Interview with the Afro House king SURAJ about his processes, inspirations and gear.

After making his debut in Nairobi, SURAJ has emerged as a dynamic, trailblazing DJ/Producer in East Africa. Since then, he has set his sights on becoming a beacon for Africa’s burgeoning electronic music scene.Since 2017, SURAJ has been touring more extensively with performances at two of the leading electronic music festival in East Africa; Nyege Nyege Festival in Jinja, Uganda and at Kilifi New Year in Kenya.

In 2018, he toured Europe in the Summer performing at Watergate in Berlin at their RISE: African House Music event and at the CityMatine Festival in Budapest as well as debuts in Vienna, Austria. Luanda, Angola & Dubai, UAE

SURAJ was also part of the Boiler Room True Music Africa – Nairobi show in May 2018. A surreal moment for him, he got to showcase his talent to the world, receiving critical acclaim. He was also a part of the All-Star line-up at the 10th Anniversary of Kenya’s premier music festival; Blankets & Wine in November 2018.

Following the release of his hit remix of ‘Abiro’ with Riot Stereo in 2016, SURAJ has been on a roll, releasing music with Red Bull Music [SURAJ – Cape Town Whispers (EP)], MoBlack Records [SURAJ & Max Doblhoff feat. Alai K – Bana Bana (EP)] and SURAJ – Wawere (Da Capo Remixes) on Gondwana Records, which peaked at #2 on the Traxsource Afro-House chart.

SURAJ has also recorded mixes and podcasts for RISE (Berlin), Red Bull Radio and Madorasindahouse (MIDH) as well as featuring on Smirnoff Vodka’s Battle of The Beats Campaign & CNN’s African Voices.

We chatted to him about his processes, inspirations and gear.

Tell us about your earliest musical memory?

My earliest musical memory would have to be watching my father play the Tablas, a classical Indian percussion instrument. The music played while I was growing up comes second to mind.

At what point in your life did you have that moment where you said to yourself “This is it. This is the type of music I want to create?”

There have been records I have been inspired by that made me realize I would like to create a certain type of music. One that stands out would have to be hearing Salif Keita’s classic Madan as well as watching Tiesto perform at the 2006 Olympics.

Please list some of the most influential albums on your creative outlook and output:

Three of the most influential albums would have to be Sunlounger’s debut album Another Day On the Terrace. Tiesto’s classic compilation In Search Of Sunrise Volume 7 and quite recently South African DJ & Producer Da Capo’s Indigo Child album that was  released in late 2017.

What key pieces of gear/software are you using to define your sound?

My production setup is fairly simple. I use a Mid-2012 Macbook Pro with Logic 9 and stock plugins + Waves Bundle Only. I utilize recording artists with a standard Behringer B-1 condenser microphone and I use Genelec 8010s studio monitors. I am most comfortable with this setup and I look forward to adding more bits of gear to my army soon. Gear wishes; a Roland HPD-20 Hand Percussion.

What inspires you outside of music? What do you turn to when the creative well runs a little low?

What really inspires me and helps me recharge creatively would have to be travelling. Experiencing new and old places really helps me to get creative, inspired and exhilarated. I am also very fortunate to live in a country like Kenya that has an infinite amount of beautiful places to visit and experience.

What is your opinion on the ever-spreading sub-genre vine? Are there too many? Do you think there’s perhaps a sub-genre that doesn’t get the attention it deserves?

My opinion on the sub-genre vine is exactly your next question. I think there are too many of them and we get so caught up in labelling music instead of experiencing and enjoying it as it was intended to in the first place. There is nothing wrong in labelling music but I feel we shouldn’t get too caught up in finding a word that can describe it 🙂

Studio work and music creation or performing and interacting with a live audience, what do you prefer?

This question is literally a rock and a hard place for me. I personally enjoy all aspects of it. From creating the music to tweaking, releasing and performing it to an audience. I am very fortunate to be able to create and perform my own music almost week in/week out, and it really helps me find a direction with the music I am creating.

As a music artist, it becomes apparent that there is a huge difference between the art and the business. Is there anything about the music scene that you would personally change?

If there was one thing I could change personally about the music industry, I would find a way to make it easier for artists from my region to travel abroad to perform at clubs and festivals. If I could, I would find a way to eradicate visas and their bureaucracies.

Any new or upcoming artists on your radar? Who shouldn’t the world sleep on?

There is never a list long enough to highlight great upcoming artists but here are a few on my mind; TNS Music & Vanco from South Africa, El Mukuka from Zambia & Kenyan vocalist Idd Aziz.

What can we expect from you in the near future? Any upcoming projects or gigs in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?

Lots to expect from my end in terms of music and shows! This year I have been fortunate to travel and perform in places like Nigeria, South Africa & Dubai and I am really looking forward to performing in Angola, Portugal & Morocco this year too. Musically I have just released an EP with Max Doblhoff & Senegalese Kora legend Baboulaye Cissokho titled Dimbale on Angolan label Seres Producoes. I have an upcoming remix for the amazing Emmanuel Jal & Abdul Gadir Salim’s Baai with Riot Stereo out soon on Moblack Records as well as a very special Various Artists compilation called Sounds Of Sasaab with my company Midi Minds Kenya & Greek label Madorasindahouse.

Sounds Of Sasaab is a project that aims to capture and highlight the identity of the Samburu tribe in Kenya in the form of a song based sample pack, a documentary and a Various Artists compilation inspired by the samples with productions from artists such as Da Capo, Laolu, Armonica & many more.

Famous last words?

I will quote the legendary Roy Hargrove “If you take care of the music, the music will take care of you”

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