Tag Archives: EA Wave

The New Sound of Electronic Music in East Africa

In the late 1940s, Nairobi, Kenya was the music mecca of East Africa. It was born from the sparks that flew from its native people fighting back against British rule, culminating in the Mau Mau Rebellion of 1952. As the country got closer to sovereignty, the music got louder and more abundant. Artists like Fundi Konde, Daniel Katuga, George Mukabi, and Paul Mazera Mwachupa recorded for major record labels like His Master’s Voice (HMV) and Capital Music Stores (CMS). Dozens of small independent record labels cropped up across the city and musicians from central and east Africa traveled to Nairobi’s new recording studios in the hopes of recording a hit single. On December 12, 1963, Kenya declared its independence and by 1965, it was estimated that at least 1,000 new recordings were published monthly. Then came the crash: By the late ‘70s, loud sound systems and DJs had begun replacing live bands. Hip-hop took over. Cassette tapes became the popular format, making it easier to duplicate albums. Bootleggers began slinging pirated records, and the music industry couldn’t compete. By the early ‘80s, international record labels like CBS Records, EMI, and Polygram left the continent. And while rap acts like Kalamashaka (aka K-Shaka) and Ukoo Flani Mau Mau attracted sizable fanbases, the rest of the industry struggled.

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The New Wave of East African Sound

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Nu Fvunk of East African Wave

“I hate when someone tells me I don’t sound African,” says Ukweli, the youngest member of East African Wave—or EA Wave for short. “What am I supposed to do, put Conga drums on all of my tracks? My music is African by virtue of me being African.”

The 21-year-old is one-fifth of EA Wave—a group of five DJs and music producers who, over the last couple of years, have created a small scene in Nairobi around their style of electronic music: an amalgamation of trap, house, trip-hop, and downtempo beats.

The busy capital city—where the boys grew up—is the economic hub of East Africa, attracting musicians from all over the region. Every night, the lively downtown bars move to the syncopated melodies of benga, the Cuban son-influenced rhythms of rhumba, and fast-paced soukous. Still, the airwaves are dominated by highly commercial, western-influenced R&B, Jamaican dancehall, and Nigerian Afrobeat.

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