Muthoni Drummer Queen and Blinky Bill “Henry Ford This Thing”



Muthoni Drummer Queen and Blinky Bill are pioneers, taking Kenya’s music industry to new heights, paving the way for the next generation of talent, and elevating the legacy of Kenya’s musical forebears.

Muthoni’s discography includes four albums with genre-bending, activist, feminist, igniting music that aims to “awaken the listener to their inherent divinity”. She is also the founder and creative director of two of East Africa’s leading musical festivals, Blankets & Wine and Africa Nouveau.

Blinky Bill — musician, producer, DJ — made a prominent entrance onto Kenya’s music scene with his collective Just a Band. His trajectory as a solo artist has also been explosive, with the 2018 release of his acclaimed album and an international touring circuit.

Put these titans in the same room and witness a champagne firehose of dialogue. The following are excerpts. (Edited for brevity and clarity.)



BB: Even Just a Band days, I was the guy saying, “One day we’re gonna be playing in all — sijui, we’ll be playing in New York.” But with nothing, like we were broke college guys with absolutely nothing but our skills and our dreams. In fact I don’t even feel like our skills were there. To be able to get to a point where I’m playing SummerStage Central Park — yo, this is insane.

MDQ: I figured out that if you have a clear definition of success for yourself, then you’re able to run your race and not get distracted by watching somebody else’s life and thinking that you’re doing nothing.

BB: There was no example that I could give of what I wanted to do. The only thing I could do was show you. I had absolutely nothing. When we made the first viral video in Kenya [Makmende], the video was shot on 7000 bob.


BB: We’re going to have to have a conversation about how we keep supporting people over time. Because that’s how you get your Louis Armstrong’s and Quincy Jones’s. It’s been terrible for us coming up and not having people that we could look up to, and be like, “How do you get through this?” I can count on one hand the number of people. So we are artists, but we are also OGs.

MDQ: Something that I find especially endearing about watching your journey is that you are literally the captain of the new school. Your studio is a home — people can walk in and ask you things and make tracks. We didn’t have that — we raised ourselves in this industry. And that means that you’ve saved somebody 10 years of knocking against a wall.

MDQ: We’re building inter-generational connections. I want to see in Nairobi many Bentleys that have been bought with music money. For younger artists, I want that you have enough coming through your door, and that you have a structured way of thinking about your money, and that you’re investing. I want the commercial success of these careers happening in our lifetime. We are going to Henry Ford this thing.


BB: Sometimes “no” isn’t about your work, “no” means it’s not time yet. I struggle with the idea that you are ahead of your time, because if you’re ahead of your time, but you’re living in this time, is it you who should dumb down? Should you wait for everyone to catch up? What do you do with yourself?

MDQ: It was from a DJ who was putting me down. He said to me, “Singers are a dime a dozen. What’s going to make you special?” He was right: people who can sing purely on a talent basis — I can think of fifty people who deserve to have the same opportunities that I’ve had. But what that made me do is step back and think about mainstreaming on my terms, creating my own lane.


BB: Kanye West getting Ayub Ogada’s song to sample it on his project, when the song isn’t played on Kenyan radio — it’s insanity! How does this exist? It annoys the shit out of me. When I think about all the dope Kenyans out here doing stuff, being let down by fucking systems that are built to reward mediocrity at every level — this thing can’t go on, this template that’s been set cannot go on.

MDQ: [On her time in Europe] I really have to give a lot of credit to being in an environment that matches an artist. As you know, over here it’s really you and your God. So to be in a space where the system is rigged to help you succeed — that’s a completely different experience. Venues operate the way they’re meant to; you can literally apply to get funding to do a residency so that you improve your live show.


MDQ: For me there are three things. I spent so many years being told over here how there is nobody for us, and this music that you’re making, nobody wants. So to have collaborators who don’t have the same context — they’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, us guys are just trying to make dope music.” The second one is leaning on what we hear. East Africa — we have Benga, Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall, Kapuka, Gengeton, R&B. This music is globally resounding. I’ve not had to ask myself, “How do we make something that can work in Kenya that can also work abroad?” because the things with their centres in Kenya also work abroad. The third one is trusting the intuition, trusting what the music wants to do, and not trying to develop something for a market. It’s just like, “What’s authentic? What delivers the story?”

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BB: I was in my studio; I was mixing one of Nneka’s new songs. This lady comes in, and she sits on the couch and is like, “That song is nice, but I don’t think Kenyans will understand it.” Then I was like, “Actually, it doesn’t really matter because she’s not a Kenyan artist.” I’m not thinking that I need to make this so that Kenyans like it. If Kenyans like it, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s dope too. I’ve never been risk averse — I’ll create the things that I want to see exist. I’ve had songs that have a million plays. I have songs that have 40,000 plays. I’m not saying everyone should like the song with 40,000 plays. I’m just like, “I’m gonna do whatever the fuck I’m gonna do.”


BB: I don’t argue when people tell me, “That’s not going to work.” My new album is called “No Road Ahead” because I’ve been told so many times that there’s no road ahead. We’re going to make a road where there’s no road.

MDQ: In this very crap version of Kenya, when you look at the odds it’s like, “There can be no road ahead here unless a whole new thing is invented.” Maybe we don’t need a road, maybe we need to go into the clouds, maybe we need to develop a whole superhighway in the air. To me, this is a texture of Nairobi — the idea of doing and inventing and then reinventing and becoming your own gold standard.



MDQ: [On earlier Kenyan musicians] This body of work, this incredible artistry has to become accessible to a new generation of artists. A fundamental problem is that children do not know their greatness because nobody ever gave it to them. You have radio stations that don’t spend 98% of their time playing the greatness of Kenya. So how do young Kenyans know that even as Blinky and Muthoni are on tour, we’re not the first Kenyans to be on tour — Them Mushrooms was on tour in the 70s and 80s. The things that we are doing are not new.

BB: I was watching Ford v Ferrari. And seeing this person talk about, “My grandfather made the first Ford, and you guys are not innovating. If someone doesn’t come with an idea, you’re fired!” That’s what we need. We need to be like, “Our ancestors made dope shit!” And we need to be able to improve on the idea, improve on the quality of the conversation, expand the boundaries that we were told.

MDQ: We are entering the roaring 20’s, the season of greatness. I belong to a community of creators, of inventors, of entrepreneurs — you name it: photographers, fashion designers, tech entrepreneurs, people who’ve literally invented a car. It feels radical to us that these things are happening in Kenya and on Kenyan terms, but Kenyans have been great for a long time before this idea of “Kenya the state” was imposed on us by colonizers. The Kenyan people were great, Kenyans were inventing boats and trading with other continents, Kenyans had incredible culture and artifacts. We come from a long lineage of greatness. And it’s become for me the one idea driving everything, the idea of Kenyan greatness. So on my next project, I really reflect on the ideas of greatness. I also reflect on the idea of joy as a means of existence, because the way Africans are understood on a global platform, it’s like it’s an abnormality that we are joyful, and I’m like, “As opposed to what?” Joy is a way of surviving this neocolonialism bullshit.

Keep up with Blinky & MDQ on Instagram: @blinkybillmusic | @muthonidrummerqueen