Interview with KMRU
By: Dennis M. Kelly
DK: Hello KMRU, thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it! How are you?
KMRU: I am doing great today. One of those chilled out days where I stay home all day and read books and listen to music.
DK: Sounds like a great day to me! Why don’t you start off by telling me a bit about yourself and about your music please.
KMRU: ‘Always since I can remember, especially living in the ‘“City in the Sun”, Nairobi. I was surrounded by music. One of my first and strongest musical memories is of having a mini keyboard that we played with my brother, we played it so much and it was demolished in the end.’ I haven’t been playing Piano since then, until now where I have to play some melodies on my MIDI keyboard or often draw on Ableton.
For one reason or another, my initial experiments of my music projects have been a product of influences I have been listening to and the vibrant culture I was raised in. Throughout the process, I have been trying to make something that has absolute relevance to me. After releasing Euphoria my debut album in 2017 I have been quite critical of the sound I am going for. Anchoring my music where nature, life, space, and music intersect. My projects are always varied depending on what is happening during the process which is always experimentation.
I got club energy in me but I put that in Dj. I play completely different music that I produce and I feel comfortable with that. I really don’t want to make a club project where I have to think about the dance floor but I could do that in a few of my projects. I can basically make what I want, could be experimental, Electro, organic, ambient, Un-quantized music or Synth-wave.
DK: How would you describe the Nairobi music scene from your early days through now?
KMRU: The city’s multiculturalism influences everything from its food to its fashion and culture, but musically, Nairobi is most well-known for Benga, a genre of Kenyan popular music that evolved between the late 1940s, or its adorned hip-hop scene propped up by the Ogopa Deejays and the old school heads Kabangu Music in Nairobi is so varied and vibrant. Over the past decade, there has been a musical and technological revolution. Rumba and benga which is still played in Pubs, Live fusion of Afrobeat, R&B and Hip Hop, some palatable Jazz music, if you know where to go and electronic music which I first heard from Just A Band who blended electronica, funk, and disco.
The scene now is chaotic and vibrant .Everyone is writing music and artists are emerging. Artists Such as Suraj, a producer / DJ is burgeoning Kenya’s an Africa’s Electronic Music scene, Blinky Bill whose music is a mix of futuristic African beats meets Hip-hop and Electronica (whose also a mentor). Among other artists and collectives are EA WAVE ,Camp Mulla ,M³ among others in the Nairobi scene and the Nu Nairobi.
DK: How competitive/collaborative would you say it is?
KMRU: There is growth but the music scene in Nairobi is competitive. It has been a tough sell for budding musicians who, in the wake of the heightened competition, find it tough to get airplay, distribution channels for their music and income. On the other side, Collaboration in Nairobi is fostered and artists/Producers and musicians have been collaborating and forming collectives in the Nairobi scene.
DK: How would you define your role in that scene?
KMRU: As a musician, Producer and a DJ, as I prefer to think of myself, I often feel there is too much pressure on me as a creative in the Nairobi Music scene and specifically as an Electronic Music producer / DJ in Nairobi and to what I create. I create something and I love that I am comfortable with this role as KMRU and also the space that I am in here in Nairobi. I just want to spread good vibes and create my own format of life in my music.
DK: What was the initial spark that drove you to pursue a music career and toward electronic music as well?
KMRU: Having been raised from a musical background and also studying music in High school, I felt the pressure and urge to deepen my overall musical knowledge, develop my guitar skills and advance my knowledge of musical theory although along the way I discovered electronic music production from my classmates in Campus and classical guitar which has an impression in my music.
DK: Were there any difficulties in balancing school and your interests in music growing up?
KMRU: Growing up it wasn’t difficult because music was just my hobby; Performing in School choirs, learning new instruments and performing. All this was done as leisure and did not affect my school studies. And for a fact, back then, parents never let their kids study music in school / colleges. I am fortunate to study music although I had to sacrifice and putting every last ounce of energy I have into it; traveling outside the country for a show remembering that I would be in 7 AM class on Monday, Staying up all night to finish my Labels projects, among many other sacrifices. I could have flopped on my face but I stuck it out and proved myself to my peers. Every achievement is because I gave 110% of myself, treated everyone with genuine kindness and sacrificed things in my life that people take for granted.
DK: How much of a change has the signing to Black Lemon Records made to your career?
KMRU: Black Lemon Records believes in me and the music that I make. Since my Signing with the German label, my music has reached to a wider scope, charted on Top100 on Beatport, and lots of Compilation from different labels. Distribution, Publishing and licensing of my music was a hindrance when I was starting but now with the help of the label things have been panning out well.
DK: I really like all your music, but one song that stood out to me above the rest is ‘Round Pegs’, what can you tell me about that track?
KMRU: ‘Round Pegs’ was among my best collaborations of 2017. Worked on this track with Poetra Asantewa, a poet, spoken word artist who I discovered on 1beat after listening to this. Later got in touch with her on Twitter where we started on the whole project sending ideas back and forth until its release. Round Pegs is a fusion of Spoken word fused with electronic music. It was something that both of us had never tried. Poetra Asantewa tells a story of a Big-headed boy destined to be an artist who is instead being forced to take the path towards being an engineer by his family. Poetra also uses herself as an example as her description of what she wants to be in future is wrongly translated and she is then told that she isn’t good enough to be a neurosurgeon because of her failing math grades. This harms her confidence and almost extinguishes her dreams but it all works out in the end as her dreams shapeshift and lead her towards the path of poetry.
DK: From the description of the ‘EAST’ EP and knowing your musical skills, it sounds like this is definitely an EP not to miss! What more can you tell me about it?
KMRU: This was a collaborative project with Manch!ld during the East African Soul Train, a unique mobile residency bringing together artists from East Africa to collaborate across artistic disciplines, this led to the EAST EP available on Spotify, Itunes, Beatport, Deezer for both download and streaming.
DK: What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your music career so far?
KMRU: ‘Not to let irrational fears stand in your way’ ‘To make music that moves your soul, NEVER to imitate others or try to guess what the public wants’ and ‘invest and sacrifice your time on your craft.’
DK: What does 2018 look like for you so far? Any albums or collaborations in the works?
KMRU: In 2018, I will be releasing a Synthwave EP, my second Album, as yet unnamed, and also collaborating with artists like Poetra, Jackie Queens, Pablo Fierro SUTRA among others and more Black Lemon Music.
DK: How are the best ways for people to be able to connect with you online?
KMRU: on all my Social Media platforms as KMRU Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook and feel free to drop an email
DK: I would very much like to thank you for your time once again and wish you all the best in your career!
KMRU: Thank you Dennis!
Biography: KMRU is a strong, independent and unique individual whose sensitive and abstract musical flow delivers diverse sounds with soul, warmth, ambient and a touch of nostalgia. He has worked hard over the past 2 years to make his mark on the Nairobi underground music scene and his deft arrangements and productions have landed him in the spotlight in Germany.
Born in Kenya, Nairobi, KMRU was exposed to many cultures growing up. He picked up music at High School as a subject before joining the school’s choir where he would perform and help the teacher in transcribing music. As a young boy, KMRU was surrounded by musicians, Joseph Kamaru, his grandfather who he grew up listening to alongside other eclectic selection including Bobby McFerrin, deadmau5 among others. At 16 he learned a few musical instruments with the focus on Classical guitar. He joined Kenyatta University And which he is majoring in Music Technology.His reason for studying music was because he felt that as a classical guitarist, he had to deepen his overall music knowledge; develop his music reading, advance his music theory and learn about music technology. Months later he discovered the art of music production through his classmates, Hendrick and Amenya, who had been producing for a year now. Making music followed with lots of experimentation and recording sounds. “I would always record class lectures and students laughing in class and mess around with them on Ableton.” Collaborating on the way with Hendrick, a year later, KMRU was signed with a German record Label, Black Lemon Records, in September 2016 jump-starting him to making more music and collaborating.
In early 2017, KMRU released his debut album, Euphoria, which everything was played with a computer and a mouse. This unveiled his musical experiments since the inception of KMRU and also scooping top 100 on Beatport charts.
“I became more persistent, I never stopped experimenting in my bedroom, I had to sacrifice my social life to further on my career.”
2017, the same year as the release of his album, KMRU was chosen to participate at the East African Soul Train, an artist residency project bringing East African creative together to collaborate around a train journey, with Jojo Abot as the director. This led to more music collaboration, releasing his first collaborative Ep, ‘EAST’ with Manch!ld which was a compilation of different sounds, conversations recorded during the entire residency.
Later mid-year 2017, KMRU started deejaying after a two-week workshop with Midi Minds. KMRU had intended to start performing his live sets in 2018 but his plans changed. His first gig was at Igiza Lounge with Wambui (Fluid) who became his mentor. “I would call her for all my CD-J’s practice sessions and we would go back to back sets.” “I began to be exposed to more electronic music from different parts of the world, started making more electro music and began to build my courage as a DJ”
Been exposed more to Nairobi’s electronic music scene, KMRU got to perform at main clubs such as the Alchemist and later found himself performing for over 1500 people at Nyegenyege Festival in Uganda and later for Bayimba Festival in Uganda.
“Djing became an obsession and didn’t want to stop!”
KMRU spends his life immersed in music continuously releasing music with his label, randomly surprising his listeners with diverse sounds on his Soundcloud. In 2018 he continues his journey on releasing new music and collaborations. At the moment he is working on his second album, which draws you in, telling a story of his journey in Sound design. 2017 has been a collaborative year for KMRU and he has so much artist on his 2018 list such as Pablo Fierro, Poetra Asantewa, and Perera Elsewhere.
“ I made a leap of faith into choosing this as a career and putting every last ounce of energy into it.Every achievement was because I gave 110% of myself and sacrificing things in my life.”