Kelele Sessions: Back To School but with Cool People

The room is hot but you surprisingly feel cool. There are around 20 people huddled in the high ceiling studio, either sitting on a couch, on the carpet or standing. You already squeezed yourself on one of the two leather couches – the early bird gets the seat.  

Here, you are surrounded by superstars and people you probably need to know. But everyone looks humble as they wait for Kelele Sessions to start.

Kelele is noise, but what is Kelele Sessions? Bryan Smallz explains it’s a 2019 project by the new media agency Black Market Africa in partnership with Mookh Africa and Supersonic Africa studio. You swear you’ve seen this music recording studio before during Mookh Fest aka Africa’s premier online festival, and throughout the epic seasons of Coke Studio Africa. Even the Sol Generation promo video with the coloured bulbs was shot here. 

Basically, you are inside greatness.

Abass Kelele Sessions Supersonic Africa

Bryan snaps you out of your reverie, as he introduces the music listening session that happens every Thursday night in Lavington Nairobi. 3 Kenyan artists or patrons will be featured – two singers/rappers and one music producer. And each one of them has a different sound to keep things interesting. 

And these are not just any random artists but young Kenyan musicians with progressive international sounds: Kerby, Bensoul, Mutoriah, Ayrosh, Wanja Wohoro, Steph Kapela and even Ochungulo Family. Meanwhile, the Kenyan music producers range from Dillie to Suraj to Jack Rooster all the way to Sichangi.

King Kaka Xenia Sichangi Kelele Sessions

Looking around you see familiar faces from all corners of the Kenyan entertainment industry. Invited guests who’ve sat (or stood) in this same room include Patricia Kihoro, Tosh Gitonga, Coco Em, Ulopa, Kwambox and MixMasterLenny.

The regulars Provoke, Bryan Smallz, PR girl Anchie, the Supersonic/Post Office media team and wasee wa Mookh also take their favourite corners of the room.

After a round of introduction, you sink into your black couch and wait to be entertained. The first artist is already seated next to a magnificent Mac computer and a controller with strange buttons that only an audio engineer could understand. They take the stage and proceed to play their released and unreleased music for the intimate group. 

That is how you hear Tetu Shani’s AfricaSun 2 weeks before it is released and DJ Tin Tin’s Kenyan hip-hop EP “Ibada” in advance.

Someone else is sharing this unique music stage. A Kenyan music veteran sits on the opposite chair; it could be Wyre, Jua Cali, Nameless, King Kaka or Octopizzo. The Don says – Say No to Yes Men. What he means is you need blunt friends who will criticize your music before it goes out. Or just go to Kelele Sessions. 

And what a hot seat this is for any artist. After playing their best three songs, they are bombarded with positive (and negative) feedback from the carefully selected audience. As an artist, you have to sit down, be humble and absorb all their constructive criticism without arguing. Even though you think your music is dope.

Ochungulo Family Kelele Sessions Collo

Everyone in the room agrees that Kenyan music is diverse so you are allowed to experiment with any local or international genre. But that doesn’t mean you should trap like Migos. Authenticity is key (and so is Shrap) – bring something unique yet familiar in your music if you want to stand out.

That’s why urban fusion is the new Kenyan sound, case study What We Do. Who would have expected to hear a collaboration between Rongai hip-hop trio 125 and mugithi star Mike Rua?

Quality wins over quantity anytime, and you can clearly hear the tracks’ quality on those world-class Supersonic Studio speakers. The veterans in the room advise the budding musicians to work with established record producers, mixing and mastering engineers in order to elevate their sound quality. This includes bedroom producers. 

One other thing they stress is to be patient when releasing music. It can take up to 6 months to produce a great song that is worthy of award nominations. But it’s better to have a few classic jams than numerous low shelf life songs.

Samantha Mugatsia Kelele Sessions Supersonic Africa

You didn’t know that one has to clear music samples i.e. get permission from the copyright owners, before releasing a commercial song. Otherwise, it might come back to bite you when it goes platinum. And you will lose your hard-earned mulla. 

You also didn’t know there’s a difference between a recording and performing artist until Kelele Sessions happened. The stage superstars are encouraged to record their music performances and share them online in order to entice live music fans to their banging shows. A fine example is Karun’s Glow Sessions that is recorded by Jaaz Odongo’s company Motion Image and Sound Limited. 

One major conversation that repeatedly comes up in the discussion is the need for alternative Kenyan musicians to market the life out of their music. It doesn’t matter how good you are if people don’t know who you are. 

So don’t be afraid to send persistent DMs to your role models. They eventually give in. That’s how Vicmass Luodollar got Octopizzo on the Bank Otuch remix that instantly made him famous.

The content creators and digital marketers in the room share some social media tips for free. Upload video content on Facebook, make the most out of Instagram Stories and collaborate with Twitter influencers. And use your phonebook to communicate directly with your fans like Tetu Shani – Whatsapp Business has made this super easy.

Somebody also points out that every musician needs an album release marketing strategy. Everybody needs to know about it before it comes out. And the hype should build up to a spectacular album launch, whether it’s an all-star live concert, tour or an online release party like Muthoni Drummer Queen did with her 2018 album SHE

Jua Cali Kelele Sessions Supersonic Africa

As an artist, it takes guts to sit there and hear your delicate music career being dissected like that.  As a guest, you even feel the heat on behalf of your artist friend – thank God you’re not them. 

But it’s all for their good. There are too many yes men and not enough people challenging them to improve their online marketing, sound production, video quality or even branding. Music is not just a passion but also a business.

You mentally write down all these notes. It feels like you’re back in school but with cool people. 

Happy guests Kelele Sessions Supersonic Africa

After the heated back and forth conversations, lighthearted moments and genuine compliments, Bryan Smallz delivers the closing word: We are the industry so we are the ones to build it. He is tired of complaints about how the Kenyan music industry is not working when it’s our responsibility.

We should also borrow some lessons from Nigerians. They do not have so-called industry structures but they hustle hard and support each other. And all the people we need to succeed are in this red hot room, from videographers to digital marketers, DJs to songwriters.

Interestingly, some musicians admit they are afraid to ask for help due to shame or pride. But the talented creatives in this studio express their willingness to collaborate using their own specialized skills. For example, a Kenyan filmmaker would shoot a music video in exchange for a film score.

Guests Kelele Sessions Supersonic Africa studio

So during the breaks, you make a couple of friends over complimentary drinks. You realize you need these industry people to spread the word about your new or upcoming project. And what better way than through organic reach – so that you don’t have to spend shillings on online advertising. 

By the end of Kelele Sessions, you leave with new contacts in your phonebook and follow 5 new Instagram accounts. Later at home, you listen to new alternative Kenyan music you discovered that night. This includes Chris Kaiga’s Zimenice (on repeat) and MCGzay’s hip-hop album Passion, Pain and Pleasure – could he be Kenya’s Rick Ross?

Mc Gzay Kenyan musician producer Kelele Sessions

Your assignment now is to make enough Kelele about them online because that’s where the market is. To make so much noise about quality Kenyan music that Kenyans have to own it. And #KenyaToTheWorld will finally make sense.

For you, Kelele is more than just a music listening session. It’s a special platform for Kenyan artists to learn, connect and inspire each other to unite. Moreover, it naturally evokes discussions on how to grow the Kenyan entertainment industry to its multi-million potential. Because we are in this together. 

Group photo Kelele Sessions Supersonic Africa

Once season one is over, you find yourself in a WhatsApp group full of all the guests and patrons from Kelele Sessions. This unity thing was not a joke. The members eagerly share artist opportunities, event posters, new Kenyan music, and of course positive criticism. This is where you also learn of Supersonic’s competitive studio rates for recording and hosting private listening sessions.

As you now wait for season 2, you watch highlights of the twelve episodes of season one on Black Market Africa’s Instagram page. You need to recap the lessons every once in a while. And of course, see yourself on a leather couch surrounded by superstars. 

Then you can watch out for Black Market Africa’s next revolutionary project on creating the contemporary creative. Aka the next African superstars.  


Images by Black Market Africa