Artiste brings electronic music to Nairobi

Senegalese artiste, singer, DJ and producer Stephen Bassene, popularly known as Ibaaku. PHOTO | COURTESY
Senegalese artiste, singer, DJ and producer Stephen Bassene, popularly known as Ibaaku. PHOTO | COURTESY 

His lanky figure, outrageous hairdo and fashion sense is every bit as the eccentric as the music he produces.

Senegalese artiste, singer, DJ and producer Stephen Bassene, popularly known as Ibaaku, is bringing his unique brand of electronic music to Nairobi next week.

This is the first African tour for the artiste who has popularised electronic music in Senegal and is now reaching out to collaborate with like-minded artists in seven countries, including Kenya.

The tour is a platform to introduce his debut album “Alien cartoon” to fans in different parts of Africa to and to transfer skills related to the development of the electronic music scene.

“I’m so thrilled to be on my first African tour,” he posted on Facebook. “This is a dream come true,’’ he says.

Once viewed as an exotic, alternative sound, electronic music is rapidly gaining popularity in Africa and being embraced among mainstream urban music genres.

Born in Dakar, but a native of the region of Casamance, Ibaaku was trained at an early age on piano and clarinet and grew up surrounded by his father’s jazz records and books on African-American culture.

Since starting his career in Dakar at the end of the 1990s, Ibaaku has navigated between different genres, from hip-hop, soul, jazz, to electronic and House music.

He has produced records for many Senegalese artists and released two albums with the group I-Science. He describes his music as “Afro-hypnotique experimental” even though it is often tagged as “Afro-futurism” the cutting edge fusion of contemporary electronic sounds with traditional rhythms.

He collaborates regularly with fashion designers, visual artists and videographers.

In fact, the music for his album “Alien Cartoon” was born out of his 2016 collaboration with the Senegalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane conceived as the soundtrack for an avant-garde show in Dakar.

The show depicted an African city overrun by aliens with Ibaaku’s sound providing the ambience to the fantasy attack.

It is an 11-track album packed with electronic beats, distortions and samples, interspersed with African rhythms on songs like “Djula Dance” “Discuting Food” “Mouches Symphony” and “IIwaa”.

The music was inspired by the noisy area of Dakar in which Ibaaku resides. He created harmony from the cacophony of nearby factories, auto mechanics and the weekly market in his neighbourhood.

There is an infusion of odd sounds, swarms of insects and earthy voices into the production.

The album was released independently via Soundcloud and eventually by the Ghanaian label Akwaaba Music. BBC music reviewer Rita Ray described “Alien Cartoon” as a space where ‘Senegalese rhythms and instruments are digitally warped and distressed into an evocative Afro-futuristic soundscape’.

Ibaaku is on a 40 day tour across Africa capturing moments, sounds, collaborations and performances, that will the subject of an audio visual documentary on the theme” “How digital culture supports the African music electronic music scene.”

Through the workshops with other creative minds, he hopes to pick up fresh ideas, particularly in cities where electronic music is already well developed.

He also intends to collaborate with other artists on the continent and contribute his energy to the West African electronic scene where the music is still marginal.

Ibaaku is accompanied on the tour by a film crew that is producing a documentary of the performances and his interactions with other artistes.

The Nairobi workshop with artistes and producers takes place at the Alliance Francaise from May 21 ahead of a performance at the same venue on May 23. This is the Kenyan leg of a tour that started at the beginning of May in Guinea, Senegal and Ethiopia.

After Kenya, Ibaaku heads to the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland, and then Kigali, Rwanda before rounding off the tour in Johannesburg, South Africa during the first week of June.