In this issue of Gear and Tech feature, we had the pleasure of engaging a truly remarkable individual. Djae Aroni is a trained lawyer and having a bachelors and masters degree from the University of Kent and London respectively. With that kind of profile, it does come as a surprise that Djae is also a guitar player in one of the most popular rock bands here in Kenya, “Crystal Axis”. But as he begins to pay credence to the redemptive role that art has had in his life, this nexus between music and his legal career begins to take shape.
“Music is a large part of my being and my personal identity. The music I’ve come across over the years has helped shape and influence me as an individual in many ways. I was a very pensive and brooding kid, I was quite pessimisti, to say the least, from a pretty early age. Music helped me grow and come out of my shell. Music provided me with an outlet for all my frustrations, sadness, pain, you name it. Whether I was sad, angry or happy, music was always there and it provided me with an outlet for all these confusing emotions.”
Djae discovered later that there was more to music than a mere outlet. At an early age, his music began opening doors to other opportunities.
“Music opened up so many doors for me that I would have never thought to venture into. One of these is poetry. For a better part of my teenage life I used to write a tonne of dark poetry, only I never saw it as poetry until I got older. I used to write ‘lyrics’. So through music I was able to explore and develop my passion”
“Also, I don’t exactly come from a musical family. Don’t get me wrong, both my younger brother and I pursued music as much as we could, but it’s not like we were raised playing music. My parents were actually against it at first, given we started the band in highschool and the only rock gigs were in bars and clubs, haha, but that makes sense. So my younger brother and I used to sneak out to play gigs. I used to tell my Mum that Rezorous was actually a restaurant and that we used to play for people as they had their meals. She found out what it was after a highschool musical teacher accidentally outed us for playing one of the Battle of the Bands hosted there.”
Despite the fact that his folks expressed dissaproval, Djae and his compadres were determined to express their love for music. And so they dived right into the deep end, bubbling with energy and hope.
“So when we started out as a band we were initially known as Inertia. I knew I wanted us to be a punk band from day one, but it took a bit of time for us to fully grow into that. So we initially just started out as a ‘rock’ band, playing covers everyone knew at the time like ‘One Last Breath’, ‘I’m Yours’ etc At our first gig we even covered ‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley, that wasn’t punk in genre at all..
But personally, from early on I was drawn to punk rock and what it stood for. The angst, the passion and the message was the most important thing for me. I got into bands like Green Day, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Bad Brains, Nirvana etc. I was also listening to a tonne of metal at the time, bands like Atreyu, BFMV, Trivium, A7X etc.”
But things weren’t always smooth for this group of young men. Rock music still invited a lot of prejudice and getting shows was a difficult task.
“So one of the biggest challenges was that when we had started the band, I didn’t know how to play guitar just yet. I could barely string together rhythms, not to mention I didn’t own a guitar until a few years down the line so I had to constantly borrow one just to practice, and play live shows. We were kids when we started out, we played our first show at Rezorus when we were 14/15 years old man haha! So first off, as I mentioned earlier it was difficult to get my parents on board. They, in fact, confiscated my guitar several times just to stop me from playing music (didn’t work though) So getting through that hurdle was one of the toughest aspects we faced as a band, Neel, Abuga and myself were all kids, very underage kids.”
The rock scene at the time was dominated by bands like Murfy’s fLaw, Seismic, UETA, Last Year’s Tragedy, death metal overlords “In Oath”, Navarone and a few others. Crystal Axis to say the least was a group of teenage boys just beggining to find their way in the scene, and this as you can imagine, made things particularly difficult for them.
“Being under-age, we actually got turned away from some gigs when we couldn’t produce our IDs. I recall showing up to Carnivore once to play a show; the bouncer asked us for our IDs which we didn’t have since I was like 16. So the manager said e could play the show, but we had to leave at 9pm. Funny thing is we got there at 8:15 that night and we knew damn well that the show wouldn’t start until well after 9pm. So sometimes, depending on where we used to play, we would give the bouncers and security guards something small for ‘chai’ just so we could get in. Fun times man.”
As we sit here speaking, Djae has been playing guitar for almost eight years now. He picked up his first guitar, a second hand Fender Squier Stratocaster with a cherry red finish, way back in 2009. He still owns this model, having saved up for it, but he plays it much less nowadays. At the moment, he boasts a wider array of gear that includes guitars, amps and effects.
Here is a quick breakdown of his gear owned by Djae Aroni:
- Fender Squier Stratocaster
- Ibanez Gio SA60
- Fender Squier Telecaster
- Dean Vendetta VNXM 7-string (sold)
- Blackstar ID:Core Stereo 10 V2
- Fender Frontman 10G
- Fender Frontman 15G (sold)
- Vox Tone Lab LE
- M-Audio AV32 studio monitors
“I, unfortunately, don’t do gear maintenance as much as I should haha, my schedule usually means I’m pressed for time so I don’t take my gear anywhere specific to get serviced. So I tend to maintain and service my equipment myself, the internet is a great place to learn about this and get tips and tricks on what to do. So it’s a learning process. Plus I’m pretty big on DIY, and I’m hoping to have a small guitar and instruments service centre up and running within the next year or so. CTHULHU SHALL PROVIDE!”
Having broken the mold as it were with his punk rock band “Crystal Axis”, Djae and his compadres took a five year break from music. He went to the United Kingdom to pursue a degree in law where achieving a balance between music and legal studies became, perhaps, his most challenging test.
“Oh man, it’s been an interesting last four years to say the least! I did my undergrad in Kent, UK and then my masters in London. During undergrad it was quite difficult for me to balance music and law, so the music unfortunately took a back seat in my life. Unfortunately, I feel I wasn’t mature enough to manage my time effectively. Despite this, I still played in a few bands during undergrads, including a progressive death metal band called ‘Lucifer’s Stepdad’. But as I mentioned, I barely had the time so it was difficult to practice, record etc
During my masters year, I was able to actually balance things out and pay more music despite being in full time study, working a full time job and dealing with the different challenges at the time. Some days I would work six days a week, and then play a gig on Sundays, so I essentially had a 7 day work week for a while. It was challenging, but getting back into music during this period was the best thing that could have happened.
As of now, I’m waiting to join Kenya School of Law, but I have to do a bridging course at Riara Uni so that’s what I’m up to. I’m at a point where I’m trying to consolidate my legal career with my passion for music. So within the next year, myself and a few amazing people hope to establish a music sync and licensing service within the local music scene.
As for my parents, my Mum was a lawyer by career and she’s now a judge, By virtue of this, I have to take my studies seriously as she wants me to qualify as an advocate. But we’ve also got to the point where she understands that I take my music quite seriously as well.”
Having officially returned to the local scene, Djae and his compatriots in Crystal Axis take every opportunity available to play live. We ask what are some of his rituals and the nature their soundcheck usually takes mentioning a remarkable sense of prepadness that charaectirises his band’s sense of purpose.
Haha, I actually don’t have any rituals in particular, but I tend to listen to music. Funnily enough, I tend not to listen to the songs we’re going to play, and I tend not to listen to punk before a show. I was actually listening to a tonne of J Cole and Mura Masa before our last show (Cole is a god)
As for soundcheck, we usually do a quick sound test once we’re on stage, but we don’t go through an entire song or whatever. We tend to be prepared ahead of time so we know how loud we want our amps, mics etc However, we tend to adjust as we go depending on the venue we’re playing, the gear available, the mood of the crowd etc. Usually, though, we always go louder and hardly ever turn down our sound
While on his overseas travels, Djae picked up a few life lessons that have become crucial to the way he approaches his music.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that you cannot underestimate the difference practice makes. Practice makes perfect, literally. There is no such thing as too much practice.
Schedule as many practices sessions in week as you can if you’re in a band. You have to be tight! And that takes continuous amounts of practice week in week out. Not to mention that you should practice as much as you can as an individual just to perfect your craft and skill level. I personally try and practice two hours each day, though this doesn’t always work out. But setting aside that time is absolutely crucial, if you want to get better at whatever you do you have to take it seriously and treat it the way you’d treat a job. You can’t say you want to be a full time musician yet you only pick up your instrument during a practice session, or a day before your gig. If two hours a day is too time consuming, play for atleast an hour or so. And continually push and challenge yourself. Despite being a guitarist in a punk band, I continually try and learn new skills. I’m working on my tapping and sweep picking right now because I’m working on a small progressive metal/djent project. The more you do the better you get.
And musically speaking, never box yourself in a corner. There are so many possibilities, get out there and explore them all. After playing a punk set, I go home and work on some house music, the next day I’ll produce a few hip-hop beats, and later that evening I’ll work on programming prog metal/djent drums. The world is your oyster, conquer that bitch
Finally give us a list of songs you like playing on the guitar. If you could do a short playthrough of 30secs that would be cool.
I love playing anything by Trivium, they’re one of my all-time favourite bands to listen and play along to. When I still had a seven string I loved playing ‘Icarus Lives’ by Periphery, though I had lots of work left to do on the guitar solo. Coheed and Cambria is anoher band I love playing along to, as well as Dethklok, Jimi Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more.
Mostly of late I’ve been playing a lot of originals as we work on our album as well as releasing a string of singles and possibly a cover E.P of Kenyan songs gone punk (very excited about that)
Jambo good people!This is from out first show in Nairobi in over five years. We played 'This Is Africa Fest II' alongside the mighty Stick To Your Guns, we moshed to the phenomenal lads from The seeds of Datura, we head-banged to the incredible Seismic and we sang our hearts out to the scintillating boys from RASHWe've held on to this footage for some time now, and we can't explain why. In truth, we were too lazy to simply hit the upload button. Plus we're rockstars, we waited for our publicist to do this work and then we realised; we're not actually rockstars and we can't afford a publicist (Life is cruel mistress, and reality is a slap in the face)Please enjoy, spot yourself in the crowd.Watch out for more live gig videos coming your way soon!
Posted by Crystal Axis on Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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Interview by: Daniel Otieno Kobimbo with Djae Aroni.