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True Music Studios Nairobi: A Look Back

Kenya has without a doubt one of the most exciting emerging sounds coming out of Africa. More specifically, the drill scene perfectly exemplifies the nation’s rise in music, one that is taking the world by storm and filling clubs from Nairobi all the way to London. We returned with Boiler Room to Nairobi this year for the third edition of the Ballantine’s True Music Studios, focusing on this cutting-edge genre, steeped in international and local heritage, with the aim of unpacking where it’s been, and more importantly, where it’s going.

With influence from the underground scenes of Southside Chicago, Kenyan drill combines youthful exuberance from the Nairobi streets (the likes of Buruklyn Boyz, this year’s collaborator) with heavily charged, high tempo bars and melodious piano riffs from the Windy City. To the international ear though, it is unrecognisable, given its adoption of the Swahili slang (Sheng) that is unique to Kenya. Despite this however, the emphatic Swahili lyrics interspersed with the English lexicon give Kenyan drill a unique flow which is nothing short of infectious.

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Previous TMS have entailed a 10-day intensive festival with the likes of Johannesburg this year, full of creative workshops, a variety of curated sets and several high energy parties from local producers. This edition in Nairobi instead saw the inauguration of a new 3-day format, consisting of a Panel Talk (In Conversation With…), a local Ballantine’s event and the Live Broadcast Party. While Kenya hosted a less extensive TMS, the energy took a different turn; packed full of Kenyan vibes and pure drill energy, the Nairobi Boiler Room TMS did not disappoint.

The first event was the ‘In Conversation with…’, talking about the rise and evolution of Kenyan drill, from its grassroots beginnings in estates in the Nairobian suburbia all the way to its current position on the international stage. A dynamic panel was assembled with some of the local music industry’s leading activists, writers and artists; Kalanzi Kajubi hosted Silverstone Barz, Tela Wangeci and DJ Iche to delve into this vibrant new scene. The Ballantine’s ambition is to amplify underrepresented voices, genres and communities, hence the decision to explore a rarely-had conversation: the role of women and non-binary groups within this movement. While there is still much progress to be made, Kenyan drill, with its starlight bound trajectory, aims to leave no one behind and the value of minority groups within it is invaluable.

This sentiment of giving a platform to sounds that merit shouting about continued in the form of the Ballantine’s Drill Cypher the following day. 20 of Nairobi’s most exciting young rappers and drill artists took to the stage to compete for a cash prize and recognition in front of key figures in the industry. Something has been missing from the bustling Nairobi music scene, a place where emerging artists can come together, show their worth and garner life-changing recognition; this event could provide Kenyan drill with the impetus and attention it needs to get more and more artists into the limelight.

The Ballantine’s TMS culminated in what Boiler Room is famed for: The Live Broadcast Party, a night that can only be described as electric. Buruklyn Boyz were supported along the night by Silverstone Barz, Deejay Otiz, Dyana Cods and Big Yasa, drill’s fearless gladiators, the world over was privy to an evening that exhibited what Nairobian music has to offer. Millions were able to see the first-rate fusion of genres that drill brings to the table, a movement led by driven young individuals and artists that has only one destination: the top.

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