Punk rock has gone from being the scion of counter-culture to a mainstream product in the capitalist machine, and now almost unheard of in the popular music scene. But here in Kenya, a group of five punk-rockers calling themselves Crystal Axis are using that same punk energy to make a political stand.
Like the bands of old most notably MC5, punk rock is taking centre stage as a medium against political correctness. In their latest single “Nyayo House” Crystal Axis broach a topic which today doesn’t feature much in political discourse. Much like post world war two Germany the Kenyan political psyche is dressed in historical amnesia, reading itself almost entirely of Historical trauma. With handshakes, historical revisionism and a mainstream media that shy’s away from any form of political criticism, Crystal Axis here takes a stand for the soul of the nation, to remind it of its dark past and the face of the people it is now so eager to idolise like the former dictator Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi.
Aesthetically it is written in a flowery language. A silky guitar tone and an endearing atmosphere- it is almost impossible not to love. Ironically it bears the anti-war sentiment that characterised the hippy 70s, flowers inside the barrel of a gun. Yet even in that conciliatory tone, the message is a tune with a dark foreboding. This mesmerising milieu like the messages from present-day sets the tone for its eery message. It is the message of torture chambers, where lice laid their eggs in men’s beards as they had their manhood squeezed out of them with crude objects. In that bittersweet (mostly bitter) serenade vocalist Ahmed Bulhan rushes with a comets speed to squeeze the long horrors of yesteryears in prose form while also carrying the angst and rebellion of this country’s present youth. Nyayo House is distinctly idiosyncratic of punk tropes. Its speedy and chaotic nature laid bare in such an assured manner like rubber on midday asphalt burning and smoking with purpose.
Regardless of its stark political message “Nyayo House” is not resplendent with the features that characterised age-old punk rock. It is still oddly catchy much like its predecessor “Leopold” which straddled the helm of local charts for months on end. I would hazard to say this is the band’s best outing yet helped along by stellar production by none other than Jazz Odongo who seems almost to embody the band’s ethos. Much like they did in shedding light on history’s most hidden tyrant, the Belgian King Leopold, Crystal Axis continues here with a call to young souls of this country not to revel in the wine that their parents have so quickly indulged. We must not forget and sanitise one of this country’s most ruthless enemies. It is the band’s hope that perhaps it might be a lesson to stand up to present-day bullies, even as we enjoy a great song, as “Nyayo House” most assuredly is.