Remember the 1990s? The music was lively and energetic; we played our music on vinyl and cassette tapes; the fashion was buggy and going out to a club was known as going to the “heng”.
“The Heng” is a concert, now in its third edition, that celebrates 90s culture with performances from an array of performers each reimagining their favourite songs from the era.
“The Heng is a unique night where everything from the 1990s comes to life. Remember the music, the dressing, the hair and even the choreography,” says June Gachui, the show’s creator.
“This time the catalogue is bigger than previous editions and more exciting,” says Bobo of the Art in Motion, a trio of dancers who have choreographed the routines for the concert that takes place at the Waterfront, Karen on September 24.
Even though he was born at the start of the 1990s, Bobo says the majority of the dance steps he has learned in his career are from the era.
“The technique of the dancing was sophisticated, unlike today when all you have to do is pull a dance move and you are popping.”
The dancers have their sequence for the concert and are also working with the singers to create routines for their songs.
“The rehearsals for this event are crazy because we work on our set and the choreography of the other artists,” he says.
“The music of the 1990s makes you sweat,” he adds. “Even the music that is being produced today samples a lot more from that era.
Veteran DJ Pinye, who is the official DJ for the Heng, agrees with the timeless quality of 90s music pointing out that Beyonce’s new album Renaissance is an ode to 1990s house and disco music from artists like Robin S.
“To be honest I didn’t think I would still be relevant 30 years after I started my career but there is demand for music from this era and people are loving the energy,” he says.
He has been attending the rehearsal sessions for the concert, exchanging ideas with the artists, and sharing his own experiences.
“It is a bittersweet experience watching them perform,” says Pinye. “We have very serious vocalists in Kenya and I only wish I was watching them sing their songs:” he says.
One of the stellar vocalists is Noel Nderitu who says this is the first time that the show is taking place since the restrictions on crowds imposed due to the pandemic were lifted.
“People have the freedom to express themselves and what better way than to evoke the power of nostalgia,” he says.
“I love this show because this is the music we grew up with as fans but now as performers, we experience the intricacies of making the music,” says Nderitu. He is performing his favourites from 90s smooth R&B vocalists like Jon B and Donnell Jones to the Kenyan urban stars of that era including Mr Googz and Vinnie Banton.
Gospel artist Joy “Jojo” Ocholla who is appearing for the first time at The Heng, performing a gospel set says this is a learning experience of music from a different era. “I grew up around gospel music but I still love Aaliyah, Beyonce whom I listened to in school, Faith Evans, Mary Mary, and Cece Winans,” says the 26-year-old.
Elsaphan Njora who is also a stage actor, and spoken word artist is thrilled about his set which is a Kenyan urban music medley, and a reggae lovers rock throwback that includes Peter Andre and Sean Paul.
“This experience has given me a newfound respect for artists,” he says. “While we used to just vibe to the music, mumbling the lyrics waiting for the chorus, now we appreciate the skill and talent.”
“June Gachui throws you into the deep end, but she knows you can swim. The industry grows when we have someone like her who has been in the industry for more than 20 years taking risks on a group of artists in an event.”
Singer and guitarist Benjamin Webi says the lineup of performers is among the best that is available in the Kenyan music circles. “The artists are experienced, they enjoy a camaraderie and all it takes is just what needs to be done to make the show a success,” he says.
Webi says that he is privileged to perform songs that mean so much to him including Jon B's They Don’t Know, Joe Thomas' All the Things (Your Man Won’t Do), and Where I Wanna Be by Donell Jones.
Concert music director David Hunter promises: “Anyone who attends will be saying ‘this was the party of the year’” Everything that feels good about growing up in the 90s will be alive and in full effect.”