The atmosphere on stage was punctuated by the electronic synthesizer beats, the mild guitar strings, accompanied by the sound of birds chirping in the background. Before long the limelight turned to the three women resplendent in glittering white outfits as their sweet voices filled the chilly night.
This performance last Friday night was the culmination of an experimental project involving Gargar, the all-female trio from Garissa, with French DJ and producer Kasbah and Kenyan guitarist Eddie Grey.
The project combined Somali melodies with cutting-edge electronic music sounds, synthesizers and guitar. Before the concert Kasbah travelled to Lake Naivasha to record the natural sounds of birds at the Sanctuary Farm.
Kasbah, whose real name is Nadir Moussa is a son of Algerian immigrants who comes from Saint-Denis, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, and travels around the world seeking collaborations that create a fusion between traditional rhythms and electronic music.
“I want to discover my own Arabic culture and Middle Eastern related cultures,” says Kasbah.
“Secondly, the rhythms, from Africa, South America, and Asia provide very interesting fusion with electronic beats, while retaining the melodies, emotions, and feelings in the original music.”
This was Kasbah’s first trip to Kenya, having already worked with musicians in Senegal, DR Congo, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and across several European countries, like Portugal, Spain, and France. His most recent collaboration was with traditional musicians in the Caribbean Island of Martinique.
The idea for the performance and recording project with Gargar came through an invitation by the Nairobi production house, Ketebul Music and Alliance Francaise, Nairobi.
“When I first heard the songs on Garissa Express album by Gargar, I was struck by the similarities with songs from Northern Africa,” says Kasbah.
He arrived in Nairobi at the beginning of last week and immediately set about working at the Ketebul studios with the singers and guitarist Eddie Grey.
“We began a fresh session on the Logic software on my computer and synthesizers on the day I arrived,” says Kasbah. “I met Eddie in the morning and the ladies in the afternoon and we began working under tremendous pressure.”
“I just said to Eddie ‘have fun’ do what you want, whether you want to play funk, jazz, or rock, guitar, as long as everyone is relaxed and we can have fun. Eddie likes rock guitar so he added a fresh attitude to the guitar sound on each song.”
They curated a 45-minute show within three days of working in the studio for 10 hours each day.
Kasbah explains that he opts to use house music which has a softer base, ideal for fusion with traditional rhythms, unlike techno and acid music which have a rougher edge that can distract from the vocals.
“This project retains the authenticity of the original music with singing and guitar because our goal is not to create a remix of the songs but to produce an electronic interpretation of the songs from Garissa Express album.”
The musicians picked the top five songs that Gargar has recorded beginning with “AIDS Wadillah which was the top hit on the Garissa Express album, used the original vocals but completely changed the melodies, the scales, and the keys by introducing a new twist.
“We jammed in the studio with the improvisation of the guitars and my synthesizer, drum box, and then created a fresh arrangement using the original vocals from the songs,” explains Kasbah.
During an interview on the day after the show, he said he was still pinching himself at the thought of what the group had just pulled off.
“I am still thinking ‘how did we do that?’ it was absolute magic,” he said.
“The ladies rocked on stage and were very tight, perfect vocals and were ready to improvise to suit the moment,” says Kasbah.
“Within five minutes of the show, the crowd was on their feet dancing and enjoying the music.”
The next phase of the project is the production of an EP containing the five songs that the artists performed at the concert. They will showcase the music with a performance at the Indian Ocean Music Market (IOMMa) in the Reunion Island from October to November and a European tour next year.
Once he returns to France Kasbah will set up production sessions with Gargar and Eddie Grey via the Internet to prepare for the recording of the music. He will return to Kenya in the last quarter of the year to complete the recording of the songs with Ketebul Music and then announce the release date for the EP.