Photo By: William Kane
Kenya has a vast amount of hardcore music that has been tipping over their Rock Music stratosphere. Crystal Axis are truly pilots of that legacy that is thriving more than ever now. With an introduction to the music business at such a young age, they are pioneers in their own right. I had a chance to check out Crystal Axis’ virtual performance amidst the Decolonize Fest (that was live-streamed from London, England) September 3, 2019…and was blown into amplified bliss! There was a certain charisma gathered with intense conviction that plagued their brilliant creative energy. This interview was actually conducted in October of 2020, so I am extremely thrilled to finally share it.
Crystal Axis band members:• Ahmed Bulhan• Douglas Kihoro• Fox Elijah• Djae Aroni
Samantha Hollins: Your band name is very intriguing? How did it come about?
Crystal Axis: Well, we picked it out when we were still kids and at the time we didn’t have a particularly deep meaning for it. We had a list of choices and that’s what we gravitated towards. Over time this has become my favorite least-favorite question because I wish I could give people a great and meaningful answer but that’s the truth of how our name came to be, haha!
Samantha Hollins: I loved your live stream show with Decolonize Fest (London, UK). I know Crystal Axis was supposed to be there in person (pre-Covid). In what manner did this global pandemic shift your 2020 plans?
Crystal Axis: Thank you a ton for tuning in! It means the world and we’re beyond grateful for all your support. Prior to the pandemic we were meant to be in London for Decolonize Fest and we were also trying to set up a bunch of shows around England and the EU and make the most of it. We had to pretty much postpone all of that and go back to the drawing board. As a band, live shows make up a large portion of our earnings. Without any income from that, 2020 has been pretty rough on us as a band; financially. We’ve been forced to re-evaluate a lot of things. We’re trying to treat it is a major learning experience and try to focus on the silver lining but even that can be difficult at times; given the toll 2020 has had on us all.
Samantha Hollins: How did you guys go from meeting as teens to forming a Punk band? Was it hard getting gigs?
Crystal Axis: It’s a bit of a funny story with layers to it: Djae started the band after he watched his first Rock’n’ Roll show in Kenya. At the time there was a hardcore band made of kids from a local school named Jack The Hammer and that inspired him to start the band (Crystal Axis). A couple of years later he found out that Fox was in fact the lead singer and guitarist in Jack The Hammer and he had interest in joining the band as we were looking for a guitarist. At the time they didn’t know each other so it was crazy seeing things come full circle.
AB initially joined as a bassist when we were still in high school but as soon as we realized he could sing we stuck him in front of the mic and the rest is history. As for Doug, we met at live shows years back; turns out he used to sneak out from boarding school in a whole different city, catch a bus to Nairobi for the show and then head back to school before anyone was wise to it. He might be the bassist but he’s hands down the coolest member of this band for pulling that move and getting away with it.
Samantha Hollins: What was the reaction of your parents when they realized their teens were Punk Rockers?
Crystal Axis: I think it was initially one of shock and surprise given our backgrounds. We were all more or less raised in relatively conservavtive African households. Ahmed and Djae were both raised in conservative Muslim/African households and Fox is the son of missionaries. Rock and Metal has always been shroudded in this air of “drug, sex and Rock ‘n’ Roll” so obviously there was concern about how and why we gravitated towards this genre of music. Also many of the shows back in the day were in clubs, pubs, etc. and as a parent you’d be concerned about a bunch of kids in such an environment. With time they had to accept this was the path we’d chosen. It doesn’t mean they were particularly thrilled but they saw the work we put in and the passion we had.
Photo By: Pixel Peddler
Samantha Hollins: How did it feel to be the first Kenyan Rock band to garner the number one spot on the X-FM TRC top 25 countdown? Did it boost your demand?
Crystal Axis: Phenomenal! It was amazing for us because, at the time, Neel and Djae had literally just graduated high school and this was our first ever studio recording. We were a bunch of 15-18 year old kids with the number one Rock record in the country! It was insane! Our demand did shoot up. We had more booking requests than ever. The irony is that Djae was leaving the country for university and there wasn’t much we could do without him so things ‘took off’ and slowed down at the same time. It was a bit of a bummer but we’re here now, still killing it even 8 years later.
Samantha Hollins: I think it’s amazing how you guys took a break to pursue other endeavors. Tell us about those experiences and if you knew that the band would get back together?
Crystal Axis: Initially we went on hiatus so we could pursue unii and higher education. We were scattered all over the globe with members being in Mexico, UK and Kenya. When we were back in Kenya we would miss each other by days, or we would see each other for no more than a week at a time.
At the time having to step back from Crystal Axis was heartbreaking, I don’t think any of us wanted that. But since then we’ve all gone through so much, individually and collectively, and those experiences have directly influenced and shaped who we are today. So I probably wouldn’t change how things played out. All those experiences put things into perspective and really solidified the fact that we were put on Earth to do this. We studied a variety of things ranging from to music marketing but what has been made abundantly clear is that we are here to create art and music. This is our calling and you really can’t convince us otherwise…no matter how hard you try.
Samantha Hollins: I hear undertones of other musical vibes in your music. What genres outside of Punk do you find yourselves incorporating?
Crystal Axis: Musically speaking we all have a wide range of influences. Individually we listen to a lot of different music and we also create a ton of different music outside of Crystal Axis ranging from House Music to Trap, Reggaeton, Lo-Fi, Metal and even Bhangra. With time I’ve come to learn and accept that there are elements of all these different genres that will seep into Crystal Axis’ music and vice versa. Take The Throne has a beat switch at the outro that was influenced by our love for Hip-Hop and Trap whereas Leopold has influences of Bossa Nova and Ska, although it’s hard to tell unless you’re really trying to spot it. As artists we refuse to be boxed into a corner or be told we can only sound a certain way. We are Crystal Axis and we do what we want.
Samantha Hollins: Is there a Rock market in Kenya as far as the mainstream?
Crystal Axis: Not quite; no. Rock, and all its subgenres, is still very niche in Kenya. There was a dedicated-all-Rock station but with time they became commercial and played radio friendly Pop with a sprinkle of Rock. There are one or two dedicated-Rock shows on other stations which are great, but the simple fact is that it is not mainstream. Other than dedicated Rock and Metal shows, few promoters go out of their way to book Rock bands for gigs. There’s a massive divide and at times people simply just don’t acknowledge the existence of the Rock scene. It is frustrating but we aren’t giving up.
Samantha Hollins: What is the concept of Nyayo House? It’s so, so brilliant and lyrically vivid.
Crystal Axis: Nyayo House is a government building in Nairobi, Kenya. It is arguably one of the busiest buildings in Kenya and deals with all things concerning immigration, nationality, passports, visas, etc. It also housed torture chambers used by the Moi regime to silence the opposition; a fact that many people surprisingly did not know and that did not sit right with us. We felt like this part of Kenyan history was being swept under the rug, the same way King Leopold II’s bloody reign in the Congo was swept under the rug.
There are so many accounts of the vile things that took place in that building but nobody was ever held accountable. Some of the victims are still alive to this day and their accounts of the events that took place will just break your heart. Our music has always been about revising African history and Nyayo House was very much in line with that; using our voice and our platform as Africans to tell stories about our history as Africans.
Samantha Hollins: When was the first time you fell in love with Rock-n-Roll?
Crystal Axis: To be honest when we were all kids. The first time you hear it it just knocks you off your feet, and I don’t mean hearing it in passing, I mean the first time you actually listen to Rock’n’Roll. That feeling of confusion, excitement, euphoria; it was unlike anything else. Music had never made me feel that way before so I was hooked from the get go. It changed everything; literally. I think we all found Rock’n’Roll around the same time we were figuring out who we are as individuals. Those years are always extremely confusing as you’re growing up but the music definitely helped and played a major role in making us the people we are today.
Samantha Hollins: I would love to know: what’s on the agenda for Crystal Axis’ future?
Crystal Axis: We have a 7” titled Lunatic Express coming out next month so we’re very excited about that, given what the song means to us. We’re also working on our full length project. Though we haven’t set a date, I can confidently say we’re going to be dropping our debut album in 2021. We are also trying to get the ball rolling and start booking shows for 2021, so if you’d like to see us in a city near you sometime soon please let us know!
Photo By: Pixel Peddler
Samantha Hollins: I have to thank Crystal Axis for this very thought provoking interview. To learn more about their music, shows and merchandise check out the links below.
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