It’s rare to find a pure R&B party in Nairobi. Sure, there are Friday hip-hop nights at Alchemist Bar and Kenyan reggae music every end of the month at Jukwaa Lounge. But not raw, live R&B music. The kind where it’s just a singer and their acoustic guitar on stage. That’s until Mexican restaurant Burrito Bar took it up as a challenge this August 11th.
To celebrate two years of thriving in Nairobi plus their recent move to the Alchemist, the owners decided – why not throw a restaurant launch party. And host 2 international R&B artists, four Kenyan queens and 2 club DJs who always get the party going. The event’s theme: NAIR&BI.
This ultimate launch party was to start at 7pm, but you know how Kenya is. The first act Njoki performed from 9pm. I heard she blew people away with her big voice. I missed it, because well, I’m also Kenyan.
I walked into the Alchemist at 10pm, welcomed by the Mookh ticketing desk and the familiar voice of Wanja Wohoro. I recognized her first song Roots which she also performed at Africa Nouveau 2018. It’s from her upcoming debut album Matriarch which is about women. When is it coming out? Soon, she says.
The indie singer/songwriter who grew up between Kenya and Australia was in a pink kikoi dress and blue scarf. She’s not the only one with a song about Nairobi, which was more upbeat than her normal stuff. Her cheer leading squad were at the front of the dance floor singing along the whole time. Please get yourself friends like those.
Her acoustic cover of Anderson.Paak’s Room In Here gave the groovy song new life. Here, she was joined by Kenyan guitarist (and very recently singer) Tugi Mlamba. He plays with the best in Nairobi, including Tetu Shani. You can always tell he’s feeling the music from his lemon face.
Wanja finished her super soulful set with a song she wrote 2 weeks ago. Even her squad was surprised by this new development. Bruises was a song about everyday struggles we could relate to. But in the end “there’s nothing I can’t handle if I trust myself”.
After a short commercial break, it was time for another NuNairobi singer/songwriter cum producer. There are so many sides to this NAIR&BI queen, from her Camp Mulla days to the experimental Indigo EP. It was a first time for many of us to hear Karun’s wavy R&B side from Soundcloud live. She dedicated her first song to the King of Soundcloud Jason Kalinga who passed on recently. In the middle of the sad song, she broke down yet she still kept on going. And we let her cause we understood. It still hurts.
She lifted the mood with Backseat from her first album Sun and Moon which has the most melodic chorus. And a bridge that goes like “I’ve been making the most beautiful mistakes, I’m gonna take the back seat let life lay it down the beat”. Meanwhile, Ciano Maimba was behind her making magic on his acoustic guitar, just like in his 2018 collaboration Serve Chilled EP with M3.
It’s like she read my mind cause she performed Roses, that sultry R&B song on Soundcloud that you just wanna dedicate to somebody. She finished with her latest release Make Believe featuring Blinky Bill. Who was not around, probably in one his world adventures.
By Mayonde’s turn, the dance floor was pretty much full. It’s like the Alchemist was waiting for her. She walked on stage with her slay stick, which she premiered in July at Mookh Fest. Her first song Nairobi took me back to that night at Supersonic Studio during Africa’s first online pop-up festival. I wasn’t ready when she threw it back with one of her first hits – Isikuti Love. Right before she ululated and swished her Kenyatta-like fly whisk, spreading her magic in the air.
Because we’re all crazy, she performed Crazy by Gnarls Barkley – thanks to a premade track by her pianist Joe Were. Like a true NAIR&BI queen, she also did a few covers of 90s R&B tracks that made us wave our hands in the air saying ayoo. She even looked the part in a black beret, tracksuit, matching purple top and shoes.
The best part was when she executed the whole of Kama Kawaida by herself, singing like Fena and rapping MDQ’s part, who watched proudly from the dancefloor. We couldn’t help but trap to the Nairobi anthem with the bubbly singer. What many of us weren’t aware of was that she was also performing the next day at Because You Said So improv show at Arboretum. It’s clearly time for the purple queen to reign.
Everybody seemed to love Patricia Kihoro too. The BYSS improv comedy queen also got the 90s theme memo in a little black dress and light blue denim jacket to combat the cold. As the host, she did the most by giving the full bio of the artists before they performed. She was more than just the MC.
During the breaks, she’d cue Mixmaster Lenny to play sultry tunes from 1990s to 2018; cause hey this was an R&B party. We sang in unison to 90s hits by Usher, Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys and even Lauryn Hill. The eclectic DJ also gave us a taste of Kenyan R&B classics from Harry Kimani’s Haiya to Nameless Nasinzia. Sauti Sol came in with Nishike but he cut it short just before we got into the full sexy groove.
At midnight, it was time for the two sexy guys whose faces were on the Burrito Bar ultimate launch party poster. And man, they looked just as good in person. According to Patricia, Will Gittens was also a Berklee alumnus like Njoki and Karun. He graduated from Vine star (when it was still a thing) to a YouTube sensation, and his producer brother went along with him.
Will switched between his American and Trinidadian accent, telling us about how much he loves Kenya. Even though he said he was intoxicated, he didn’t look or sound like it. His elder brother, Sterling, accompanied him on the bass and harmonies when they were not making jokes together.
It felt very intimate. Just the two of them sitting on stools serenading us. As you’d expect there was a sea of women next to the stage swaying and singing along. We sang along to his favourite covers like Fix You by Coldplay and Labrinth’s Jealous which he admitted made him cry. Me too.
The Atlanta-based artist isn’t just a cover king. He also has original songs produced by his brother like G Wagon which was inspired by his once favorite car. Its sexy video played in the background as they performed it while Slow Whine got a small circle of ladies doing just that. I later checked him out online and it’s true. He has a whole collection of slow heartfelt R&B music on his YouTube channel.
Before he left the stage, he shouted out Faiza and Fatuma of Burrito Bar. Those two ladies were the reason he was back in Nairobi. They met in 2017 when he accompanied Jidenna to Kenya as his guitarist. Interestingly, some people in the nightclub thought he was Jidenna.
After the intimate R&B vibes, it was time to dance. Rising DJ Coco Em who’s also playing at Nyege Nyege 2018 took over the party with some old school and new school hits. Meanwhile my friends and I checked out the new Zazibar and their organic juices that taste like health. There were plenty of artists in the building too, or rather, yard: Noel Nderitu, June Gachui, MDQ with her pynk hair, Vallerie Muthoni. It was like a Mookh Fest reunion.
I couldn’t leave this Alchemist party without trying out one thing. It was the perfect moment because everything on Burrito Bar’s menu was 20% off. Burritos, nachos, tacos, quesadillas, fajitas and other tasty Mexican words. I got a plate with 3 tacos made of soft bread, cheese, veggies, and a side of loaded chips. It fed 3 grown people.
Themed parties are on the rise, from Dala acoustic music Sundays to Backyard Bar underground parties every weekend. I wouldn’t mind another R&B party like this in the near future. Whenever I want to relive this NAIR&BI music, I just watch the live concert again at Hutchery 360. Now, who wants to get some burritos?
Images by Andrew Kamau