Coco Em. Photo by @Moharez courtesy of the artist.

Coco Em Is Nairobi's Hardest Hustling DJ

"We're building our own sound now. We just need to look inside of ourselves and see the things that makes us uniquely Kenyan."

Catching up with Coco Em is not an easy task these days. The girl seems to just be everywhere.

She picks me up at a gas station just before a rain storm; the interview a meeting that's wedged after two others for her, before she dashes off to Nairobi's Central Business District at rush hour for another. That seems par for the course for the Nairobi DJ, as she's clamped on to her chances and is currently not letting them go.

Coco Em has been playing on some of East Africa's most prominent stages, recently playing Nyege Nyege in Jinja, Uganda and going as far afield as spinning in Israel, bringing her own take on East African house mixes.

We sat down over chips in a nyama choma joint just up the road from Kenya's State House to talk about the music, the hustle and the journey that it's taken her to get here.

So what made you start taking the DJ game seriously?

Well, I started about like a year and nine months ago. I was a photojournalist. I decided to just jump in, even though I wanted to do it for fun. I started last year doing so, so many free gigs. I think the reason I came up so fast is that I had years and years and years of musical knowledge, collecting curating. In my heart I just love music; that's why I just kept grinding, even when I couldn't afford parking fees.

There's so many DJs that have been on the grind for more than a decade, what's accelerated you?

Well, I have tried hard to weave in my own stuff. If you have a crowd, just try to find a way to reach out to them, bring them in. I'm looking at them, I'm vibing with them, I'm just trying to connect with those people. If I can just connect with one person out of a thousand, I'm happy. That's what I try to bring.

And also just being on that stage whenever I could. I think just playing from such a diverse range of people, I've picked up on things, I'm able to play a set in Rwanda and can feel like I'm back in Nairobi. It's that vibe. Last year for new years I was offered two gigs, one in Nairobi and one in the coast. I took the one in the coast because I knew that I could connect with more people.

Do you think that East African house is trending towards carving out its own space that competes with other big African music scenes?

The main problem, I'll be the first to say it, I'll listen to some of the productions that are coming out of here in Kenya and I'm embarrassed. If there's one thing I can tell Kenyan artists is to share your music! Share it! Use us DJs to push your sound, we have to know who you are so that we can push you.

Coco Em African House Mix | Boiler Room x Ballantines True Music Kenya youtu.be

Do you think there's a push to grow this house thing organically?

I think there is, there's players in the Nairobi house scene, there's people who've been exposed who are trying to bring it back home and grow this thing organically. Because there are people who are open to these new things. Kenyan artists for a long time were on a high horse, but now guys are ready to receive the feedback. We've been playing stuff from South Africa and Nigeria for a long time, but I think we're ready for a new sound now. I think we've been guilty of being chameleons but we're building our own sound now. We just need to look inside of ourselves and see the things that makes us uniquely Kenyan and start playing that, pro-per-ly!

Here's the big heavy question, the female DJ issue.

The one!

Yeah, there's a ton of great female artists in this city, but there's not a lot of female DJs that are as prominent as you, what's holding the women back?

I think the boys have unknowingly locked out anyone who's not one of their own. So the girls don't know how to get in. I got in by chance! I just showed up on the stage of the Alchemist (a leading Nairobi bar for the arts) and thought I could get on stage. I had to convince them that I belonged, and only could because I'd already set up my stuff, so they said go ahead.

I feel like we're afraid to be aggressive. From my experience I would have never played that day if I knew I wasn't supposed to. I don't know if it was by luck or fate, but now that I'm in I have to hit it hard. They never share with the women DJs these events, these concerts. There are a lot of female DJs, more than 100, a lot of them play in Nairobi, but you'll never hear about them. They are locked out.

Do you see yourself as kind of a disruptor to that?

I hope that I am. I really want to be, because it's ridiculous. I hear girls that play so good, I'm like what the hell? Sometimes I don't think I'm that good, I'm like no, these girls deserve this chance. It's like we're always shut out, it's a man's club. So you basically have to come in guns blazing and punching. I think I'm used to doing it, because it was the same in the media. There were two female photographers. So I hope in my position if I've grown to a point, I hope I'm able to influence more women coming in.

So changing gears quite a bit, how would you describe your sound?

It's like a cocktail. First of all I grew up listening to a lot of Lingala music, to the point where you can sing all the lyrics, even if you don't know what they are. That kind of has affected everything, I like something… you can groove your bum to it, it's got a good ass bass inside of there. I like anything that's different but not too out there.

Mine is a mix of afro-house, kuduro, I love lingala. So I try to make a little afro-cocktail. The connecting factor, the electronic beat, the drum, the kick, the snare; bringing that together with an overarching afro-house, lingala thing.

Do you think that there's a lot of people that are exploring more East African sounds in a house sense?

In a house sense no. No. Cause it's either benga for benga or lingala for lingala. Mixing it with house? Not as much. But I think it's starting. That's what I want to help bring out more.

Arts + Culture

This Stunning Series of Self-Portraits Explores Love And The Concept of Letting Go

Cape Town photographer Meet The Internet shares a few images from her exhibition.

Cape Town photographer Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana, who is known online as "Meet The Internet," does not take the topic of love lightly. "Most of us rushed into it," she says, "and we started dating without understanding what love is."

Her latest photography series, Love Through My Eyes is, is a reflection on how people around her deal with love, from staying in toxic relationships because they fear being alone, to those who build walls around themselves in fear of heartbreak and are hence unlovable.

"We come from broken families," says Ngqoyiyana. "Some with no fathers at all, so we go out yearning to be loved by a man and pray for better experiences than what we see our mothers go through. We get our fair share of hurt, we watch people come to our lives, we share our bodies with them and when it's enough for them they leave. We even start understanding and forgiving the cycle."

This cycle is reflected in the photos. In most of them, the color red is prevalent, symbolic for love. And the main subject, which is the photographer herself, is elusive, hiding her face either with a mask or red ropes, which could symbolize the blinding effect of love and how it can suffocate you.

Ngqoyiyana wants the images to focus on both sides of love. "I like the concept of balloons," she says, "because from a young age it kinda teaches us the concept of holding on to something and letting go. Obviously letting go is never fun, hence we cried when we would see our balloons fly away."

Ngqoyiyana got into photography by taking behind the scenes photos in music video sets. Her first gig as a photographer was a matric ball, and she recently started directing music videos.

The photos for Love Through My Eyes took "roughly three weeks" to make, and are all self-portraits. A confessed shy person, for a long time Ngqoyiyana wasn't happy with her appearance. "I can be whoever I want to be with self-portraits, and I am not so conscious about the way I look," she says.

"When I started taking pictures I was at a stage in my life where I was depressed and anxious, because I didn't have a career, and with no tertiary education," says Ngqoyiyana. "I felt I was "wasting away," she says. "Self-portraits were more of an escape, or a 'pretend like I am doing more than I actually am.' But after seeing the reception on the Internet, I did more."

Love Through My Eyes ran for a day on the 10th of November in Observatory, Cape Town. As a result of the amazing reception, says Ngqoyiyana, more prints of her work are on the way.

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Follow Meet The Internet on Instagram and Facebook.

Blinky Bill 'Don't Worry.' Source: Youtube.

Watch Blinky Bill's New Video for 'Don't Worry'

The Nairobi producer releases the humorous visuals for his second single.

Blinky Bill dropped his long-awaited debut album, Everyone's Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales, last month and it's clearly been well received by fans in Kenya and all over the world.

His latest music video for the hard-hitting single "Don't Worry" was filmed in Detroit and directed by his usual collaborators Osborne Macharia, Andrew Mageto and Kevo Abbra.

Blinky prances around Detroit's Heidelberg Project—an outdoor art installation created to support the surrounding area's community—lighting up the vibe of this aggressive song.

"The song is called Don't Worry and I feel like the vibe we created with the visuals is in tune with the spirit of the song, which is just about staying in your lane and minding your business," the Kenyan artist mentions. "I like that it takes a song that is serious and aggressive and makes it a little more fun."

This video is an instant mood-lifter and definitely worth the view.

Watch Blinky Bill's new music video for "Don't Worry" below.

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Photo still via YouTube.

Falana's New Music Video for 'Ride or Die' Is a Must-Watch

The Nigerian singer returns with her first single in 4 years in this Daniel Obasi-directed work of art.

Falana couldn't let the year wrap up without making a statement.

The Toronto-raised Nigerian singer recently dropped the music video "Ride or Die"—her first single in 4 years—directed by Daniel Obasi.

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