This inset picture is of a man who loves to
over use quotation marks like they are going out of style, a comic nerd, and a truly creative spirit. While editing this interview, I honestly thought I was going to loose my mind with the sparodic quoatation marks littered all over. Nevertheless, I made it through the end to discover an artist who adamantly refuses to be boxed into a particular genre and instead chooses to re-invent the wheel, in the name of Mizuka.
Mizuka in short, is a fusion of electronic dance music, RnB, hip-hop and reggae with an African twist. Bamzigi, is a veteran artist in the Kenyan music industry on a passionate mission of educating the masses of an alternative music scene that is so far left to the mainstream, that one can’t help but wonder, why? Is the mainstream so shortsighted that he had to name his movement 3050, to bring to attention to the need of a futuristic sound-that is different? Hmmmmmm…….intrigued? Click on for more juice.
54interviews: Tell us the genesis of your name, Bamzigi-The African Superman
Bamzi: I’ve always been a sucker for comics and animation and super hero’s so I gave myself that name way back when I started in this industry. As in, Bamzigi A.K.A da Afrikan Superman. Thought it was cool and I still do. I actually still wear those nerdy T-shirts and comic book paraphernalia
54interviews: It is just now that you are getting settled in the music industry. You’ve been on a long and arduous journey of successfully fighting drug addiction that saw you taking a break from the music scene. How did this experience impact your life? In particular where music was concerned?
Bamzi: Well drugs affected every part of my life. Musically speaking, I wasn’t on that wave length so to speak. You see that’s what drugs do to you they make you dependant and feel unworthy of anything and for years I didn’t feel creative enough to even step into the studio. I’ts only when in recovery in re-hab that my creative side was awakened and where the idea of fusing all the genres I love together came to me. Actually that’s where #Mizuka was born ( Fusion of electronic dance music with hip hop and other genres )
54interviews: You’ve certainly come a long ways since your heyday as one third of Necessary Noize, to carving your own path as a solo artiste. You are credited for having introduced the Bounce beat to the Kenyan music scene, which has since been abandoned or rather evolved to become Mizuka. First, what happened to the bounce beat? Is it ever going to make a comeback? Secondly, what exactly is Mizuka?
Bamzi: Believe it or not the bounce beat is like the mother of mizuka so to speak. I had just come from a House music rave and had a studio session that morning. I decided why not try something new, so I basically played one drum beat which is the basic house drum beat only at a very low tempo. Mandugu digital and Gichboy did the rest and the song the Bounce was born. That song actually made Kenyan Hip-hop main stream. It was played in every radio station and put in sets alongside international hip hop songs which was unheard of back then because we never came up with anything close to their quality or structure to even think of mixing the two together. Loads of people asked me to do another song using the same formula but am not the kind of artist who keeps on going back I like keeping it fresh. Besides, by then almost everyone had done a song using the “bounce beat and I mean everyone spreading from here all the way to Tanzania.
Like I said before mizuka was an idea that came to me while in recovery in rehab. I wanted to do something that described who I am personally and musically- something unique something no artist in East Africa had done before. I knew of some dj’s who were making Kenyan House Music and wanted to incorporate that in my music somehow since I love house music. So I thought what if I fuse House music Hip Hop, R&B with an African twist to it? That’s how mizuka was born and from there I have never looked back. Released the first mizuka track in 2009 and been doing it since.
A journalist from Germany described “Mizuka” as Kenya’s version of “Kwaito’ and I said I’ll take that so you could say this is our version of EDM ( Electronic Dance Music )
54interviews: At the beginning of your solo artistry career in the early 2000s, you worked very closely with Gichboy who produced your Bounce song, and I believe other works. Do you guys still have a professional relationship? Should we expect to see a collaboration any time soon?
Bamzi: We worked together in 2004. It was fun. We did great things and made good music. We also learnt from each other. He taught me about the southern rap style which was crunk back then, and I showed him my other side which was my love of house music. I introduced him to the house music scene here in Kenya. He saw an opportunity in that scene and started doing events with them as well, which he was very good at, and has done for many years here and in the states. Music production kind of took a back seat for him I think but I know he still has a passion for it. I would love to have a session with him one of these days, maybe in the future you never know.
54interviews: You wear multiple professional hats, ranging from performer, actor, to C.E.O. There is an overlap in these roles, making it easy to switch hats. Has there even been an instance where issues arose due to a conflict of interests in these roles?
Bamzi : Yeah running your own independent label and doing things your way has its price. There are times where there are conflicts but I find ways to overcome them, I have to, am forced to. The industry in Kenya doesn’t really support experimental art be it movies, or music. Granted we are making progress, we are still sticking to a formula that forces the artist to water down there art and make it commercial. So when you have artistic souls like me who refuse to stick to the formula it’s very hard to find people who understand what your trying to do or create so you end up having to do it yourself, not cause you want to but cause no one else gets it. It’s only after in time when they see it and get it, but they problem is by then you have moved on and grown and they have to play catch up. Case in point, the whole Mizuka phase.
54interviews: Currently, you are under the Red Republik Records, where you are working/finishing your Mizuka album? [pardon me if this is not the case, just assuming it is. I stand corrected] When can we expect the album to drop?
Bamzi: I was under Red Republik for only a few months way back in 2009 until I released my first single which I produced myself called Mizuka. It’s only then that I realized I couldn’t stay there not because it was a bad place to work, but we did not share the same vision. I wanted to do Mizuka that futuristic flow thing but they didn’t get that so I went on my own and formed 3050muzik.
I’ve always loved what Red Republik put out. That’s why I went to them in the first place. But, like I mentioned before in my head I was like two steps ahead of everyone else it seemed and no one could see that. It’s funny because you look at what Red Republik and most studio houses are releasing now sounds very close to what I’ve been doing for years, even the videos are looking more like what I call 3050 vision.
Very few people saw this change coming I was just one of the first brave enough to try messing with it, and am proud of that.
54interviews: Mizuka is not only a movement, but it is also an entrepreneurship endeavor. Please elaborate on the business aspect of this movement. Additionally, what do the numbers 3050 represent?
Bamzi: 3050 is basically the year 305 as in the future. We are so far ahead, y’all can’t see us, the futuristic flow. It’s a label and a movement. It’s for those who believe that electronic music is the future. It’s the label under where I do all my music which our first release was “Bachette” and it’s also a movement for those who believe in experimentation with digital and analog sounds as the future. So far it seems we are on the right path since the whole world now seems to have opened up to electronic music and is either experimenting with it, or has switched to the style completely.
54interviews: Being a veteran in the Kenyan music scene, how would you say the industry has changed? Support of local acts is a fairly recent phenomenon, in my opinion. It certainly wasn’t this loving when you first came on to the scene. What would you attribute this change to?
Bamzi: The Kenyan industry is hard. It was actually easier back then because we hadn’t really grown as an industry. We were fewer artistes and even fewer radio and T.V stations then. These days, we have grown and the competition is stiffer which is a good thing in my opinion is. However, the disadvantage is that, as we grow as an industry it becomes more about making money and looking cool. The art is forgotten. We have lowered ourselves into making what I call bubble gum music in order to make a hit or to doing very shady things just to appear in the papers.
Back in the day it was about the song, what’s new, what’s different, what can be learnt? Nowadays is all about who you know at the top how much ass kissing you can do, it has gotten to the point where people want credit for your work while they have done nothing to earn it. People are scared in my opinion. They’re scared to look un cool or to be blocked out of the circle by the so called top dogs in the industry. They don’t want to be out of the circle so they succumb to the pressure and play along.
Back in the day, we turned to the papers, Dj’s and radio’s to learn and get news on the local music scene, the art form I think is being forgotten. If you want the real deal you will have to look for it yourself as a music lover. It really sad to see a video getting air time on ‘channel O’ for example and the song getting love in other countries yet here in Kenya its hardly ever played or gets any airtime. I saw that the other day, here I am watching music videos and a Kenyan song comes on and am like why is this song on an international music video station yet in Kenya we don’t even play it. I had listened to the song before but only because I search on the internet for quality Kenyan music.
54interviews: Some have not been as quick to embrace your new Afro-Electro sound, going as far as telling you to stick with “our” sounds; others thinking it as apassing fad, while the rest think you sold out hip hop. How do you counter the critics?
Bamzi: It’s funny they told me the same thing when I was doing the bounce and trying out new sounds. They said stick to Necessary Noize ; stick to the whole reggae/rap thing but I kept on doing me till one day I did one song which everyone seemed to love. People seem to forget that there were songs I did before the bounce and I was heavily criticized for them. You have to stick to doing you and not letting people influence the way you express your art.
If I had listened to the critics then Necessary Noize would have never been born, because they told us it wouldn’t work, same case with me going solo and experimenting with new sounds. If I had listened, ‘The bounce’ would have never come out. If I listened to the critics then “Mizuka” would have never been born and songs like “Mutumia” which is my biggest hit to date would have never seen the light of day.
I don’t let people pave the way for me when it comes to my expression musically, I carve my own path.
I know some think I have sold out to hip hop and they’re entitled to their opinion, but I can’t sacrifice being me to satisfy people’s needs. You have to be you no matter what.
54interviews: Let’s talk about success, or lack thereof in depth. Success is relative, and the measurement of it, varies from person to person. In the music industry, it is usually measured along three metrics, longevity, popularity, and especially record sales. The latter, as it pertains to the African music industry, is a challenging affair-and a debateable one at that. What I want to know is, why Bamzi has not yet achieved that level of success being that you meet the quota for longevity and popularity.
Bamzi: First of all, I blame it on myself for not being consistent enough. However, I also blame it on the pressure in the industry on me, since I got in when I was like 19 years of age and I was still looking for my place in the world musically speaking. Also, I wasted a lot of time dealing with the drug issue. But mainly because again, I don’t subscribe to the usual formula of main stream Kenyan music. Additionally, there was no main platform where I could sell my kind of music straight to the customer until recently. I always laugh when I get reports that this song made this amount of sales in Japan, or Germany and no sales in Kenya. The kind of music I make, and from the fact that my sounds or songs hardly get any airtime in Kenya, that’s why am grateful for the internet which is my main platform.
I can honestly say since I started doing Mizuka, this is the most consistent I have been since I came into the industry and I believe its because I am finally true to myself musically speaking.
Speaking of numbers my partners in the states and here all agree that we are doing well considering we don’t receive any air play or promotion from the industry in Kenya. All promotions have been done in house since 2009 and over 90% of our fan base is from outside Kenya. I believe it’s not because Kenyans don’t like the sound or are slow in getting what it’s all about, it’s because it’s not been given enough exposure.
If you want to make money in the Kenyan industry and you are a musician it’s rather easy I don’t mind saying, just turn on the radio and listen. The local content on what they call hits are rather generic and sound very similar. If you listen long enough, you will notice a pattern which I call the formula. Once you master the formula and know the right people then your set. The only problem is your music is targeted only for the few Kenyan’s and my goal is to make music for the world including Kenyan’s.
On popularity I think my earlier statement can answer that for you, but I’ll tell you this though our popularity growth although slow, is growing none the less. But to this day it still feels a little weird when your work musically is praised by critiques from Europe or the U.S and yet the so called music “know how’s’ here refer to your work as noise. It’s really funny actually.
54interviews: Over on twitterland, you’ve been busy promoting your Mizuka productions. My favorite being Mutumia who you say is a murogi [Kikuyu for witch]. That beat is sick! The lyrics even sicker. What I really dug the most was the fusion of traditional Kikuyu sounds and techno. Who or what inspired this song? Why was the video, so underwhelming-I expected to see mokorino type of enthusiasm?
Bamzi: The song was inspired by what’s been pushing me to do Mizuka since 2009-the love of music. I had an idea of sampling traditional Kenyan music with “Mizuka” sometime back and my producer one day just made that beat with the sample in it and played it for me. My brother Kora (Who’s work we know from hits like “Fire Fever Lighter speaker which features Madtraxx) liked the beat and idea as well and jumped on it and that’s how it was born.
I’ll have to correct you because you say you like what we did putting Kikuyu on a “techno” beat? That beat is not techno at all. In EDM you have to be clear about these things. Techno is one form of electronic music just like the way we have roots reggae and dancehall reggae. In EDM, we have techno, electro, progressive and so on and so forth.
The mutumia beat is closer to disco house then than techno, but it can’t be placed in any group when it comes to electronic music. That’s why it’s simply mizuka. Hope you learnt something guys? lol.
[Editors Note: We welcome corrections and PHD dissertations on music]
When it comes to the video I wanted the video shot the way house music videos are shot like a reality T.V show kind of thing. No video sets, no fancy car behind you type of thing, just a video showing real life. Once again, it was hard to convince people to see your vision because they don’t get it. But that’s how videos are shot in the electronic music scene. I just wanted our version. So far in Kenya a lot of people again don’t get it and it’s not given enough exposure, most people have mainly seen it on youtube. Funny thing is its one of the few videos I’ve seen that has only like “1” dislike, and fans really appreciated the fresh approach I took to the video. Granted there is always room for improvement and I think it could have come out even better if I was part of the editing team, but I was not and again my vision was not fully expressed, although the final edit came close.
You mentioned the video being “ Underwhelming “ and I don’t blame you but quote me when I say to you that that is the future of music videos. Abstract shooting of videos is the future or a mixture of abstract and what I call “set” videos. The whole “Riding in a car”, “two chic’s on the side” thing is getting old. A video should have a story, like a little mini film. After I did the “Bachette video” guys out here were confused, they were like “he can’t do that! “Am like why not? Let’s shake it up a little bit
54interviews: In terms of artiste collaborations, who would you liketo work with in Kenya and outside?
Bamzi: In Kenya, I would like to work with anyone who isn’t afraid to push it to the extreme’s. I always tell guys like “Yo am doing mizuka now” so they know if we going to do a track it’s going to sound like this.
From outside apart from the one’s I have already collaborated with (be on the lookout for that coming at you soon), I would like to work like most of the south African industry, I think we can mesh well. Would also love a track with “Afrojack’ and Will I am” just to name a few. I may just surprise you this year and hit you with a collabo like that. Question is are you ready? Lol!
54interviews: What inspired you to get into the music game?
Bamzi: I’ve always loved music since I was a child. I could spend hours next to my dad’s stereo and listen to music and sing along. I knew early that this is what I wanted to do.
54interviews: Which stages have you performed at?
Bamzi: In Kenya, almost all I think a few in T.Z. I’ve done a few tours in Asia. I have been invited for tours in the U.S and U.K but the invitations always came at the wrong time. There is a U.S tour being planned this year so am looking forward to that.
54interviews: What does the future have in store for Bamzigi zigi zigi zaga zau? What should his fans expect?
Bamzi: My plan is to be unpredictable musically. The only thing you should know for sure is that the sound is going to be futuristic, it’s going to be Mizuka.
~ Thank you so much for your time. Wishing you nothing but continued success. Oh yeah, bring back the locks with the honey streak in them~