Young, black, and gifted: A portrait of Kenya’s culture curator, Brendern Denousse
Words: Tshiamo Seape
Kenya, or rather Kenyans, are about to make us all obsolete. Everything the east African nation is up to creatively seems to be pushing the envelope in some unexpected way. One of the brightest sparks leading the way forward is the 2o-year-old producer and photographer Brendern Denousse.
That description may sound like a benign identifier (who among us doesn’t know a producer and/or photographer), but Brendern, or as the internet know him, Ukweli, is a cut above the ocean of amateur producers whose ambition does not stretch far beyond the confines of their own bedroom – what I’m trying to say is that he’s good. Good in a “he should get paid for this kind of way”. On his high-key underrated remix of Migos smash hit Band and Bujee Ukweli rides the deep base of the Trap tradition before spicing it up with African inspired drums. On Champagne and Reefer, Ukweli constructs a far more laid back track with a perfectly paired verse by fellow Nairobi native, Kerby.
Ukweli’s sound is varied, but not scattered. He manages to play in the same ballpark without losing the plot. It’s this early mastery of his sound that brought about his biggest accomplishment to date: a Willow Smith and JABS collaboration. After making the track which would later become Get Lost, in the early hours of a restless morning, Ukweli got in touch with JABS and sent her the song – “It’s a really spacey beat and I felt that it had enough room for a vocalist to lay something down.” Fast forward a few weeks and Willow Smith, without his prior knowledge, is a featured artist on a song he produced.
Quite the overachiever, Ukweli is also a gifted photographer and video editor. Taking full control, Ukweli is a master of his creative expression. His photographs are vibrant and striking with his, friends, collaborators and pop culture imagery serving as his muses. A brief tour through his portfolio gives the impression that this is a talent that is well refined despite his young age.
Ukweli is also part of a music collective known as East African Wave. The group share similar sensibilities and it really comes through in their music. In collaboration with artist and Wire Wildcard, Jojo Abot the collective released Mega Kpenu Nao, which translates to “let it shame you not”.
Brender, Ukweli, or 1/5 of EA Wave it doesn’t matter how or where you discover the work of this bright young Kenyan artist, you will be pleasantly surprised. With his versatile style and a crew of like-minded collaborators behind him, the future already belongs to Ukweli.