Press interview: Aloe Blacc is excited to be in Nairobi

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Aloe Blacc with Muthoni the Drummer Queen

Californian-based, Panamanian artist, E. Nathaniel Dawkins mostly known as Aloe Blacc is in Nairobi ahead of the first edition of Blankets and Wine 2016. The I need a Dollar hit maker jetted into the country on Wednesday night in preparation for the much anticipated event where he will be gracing the stage alongside celebrated Kenyan artists like Muthoni the Drummer Queen – who is also the founder of Blankets and Wine – Just a Band, Mayonde among others.

After taking a one year sabbatical in 2015 to re-organize, refresh and recreate, the organizers of Blankets and Wine are ready to give Kenyans a one of a kind show on Sunday the 10th of April at the Ngong racecourse grounds. This first show will not only see a fresh new sound but will also give people a chance to treat themselves to an amazing array of food and drink as they also showcase a wide selection of art.

Aloe Blacc with Muthoni the Drummer Queen
Aloe Blacc with Muthoni the Drummer Queen

Aloe Blacc also expressed his excitement for the upcoming event. He said that the Blankets and Wine event has had an esteemed history since its inception and is very excited to be a part of that legacy. He is also really honored to headline the show after the one year break. This also being his first time in the country, he cannot wait to indulge in the diverse traditional Kenyan delicacies and also interact with the Kenyan people.

Aloe Blacc was first in a hip hop group called ‘the Emanon’ in 1995. He then broke off into a solo career as he also made a transition from hip hop to become a singer in the year 2005. This was as a result of the change in the climate of the commercial market from hip hop which had a jazzy philosophical style to a street and violent style that became popular in the mainstream thus he made the transition as he thought he would be more effective as a lyricist.

The transition wasn’t easy. Aloe Blacc had to learn how to sing and write differently from how he used to back when he was a rapper. He had to find the words and melody that mattered and that would also encapsulate the message he was trying to put across. Although it was a struggle for him, he developed his art over the years to a level where he felt comfortable with it. It took him 7 years to make the transition and 7 more years to make a career out of his new found art. Aloe so far has three albums namely: ‘Shine Through’, ‘Good Things’ and ‘Lift your Spirit’.

What does he like about Nairobi so far? Aloe says the fact that we have so much nature in the city. From where he comes from chances of getting to see the horizon are slim with the presence of tall buildings everywhere. In Nairobi however, he was really fascinated with the privilege we have of a capital city with a definite skyline and an added advantage of getting to see the sun rise and set every day.
Aloe Blacc is also looking forward to the energy and how Kenyans will interact with his music. Some of his favorite performance so far have been in France, Italy, Brazil and Portugal owing to the fact that the people have a real connection to life. They live first and everything else is secondary.

“Do you engage and entertain or are you just spectators? See what I’ve noticed especially in the United States with its digital culture is that everybody is a spectator. Most people are just used to watching performances and not engaging in them and they forget that this is a moment to live in not just a fleeting moment for them to witness,” said the I Need a Dollar hit maker.

The musician who also helped co-write the hit single ‘Wake Me Up’ with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii also said that while he is in Nairobi, he would want to get a chance to interact with other Kenyan artists who he would want to collaborate with: “I have been a solo artist for my whole career and it would be difficult for me to think about collaborations. But if I have to think that way I would start my list with Quincy jones, Aretha Franklin and Al Green. I would then go for the tremendously talented and contemporary artists who are often unknown or unseen because the mainstream doesn’t appreciate that level of talent. An example would be jazz musician and vocalist Gregory Potter and Buika from Spain.

Aloe Blacc added: “I have a song that I have composed, and a video concept I have created which I want to do with the Malaria No More faction in Nairobi. I will be speaking with some filmmakers and the video will potentially be filmed here in Nairobi. I use my music videos as often as possible to share important social causes that I believe my audience should be aware of and also help create positive social transformations.”

The biggest motivation for Aloe Blacc is the fact that he gets to stand as an example of the positive image of ‘blackness’ around the world. He says that there are so many stories that are being told about blackness in the diaspora from African, to African-American to Latino that we are not in control of, but he is lucky that has the opportunity to be in the mainstream and he gets to present his own story and not be subject to someone else’s.

Speaking at a press conference, CEO and Founder of Blankets and Wine Muthoni Ndonga said that the show is going to be like one Kenyans have never experienced before. She said: “One of the things that’s different about this show is the composition of artists. They all have different flavors but are still connected even as they represent their respective different genres and ideas. We selected them because they represent a very specific music idea but then again, the composition of their music is barrier breaking. It opts to change the conversation and narrative of what Kenyan and African music is all about and they also have a significant global impact,”

“In addition to having a live music stage, we also want to give the opportunity for more talented young people to showcase their art. A good example of this is young DJs who also produce their own music. This group of artists wasn’t there in the millennials but have really grown in on today’s society so Blankets and Wine also want to give them the space and freedom to change the sound. Thus the silent disco.”

Details on how to get tickets to Sunday’s show can be found at blanketsandwine.com

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