Design Indaba: Blinky Bill releases his new video for Atie and extols the virtues of musical randomess

Blinky Bill kept it wonky at Design Indaba 2017. The Kenyan musician and producer teased the conference audience with his talk, which began with him making a freestyle track of looped lip sounds and squelchy beats, and ended with the wise words: “Don’t be afraid to be random.” He then blessed the festival’s DJ booth-come-robot head with two evening sets filled with inventive, experimental tracks from across the globe and rubbed shoulders with fellow vinyl junkies Daddy G and Black Coffee. “I was there to showcase my creative process and the journey to this point, which was cool,” Bill tells us, humbly. “I went in open, expecting to be surprised and inspired by the other speakers, which I was, and the experience helped me want to come back home to make some new dope and meaningful work.”

True to his word, Bill has just released a very dope video for Atie with Mitya Burmistrov. Directed by Andrew Mageto and Osborne Macharia, it follows three extraordinary Kenyan grannies with peroxide up-dos and wax print gowns making their regal way through an epic landscape to Bill’s drum-heavy, hard-bouncing track. These same women feature in Macharia’s latest photographic series Magadi and are clearly not be messed with.

Blinky Bill (also known as Bill Sellanga) has always liked to keep things fresh. He grew up listening widely, which fed his natural lust for odd sonic flavours. “My folks are more musical than they like to admit,” he quips. “Dad used to play a lot of Congolese music, so Franco Luambo, Bozi Boziana and Diblo Dibala. He also used to play radio so I got to jam to pop music from South Africa like Chicco and American music as well, like Michael Jackson and Prince, Kool and the Gang and Whitney.”

He channelled all of these influences and more into Just A Band. The collective formed while studying at Kenyatta University and came out strong with the slinky slice of disco Iwinyo Piny. Their Afrofuturist fusion sound oozing with soulful funk and electro saw them perform worldwide and release three critically acclaimed albums. The group also enjoyed weaving multi-media narratives around their music and are credited with making Kenya’s first viral video for the song Ha-He – a Blaxploitation-spoofing tale of kidnap, fistfights and unrequited love. “Just A Band is such a trip, there's been so many highlights along the way,” he says. “One of them was playing at SummerStage in Central Park in NYC alongside Amadou & Mariam and Theophilus London. Another was contributing to the Fela Kuti Red Hot and Riot Tribute album on songs with Chance The Rapper and Childish Gambino.”

The crew announced a two-year hiatus last May and Bill, who is also an alumni of The Red Bull Academy and One Beat Music, has been busy working on his solo sound ever since. His first EP, We Cut Keys While You Wait, featured six playful tracks ranging from the alternative R&B lick of Kwani Iko Nini to the techno jerk of I Should Have Learnt Kung Fu. “Right now my sound has a lot that I'm crazy about, and have always wanted to have in a project. I have some jazz influenced tracks and some heavy African guitar-laced tracks. Hip hop is always going to be a part of my work, whether it's in the production or in the delivery, and it's very eclectic which is something I picked up from Just A Band.”

Up next for Bill is an April gig with Diplo in Nairobi, and then a European tour with Iyeoka. Then it’s back into the studio, where templates go out the window and comfort zones don’t exist, to finish cooking up his solo LP, Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales. He’s just laid down a track with Petite Noir that will make the final cut, and promises a few more collaborations with likeminded, gender-blowing artists from Kenya and beyond too. “It's very vibrant in Nairobi now. There are a lot of really great up and coming musicians and producers and I have high hopes for the future.  The brave souls that are the artists doing things for themselves and just putting their ideas out.”  Hear hear. So complete this sentence then Bill, if you will: “Africa is the future because… we haven't even shown the world properly what we are capable of.”

Blinky Bill’s top five tunes of now

Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos – Slide
“Such a funky song, my current fave.”

The XX - Dangerous
“Love the horns!”

Jamie 3:26 and Masalo – Testify
“I heard it at Design Indaba during one of the DJ sets and made a mental note of it.”

Leikeli47 - Money
“I don't know how this song is not playing everywhere.”

Tek.Lun - Aburoy
“The beat goes hard!”

Words Helen Jennings
Portrait of Blinky Bill by Kent Andreasen

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Published on 27/03/2017