What has been a whirlwind three years for The Nairobi Horns Project (NHP) has culminated in the official release of their eagerly anticipated full-length debut album.
The eight-track album titled “Black in Gold”, launched at the beginning of February, is a perfect showcase of the extraordinary ability of the group to fashion a sound that is global with many ingredients of authentic Kenyan/African music from traditional rhythms to the Afropop styles like benga and rumba.
“The album is about the privilege of growing up, living and interacting with the rich heritage of sounds and rhythms that represent our culture,” explains Mackinlay Mutsembi, the band-leader.
The songs are an exciting mix of funky grooves with the distinct interplay of horns, with guitar and percussions that lends a groovy upbeat rhythm to the music. “We hope that this album can capture the musical streets we stroll on, a path that was paved by the African musical greats that came before us.” The band’s only previous release was a four song EP “Kipepeo” in 2017 when they were selected to perform at the Safaricom International jazz Festival.
Last year, they played at the world renowned Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg sharing the stage with greats like the late Zimbabwean icon Oliver Mtukudzi and multiple grammy award winning US saxophonist David Sanborn.
Fronted by Mackinlay on horns and trumpet, the principal members of NHP are Victor Kinama on horns and trombone and Mokua Rabai on horns and saxophone.
The band also performs with a rhythm section of percussionist Kassiva Mutua, bassist Moise Basinza, guitarist Jack Muguna, George Nyoro on keyboards and Amani Baya on drums. The band-leader who composed all but two songs on the album explains that he didn’t write the music consciously searching for a particular sound but at the end of the creative process, the overall style has a distinct thread connecting all the songs. “In this case, when you listen to everything you have written then you realise there is some underlying sound all through that organically comes into play.”
Among the stand out tracks is “Furaha”, “Let’s Get Away” that both have a very smooth feel and a killer interplay of the different horns while “Muguna Muguna” (a play on the name of the band’s guitarist) is a foot stomping track relying heavily on the guitar grooves.
“Some of these elements are added in post production, especially on “Muguna” and “Let’s Get Away”,” explains Mackinlay. “Even the band gets surprised when they hear the final product.”
A song that will no doubt resonate with many listeners is “Mukoye” a sweet improvisation of the shoulder shaking dance rhythms from Western Kenya. The song is enhanced with horns, saxophone, and flavored with humorous adlibs by the group. “I played solo to Luhya tunes in the brass band in church so what I write in the first part of the song is a reflection of my heritage,” says Mackinlay. The song has proved to be a crowd favorite whenever the band performs it during their shows.
As the title suggests “Rhumba Nostalgia” starts with a slow, easy dancing groove and in typical rumba fashion, the tempo ascends to the climax (sebene). “Rumba is the sound we grew up on and we wanted to use the trombone as a human voice. I think Victor pulls it off in a great style,” says Mackinlay.
“Muthurwa Express” is a bright, upbeat piece that was first written by Mackinlay in 2012 while he was on tour in Europe with the musical stage production “Out Of Africa”. “What we have on the album is very different from the initial melody because NHP added a different flavor to capture the hustle and bustle you would encounter at a bus stage or market like Muthurwa.”
They have been working on the album at the same time as other ongoing projects, notably the “Kenyan Classics Project” where the group is recording their interpretations of the Kenyan urban dance hits of the 1990s and 2000s. “We worked on three quarters of this album in 2017, then shelved it and completed it in 2018,” says Mackinlay.
“Black in Gold” is available on the Mookh digital platform and fans will have a chance to watch NHP perform most of the songs for the first time during the Africa Nouveau Festival in Nairobi on March 10.