Hailing from Kenya, a burgeoning creative hub, electronic music artist Blinky Bill has been making a name for himself for a while now. From band member to solo standout, Blinky Bill should be on everyone’s radar.
Words: Tshiamo Seape
Blinky Bill began his career as part of the pioneering Nairobi outfit Just A Band. An overmodest moniker that didn’t immediately hint at the groups larger ambitions Bill, along with his bandmates no doubt made an indelible mark on the East African music scene. Blending jazz, hip-hop, funk and electronica, pinning the group down to a specific sound was hard to do, but one aspect of their identity that was easily defined was always their experimentation and self-actualisation. Handling almost every aspect of their artistry from recording to design of their promotional material Just A Man embodied the modern DIY artists.
Carrying on this philosophy, Bill is a and instrumentalist, producer DJ, and TED Fellow. However, he literally follows the beat of his own drum – constantly and diligently sampling countless sounds to create the amalgam of beats that make up this exciting artist’s repertoire. While we wait for what is certain to be a solid body release, get to know the life and times of one of the continents most promising artists, Blinky Bill.
Hello, Bill. I wanted to start all the way at the beginning, so take us through the earliest days of your career- with whom and when did you first start playing?
My mom used to play the guitar actually, then I took it up when I completed high school and had a lot of free time and didn’t really know what to do with myself. The more known association is with Just A Band.
Who were your inspirations for getting into music?
I have so many inspirations, and they change a lot and often. The ones that have been constant are Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk, Kanye, Hugh Masekela, Richard Bona, Imogen Heap, Missy, Pharrell and Bob Marley. I listen very widely so I’m always discovering new sounds and potential influences. Currently, I’m feeling Blue Lab Beats, Sons of Kemet, Goldlink and so many more.
You’ve proven that being a musician is more than just entertainment, it’s also about inspiring and imparting knowledge. How did you get involved with TED and where is the partnership going in the future?
It’s been a great partnership with them, was selected as a Fellow in 2014 and continue to work with them till now.
How did you form Just A Band?
We have disgruntled college students who wanted to be artists but didn’t know how to go about it, and the three of us at the time were studying courses that we really didn’t care about. We’d meet up after classes and just jam and talk about movies and art that we liked and it became the breeding ground for so many of the ideas that would be the hallmark of our work both as a collective and as solo artists.
You’re clearly a talented solo artist, so what was the impetus for creating a group project? What did Just A Band offer, at least initially, that being solo did not?
We needed each other at that point because the odds were heavily stacked against us and it would have been very hard to exist as solo experimental artists and we were our support system. I believe that we continue to have the courage to do what we currently do because of the freedom and support that we afforded each other during the formative days of JAB.
Being such seminal figures in Kenyan music comes with a lot of responsibility and no doubt comparisons. Where there ever any unfair comparisons or misunderstandings with what you and the group were trying to accomplish?
For the most part, a recurring critique was that it’s not Kenyan enough, but that doesn’t really hold water because there needs to be space for artists to create things that they want to see exist, whether it references what has existed before or charts new frontiers.
sometimes to find yourself you may have to pick the best attributes from somewhere else that represent the best of what you want to be up until that point when you discover what makes you unique and then you forge on.
You’ve previously spoken about African music’s influence on pop culture and Western music’s influence on African, specifically Kenyan music.
- Looking at the Kenyan scene with reference to emerging artists, where are the musicians, artists etc. taking their cues from and where have you seen Kenyan influence most prominently.
Kenya is one of the countries in Africa that has many different sounds and no particular one at the same time. Something I’ve noticed is that we have a very open ground for different influences to take root, sometimes even at the expense of our own, what’s could be an interesting take on it is that sometimes to find yourself you may have to pick the best attributes from somewhere else that represent the best of what you want to be up until that point when you discover what makes you unique and then you forge on.
You’ve stated that Kenya is in the midst of “the most interesting art phase in all of Africa”. What makes you believe this so strongly and what is the most rewarding aspect of being part of this scene?
Ha, I could be wrong, but I really believe it is, because its young and vibrant and very aware of what’s going on around the world while finding itself and coming up with very progressive work so the likes of Wanuri, Lupita, Osborne, Mbithi Masya, Cyrus Kabiru and so many others have been feted on the world stages and the younger artists are seeing this and their work is also getting better by the day.
Osborne Macharia – one of our favourites visual storytellers – has become synonymous with the Kenyan creative renaissance. Why do you think people resonate so much with his work and how did your paths cross?
Because he takes imagery that we are familiar with and reinterprets it to create very bold and forward-thinking ways.
What can we expect from your next album project? Are there any surprise collabs we can look forward to?
Ah yeah, my new album “Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales’ comes out this year, it’s my favourite project I’ve worked on yet and I really can’t wait to share it with everyone. There are some awesome collabs in there but I don’t want to let the cat of the bag too early, just stay tuned!
Speaking of collaborations, you’ve made work with Sibot and Aero Manyelo in the past and I wanted to know what about the South African music scene most intrigues you?
I remember sharing with some friends that I love how South Africans love music and it’s very evident when I visit there. There are some acts that I would love to work with no doubt and I consider it a second home… I played at CTIJF with Sibot and it was an amazing experience, and Aero is a long time collaborator whose sound I really like
What are your ambitions for the rest of 2018 and beyond?
I really wanna have a good run with the new project, work on some groundbreaking videos and continue to travel the world playing music and bringing some acts from back home with me.