With the release of his first international album, Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales, Kenyan producer and performing artist Blinky Bill brings together his various influences and experiences that have shaped this multifaceted artist. Raised in Nairobi, the soundtrack of his youth featured his mom’s religious songs and dad’s vintage Congolese sounds. Later on, it would be Kenya’s public transport, buses named ‘matatus’, through which he would be introduced to the sounds of funk and hip hop, with the likes of Tupac, Biggie, Snoop Dog and A Tribe Called Quest leaving a lasting impression on him.
Blinky Bill started his musical path directing his high school choir despite having no musical training. “I was a budding songwriter. It felt like the quickest way to express myself in that way and also teach people some music. There was no thought behind it, it just felt like the natural thing to do. When I look back now I think, that was a bit crazy but back then it was just a creative outlet”. Through the choir, he would make friends with one of the future members of Just a Band, the collective he would form in college. With a sound that was unique in Kenya, Just A Band explored jazz, hip-hop, disco and electronica and “opened the space for alternative musicians”.
Going solo felt like a natural progression for Blinky Bill: “People don’t really know your ideas outside of a group. Also, Just a Band was a collective. Everyone could easily do their own projects and be successful in their own right.” With the release of his debut solo EP We Cut Keys While You Wait he began shaping his own sound and writing style. As a producer, his approach to music is all about finding the right feelings. “I make beats or I get beats and I approach them with respect to the space that there is in the song and pick the appropriate feeling and vibe. It’s like Jenga or putting building blocks until the house is complete”.
Lyrically Blinky Bill is heavily inspired by Stevie Wonder, at the same time though, he appreciates when musicians use their voice as an instrument rather than to just deliver a message. “You look at someone like Pharrell for example, he doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world but he still found a way to make his unique voice stand out”.
Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales is a collection Blinky Bill’s observations of life and how uncertain our paths are. “Even if you have everything together there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the end of tomorrow and even if you don’t have everything together you can still make something out of it. It was more of an encouragement to people to enjoy their journey and not be intimidated by what everyone’s formula for life is”.
The album sees Blinky Bill exploring various sounds and feelings, ranging from dancefloor-ready tracks to laid-back jams. Featuring collaborations with the likes of Petite Noir, Sampa the Great and Nneka alongside Kenyan friends Manchild, Mayonde and MDQ, as well as Sage, Sara & Wambura Mitaru and Lisa Oduor Noah, Swiss producers Hook and GR! along with Samuel Sichangi. “I love working with other artists. My role as a producer sometimes is to figure out whose voice is going to make sense on a particular track. In previous projects, I’ve been very generous in giving tracks to other people but this time I wanted to have a healthy balance, so some songs I kept to myself and some songs made more sense with others”.
With such a diverse sound, it’s no easy task picking a song from the album that defines Blinky Bill as an artist. “You can feel that the song is mine but I don’t want to have the same tempo or beat. I just want it to be different. If pressed I would choose ‘Happy’ or ‘Oh Wah’, [although] everyone loves ‘Atenshan’”.
With an album that sees Blinky Bill exploring a variety of sonics, so do the themes explored vary. From a tale of Lwanda Magera, a mighty warrior known in Luo Folklore to the fun love song that is ‘Atenshan’, exploring the dilemma faced by all creatives on ‘Bills to Pay’, it’s an example of his versatility as a writer. While the sounds and topics may change from song to song, Blinky Bill hopes that the music makes people think, laugh and dance. “Enjoy life, have a good time and think for yourself”.