heart, so unique and personal, yet so accessible and timeless. We're speaking on the business end as well, working on getting a bunch of Dave and Double B's songs up here streaming for you, and eventually available for download. Look out for it soon. Party on!