H_art the Band goes Unplugged at The Alchemist

Watching H_art the Band live on stage is something special. You simply cannot afford to be taking selfies and videos with your smartphone, when all that craziness is happening right in front of you.

Why am I telling you this?

Well about a month ago, the Kenyan band held their first solo concert of 2017 at my local joint. This means they were going to be the opening, main and closing acts of the show.

This would their second time, after the successful thanksgiving concert Shoe_kran #1 in 2016. I painfully missed this, and it haunted me for many nights.

So when this second chance presented itself, I wasn’t going to miss it for anything. Not even a sudden Ebola outbreak. (Puts on a face mask.)

On that first night of April, I arrived alone at the Alchemist – after unsuccessfully convincing my friends to join me. “Their loss,” I consoled myself. As I bought my ticket at the gate, other fans strolled in comfortably into the Yard, already having handed over their advance tickets.

As soon as the band starting setting up on stage, we all rushed to the dance floor. No need to tell us. In seconds you could barely see the ground below.

It was already two hours after the show was meant to start. Yes, they were late – fashionably late I must add.

H_art Unplugged poster

Once set up, H_art the Band did something I hardly expected. They began their midnight show by giving thanks. Or what they like to call shoekran.

First to the almighty Jah for enabling them to be there. They also thanked us for turning up in large numbers to watch them perform. It was a humbling moment for everyone. We couldn’t help but join them in their musical prayer.

The next three hours were the most magical of the year thus far. In case you missed it, here were the magic moments of H_art Unplugged concert.

Their fashion

Just from their music videos and Instagram profiles, you know how crazy these guys dress. They are the only Kenyan artists I know who comfortably rock bright shorts and long socks in this decade. It’s only recently that they’ve upgraded to uniquely patterned suits and longline shirts.

The socks are still there though, sometimes with a familiar leaf pattern.

Even before they opened their mouths this night, their eccentric fashion spoke on their behalf. Mordecai and Chira were both in yellow African print shirts and matching pants (Not implying that they were twinning).

Mordecai had on cream Gideon boots that hugged his ankles, ready for all the dancing he was about to do. Meanwhile, the latter slipped into the Alchemist with simple black Akala shoes. Yup, only H_art the Band.

Kenchez was the odd one out. But boy did the lead guitarist look suave in a fitting teal suit with black polka dots. And a cool white fishnet top underneath.

Kenchez playing guitar

You couldn’t help but stare at them. They lit up the stage with their individual styles. Of course, the lead singer was not missing his signature Maasai choker on his neck.

And if you want to know how much they’ve grown throughout the years, their rastas are a pretty good indication.

Their infectious energy

Backed up with their own drumdoctor, keyboardist, and bass guitarist, who coincidentally also had dreadlocks, they were more than ready to tear down the Alchemist.

Mordecai is usually the calm quiet guy in the band, but in front of his vintage mic, he is completely transformed. It’s like he’s possessed by a spirit of one of his musical ancestors. For as soon as the heavy beat dropped, he jumped into a frenzy.

Occasionally he would start a cool dance move on the Alchemist stage. His energy was so contagious the other two members followed suit. We couldn’t resist it either.

Chira the poet was also a wild one. It seemed Mordecai’s spirit passed to his equally yellow ensemble. Their wild dreadlocks danced up and down with them under the enchanting lights.

Meanwhile, Kenchez was the composed one. Eyes closed, he silently grooved to the beat while caressing his graffiti guitar in his hands.

You’d think he was making love.

Their energy was so strong you had to feed on it. From the onset, we jumped up and down like madmen who had also been possessed. If you were not dancing, then you must have been crazy.

We were high that night. On music and lights.

mordecai at the alchemist

I was quite amazed when everyone – other than the white guys – sang along to most of Cool Down. That smooth reggae jam that is both empowering, and cleverly written. They also performed an array of political songs. Songs that challenged our thinking and our role as change makers. Songs that made us jump up high while holding imaginary candles in the air. Like Mau Mau warriors about to go into a spiritual war.

Their powerful performance reminded me of Mufasa’s poetry concert “Blame My Roots” earlier that day. Like H_art Unplugged it was also refreshingly woke. Naturally, I became a social activist that night.

Msanii ni kioo cha jamii, usanii ni kilio cha haki – H_art the Band

H_artfelt music

H_art the Band are mostly known for one thing: their heartfelt love songs. That night they generously showed us their full portfolio in the unique solo concert.

There were songs that made them gain fame. The ever- relatable Uliza Kiatu. New songs that made us remember old flames. Rosella featuring Lady Jaydee.

Even though the Tanzanian songstress was absent, the band did justice to the break-up ballad. The painful emotions were painted all over their faces and voices, just like in the music video. You could almost feel them deep inside as if you had just gone through heartbreak.

It was a h_art to h_art connection. Hehe.

When they began Love Phobic, I could swear a part of me died inside. That chilling love song has that effect sometimes. As if on cue we poured our hearts out on the dance floor, proclaiming how afraid of love we were. Or imagine ourselves to be.

H_art the Band and Bensoul at the Alchemist

In between the performances, Chira the comedian of the band took centre stage and cracked us up with Kayoleshwa jokes unheard of in this part of Nairobi. Asking us to repeat words after him. Like to say “mutumba” in an American accent. Try it.

Remember in 2015 when the funny musicians went fully into character in their hilarious video of Baby Love? Dressed up in primary school uniforms and played silly childhood games? Well, they brought back the humour and nostalgia to the Nairobi nightclub.

“The sun is there, up in the sky…” Mordecai began. We immediately joined him in singing the familiar lyrics; it’s as if we had helped pen them.

The unique love song has a lot of comical gems which the band made full use of. “Akinikiss, nimepata nime-eh-eh-eh!” We all laughed along, aware of the naughtiness of it.

And when he asked us about the mutura, we shouted in unison “Haijaiva!”

They also performed new songs that are yet to be released. Songs you won’t find on Mdundo Music or Boomplay yet. As an avid fan, it was an honour to get a sneak peek into their upcoming album.

Song of the night

Interestingly, there was a crowd favourite that night. It was so good they had to play it twice. And both times the Alchemist came alive with wild dance.

Bensoul stepped in front for this one.

I know I know, I wasn’t a fan of Masheesha either when it came out last year. What happened to my favourite band? I wondered. Have they lost their musical way?

But when I heard the song during the unplugged concert, it finally made sense. It is made for the club. And it was too damn perfect for this Afro-pop party.

Chira and Mordecai dancing on stage

I must say Bensoul, the upcoming Kenyan soul artist, slayed the second verse. Bragging to a girl he met in the club how he’s a rich lawyer, only to confess later that he’s actually a city hawker and “leo kulidhuka”.

That night, they turned me into a believer of the tongue-in-cheek track. Even though mimi si dame wa masheesha.

Surprise performances

H_art Unplugged was a one of a kind concert where the band was slated to be the only performing act. But that didn’t mean they were selfish.

An hour into the electrifying show, they invited a special guest on stage. A Kenyan artist they had collaborated with last year, and as a result, produced a major hit. We waited impatiently for the reveal.

A few long minutes later she finally appeared on stage. Like always, Dela looked racy in a branded black T-shirt, black mini shorts and a matching fishnet skirt on top. Her signature blue hair had been traded for a short black weave that slightly covered her ears.

Before performing their hot collabo, she made sure to hype the crowd up as shown in this video. Like a real pro. Then she asked the stylish fellas to teach her some Adabu.

Kenchez who has been on the sidelines stepped up for this one. He put his guitar aside and lured Dela with those sultry lyrics. The sexy in that song was brought alive on that stage.

Nakwambia tuliimba kama kwaya kwaya.

But this was just a teaser.

One moment we were exchanging smiles after he caught me staring. The next he was on stage with his blue mavin, singing the chorus of Mungu Pekee.

“Tuendelee ama tusiendelee?” “Tuendelee!” the hyped crowd roared.

As if it was hot coal, Nyashinski passed the mic to his pal. Unajua could be heard on the speakers, as Gilad asked his mpenzi where he’s been. Probably at the Alchemist, me thinks.

Nyashinski with H_art the Band on Alchemist stage

The excitement rose to a new high as Bien crooned “another one for the ladies”. But even before he finished the first verse of Still The One, he introduced another famous friend.

“Big Pin!”

Yup, The Kenyan rapper was also present at H_art the Band’s concert. He proceeded to sing one of his old popular hits, as the local crowd proudly sang along. The white folks and I simply stood and watched.

It was a rare celebrity party up on the Alchemist stage. Local artists jammed freely with the main acts of the show. New school also met old school as Le Band got a chance to perform few lines from their sexy 2017 hit.

Later on, Fidel was seen walking out with his Number One.

Just after the second Masheesha performance, there was a freestyle music session. The band surprised us again by inviting artists we hadn’t heard of before on stage. The trick was, they would all sing on one reggae beat.

The newcomers impressed us with their fresh energy and flow, from Swahili R&B to hip-hop. Meanwhile, the band stood in the background cheering them on. I saluted them.

When everyone stepped back, Bensoul took center stage with his bass guitar. It was finally his time to shine. He played the last notes of the show, fingering the metal strings with apparent ease.

His girlfriend must be one happy lady.

Bien singing Stil the One at H_art Unplugged

H_art the Band set a new record that night. While most local and international artists only manage an hour or two of performance with a break in between, H_art the Band stood strong for almost three. On the other hand, I took two separate breaks to rest my aching feet.

As you watched them on stage, you could easily tell they practice a lot. They put hours into it. Because as artists, one thing that sets you apart is your live performance.

So as they ended the show in the early hours of Sunday morning, I felt satisfied. My time and energy had all been worth it. Sia would have been impressed by their stamina.

Despite the sound challenges experienced during the show, H_art Unplugged was one of the wildest music concerts held this side of Africa. Just ask anyone who attended. It was worth way more than the 500 shillings I paid at the gate. What I like to call cheap thrills.

At 4 am DJ Paps entertained the remaining black and white crowd. I tracked the band down with my eyes. The fashion-forward rastas stood next to the bar looking cool and relaxed. You couldn’t imagine they were the same guys that drove the Alchemist crazy a few minutes ago with their enchanting live music.

As I approached them, I almost had no words. I was still reeling from the sheer joy I had experienced. Their h_artfelt music had taken me to heaven and back in one night.

But rather than boast about their evident musical prowess, they were simply grateful that I showed up. Cool and down to earth. Just like the first time I ever met them.

H_art the Band jumping on Alchemist stage
Not so down to earth here

Of late the Afro-pop band has been busy on a musical tour around Kenya and Tanzania. From Kisii in the East to Arusha in the South. I guess you can say they are going places in 2017.

According to their Instagram, something big is happening on 8th June. Is it a new h_arty single to blow our long coloured socks away? An album launch (finally)? Only Jah knows.

Whatever it is, we’re ready to love it.


Photos courtesy of Brikicho.

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