Suraj Mandavia,known to many as Suraj, is a fast-growing DJ/producer. He creates contemporary electronic music infused with traditional musical and cultural elements and is pushing the local music scene to an international stage. His collaboration remix with Riot Stereo to Kato Change and Winyo’s Abiro, was recently featured at the world’s largest music festival, Tomorrowland. Alfayo Onyango finds out more about the legend
Who is Suraj?
I am a Kenyan-born DJ, music producer and sound engineer trying to take my music to the world.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
It was the classical Indian percussion called the tablas — it was the first instrument I ever played. I stuck around music in school and eventually stumbled upon deejaying and music production on computers. That’s when I decided to start taking it seriously.
Talk to us about your musical journey.
When I started deejaying and producing, I got into progressive house and trance sound. After a while, I found myself gravitating towards tribal and ethnic influences fused with electronic sounds.
What’s a typical day like?
It depends on the day. On weekdays, I spend an infinite amount of time creating new music in the studio and co-running my company Midi Minds Kenya with three other partners — we focus on creating exciting audio solutions.
From travelling to Samburu to record traditional samples for a sample pack and working with luxury safari lodges creating promotional content to working with Frontier Audio Africa supplying the amazing Funktion One sound system to East Africa. On weekends, I travel to amazing places showcasing new music in DJ format at clubs and festivals.
You left for UK and Midi Minds Kenya was born. Talk to us about it?
In 2014, I spent time in the UK training on music production and sound engineering. It increased my knowledge in my field and level of my craft. I found it beneficial to be able to experience a surrounding as such. With the force of three of my colleagues, Midi Minds Kenya came forth.
We create audio solutions; audio mixing and mastering, experiential marketing and content creation. We use audio and visuals and informative workshops and info-sessions on music production, sound engineering and music business. We have done an audio album with Ghetto Classics, the hospitality launch for FIFA World Cup 2018 with Bunson Travel and a PAWA254 masterclass on Introduction to Music Production with PAWA 254.
What inspires you to make music and who are your muses?
My surrounding. I gravitate towards life around me and like to incorporate daily scenarios like celebration, anger, sorrow, happiness into music. Some of the people I consider thoughtful in my career are artistes such as South Africa’s DJ/producer Black Coffee — he has given us an enormous amount of support and hope.
Speaking of Black Coffee, during his set at the latest edition of Tomorrowland, he played collaboration remix with Riot Stereo to Kato Change and Winyo’s Abiro. That was huge. It was inspiring to have my music recognised. It makes me want to work harder, so I can be that DJ playing for international crowds.
You work with folk artistes such as Makadem and Abakisimba. Is this the direction you feel local musicians should take to breakeven?
I don’t feel that is the only direction to take, however, it is the direction I gravitated towards. Makadem, Winyo, Suzanna Owiyo and Ayub Ogada are some of my favourite local musicians and to be able to collaborate with them has been inspiring. Any direction taken with thought, dedication and hard work can lead us to progress on an international level.
What artistes do you aspire to work with?
I aspire to work with artistes such as Ayub Ogada, Oumou Sangare, Femi Kuti and a tonne more. How far has the electronic music scene come in Kenya?
The electronic music scene in Kenya has come a long way to say the least. From occasional parties to a steady influx of DJs, producers and events every weekend. lately the growth speaks for itself.
What’s your biggest hope for 254?
I hope we establish infrastructure that can help artistes thrive. If we can collectively focus on that, we will be able to reap from all our hard work.
What’s on your playlist?
New remixes from Kato Change & Winyo’s Abiro that will blow the world away. New record from Lee Burridge and Lost Desert featuring Junior — Elongi and still on repeat, the amazing Indigo Child from South Africa, Da Capo!
What can we expect from you and the EDM movement in Kenya?
I’m currently working on an amazing project called Sounds Of Sasaab. We recorded traditional sounds from Samburu and we’ll create music productions inspired by these sounds that will be released on a Various Artistes (VA) compilation with a launch party raising funds for the community.
I am also working on new music on labels such as Seres Produceos (Angola) and Openbar Music (US) as well as gigs taking my music to countries such as Angola, South Africa and Denmark in the next few months.