Ha-He // Just A Band

They’ve been known to call themselves an “experimental boy band,” though Nairobi rockers Just A Band are as unpredictable as their tracks. We dare you not to re-think “Afro-pop” after a spin of this African pop band’s newly released second album 82 (a reference to the year members Blinky, Dan and Jim were born). From club-bangers to soulful electronica, the collection is a heady, lively dose of the new from a crew that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Need proof? Take a peek at the video for “Ha-He”, a stylish Blaxploitation riff. We asked the guys about the inspiration for the clip.

Tell us about the making of the “Ha-He” video.

I think we’d just seen the Black Dynamite trailer, and since the last silly video we did was “Hey” in 2008, we thought we should try something silly again for our own action hero.

Our video shoots are usually more like a house party than a serious shoot. We call our friends over, (they’ve always been up for a bit of fun) explain the general idea and let them run with it. We remember telling them that the idea was based on ‘70s Kenya and we crossed our fingers and hoped they’d raid their parents’ closets and find appropriate costumes.

As usual, this was a no-budget video (in total we used 6,500 Kenya shillings—approximately 90 dollars) and that was spent on catering and some props. We shot it in our own compound—we live in a block of flats that looks very industrial—and in a field somewhere down the road. Mbithi Masya, a good friend of the band, helped us direct, he acted in it, and finally helped Jim with editing it.

How did you start making music together?

Bill and Jim met in high school in 1997 and played together in the school chapel. They ended up going to Kenyatta University and met Daniel there. We gravitated to a little hidden room on the campus which had a piano and we’d have jam sessions. Then one of our friends suggested that we form a band…

Do you find that you’re pushing listeners to expand their conceptions of African music?

While not a stated objective of ours, we have heard comments about us being very pop. I don’t think we were even very aware of Afro-pop as a genre when we started, and ever since we put out our first album we are always asked to define our genre. The term ‘Afrospace Music’ has been used more than once to describe it.

I guess we’re part of a generation with dual-identity issues; there’s a lot of cultural baggage that comes with being African, and we’re part of a generation of urban kids who’ve grown up on Michael Jackson and Hollywood and, more recently, the Internet. It is tricky to balance our roots and the expectations of the outside world (how we should look or sound like) with the reality that many of us don’t even know our mother-tongue (not good).