It would be quite challenging for most Australians to envision a metropolis where 4.5 million people fit into 696 km². To put that into perspective, Nairobi has a population density of 6,247 persons per square kilometre, whereas Sydney has just 430.
It’s safe to say that Nairobi heaves with the pulse of its people, a city at the heart of Kenya that’s alive with kinetic energy. Even the iconic imagery alone – exotic African wildlife gallivanting before a sprawling cityscape – is a testament to the broad spectrum of what life in Nairobi entails.
And, much like we’ve learnt with our A Punk Guide series, within that spectrum is a niche for a thriving punk rock scene.
To learn more about the alternative scene in Nairobi, we spoke with local band Crystal Axis, creators of ‘Leopold’ and ‘Nyayo House’, and proud representatives of punk. Band member Djae Aroni was kind enough to guide us through their hometown.
Growing up as a young punk in Nairobi, what are some of the places you would tend to hang out?
To be honest, as with most African countries, there weren’t specific ‘punk places’ around the city designated for punks and rockers, it was always a matter of us making our own space and making the most of what we had. Over the years we sort of ‘forced’ our way into different places and spaces and we made them our own. Bars, clubs, the local skate park (Shangilia Skate-park) and anywhere else we fancied.
How would you describe your typical Nairobi punk?
That’s a bit of a tricky question to answer because I don’t think there’s a ‘typical punk’. Although I like to believe we all share the same core values, the truth is we’re all very different as individuals, which I would say is the beauty of life. Some members of the Nairobi punk scene are human rights lawyers, others are music instructors and even digital marketers. What we all share in common is what we stand for and what we believe in. Some of us wear suits and ties to gigs and some of us show up in leather jackets, studs and boots. In a nutshell, the typical Nairobi punk does what they want because you cannot, and will not, tell them how they should act or who they should be.
How does the general Nairobi community take to punks, and punk music?
Kenyans have been pretty receptive to punk music, at least those that have had a chance to explore the genre and catch one or two shows. The general reaction is almost always “I had no idea there were punks in Kenya!” It’s always fun to see the surprised faces of onlookers whenever we play a show in a different setting other than our usual punk spaces.
What are some of the best record shops for punk music in Nairobi, and what makes them special places?
Seeing as punk isn’t a mainstream African genre there honestly weren’t many standalone punk record shops around the city. Growing up we would trade CDs at gigs to share music with our friends and also discover new bands. These days we set up booths at gigs where people can buy and trade CDs, vinyl, merch and so on. What I love about the scene is that we are very adaptable and we make the most of what we have, the different people in the scene is what makes these moments and these places special.
What’s the best way to find punk music and bands in Nairobi?
Live shows are usually the best way to discover new bands in the Kenyan scene. There is an incredible sense of community in our little scene and we’re always eager to welcome new bands to the stage. People go out of their way to help new bands with gear for gigs, studio time and so on.
Currently, as Crystal Axis, we’re looking at setting up a radio show where we can share music by Kenyan bands as well as other African bands and POC bands from across the globe. We’ve also been mulling over getting a record label going and we’re still toying around with the idea.
Other than record shops, are there any other locations in the city that are important to its punk rock music community?
Oh yeah definitely! Growing up one of the few places we played gigs was Choices Bar, I spent many of my teenage years there and met some incredible people there so it holds a special place in my heart. Rezorus Bar is also one of those places as that’s where we played our first ever gig and where we played most of our shows when we started out as a band.
More recently, at least before the pandemic, we spent a great deal of time at Dagoz Bar, a space for artists that is run by artists. We played gigs there, hung out there and at some stage we even started using the venue as our practice spot. The best part about Dagoz is the incredible sense of community around it, artists rally together for shows and other causes and we look out for one another. Apart from welcoming the punk scene with open arms, Dagoz also hosts as tonne of live gigs literally every day of the week and we cannot wait for those doors to open back up. If you’re ever in Nairobi for whatever reason and you fancy a night-out then Dagoz is the first place I would ever recommend.
Other than Crystal Axis, who are some other great punk bands making moves from Nairobi, or Kenya?
Rock and metal in itself is quite niche in Kenya, and more widely Africa, so as you can imagine punk is even more niche. At the moment we have two active punk bands in Kenya, that is Crystal Axis and Powerslide.
Powerslide is hands down one of our favourite all time African punk bands, they’re a group of skaters that came together and started making music a few years ago and they quickly made a name for themselves in the scene. They epitomise what it means to be punk from their daily way of life and, of course, their music. Honestly even though we’ve been active in the scene much longer than them they inspire us in so many different ways.
What are your tips for any punks traveling through your hometown?
Hit us up and let us know you’re rolling through and we’ll be sure to show you a good time! Nairobi is generally pretty open to travellers from all over the world and locals are welcoming. There’s never a shortage of activities in Nairobi, it’s beautiful.