Rachel Keeler catches up with Blinky Bill, a Kenyan musician, producer and DJ to talk about his travels, necktie exhibition in a Dakar living room, and his Kenyan roots.
“Man, how did a band from Kenya get to play in a place like this?”
Travel has definitely become a big part of my musical journey. Even with Just a Band, we travelled to so many different places – to Africa, America, Europe.
There are places we went to where I was just like, ‘Man, how did a band from Kenya get to play in a place like this?’ Maybe it’s because of the sound itself – it’s a very open and diverse sound. And music is a language, so people don’t really need to know the language that you’re speaking as long as it makes them feel something.
“The audience is just ready to take whatever you’ve planned”
I was surprised by Jinja [Uganda]. There’s a festival called Nyege Nyege. It’s next to the river Nile. The festival itself is just very free. You can do whatever it is you want to do. I think the audience is ready to take in whatever it is you’ve planned for that day and I really enjoy those kinds of shows.
I love playing in Nairobi because I don’t have to explain myself too much. It’s the city that I make all my music in and it informs a lot of my writing and thinking and how I see the world and how I express myself.
“I want to make music that respects what I’ve grown up with”
I’m working on my new album, so I’m gathering inspiration from a lot of people. There are a lot of contemporary artists who are making dope [cool] stuff now. But I’m also kind of ‘old school’ in the sense that I want to make music that pays respect to some of the things I’ve grown up with. Old Kenyan music has a lot of [brass] horns. And the horns sections were [crazy]. It’s called Benga.
There is a song called African Sunsets, by the Bata Shoe Shine Boys. This song was such a big influence. If you grew up in Nairobi in the 1980s, and you played this song and someone doesn’t know it, you might question if they really grew up here. There’s also a band called Balla et ses Balladins.
They were a dance music orchestra from Guinea formed in 1962. My personal sound is a mix of electronic music meets African music meets hip hop meets funk and jazz. I might be confusing for some people, but it’s fine for me. I just want to make music that I care about.
“He’d arranged a lot of neck ties around the house, that was his thing”
I love Dakar. I went there during the Dakar Biennale. I love that the whole city. Regardless of whether it was the rich or poor side of town, everyone knew that it’s a time when the city pays respects to the arts.
We went to this place and this guy had an art exhibition in his living room. He’d arranged a lot of neck ties around the house, that was his thing, and then you come check it out and it’s arranged in order of size and colour and design and patterns. It just blew my mind.
West Africa has really strong cultural roots and I think in Nairobi we are not as stuck to our roots. When you listen to most radio stations here, they either play very new stuff or pop from elsewhere but not a lot of old Kenyan music. In West Africa, I heard so much of their own stuff, it made me happy.
“Tanzanians love what is theirs, whatever it is”
One of the biggest challenges with being an artist in Kenya is that people have never really respected artists. Not just with music, it’s with a lot of things where we have never taken the time to appreciate what we have. So it’s always like ‘what’s next and what is everyone else bringing here.’ You look at Tanzania and Uganda and it’s still very different from Kenya. Tanzanians love what is theirs, whatever it is. And then Uganda, I really hate their music, but they love it.
If you’re in Kampala, you’ll hear the sound so much that you kind of start to like it because it’s everywhere, it’s so pervasive. In Kenya, it’s an advantage and a disadvantage because one, we are not stuck to, ‘Oh I [don’t] have to like this because it’s Kenyan, I know better.’ Kind of. But then that knowing better makes it very difficult for you to just sit down and appreciate where you are and where you’ve come from.
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