Home Impact producer Black first: Coco Em’s empowering dance music elevates East African female artists – Impact

Black first: Coco Em’s empowering dance music elevates East African female artists – Impact


Can you tell me how your nickname “Coco Em” came about?

Coco means chocolate and Em is short for my real name – Emma. I came up with the name around 2008 when I was working with a film crew in Malaysia. Someone sent me ‘Emma’ by Hot Chocolate and I thought, hmm, my skin loves chocolate, so I started using the name Coco.

How would you describe yourself as an artist in five words?

I would describe myself as curious, inquisitive, shy, bold and hungry.

What inspires you?

For my musical production, I draw my musical inspiration from different things in my life. I could be in traffic and hear someone go by with the music blaring and combine those sounds with the sounds of the car engine revving and find a beat. I also really like the musical arrangement of classical music, so much drama! I try to recreate chords and harmonies that I like and build them. When I organize DJ sets, my mood influences what I listen to, which in turn influences how I organize my sets. No genre is forbidden for me. I especially like it when two sets from different genres are mixed together to create something new.

When did you start getting into music and did DJing or producing come first?

My interest in music goes back to my childhood — I listened to a lot of lucky dube growing up. Later, I developed tastes for many different styles of music: hip-hop, classical, rock, and the whimsical indie tunes from this online radio station called Stereomood I was introduced in 2008. Djing for me came first. I had shared some tracks on my Facebook page and a friend encouraged me to get into it because he thought my selection was good. Later, I went out with a DJ who also produced and encouraged me to do so as well. We were making mixtapes for each other, and mine was more of a full mix than a selection of tracks. It was fun putting them together.

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What are some of your favorite gigs?

Currently, playing this year in Lyon for Infine’s 15th anniversary is one of my favorite concerts. The crowd started out a bit confused by my amapiano selections, but they warmed up so well to the music and by the time the venue was at capacity, everyone was sweating from all the dancing. The great sound of the venue, Heat Lyon, also really put me in a good mood for the show. I also had a lot of fun at my first gig in Swaziland a few weeks ago for the MTN Bushfire festival.

What sounds from Kenya we should know?

There is a vibrant electronic music scene in Nairobi fueled by organizations such as Santuri East Africa. The music that comes out is an exploratory and eclectic mix of sounds ranging from the newly formed genres gengetone (genge music and reggaeton) shrap (sheng swahili language mixed with trap hip hop sounds) house, techno and tech house bangers from artists Budalagi, Munyasyabackground music exploring the use of field recordings by artists such as KMRU, Nyokabi Kariuki and DJ Raphthe Changanya genre shaped by singer/songwriter and producer Nabalayo and much more. There are also producers pushing the amapiano sound into the scene as well as a very big reggae music movement. It’s great to note that everything I just mentioned is only from Nairobi and that Kenya as a whole has so many different cultures and tribes creating their own sounds and expressions.

Your first EP, “Kilumi”, is a mix of electronic genres ranging from amapiano to trap. Why is it important to incorporate a wide range of sounds and styles into your work?

Incorporating a wide range of sounds comes naturally to me. When I create, I like my expression to be honest and so I don’t fight what I feel that moves me at that moment. During the creation of this album, I had started listening to a lot of amapiano music and had just met the Angolan artist called Nazar (Hyperdub) whose sound fuses a lot of techno/noise elements with groovy bass and rhythms percussive. I felt depressed by the pandemic but at the same time very excited about exploring new sounds. Normally I get a bit bored listening to one sound at a time – I like to change it up every once in a while.