“When the music changes, so does the dance.”
— African Proverb
BLNRB-NRBLN is an electro-hip hop fusion of two musical meccas seeking to expand horizons: Berlin and Nairobi. The renown Modeselektor, alongside electronic producers Gebrüder Teichmann and artist trio Jahcoozi, packed up their equipment and made the long trip to Kenya, where they met with rappers Mister Abbas, Kimya, Lon Jon, Nazizi, and a joint musical collaboration began to grow in ways no one could have foretold. Artists began showing up at the house they had rented to act as crash space / recording studio, like the electropop band Just A Band, blind singer / guitarist Michel Ongaro, and the HipHop collective Ukoo Flani from the coastal city of Mombasa. Talking recently with Andi Teichmann, even youth from the neighborhood wanted in on the action.in the atmosphere there, so irrelevant of whether you are a musician or not, life is kinda hard. Click To Tweet
BLNRB – Welcome to the Madhouse
HESO: How did the idea to take electronic musicians from Berlin and set up an impromptu studio in Nairobi come about?
Andi Teichmann: The good thing about the project was that it wasn’t planned big. It was just an idea that everyone got really enthusiastic about and through various channels we set up to meet and record in Nairobi.
HESO: What are the differences in musical backgrounds between the two countries?
(7/20 UPDATE: Sasha was unable to connect via skype and wanted to add her perspective. Here are her responses.)
Andi: We come from a big House as well as Electro-pop background. Electronic music is not so popular in Nairobi. They are more into Hip-hop and pop, and there are also elements of traditional East African roots music.
Sasha: Syncopation vs. marching music! Apart from the obvious differences in rhythmic timing and scales, I think the way music is consumed in these societies is really different. In Kenya it felt like just about everyone had something musical in them which they wanted to share in a social manner, whereas in Germany it feels like some people perform while other watch or consume. It sounds a little cliched but in Kenya everyone seems to get involved somehow, if only in their immediate need to dance.
HESO: How did that mix together?
Andi: We brought all of our equipment from Berlin to the house where we made two studios and invited different artists in to record. We made the beats and they sang the songs. It was a great experience working and living together and the result is Welcome to the Madhouse.
HESO: What is it like for musicians in Nairobi compared to Berlin?
Andi: The situation in Kenya is pretty bad, and especially in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, where there is no money for schools, hospitals, sewage, running water or electricity. There, like in Berlin, music is really important, but for different reasons.
Sasha: It’s difficult to say. Some musicians in Kenya are really connected in the industry, they have rich parents who are governmental ministers paying their way to success. Other artists slave their asses off as session musicians while making their own music that never gets marketed to the extent that they can live off it. In some ways it’s the same as in Berlin: rich kids, people living on state benefits, people playing in a few different bands. Maybe surprisingly, it’s much cheaper to live a comfortable life in Berlin and make music than it is in Nairobi. Loads of people have access to free studio time in all over Berlin and studio equipment in Berlin is cheaper. Good public transport in Berlin means that you get home cheaply and safely after your shit paid gig, but in Nairobi there are no night buses and taxis are expensive. The gap between rich and poor is much wider in Kenya than in Germany, and one clearly feels that in the atmosphere there, so irrelevant of whether you are a musician or not, life is kinda hard.
HESO: What was the most memorable part for you?Andi: We decided to put on a concert in Kibera and found just a huge amount of support for the idea. Some young neighborhood kids came up to us and wanted to sing and rap and of course we said yes. In the end they were great. The smiles on their faces, that’s what I remember most.Sasha: Definitely the free party we put on in Kibera with the help of a street art collective called Maasai Imbilli who are based there. It’s seen as the most dangerous place in Kenya and even the MCs we had been working with in the madhouse had never been there. We packed the soundsystem into a minibus and drove it up there with the protection of friends from Maasai Imbilli. It was a truly special experience, where nearly everyone in sight got on the mic, including two 12 yr old boys called Little King and Robo who were seriously tight! We also got them to come down to the house the next day to record with us. We ended up setting up the soundsystem in front of a church which, apparently, nobody had ever done, so we gained a fair amount of respect for doing it and it made everyone involved feel they could accomplish things irrelevant of circumstances, differences, and so on. We all truly felt bound by the music.
HESO: Is this the beginning of a new kind of collaboration for you? What happens next?
Andi: Even after recording in Nairobi we were able to bring some musicians to Germany to perform at a concert here in Berlin. The most interesting thing for them was to see how popular electronic music and the club scene is here. For them it was a kind of paradise. They could see the situation for artists in Europe and it is much different for them. This is just the beginning, but we need funding from cultural institutes to continue to do more.
BLNRB – Welcome to the Madhouse (2011 Out Here Records)
JAHCOOZI | GEBRÜDER TEICHMANN | MODESELEKTOR
in collaboration with
UKOO FLANI | NAZIZI | MICHEL ONGARO | JUST A BAND | RADI | ABBAS KUBAFF | LIL’ KINGS | LON’ JON | KIMYA