From the city of Kisumu to being an international sensation, Suraj Mandavia is a DJ-music producer who creates contemporary electronic music infused with traditional musical and cultural elements.
What have you been up to?
For the past few months I have been busy working on a project called Sounds of Sasaab with a company I co-own, Midi Minds Kenya. This project explores the sounds of the Samburu culture through electronic music. In a nutshell, we recorded vocals with the Samburu tribe and made world-class electronic music infused with the samples by leading DJs and producers from around the world. We then created a various artists compilation, sample pack and documentary whose revenue will go back solely to the community we collaborated with. Different perspectives of our project have already been featured by BBC Africa, Forbes Japan and many more.
How has the Coronavirus affected you?
Yes indeed, I was scheduled to play about nine shows in March including two international gigs (Nigeria, Abu Dhabi). Unfortunately, after the first week of March, the country and world has been on lockdown and naturally that means cancellations of pretty much all the shows. However, we ought to find the positives with the situation at hand and work towards restoring regular programming.
How have your experiences playing outside Kenya shaped you?
It has been a dream come true to be able to traverse the globe with my music. Performing to a crowd of people who don’t exactly know you, haven’t heard your sound can be a little overwhelming at first, but you quickly realise the universal love and power that music brings. Almost all my travels have some sort of a highlight but off the top of my head: my debut in Rabat, Morocco in November shocked me. All the stars aligned for me.
Your DJ sets are famous for introducing us to new music especially Afro and tribal stuff. Is this conscious and how do you even discover such gems?
Yes it is definitely a conscious decision. I have been fortunate to connect with DJs and producers from around the world who regularly send me music they know fits in my sets as well as my record label Gondwana KE. We always receive demos and promos that also contribute to the new music I discover and play.
Talk to us about Gondwana events; how do you build that consistency?
So, Gondwana KE is a record label and event outfit I co-own with 2 partners and we have been showcasing African electronic music through music releases and a monthly residency for over 2 years. Our consistency stems from our love and passion for the sound. Our monthly residency has grown exponentially and the support has been out of this world, enabling us to invite some of the most prolific artistes from our sound as well as pioneer and lead day-time/sun-down events every month.
Let’s get into the meat of things; event corporations such as Kenya Nights seem to have a high representation of coloured performers at the expense of black ones. Is this true?
Personally, I don’t think it is true, however, each individual has their own perspective. I am deliberately careful and I always take into account the balance of all factors in order to provide a fair playing field for anyone despite background, race, colour, etc.
How would you describe the DJ’s union in Kenya? Is there sociability or could there be cracks behind the scenes?
The DJ union in our country is definitely supportive of each other and has a sense of camaraderie, especially lately, with the help of social media and easy access to information. There is that obvious strand of politics and envy, but that exists regardless.
Who are some of your current favourite DJs?
DJ Vidza (Kenya) She is creating her own sense of identity, super humble human being and passionate for the right reasons. Buruntuma (Guinea Bissau) He has got to be one of the most technical DJs I have shared a stage with and he has an original yet distinct way of performing.
How will the rest of the year pan out for you?
This year will be a musical year for me, my focus is to continue developing my signature sound and bring it one step closer to you. I would love to collaborate with artists such as H_Art The Band, Tetu Shani, Ayrosh (locally), and Da Capo, Sun-El-Musician & Oumou Sangare worldwide.
Without giving too much away, my plans this year include will supporting a Kenyan band during their French tour in summer, A scheduled Asia tour across Singapore, Bali and Vietnam as well as my monthly residencies Afro Social and Gondwana KE, I will take up an international residency during European summer and continue showcasing my music in African countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Mayotte, Zambia, Tunisia.