Evolution of the R&B sound
A crop of artistes in Kenya’s music scene are revolutionising the R&B genre with new fusions to break new grounds locally and internationally, writes ALFAYO ONYANGO
Iconic musicians such as Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Al Green, Luther Vandross are some of the originators of the classic Rhythm and Blues (R&B) sound that has stood the test of time for decades. In an era where radical technological changes within the worldwide music industry are sweeping across the spectrum, this rhythmic genre has also not been left behind by the developments.
Technology has revolutionised arguably everything in life including the music production process. R&B is among the most beloved genres in the pop culture, but has been forced to grow with the times as the digital age comes with its own set of demands. Advancement in music software has enhanced the production process, while social media networking has bridged the gap between different music skills and exploration platforms. The traditional R&B crooned by artistes such as Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, Brandy, TLC and Mario has since been edged out by the quickly transforming art of music shaped by technology.
Renowned Kenyan music producer and engineer Jaaz Odongo intimates that due to the change in music dynamics, adaptation is inevitable.
“In my opinion, there are no rules as far as adapting is concerned. I believe that a hybrid situation would be ideal, but I also think that musicians should not force themselves to fit into a culture they are not comfortable with. At the same time up-and-coming artistes should not shy away from new opportunities that may arise with the new change. You never know where your luck may come from,” he tells Spice.
Sound is now diverse thanks to the digital revolution being experienced today as opposed to times gone by, when music studios were analogue and musicians had to bring in their entire musical set up. Today, making of hybrid sounds is the order of the day. R&B is being merged with other genres including trap, Afro, pop, hip-hop, rap, neo soul, electronic and reggae, besides being fused with music norms such as auto tune, distortion vocals and hyper activation of adlibs. The genre has evolved from just a tonal melodic genre that favours artistes with exceptional vocal abilities, singing hooks and backed by ballad guitars, to one that merges music diversity to create something beautiful.
From locally based Steph Kapela, Karun, Xenia Manasseh, Bey T, Trina Mungai, Kahvinya, Mvroe, Ayoti, Nikita Kering, Steph Mumbi, Lostinsavannah, to foreign-based protagonists such as KayCyy Pluto and Mumbi Kay, Kenyan excellence is covered for a lifetime, with most of them still under 25 years of age. A little grooming here and there might be needed, but the talent in these and other unmentioned artistes is raw and untapped. Many of them have been brought up in the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ modelled class.
“Honestly, I just write from the heart and soul. I draw inspiration from my experiences, things that I observe and my opinion. I see music as the healthiest way to heal and songwriting is part of that process. Putting my thoughts and feelings in writing helps me process them,” says singer Ayoti, who has been tapped to be one of the best songwriters with candid poetic justice in her artistry.
For singer Le Ru, she extends her expertise into the visual and live performance arenas. “When I write my music, I imagine myself in a specific situation, either from my personal experiences, my surroundings in terms of friends, books or shows, because I want to deliver a story. Every character in a story carries a certain attitude and vibe to them, and from that I can put myself in a location that best fits. Having this idea, I can’t help myself, but bring it to life for if I honestly wasn’t doing music, I would definitely be in film, having known that all my life. I’m now learning how to edit and use a camera. So, writing the scripts and creative directing my music videos has definitely been a great outlet for my creativity,’’ she says.
Signed to Kenyan management label Camille and Co, Le Ru went all out early in the year when she released a short film visual Extended Play (EP) titled Hey There. She then curated her own stage design and lighting during her Africa Nouveau live set in March this year, as well as her slated Uganda performance debut at the East Meets West Festival in September. She’s also been featured on one of the biggest records out of 254 this year, Spicy SZN, alongside artistes Vallerie Muthoni and Taio. Le Ru has also been spotted in the studio with Nigerian star YCee.
US-based Kenyan musician Mumbi Kay has an interesting opinion about her music tastes and how it affects her craft as an artiste. “I admire a lot of artistes, but to be honest, I make it a point to stay as close to who I really I am musically as possible. I don’t want to sound like anybody but myself. I’m inspired by an artistes’ journey and story, but I keep the sound import to a minimum. I sing whatever I feel. It’s personal, it’s relatable, it’s original and it’s my vibe,” the singer intimates to Spice.
From the popular bunch such as Karun (named in Forbes 30 under 30 in July, a list that celebrates top 30 creatives under 30 years in Africa), to underrated 21-year-old Kenyan-American R&B singer Mark Mbogo aka KayCyy Pluto, this crop of musicians are scoring big in the international arena. This year, Karun has played in one of the biggest festivals in Africa— Homecoming Festival in Pretoria, South Africa, that also featured other heavyweights such as Cassper Nyovest and Kwesta. KayCyy was spotted in American hip-hop legend Kanye West’s private ranch in Wyoming state as part of a songwriter’s camp whilst being one of the rare features on Roc Nation’s Brooklyn rapper Casanovax2’ album Behind These Scars.
“It’s fair and also not fair that it boxes me in, because I consider myself a versatile artiste. My sound can change in language and genre in a matter of just one song, KayCyy tells Spice.
Kenya’s latest entry in the R&B scene, Mvroe, who dabbles as a record producer, performing and recording artiste, just released his debut album GVRLS that has stellar features in Kenya’s mainstream realm of Blinky Bill, MDQ, Fena Gitu, Sauti Sol and Xenia Manasseh. Mvroe is not a stranger to digital success as his song with Blinky and Kiwango titled Showdown charted as a number one single in Apple Music Kenya just under a year ago.
Signed to Atlanta-based record company Upper Music Group, the multitalented Xenia says it’s a huge responsibility to work with a label that is producing music for the likes of legendary hip-hop acts Wale and Polo G, among a throng of R&B stars.
Faiza Hersi has been promoting the R&B music business in Kenya and has taken note of the happenings and her company, Nairobi R&B, is dedicated to pushing artistes to perform on international-like platforms.
So far, she has showcased the likes of Masego, Kamau, Big Tril and Tay Iwar in Nairobi alone while giving various local stars their chance to shine.