Blinky Bill brings African musical expression to the Design Indaba stage

The Kenyan musician, producer and DJ doesn’t care what African music is ‘supposed’ to sound like.

Last year, Blinky Bill was on the hunt for a record. The Nairobi-based musician had recently watched an interview with British music legends David Byrne and Damon Albarn in which mention was made of an album from a pioneering electronic musician from Nigeria. He eventually found the record he was looking for, by one William Onyeabor, and after enjoying the album for about a month he was shocked to discover that the artist responsible was dead.

“It’s crazy to me that there’s a bunch of people like that who have been contributing so much to pushing the envelope and just being super creative and adding to the melting pot that we call African music who we don’t necessarily get to even hear about,” Blinky lamented on stage during his 2017 Design Indaba conference talk.

Real name Bill Sellanga, the Kenyan producer and DJ has dedicated his career to expanding the reach of musical voices from Kenya while working to dismantle the expectations that African music ought to sound a certain way. Having begun his professional journey as a member of Kenyan electronic music collective, Just A Band, Blinky has gone on to produce solo projects that defy genre classification and push the boundaries of what is considered ‘popular’ music.

Strongly inspired by French house music, as well as South African house and hip hop, Blinky and the other members of Just A Band were initially unsure of how the public would receive their sound. “We were afraid because there’d been no template for the kinds of ideas that we wanted to put out,” he said. But when one of the band’s early music videos became the first Kenyan video to go viral, they knew they had struck the right chord.

Today Blinky is hard at work on his next solo project, which he’s already titled. Called Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales, it feels referential of his path as a musician and his passion for the African artists quietly contributing to the music scene.

“Give tribute to the African musicians doing their thing,” he says. “Especially those who we don’t necessarily know of right now but who we’ll hopefully get to know very soon.”