Have you ever been blown away by a song? So much that you keep going back to it every other day? And even though you’ve been there 10 times already, it still feels fresh and brand new?
“Tell Me This” by Asili Dub is that song.
I hear you asking, who is Asili Dub? Well, they are the first Kenyan Reggae-Dub band I have ever come across. I first heard their name in 2017 when I had just started exploring the underground live music scene in Nairobi.
I’ll never forget how I missed their mystical Nyege Nyege Festival performance. All because I was busy
hiding from sleeping through the rain, in my tent.
According to the raving reviews, it was worth getting wet for.
Thankfully, I made up for it 2 months later at the Alchemist Bar. It was during the ADA Records Showcase concert when ADA Creative Studios used to be at the beloved Backyard Bar. The all-male Kenyan band completely hypnotized me with their heavy dub music. I had never heard anything quite like it.
Since then, I’ve been a true fan of Asili Dub; following them from Showcase Wednesday at Alliance Francaise to Irie Nairobi at Captain’s Terrace Restaurant.
After hearing all their original songs live for the past 2 years, it was time for their debut single release. They finally released “Tell Me This” on Friday, 18th October 2019 at exactly 4.20 pm. Where were you at that time?
They were probably somewhere in Watamu.
Its music video starts like any other reggae song, with the song title and band name stylized in rasta colours. It opens with familiar scenes of Nairobi: people walking, local shops, concrete bridges, and good old trees.
The Kenyan dub song is carried by a jungle-inspired beat by Morris Kivisi, the first man on screen. He is soon joined by a tantalizing taarab harmony, played by keyboardist Walter Mwang’ombe and guitarist Kombo Chokwe Burns.
Ras Lyon Hart then steps in with a simple question, “Tell me this, tell me this, does slavery still exist?”
On this debut, Asili Dub’s frontman speaks bluntly about the excessive use of mobile phones. “Some people are slaves to their phones, some people don’t wanna be alone.” Can you relate?
His truth-hitting words are decorated by psychedelic guitar riffs by Afro Simba frontman, Kombo. Also, the instrumentation becomes much fuller after the first verse. But these rastas take you slow and steady. They are in no rush to finish their debut single.
Meanwhile, the music video shows two members of Asili Dub distracted by their phones, as they walk behind the lead singer. Instead of looking around, talking to each other or even smiling at strangers, they are busy taking selfies and talking to Jah knows who.
Sounds familiar maybe?
Gradually, the scene transitions from the streets of Ruaka to an SUV gliding on an open road. Ras Lyon Hart continues to remind us about our mobile phone and social media addiction. “Some people are slaves to the net, pen and paper they want to forget.” Mo faya!
Them rastas then land inside a tea farm in Tigoni, where they treat us with gorgeous landscape drone shots. Ras Lyon Hart is seen walking a horse and dancing inside the field. Here, he finally lets his hair loose.
But my favourite shot is a birds-eye-view of the band in matching red outfits, where they create the most unique pentagon.
From the lush peaceful environment, we are transported to the busy iron streets of Kibera. Asili Dub pick up their fifth member who is recording inside the Made in Kibera Music studio (while also holding his phone). Jahm gladly leaves with the band while sporting the #ReggaeKenya badge on his backpack strap.
Now that the bassist is in town, a droning bass fills our ears. And Kombo takes the lead as they walk inside Kibera in the previous formation.
His verse is a call-and-response because this is Africa. The Malindi-born musician imparts some Swahili wisdom from his Mijikenda roots, “Shikilia hiyo ni yako, ishike!” Go for what is yours and leave what belongs to others.
“Pata pata pata pata pata!”
But nothing prepares you for the last part of the song which is purely instrumental. A heavily sustained drum and bass welcome Taarab-inspired guitar riffs and Indian-inspired keys. Now, this is Taarab Dub.
Here we see the band jamming outside the MUZE club entrance – well, its previous location in Westlands. They are in their element, playing their instruments live as they always do at concerts. They seem completely entranced by their Afro-Psychedelic music. And they take you along on this trance-like trip.
8 minutes and 55 seconds later, the spell is over. You open your eyes, and you are healed.
One thing that stands out about this music video is the absence of studio shots with green screens in the background. It’s raw and on the ground. Its storytelling is simple and straightforward. And you can’t help but notice those tasteful visual effects when transitioning from one scene to another.
I’m no video expert, but the colour grading is outstanding. And when is the last time you watched such a unique Kenyan music video with a cartoon comic effect? Mine was “Welle Welle” by Timmy T Dat back in 2014.
This artistic music video was shot and directed by none other than Hutchery Live. And these three lads were the best picks for Asili Dub’s debut music video. After all, they’ve recorded most of the band’s live performances plus their online Kenyan reggae music series, InI Live Sessions.
The Live Dub Sound
“Tell Me This” was recorded and mastered by Asad Rajput at Outta Town Studio in Nairobi. He masterfully translated Asili Dub’s signature sound to the first single off their upcoming self-titled EP.
And Asad gets the band’s unique style. It’s a conscious blend of uplifting and bluesy lyrics; melodic African, taarab, and Indian inspired guitar riffs; heavy-stepping bass lines; rockers and dubstep beats. You can’t miss the touch of Pink Floyd inspired psychedelic exploration in most of their songs.
The audio of “Tell Me This” is mellow and doesn’t demand your attention like most popular songs. Instead, it gives you room to absorb the conscious lyrics and live instrumentation.
The latter will easily transport you to the East African coast where Taarab music continues to reign, from Lamu to Zanzibar.
Meanwhile, the band’s heavily fused live Reggae Dub sound is influenced by Dub Dynasty, Black Uhuru, King Alpha, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Jah Shaka, Salmonella Dub, among other Jamaican legends. And they keep it grounded using Kenya’s diverse rootical sounds.
The Roots of Asili Dub
Asili Dub started as an innocent encounter between Kenyan musician Kombo and Filipino World-Reggae artist Jahm at Mogadishu Peace Festival in 2013. Coming back to Nairobi, they quickly teamed up with Dread Steppa – the pioneer Dub DJ/producer of Umojah Sound System.
In early 2017, it was time for the band to expand. The three welcomed Walter Mwang’ombe on keys, Morris Kivisi on drums, and Ras Lyon Hart on lead vocals to form one of the heaviest rooted dub bands in East Africa.
They have since performed across East African festivals such as DOA DOA International Music Festival 2017 and Nyege Nyege International Music Festival 2017 in Uganda. They opened for Mungo’s HiFi during their East African Tour and headlined the Zanzibar Reggae Festival in 2018 – which I wish I attended.
Being touring artists, Asili Dub decided to launch their debut single at the Kenyan Coast. They performed at Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu on 18th October and on the next day, they took over Kilifi’s hub Distant Relatives. What a way to go back to their roots (asili).
They are now back in Nairobi with their ongoing “One Ringtone Tour” to serve more hypnotizing Taarab Dub. They started at their monthly residency at Dagoz Bar dubbed Roots and Culture Nights which happens every first Saturday of the month.
Here is proof of how Kenyan reggae and dub lovers let themselves loose at the funky living room in Dagoretti Corner.
Sharing this intimate music stage is Afro Simba who is also guilty for introducing their own Kenyan sounds – from Mijikenda Fusion to Swahili Ska. But that’s not even the interesting part.
The 8-year-old Afro-fusion band features lead singer and guitarist Kombo Chokwe, drummer Morris Kivisi, and keyboardist Walter Mwang’ombe, who are also part of Asili Dub. Talk about cost-sharing.
But if you can’t wait for 7th December at Dagoz, then let’s meet at Irie Nairobi on Sunday, 10th November. The free monthly Reggae concert will heat things up with Umojah Sound System selectors – Dread Steppa and Ras Lyon Hart – and live Kenyan Roots and Culture music by Asili Dub & Afro Simba.
Plus one can never get tired of that majestic view of the Nairobi National Park.
This Irie Nairobi event is just a prelude to the grand finale. On 1st December 2019, we celebrate World AIDS Day Positivity Concert with 6 Kenyan Reggae, Dub and Ska bands who’ve performed at Captain’s Terrace Restaurant this year. This mini-festival lineup includes Mighty Zionites, Afro Simba, Kare and Zestic The Band, Cheif and the Marshalls, WeN Music, and Asili Dub.
How much is entry, you ask? Nothing but positive vibes.
Taarab Dub is one of Kenya’s latest live music exports to the world, thanks to Asili Dub. Going by the YouTube comments on “Tell Me This,” roots music is alive in Kenya. That means we no longer have to rely on Jamaican imports. We can fill swanky restaurants, concert halls, and even stadiums with Kenyan reggae artists who are worth the buck. As we ask ourselves, “Does slavery still exist?”
Now let me listen to Tell Me This for the 11th time.