Music Review: Monaja’s Temaimba Mixtape, more than just music

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An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.’ – Nina Simone

Nina Simone definition of an artist is in contrast to what the world in general and showbiz in particular considers a ‘true’ artist. Monaja however has tried to fit in the definition offered by the legendary soul singer in his latest project.

The Kenyan artist has put out a new mixtape that is a reflection of the times; he addresses major issues affecting the east African nation’s social fabric from politics, life struggles, deceit, betrayal, to money and unemployment. Monaja, who has successfully fused African elements in his songs, does not only highlight the issues but also offers life lessons to his fans especially the youth.

“Temaimba” mixtape is the artiste’s latest project after a long hiatus where he had taken to lecturing at a local university. The rapper is using the mixtape to announce his return; he says he is now more focused on making music his career.

The project features; Mwafreeka, Checkmate, Manjoro, Rapper Phil, DMT, Sir-cha Scorch (Urban Scorch), Mesh Mfalme, Arch13ting’ and DJ Karizma. Some of the tracks on the mixtape were done sometime back.

Producers: Eduwan Ontha Beat, Fauxile Kibet, Motif Kobeer, Hiram Kibaki, Sir-Cha, Willie Gachuche and Shaky Aloyo

“Nairobi Mpaka Eldama” the first single featuring Mesh Mfalme and Rapper Phil has nice melodies which complement the excellent wordplay from the rappers. The track has a dance beat but the lyrics go beyond fun. Mesh Mfalme does the vocals on the track. Monaja picks up a lady on ‘Ama Unaonaje’, the song is about relationships, his delivery on this track does not undermine our intelligence even as he boasts of his ‘pickup’ lines. Arch13ting’ does an amazing job with her powerful vocals on the track.

“Niko Juu” is the third track, those from Kenya will relate with the bounce signature beat associated with the infamous Mandugu Digital. Monaja speaks of his struggles chasing money and jobs, and how things get better with time. “We Tu Tembea”(in English loosely translated to ‘Just Walk’) has a similar theme, the rapper speaks of the gradual process of success, the rapper also builds different antagonizing situations and offers advice on how we can overcome them. The track has a lively African feel fused with trap.

Monaja features Slam Africa champion Checkmate together with Mannjoro on “Mziki Wa Raiya” (Music For The People). Mannjoro does his thing typical of his humour-filled wordplay. ‘Me ni Vinyl we ni MP3 quality yangu hujichochi nayo’ (I’m like vinyl you are MP3, your quality is incomparable to mine) Checkmate declares. Apart from doing the opening verse, Monaja’s voice is also prominent on the chorus.

“Blessed” a track accented with well executed cuts and chops, reminiscent of the boom-bap era features Mwafreeka, one of the figure heads in the Kenyan Hip Hop scene. The track has sampled words uttered by the character Silas Benjamin King of Gilboa played by Ian McShane in the American TV series Kings, and some KRS One vocal samples. The speech from Kings was a perfect choice in reiterating the single’s message.

“Kishaipoteza” samples the 1997 release “Got Til It\’s Gone” by Janet Jackson, Q-Tip and folk singer Joni Mitchell. It is said one of the best Hip Hop beat makers JDilla featured in the production of the track but was never credited, he later did a ‘revenge’ remix of the track, but I digress, Monaja takes us to his childhood, growing up in the in the 90s. The rapper also takes us through his personal life experience; how life turned out for the worst while he was a child. Apart from the hustles and struggles, “Run” is a representation of how music helped him through the bad times.

The artiste showcases his hunger for more on “Monaja” his prowess as a word-juggler is evident on the track, comically, the rapper asks his fans to take an oath to remain loyal to him and in return he vows not to lose his mission as an artiste. Monaja pays tribute to some of the great Hip Hop acts from Kenya such as the late G-Wiji and Kitu Sewer on “Mara Ingine” which is more like a continuation of “Monaja”. The rapper once again enlists the help of Urban Scorch on “Flow” a track that showcases the rappers hard-hitting delivery. Sir-cha Scorch is the voice behind the chorus.

“Klub Kwetu” an upbeat feel good bounce-track. The song is about ‘clubbing at home’Monaja lists ways you can have a good time at home when you can’t afford a good time at the clubs, the best out of worse situations.

On a serious tone, “Nchi Yetu” (Our Country), addresses key political events in Kenya from betrayal, greed, deceit to political assassinations, the rapper also addresses the 2007-08 post election violence that threatened to plunge Kenya into civil strife.  As a student of history, Monaja offers knowledge with a different perspective; he puts himself in the shoes of the citizen during the different regimes in Kenya from the Kenyatta era to Kibaki times trying to figure out how things seem not to change. “Nchi Yetu” is more of a concept track.

Monaja has excelled in defining himself as an artiste his content is message oriented, he puts out his message in a serious and comical way. All in all the mixtape has both the serious and fun angles to it. For those who have followed the rappers career and those who are getting to know his music for the first time, go cop the mixtape.

The official album is expected later this year.

“Temaimba” literally translates to Spit-Sing

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