Spinning Decks, Saving Lives: Nairobi’s New School of DJs - Bubblegum Club

Spinning Decks, Saving Lives: Nairobi’s New School of DJs

DJ sets have become increasingly popular over the past couple of years, often determining the marketability of multiple tracks and thus placing DJs as key changemakers within the music industry. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the East African scene, a steadily growing music hub, has developed a DJ culture of its own. 

Notoriously labelled as the city of enjoyment, Nairobi has gained a reputation for its colourful nightlife being host to a myriad of late-night events and parties. Similarly, DJ sets are lively and eclectic and have often become cathartic spaces for many to release the week’s stresses through movement and dance. Whilst a solid playlist keeps the party going, there is something undeniably compelling about the energy surrounding a set. Still, DJ culture, as we know it, exists only as a result of multiple developments and changes over time. 

The quarantine period was particularly significant as it forced DJs to shift their working dynamic from spinning decks on crowded, sweaty dancefloors to creating mixes for inanimate screens, idle floating hearts being the sole way of affirmation.

Whilst this transition was initially difficult, working remotely presented a number of advantages, including the increased use of social media platforms that consequently made these sets more accessible. This intention to connect with people provided great healing for those who were in isolation and found music to be an effective method of self-soothing. 


Photograph by Sookie Murage

Chia (bbyyontheisland) Kayanda reflects on her journey as a DJ, a venture that emanated in 2017 whilst she was attending a festival in Kilifi, where she underwent, what can only be described as a spiritual awakening on the dancefloor. 

Hypnotised by the music and enamoured by the ones controlling it, bbyy realised how desperately she too, wanted to facilitate people’s ascent. Chia humorously likens DJs to God in that they hold the ultimate power in the room and are able to influence the atmosphere of the crowd through their selection of music. DJ sets determine the memorability of an event; a good set equals a good time which automatically translates to a great function. 

bbyyontheisland has found her home in XPRSO, a Kenyan-based production team of four members, including herself. Not only have they provided her with a platform that has subsequently led to plenty of opportunities but they have kept her inspired throughout her DJ journey. She highlights how important it has been for her to grow organically with people around her whom she respects and admires, reiterating how lucky she is to call them friends.


Photograph by Selina Onyando

Coincidentally, she didn’t receive a paid gig until 2020, during the quarantine when she was hired to play a 30-minute set for a virtual audience. Without the interactivity of a live crowd, bbyy found that what she missed most was establishing a connection with the audience whilst showcasing her mixes.

The quarantine also introduced a new class of DJ: experimental, eager to create and desperate for community. This class was born out of need — to express, to release. Time was no longer a construct and yet there seemed to be even less of it. This new school of DJs had two prerogatives: to curate moments through music and to uplift and similarly be uplifted by their local community. 

Monica (BADMON) Kemoli describes DJ-ing as “another avenue of creating community through music”, an endeavour that she has been passionate and deliberate about for quite some time. Nonetheless, her career as a DJ was purely circumstantial as she was not initially looking to get into DJ-ing and was subtly coaxed into it by a plethora of friends who were admirers of her TANGAZA playlists — curated diverse mixes that served to underline upcoming East African artists. 


Photograph by Selina Onyando

This facet has seamlessly bled into her DJ sets. She elucidates that it has become one of her favourite creative outlets as it provides her with the space to create something incredibly personal and celebrate it with people. 

Finding community was not difficult for BADMON who is a part of the Santuri Music School alumni, a value-driven community enterprise active in alternative/underground electronic music scenes of East Africa, and therefore graduated with a number of DJs whom she describes as wholesome and who seem to share the same sentiments vis-à-vis supporting one another and finding spaces that appreciate alternative tastes and styles of music. 

Moreover, Monica has been able to lean on the pre-existing creative community that she founded with TANGAZA Magazine, a publication based on highlighting East Africa’s music industry. This intentional curation of creative spaces has allowed Monica to access and play at events that she may not have been able to obtain on her lonesome. 

The Mist, Unseen, The Winning Post, Blue Martini, The Shelter and La Fiesta are some of the spaces that are well known for hosting and placing underground/unknown DJs (a number that is steadily increasing) in the limelight.


Photograph by Leslie Buruguru

Marion (nowisgood) Muthiani is one of the many DJs whose sets have graced these spaces. Similar to BADMON, she got her start in DJ-ing with Santuri Music School, however, she began experimenting with radio mixes during quarantine that she then proceeded to upload on SoundCloud. 

For Marion, music serves as a means of communication, a pathway through which she is able to access her most intimate thoughts and foster understanding and rapport with the community she is surrounded by. Inspired by her moods, nowisgood curates mixes that tell a story, hoping to elicit and ignite a similar feeling in those that attend her sets, deeming togetherness as the most significant part of being a DJ.

This theme trickles down to her personal politics as Marion is heavily invested in pouring into and creating spaces for more black, women, queer, non-binary and trans DJs who may not have access to the same resources that are often poured into those in proximity to structural power. nowisgood insists that distribution will upheave the hierarchy that allows for certain DJs to dominating the industry but has found that this is only achievable through intentional community. 

She references SoundCloud as the online platform that has connected her with several peers and professionals whom she has sought assistance and gained masterful insight from. Marion’s dream is to witness the diversification of DJ culture and for African DJs to receive their incredibly overdue flowers, a feat that, despite its hurdles, seems to be on the horizon. 


Photograph by Leslie Buruguru

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