In 2009, a handful of London-based musicians travelled to Nairobi in Kenya to collaborate with local musicians there. The project was set up by Hetty Hughes and her friend Aaron Abraham, co-founders of a voluntary organisation called Art of Protest established in order to promote local musicians and rappers. Hetty and Aaron were disheartened by the way they were being sidelined and overlooked, so they set about inviting some London-based musicians to visit Nairobi and collaborate. It was a loose arrangement… there was no specific agenda other than to bring the musicians together, exchange ideas and enjoy the results.
The traditional folkloric music of Kenya has not received the same global exposure as that of Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa or North Africa, for example, and one of the objectives of this project was to try and build on this. The band draw on a broad spectrum of African influences, from Fela Kuti and Tony Allen to the likes of Thomas Mapfumo and Oumou Sangare, but bar Jesse’s participation with Damon Albarn’s Africa Express, this was the first opportunity for Jesse Hackett (keys), Louis Hackett (bass), Sam Lewis (guitar), Chris Morphitis (bouzouki/guitar) and Tom Skinner (drums) to visit specifically for a musical project.
The boys’ first trip to Nairobi was in January 2009 to meet and collaborate with two Kenyan musicians: Joseph Nyamungo and Charles Okoko who hail from a village up country called Owiny Sigoma. The workshop/rehearsals were a lot of fun and pretty fruitful – “They acted as a skills exchange and a way of sharing our music. We learned some of their songs and they learned some of our songs too,” explains Tom. Finding a studio that could accomodate a 7-piece live band wasn’t easy but eventually they holed up in an amazing disused factory space to record. The resulting four tracks made their way to Gilles Peterson who promptly signed the band to his Brownswood imprint and sent the boys back to Nairobi for another week-long recording session with Joseph, Charles and their extended musical family.