What you need to know:
- For a group that shuns the conventional, Just A Band’s rise from an obscure Kenyan musical act to global music festival circuit favourites is as instructive as it is inspiring.
- Their first music video, "Iwinyo Piny", a product of their DIY mantra, was deemed too futuristic for mainstream Kenyan TV. But who needs local TV when there is the World Wide Web?
- Far from the notion that JAB’s music only appeals to coffee shop-going Nairobi crowds, an interaction with the group in the book reveals the opposite.
It’s bad enough when your vision flies in the face of the established, but more daunt ing is a lack of resources to breathe life into your project.
Saddled with such a seemingly insurmountable challenge at a relatively young age, you may decide to shelve your dream and continue with the business of existing.
Or, if you are Just A Band, you keep the dream alive, do all you can to fulfil it, succeed and then write a book about it 10 years later.
For a group that shuns the conventional, Just A Band’s rise from an obscure Kenyan musical act to global music festival circuit favourites is as instructive as it is inspiring.
In the newly released Just a Book, Dan Muli, Bill Selenga and Mbithi Masya recount their journey so far as Kenya’s musical and visual arts collective.
Theirs is a journey of self-discovery as they try to shape a sonic identity in an environment where the tried-and-tested holds currency and a little experimentation will consign you to the so-called underground scene, where only those with eclectic leanings will sample you.
The story of JAB, as the group is known to its fans, is the story of Kenya’s consumption and appreciation of art. Long before they captured the imagination of the world, JAB was struggling to present their work to Kenyans. Their decision to steer clear of the formulaic meant they found it difficult to market themselves.
Their first music video, "Iwinyo Piny", a product of their DIY mantra, was deemed too futuristic for mainstream Kenyan TV. But who needs local TV when there is the World Wide Web?
Despite this setback, JAB kept at it, thanks to a growing group of fans that egged them on and posted their work online.
Before long there was "Ha-He", or "Makmende" as we know it, and the internet nearly went into a meltdown.
Soon there were interviews in The Wall Street Journal and on CNN followed by an art installation in New York and a concert at the South by South West Festival in Austin, Texas.
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
To read about the band’s beginnings in a lecture hall at Kenyatta University in 2003 to the release of their first album in 2008 to its performance at Yale University a few years later is to see what inspiration coupled with the right work ethic can achieve.
The book is literarily captivating as it is aesthetically pleasing. The design does justice to the band’s creative character. JAB is a child of sonic and visual artists and the design pays homage in how text, photographs and other artworks have been rendered. You need to see it to know why it is not just another book.
Far from the notion that JAB’s music only appeals to coffee shop-going Nairobi crowds, an interaction with the group in the book reveals the opposite. JAB are, first and foremost, Kenyans and their musical influences say as much.
It is just that unlike many of us, they are not afraid to be different. They are willing to experiment and are ready to improvise.
They are indigenous, benga, electronic, jazz, funk, hip hop. They are music.