‘I’m not successful until all of us are successful’: the Kenyan DJ programme selling neighborhood and inclusivity

It’s late one Saturday evening and the Mall, one of many oldest procuring centres in Nairobi’s Westlands district, is deceptively quiet, a stark distinction to the busy streets exterior. However stroll down one flight of stairs and the dimly lit basement is teeming with life as our bodies pulsate to the heady rhythms of jungle, dancehall, UK funky, and South African gqom and amapiano. The Mist – the type of underground membership the place you possibly can catch something from grime to glitch, and the resident DJ takes to spinning Pharoah Sanders at 4am – is internet hosting nu.wav, an occasion organised by current graduates of Santuri Digital Music Academy’s DJing 101 programme. Course mates and clubbers encompass the decks, dancing and cheering loudly as every individual finishes their set.

Santuri Digital Music Academy (SEMA) is the tutorial arm of Santuri East Africa, a Nairobi-based platform that helps east African music producers, DJs, sound engineers and different music trade professionals. SEMA runs programs in each music manufacturing and DJing, and the main focus is positioned on creating neighborhood and tradition as a lot as it’s on technical expertise. College students learn to ethically interact with conventional music, and are inspired to have interaction with subjects round identification, class and gender. Out of the 150 college students which have been skilled by SEMA over the previous two years, 55% have been non-male, with the stability tipping even additional in current programs.

“It was actually cool to have a female-heavy cohort” says Marion Muthiani, a current SEMA graduate who DJs below the title nowisgood. “Santuri is a welcoming area so we really feel snug within the lessons and occasions.”

The Santuri team.
The Santuri crew. {Photograph}: SEMA

Self-described “ethnomusicology nerd” Nabalayo joined SEMA’s superior music manufacturing course as an completed artist, having already self-produced her 2020 debut Changanya, a elegant exploration of Kenyan folklore and Nairobian life. “Earlier than I might name myself a singer masquerading as a producer, however after [the SEMA course] I felt validated and assured in what I’m doing,” says Nabalayo. The course gave her the boldness to combine and grasp her new album IPO, in addition to singing, enjoying, and producing each a part of it.

Most of Santuri’s present actions are primarily based on findings from a 2020 report performed in partnership with Ableton. The analysis, carried out by Kenyan artists and Santuri associates KMRU and Coco Em, discovered that lack of kit and neighborhood areas have been main obstacles within the trade, and that feminine and queer artists felt unwelcome in most music areas. Armed with this data and a few funding from the Goethe Institut, Santuri launched the Digital Music Academy in 2021 with a particular deal with these areas.

Santuri had been lively on and off since 2013, when its co-founders, Kenyan DJ and cultural activist Gregg Tendwa and British DJ David Tinning, started organising one-off occasions at festivals round east Africa. These periods birthed a few nice data, like Esa and Auntie Flo’s The Highlife World Series and On the Corner’s Nyako, however the crew rapidly understood the necessity for longer-term, extra domestically impactful initiatives. Their first step was to help Femme Digital, a platform began in Kampala by DJ Rachael to coach feminine DJs and producers.

‘It is important for women and queer people to organise, because men are mentoring each other and booking each other’ … Kampire.
‘It will be significant for girls and queer folks to organise, as a result of males are mentoring one another and reserving one another’ … Kampire. {Photograph}: Sophie Garcia

Kampire, a core member of Kampala’s Nyege Nyege collective, who has performed golf equipment and festivals internationally together with her eclectic and bass-heavy units, remembers attending a few of these early workshops: “It was again in 2016 so I had actually simply been DJing for a number of months at that time,” she recollects. “It was useful for me to get into the technicalities and historical past of DJing, but it surely additionally launched me to the concept a lot of DJing and digital music is about organising round neighborhood, and that it is vital for girls and queer folks to organise, as a result of males are mentoring one another and reserving one another.”

Spearheaded by Justin Doucet (AKA DJ Huilly Huile) and supported by Santuri, Femme Digital launched in Nairobi in 2017, and several other individuals who have been concerned again then are concerned with Santuri to today. Amongst them is Coco Em, who’s a SEMA tutor and who’s rapidly changing into a fixture on dancefloors internationally (together with gigs at Boiler Room and London’s Cloth) together with her units that transfer between Afro home, kuduro, and Kenyan gengetone.

Famend sound artist KMRU was additionally accepted into the Femme Digital programme as he was too younger to enroll to different DJ colleges. “This was the time in my music journey that I wished to start out enjoying stay, I used to be actually looking for a performative aspect to my music” he says. KMRU is fast to acknowledge Santuri’s contribution to the Kenyan music scene over the previous few years: “New artists are gaining access to tools and software program, they usually’re sharing data about manufacturing and music-making. There’s a lot potential, I’m curious to see the way it’s going to evolve.”

In addition to participating within the Femme Digital DJing programs, KMRU provided to informally train manufacturing at a time when Santuri was working workshops with “no funding and none of our personal tools”, says Doucet, who now works full-time with Santuri. To make sure the workshops have been accessible to everybody, the crew would provide lunch and transport. “We discovered that as quickly as we catered for that and had web connection it was very easy, folks realized quite a bit and made their first beats on Ableton. That was the primary iteration of SEMA.”

For KMRU the expertise planted the seed for the Nairobi Ableton Consumer Group, an organisation he co-founded that gives Nairobi-based musicians who use Ableton an area to fulfill, study, and help one another that has since scaled again its actions. “KMRU is hailed as a little bit of a hero and has helped foster a tradition of experimentation,” says Tinning. “His dedication to the neighborhood has been large.” Even since transferring to Berlin, KMRU has continued to share his processes in SEMA masterclasses and panels on experimental music, as has Kenyan composer Nyokabi Kariũki.

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‘A bit of a hero’ … KMRU.
‘A little bit of a hero’ … KMRU. {Photograph}: Publicity picture

“When Santuri first began doing workshops 9 years in the past, we relied on plenty of artists and educators coming from Europe, the UK or South Africa,” says Tinning. “Now we’re actually blissful that every one our instructing crew are east African, and only some visitor tutors or specialists are concerned from exterior the area. We’ve targeted on constructing the talents of our tutors so the data – and methods to share it – resides in east Africa.”

Santuri connects college students to the native scene via a sequence of occasions, and to the remainder of the world via their Santuri Signal present on Accra-based Oroko Radio. The occasions are key, says Doucet. “As an alternative of the scholars graduating and ready to be picked up by some competition or membership evening, they usually get their first efficiency alternatives straight from us, surrounded by their pals and friends.” By fostering an inclusive music scene, Santuri is slowly dismantling obstacles within the trade: “I’ve by no means seen a neighborhood the place there are such a lot of feminine sound engineers, producers, and DJs. We’re entrance and centre,” says DJ Shock, who’s each a DJ tutor and a manufacturing scholar in SEMA.

“Platforms like Santuri are essential, significantly in east Africa,” agrees Kampire. “One factor I’ve realized about DJing is that it’s by no means nearly you as an artist, it’s additionally concerning the scene you come from and the sounds you characterize. Actually, I’m not successful until all of us are successful.”

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