Electronic music big despite venue woes

DJ Foozak tells doubters to ‘watch this space’ as Kenyans embrace genre

In Summary

• Deejay who's been in the industry for 17 years and performed worldwide is optimistic

DJ Foozak on the decks
DJ Foozak on the decks

A good Oontz experience is something I wouldn’t pass up. And that’s what Endless Entertainment Kenya gave us last weekend with the Oontztopia event.

A little past 2am, I caught up with DJ Foozak, who has been at the forefront of electronic music culture since its beginning. He is also a producer and the co-founder of Ewaso Records.

The interview and lively chat sought to explore the growth of electronic music in Kenya, which comprises genres such as house, trance, dance and techno.

The just-concluded set was amazing. What it’s like being one of the lead DJs in the electronic scene?

DJ Foozak: Well, first of all, it isn’t as easy as people portray it to be. I won’t deny that it is fun playing for crowds, but the preparation that comes along just to deliver a good set is quite the task. A lot goes into it, sleepless nights. You definitely have to work a lot.

How long have you been in the industry?

This is actually my 17th year as a DJ and my fifth as a producer. Funny enough, I first deejayed when I was 15, just like as a one-time thing, at a friend’s birthday party. But my friends heard it and they liked it, and they were like, 'Man, this can’t be a one-time thing!' From there on, the dream started.

Of course, as a DJ, you’ve worked with various people. Who did you like working with?

I like working with my boys Euggy, Suraj and Dylan. These are my guys, the team I have, and we really showcase the Kenyan scene as it is.

Alongside names such as Suraj, Dylan and other deejays, you’ve created events like Midi Minds, Komplex and CradleLife. What was the process like?

All these just goes down to wanting to broaden and spread electronic music. Pushing its boundaries in Kenya and beyond and bringing anyone who can onboard with this journey and dream.

An example is on the creating of the Sounds of Saabab, which involved interacting with the people of Samburu. We noticed a niche in tribal vocals, we wanted to know more about the rich history of these sounds and their people. Consolidating and combining old, ancient sounds with new forms of music creation with the modern technology that we have.

Ladies get on stage during the event
Ladies get on stage during the event

Electronic music is mostly stereotyped as “white people music” and not a lot of Kenyans are big on it. What challenges have you come across over the years?

Actually, the major challenge in the Nairobi scene is the venues, that’s why we started brands like Komplex Kenya. Kenyans deserve more in terms of venues. We’re really trying to find new venues and spaces that we can put our music into. It may come across as expensive now, but it’s definitely worth it. We definitely want to hold events that have the magnitudes of festivals such as Tomorrowland here in Kenya, bringing to life such experiences to our fans and consumers.

Not even that, you’re competing with genres like Afrobeats and Amapiano, which are really popular among Kenyans, and in which event organisers even bring in the respective artistes. What can you say about that?

Well, Komplex and Gondwana over the Easter weekend went head-to-head with Raha Fest, which had artistes like Davido and Ya Levis performing, and I think we did pretty well. The venue was at Railways Museum, which is a super hard venue to work in. That’s why two brands came together in two different stages because we want to give the consumer something different. We did deliver and I’d just want to urge people out there that they should give us time to grow and watch a lot of good stuff coming out.

Currently, how do you feel about the local electronic music industry?

The Kenyan electronic music scene is growing at a rapid rate. More and more middle-class Kenyans are listening to it. We’re trying to bring our music to everyone, make it accessible just like every other genre.

We want people to sit in a matatu and listen to a track and be like, 'You know what, this is East African house music!' That is the next step, and we’re in the studio and all the boys are working hard towards it.

Luckily for now, you can swing by the Alchemist and Muze, which are major hubs for electronic music. You’d notice that such places, including here at Sk8city, are spacious, vibrant with colours and lights. The sound is also pretty incredible. We really wish we could find and establish more and more of such spaces.

Apart from The Alchemist and Muze, you’ve also played in other countries and are popular in other locations, such as Watergate in Berlin. Tell me about playing internationally?

Yeah, it’s all about taking the music across borders, too. I’ve played in London, Tokyo, Berlin, Copenhagen, New York neighbouring countries like Uganda and also at the coastline shores of Watamu, and I hope to go even further and perform in as many countries as possible.

When was your debut, like where you went, 'Yeah, that’s me, Foozak'?

It was a long time ago, but up to date, I’d tone it down to 2012, where I used to be in a duo, Foozak and Frankie B, it was a pivotal moment. And I’m just so happy to still be part of the scene, still posting and still inspiring people.

As I said earlier, what an amazing set you had there, but what was your experience playing here at Oontztopia tonight?

It was an incredible experience. This is my first time promoting young promoters. I’m a big believer in supporting young people who are trying to throw events, so I’m very happy to be here. They did a good job, I think they’re a growing brand and the more they can be supported, the more they are guaranteed to grow.

Starting in the music industry is definitely not the easiest thing. What word of advice or encouragement would you give anyone seeking to embark down this road?

I’d say just start, because you never know what could happen. But of course, it does require lots of discipline and hard work.

What is your parting shot, and how can anyone reach you?

Find me on my socials, that is Instagram @foozak, X @foozak_. Find my mixtapes on Soundcloud also as Foozak, and also on Facebook as Foozak.

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