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24 September 2009

Interview with Just-a-Band on Kenyan Animation and Music

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Just a Band is a self proclaimed house/funk/disco band who are on the brink of  releasing their sophomore album 82. Their debut album Scratch to Reveal, released in 2008 received critical acclaim. Due to their spanking new sound and fusion of various digital elements Just A Band could be considered as pioneers of digital sound and animation in East Africa.In honor of their new upcoming album we posted this iinterview with our fellow Digital African, Afromusing. (We recommend that you check out her blog). Just a Band reveal their inspiration, creative process and future projects. Enjoy.

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I was listless, down out depressed, with chicken, egg and crossing of roads questions weighing on my mind; when my fingers as if they had a series of self-cordinating nanobots, tipitty tapped their way onto a blog called Sukuma Kenya. There, I found a pebble shaped like a play button on a retro CD player encased in a rectangle of sorts with a cryptic ‘You Tube’ logo on the bottom right. I touched the pebble. Holyhaberdashery! I touched it!

My fellow Africans, that is how i came to make an interweb acquaintance with Just-A-Band. JAB is defining Kenyan animation and Kenyan techno music with aplomb, piercing wit and style…what follows is the result of smoke signals encoded with morse code and for some strange reason, un-encrypted. Enjoy it, or the chicken gets it. Wait, the egg gets it! oh what the hell…something will get it.

Just A Band is composed of?
BLINKY: Jim, Dan and Blinky.
JIM: There’s also our various alter egos – so that’s 2,303 of us in total.

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Is the blog Kenya Animation also part of Just-a-Band?
DAN: Kenyanimation isn’t actually a Just A Band project, but I work as an animator, and I put up my JAB animation projects there. That blog was set up to bring together animators and animation fans who are from/work in Kenya, just to show people that there actually is such a thing as Kenyan animation, and hopefully be a launching point for bigger local projects, which haven’t had a chance so far coz people don’t really know that a scene exists! The other guys on the list (filterene, Bint Ali, Achoko, Majiqmud) are my collaborators on that project.

The album cover for your CD has an arresting image…is there a story behind it? Did the idea pop into your mind or was it an organic, incremental idea that morphed from something? What is your creative process?

 


2530390680_d6c3403477_oJIM: This is definitely a morph – the original blurry concept was to have angry, cathartic energy of some kind on the cover; and cables. Cables are always cool. The images I have in my head always morph into something else by the time they’re finished. The final image ended up being something rather calm and contained – whilst retaining that arresting vibe you’ve mentioned. Of course, Lenny (the model) helped a lot – I chose him because he’s like visual play-dough and he likes to know what we’re aiming for visually. I explained the general idea to him – and played loud drum and bass and clashy electro during the shoot.
My creative process; I typically see the visual in my head – slightly foggy around the edges, but there nonetheless. Then I work to transform that foggy visual into something real. It feels like I’m cheating, sometimes, because all I’m doing is translating the sketch that’s already in my head. In the process of doing that translation, many things change (somewhat like a multi-branched sequence of little decisions on execution) and the final results usually surprise me just as much as anyone else.



I have only listened to one song from your newest album, is the music on Scratch To Reveal kind of in the vein of Iwinyo Piny or are there more varied sounds?

BLINKY: I’d describe the album as adventurous. We all bring different influences to the Just A Band table plus an unwillingness to stay within proscribed boundaries, I’m influenced by acoustic guitar stuff, funk, jazz, hip-hop and dance stuff, everyone else’s influences are evident all through the album.
DAN: The first single, Fly, is up on YouTube and is pretty different, a bit more aggressive and obviously scifi as opposed to Iwinyo’s flirtation with spacey sounds.
JIM: Somewhere towards the middle, the album reveals a softer core; comes back to earth, if you will. Some people have found this surprising because the overall look of the album says – electronic – so having pianos and strings in the middle could be a bit bewildering for some.



I see Daft Punk is an influence on your music; what are your thoughts on the Gorillaz? Would you work with Damon Albarn if he asked? What other types of music/musicians do you gravitate towards? Graphically speaking… which animators do you like? Cartoons? Which ones??
BLINKY: I know for a fact that [Albarn] did some stuff with Fela Kuti’s band mates on a trip to Nigeria, so we wouldn’t be the first African peeps he’s working with, but I’d be absolutely down for it! I’m currently jazzed by Citizen Cope, Raphael Saadiq, Lupe Fiasco, John Mayer, Jamiroquai, St. Germaine, Van Hunt, Foreign Exchange, Bob Sinclair and Asa. I’m abit out of my waters with the animation vibes, though I like Aaron McGruder of The Boondocks fame.
DAN: DEFINITELY we’d collabo with Albarn (right after we regain consciousness)… Every project he does is SO DIFFERENT, from the Mali Music albums to Blur to Gorillaz…very much the kind of thing that we hope to do, as well.
I have a HUGE crush (creatively, hehe) on Björk. She pushes boundaries both musically and visually, stretches your imagination… We are all influenced by Parliament Funkadelic and their many spinoffs –
JIM: Are we? I just think that George Clinton guy had cool outfits. So, maybe visually.
BLINKY: George Clinton is cool!
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DAN: I think they’re our spiritual ancestors in the genre of musical Black scifi! We like old funk bands, Jamiroquai, Basement Jaxx, Jaga Jazzist, acid jazz, French House, Van Hunt and a lot of neo-soul artists, rock dudes like RHCP and Incubus, Madlib, Timbaland and the Neptunes (N*E*R*D was one of those moments of WTF is this??), a lot of stuff. I like comical old ska, garage rock like the White Stripes and The Hives and these new dancey rock bands like Franz Ferdinand. But I think the best music is the stuff you can’t really describe…
Graphically, I’m very much into manga and anime, in terms of the stories, culture, even the shortcuts they take to meet their crazy deadlines! A random list of favourites: Samurai Champloo, Mind Game, Triplets of Belleville, Studio Ghibli films, Satoshi Kon’s work, Genndy Tartakovsky, Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz work is really well designed and moves so fluidly, The Boondocks. Ralph Bakshi’s confrontational movies from the 70s are a huge creative inspiration for what I’d like to do in animation in future.
There’s an animation director called Koji Morimoto (he did the Beyond segment in The Animatrix), he makes my eyes water. Also off The Animatrix, the World Record segment was done by another new fave, Takeshi Koike, who is actually a celeb in Japan! How interesting, celebrity animators… I would like to go study at the feet of Moebius, the French comic book artist. And a lot of movies and books (I may be a bit of a junkie). We also keep an eye on the graphic design and motion graphics scene, and that’s always a visual overload.

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JIM: Daft Punk’s Discovery was one of those albums that really excited me (and it still does). Frankly, I like the visual detail of the Gorillaz more than their music. In fact, I really don’t think I like their music. But I like the way they work so hard on the supplementary material that helps you form an opinion about a band, the back story, the promos. I like people like Madonna and Björk for putting in extra effort and really being in control of their image and sound, and giving people some fantasy to believe in – however slightly.


When I was a kid, I loved the musicians who went beyond the music and created lush record covers, and placed their music in some kind of fantasy literary context. Or even the people who explored themes other than the usual “love, girls and sex”. I love the way the disco dudes touched the sky and went beyond to other planets. Why confine yourself to dull old Mother Earth?
These days it’s “Hi. I’m X and I have a great body. You want to have sex with me. I also sing.” or the other equally drab approach: “Hi. I’m exceptionally gifted. I will numb you into submission with my technical wizardry. I will now play the Euclidian scale with my teeth.”
I think Europeans are better at it than the Americans (with the exception of people like Madonna, as mentioned above). Americans are very literal about their music – Band X fits into this genre and you shouldn’t ask where they’re from or why they’re doing this. Europeans are very cool about alter egos and costumes and silly things like that.

 

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Do you perform live shows? If so, where can we catch you guys?
BLINKY: Coming soon to an area near you.
DAN: We’re actually working on the live shows now, figuring out venues and instrumentalists, and all the cool fun stuff like projections, or not. We will be unveiling the whole shebang in August. Details will be on the site/YouTube/Facebook.

JIM: We’re working on making it something interesting – because I am skeptical that Kenyans would be OK with sitting around for several hours watching a bunch of geeks fiddling with guitars. So pom-pom’s, dancing, makeup, lights, psychedelic footage and action – on a shoestring budget, as always.



The chicken or the egg question: Which came first? The animation or the music?

BILL(Blinky): The music. We used to jam in campus. And that’s where everything else spun off from.

JIM: The music came first, definitely. As always, it was a random happenstance (our music usually is). Then Dan went, “We could do a cartoon…”, and here we are.

DAN: The music was there first, but I can remember some occasions when the animation influenced the song, especially the lyrics, coz there was supposed to be more words that would have made it clearly a song about a girl, but when we talked about the video concept allowing for a broader interpretation, the lyrics were trashed (after which one station told us they couldn’t play our song coz it didn’t have any lyrics! Haha!).

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What is your animation history?

DAN: I did this one month crash course in animation right before starting Uni, and when I met Jim and Blinky I talked trash about how we could do these huge animated videos, even though I had never actually done anything… So we started Iwinyo, and I was thoroughly humbled. I guess it came out OK, though. It was a learning experience.

JIM: If there ever was a time that we had internal fights, it was during the Iwinyo phase. I think we’re over that now.

DAN: Or at least we’ve figured out some “Constructive Anger Management Techniques.”

JIM: I have absolutely no idea what he means…

DAN: *blink*

(Does rendering take forever?)

Rendering? That depends on what programs/methods you’re using… As the 2D guy, I lack the patience that the 3D guys develop whilst waiting for the goodies to iva[ripen].

I personally really like animation because of the freedom it allows you in terms of following your ideas. And I like 2D for its much more human feel, 3D can be kinda plastic. I really hate how long it takes to make, though. I see Jimmy dropping live action videos and photography projects like bunnies…

I taught animation and cartooning a bit and I work as a freelance animator to pay them bills, and so I’m all up on Kenyan animation, where it could go, what stories we could tell… but that’s a long story.

JIM: Photography and video are somewhat more immediate, which makes me look hard-working. It’s just that projects get finished real quick.

What kind of software do you use to create the animation? and is uploading videos onto YouTube (from Kenya) as torturous task as I experienced or do you have a secret high speed bunker where we can mooch off of justabandwidth?

JIM: Adobe Flash and Adobe AfterEffects.

DAN: Drawings for the 2D are done on paper, and scanned or redrawn on comp. For the next animated video we’re doing, for the track called FunkyFineBeautiful, we have a new collaborator who kicks butt at 3DS Max. As for the uploading, we mooch off our friends’ high speed connections…

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Your YouTube tag is justabandwidth which is very cool. Could one presume that you are total geeks?

BILL: We seem to attract an intelligent crowd…I prefer to be on my computer than at a party…

DAN: Haha! Ms Interviewer, it’s like you know us! :P Yes, at least two of us are total geeks (the other one is in denial).

JIM: As in?

DAN: As in, whilst some of us spend all day turning pale indoors with computers and pencils as our only companions, others manage to maintain some kind of engagement with the outside world. Game recognize game, by the way, so should we assume that [Ms. Interviewer] is also the “bookish type”?

JIM: So all that nonsense about Bill preferring to be at the computer is a lie. He’s the most outgoing chap. I think it’s strange how it’s never been cool to be a geek (only for a brief moment, when Pharrell and company emerged, then he sold out and became cool)? I mean, everyone else has had their moment in the spotlight; the skaters, the punks, the thugs, the gay boys and girls (heady times, the 80s), the Goths…I feel disenfranchised.

I am a total geek. I did every geek thing a human being can possibly do; the braces, the spectacles, being bad at sports (except swimming, for some strange reason), being good at computers, going to cinemas to actually watch movies instead of making out at the back, actually using my library card, studying IT in college etc. If there are types of geeks, I guess I’m the finally-at-ease-with-it kind of geek.

BLINKY: You should see my primary school pictures… then you wouldn’t talk like that… I only go for parties because…

DAN: Geeks are so cool nowadays. The days of warrior kings and sportsmen politicians are gone! Now it’s like, “Bow Before My Fearsome Intellect!”

I found the use of pictures in the video quite interesting, what is the name of the street at [1:08] of Iwinyo Piny? (I have taken pics of that street but can’t remember the name for the life of me??! What of the one at [1:33] placemark?

JIM: That would be Kenyatta Avenue – one of the cuter streets in town. 1:33 is the street that connects City Market to Koinange Street, I have no idea what it’s called; but it’s very textured.

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I found out about your band through the blog Sukuma Kenya. What are your thoughts on blogging? How do you feel about your own blogs so far?
DAN: I had never heard of that blog before today, but I looked and I thought it was kind of surprising to see Iwinyo right in the middle of a lot of politics! Haha!

I think the Net in general has really helped get the word out, Facebook and YouTube and such. Blogging has really helped add a more personal vibe to everything (especially the band blog, I think the other blogs are more like manifestos of some sort but the band’s blog is just goofing around…). I think it really helps to have an online presence as it allows you to present your stuff the way you would want it done, not in a control freak kind of way, just in the sense that, for example, I doubt that we could find a media house that would indulge our fake bio.

JIM: Except for the very cool people at Kwani Trust who just slapped it onto their site as is. Sukuma Kenya? That’s so cool. I didn’t even know that exists. Say hi to them. Blogging feels a bit self-indulgent sometimes – I use my blog to provide alternative material about the process of making pictures, and the mental stuff that happens before and after. Sometimes people ask me tough questions, and I ask everyone what they think – then I plagiarize the answers I receive and generally look smarter.

We used to run an underground arts-and-culture type web magazine thing a few years ago, it was called LabelRevolution, and the thing we enjoyed the most was the community feel of the site. So we try to be very inclusive about everything we’re doing, because that’s how we make our music. The only reason we’ve come this far (admittedly, not THAT far but…) is because we make people feel like this is something anyone could do. Whether that’s true is another matter entirely.

BLINKY: I blog sparingly of late because I tend to expose myself a lot in my writing, I’m trying to find a method of detaching myself when I do. I don’t want to have the whole world know about me.

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Do not forget to check out their blog and also the new release of their album 82.

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