Right off the bat, I had never been a fan of Just A Band. Their hit single, Ha-he, received the airplay that it greatly deserved. And it had a video and a memorable character to boot; Makmende jokes that followed afterward gave me a mild momentary humor that fizzled as soon as turned my head away. But it was all good. For me, my love for them started and ended on a commercial stance; I didn’t break my back looking for their albums or downloading any of the singles. When they found me on radio or in the hanyee or wherever, they found me.
So when they announced that they would be releasing their third studio album – Sorry for the Delay – my reaction was expectedly tepid. What thrilled my curiosity though was the album. And its launch. An album launch. Album. Launch. Do you feel the romance and hip that comes with an album launch? I did. It turned out that I was not the only one. The turnout at the KICC grounds was excellent; the crowd mature and mannered; the DJ busied us while we watched some groupies perform choreographed routines in the sporadic drizzles.
And they were late. J.A.B was three hours late. A penny for what their apology sounded like? Yep: sorry for the delay. I snorted. Until they got on stage and did their thing. In the two hours that followed, they not only got one foot into my favorite artists list but paced up that list with an ease and grandeur that, I must admit, I never considered they possessed. They climbed a notch with each chord that was struck, each beat that was created, each new track that had the crowd waving its hands in unison and each feeling that engulfed us on that rainy Saturday evening in late-October 2012. J.A.B was not commercial anymore; my response was no longer flippant or bland: I was converted from an atheist to a believer.
Probably for lovers – the first (and last) track from the album that received airplay on mainstream radio – marked the end of the launch. When the gig was over, we hurdled to the booth to buy the album. Not that I was expecting to see it in vinyl but the drop-cards were a tad too digital for my liking. C’mon, what happened to plain old CDs in bulky colorful cases?
After that night I stopped watching and judging them from a distance, and joined there fans in the panty-throwing and juvenile excitement and whatnot. To catch up on all I had missed, I got a hold of their two previous albums: Scratch to Reveal (2008) and 82 (2010).
I met J.A.B again in April 2013 when Goethe Institut put together the TEN CITIES ‘club culture’ event. The Nairobi edition was the fourth in Africa after Luanda, Lagos and then Jo’berg.
Marshalls Service Workshop along Loita Street was converted into a concert dome for the evening. The vibe it gave of an abandoned warehouse added to the uncomplicated list of bands that would grace the stage for the evening. Coupled with the rain, an honest and (dominantly?) white audience, the buzz of the night that lay ahead was palpable. Some came to see Ota Push, others to listen to the DJs, for others it was Batida, and others for Camp Mulla. But for most of us, it was J.A.B. I am a huge fan, we shouted into each others ears.
Dan Muli was around this time. Jim Chuchu and Masya, I didn’t see them. The guy on the keyboard, with his expressionless face, looked like he had just been pulled out of bed; but he had his game together all the same. The drummer boy, oh, the drummer boy. Last I saw him, during the album launch, was with a red beret that hang over his forehead and covered his eyes; this drew undeserved attention to the bottom lip he bit the harder he pounded his drums. The drummer boy, oh, the drummer boy. He had a marvin on this night. Same lip biting, and same tenacity with the drums.
Then there was Blinky Bill, hurling meaningless commands to a euphoric obedient crowd. And boy, did we move back and forth, side to side as he asked. We sang along with Stano (reportedly a church member of St James, Buruburu) to Dunia ina mambo; with Lisa Oduor-Noah to Probably for Lovers, and other tracks from their albums. Of course they could not leave without performing the notable Ha-he. The crowd was insatiable. J.A.B was on stage for less than twenty minutes and for several of those moments, we forgot how terrible the sound in the dome was; we forgave the organizers for dragging the start time for over four hours; and we sang along to every lyric that we could recall. And we danced and jumped around as if the night would never end.
The review that follows was my first ever album review for any artist. Come to think of it, I am glad I broke my album-review virginity with J.A.B.
Something untold happens to an artist when they take a hiatus – too long and the fans feel that you’ve strayed too far from your signature style, too short and they feel that you have not matured enough in that period. It is a delicate balance.
Just A Band worked around both of these factors with ‘Sorry for the delay’.
Three tracks into the album and the mood is yet to be established. The predictability that marked their last album is easily erased in this album culminating in mix of tracks that demands for your attention to the very end. Flip in the record and you shall stumble upon a track that shall match your mood. In the mood for partying? ‘Life of the party’, ‘Get down’ and ‘Bush baby Disco’ effortlessly works it up. Silly beat? ‘Doot doot’ cannot go wrong. Mellow it down? ‘Matatizo’ and ‘Another chance’ unendingly loops in your conscience. Feeling retro? ‘Dunia ina mambo’ checks in; and as a pleasant surprise if you ask me.
Just A Band seemed to lie dangerously on the extremes with the melody being either too mellow or too harsh. Beneath this extreme is a focus on either the vocals or the beat. Enmeshing the two results in the album’s subtle weakness – the balance between the vocals and the instruments. In more instances that one, the vocals seem to drown beneath the plethora of resounding instruments climaxing in a noisy clash. An overkill, if you may. Lyrically, the compositions are straight-forward; speaking of simple stories of ordinary men who possess very little, if no, immortality.
The saving grace lies in the excellent production and the defiance they exhibit in playing with their own rules.
Taking it away, the hiatus worked for Just A Band.