If you were to ask us which continent is currently at the forefront of electronic music’s future, we wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s *Africa. Let’s look at the facts. In the past two years, the sound of South Africa’s amapiano has essentially gone viral and has infiltrated most of Europe’s underground. Simultaneously, the rise of Central Africa’s ‘techno’ led by the ilk of Slikback and Rey Sapienz is practically synonymous with the trends of post-club or deconstructed dance that have arisen from New York to Berlin. Africa is, quite simply, poised to lead the future sound of dance music. Making a claim for her stake in this revolution is Kenya’s DJ Iche, whose latest mixtape Nai Yetu on Nyege Nyege Tapes’s Hakuna Kulala label arrives as a fierce declaration of intent. Hailing from Mombasa, Iche takes influence from the drill and gengeton scene arising in Kenya’s capitol, Nairobi and freely melds these with influences from UK grime and US trap, finding the meeting point between these forms and forging a space for her distinct curation of these sounds. For her, it is “an observation of Nairobi from my coastal point of view.” Combining passages of her own production with a selection of the hottest drill and gengeton beats currently burning on the Kenyan underground, Nai Yetu becomes essential listening as Iche opens a portal for the rest of the world to experience her own.
It’s essential to note that drill is to Kenya what amapiano is to South Africa; a quickly burgeoning popular dance form that is coming to shape the evolution of the country’s contemporary sonic identity. It’s not difficult then to trace the intersections of the form back to its UK boom and Chicago origins, and Iche does so while imbuing her mix drill with a distinctly African point of view. Almost all the verses from the selected MCs on Nai Yetu are rapped in Swahili and Kenya’s own lingua franca, Shenge. A roster of Kenya’s most promising rappers make the cut, notably many of whom are women. On Shada Shada, Nah Eto teams up with producer Fracture on a half time jungle monster that recalls the tonality of M.I.A. On Nai Yetu, Iche positions her between two male drill rappers which only intensifies the sensual potency of Eto’s flow. Similarly, Dyana Cods’s Ecoute, sumptuously spoken in French, arrives during the mix’s drill heavy first act making it clear that in Iche’s world, women have as much power in the realms of underground hip hop and dance music than men. It’s a refreshing look into the subculture of a country whose own dance styles are starting to come into their own. Gengeton or odi pop for instance takes its cue from drill and dancehall but fuses this with traditional wind instruments and percussive patterns, with a heat and energy not unlike moombahton.
The ultimate success of Nai Yetu lies in Iche’s curation of these various styles and forms to create a sort of map for new listeners to discover the sound of her underground culture. It’s an utterly fascinating case study that plays on the magic of discovering new forms by way of the familiar. For ears untrained to the sounds of Kenya’s drill and dance, access is granted by way of association. And when revisiting Iche’s mix with this context, it becomes stunningly clear how Kenya is developing into something entirely of its own.
*This article incorrectly stated that Nai Yetu is inspired by the Mombasa scene as well as incorrectly referred to Africa as a country. We are aware Africa is a continent, and thank DJ Iche for reaching out to correct us on Nai Yetu being informed by Nairobi.