We are half way through the year and I swear to you that I wouldn’t have been sane or working had it not been for the music. Don’t know about you but music is making these Covid-19 times a little bearable! Music continues to feed me and give me more reason to wake up in the morning. Kenyan artists have been prolific too. I am starting my reviews of the year early, with Kenyan EPs released in 2020 – so far. I will be updating this list as we go on.
As always, enjoy! Rem to play and spotlight Kenyan music. I also created 2 Playlists (work in progress) featuring all my favourite songs off 2020 Kenyan Albums, EPs & Mixtapes:
My lists come in no particular order:
1. My Way – Wendy Kay
Wendy Kay, formerly known as Wendy Kemunto, is a really cool act. Her 4-track EP: My Way is a perfect debut because it represents her artistry fully, cutting across Afro House, Kapuka and R&B genres. The EP’s title track, “My Way” is a smooth yet powerful ballad in which Wendy attests to her will to move forward, irrespective of any challenges thrown her way. She says that the song is “about finding one’s own rhythm through grit, determination and sacrifice.” The Afro House – laced “Mama Papa’’ to me, is a perfect dedication to parent/s or caregivers. Where would we really be without them? I love that it’s also a great Tango song, so you can grab your dancing shoes! Wendy says that the song highlights the hustles a young African promising millennial goes through to achieve success while still providing for their parents. Because I am sucker for R&B and love songs, my EP favourite is “Samahani” feat. Rigga. It’s a heartbreak song though. In “Stori Ni Gani” Wendy takes us back to Kapuka – Kenya’s popular genre from the 2000’s music era, complete with a sample of E-Sir’s “Leo Ni Leo”. This is indeed classic and a party banger! I call Wendy a chameleone artist because her sweet demeanour can fool you to think she’s not diverse enough or a power vocalist. I have experienced her power, especially from Coke Studio Africa, where we both worked. She sang back up vocals for Coke Studio stars for two seasons. Even while there, she surprised the audience and colleagues, especially when she was called upon as spotlight artist on one of the episodes. With Wendy’s vocal skills, writing prowess and electric performances there’s no stopping her! Can’t wait for her first album.
Link to MY WAY
2. Qwarantunes – Bensoul
Songs off the 4-tracked Qwarantunes EP are definitely inspired by and themed around this Quarantine period, but interestingly superseding Covid-19 period. For instance, “Forget You” can either be a dedication to those who we can’t connect with because of travel and safety restrictions or those who we actually lost due to Covid-19. It could also be a funeral song. I definitely see it transcending this period and being part of other life happenings. It makes me sad …. However, it’s a really dope record. In “No Kisses”, Bensoul correlates the absence of a lover due to a broken relationship to how social distancing is affecting relationships – brilliant! “Salama” is literally touching on the anguish of being subjected to the curfew or lockdown, especially for those who depend on their daily hustle or survive from hand to mouth, per se. The word “Peddi” is from peddler and in this case Bensoul is his lover’s peddler during the lockdown. He’s offering more just a good puff and good time – but the best! And in this case the best drug is love. This is Bensoul at one of his highest moments, no pun intended. “Peddi” is my favourite song off the EP. I just love how Bensoul writes! What’s not to love about Bensoul? From his persona, voice, straight to stage performance and songwriting – the dude is a genius! Can’t wait for Bensoul’s album, Sol Gen come through!
Link to QUARANTUNES
3. Shift Happens – Emma Cheruto
Emma Cheruto is a singer-songwriter, composer and director. Her debut 8-track EP: Shift Happens is jazzy and super soulful. “Nice Car” is defiant and the story of a girl in blind love. She will follow her lover, no matter where he goes because she is not just into his nice car, but his fancy shoes and clothes, and pretty much his whole demeanour. “Switch” feat. Vallerie Muthoni is reminiscent of the feeling of being smitten while “Get Up” is super soulful—Christina Aguilera would dig this. Both are bouncy and replay material. Cheruto described the EP as a representation of the inescapable cycle of love, “The flow of the songs express the passionate highs of meeting and falling in love with someone. Jazzy “Circles” touches on “the dilemmas of toxicity and the devastating lows of loss and finding yourself.” With that perspective, “Look What You Did” is a story of a relationship’s lowest point. It’s the break down of a heartbreak.”Mood” is my favourite off the EP. It’s got that right mix of soul, R&B and sass plus I just love when a woman in confident in her own self. You go girl! Can’t wait to hear Cheruto’s full album because now she’s got me in the mood. What an old soul for a 23 year-old! If you love soul and blues then Cheruto’s EP is for you.
4. Speak – Bupe
Gospel rapper Bupe terms Speak as a musical journey depicting authentic conversations with God and a glimpse of what his faith journey has been like. The EP tells stories of doubt, desperation, renewed hope and joy. “Back Home” feat. Elandre is a reflection of this. The EP title track “Speak” sounds like a very personal story. Bupe said upon releasing this EP, “I have learned the importance of having genuine moments with God and I have had moments so real, I simply had to embrace silence and allow God to speak.” And this is what resulted to Speak EP. Just like “I Pray” suggests, it’s a prayer against all evil that might prevail and yet again a conversation with God. This is my favourite song off the EP because I believe in personal prayer. It actually calms me down to know that there’s that one conversation that I can only share with God and it doesn’t have to be in any format because He sees through my genuine heart. I like that “Holy Ghost” feat. Taz is upbeat yet bouncy and still got those African elements like horn. Speak might not be your typical Hip-Hop record but if you care for gospel music, give it a shot.
Link to SPEAK
5. Honey – Wanja Wohoro
I love Wanja Wohoro. She’s definitely one of Kenya’s most unique singers! Honey EP is a 2-track collaboration between Wanja and EA Wave. Just like the title of the tracks suggest, both “Honey Bee” and “Honeydew” give a feeling of sweet honey that you wanna take down with everything or anything. They are both feel-good R&B and Future Bass sounds, perfectly showcasing the production of EA Wave and Wohoro’s sweet voice. In EA Wave’s own words, “Wanja is a long term friend of the Wave. She infects each lyric and melody with a playful bliss, earned from folksy roots, and wrapped in her warm husky voice.
You might also wanna check a review of Wohoro’s Matriarch Album here
6. Social Xperiment – Xtatic
The concept of Xtatic’s SoXial Xperiment Mixtape is covers of released songs or those that “took too long to be released”, Xtatic revealed, branding them as “songs with interesting sounds and twists”. Most of songs in the 9-track Mixtape are stripped down. I think only 3 songs are upbeat: her verse from Khali Cartel 2 Freestyle, a version of “Not Today” off her 2019 Tatu EP feat. Mix Master Lenny and “No Trouble”. “Usibadilike” feat. Bensoul is smooth, groovy and soulful. It’s my favourite track in the Mixtape. The content and style of “Composure” is vulnerable yet bold. The track samples the melody of 2 Pac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” with Fancy Fingers (Sauti Sol Guitarist) at his best impression of the classic. “Here We Go Again (HWGA)” and “Moment” are replay material. The latter embodies simple moments we cherish in life, sometimes it’s a simple as sharing a joint or a bonfire. “B.S. Cover” feat. Xenia Manasseh is all about truth telling, to the lover who isn’t acting right. Really loved the Mixtape’s feel because it’s not just Hip-Hop but we get to hear Xtatic sing and expose her vulnerability. Xtatic chose to have her mother on the cover because “she’s a damn motivation and represents ‘never impossible’ for me,” she wrote in honour of her late mother.
You might wanna check a review of Xtatic’s Tatu EP here
7. Change – Steph
Change EP is Steph’s debut EP. The 7-track project features a lineup of underground Kenyan producers, including Topher, Lil Ramsy, By Üzrr, Kev Beatz and Wa$hira, as well as rappers from Nairobi and the UK. In it, she incorporates sounds from her Kenyan, British and Mauritian background, making the EP serve as a good introduction as to who she is or better yet what her musical inspirations are about. My favourite EP songs are “For EA Girls” feat. Touri$t & Uzrr, “Nairobi” and “Marathon” feat. BV Accurate & Lil Ram$y. I like her flow all through and through. Change is a great blend of genres, cutting across Neosoul, Grime and Hip-Hop, with a unique style that delivers on clever punchlines – in her own words: “serving listeners a balance between her laid back island life and hyped up city background.” The coming of Change took three years in making and Steph noted that she hoped this will prove to her supporters that it was all worth the wait. I think it proves also that Kenya has so many dope femcees, set for the global stage. Power to you!
Next blog will be a review of Kenyan albums released in 2020 – so far!