An unprecedented level of diversity on the Kenyan musical landscape continues to be witnessed day by day. More and more artists, producers and creative collectives continue to contribute to a growing wave of fresh sounds. Not only are these new artists re-imagining Kenya's musical identity and filling the existing gaps, but they are also breathing new life into old sounds that have been around for generations.
Alongside the likes of equatorial house progenitor Saint Evo and singer/producer Kagwe Mungai, electronic producer and DJ Jinku is among those Kenyan artists whose music is regarded as a breath of fresh air to the local music scene.
Jinku's DJ sets are flawless: his music cuts across various genres, appealing to anyone with a good ear for music. Yet Jinku is more than just a DJ; he is a performer who incorporates every part of his body into excuting his sets. If he's not dancing, his facial expressions speak a thousand words. On Saturday 28 May, Jinku was among a group of DJs playing at the second Meltdown party, an event hosted by Bad Mambo Productions that seeks to explore the latest in Kenyan electronica. True to form, his set at Meltdown got everyone on their feet.
When not DJing, Jinku (real name Jacob Solomon) is constantly exploring new production techniques to create unique music. Speaking recently to Music In Africa, Jinku says music sneaked into his life. “It was the last thing I expected, I wanted to be a fine artist and an illustrator, but music crept into my life in the sneakiest way. I started as the Creative Consultant for Saint Evo The Myth and Celsius Degree. Through working very closely with this musical collective, I soon developed a desire to make music myself," Jinku explains.
Over the years Jinko has become a sponge soaking up various musical influences, ranging from electronic to rock and classical. His music is therefore a hybrid of all these influences. He has been part of the Santuri Safari collective, an East African project that aims to forge a space for rising artists and producers in the region by bridging the gap between its musical heritage and the latest trends in electronic dance music. In 2015 he remixed Kenyan-based Ghanaian artist Delasi's single 'Afemakpor'.
The self-taught producer is also part of the East African Wave, a collective of artists that combine traditional East African elements with new genres. He says the EA Wave is a continuous journey about finding oneself while celebrating uniqueness. EA Wave is made of five members: Jinku, Ukweli, Nu Fvnk, Mvroe and Hiribae. Working in a group instead of alone can be tough, although Jinku says one of their main challenges is getting others to respect them as a collective. Making decisions can also be a challenge at times. “Since we are five, settling on one unified front does indeed take time in certain situations," says Jinku. "Nevertheless, the success so far is really inspiring, EA Wave is a new generation that cherishes collaboration, passion and art of financial gain!"
Named by the internationally respected magazine The Fader as one of the top 25 global acts to watch out for in 2016, Jinku recently finished his first EP, titled Amadeyo, which is being distributed internationally via Sofa Lounge Records. Speaking about the album, Jinko explained: "It proved that I could release a whole body of work myself as well as gel with other musicians. It was one of the funnest moments I have had in my life. The sheer will, passion and camaraderie was amazing. I have eight songs featured on the EP. Amadeyo truly is one of the births of 'Nu Nairobi'!"
Electronic music on the rise in Kenya
While computers and electronic instruments have long been part of Kenyan music production, it is only relatively recently that purely electronic tracks have found a loyal following in Kenya. Jinku believes that electronic music is the future. “Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are the new instruments," he says. "I expect a very large influx of electronic music, but now it’s becoming more experimental and organic; the boundaries are being stretched."
The producer says that music is all about innovation. “To an extent, music is now evolving as fast as technology itself. My only concern is, can we feel the soul and warmth through it? How can we make electronic music feel timeless?”
Looking ahead, Jinku says he is currently going through an experimental, chilled phase - as opposed to the more frenetic energy that can be experienced in Amadeyo. He says fans of his work can soon expect a new release, titled ‘Indigo’, which he is currently working on with Kenyan artist Lady Karun of Cosmic Homies, who is based in the USA studying electronic production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Jinku is also excited about his forthcoming collaborations with Kenyan talent such as Tetu Shani, Valentine Ziki and Prisca Ojwang', and a mixtape with Ghana's Jojo Abot dubbed Afri-Na-Ladi. Meanwhile as part of the EA Wave collective he is also working on some 'disco-benga' material with Nairobi band Yellow Light Machine.
Jinku believes that electronic music has never been more vibrant in Kenya than it is today, and that opportunities for anyone wanting to venture into music production are virtually limitless, particularly with rising standards in the media. “Many corporates and TV stations are understanding the need for high-quality sound productions in their projects. That's on the corporate angle. On the more creative side, Kenya is seeing the rise of DJ/producers as the new rock stars of the industry.”