Friday, April 29, 2011

Camp Mulla: Cool Kids on the Edge of A New Frontier?

"...welcome to the future, I'm the captain of the cool kids..." _ T.I. in Hello Goodmorning

I've listened to quite a bunch of interviews of Kenyan artistes who are (relatively) accomplished in the local music industry in terms of having a proper following and several singles on daily rotation at clubs and radio, as well as being able to pull regular concerts/tours around the country and for Kenyans abroad. The trend in these interviews is when they get to the "Whats next for you as an artiste/group?" question the reaction is almost always a *sigh* followed by:

"Next for me/us is definitely conquering the African and international scene!"

That answer usually comes with a degree of justified fatigue. That fatigue is justified because majority of these artistes have sincerely ended up being checkmated by the the international/regional game. Many times its a matter of content - I know they say the language of music is universal, but its mostly world music, retro-afro, soul or rock that they be talking about as opposed to sheng-loaded genge music for example. In reality, most people just aren't willing to step out of their comfort zones musically and go out in search of the exotic.

Other times, its simply a matter of not being willing to play around with strategy. An artiste may be so successful locally with a certain way of packaging the music (s)he delivers, that the backlash from total abhorrence to their music overseas may be too much to bear that the artiste may stick to the devils they know ie. the unforgivably pirating happy Kenyan market. We all saw what happened at last years MAMAs when *ahem*the likes of Hapa Kule suddenly became boring tracks (how now??)...

However, sometimes its also a matter of chance. There are still a lot of talented artistes and groups that remain undiscovered and/or underexposed, despite aggressive marketing and social network buzz. Things just remain as they are, forcing a bulk of these artistes to re-package themselves as being "underground" even though nothing about their music is alternative.

This got me asking myself if there will ever be a local artiste or group that can at a very early stage be already suitably packaged to take on the mainstream local, regional and international music scene. For a long time, the answer has always been a firm NO, NOT NOW MAYBE LATER until a few days ago when I introduced myself to new kids on the block Camp Mulla. Okay, it was not really self introduction per se; there had been quite a lot of good noise about them on twitter for the past couple of months after they got airplay and chilled in-studio at a major FM station. I finally succumbed to my curiosity and visited the group's Fabebook page (lots of info on them there) where I was tempted to prematurely conclude that they were just another kapurap (kapuka rap) outfit who happened to have one of their members look like KiD CuDi hehe...

Camp Mulla

I then scooted over to their SoundCloud page and after devouring their tracklist, I can now affirmatively, in my opinion, say that Camp Mulla IS suitably packaged for conquering the local and regional/international music markets as at now 29th April, 2011. Here are a combination of reasons that have helped me make this conclusion:

1. Content? Check!
Camp Mulla's musical style is predominantly urban hip hop - a genre that has gained universal popularity for its soft feel-good themes and its ability to easily traverse the tight domains of traditional hip hop and traditional RnB. We all know its the USA based artistes that have this genre on lock, so there is an obvious pre-conception that good urban must have their kind of sound. Camp Mulla excel in this and look the part as well. Any random person in the world who has never heard of CM listening to a track of theirs, say their re-do of P. Unit's Kare or the Slow Down freestyle solo by member Young Kass would automatically assume that he/she is listening to an American group.

However, they do not lose their Kenyan identity. They in fact choose to summarize their content as 2-5-Flow (playing upon the country code 254). A close listen to some of their tracks also clearly indicate their producers do their thing in a Kenyan state of mind. For example check out their new single, Addicted (below). Its has a laid back arrangement that sort of reminds me of pre-kapuka/genge Kenyan old school urban tunes, something like K-South's classic Tabia Mbaya, no? Not to mention that the single is produced by Camp Mulla member K'Cous who may have links with K-South's former label honchos, the Kibukosyas of Samawati Records. Even though I'm not really into mainstream hip hop for daily listening I definitely would NOT mind bumping to this in the car on my way to execute a drive-by shooting or at a club:

2. Female Vocalist(s)? Check!
Very few local cats doing hip hop and related genres contemplate the sort of value a female vocalist can add to their work. A female vocalist tends to further soften their content and make it more palatable to a mainstream audience, even if she goes just as hard as her male counterparts. Somehow, it directly attracts a higher female audience, and a higher male audience as well but very indirectly ;)... Look at Nazizi's significance in Necessary Noize, how Black Eyed Peas suddenly plummeted into fame after their addition of Fergie and Lauryn Hill's unavoidable presence in The Fugees as a measure of the potential benefit a group of predominantly male artistes could gain from this.

Camp Mulla have this sorted already with two(?) female vocalists bringing in their higher octave swag that results in some nicely done choruses and hooks, mostly from Miss Karun who brings with her an eclectic vocal range and a good look as well.

3. Versatile Production? Check!
Apart from a group of talented singers and rappers, through Camp Mulla we could also be looking at number of potentially good producers coming up. Their original content reveals a lot of versatility and it is quite hard to make out the presence of any signature beat or arrangement that is constantly exploited.

Internationally popular artistes are into multi-genre production these days, always trying new combinations and all - anybody noticed how RnB singers have been doing some seriously dance and electronic influenced stuff? The production team behind Camp Mulla (Sub-Saharan Records) have proven they are just as capable especially with this demo track Captain of the Cool Kids. The breaks in this track are just a joy to listen to - at around 1:00, it gets down to something close to kwaito, then its switched up to a section that even a super-producer like Timabaland would be head bump to of at 1:47 and later at 2:58...:

4. Favourable on Social Media? Check!
This group follows Just A Band's example of how aggressive marketing on social media networks can pay off. Currently, the CM page on Facebook and Reverbnation is quite popular and they have managed to get #KenyansOnTwitter (a dangerously opinionated but highly influential section of the twitter universe) behind them, which is no mean feat at all!

In conclusion, this crew has, from the get-go, a combination with the potential of at least causing a stir in Africa if not worldwide, as of today. What happens tomorrow and the future is entirely up to them and a bit of chance as well. And since most of them are still a couple of years or so shy of 20, there's still a lot of time for them to hone their craft and fine tune their skills to be able to churn out high quality music capable of being appreciated worldwide. Meanwhile, I and many others shall continue to listen...

1 Retakes:

Augustus Randall said...

Just seeing teh Mulla Group on DSTV/Africa Magic, I'm so in love with their style. Cant imagin they are from and based in Kenya. Thought they were from America, Damn!!!! These kids are HOT!!!

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