Kicked it at Urban Music Studio all day yesterday with LaFam, Sergeant Black, Vic and the crew. My first day in Kisumu, Brio brought me by Urban Music, where he recorded the hook to LaFam and Vic's song "Sire." The song was stuck in my head since, and I was glad to finally meet the guy behind the beat and some of the clever verses. Listen to the track (unfortunately a demo version without Brio's hook) above. Love the beat.
LaFam had just graduated university with a degree in sociology, the first guy on the scene I've met who has been able to get higher education. He kept unveiling new talents--beatmaking, rapping, guitar playing--as if he was pulling them out of his bushy ponytail.
We spoke with the entire crew for most of the afternoon, original beats playing in the background. We talked reggae, and why it's so popular in Kenya. Ryder, a young guy with a lot on his mind, said "it's because Jamaica is so much like Kenya, 80% below the poverty line, no chance of moving forward, and a government that doesn't seem to care. Talking Babylon System makes sense here." "Plus," Sergeant Black added, "people love to smoke weed, so..."
We talked western perceptions of Kenya based on CNN broadcasts, and why western audiences get together and pay big bucks to watch tribal music acts that people in Kenya don't even listen to. "How can they like it if they can't understand the lyrics or anything?" Ryder asked, "This might be bad to say, but I think they just want to watch savages wearing leopard skins and playing drums." I said that most people actually like the music, and find it interesting and new, but that the exotic definitely plays a role. LaFam talked about incorporating some of that ancient music in his own. "Did you know the riddim from the O'hangla music of the 1970s is the exact same as the crunk riddim?" he asked the room, "It's a perfect match." They seemed to defer to his considerable music knowledge, and it's definitely something to follow up on.
LaFam at work, photo by Ozzy
We talked rap beefs and 50 Cent, who was impossibly popular here for a long while. "He didn't pretend he wasn't a hood, he was a millionaire street dude, and people liked that," Ryder said. Ryder also kept half jokingly running across the idea of shooting or stabbing one of the members of the crew in order to garner publicity. The man is paying attention to his American rap beefs.
And we addressed that too. LaFamDowg talked about how many Kenyans think their rappers are just aping the west, copying and pretending they're something they're not. "But that's not what we do," he told me, "I look to those guys for inspiration, but the music I make comes from here, it's about here and it has African roots."
Soon, M6 and his buddy, the guitar players from a video I uploaded a while ago, rolled through and they started a freestyle session with Ozzy and Sergeant Black singing the hooks. Spontaneous, fun, extremely talented, and loose is how every studio session I've seen here looks. You rarely see this combination in American studios, where everyone seems a bit more hungup and self-conscious. It's a good time.
Sergeant Black and Ryder, photo by Ozzy
Sergeant Black, until yesterday, to me was a quiet dude who lived at the studio and seemed like the crew's bodyguard, an imposing figure, bloodshot, bedreaded and towering above the rest. Turns out he's also a musician, spending nights at the studio so he can record his political reggae jams over tweaked Jamaican riddims in peace.
Again, I felt lucky to sit around and talk music and politics all day with smart kids from a completely different background. I don't know what role it played, but it was also nice realizing we were all the same age, 20-24 was the spread. Reggae, a music I love aesthetically, keeps making more and more sense to me politically and emotionally as I learn about where it comes from and who it goes to. "Reggae is the future," Sergeant Black said, while LaFam worked on adding acoustic guitar to his spaced-out beats and Ryder continued talking politics with the crowd. Who knows what the future is with these guys, but I'm excited.
Heading to Nairobi in a few minutes for my homie John's birthday (Happy birthday John!) and Christmas on his family farm. Expect fewer posts because...I'll be on a farm.