Nairobi is enjoying a boom in the popularity of electronic dance music, and this weekend the city hosts a performance by a duo of top DJs from Ghana.
This pan African collaboration takes place tomorrow August 26 when the visiting group Jowaa performs together with top rated Kenyan DJ Suraj at the Alchemist in Westlands.
Jowaa comprises Benjamin Lebrave (DJ Bbrave) who runs a digital record label called Akwaaba Music in Accra alongside Ghanaian music producer Gafacci.
Since 2008, Lebrave, who is of joint French and American citizenship but is based in Ghana, has played at gigs around the world including a couple of times in Nairobi.
His performance sets include popular genres of African dance music, Azonto and hiplife of Ghana, coupe decale from Ivory Coast, kizomba from Angola and Congolese soukous.
He also plays Nigerian Afrobeats, which combines his favourite elements, rich rhythms, dance groove and an urban edge.
As a teenager Lebrave was drawn to hip-hop because he loved the beats and this was the foundation of his life as a DJ.
He first heard Ghanaian high-life music in 2003 but was frustrated that so little of the music was available.
After his first trip to Accra, he set up a website called Akwaaba (the word in Twi language of Ghana means ‘welcome’) in 2008 to make contemporary Ghanaian music accessible to a global audience.
Today, the label boasts not just some of Ghana’s top contemporary artists but other electronic music acts from across Africa including Kenya’s Just a Band.
Lebrave settled in Ghana in 2011 and met Gafacci who shares his passion for electronic music combined with traditional sounds. This year, they officially formed Jowaa, which allows both artists to combine their experience producing dance beats and playing them to diverse audiences.
Gafacci has produced songs for some of Ghana’s top acts like Sarkodie and Ice Prince. He was one of the producers behind the boom of Azonto music, the up-tempo mix of electronic beats with West African rhythms that was derived from a popular dance routine.
While his DJ sets are available for free download on his Soundcloud page, his debut album is set for release on the Akwaaba label in October this year.
During the Jowaa performances, Gafacci plays an innovative set recreating different rhythms on stage using machines and loops while Lebrave plays a more conventional DJ set combining hit songs and rare tracks.
“I like to get the crowd away from their comfort zone by throwing in songs that they may not entirely be used to hearing,” he says.
Lebrave explains that the Nairobi event is a showcase of an emerging generation of African artists reinventing what it means to make African music using mostly machines, while still incorporating traditional elements.
“I expect amazing music played for a full house of wildly entertained patrons,’ he says of this weekend’s gig.
The performance will feature Kenya’s top electronic music DJs Suraj.
Suraj is a highly sought-after DJ and producer who creates contemporary electronic music infused with traditional rhythms.
Originally from Kisumu, Suraj Mandavia started out playing the classical South Asian drums tabla and then embraced R & B and hip-hop and eventually became a DJ.
In August he released “Wawere” a combination of lyrics in Dholuo and modern electronic music production and samples.
He also released a compilation featuring two songs by the group Sarabi and set up MIDI Minds, a music production outfit in Nairobi.
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Big fan base
Suraj has earned a big fan base among electronic music lovers with his shows at top events like Blankets and Wine and the July edition of Koroga Festival.
Suraj also played alongside the world renowned Grammy Award winning DJ Diplo during his Nairobi show in April this year.
During his first visit to Kenya in 2016, Lebrave very impressed by the quality of DJs.
“I witnessed Suraj behind the decks on several occasions and truly appreciated his range, cleverly adapting his style to the time and venue without ever letting go of his distinct personality,” he wrote on his blog.
Suraj created a mix called “Tribute to the East” exclusively for Akwaaba records in November 2016.
During their stay in Nairobi this week, Lebrave and Gafacci have been holding a music production and DJ workshop for their Kenyan counterparts.