Recording Samburu Music for Posterity

Midi Minds
The Midi Minds producers with a group of Samburu singers. PHOTO | BILL ODIDI | NMG 

The scope for combining traditional rhythms with contemporary electronic production has hardly been explored but a growing number of young artists are exploring the rich value of cultural sounds to create fresh and exciting music.

The latest such production is the outcome of a project that started two years ago when a group of renowned Kenyan electronic music producers travelled up north to Samburu to record the voices of members of the community in their natural habitat.

This group of DJs and producers, Suraj, Dylan S and Foozak together known as Midi Minds travelled to Samburu National Conservancy to record the sounds of a community of Samburu singers for a project called “Sounds of Sasaab”.

Dylan explains that the singing of the Samburu, while similar to that of the Maasai chants, has a slight variation. “Their rhythmic vocal chanting coupled with stomping feet and delicate beads and metal trinkets creates a sonic feeling that is only unique to the Samburu,” says the producer and sound engineer.

The project started two years ago when the group spent four days in Samburu with a mobile studio set up in various locations, including Ngutuk Ongiron Primary School, where a new classroom will be built using the funds raised from the project.


It all started by winning the support of community elders who then played a pivotal role in selecting the singers from among the community. These singers were then split in separate groups of children, women and warriors (Morans).

“The Samburu typically have a lead singer and a group chant so we used the lead singers to record solo vocals while the groups recorded together,” explains Dylan whose has created the song “Lakira” for this project.

How did they overcome the challenge of getting a community that is traditionally accustomed to singing authentically to transfer the same spirit in front of a microphone? A non-intrusive set-up was established using a condenser microphone that captured quality recording without getting in the way of the singers. “After each recording take, we would play back the audio through the headphones or laptop speaker for the singers to hear. This was the first time they had heard themselves on playback, and proved to be quite a special moment,” says Dylan.

“After this, the singers warmed up and graced us with starlike performances in front of the microphone.”

The team travelled back to Nairobi with about one hour worth of raw recordings, the post production involved a lot of noise reduction due to the wind (most of the recordings were done outdoor), basic equalising and cutting some of the samples. It is these sounds that comprise the sample pack ready for distribution to producers around the world.

“We intended to keep the recordings as raw as possible and not conduct any time stretching or warping to retain the natural sound of the vocals,” says Dylan.

Using these audio recordings, a select group of music producers and around the world were given the vocal recordings and samples to make a full-fledged musical production that has been compiled into a complete album

“They all agreed to make a track with the samples that we are releasing through our partner Madorasindahouse, a distribution label that champions Afro House music.” The album is a selection of 19 songs by different producers and artists incorporating the Samburu voices

The launch party for the album takes place at the Alchemist in Westlands tonight featuring DJ-sets that highlight all the music that is featured on the album.

Two international artists whose music is featured on the album “Sounds of Sasaab” will be playing at the launch party in Nairobi. They are Armorica from Italy who has created the track “Samburu” and Xtetiqsoul from South Africa whose production is titled “Ngai”

The recording trip to Samburu also exposed the artists to the most common challenges schools in the area face including lack of classrooms and shortage of trained teachers

Therefore the project aims to raise awareness about some of the challenges facing the Samburu community while championing the cultural beauty of the people.

The funds collected from the launch party and the licensing of samples and the compilation album will go towards building a classroom in the primary school and provide contributions to the teachers fund

The project also includes a two-part documentary that features an in-depth look at the culture of the Samburu community, traces the journey of the artists to the region and the recording and post production of “Sounds of Sasaab”,

The second part will focus on the launch party, the construction of the classroom at Samburu Westgate Conservancy and showcasing the finished production.