Nairobi-based musician and producer DJ Raph’s music is both traditional and innovative as he blends field recordings from African chants and rituals with electronic beats creating his own brand of dance music. His aptly named debut album, Sacred Groves, has made its way to the steady-growing Kenyan underground scene, and hopefully will reach a greater audience who will appreciate the use of the Pan-African’s cultural heritage in a unique way.
How would you describe your music to someone who is not familiar with it?
My own productions are sample-heavy, influenced by hip-hop and techno. Now, I’m adding noise elements to it. Some songs are made around themes or concepts, some others aren’t.
You have collaborated with the Iwalewahaus Institute from the University of Bayreuth (Germany), which documents contemporary African art to get footage of live recordings of traditional African songs. How and why did this partnership start, and how has it evolved since its beginning?
I was invited to participate in the Mash Up project by its organiser, who had heard my music and had come to some of my events. When I was told about the archive, I jumped on the project right away. Over the course of three years, my part of the project itself evolved from a little installation to an EP, to the point where we decided to aim for an album. Noland Records got involved at that point and together we took the project beyond the walls of Iwalewa and to the world.
I’ve seen that you have played in multiple venues in Africa and Europe, what differences have you noticed between these vastly different crowds?
Honestly, I haven’t played in that many venues (yet). But I find European audiences to be open-minded, eager to explore. Or maybe I’ve just played in nice places so far. Back home, people prefer to hear familiar, popular stuff, even in less mainstream settings, so I have to mix that with the more new or interesting stuff. Best gig so far is Golden Pudel (Hamburg).
There’s an emerging scene of African DJs gaining international recognition: Black Coffee, Kampire, Distruction Boyz, Mr. Eazi, etc. How do you see the growth and emerging scene in the continent? 
These are exciting times for all kinds of music and artists in Africa. I think the sounds coming out, from the big stars to bedroom producers, are going to influence global music over time. I see mainstream pop looking for inspiration in African and other sounds.
Could you tell us some other names we should be following?
You should be following a young DJ/producer known as KMRU; he has been developing a nice, chilled-out sound. Look out for Monrhea, she’s just starting out but I think she could make Nairobi enjoy techno. There’s Basthma, find him on Soundcloud, his sound is hip-hop-meets-bass. And EA Wave are evolving to a more live act, definitely worth paying attention to.
What do you like the most about being a DJ? Do you have any fun stories that you could tell us from any of your gigs/performances?
Playing music for people is the best job in the world! I mean, who do you think you are here to select what we should dance to? It’s a nice feeling when people appreciate what you play. I recently played for twelve hours at our bookstore (seated) and people kept coming and going until 4 am. They stopped when I fell asleep at the decks and my pal had to wake me up.
You are greatly influenced by traditional Pan-African music. What is it that draws you to it?
It was always in search of a greater understanding of where Africa is coming from, knowing more about who we are. It’s also a great source of interesting sounds.
You have released a beautiful music video for your song Ikondera, featuring a woman who seems to dance in a ritualistic manner. How important is the visual side of your music to you?
That’s the only music video I’ve ever released, done by visual artist .nita, who also created visuals for the musical performances as part of her own work in the Mash Up project. Before working with her, I’d never worked with visuals in mind. It’s not something I have explored, really.
Could you describe Sacred Groves, your debut album, in a few words?
Music and field recordings from different African cultures remixed but preserved.
And to finish, could you recommend us a song to see the sunrise/sunset, another to cheer yourself up when feeling down, and one to go to sleep?
To see the sunrise or sunset, almost anything by Nujabes. To cheer up, Dynamic Symmetry by BT (maybe because I’m pretty melancholic today!). And to go to sleep, the full Kenya Sessions album by Sven Kacirek; sublime!
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