Words by Lauryn Njeri

Created in just 2 days back in 2018, “Mangroves” is a 4-track collaborative EP between UK producer Contours and a selection of Kenya’s most accomplished musicians, formed as Pyramid Project, by ADA Records Label Head, Lasta.

Each track on the EP sizzles with an improvised approach resulting in an electric vibe that provides a truly live feel.The instrumental journey begins in a climate of mystery before immersing you into a ferocious yet atmospheric Swahili Jazz composition, “Mangroves“. The track is birthed by percussive instruments that are then awakened by a toying bassline that soon builds into a driving riff with skipping drums.

Contours is on percussion with the Space Echo, Katumba is on the drums providing the Afro-Rhythms, and Abaki Simba’s Masta and Inspekta on Percussion. The track flawlessly ebbs and flows allowing young pianist Mutoriah to take the lead.

Pyramid Project kicks up the energy on an electric Afro-Disco composition, “Driver” which is led by the sounds of the Orutu, a single-stringed fiddle from Western Kenya, played by Boaz Jagingo. The disco melody quickly builds to uplifting Drum and Bass before dropping away to reveal Jagingo’s Echo’s in the hook lifting the track as he depicts a busy Kenyan Central Business District.

Surrounded by a four-piece percussion section, the excitement of the live recording shines through as Abaki Simba faces off Katumba in a percussive breakdown. The song is then lifted again by Jagingo’s rhythmic chants blended with the energetic Drum and Bass of Contours and Mbaluka.

Black Bandcamp caught up with Lasta, producer and spearhead of the sublime collective, to learn about their creative process in the making of their enchanting brainchild.

Tell us the story behind your intriguing name, “The Pyramid Project” and how you all came together.

The band were brought together by ADA Records label head Lasta to collaborate with who was visiting East Africa at the time. The label saw this as a great opportunity to shine a light on some of Kenya’s amazing musicians and the tradition of live music that they are keeping alive.

The name ‘The Pyramid Project’ came about to add an air of mystery and a sense of ancient spiritualism and culture to the project. The idea is that each composition is not overly thought out, instead an improvised approach is adopted, calling on ancestral sounds and translating them through the conduit of today’s Kenyan musicians.

Mangroves was recorded in an impressive 2 days. How was the process of composing and writing the EP?

It was intense! But we allocated 1 day to each of the original compositions for song writing, rehearsing the final recording, of which there were only 3 takes. This ensured true collaboration in the song writing, and a truly live feel with the magic coming through the improvised elements. Such a process meant that the whole day was focussed on 1 song and didn’t allow for any slump in creativity. With so many creative minds in the room, the energy and excitement was real! There was no time for big mistakes in the recordings, but the calibre of musicians meant that there was no need for concern.

What was the atmosphere you were striving for when the band created this piece of work?

Mangroves was intended to be a souring spiritual jazz number, with heavy Swahili influence. The idea was to channel coastal rhythms and melodies and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, and lots of drama. Mutoriah’s key solo really brought this through backed up by a pulsating rhythm and percussion section.

Driver was intended more for the dancefloor, channelling an Afro-Disco vibe, but looking to Western Kenya for its distinct Oruto sound by Boaz Jagingo. The image is that of a busy CBD in Kenya, translated by a percussive battle between Abaki Simba and Gervais Katumba. This is a track to groove to.

So how does the dynamic work in the group with nine of you? Is it led or does everyone have an input?

The concept was brought together by ADA Records, but the songwriting was truly collaborative. Each track required the skills of different lead players, and once all the musicians were in the room together and the concept clarified, the song writing came together democratically, with each of the musicians having an equal say in the direction of each track.

What is the band’s vision in terms of creating an earspace for more alternative Kenyan music?

With so many re-releases of great live music from the 70s and 80s, the concept of The Pyramid Project was to write and release live music that channeled the same energy and live excitement as the golden era, but with a contemporary take on it. The music is not strictly aligned with any specific Kenyan genre, but instead is free, bringing musicians from all parts of Kenya together to present a contemporary and alternative take on Kenyan live music today. This music is not necessarily for the mainstream Kenyan market, but more as an artistic comment, displaying the true talent and diversity of Kenyan music.

What would be a dream collaboration for the collective?

All the band members would have a different answer for this and there are way too many Kenyan and international producers that we would love to work with. However, there is another release in the wings, with a different selection of Kenyan artists, hold tight for more info. But to try and answer the question, the Godfather of contemporary, alternative music from Kenya today is Blinky Bill, so Bill if you like what you hear, give us a call!!!

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