By KAREN MURIUKI
More by this Author
Mbogi Konnection, a four-man collective of Afrocentric artistes, is not your average music band.
Having noticed a gap in the cultural disconnect among the millennial generation, Sitonick “Ice-Tonic” Taiyana, 27, Joash Masese, 25, Gugz’ Ngugi, 25, and Abdul Sigilai, 26, made a decision to share and promote African art and culture with the masses through the principle of love in their music, and their Unganisha Festival. They talked to the Saturday Nation about their beginnings and their future plans.
Why the name Mbogi Konnection?
Ice: Mbogi comes from the word bogie, which means a railway carriage in English, and the connection that the carriages have gave us inspiration for the name. We are a group of people with the same values. We are a squad that holds each other’s hands and moves together.
Gugz: Mbogi Konnection is a family and a support system. We were brought together by different circumstances, but we realised we were all we needed.
Ice: Gugz and I were friends way before the band was created. We had tried out acting and poetry at first, until Gugz discovered percussion. In June last year, we all performed separately at a concert called Ona, which was Ice’s debut concert; for him to blend poetry, music and dance … The vibe was great and there was a lot of love from the audience. But something drew us closer after that. None of us went ahead to say that we should form a band. We started hanging out almost every day, until one September afternoon when we decided to form the band to support each other.
Gugz: Another common factor was our belief in the mantra of love. All of us went through hardships, both personally and musically, something I believe made us appreciate and value our craft. Meeting people who believe in the love of giving, the craft and taking care of each other is a blessing. Ours is true love.
Ice: Love that gives, and love that continues. Music is a full-time job for us. We don’t intend to do anything else in the long run.
What was the initial goal?
Gugz: Our goal wasn’t long-term. We simply decided to try out a second edition of Ona. That was followed by Pawa Festival, and the rest was history.
Ice: There was a certain hunger each of us had as solo artistes. That’s what pushed us to come together. No one had to explain their dream to the other. We wanted to create our own sound — something different. It has been a journey that we truly value.
How would you describe your music?
Ice: It is a blend of traditional and urban African sounds. It is very percussive. The beat of the djembe is always the introduction to our songs. There is something about the African drums that awaken the spirit. You cannot really explain it. You just have to feel it. The drums are the backbone of our music.
The chanting and the screaming we do is because of the freedom, which we use to describe our music as well. Once you give yourself the freedom of expression, everything becomes beautiful.
Who do you look up to musically as a band?
Ice: Fela Kuti has been our greatest musical inspiration. We also explore a lot of African bands like BCUC from South Africa. And as much as we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we know and believe we can achieve anything.
What made you see the gap in the industry?
Gugz: As a percussionist, I realised that our music is not really toned down, as it was a long time ago with different cultures. There are very few spaces, especially in Nairobi, that allow artistes like us to express ourselves. Today, many schools focus on teaching students how to play Western instruments like the piano, saxophone and bass, among many others. It is not a bad thing, but we feel like cultural instruments, like the marimba and nyatiti, should be incorporated into the curriculum as well.
How do you intend to make a difference with the festival? Gugz: Through Unganisha, we seek to work with different cultural artistes before reaching out to our different audiences. We need to have an understanding of what we are trying to teach.
Ice: We intend to teach social responsibility through the festival, which we have divided into three parts. I’ll explain better with the first edition of the festival, which was in Kiambu County. At first, we rallied the artistes and youth of the area to plant trees and have open conversations. The second part, Drum Café, was all about teaching about the instruments and different cultural aspects. The third part was the festival, in which we tried to connect the youth who attended.
What next for the group? Gugz: We have two projects we’re working on. A concert at the end of the month at PAWA 254, who have honestly been our greatest supporters. The concert, which comes after the first edition that was in June, is really to celebrate and appreciate the fans who have stuck with us since the beginning.
Secondly, we’re planning a two-day Unganisha Festival towards the end of the year. We want to give a full experience of cultural art through manyattas, muratina, cultural dancers and drummers. We plan on going all out, and hope that everyone will get to be part of their roots.
Ice: And in all these plans, we are deeply motivated by our principle of love.