DJ Huilly Huile's Set Was The Perfect Party Starter For The Boiler Room X Ballentine's True Music Project In Nairobi
2019 saw the Kenyan music scene undergo some kind of renaissance and as a result, the music scene in Kenya has never been more dynamic. From smooth RnB to hard-hitting hip-hop, Kenyan artists are making waves on a global scale and at the center of this incredible shift in music, was the sound coming from Kenya's underground music scene popularly known as Gengetone. Fusing Kenya's beloved Genge sound that took over the airwaves in the 2000s with reggaeton and dancehall, the music being created makes for a hard-hitting, dance sound that is guaranteed to have you dancing your feet off. Singing and rapping in Swahili slang known as "sheng", Gengetone artists have made the sound undeniably Kenyan and locals have completely embraced it. From the streets to the clubs, Gengetone has penetrated and taken over the Kenyan scene.
Gengetone has become such a formidable force in Kenyan music that it caught the attention of The Boiler Room. As part of their True Music project in collaboration with Ballentine, over the past five years, they have organized parties in over 28 cities in a bid to document local music stories along the way. Earlier this year, The Boiler Room X Ballentine's True Music project found it's way to the city of Nairobi to document the story behind Gengetone music. Featuring a lineup that consisted of artists and DJs at the core of the Gengetone sound including DJ Kalonje, Boondocks Gang, DJ Tryce, DJ Lyta, Ochungulo Family, Rico Gang and Femi One, the night was a true celebration of the defiant sound coming out of Kenya's underground.
Whereas the lineup was predominantly Kenyan, there was one performer that was rather unexpected. The night's warm-up set was courtesy of Rwandese-Canadian DJ & radio show host, Huilly Huile.
Although currently based in Montreal, his time spent in East Africa interviewing artists and playing at local events has given him an incredibly rich understanding of the music coming out of contemporary East Africa. Playing a mix of Gengetone tracks that have become club staples and newer drops as well as paying tribute to the original Genge sound with Jua Kali's Ngeli ya Genge, Huilly Huille's set was the perfect party starter to get the crowd hyped for what the rest of the night had in store.
'In January was invited to DJ a warm-up set for Nairobi Boiler Room. I'm Canadian & Rwandese, whereas the headliners were all Kenyan... but I think my name came up because people know that as a DJ and podcaster, I'm really passionate about the music scene here.'
You would expect that starting off the set with a ballad version of Wamlambez would have the crowd cracking up and possibly even wondering whether the DJ would be able to hold his own in front of this crowd of Gengetone lovers but turns out it was a risk worth taking and it played out pretty well.
'The Boiler Room was amazing, people really vibed, they danced a lot and let loose. I played Gengetone hits & even some older classics by Jua Cali. I really didn't expect people to sing along to New Tone's ballad version of "Wamlabez"... That was meant to be a joke, but people were so enthusiastic, instead of them laughing, it turned into a really beautiful moment.'
"The way Boiler Room works, warm-up sets don't get recorded, sadly. Two weeks later I was still stuck on that vibe so I decided to recreate the mix. Lots of Gengetone, some Nairobi trap/rap, and of course I threw in some shout outs to DJ Afro amigos. I love DJ Afro. "
Listening to this set by Huilly Huile got me wishing I was at the Boiler Room jamming to the best of Gengetone music with other revelers celebrating this incredibly disruptive sound that has taken root in Nairobi's culture and doesn't seem to be going anywhere.