Marcus Ezra - The Road Less Traveled…
I grew up in a time not at all like that of the younger generation we have today. I grew up in the age of dial up internet, CDs and FM radio. It was a time when 2 or at the very most 3 radio stations existed, a time when top 40 Hiphop & Rnb solely ruled the airwaves. There was no ‘Edm’, no vibrant club culture, sponsored events & festivals or producer/Dj collectives. Not an inkling of a future for a dance music scene in Kenya, or even greater East Africa.
I remember hearing the very first dance tunes trickling on to local radio in the mid-90s; even though at the time nobody had a clue as to what it was and that it would eventually be known as House music; the music that would 10 years later go on to dominate pop music. House consisted of a heavy 4/4 kick drum, huge piano chords, deep bass lines and the quintessential afro power vocals. Even the drive time shows on KBC (probably THE only radio station at the time) pumped out the likes of Jamie Principle, Robin S, Inner City, The Nightcrawlers & David Morales to name just a few. This was probably the first time I was exposed to house music.
No doubt the generation who were at the club going age as the late 80s went into the 90s, experienced the best of the short lived House boom that made its way down onto the radio and few nightclubs such as the infamous New Florida & Carnivore.
New Florida Nightclub in the heart of Nairobi circa 1990
One of the first House singles to take the sound to the top of the radio charts.
Another prolific tune that came later in the 90s and still continues being remixed till date
I recently bumped into a Kenyan of Asian descent who’d just moved back to Kenya after almost 15 years in the U.K. He happened to be quite well acquainted with the club scene in Europe. As we chatted, he was utterly surprised & became increasingly inquisitive when I told him of my adventures in music and the kind that I wrote. “How is this even possible?” he asked and “didn’t you feel alienated to be listening let alone writing styles of music that were pretty much nonexistent here where you were growing up?”
As the East – West Rap wars of 1994-1996 ensued, Rap music took center stage. Hip Hop went on to influence a great number of the youth and create its own little sub culture that was to remain the current de-facto sound amongst youth of inner city Nairobi for a while to come. I guess the idea that the choice of a particular musical genre is driven mostly by our social identity and need to fit in to it, for the most part is true - and that’s just what I did…conformed…until 1997 when I heard this…
Chicane’s ‘Offshore’ came on the afternoon drive time radio show. From the first listen, I was enchanted with electronic music all over again. Dance music had matured and squarely made is place in the global music industry with pop superstars the likes of Madonna, Bryan Adams, Tom Jones etc doing entire albums rich in electronic tones (Madonna – Ray of Light).
As we went into the early 2000’s, we now had local FM music stations with musically well-versed DJs who were playing different styles of music. House music started slowly re-emerging. Local radio stations such as Citizen, Nation FM & Capital FM had shows specifically playing all styles of Dance music. One of note was the Dance express on Nation FM that aired on Sunday nights with James Mwai - which went on to spawn its own monthly exclusive events at Black Cotton – a club located in Karen – one of Nairobi’s Suburbs.
Rui Di Silva’s ‘Touch Me’ A tune synonymous with this period
Sooner or later I began exploring deeper as to what else was out there and to my surprise found there existed a rich underground electronic scene with a wealth of musical genres from deeper styles of House to Techno, Trance & Drum and Bass. By 2002, it was clear what kind of music I was sticking with and further to that what kind I wanted to explore creating.
My own take on the old house sound
Propelled by technology and the ease with which you can create sounds today, globally we now have a wealth of artists creating and experimenting with different styles and sub genres of electronic dance music. All in all this is a fantastic thing and can only go towards developing artists and a platform for them to grow, especially locally. I however will still miss the early days – when there was no internet, no software…just an old dusty studio filled with drum machines, samplers and Technics turntables, when people went out to the club to hear records because only the Dj played them – THAT was the golden age of dance music.