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An Interview with David Tinning

An Interview with David Tinning of Santuri Safari

Santuri Safari is quickly establishing itself by bringing together traditional East African artists and instruments with modern producers and techniques.

David Tinning, the co-ordinator of the project, talks to 25ThC and lets us Premiere a brand new track:

Can you tell us about Santuri Safari and your role in it?‬

DT: Santuri Safari is a network of DJs, producers, musicians and sound engineers, mainly based in East Africa. The concept is a reaction of the overly commercial, derivative hip-hop/RnB/pop that’s flooded the region. East Africa has such a rich and diverse musical culture, but most young people have no interest in it. There are many social and economic reasons for this, but Santuri is an opportunity to bring together some of the ‘forgotten’ musical cultures still active in the region and put them together with contemporary producers in ‘pop up’ studios – one of the aims being to make forward-thinking East African tracks that work on the dance floor.‬

‪I’m the coordinator – I try and put together the various events and workshops etc that Santuri are involved in, using the network of members and partners that we have built up over the last year.

Thank you for allowing us to Premier this new track! Can you tell us about it?

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DT: Its a bit different from everything else we have done. Made via sampling trash instruments made as a part of a Goethe Zentrum project in Kampala. Bantu Clan are freaking awesome, they came in and dropped this freestyle in one take.

Can you tell us more about some of the forgotten musical cultures you mention, i.e the styles and artists involved?

DT: Well, so far we have worked with a pretty interesting cross section of artists from around the region. In Zanzibar we recorded a young genius playing the Qanun – a harp like instrument popular in Taraab and coastal / arabic sounds. Elsewhere we recorded a Embaire xylophone – a huge beast of an instrument that takes 7 people to play, and is native to certain areas in Uganda. We have also worked with Makadem – a Kenyan performer who somehow traverses the line between benga and afrobeat, while Abakasimba are a 14 piece percussion outfit that use traditional instruments to create hypnotic, extended jams that somehow work incredibly well with subtle, crafty house productions. That’s not to mention recording with some of east Africa’s hottest up-and-comers such as Sarabi, as well as legends like Wumni – who appeared on a number of landmark electronic cuts by the likes of MAW and Osunlade. What’s more, we collaborated with a project that saw young Ugandans build primitive synths out of old scrap radios!

How do you go about recording such unique instruments and large groups of artists and what equipment do you use?

DT: Good question, and one Sam Jones our resident genius audio engineer / producer would be best placed to answer – but he’d probably get really technical and bore your readers with mic placement techniques. Essentially we tend to work with a mobile studio set up that Sam either brings in from the UK or we source locally via organisations like Ketebul Music in Nairobi. The idea is that we can take the studio anywhere, and set up in unlikely locations – such as festivals. One of our studios was a banda (wooden hut) on a campsite overlooking Rift Valley. This concept serves two main purposes – we show our participants and trainee sound engineers that you can get incredible sound wherever you are and you don’t need to be in a high end studio – and it means the musicians we record are in a less formal, more relaxed environment, which is where the best performances and willingness to experiment comes out.

Having recorded the amazing live sounds of these interesting instruments how do you then decide which of the contemporary producers will best be suited to producing the final tracks?

DT: So the way we structure the projects is that we’ll have a producer around for the actual recording, working in tandem with the musicians at the point of creation. This is really important- we want the musicians and producers to be collaborating at the point of creation, rather than the traditional remixing-after-the-event model. So far we’ve been really lucky to have some amazing talent available to provide input and direction on this side- including Lulo Cafe – a South African house legend, and the mighty Esa Williams. Esa is another South African but is now based in London and works with Auntie Flo and various other underground house producers working within the framework of African music. Esa has become a central figure in the project and has a whole raft of killer tracks and remixes that he’s produced via Santuri – look out for these in the coming year. Elsewhere we were honoured to have Tony Nwachukwu from CDR come to Nairobi and run a production course in Ableton for the next generation of Kenyan beat-makers. We are also always open to new collaborations, and will be looking to share the material with producers, DJs and remixers all over the world – whatever the style. We are passionate about the material being available under the Creatives Common licence -making sure its accessible to everyone as long as the original source material is credited.

In the documentary preview video, training is being given on Ableton and Native Instruments Machine. Can you tell me more about their involvement in the project?

DT: I used to work for Native Instruments in Berlin, and when i was putting the project together it occurred to me that having organisations like NI and Ableton involved would be incredibly important to its success. For the first edition in Zanzibar, NI donated a tonne of gear- Maschines, Komplete bundles and Traktor hardware, while Ableton also came on board with licences for Live. Being able to link what’s happening here in East Africa with the global cutting edge of music technology is crucial – not only does it bring production standards up and vastly improve workflows for producers here, but it also tweaks the interest of the NI and Ableton communities globally. As such, having Tony Nwachukwu involved in running the Ableton workshop was a huge coup for Santuri – he’s the don, and being a part of the CDR extended network is an honour for us. The lovely people at Ableton also ran a really great piece on us and sponsored the last event – a relationship we hope to grow over the next years.

2015 is shaping up to be a big year for Santuri with a forthcoming documentary as well a number of festivals. Tell us more about these plans.

DT: Yeah, I guess we are moving out of the first year in really good shape – we only had our first event in February. I’m really excited about formalising Santuri from a concept to something official – a social enterprise with a legal basis. This will be the focus for the next few months, before the crazy festival season starts again. We have a Santuri end of year party coming up in Nairobi on a rooftop above the city, and it will be live streamed to the net- it’ll be a great opportunity to take stock of the year and look forward to 2015. And probably have a few drinks with some of the amazing people we have met along the way. We have a documentary coming out that we hope will do the festival rounds and give people a really clear idea about what we are doing, and maybe even inspire other similar initiatives. Beyond that will be tonnes of recording sessions, festivals, record releases, workshops, and hopefully, some projects showcasing in Europe. We even have plans to start work on a very exciting project next year – building pro-grade, bespoke sound systems here in East Africa. To use an awful neo-cliche, this could be a game changer (ugh, sorry). Watch this space on that one.

You can find out more by following Santuri Safari on their Facebook and Soundcloud pages.

Interview first published Nov 2014 on the Something You Said website