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Talkback: Kabeaushé

Artist & Producer Kabochi Gitau By William Stokes
Published August 2023


Kabeaushé is an alter ego of 29‑year old artist and producer Kabochi Gitau. A formidable and wildly-dressed character, Kabeaushé produces an eccentric blend of pop, hip‑hop and electronica on his latest album The Coming Of Gaze. Although Kabochi is originally from Kenya, his career owes much to Nyege Nyege: a Kampala, Uganda‑based collective, festival, community studio and record label. Nyege Nyege founder Derek Debru has brought dozens of underground East African producers, artists and DJs to audiences across Africa, Europe and beyond, and it was he who invited Gitau to travel to Kampala for a residency at the studio.

“There wasn’t really a space in Nairobi, or a festival, where you could play and where people would completely understand you,” explains Gitau. “My perspective, coming from East Africa, is that, like, you’re either on this side or you’re on that side. You’re either making gospel music or you’re making secular music — and if you’re making secular music, you’re probably talking about women. There’s not a lot of music that makes you go, ‘Oh! There’s a bit of texture, a bit of aggressiveness!’

Kabeaushé: You sit down with the reality and you realise: you’ve got this laptop, you’ve got this AKG mic, you’ve got this Behringer soundcard and you’ve got Fruity Loops. So what you’re gonna do with it? Are you gonna make this music, or not?

“The textures and the roughness and all the grit that’s in there, all the clipping, that’s something that I’m learning to enjoy more now than I than I have before. You can look at other, bigger studios and think, ‘Oh man, it’d be so cool if I got that, or if I got that...’. But then you sit down with the reality and you realise: you’ve got this laptop, you’ve got this AKG mic, you’ve got this Behringer soundcard and you’ve got Fruity Loops. So what you’re gonna do with it? Are you gonna make this music, or not?”

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

Lots of stuff from the 1970s and ’80s, particularly what was happening in France and Italy. I love, love, love Ennio Morricone and composers like Piero Umiliani. Ennio Morricone has albums upon albums upon albums, and everything sounds so different. One minute he’s making something for, like, a spaghetti western, and the next minute he’s making a love album. It’s insane to me. And it’s so minimal at the same time. That stuff makes me freak out.

I also just discovered this lady called Kate Bush. I did not know she existed. I did not. She has a song called ‘Babooshka’. Ahhhh! It’s the best song of all time! I was basically scouring the Internet trying to find sick music videos. When I found her I was just like, ‘Who is this lady?’ She has this playful, theatrical way in which she makes music, and I adore her. So I just went and downloaded all her albums. That’s what I’m on now.

The project I’m most proud of

Oh, man. My next one! I can’t say much more about it at this point. But I’m really, really excited about it.

The first thing I look for in a studio

What I look for is just a space — it doesn’t even have to be a studio, it could be anywhere — where I can be secluded, and I can make as much noise as possible. I want somewhere where I can be as weird as I like without having to be super self‑conscious of who’s passing outside or what’s happening around me. That’s going to take me out of my element.

Necessity is the mother of invention. When I started I didn’t have lots of equipment, and whatever you have is what you make do with. Sometimes you get tracks that will have a lot distortion on it — and then you try to take out the distortion, you try to clean it up, and it just sounds weird. I use an AKG dynamic mic from the ’90s, and it picks up a lot of plosives and lots of noise and stuff! But it’s the only mic I’ve found that sounds perfect for my voice, to the extent that I don’t have to do so much processing on it.

The person I would consider my mentor

Derek [Debru] from Nyege Nyege. He’s just as insane as me. I sent him an email saying, ‘Hey, man, I’d really love to play Nyege Nyege festival because it’s really, really cool.’ I was new at it and had just quit my job. So I was, like, really still trying to figure out: what is this music thing? What’s really my thing? So I sent him the music and he just sent back a really short email saying I should come for a residency. That was it. I had sent him a long‑ass email, like, a really long email! And then he just responded, ‘Hey, homie, this is cool. Are you down to come for residency?’!

So he flew me down to Kampala and we hung out. We played the album through a bunch of times and started playing around with ideas about the best way to release this music. I was coming in with just whatever I knew — I don’t know as much as he does, of course. I was coming from a place of listening to people like Pharrell, without so much knowledge about music from the ’80s, except tiny bits and pieces that I got growing up. So I was bringing, you know, what’s happening in pop culture now, what’s urban. And he’d say, ‘OK, so here’s this other side that you never knew of.’ And we started, like, mixing that together.

And that’s when we started to piece together a character, just taking references from all different things, and then making it African. I was like, ‘OK, cool. Now we’ve found it.’ Even the process of making the costume was about a whole month. It was a case of constantly saying, ‘Let’s go thrift shopping!’ It’s two different people: the person I am onstage and me offstage. It’s sort of an antagonistic character.

Derek is just as fantastical as me, if not more. I don’t know if I’ve met anyone as interesting as that man. He really has just been through everything. He’s lived everywhere. He does the craziest of things. You’ll be hanging out with him and you’ll suddenly find yourself in a king’s palace, somewhere in the deep ends of Kampala. And you’re thinking, ‘How did I end up here?’ It’s very weird. Things just happen when you’re with him.

My go‑to reference track or album

When it comes to like drums and bass, I’m gonna say a lot of the stuff that Mike Dean does. He’s really, really good with drums. Kanye’s drums really knock hard. And Travis Scott, his drums really knock hard. The way the synths sound I also really love, like, that man’s processing is insane. The way he does his vocals so everything’s so ‘at the top’, but the drums knock super hard and the bass is super heavy. I don’t know anyone who processes drums the way that he does. He does it in this way where to some extent it’s as if it clips — or at least, it sounds clipped — but it just falls so beautifully.

My top tip for a successful session

I’m just gonna say: make sure you leave it all on the mic. Make sure you leave it all on the mic. That’s it.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

I think just any Michael Jackson studio session would be great to be there for. He had this very sweet way of talking, a sweet way of expressing things and bringing out a song, but at the same time could be aggressive. He’s, like, right smack in the middle of the spot between aggression and sweetness. And I love the fact that it was, like, melodies first. And then they would build on top of that. And the string sections... That entire Off The Wall album, man! It sounds very different to what he was doing with the Jackson 5, and it feels like it’s the first time he’s really starting to experiment. And Quincy is coming from his very knowledgeable background, actually writing music. You just have this kid who’s like, ‘I really love this music, and I can sing.’ Fuse that all together and you get something that we still listen to now. And it still sounds very fresh. Twenty years from now, it’s still gonna sound like it was made about two days ago.

The producer I’d most like to work with

Well, I feel like Quincy is too old now! No. It probably would be someone I’m really into now: this dude called Gaspard Augé from the band Justice. He just released an album called Escapades. And the first song on that record is called ‘Force Majeure’. And when you listen to the sounds, the synths on that song, the drums, it sounds to me like what Queen were doing, but he’s sort of taking that and bringing it into the modern day. He’s mixed, like, Daft Punk with what Queen were doing with their synths, all those ’80s power synths, and then sort of infusing that with a really funky groove. I love how he thinks. I love how he’s executed that song. And I think he sounds interesting enough to want to play with. He sounds like he’s in tune with what’s happening now, versus what was happening in the ’80s. And it’s also very cool that he’s French. So he’ll have listened to lots of that stuff I mentioned from the ’70s and ’80s! So yes: probably Gaspard Augé from Justice.

The part of music creation I enjoy the most

I love the whole thing. I can tell you the part I don’t enjoy, which is mastering, because then you have to do the whole back and forth with the mastering engineer, like, ‘Don’t take all the energy out of the record! Let the 808s just bounce! Let them breathe! Don’t don’t mess around with the vocals! Just leave them as raw as they’re sounding, because that’s what the record is!’ And then they will try and clean up all that stuff and you gotta go through all of that. That’s my least enjoyable part. But I do enjoy the whole thing. From the minute I make the vocal on my phone to when I start recording, I love the whole thing.

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

‘Good luck.’ That’s it. It could work out, it could not work out. At least you did it!