Design Indaba 2017: Musical Highlights

From total Kenyan creative Blinky Bill to the hip-hop improv troupe Freestyle Love Supreme, our favorite acts from this year's festival

The domino effect of each year of Design Indaba building upon the last is a welcome outcome indeed. Word is out among the creative elite and as we’ve noticed, it’s not just the roster of speakers that’s become increasingly stronger; the musicians performing at Nightscape this year were top level as well, and a few even bounced between the conference stage and the DJ booth. And to celebrate, this year Design Indaba tapped Senegalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane to build an otherworldly art installation on the piazza and opened the showcase to the public; anyone who purchased a ticket could find themselves dancing it up next to Olafur Eliasson, Kate Moross or Nelly Ben Hayoun to a set from Massive Attack‘s Daddy G. From the fantastic lineup of musical acts this year, below are four performers that deserve special mention.

Blinky Bill

A unique creative that precedes his name, Blinky Bill is a Kenyan musician that broke ground with the self-described “super-nerdy” DIY house/funk/disco collective Just A Band. Based on his awesome selection of KikoRomeo one-pieces worn throughout the week, it’s easy to see how he became the group’s chief Jumpsuit Technician, but as we learned during his conference talk, Blinky (AKA Bill Sellanga) is so much more than a DJ in beautiful hand-dyed onesies. Just A Band animated their own first music video (“Iwinyo Piny”), and Sellanga himself is a Red Bull Music Academy alumnus, a TED Fellow and the solo act behind the 2016 EP, We Cut Keys While You Wait. This year he’ll release his first solo album, Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales. As he continues to bring his own brand of electro-funk to the international scene, if this is him “winging it,” we can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Black Coffee

Legendary Afropolitan house DJ Black Coffee not only gave a rare intimate performance on Wednesday evening, but earlier that day he also announced an exciting partnership with fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo and contemporary artist Nelson Makamo. The trio will use their joint knowledge to create Fashion Art and Music Academy (FAM), which will service the continent’s next generation of artistic talents. Music students will learn about branding and social media the first year, release their first single the second year and launch an album in their final third year. As Black Coffee notes in an Instagram caption announcing their altruistic endeavor to the public, “Foxes have holes….Birds have Nests….Children of Africa have nothing.” They’re currently seeking fellow investors to help them launch FAM by 2019.

John Wizards

John Withers, the frontman behind South Africa’s well known jam band John Wizards, has been quietly working on a new album while also attending school to study musicology—after having already graduated with a triple-major degree in English, Art History and Classics. Withers’ eclectic interests are evident in his music, where he likes to cross musical lines by linking together disparate ideas written at different times. Although, he tells us, the forthcoming album will seem more South African in feeling than his last, in 2013 (which drew on American indie rock, R&B and various sounds from the African continent). Withers has been mostly home since the last tour and listening to some of his early favorites, like South African Bubblegum-Pop sensation Brenda & The Big Dudes. John Wizards’ performance at Design Indaba worked between tracks old and new, but was wholeheartedly brilliant.

Freestyle Love Supreme

In a true amalgamation of conference talks and musical performances, NYC-based improv troupe Freestyle Love Supreme combed through the daily lectures to deliver a whirlwind of unscripted wrap-ups in hip-hop form. The sharp-witted quintet—who go by Two Touch, Jelly Donut, Shockwave, Urk the Inc., and The Geniuses—wowed the crowd more than a few times; they always kept the words flowing even when audience volunteers forgot what they’d done that day, or when a song about WiFi slowed the vibe down and afforded them a moment to delve beyond ephemeral anecdotes and into heartfelt monologues. If it sounds like a Design Indaba version of Hamilton, that’s not too far off: Two Touch (Anthony Veneziale) co-created the rap musical In The Heights with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Utterly impressive, Freestyle Love Supreme’s daily conference rhymes and Nightscape performance breathed new life into Design Indaba this year.

Images courtesy of respective acts and Design Indaba