- Clang Clang
Every origin story has a soundtrack. This is mine.
It’s the year 2000. I’ve just sat my KCPE and the whole world is ahead of me. I spend a lot of time at the base where Waruish sells water. Everyone I hang out with is much older except for K who is one week older than me. The older guys spend hours drinking coffee and chewing muguka. K and I sit and watch and learn. We listen to reggae on KBC English Service and tell stories, and when the blue Land Rover that patrols Gataka Road is spotted, we scatter. Sometimes the older guys will go to Chambers (pronounced Shebas) to drink something we are too young to know about. Sometime K will join them, and I will go play video games with my younger brother.
Sometimes I’m afraid that this is it. That I will go to high school and then come back to Rongai and this will be my life. I’ve seen it in these guys’ lives and I’ve seen it in others older than them. I worry for K.
I am at the base on a hot afternoon, chatting with Waruish. Everyone else has gone to Chambers. We are listening to one of the new FM stations, the ones that promise non-stop hits all day, every day. People come with their empty jerrycans and I help Waruiru fill them with water. I’ve done it many times. I admire Waruish. I think that what he does is his way of surviving this place, of breaking the cycles. We fill jerrycans and collect money as we chat about nothing and everything and then I hear an odd sound coming from the little speaker.
It’s a different sound from the ones brought to us by Jeff Mwangemi, one I’ve heard on TV before, but never on radio. It’s a voice like a fancy robot butler speaking in a babi accent. If the robot was Kenyan, it is not from here. I stop talking and listen.
“Clang Clang, Monday morning register, all you fake MCs wake up and smell the coffee. Yeah I’m talking to you (me?) For you and your phoney lyrics Clang! For you and your 20 bob […] Clang! For you and your phoney labels, knowing me now when you didn’t know me then, Clang! Clang Clang, the sound you get when you knock two empty debes together…! ”
And then someone who calls himself The African Superman starts to rap. He is rapping in English and every bar is punctuated with the sound of metal hitting against metal. Clang! The sound of something hard against hard. Clang! The sound of trying your best to imagine something different, something new. Clang! The sound of looking around you and saying, no, this is not it. Clang!
The African Superman sounds like those American rappers my cousin Njeri loves, the ones who get five mics in The Source magazine. He delivers his last bar ushering in a familiar voice in the hook. The message is simple: everything else is clang clang, the sound of two empty debes knocked together. This is the only necessary noise.
At the end of the hook this new rapper with a familiar voice says, I diss you, I diss you, I diss you, I chase; you can’t catch up with(a) my pace! The song makes an ambitious switch from hip hop to dancehall. I haven’t heard anything like this from a Kenyan artist. She carries the new groove with her raspy voice and I wrack my brain trying to figure out why the voice is so familiar. “Me a hot like a ray, me a soft like a flake / people come watch Nazizi….” Of course! This is Nazizi from Nataka Kuwa Famous (I later learn that the song is called Ni Sawa Tu).
If Waruish has been speaking to me I have heard nothing. For 5 minutes and 40 seconds I am transported to another time and place far far away from here. The song changes everything. If Nazizi’s Ni Sawa had planted the seeds of my desire to dream beyond this place, Clang Clang had been the water to foster germination. Nazizi had expressed her desire to be famous, and here she was with another song being famous. If it was true for her it must be true for me, that dreams do come true, that this was not it. I could go to high school and after that be whatever I want to be.
Some months before, somewhere in a studio along Dennis Pritt road, a determined producer plots a future for Kenyan music. Having already worked with the likes of Hardstone, Kalamashaka, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, and Ndarlin P, there is a need to maintain the momentum already created by these artists. Nazizi is already in the spotlight after Ni Sawa Tu and Wyre, who has been working as the producer’s assistant for about a year, has just recorded Sikiza. The producer has an epiphany: to create something like a Kenyan version of the Fugees. Nazizi and Wyre can sing and rap over a dancehall beat, and individually, Nazizi can rap and Wyre can sing. The producer decides that they need someone who can rap; the Pras to the already existing Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean, if you will. Nazizi has a friend. His name is Bamzigi (The African Superman).
Shujaa is the third song they work on as a trio. A speculative exploration of what it means to be a shujaa, a hero. Nazizi, Bamzigi, and Wyre offer insight into what the world would look like if they were, individually, in charge. Nazizi’s verse captures the spirit of the song which starts with a simple melody that makes me wonder if a few years later Scratch Records will sample it in Ousmane’s song Dunda. Some of the dreams reveal the anxieties of the time, like when Nazizi says, “huyo Osama Bin Laden ningemshika”, while some are coated in humour but hint at more serious longings like abolishing the oppressive colonial, capitalist system: “Ningetawala ningewafanya watu wote Rasta / kutoka baba yangu, mtoto wangu, mpaka pastor / kama huna locks, moja moja mpaka jela.”
Through this song, Necessary Noize envision, and invite us to envision, a world where the resources are taken from the rich few and redirected to the poor majority, powerful men like the former dictator Daniel Toroitich arap Moi can work as a “cheap labour worker” so that they too can experience working hard for compensation that almost never comes, a world free of abusers and racists.
Bamzigi and Wyre do the same in their verses: invite and imagine.
The hook, a call to action, demands of the listener to sit with important questions: How many of us can be called heroes? Where are those who deserve the title? We want heroes only!
Shujaa, with its hard hitting bars, punchy drums, reverse scratch, reminds us these three artists are here for a good time, but also for important work.
By the time they are making Shujaa, the trio already has Clang Clang and Lover’s Rock, which are well received. The producer, Tedd Josiah, looks at what they have created, and is pleased.
The trio are now being invited for gigs. The set is simple: Nazizi performs Ni Sawa, Wyre performs Sikiza, and then they all perform their collaborations. Their then manager, David Muriithi, tells them that they will need a name to identify them as a group. Nazizi says Necessary Noize. With their style, a cacophony of sounds taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that, the antithesis of clang clang, and necessary in an industry that is growing and needs their kind of art.
Just like that, Necessary Noize is born.
- Da Di Da
I’m now in high school, hundreds of kilometres from Rongai. Da Di Da is the first big collaboration Necessary Noize work on. The hook has four lines, one for each of the artists.
Wyre: niko ndani ya gari na ashuu mfukoni, sema da da da di daa
Bamzigi: Umezusha na makarao wamekurusha ndani, sema da da da di daa Doobiez: Umeingia K1 na minipack za safari, sema da da da di daa
Nazizi: Imefika chee wasee kwa beamer na wee mathree mpaka mtaani, da da da di daa.
Everything that can be said about the power of collaboration, of working together, is shown in this hook. Each one of them plays their part so well to create something powerful. It reminds me of the ring bearers in Captain Planet. But it is not just the coming together and working together of these gifted artists that make the song what it is, but the language.
Each of these lines speaks to our experiences and aspirations. Each one of us has experienced the shame of having less money than you need, the anger and exasperation of being in conflict with some form of authority. Some of us stop at Maguna Andu Supermarket to buy sachets of Safari Cane and Sapphire on closing day, and a few of us have spent time daydreaming of being famous, enough to laugh at the image of your fans driving expensive cars as you take a matatu to your gig. And most importantly, all of us have been castigated for speaking Sheng’, but here we are, marking our place in the world with music that affirms our experiences, in a language that affirms our being.
- Nataka Toa
A few years back. Mwanaisha Abdala Mohammed lives and works as a domestic worker with a family in Nyali. Having studied until Standard 7, she teaches herself to write and is fortunate enough to work for a family that lets her. In her free time, she writes songs, and dreams of becoming a star.
Mwanaisha has a friend, Florence, who works for the family next door. They are close and spend a lot of their free time together. Mwanaisha mentions that she has written about 15 songs. As fate would have it, Florence happens to have a friend whose boyfriend works as a cleaner at a recording studio. Florence talks to her friend, who talks to her boyfriend who talks to the producer Andrew Madebe.
Andrew Madebe invites Mwanaisha to the studio. Inside the studio she finds artists who she looks up to, among them Majizee, Suzuki, Risasi. She introduces herself and then sings what she has prepared. Everyone loves her voice and her songs. The artists who listen to her give her a nickname: Nyota Ndogo, because as small as she is, she is the brightest star in the room.
Madebe offers to produce an album for her for free. They work on the album as she continues to work for the family. Madebe pushes her songs until they fall on important ears.
Tedd Josiah is in Mombasa and has listened to Nyota Ndogo’s music. He meets Madebe and asks him to arrange a meeting with her to sing a song called Chereko. He loves her sound and asks her to come to Nairobi to record a song at his studio. She records Nataka Toa which features Nazizi and Wyre. In two weeks, the song became a hit all over East Africa.
While working on their first album, Necessary Noize decide to revisit their song with Nyota Ndogo. They produce a remix to include Bamzigi. Showing the groups versatility, Necessary Noize’s version of Nataka Toa this time featuring Nyota Ndogo is a success.
- Lover’s Rock
Necessary Noize was always going to be great. The first album had set them up for a space in the Kenyan music scene that was replete with desire for something new, something fresh. Their chemistry, experimental flare, and skill had given us something we had been waiting for. The group captured the lyrical prowess of Kalamashaka with songs like Da-Nioze, Shujaa and Publik Warning, the grooviness of Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji with songs like Jah Children, Back Up and the relatability of Ndarlin P with Usijifanye and the interludes: True Story, Shaggz Mudu, and Detention.
In his interview with CTA, Wyre says of the time, “we didn’t care, we were hungry for the music.”
For a teen growing up in a place where there seemed to be no prospects for a life beyond dusty days sitting on rocks, surviving, Necessary Noize sated pangs deep in me. And just like the group, I was hungry for the music.
Lover’s Rock, one of their earlier songs, and a love song nestled amongst contrasting company, is a perfect example of a promise of what is to come. The song captures the essence of the band: great production, individual skill, outstanding chemistry, and its place in an industry that is ready for good music, music that in many ways, liberates; and promises more of what we have already come to love.
Listen to the Necessary Noize album here.