Cultural Scenes

Extra Soul Perception: Bridging the UK and East Africa


Extra Soul Perception came about by a desire to be innovative; bringing together seemingly different sounds from across continents to birth something new and exciting. At the heart of this project lies the shared love of soul music and the openness to collaborate and create. What results is a pocket of gold in the form of slick-backed, ethereal tracks, which are being released in ESP's debut EP. Along with this, the team have embarked on a tour across the UK in London, Liverpool and Manchester, to spread their music.

“The music that has come out of it is a bi-product of very deep connections made between artists and reinforced the idea of music - and more specifically "soul music” - being a universal language that totally disregards borders”

The team behind the magic are Faizal Mostrixx and Hibotep from Uganda, Karun and Labdi from Kenya and Lex Amor, Lynda Dawn, Maxwell Owin and K15 from the UK.

We sat down with project founders, Andy Lemay and Aaron Levitt, to talk about how music can foster cultural exchange and what each artist brought from their culture to the table.

How did ESP. come about?

We have always been interested in collaboration and the unexpected results and magic that can happen when creative people are connected with as few restraints as possible. ESP. was a desire of ours to look a bit further than easy “local” collabs and we aimed to connect artists we love that may not have otherwise been able to work together. There is so much musical talent all over the world when you look deeper than what's right in front of you and we would love to play a small part in connecting a global network of artists.

What was your process in deciding what country the collaborators would be from?

Firstly, we had to love their music but we wanted to focus on Nairobi, London and Kampala because of the vastly different sound emanating from each city and the artists selected all represent this. We worked hard to find artists who would thrive in a collaborative environment and every one of the eight artists had to agree to total parity across everything, from performance fees to royalties on sales. That was non negotiable. I think we knew we had the right artists when not one of them blinked at this. It speaks volumes about their respect for each other and the other artists they hadn’t met. K15 also epitomises this spirit and showed it when he unfortunately couldn’t travel to Nairobi. We were all gutted, no one more than K but he still booked a week off work and remained available for every session and we hooked up tv monitors to the studio so he could interact and collaborate via Skype. It actually turned into a real highlight.


What would you say you learnt about each individual cultural scene through their representatives?

One thing that we felt was important was to recognise that although artists may be part of a scene due to location, they are all also independent and unique individuals with their own inspirations and stories. Lazy generalisations about a city's ‘sound’ ignores what often makes the individual artists so unique and interesting. Labdi and Karun share a city but sounds and inspirations are very different. That said, they are both so supportive of each other and across Nairobi and Kampala there felt like there was a really supportive community of artists. Also, it's maybe an obvious statement, but the cities are vastly different and brilliant in their own ways.

How did you think this cultural exchange was significant?

We have tried to create an environment where the artists can record and make music with as few creative restraints as possible. There is always that fear there may not be that chemistry, but that all instantly faded away within about an hour of them meeting each other. The love and respect the artists showed each other and their crafty really was amazing. The music that has come out of it is a bi-product of very deep connections made between artists and reinforced the idea of music - and more specifically "soul music” - being a universal language that totally disregards borders. I think the artists themselves may have even been surprised at how easily they all collaborated and bonded.

What was the importance of basing the workshop in Nairobi?

We have friends in Nairobi, I had been to Nairobi and Kampala a number of times before, and we have been keeping tabs on the amazing music coming out of the city so it was an easy choice. Also, coupled with the fact our friends, Supersonic Africa, have an incredible recording studio, it was the perfect launch for ESP. The project is also 100% based on an equal exchange, so we needed to get out of the UK and look further than an easy location for ourselves. Nairobi is an amazingly vibrant place and none of the UK artists had been before so taking UK artists out of familiar settings was vital to the creative process. We wanted to reset everyone's ways of working in the hope to spark something unexpected and different. In the same way we were always totally committed to this being a two-way exchange and the East Africa artists needed to come back to London to experience the city their artistic counterparts were from and create new music sparked by this exchange.

What do you hope to achieve through this programme and what’s in store for ESP. in the future?

We wanted to judge the impact of the project on the individuals themselves. We hope it's provided a profound and life-changing experience for the eight artists involved, that would be a really important achievement for us. The friendships forged will outlive this project and we would love that to be a legacy of the connection we facilitated. We are of course going back to Nairobi and will continue working with our friends at Supersonic Africa (shouts and eternal thanks to Shaman Sean, Ruth and all the team there). Plans are already underway for our next Nairobi edition, but we are also working on other worldwide collaborative projects, more news on those very soon.

Click here to read Karun's and Labdi's Guide to Nairobi

Photography: Dan Medhurst


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