How to own your culture with Ayrosh’s music #Murasta

It’s embarrassing to not know your own language. Especially at a family gathering and you’re the only one who can’t join in the lively conversation. Or even get to know your grandmother. 

I almost did though. 

My mum said just as I was starting to speak Kikuyu as an innocent 3-year-old, we moved to Nairobi. And then I got mixed up in Sheng and Swahili and English. And even some French later in school. But it never made up for being ignorant of my own language.

Well, they say one easy way to learn a language is through music – other than living in the village. And that is how Ayrosh came into my life. From the first song I ever heard, Shuga Mami, I was hooked. Other than its sultry video and irresistible hook, I was amazed by how easily he mixed English, Swahili and Gikuyu in one song. Even an almost born tao like me could afford to sing a few lines. 

What I didn’t realize then is he was making mugithi music cool again. 

The Gikuyu Afropop superstar (as he now calls himself on Instagram) has been constantly releasing new music since 2016. But the highlight of my fandom was being able to sing the whole of his 2018 hit Maheni – which is all in Gikuyu. I didn’t even have to ask my mum to translate the meaning as she did with Nihaku.

This 20-something Kenyan musician – who doesn’t want me to disclose his age anymore – elevated to a new level in 2019. Together with his music producer Waithaka, they finally released his debut EP which was 2 years in the making. The teaser was “Murasta is coming”.

But who is Murasta? 

Other than having locks, Murasta is a lover, rebel and storyteller. And he arrived on 14th June with a fresh Afro-house sound that is new for the folk fusion artist. Joining the likes of Idd Aziz and Labdi in the electronic dance music world.

And as the ancestors would have it, it was a day before Afro-house DJ Jack Rooster launched his debut Kenyan house album Nyumba.

Ayrosh's Murasta EP Launch stage at Michael Joseph Centre

The opening song of Murasta EP is a celebration of his ancestral home. Uka Mami sounds like the younger brother of Kwame’s Munoti with those deep African male hums. Ayrosh’s storytelling skills are also evident in Nikukosa which was produced by Waithaka and Afro-house pioneer Saint Evo.

Even though the boychild anthem is predominantly in Swahili and Sheng “Kupata toto ukiwa msoto ni ndoto,” he cleverly sneaks in some Gikuyu lines – because he’s not one to forget his roots. 

Last time I checked, his favourite song from his debut EP is Kirinyaga which he co-produced with DJ Mura – yes, there are witnesses. He asks for divine strength and guidance from the mighty mountain, as people from Central Kenya always have. We all want to be free – the rebel sings – from rent and capitalism.

Amiright?

After I heard the Afro-house EP for the first time, I told him my favourite is Got Hitched. It’s the way he switches from a sweet falsetto to a sexy bass real quick. I still can’t resist those funky house beats by Festus from Sierra Leone – who also produced the Kwame classic Reke Ngwende in 2016. 

Got Hitched also reminds me of a Bruno Mars song especially as you cross the bridge. Since it took me a whole dream to find out the lyrics of the chorus, let me save you the trouble…

You got me like hey!

Long live the queen and all other stories

Hey. Lemme be your king

Hey. Stop what you’re doing naleta mahari

Hey. Our life is just beginning

Is this how engagement songs sound in 2019?

My second favourite song has to be Murasta where he’s also the lover “All I want to do is love you”. I thought it was a Suraj production (probably because of Kabaseke’s magic guitar) but it’s by ThExchange Project. 

This is a love song you’d want any murasta to serenade you with. And yes, he performed it at the Murasta EP launch.

When Mutoriah turned up the beats, Michael Joseph Centre transformed into a full-blown Afro-house party. We all jumped with crazy hands flailing in the air as if we were in Tomorrowland.

Mutoriah the music director at Murasta EP Launch
Mutoriah the conquerer

The band of superstars Tha Movement backed up the Gikuyu superstar as they always do. I’ll never forget when they played Mutoriah’s single Mwanake Millenial. Half of the crowd immediately stood up in excitement to dance along to the nostalgic Gikuyu mwomboko sound

Their reaction almost swept me off my feet.

But Murasta EP launch concert was all kinds of unique. You walked in and found three different stages in three different corners. The chairs were arranged in between them so you had to find the right position to see all the stages, especially the main one. 

It reminded me of the “in the round stage setup at Eric Wainaina’s weekly concert Live at The Elephant.

Jivu Music performing live at Murasta EP Launch
Form Ni Gani

There were no opening acts – other than Teardrops the poet. Instead, it was a matatu mix of alternative Kenyan musicians on stage like we saw at Jamhuri Festival 2018. Jivu Music asked us Form Ni Gani followed by Kwame then Ayrosh then Jivu came back again with their 2019 banger Struggle

It was also the first time Ayrosh performed Love Respect Repeat with Ythera. You could call it a Waithaka Ent family reunion.

Ayrosh and Ythera performing Love Respect Repeat live
Love Me Respect Me Repeat It

Other than Aki Wewe, we all know with Kwame Rigii thanks to their 2017 collaboration Guuku. You know, that hilarious Gikuyu house party song that has way too many puns. And seeing them share the stage that night, I was convinced they are brothers. I mean… they look alike, are both love serenaders (refer to Aki Wewe), and honour Gikuyu culture through their contemporary Kenyan music. Tūrī a Mūmbi.

I literally shed tears the first time Kwame performed Mwene Nyaga. Call it cultural pride. 

In another set, he invited his talented pianist Moses Muthungu on stage. And together they performed the soulful Macegera and NdemiI could hear a few people in the crowd sing along to his Gikuyu songs. Even though I couldn’t understand most of what he was saying, I felt it in the corners of my soul.

But when Kwame announced “Murasta is here”, I wasn’t sure if he was referring to Ayrosh or himself.

Ayrosh and Kwame pose with fan at Murasta EP Launch
Brothers… or brothers?

After the all-star show, I finally met Waithaka in person – we met online in 2018 and have been talking ever since. Straight from America, he told me this night was easily the highlight of his 15-year music career. He had not expected to see his music being appreciated this much at home. I suggested he should come over more often.

He also introduced me to Brackish Records, the guy behind the soulful house vibes of Ngutunge and Guuku. It was also their first time meeting in the flesh. 

The 7-track Afro-house EP was recorded by Jay Mukasa of Tawala Beats and mixed and mastered by Giggz of 4reigner Music Group who were not in the building. I have to meet these prolific Kenyan producers who are constantly elevating the quality of Kenyan music.

You’d think you’re the only diehard Ayrosh fan in the house because you know all his songs and attend almost all his shows. Boy was I wrong. There was so much love for Ayrosh that night at Michael Joseph Centre. That’s what happens when you organize your own event in Nairobi or are the headlining act.

Interestingly, he knew most of the attendees by name and invited some of them to dance with him on the dancefloor. We were not just fans or followers but friends and family. He has truly hit the jackpot of attracting his true fans just like Tetu Shani.

I thought I’d carry a physical copy of Murasta EP home as every ticket included a complimentary CD. Since they were not ready that night, I instead bought a button of the tribal artwork to wear proudly on my chest for the rest of the weekend. #IAmMurasta.

And yes, the artistic cover was designed by Zack Adell – the same guy who did Blinky’s album artwork for Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Tales.

Murasta will make you dance and then dance some more as we did at that unforgettable night. We heard the EP play on the speakers at least twice before the main show, so it was subconsciously etched in our minds. But don’t worry, you can stream it on Apple Music or Spotify.

Oh and more good news. The Murasta CDs are finally here. And Ayrosh is delivering them to his fans upon request. P.S. I already got mine! 

Ayrosh is playing his part in keeping African culture alive through his music. As my friend Wendi said after I recounted the show, “He makes knowing your language hip”. Even my mum is a fan of his new-school mugithi vibe. 

I now have to own the shame of not knowing my language so I can get over it. And learn how to speak Gikuyu again like I once did as a child. That’s why Ayrosh’s Youtube channel is my Gikuyu school. His folk fusion music makes this crucial process easy.

And in no time, I’ll also be having loud conversations with my grandmother.

 

Images courtesy of Mbaiyo


2 thoughts on “How to own your culture with Ayrosh’s music #Murasta

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