One of the major disadvantages of not having a constant web presence is missing out on rare and epic happenings. Over the weekend, I learned that hip hop artist Akua Naru was in Nairobi last Thursday for a concert courtesy of Goethe-Institut. For someone who has been a serious Akua Naru fan since the days when The World Is Listeningwas still a fresh new joint, having that concert pass me by was … painful. But hey! 🙂
I’ve been soothing the pain away with this rough compilation whipped up sometime in 2011.
Some good old smooth hip hop tracks and instrumentals that rarely get mainstream airplay, including: // Priceless gems from femcees Nitty Scott, the massively talented Akua Naru (more from her here:http://www.akuanaru.com/), Makeba Mooncycle and Apani B (not forgetting Erykah Badu somewhere in there) // MF Doom’s Metal Fingers persona proving just as good making dope beats as behind the mic on Sumac Berries and Dead Bent// Some old classics from Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Xzibit’s 1996 LP At The Speed Of Life and the first Blackroc album (I hear Blackroc 2.0 is coming out soon)
Strongest Of The Strange – Charles Bukowski
The World Is Listening – Akua Naru
The World Is Listening (Jay Baez Remix) – Akua Naru
Lunchroom Classics – Makeba Mooncycle & Talib Kweli
Sumac Berries – MF Doom
Back In The Day (Puff) – Erykah Badu
All She Said – Guru ft. Macy Gray
Dead Bent (Instrumental) – MF Doom
Fly Emcee – Apani B
The Backflip (PH7 Midnight Remix Instrumental) – Akua Naru
Auntie Maria’s Crib – Nitty Scott MC
Bird’s Eye View -Xzibit ft. Tha Alkaholiks
Stay Off The Fuckin’ Flowers – Blackroc ft. Raekwon
I’ve come to a certain realization while working on a forthcoming feature on Kenyan music videos from the 2000s for Bottom Line Kenya. Sure, Kenyan music videos have greatly improved in technical quality, thanks to the increased availability and gradual decrease in the costs of equipment. That being said, these newer and slicker videos seem to have plateaued in terms of creativity. Generally speaking, everybody seems to be doing the exact same thing over and over and over again. Very few local music vids today can hold a candle to older classics such as Kalamashaka’s Fanya Mambo, Swahili Nation’s Hakuna Matata, or Nairobi Yetu’s All Over TheWorld.
For the most part, local music videos have merely become just another generic vehicle to push an artist’s brand onto TV and web platforms. They are now more of an mechanical rather than an artistic exercise. It has become more beneficial to push a ton of bad – average music videos within a year than to invest more on fewer videos for the best tracks. As a result, less emphasis is placed upon video editing – the final step of a process that could transform an otherwise bland or overused concept into a unique and amazing work of art.
Speaking of editing, David Dean Burkhart demonstrates all the benefits of a good editor with a proper understanding of a concept and how it works together with the music. David makes alternative or unofficial video edits of indie, lo-fi and chill music for his YouTube channel. The source material for the visual side of his edits: clips from classic films, home video footage, advertisements and other random oldie goldies. His editing has an awesome way of enhancing every aspect of a song, letting it bleed emotion, and transporting the viewer to another time and place. Here are some of his best ones:
From Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1988).
Soul Train! That last kick at the end is precious.
Who knew hip hop culture was alive and kicking in Iran ’91?
From Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983). I really want to watch this film now.
This was one of my favourite music videos of 2014. The perfect marriage of sound and visuals for a powerful final product. Off South African label Soul Candi Records, DJ/Producer Nathan Mayor teams up with Justin Chalice on Do It All, a very danceable tribute to persistent and unconquerable love. The awesome animators at Cosmic Onion Ring then come through with an equally rewarding music video. The concept, character designs and universe of the vid instantly reminded me of Kaiba, a mind-blowing and under-appreciated anime from 2008. Check out the trailer and compare.
On the final turn of my favourite route home is a rather shabby looking video hall sandwiched between a posho mill and a mtumba shop. Besides the ubiquitous green M-PESA branding painted on its walls, there is nothing spectacular about it. A man with an unsmiling face seated at the entrance serves a triple role as box office, chaperone and bouncer. The place – open every day between 10AM and 10PM – always seems to be busy. Even during the day-long KPLC scheduled blackouts, a generator chugs along at the back of the building, ensuring uninterrupted entertainment for local film-goers.
Hundreds (probably thousands) of such informal establishments have become an integral component of the recreation infrastructure in the less leafy neighbourhoods of every urban centre in Kenya. The main crowd puller to the video halls are Swahili, Sheng or vernacular “dubs” of Western and Asian films and television series produced by local translators or DJs, the best known being DJ Afro. These are not dubs in the strict sense of verbally acting out the exact words of the actors. Instead, these DJs provide an entertaining commentary and a loose, liberal translation of dialogue as the film or series progresses.
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of these dubs. The DJs dub over the original audio track using digital mixers and voice recorders, sometimes resulting in a jarring and distracting listening. The dubs I’ve watched tend to strip away so much of the essence of the film and limit the viewer’s appreciation of the film to a DJ’s interpretation. However, the fact that these films are so popular suggests that there is a massive audience out there that prefers this much more localized experience. Subtitles are also not for everyone. Besides, there is no denying that a DJ Afro version of a film as bad as Terminator Genisys is so much more entertaining than the original.
The DJs obtain their original source material from numerous informal DVD shops which churn out all the latest and most popular films and television series as soon as they are available on the internet. The main clientele of these DVD shops are non-DJs like you and me looking for content to consume at home. Thus, the transactional relationships between everyday consumers, DVD shops, video hall owners and dubbing DJs come together to form a tight-knit informal ecosystem that leaves little/no room for the actual creators of the content.
This combination of a robust informal infrastructure for media distribution and translation (DJ Afro + video halls + DVD shops) and the explosive growth of internet access not only illustrates the incomplete globalization of media but also poses a unique challenge for Kenya’s film, music and creative content industries.
The leading global content producers in the Western world (Hollywood, etc.) still rely on restrictive, nationally bounded, time-delayed channels to distribute their content. This approach takes for granted how their content is inextricably connected to global media culture as a whole. There was a moment in time when we would patiently wait for KTN to air weekly episodes of The Wire. Not any more. It’s 2016. Nobody is going to wait for DSTV to obtain a license to air Game of Thrones months after the original air date with the unavoidable spoilers, hashtags and memes generated in real time on social media. We want to participate along with the rest of the world, and at the same time as the rest of the world.
For the local film and creative content producers, particularly Nairobi-based ones that cater to an upmarket, non-vernacular audience, this state of affairs has created a major challenge for an already struggling industry. Not only is it difficult to obtain investment or financing for creative ventures for production, there is barely enough to put into marketing, seen as a major component of the success of Hollywood blockbusters. Local films rarely get an extra buzz after the initial release event. As a result, few consumers get to know of the existence of a new Kenyan film before their DVD guy obtains it and even fewer know where to obtain original copies or where to watch them legally.
Countering the free-for-all distribution model of the informal DVD shops is a herculean task. Online distribution is still not a viable alternative to ensuring a return on investment. Completely shutting down all informal DVD shops, irrespective of whether they distribute local content is another thing altogether. Even though these shops tend to abide by an unspoken bylaw of not stocking up on local content, their cheap prices on popular Hollywood titles draws away any meaningful spending on local content through DVD sales or cinemas. A complex predicament presents itself – how to let these shops prosper and still generate revenue from local content.
A blanket shutting down of DVD shops for the sake of local content producers is a solution that is unlikely to enjoy popular support. Just as there is no political will to streamline the public transport sector, policy makers would be unwilling to deal with the potentially massive fallout from closing down these DVD shops in as much as a legal basis exists in the Copyright Act and international legal instruments that Kenya has ratified (the Berne Convention and the TRIPs Agreement).
These difficult times require pragmatic strategies and solutions. This includes grasping the current realities of the Kenyan market and drawing lessons from the modest successes of dubbers like DJ Afro, informal video halls and the River Road film distribution network. Ideas could come along the lines of the following themes:
Rethinking Content: Packaging content that will resonate with the largest market possible, ie. those living in rural and low income areas. This would mean more productions in Swahili and/or vernacular languages; or making alternative versions with Swahili and vernacular dubs. The digital migration has seen a proliferation of vernacular TV stations, providing another revenue stream for packaged/repackaged content. Getting to a sweet spot where these stations pay a decent enough amount to obtain the sort of content that attracts viewers and advertisers could be a tall order though. And no, the coming into force of the Programming Code with its quotas on local content won’t help either. What about the KFCB busybodies? Let’s not even go there.
Unless TV Stations are willing to pay over shs 1M an episode for local content, local content will continue being gibberish #PressPass
Rethinking Production & Financing: Not many have been as lucky (and as capable) as Zamaradi Productions, which got to produce 71 films for M-Net as well as the Kona TV series. A collaborative approach could see smaller production outfits achieve the technical and financial capabilities to tackle large scale and higher quality projects. Perhaps massive co-productions among like minded producers is the only way to bridge the gap and push out some decent content. Whatever happened to the KFC Film Fund and the Take 254 Film Fund?
Rethinking Distribution: This would involve making use of the infrastructure already in place, including public spaces like parks and social halls and most especially the informal video halls spread out throughout the country. Since there is scanty information on video halls, a prudent first step would be some thorough data collection and mining – mapping locations of halls, identifying gaps from comparisons with population density data, figuring out average revenues, optimal operational hours etc. etc. A recent Ugandan study suggests that this exercise would be a tedious one indeed but fruitful in the long run. Soon, once a film-going culture is properly revived, we may be ready to expand the infrastructure in a similar way as China but from the bottom up based on economies of scale. Instead of more and more cinemas would be more and more formal video halls with better facilities than the informal ones, up to date age-rated and family friendly features at reasonable prices, as well as use of hardware specifically designed to prevent piracy. What Simiyu Barasa and Betty Kathungu-Furet are doing is an encouraging and brave first step. More power to them.
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The challenges expressed above manifest in more or less similar forms in other creative industries, including theatre, visual arts, and books. From the looks of things, a full scale cultural reawakening is the only event that will turn the tide in these industries’ favour. The least that can be done now is to find ways to support those who actually occupy the trenches – all the writers, poets, fine and performing artists, musicians, photographers, cinematographers, producers, directors, teachers, mentors, collectives, incubators, and spaces making the best of their unfavourable circumstances.
This was meant to be a straightforward compilation of nothing but danceables, but got tempted to add some complicated sounds towards the end. A blend of old and new stuff with a bias towards afrobeats including: Yemi Alade, Sauti Sol, Lil Kesh, Navy Kenzo, Korede Bello and P. Unit coming through with the afrobeats // Dancehall and derivative remixes from Gyptian, Aluna George and Sia // Spanking new and hot tracks by Nadia Rose and the Nigeria-Ghana combo that is Eugy and Mr. Eazi // Inna Modja, Le Motel and Kaytranada switching things up.
Kamatia – Navy Kenzo
Summertime – Tina ft. Gyptian
Africa – Yemi Alade ft. Sauti Sol
Ishe – Lil Kesh
Weka Weka – P. Unit
Abet (Silvastone Remix) – Yegna
Live and Die in Afrika – Sauti Sol
Romantic – Korede Bello ft. Tiwa Savage
One Dance – Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla
Miss California (Chris Rod Remix) – Dante Thomas ft. Pras
All On Me (Diztortion Remix) – Gyptian ft. Lady Leshurr
Skwod – Nadia Rose
Cheap Thrills (Sehck Remix) – Sia ft. Sean Paul
Policeman – Eva Simmons ft. Konshens
I’m In Control – Aluna George ft. Popcaan
Dance For Me – Eugy & Mr. Eazi
W.A.B.E – Gabu & Frasha ft. Joe Mfalme
Soft Work – Falz
Flap Your Wings – Nelly
Tombouctou – Inna Modja
Kiss It Better (Kaytranada Edit) – Rihanna
Lullaby – Le Motel
To My Love – Bomba Estéreo
Trap Tears – Raury
Tookie Knows II – ScHoolboy Q ft. Traffic & TF
Stumbling upon Goose house some years back has led me to this beautiful J-indie tune by Kenshi Yonezu / Hachi, who’s better known for his vocaloid songs. Not only are his songwriting chops on display here; the guy also created the animation for the music video based on his own illustrations.
Now, cover versions are a dime a dozen but I’ll pick two. Here’s a rework of the video by the Kagerou Project (the musical flipside of the rather bland Mekakucity Actorsanime) combined with vocals by LemonTeaBloops: