JUST A BAND / “Just A Band Mixtape”

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Talk about DIY (Do It Yourself), this trio out of Kenya, East Africa is beyond any band I’ve heard of before. Just A Band composes, performs, and engineers their music, BUT they also do all their own graphics, packaging, marketing, AND they do their own videos, some of which include animation.

It’s the old story with black folk—a lot of stuff we do because we literally don’t know we’re not supposed to be able to do what we do. Who else is producing everything from the music to the video and everything in between?

What initially got to me was the video work. Whereas the music is easy going down as a combination of a plethora of contemporary influences, on the black hand side a couple of their videos are positively incandescent in both content and execution.

You probably can’t tell from just listening to the music how revolutionary “Usinibore” is, nor for that matter does just listening to the lyrics of “If I Could” reveal just how bittersweet realistic rather than hopelessly romantic that sweet song is. Go here to view “Usinibore” and here to view “If I Could.”

Anyone into alternative music can pick out some of the obvious influences however it is not their music alone that interests me. First off, this music swims upstream against the prevailing stereotypes of what contemporary African pop music sounds like. More important, at least to me, is that this music is grounded in and responsive to a specific social context. Just A Band proves you don't have to be strident to be political, and you can be creative artistically and still be socially relevant.

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Just A Band is Bill “Blinky” Sellanga, Daniel Muli and Jim Chuchu. Two of them were high school classmates and met up with the third at Kenya’s Kenyatta University and became inseparable friends even though they each had a different major area of interest. They would jam informally and one day a fellow student told them they really needed to form a band.

But music was not their first collective project. For close to three years before formalizing the band they ran Label Revolution, an online magazine.

Bill is a professional musician who does session work for other Kenyan artists. Dan teaches graphic design and does freelance animation. Jim has worked as a graphic designer and switched to photography/cinematography full time.
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Your brand of music is somewhat off the beaten track. What made you decide to pick this genre of music?
BLINKY: I don’t think we picked it per se, we just do music that we like, so it’s been everyone bringing their influences to the table and mashing it up. There’s jazz, hip hop, house and rock(ish) African stuff all thrown into that pot.

DAN: We wanted to make music that is inspired by what we like to listen to, but hopefully flipped a little to make it something new and unique. Right now the music clearly shows its influences; house, neo-soul, a touch of punk music and so forth, but hopefully, once all is said and done and we’ve developed our sound into some as-yet-unnamed zone of mad sonic experimentation, it’ll defy genre classifications! As a creative person, you have to choose between delivering what your audience wants, and exploring (i.e. being creative), and you have to strike your own balance. We may be a little bit out there, in terms of what goes on locally, but we’re still just trying to move the people, but in new ways.

JIM: I don’t think of our music in terms of genres, they’re either sad or happy or angry. So, I don’t think we ‘pick’ genres; we make happy songs when we’re happy, and we make sad songs when we’re sad. Everything else is by-the-way. People come and tell us we’ve been doing industrial house, and we’re like – um, cool!
—Jamati online interview
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The challenge for Just A Band will be how to develop their music while continuing to forward their other interests. But then, who knows, just like they have come this far under their own guidance maybe it’s possible they will go even further without compromising their innovative holistic vision.

I am certain they are a great inspiration to young people in Kenya who, like young people everywhere, are dreaming of literally making a difference in life. In this case, Just A Band has already begun to convert their dreams into reality. And for that I say “asante sana” (thank you very much).

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Just A Band Mixtape Playlist
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Scratch to Reveal
01 “Hey!”
02 “Do You Mind?”
03 “Funkyfinebeautiful”
04 “If I Could”
05 “Lights Music Stars”
06 “Have You Seen Her?”
07 “Beba Na Finje”

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08 “Save My Soul”
09 “Extra”
10 “Usinibore”
11 “Sunrise”
12 “Stay”
13 “Forever People (Do It So Delicious)”
14 “Tingiza Kichwa”

This entry was posted on Monday, March 8th, 2010 at 4:16 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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