On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I sat in my chair and had a chat with Paul Ken Asobo Jr, alias Kendrum Music, an outstanding music artist and producer. Kendrum Music is a Cameroonian but is currently based in Los Angeles, US.
Spotcovery Lens is a sit-and-talk with brilliant personalities from different walks of life all around Africa and beyond to understand their passions, struggles, and goals.
The first time that I listened to Kendrum’s music, I went ‘This is music too?’ It sounded so different and it had this magnetic energy, causing you to stop everything else just to listen closely. And when I finally got to speak with the music prodigy himself, I went ‘Ah, so this is why his music sounded the way it did’ He definitely is a special breed of fish in the sea of music and arts.
With his fusion of African rhythms and electronic styles, Kendrum’s music conjures the soundscapes of Afrofuturism. The LA-based Cameroonian artist and producer created the Electro Afro-Funk genre from his history with Cameroonian and Nigerian Afrobeat.
When Did You Start Making Music? What Made You Decide to Do This for a Long Term?
Right. So there are two parts to answer that question.
I would love to start with when music piqued my interest at a very young age when I was in my hometown, Bamenda, Cameroon. Back then, I used to take the allowance from my elder sister to make mixtapes and cassettes. And I used to build this playlist to sound and feel a certain way based on the songs that I put together; I think I was between the ages of 9-12, and I kept up with it till I got to 14 years.
Even though those were not my songs, the environment that I created with those playlists was creative for me. But I didn’t start making my own original music until I moved to Los Angeles, where I live. While living in LA, I had some peculiar experiences that made me conclude that music may as well be my calling. So, I would eventually need to be involved in the music industry as a producer, sound engineer, musician, or publicist.
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My brother-in-law took me to a lounge in Los Angeles where they had an event – Afro funky night. At that event, there were European DJs with a pretty sound knowledge of West Central African 70s music. So by that, I mean music from Fela Kuti and all the pioneers of Afrobeat. So they fused that with electronic house music from Europe, and it blew my mind!
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and wanted to make music like that and be a part of that space. So that piqued my interest in it, but I still didn’t know how I could do that because such a dream was so far-fetched. I didn’t come to the United States to be a musician; that’s not how many African households work. So yeah, at that point, I was a student, so I felt this was an impossible dream, but I’ll definitely attempt it at some point.
After a while, I had a roommate who had this software called Logic Pro, an Apple software for music creators, like you have Final Cut or Photoshop for music. So my roommate started making music and asking for my opinion. When he noticed I was pretty good at arranging and creating music, he encouraged me to get a laptop and work on music myself. But I couldn’t; I was focusing on school. And at that point, I used to take a few music classes in school because I knew deep down inside my interest was still strong.
Were You in for the Fun of It, or Were You Academically Interested in Music?
Oh, academically, no. Every junior college has music electives, so I took classes on electives like music history and music theory because of my interest in music. Around that same time, my friend started his journey of creating music in our apartment. And I got inspired to begin my journey at 25 years old. So I got to creating and working on the sound you hear in my current album. So that’s pretty much it; my origin story.
What Are the Elements That Inspire Your Music?
I think the best creativity, in my experience, comes from a bunch of random events and playing around, trying to create order. And the desire to do that comes from inspiration; when I feel inspired by chaos like that. I was scrolling through my social media and saw a video of girls dancing; at the same time, I love the energy the Zulu warriors possess when they dance. So I was curious to see what I could do with this. Now, have I seen videos like that before? Of course, I have, but they’ve never driven me to creativity. That’s the randomness again, am I right?
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Since I didn’t have any process videos and knew people were curious about them, I thought to download that little clip and play with it. I isolated parts in the music that I liked and slowed down the beat. Then I, you know, just threw a little bit of course behind it real quick. So yeah, to recap the answer to your question, it’s just paying attention to random events and how my emotions shift. I could walk down the street, and something can inspire me, which happens almost every time I go to the gym. And sometimes, that’s when the best inspiration hits me. I’m right in front of the gym; am I supposed to return home right now?
It could be sci-fi, anime, or anything. So I pay attention to how these elements shaped me emotionally and what kind of space they put me in. And then, I’ll have this curiosity to see if I can translate that emotion into sound, you know, that’s really the goal.
So That Means You Pour Yourself Into Your Music
Correct. That’s very well put.
You made a post on IG about creating something spiritual; How So?
I believe a big part of spirituality is about elevating yourself to a higher state; people try to achieve that through Christian religion, meditation, or even psychedelics. When I make certain songs, I tap into that space or remember what it feels like to be in such a space and want to create a soundscape of it.
The post you’re talking about is the one I made with the South African dancers. They were singing in a way that made it sound like a worship song, more so when I slowed it down; I didn’t have to know what they were singing. And with them raising their feet up and stomping on the ground, it seemed like a summon of some sort, and that is the soundscape that I painted; that’s how I interpreted it.
The beauty of music doesn’t have specific words to it. It’s open to anyone’s interpretation and allows people to be creative themselves. I don’t necessarily have to guide you and tell you what I’m singing about. Music allows someone to listen to it on any given day and experience whatever they want for themselves to be a part of the creativity of that space. The people who listen to that song commune together like that, you know, it could be a kind of spiritual space, in my opinion. And several songs, quite frankly, do that without being gospel.
About Your New Song, Why Green Beetle?
Right, it’s a sci-fi aspect of it. When I was making this album, my idea was to create a sci-fi space opera, and green beetle is the first song on it. It’s about showing us events that lead to the destruction of life on earth as we know it – the Black Lives Matter protests and humans not figuring out how to cohabitate on this planet.
And the green beetle is this bomb that goes off during some conflict, and it destroys our atmosphere, so we’re forced to leave Earth. So that’s the story or inspiration behind it. But the deeper meaning behind it is about conflict and our inability to resolve it so far. As you know, there’s conflict everywhere. There’s conflict here in the United States, in Tamarins, Nigeria, etc. I mean, I don’t think any country’s free of it. And it seems like it hasn’t necessarily slowed down in my lifetime; all I’ve seen are just escalations.
So, Green Bettle was this bomb that escalated to the point we destroyed each other, and we couldn’t be here anymore, which led to the next song, called Rain Dance. Rain Dance was our attempt to purify the earth after the Green Beetle explosion that messed up the atmosphere. Yeah, each song is a story.
What Is Your Favorite Instrument to Add to Your Music?
My favorite instrument is any drum, hence my name, Kendrum. So I love creating the rhythm that the drum sets into a song. I love drums; they are my favorite thing. And for the program I use to make music, I use an electronic pad drum pad to play those drums there. Also, the program has ways to use and create the sequence you want of the drums you want to play. You know, in this day and age, a lot of old-school musicians hate my generation because they say it’s cheating, but I believe if you have how to make music, you know how to make music. Yeah. My favorite thing is the drums and the rhythm they set behind a song.
What Is That Instrument That, Without It, Your Music Feels Like It’s Missing Something?
There are melodic-based instruments, like central instruments and rhythm-driven instruments. The rhythm-driven instruments like the drum are really my thing, and a close second is any brass instrument, like a trumpet; I love horns. I tried my best not to have trumpets on every song; it was hard for me not to do that. But with Green Beetles, I felt like something was missing, so I went and hit up my trumpet guy. The length I gave him to play was a solo for only about eight bars; it was supposed to be a short thing. I didn’t give him instructions and told him to play whatever he wanted because he’s a master.
And then, this guy sends me 10 takes, 10 solos. So I listened to it and put it together the way you hear it sound. Hearing his solo changed the initial idea I had for the song. So I used his different tapes, picked out parts, and put them together; so it now sounds like this beautiful piece he obviously played. Since he sent me 10, I had “leftovers” I used to make other songs on the album, like Real.
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So His Music Birthed Another Music?
Yes. I had at least five trumpet solos left, so I went back and listened to them, and they just inspired me again. And then that created Real. So yeah, it definitely inspired another music. I have three songs on that album with him. There’s Green Beetle, Real, and My Grandfather was a King.
What Legends or Artists Really Inspire Your Music?
Fela, Cameroonian artists like Manu Dibango and others from his generation, another Cameroonian guy called Wes Madiko, and most other artists from that generation. Outside of that, it’s a complete left turn; I’m also inspired by Daft Punk, Gorillaz, and Radiohead. I’m heavily inspired by hip-hop as well because hip-hop is rap. It has so much rhythm, and that I love. I didn’t understand why, but now that I’m so deep into my art, me being an artist, I know now why I love rap so much – because of the rhythm.
I grew up with plenty of mixtapes, most of which were raps from Tupac and all these guys back then, and I have separate ones for non-hip-hop, but I was the fanatic. I used to sit by the cassette player because we didn’t have internet like that; I also didn’t have the money to spend on the cassette. So I wrote my lyrics sitting by the radio, listening, and writing. I would pause, rewind, and then write. That’s how I learned these songs.
Any new music, Afrobeat, Amapiano, anything, if it’s good, there’s music in it, and it’s honest, I send it to me; I’ll listen to it. But, the main genres are what I initially started listing; those are heavy influences of mine. Heavy.
What Is a Day in Your Life Like?
A day in my life like? That’s a great question. I don’t think I’ve answered that question before; thanks for asking.
Usually, I wake up, catch up on some work, and get on my computer to see what’s going on there. I’ll start doing that maybe about 7 am in the morning, all the way to, let’s say, 2:30 pm. Breakfast might happen or not; I’ve never really been a breakfast person, but the older I get, the hungrier I am in the morning. Now, I don’t know what’s going on there.
But yeah, so I’ll finish working at 2:30 pm. And usually, after that, I’ll go to the gym to get a little workout in, listening to music and trying to catch a wave of inspiration. I discovered that nothing hits hard like inspiration. When the endorphins from working out hit me, I feel the blood flowing in my body and the adrenaline going on.
After that, I head home, and on my way back home, if the inspiration is strong, I’d record myself with my voice memo on my phone. Sometimes, it’s so strong I don’t have time to rinse off; I’ve got to get on my computer because creativity doesn’t sit around. So I hop on the computer and see what I can do; if it’s good, it’s good. If it’s not good, I’ll say that’s good practice. Then I watch some cartoons and might listen to some more music or visit one of the local bars in my area. Rinse and Repeat.
Do You Ever Travel Back Home for the Holidays?
No, and I miss it so much. I was going to do that in 2020, but COVID happened.
You can find Kendrum Music on:
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/kendrummusic/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/paul.asobo
Twitter – https://mobile.twitter.com/Kendrummusicc
And that concludes this #SpotcoveryLens episode with Kendrum Music, the Creator of Electro Afro-Funk. Who would you like us to speak with next? Let us know in the comments.
One time, I had a chat with the award-winning filmmaker, 3D animator, and game developer, Andrew Kaggia. He created Kenya’s first 3D video game Nairobi X and has his accolades sung in Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40. Check out the deets of our conversation here.