NATIVE Exclusive: Producer/DJ Jinku talks new project with Karun, ‘Passenger 555’

How the duo combined to deliver an immersive space odyssey

Jinku got into producing music at a time when Swedish House Mafia was all the rave. Understandably, that meant an inclination towards fast-paced electronic music, but years of self-discovery meant he was able to define his preferences, incorporate broader sonic choices into his palette, and find his own musical identity. I learnt the more I produce the more, I understood what I liked and what I wanted to work with,” he recently told The NATIVE. “With time I noticed I liked slow and downtempo music like R&B, Hip-Hop, Electronica and the likes. It was a process of elimination to get where I am now.”

These days, Jinku has carved out a lane as a curator of fusion sounds, a pioneer within Kenya’s alternative music space. Hailing from Nairobi, the producer’s keen attention to experimenting and making delightful yet idiosyncratic music has brought about timeless projects, ‘Amadeyo’ and ‘Vagabond’, which have stamped his name in Eastern Africa’s thriving electronic music scene. For Jinku, it is more than just music. It is about communicating with his fans on a personal level and creating a timeline of events that resonates with them.


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Officially entering into the scene in 2015, Jinku made it a priority to align with the unorthodox, having been inspired by previous alternative Kenyan artists. Alongside Ukweli, Hiribae and Nu Fvnk, he formed EA Wave, a music collective that champions inventiveness within Kenyan music, partly by collaborating with artists that uphold the tenets of musical uniqueness. In that spirit, ‘Passenger 555’, Jinku’s new collaborative project with Kenyan R&B-fusion maverick Karun, is something of a monumental feat. It is a meeting of two cutting edge artists to create a singularly compelling body of work.

Telling a parallel story of broken love and re-ignited love, ‘Passenger 555’ is a fluid storytelling project, an immersive fusion of R&B and downtempo Afro-house with Karun as the vocal lighthouse, and Jinku as the madcap yet composed orchestrator. Cobbling together ambient keys, moody R&B melodies, soulful guitar riffs and distinctly textured African percussion, the producer weaves sonic sound-beds to earworm effect. The title track “Passenger 555” and “Passing Through” served as precursors to the album, giving a sneak peek into a two-way chronological project that cumulatively mirrors change, while showcasing pure technical brilliance from its curators.

“Karun is one of the fastest writers I have come across,” Jinku says of his collaborator, adding that she’s great “at writing about abstract emotions.” Partly created during 2020’s pandemic-induced lockdowns, ‘Passenger 555’ fleshed out and tinkered with over a lengthy period, which lends itself to the project’s (partly serendipitous) thematic cohesion. The 7-track project renders a cosmic tale of love with space as the backdrop. “Imagine being in space discovering planets but at the same time you are having a quarrel with your lover,” Jinku says, describing the heady  and intoxicating premise of ‘Passenger 555’.

Our conversation with Jinku, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: When did you know that music was your calling?

JINKU: I don’t know if it’s a calling but I can say it is one of the few things I am good at. I have done graphic design, writing and drawing. I started out as a graphic designer in university and eventually I was linked up with Saint Evo who does African House. I worked with him as a visual artist but at the same time grew an interest in music production. He once gave me a copy of FL Studio and that’s where my journey officially began. Apart from that it was another outlet of art that I could use. Music is the one thing I have focused on consistently. It is something that is natural to me and doesn’t feel like work.

NATIVE: How did you get into the production of electronic music?

Jinku: I got into production when Tomorrowland was at its peak. Everyone wanted to be the next Swedish House Mafia. So I naturally inclined into following the popping trends but I loved slow music better. I learnt the more I produce the more I understood what I liked and what I wanted to work with. With time I noticed I liked slow and downtempo music like R&B, Hip-Hop, Electronica and the likes. It was a process of elimination to get where I am now.

NATIVE: Who have been your inspirations? 

Jinku: Just A Band has heavily impacted my career. I am fortunate to have met Blinky Bill while still young and they gave the alternative scene a voice and showed people they can produce unorthodox music and develop a niche base. This inspired me massively because that is how our music collective EA Wave, which consists of Ukweli, Hiribae and Nu Fvnk, was made. We were random kids making music on Soundcloud but once we united we created a new movement.

NATIVE: How has being a part of EA Wave helped in your journey as an artist?

Jinku: It’s great to have a community. Especially since music can be solitary. Having a community and friends who ensure you don’t get lost as they guide you through your creative process. It’s just the comfort of being in a room with people who do the same thing as you.

NATIVE: Your new project, ‘Passenger 555’ was created alongside Karun. What was the collaboration process like?

Jinku: Karun is one of the fastest writers I have come across. I played her a beat in the studio twice and in 6 minutes she composed the whole song. Her writing is effortless and her background favours her, as she’s been in the industry for a while. She really knows how to get into a room and deliver what is necessary. Karun is very talented, especially at writing about abstract emotions and she was in a favourable headspace.

NATIVE: The curation of ‘Passenger 555’ is strategic. When you listen chronologically it tells the story of dying love but as you listen to it from the bottom, it tells the story of a reigniting love. What was the concept behind that?

Jinku: The concept came after all the tracks were recorded. The first track I did with Karun was “Fluid”, the songs were not recorded in a chronological manner. I know the last song on the tape was “Rise” and we had done a live performance for Goethe Institute and we had a few extra minutes on set and she had performed all her tracks. This was the decisive song because this is where I changed the project from an EP to an album. She quickly came up with lyrics to save the situation and the song fit perfectly with the previously recorded songs. They all told a story and that was what I needed. Above all, there was a lot of experimentation, as I constantly rearranged the songs to see how I would experience the project. I added “Passing Through” last on the tape as the mid song just to glue the first and second half of the tape together. That is why it’s called “Passing Through.”

NATIVE: There are a lot of musical instruments in the album. What sounds inspired the project?

Jinku: I really like Bonobo because he has wordplay vocals. When making the tape I was heavily consuming his music, in particular his albums ‘The North Borders’ and ‘Migration’. I really like how he warps vocals and builds songs around them and it was something I wanted to experiment with in relation to Karun’s voice, so I got a lot of vocal samples from him. Also, resampling Karun’s voice and creating textures behind it. I also worked with a guitarist, Tugi, who gave a raw feeling with guitar riffs. The whole project is actually very raw and I ensured Karun’s voice is crisp and clear so you can hear everything.


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NATIVE: Is there a story behind the album cover art?

Jinku: ‘Passenger 555’ is a space odyssey. That was my guiding star in shaping the album. I created a fictional story about two lovers going to the end of the galaxy in a spaceship and they are having a fight. Everything just gelled together because I wanted to portray how such a situation would look like.

NATIVE: What would you say was the peak moment when creating the album?

Jinku: Creating “Rise.” As I earlier said, it was the defining song for me as it changed the approach of the album from an EP to an album. I was in aw after she came up with lyrics while performing. I knew Karun was dope but that was the highlight for me.