There is a surge of alternative music in Kenya with a host of artists who are championing an eclectic mix of electronic, folk, rock, and house music. What was not long ago considered underground music is now very much in the mainstream. The online streaming platform Soundcloud is the preferred medium for such musicians and producers to share their music directly to a growing fan base.
One of the most exciting performers at the forefront of this burgeoning movement on Nairobi live music circuit scene is Tetu Shani.
“Many artists got frustrated by lack of opportunities on radio and events and a whole alternative movement began with performances at venues like Alchemist in Westlands,” he says. What is now known as Nu-Nairobi is not so much a genre as it is a mindset based on collaboration, authenticity and collectivism.
“We partner as a collective of musicians, producers and other creatives like photographers and designers and therefore the quality content is superior,” says Tetu. Authenticity means the artists express themselves musically without bothering about current trends or fads.
According to Tetu, his audience is primarily aged between and 18 and 21, college or university educated and socially conscious. “Oh, I also tend to have more women in the crowd at my shows,” he adds. Known for his acoustic guitar sound and mellow folksy voice, Tetu Shani has been thrilling fans at various venues in the city in the last five years.
He started as a session singer in 2011 and four years later his career shifted when he privately met the South African jazz guitarist Jonathan Butler during the 2015 Safaricom International Jazz Festival. This meeting with one of his idols was the inspiration to start composing and arranging his own material. “Meeting Butler acted as a catalyst and in six months, I had written over 30 songs,” he says.
Concerts and clubs
One of his first projects was Sleepless In Nairobi, an acoustic jam recorded with German guitarist Moritz Regentag. His latest single Samalina has grown into a huge anthem at concerts and clubs thanks to its catchy danceable groove that combines folksy singing accompanied by the acoustic guitar and a heavy house music beat. In April this year, the song won Silver Medal for outstanding achievement at the Global Music Awards.
Jacaranda Tree is a chilled out song featuring a few rap lines about the regrets of misplaced priorities in life. Other songs like City Lightand “Round and Round have become a staple of Tetu’s lives shows especially because he makes the performance highly engaging with the crowd.
“I am able to perform at intimate gigs with a small audience and at larger events such as Blankets and Wine and other festivals,” he says. Recently, Tetu run an online competition for producers to remix the song Chemistry, his duet with female singer Mayonde. That challenge resulted in classical, House and a host of other reworkings of the song that are all available on the artist’s Soundcloud page.
These songs have been released on the E.P “As we Drift” while a set of brand new songs will be on his debut album Strangers and Nomadsdue early next year. “All songs on the album are interconnected into a cohesive story and not merely throwing together various singles,” says Tetu.
This son of a diplomat grew up in Zambia, Mauritania, Senegal and Canada and the US before returning to Kenya in 2010. These global influences all shaped the sound of the artist who calls himself the “African Troubadour” after the musicians and poets who wander through Europe singing about life and love.
He describes his music as “Chakuti” a blend of Folk music, Chakacha from the Coast and the Western Kenyan Isikuti music. He was among the artistes on the East Africa Soul Train, a musical residency that travelled by train from Nairobi to Mombasa for 22 hours.