June 2019 has been a special month, especially for Kenyan music. In just four weeks, four music launch parties happened in Nairobi. I attended 2 of them, and I already told you about the first one.
The second one had the same musicians on stage. Because Mutoriah is everywhere!
It was my first time (and for many as well) to enter Sands Club. Actually, if it wasn’t for Mutoriah’s album launch I wonder if I’d have ever found the new nightclub atAdlife Plaza. Which I later realized was the location for Mayonde’s sizzling music video for Chini Kwa Chini.
After breezing through the light Saturday evening traffic, I landed there at 8.30pm. There were a couple of familiar Nairobians standing outside – I was an hour late. I bumped into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in ages also buying a ticket at the door.
This was going to be an interesting night, I mused.
Inside, it was even more packed. We could barely find empty chairs facing the stage, so we settled for a half-occupied cubicle on the right side.
And as I always do at a new place, I studied the new club’s decor.
It was an extra flashy ballroom, and not like Extravaganza. The cubicle walls were made up of empty liquor and wine glass bottles. Two trees stood near the stage – I had to deliberate with my friend whether they were fake (yes, they were).
And above on the high ceiling, were shiny chandeliers reflecting on the golden tiles and wall photographs and TV screens and glass tables.
I didn’t know what to think about this crazy mix of interior design.
There were more cubicles on the opposite side of Sands Club, where a squad of friends fresh from work probably come on a Friday night to dirtify the tables with drinks na mayenx. I also discovered an outdoor space outside the main hall where we had the afterparty. This one had fresh air, high chairs, a DJ table, and more fake vegetation.
From my tight position, I struggled to see the Kenyan musicians on stage. The male serenader I later learnt, is called Lewel Muriithi, and had a league of fans (read ladies) singing along to his every lyric. Afropop band Yozowo was also on the opening lineup.
But the first Kenyan artist I recognized was Muthaka with the beautiful name and voice. She started with a cover song (Emeli Sande I think) followed by an original (clever girl). She also performed with Brandy Maina after not-so-subtly advertising their upcoming gig Lost In Soul at Michael Joseph Centre. I didn’t make it on 6th July but I was told it was nice.
Serro looked like an African queen as always in a plain fitting dress and statement Maasai neckpiece. This night, she left her band The Charactaz at home to perform as a one-woman guitar like Tetu Shani in Nakuru (minus the woman part). It was one of those stripped-down acoustic versions compared to her lively Godown Gig performance, yet still engaging as always.
I resisted going to the dancefloor as her female fans did but she eventually lured me out of the comfy cubicle with her soulful ballad Okello. I’m proud to announce I sang almost all of Ya Dunia because that’s my song! (Thank you, dear artists who put song lyrics on the video description).
On the flipside, Patoh Njuguna came with a whole orchestra. The all-male band flooded the Sands club stage in their matching black and maroon suits. They reminded me of Kaya Collective with their eclectic music, and of course a blaring horn section.
Every song oozed its own flavour, ranging from country-rock to reggae to disco funk to chakacha to rhumba. Patoh looked like he was in no hurry to leave the stage, performing way too many songs compared to the previous performers. Maybe it was the excitement of performing live with The Hornrables for the first time.
The Gufy MC of the night delivered some parched jokes after the seemingly endless performance. Just before midnight, he announced the reason we were here. The dance floor filled up almost immediately as Tha Movement warmed up the stage for him.
It was time. The man of the night appeared dressed in a Dive In album T-Shirt to wildly fanatic applause. Even before the performance started, I could already feel the magic incoming.
Everybody seemed to know the 23-year-old Kenyan music producer, multi-instrumentalist, music director and now singer-songwriter. And his first song 17 Years Old sounded just as vibey as that YouTube video shot in a hotel room. The whole crowd sang along to the simple hook as he played his keyboard and beats on his laptop.
Bensoul then stepped in looking like the rockstar he is with Lucy. Pesa ni sabuni ya roho, na mavazi. Together with Mutoriah, he also performed their Swahili song Tosheka prodding their ladies to be satisfied with their love.
Then he serenaded us with (Y)our Favorite Song which always gets people in their feels. Including me.
Contrary to popular belief, Bensoul is still humble and grounded despite the Sol Generation fame. After the concert, he talked openly with his fans, listened to their unreleased music on their phones and offered to give them free advice. He even explained to Chris Kaiga #Zimenice and I where his catchphrase comes from.
Apparently, it has something to do with Bensouda (not you Swiga).
I have this habit of asking myself “what’s my favourite song” in every show so that I can attract it. And Joe simply had to perform the title track of his debut album. I fell in love with the 2016 Ayrosh rendition of Dive In and it’s still my favourite.
But he is no longer called Ayrosh according to what I heard. Murasta jumped up on stage in a simple white tee, a Maasai shuka on his neck and a truck full of energy; his electrifying performance can only be topped by his Murasta EP Launch at MJC. I was surprised to hear fans around me singing along to Last Night (I had a dream about you) and even Mwanake Millenial.
Issokay. Even when he gets famous, we’ll still be the day ones.
I also spotted the hapless mwanake from the music video, still in a suit, and his lady love in the audience. I wonder if they ever got married. Maybe his cousin Mutoriah did a harambee for him.
The Dive In Album Launch was one of those unique family affairs. Mutoriah’s relatives, including his grandmother, showed up and sat in their special booth. His bubbly younger sister was on the lights, synchronizing them with the beats.
Joe introduced us to the man who had encouraged him to pursue music from a young age. The man who taught him to play the keyboard when he was only a year old, shaping this musical prodigy. He then gave his proud dad a chance to perform a Gikuyu gospel song, as the humble son took on guitar and background vocals.
They later shared a warm hug on stage. I could feel hearts melting all over the audience.
Njerae was next on the limelight. As they performed their love duet Wewe next to each other, I could swear they looked like a couple. I honestly didn’t know she could smile like that.
Tha energetic drummer Arthur also stepped up to show his music producer side. Singing the track’s vocals was none other than his wife Nuru, who was also on BGV. They even shared a sexy dance together on stage.
Did someone say couple goals?
Then Mumbi aka Kenyan Shilling manoeuvred through the frenzied audience to the stage (with Maina Njoroge as her bouncer). All this time she performed an empowering spoken-word piece about how to dive in. If we were really paying attention to her words as I did later at home, we’d be snapping fingers all the way to our dreams.
The petite Xenia Manasseh was also present. She sang the short and sweet song Made Up of Love, one of my favourites from the album.
I finally got the chance to hear her perform her 2019 single Niambie (ni mimi) and a group of excited ladies at the front helped her sing.
As this was an album launch, Mutoriah performed songs that were in the album but not in the acoustic Dive In EP which he had released before June 22nd. There’s something special about Nielewe which is a love letter to a crush. Maybe it’s that unforgettable line – you make, me feel, like I’m a little crazy…
It’s hard to miss Murasta’s unmistakable raspy voice in the background of the album version.
And then Ayrosh, sorry Murasta, jumped on stage again for another Gikuyu song that he features in. “Wakwa Wangoro, wakwa wa maisha” – we chanted with them on top of the grooviest Afro house beats ever. Because 2019 is the year of Kenyan house music.
The festival-like lineup was not over yet. The lanky pro violinist joined Tha Movement for an instrumental piece; two S-shaped violins on one stage (by Scott and Nelfrey) is not something you see every day. The other instrumental piece was Maasai Power Trap, the experimental track that got Mutoriah a big break on Coke Studio Africa 2019.
And of course Steph Kapela reminded us he got the sauce, and we had to trap along with the young Veteran.
For the last song, Mutoriah left his workstation and finally let loose. It had such a familiar Kenyan vibe that we were already dancing and singing along by the first chorus “Usiniringie nipatie”. It took me back to the 2000s when Kenyan party songs were ratchet but still classy.
When the show was over, I asked one of my friends (because everyone was there) what he felt about it. He was impressed not by Mutoriah’s musicianship or songwriting, but his sincere vibe. All the collaborators had shouted him out in front of everyone for his friendship and support.
He was Bensoul’s keyboardist before Sol Generation happened, played his Spanish Guitar for Steph Kapela at Jamhuri Jam Sessions, produced Queen Serro’s Okello, Ya Dunia and basically most of her upcoming debut album KUWE. And he’s longtime buddies with Murasta from his first single Wendo in 2016.
As Anyiko said, what’s an album launch without your friends’ support?
And there were many more superstars in the audience. I’m talking Dela, Nviiri, Chris Adwar, Fena Gitu, Mordecai aka 1/3 of H_art The Band, Provoke, Mike Muema and I possibly couldn’t finish this list. They were all present to witness Kenyan music history being made – the only musicians missing inna di area were Sauti Sol.
Mutoriah proved that “We don’t need money to be rich” – love and collaboration is the real currency. His self-produced album under his co-label Me N My Cousin Entertainment was mixed and mastered by Provoke and featured Bensoul, Steph Kapela, Njerae, Mumbi and Murasta as songwriters. Because when you support your friends, they can’t help but support you too – Kenyan musician and music journalist Abbih Nguma taught me that.
In Mutoriah’s words, “Dive In is all about inspiring people, myself included, to stop being afraid, get out of their shells and share their light with the world.” That magical night, he showed us how to dive in and do the damn thing. Whether it’s releasing your own music or even signing up for that music school – hey Sauti Academy!
That night, I couldn’t shake this feeling that a Kenyan renaissance was happening in front of our eyes. And it felt exciting.
Just like the Murasta EP launch, we got our complimentary copies after the live concert. Dive In was released exclusively on Songa and on his website for purchase. But the Kenyan album is slowly showing up on other online music stores including Mookh and iTunes.
As you can tell, exclusive music releases are becoming a popular thing in the Kenyan music scene, which my friend Eugene talked about in his OTB music podcast.
Joe can sing, play keys, guitar, drums, produce his own music and direct a live band. Basically, he’s a one-man band – kinda like Bensoul. Even though you are a musical genius, you need a team of superstars around you. And Mutoriah already got his. That’s all you need for a legendary album launch.
Now I dare all the other months of 2019 to beat June.
Images courtesy of Bmpicz