Hailing from Nairobi, Kenya the punk band “Crystal Axis” is kicking all kinds of ass while representing and helping to grow and cultivate the Nairobi rock scene.
How did you guys get together? How long ago?
Crystal Axis was formed by Djae Aroni and Neel Vaghela as teenagers when they attended the same high school. Neel and Djae first met in the 8th grade where they both decided to start a band. Neel could play guitar but at this time Djae was yet to learn how to play. We recruited some classmates and formed a that we called Inertia. Crystal Axis played its first show under the name ‘Inertia’ back in 2008 when the band was comprised solely of 14 year olds.
However, in 2009 the band underwent a major overhaul and Inertia was rebranded to Crystal Axis. Abuga was quickly recruited as their drummer and they played as a three-piece band for several years. In the summer of 2011, Ahmed Bulhan joined the band as the lead vocalist and bassist. Crystal Axis played as a four piece band until 2012, when the band went on hiatus as several band members had travelled to pursue higher education outside of Kenya.
In 2017, Crystal Axis announced their come back and have gone on to play a string of different performances within Nairobi. Ronjey was recruited to play the drums, Doug took over bass duties and Fox joined the band as the second guitarist.
What’s the meaning behind your band name?
That’s actually a pretty great question, haha! At the beginning, we had initially chosen Inertia in order to represent resistance to change. As teens, we felt like all around us there was pressure to conform and get in line, our stance against that was to form and angst filled punk band and have our views known.
Crystal Axis however did not have a direct meaning, but it stood for our commitment to the band and to our music, as well as our passion and drive to take the music to the next level. Crystal Axis did not have a particular meaning, but it stood for a shift in our goals and reinforcement in our ambitions. The band name marked a change in our lives as we embarked on a new chapter and new beginnings. The name essentially symbolises our rebirth and evolution.
Who are some of your Influences?
A lot of different bands and acts have influenced our sound and our music over the years. We didn’t try and be like any one particular band, or try and emulate one specific sound. Despite our influences, we were more determined with forging our own path and our own identity, and that way a lot of different acts influenced us in different ways. We were listening to genres ranging from punk, death metal, hip hop, house, blues etc and each of these genres influenced our sound and personal being one way or another.
Green Day played a big role in the band being formed and the direction we took our music in. I was inspired to take up the guitar after watching ‘Bullet In a Bible’ and soon after that the band was formed.
Nirvana also played a massive role in our song writing as well as our on stage performances. My Chemical Romance was another one of the bands we were listening to heavily at the time.
Rage Against the Machine, The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, Blink 182, Coheed and Cambria, Jimi Hendrix, The Sex Pistols, Bad Brains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, National Wake, and many others.
Locally, we were discovering a lot of amazing rock bands within Kenya and they also played a big role on the music we would gravitate towards. The Awakening was one such band and our drummer Ronjey was in fact their original drummer. Narassistic Tendencies with Delusions of Grandeur also influenced us with their hybrid style of punk meets metal, they had a very unique sound. Murfy’s Law also inspired us despite the fact that they were not a punk band, at all. Their stage presence and raw passion was always amazing, not to mention they were always supportive of us and helped us grow and mature as musicians.
Who is your all time favorite artist?
Oh man, that’s a pretty difficult question to answer haha! There are too many to list just one. Each artist is our favourite for a different reason; we love the Bad Brains because they pushed the boundaries of music and helped introduce a completely new sound, we love Jimi Hendrix because he refused to be pushed into a corner and have his music limited to just blues, we love Green Day because of their charismatic stage presence and their passion for the music, we love Rage Against the Machine for taking a stand against social injustice through their music, we love Nirvana because they genuinely didn’t care about anything like the fame or the recognition.
I guess this ties back to how I mentioned that different acts influenced us in many different ways.
How did you hear about PUNK BLACK?
We initially came across PUNK BLACK through social media, namely Instagram.
We actively use Instagram to look out for new acts to listen to, people to follow, platforms to join etc. Through Instagram we’ve been able to discover even more musicians and bands of colour all across the globe. We came across PUNK BLACK due to a hashtag with the same name, and we couldn’t be any happier about that. We checked out the page and we were pretty happy to see it promoting alternative musicians of colour. We are always looking out to meet and speak to new people however we can, and we’ve been able to discover more acts through the PUNK BLACK social media platforms, as well as get a glimpse of the Afro-punk lifestyle in other parts of the world
Some of the accounts we follow also follow PUNK BLACK (shout-out to The Txlips Band and Throwdown Syndicate).
How is the rock/punk scene in Nairobi?
Nairobi has a budding rock scene. Between 2008-2012, the scene was very strong and full of familiar faces that would constantly be at every gig. I left the country in 2012 and I didn’t attend many local rock events, however around this period from my personal observation and the accounts I’ve heard, the scene died down a little. There were fewer live music gigs and events, and bands themselves took a step back in releasing music.
In March, I played my first show on Kenyan soil in almost five years at This Is Africae Fest. The headlining act was Stick To Your Guns from OC, Cali. The turn out was really encouraging! For the past year or so, our drummer Ronjey has been spear-heading the organisation of more local gigs and events and he has nurtured the ‘Nairobi Rock Showcase’ shows. This is a platform that gives local rock bands and artists a chance to play live every month. The gigs are put together monthly and we try and rotate the acts and include both new and established bands.
Over the last year, the scene has steadily been growing more and more through consistent events, consistent music releases by bands and more people now paying attention to the rock scene. The potential here is huge, and we aim to tap into it by supporting and doing our part within Nairobi Rock Showcase.
Just to paint a picture, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day saw one of our live performances in a video on Instagram and he commented that he could see that our scene was strong.
Within the next few years, I know this scene will grow and develop by leaps and bounds.
We’re sure you know that Nairobi and other parts of Africa are often misrepresented in American Media. Is there anything you would like the fans of #punkblack to know in particular?
I think every African is very aware of the bias Western media has towards our continent and our people. There are such large and fundamental differences on how Western and African media cover events in Africa. 9 times out of 10, if there is a story in Western media about Africa, it will be negative. These stories will focus on insecurity, poverty, crime etc. Regardless of what corner of the world you’re in, these things will be prevalent. Just because Western media does not focus on these issues when it comes to Western countries does not mean they do not exist within those parts of the world.
When Obama last visited Kenya, CNN dubbed it as a “hot-bed of terror” and this drew public outcry from Kenyans and Africans alike. It is in no way an accurate representation of our country or our everyday life.
If a tourist lands in Nairobi, there are certain areas I would advise them not to visit. Same way as when I was living in London, there were certain areas I was advised not to visit due to gang violence and general issues of personal safety. Despite this, London isn’t dubbed as a crime haven for gangs.
Nairobi, Kenya and Africa as a whole is filled with beauty and such wonderment that it’s a shame that Western media ignores this. When such stories are covered, they lack the same vigour as stories that highlight how poor and ‘backward’ we are. I would personally advise #PUNKBLACK fans to read as widely as they can on the issue, and to check out African media outlets. Keep an open mind and don’t pay attention to one source alone. There is a wealth of material on the internet about the positivity within Kenya, and there is so much more for you to check out other than pictures of famine, poverty and insecurity. Nairobi would not function if it was half as bad as it is made out to be. I would not be residing here despite having lived in the UK for five odd years. Just keep in mind, ‘whoever controls the media controls the mind’. And with knowing this, would you blindly trust the first article you read, or would you open a few more tabs to get a well-rounded and holistic perspective on what life is like on this side of the pond?
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that we live in a perfect paradise and everything negative you will read is bulls**t, I’m just putting some criticism on the way Western media approaches events within our continent. It is true without a doubt that there are many instances of our lives that we need to sort out one step at a time. But we are a people that have been exploited, used and abused throughout all of history. Our people have been enslaved, and our lands have been looted from. The West needs to afford us patience. It will take time to undo all the damage that’s been done at no fault of our own.
Any upcoming releases?
Oh yes, there are plenty!
As it stands, we’ve just finished a few creative sessions where we’ve gone through material for our debut album, as well as making finalisations on a new single that we’re very excited about. We’re hitting the studio and we’re hoping to have a new single out before end of the month, so keep an eye out on the #PUNKBLACK pages for more details on that, you will be amongst the first to know when the single is ready to be released 😉
So before end of the year, we hope to be done with our debut album! And we are very excited to share with the world what we’ve been working on. Our sounds has grown and matured over the last five years, and the material we have in the works is so far some of the best music we’ve written together.
What are some of your favorite places to perform?
Lately we have been performing at The Blues Restaurant, in Nairobi. Its been a brilliant host for all of our gig so far, and we’ve met some amazing new people and reconnected with old faces we haven’t seen in years. Its definitely become one of our favourite spots since we got back to doing music.
And in general, it’s always a treat to play a show in Nairobi, the passion from all the fans and everyone who shows up is immense. Nairobi goes hard! Nothing beats a Kenyan moshpit.
What kind of equipment do you prefer to use?
Well the equipment we use tends to vary depending on where we play. One of the challenges of being an independent musician is that all the costs must come from you. Right now we’re trying to save up some money so we can get in dedicated gig equipment. We have practice amps, and drums etc, but in order to take our sound and our live performances to the next level, we’re working on buying some quality rigs that can bring the noise!
So a quick run down of what we use live is two guitar amps, a bass amp, a drum kit, two mics and PA system. As long as we have that then it’s a starting point for us. Some of us use some guitar pedals and effects so those are always a common feature in order to get our preferred distortion sound.
As band we have learned to make the most of what we have. At the end of the day it’s punk rock.
How would you describe your sound?
This is always a difficult question to answer because it is a bit tricky to box our sound into one particular genre. Over the years our sound has been compared to such different bands, some articles have said we sound like Nirvana, others have compared us to My Chemical Romance and some have argued we sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers.
As flattering and humbling as it is to be put in the same sentence as such bands, we’re not interested in sounding like anyone else. We are forging our sound and our own identity. We’re artists, we tell stories through our music and share our perspectives on how we see the world we live on.
Crystal Axis is a hybrid between grunge, punk rock and post-punk. We play what we want, and we write what we feel. We don’t confine ourselves to just one particular style and that reflects in the music we put out. Kurt Cobain put it best, “Punk is musical freedom. It’s saying, doing and playing what you want. In Webster’s terms, ‘nirvana’ means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that’s pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock”
If we had to chose one word to describe how our music sounds, in the most literal sense, it would be ‘Afro-Punk’.
What’s your favorite song to perform?
Individually, each member of the band has a particular song they’re keen on. However as a collective, playing our songs ‘Devil Sold His Soul’ and ‘Dysphoria’ are always a blast because the crowd sings their hearts out and they never miss a single lyric. It’s an amazing feeling seeing people sing your music like that, words can’t describe how truly amazing it feels to see people share your passion with you.
But hands down our favourite song to play live is ‘Killing In The Name’ by Rage Against The Machine. First off, one of the greatest songs in musical history. It has such a powerful message behind it and the crushing guitar rhythms and drum beats only accentuate the lyrics and what they stand for even more. Secondly, this song never fails to summon the craziest moshpits! Whether we’re playing in front of 50 people, 100 people or even 10 people; whenever we start playing this I have never seen anyone remain seated down.
Who are some of your favorite local bands to perform with?
Since we’ve been back we’ve been performing regularly with local bands and artists such as Powerslide, The Seeds of Datura and Beraccah Kisia.
Powerslide are an up and coming punk band in Nairobi made up of three skaters. They’re young and currently I think they’re the newest band on the scene. They’re full of energy and genuinely never want to get off the stage, we had to shut the PA system on them last time we played live together just to get them to go home! They’re definitely a band to watch, they have some amazing original songs and I’m genuinely excited for them to get their first single out there.
The Seeds of Datura are a progressive metal band from Kenya, they’re based in a small town outside of Nairobi by the name of Limuru. Their on stage performances are amazing! They never miss a beat, never. These guys bring the house down night after night; they have one of the tightest sounds and performances I have seen within the Kenyan rock scene to date. They take their art seriously and that reflects in their live performances and quality music releases.
Beraccah Kisia is a brilliant folk artist in Kenya. She recently headlined the Nairobi Rock Showcase alongside Powerslide and she shut the place down! You ever seen metal heads singing along to Chance The Rapper? Well, she made that happen. She has an amazing voice and once she gets on stage with her guitar, literally everyone stops and listens. Her musical prowess is phenomenal, and I’d urge anyone who’s reading this to make sure they check out her music as soon as.
RASH are a Swahili hard rock band that have been doing some pretty awesome things in the Kenyan rock scene. They’re on stage performances are always charismatic, and since I’ve seen they play live they have never failed to impress in any way. They always kill their set with their blistering guitar solos, and amazing vocal work. Think of Judas Priest vocals plus Guns and Roses guitar work, that comes pretty close to describing their classic yet unique sound.
Have you been on tour?
We have not yet been on tour but this is something we are slowly working towards. We are keeping an eye out for festivals, and we’re talking with some people to make some international performances happen. We are very keen on doing a full African tour before we set our eyes to other continents. The African rock and metal scene is always growing and expanding, we are so eager to play alongside other African bands and putting together an African tour is ultimately our biggest goal for the next year.
Anything you want your fans (and news fans!) to know?
2017 is going to be a very big year for us in terms of new music, new merchandise, music videos, live shows, tours etc. Just don’t sleep on us, because we have so much in store that we are excited to share.
To those in Kenya reading this, make sure you pay attention and look out for Nairobi Rock Showcase, this initiative has provided so many bands and fans with a platform to play live music and mosh to live music. They have done a lot to help propel the Kenyan scene and keep it alive.
All in all, we cannot truly express how grateful we all are for all the support we’ve received over the years and recently as well. This started out as a bunch of kids playing punk rock covers and day dreaming about being rockstars. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not rockstars, yet, but never in a million years did I imagine we would have come as far as we have. We are over joyed that people from all over the world take the time to download our music and stream our videos, all the love and support we’ve got from each and every one of you constantly fuels us and our desire to get louder and louder.
From everyone at Crystal Axis we say thank you, and asante sana. We hope to grace a stage near you soon and best believe we are going to put on a hell of a show when that happens.