Coming to America can be pretty damn daunting, especially if your final destination is New York City.
Yet, it’s been tested time and time again that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. For that reason alone, thousands of artists flock to the metropolitan mecca in order to show and prove. Just A Band, the modestly monikered Kenyan trio, have journeyed from their hometown to Manhattan for the first time to do just that. Blinky, Dan and Jim may be new to the city, but the city has been introduced to them months ago thanks to the viral sensation that is Makmende, an old-school Kenyan superhero that the band revived in their brilliantly funny music video for “Ha He.”
To define Just A Band would be pointless, being that they shapeshift across jazz, electronica, jazz soul and hip hop. And forget about coming up with a title; these men do it all: music, art, production, social media, animation, and the list goes on. Their art exhibition KUDISHNYAO!, which was showing at Rush Arts Galleries from August 18th to September 3rd featured interactive, multimedia that demonstrates the limitlessness to this bands talents. As they impressed the art crowd in Chelsea, on August 25th they proved their music prowess, during an intimate UD debut performance at DROM in the East Village. Gaining new followers while making their die-hard fans proud, Just A Band staked their claim to this concrete jungle with a stellar performance (complete with a very, very lengthy intermission dance party.) Being that Just A Band not only cultivates giant dreams, but achieves them too, so we checked in with them to find out how they manage to juggle all that talent between the three of them.
JUST A BAND: The reception has been really good! We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the turnouts at the gigs and the gallery. People are definitely looking at things differently here, because our work has a lot of references to things in Kenyan culture, but they still relate to the more universal themes. Which goes for the music as well.
JUST A BAND: Musically, we find it easier to have a looser approach to genre; it’s a way to keep things fresh and exciting. We come at songwriting from the point of view of creating a certain mood or vibe, and making things exciting for us in the studio so that hopefully that translates to the audience, and genre-hopping makes all that very easy.
As for branding, we don’t really think about that. I guess we assume that since it’s the same group of people making the music, it’ll all hold together in some way, and then the audience can call it what they want to, if they really want to label it. We suspect that it would only be difficult from the point of view of the industry, not the listeners – we find it cool that different people have wildly different favorites on the album.
GIANT: Going off of that question, you all not only create your own music (which is an impressive feat given today’s music standards) but you also create everything else! How do you manage wearing all of those hats?
JUST A BAND: Each of us is interested in many things and we decided – when we formed the band – to bring all our varied interests into the mix. We hoped it would make for a more interesting project overall. (Also: Total Control, Bwahaha!) We knew it would be a heavy workload, but we’re all in agreement that we really enjoy what we do, so the time commitment isn’t painful. Or, at least, not as painful as it could be… And with the Internet, we can just go online and learn a lot of stuff that would have been almost impossible to learn otherwise (the Internet is a huge part of the reason this band still exists).
JUST A BAND: From our point of view, our audience is varied in age and race and location. We’d hope to make stuff that doesn’t really have a limitation on who’s going to get into it. They’re cool peoples, though: there’s always really good vibes at the shows, and we’re very grateful for all their support.
GIANT: How have you all evolved as a group from your first album The Light Fantastic EP to now?
JUST A BAND: We’ve had a lot more experience seeing how people interact with the music. Our DJ sessions especially had a big role to play in shaping the sound of the last album, where we got maybe a little clubbier than the first album and the EP. We’re less afraid that we’re going to screw everything up these days.
GIANT: Did you predict Makmende becoming a viral sensation? What was the idea behind resurrecting that Kenyan pop icon?
We didn’t predict the level that Makmende would reach, we just made something we thought would be popular locally, and then all that happened. Some have proposed that there was a massive demand for a Kenyan hero that could really capture the country’s imagination. Being that the character is kind of built on an archetype that’s familiar to most pop culture fans on the planet, it probably made it easy for a lot more people to get into.
“Resurrecting a Kenyan pop icon” wasn’t something we thought we were doing at the time. We just wanted to make a funny video, since we’d been making slightly more serious fare with Usinibore.
GIANT: Tell us the origins of your BLNRB project.
JUST A BAND: Andi from the Teichmann Brothers – who are a Berlin-based techno duo – had been talking to Johannes Hossfeld, the director of Nairobi’s Goethe Institut, about doing some kind of international musical collaboration project, and we’d been developing a nice relationship with Goethe, who’ve helped us put together some really cool shows and our video art exhibitions, so they approached us about working on the album.
It features the Teichmanns, Modeselektor and Jahcoozi from Germany jamming with us, Ukoo Flani, Nazizi, Michel Ongaro and a whole bunch of other artists from Kenya. Everyone’s vibe is really different so the album is quite a trip.
GIANT: In your video for “Hey!” you used puppetry. How do you feel about The XYZ Show which uses satire and puppets to speak about corruption in Kenya?
JUST A BAND: XYZ has come under attack for some of the comments that they’ve made, they’re partly responsible for opening up the airwaves to political satire on Kenyan TV. It’s making it easier for people to talk about certain things that would go unquestioned in prior eras, and hopefully that’s a seed for something interesting to happen in Kenyan culture later on. The fact that it’s put together by a crew of skilled animators and artists and sculptors, and is also expanding those fields in the country… Well, we could do with a couple more such shows.
GIANT: What are some music videos that you all admire? Which musical and visual artists?
JUST A BAND: We all check out very different stuff .The visuals range from trippy anime such as Koji Morimoto’s work to film and music video people like Michel Gondry. Musically, we like funky and/or electronic acts like Daft Punk, Jamiroquai, Sly and the Family Stone, Madlib, Dilla, Flying Lotus, Bjork, Radiohead, NERD and a whole lot more stuff…
GIANT: What’s next for Just A Band?
JUST A BAND: Pretty much everyone’s agreed on the fact that we’re going home to bury ourselves in the studio and take things to another level. We can’t really make any announcements yet but we’ve also been working on new music and are planning new videos so there’ll be some fresh goodness coming out soon.