Name: Francis Ronjey
Enterprise name: NRB UNDRGRND
Instagram: @RonjeyRocks @nairobiunderground @nrbrockshowcase
Twitter: @RonjeyRocks @naiunderground
NRB UNDRGRND is a digital media startup that promotes Nairobi arts and urban culture. Originally started as a personal soundcloud playlist, NRB UNDRGRND has metamophosised through various stages to become a platform giving the youth and the creative sector a chance to express themselves.
The Spirit Of NuNairobi
NuNairobi is the name for the fresh cultural blossom currently sweeping across Nairobi and the world at large. In a world of predominantly youthful citizens and a growing need for coexistence, NRB UNDRGRND desires to contribute in the shaping our future by finding opportunities for and producing collaborative projects and events.
Besides my ignorant disinterest in childhood dreams of being a lawyer or astronaut, I could actually draw portraits of famous people from home. I was 9 and I wanted to be an artist when I grew up.
I also loved music.
The last script I wrote was The Prodigal Son for my Sunday school class when I was 12. When I turned 13, I had very little personal initiative other than perusing old magazines, drawing and thinking about girls. I also traversed the rural villages in search of nothing and often found something new; traditional ohangla bands, kids listening to vinyl on players made of reeds and sewing needles…I wasn’t interested in, and still loathe most rural life duties like feeding animals and working on shambas.
At 14 years of age, exactly seven years since getting saved to avoid the horrid hell I had imagined from the pictures they showed us at Sunday school, I once again fell victim to a preacher’s brimstone banter and rededicated my adolescent life to Christ just before the ritual of Christian confirmation.
I had just come to Nairobi permanently with my mum and I discovered a whole new world. I’d spend a whole day visiting galleries starting with the very new Godown Arts Centre, then I’d cross the Railways Bridge back to Gallery Watatu in the CBD before winding up at RAMOMA just before they closed for the night. I watched news and The Beat too, but Tim Njiru and Fred Indimuli were my first celebrities.
I went to church a lot because I grew up in one and also because it was a good place for watching people and sometimes making friends. Ultimately though, I loved going to the church because of music and soon I became a drummer.
In church we read unrealistic biblical stories, at school we read and did very little interesting things and at home, we watched TV, did chores and kept house rules. So I often escaped to the library where kids from other schools read Harry Potter. After a while trying, I wandered further into the less visited areas and discovered Njamba Nene and The Flying Bus. It had on the cover screaming children and a matatu with angelic wings!
At the library, I joined G-Club, a children’s group from where I discovered theatre. So I’d go seeing play rehearsals at Alliance Françoise and Kenya Naitional Theatre before drooling down to the museum to gawk at things. I still remember the artwork that at some point covered the bridge. In 2005, I acted for the first time at KNT. I was Seth in a play about the old Egyptian Gods.
That’s also when I got my first glimpse of heartbreak, a girl I liked was in a dark room with one of my friends.
During this period, I joined the Kenya Children’s Parliament where I eventually got elected as the shadow Junior Minister Of Transport and Communication.
At 16, I formed my first band from the church band. We played mostly Latin jazz and Dave Brubeck covers at events. One time at a youth retreat camp, my friend gave me a rock mp3 and I got hooked to that stuff so that we formed our own Christian version of the bands we liked like Linking Park, Paramore and all that teenage angst punk and emo music from Snow Patrol to Paramore.
An attempt to play One Of Us by Sharon Osbourne borne us rebuke from elders.
That’s pretty much the furthest my rock music went until one day a man of God decided to take matters into his own hands. Throngs of teenagers and parts of the youth congregation had started following us to Club Rezorus where we battled with other bands and this man on his vested powers as both spiritual and biological parent felt convicted to stop the menace.
In a spiritually charged attempt to make the whole church aware that we were becoming agents of Satan, he played some slides and clips including a snippet of the band Disturbed purportedly praying to the devil before a concert! I went down to town and downloaded their latest album. I had discovered new music and a whole other world called Heavy Metal.
As the rock band, we co-wrote and staged a rock musical at KNT. It was so good, we had a split screen on stage. Then we gave the camera and the whole documentation responsibilities to a beautiful friend of the band…that’s how we only have posters and the script as testimony to one of the greatest achievements of our teenage hood.
I eventually got into regular gigging circuit as a session drummer playing everywhere; churches, nightclubs, weddings, birthdays and funerals. I also traveled and discovered places, faces and stories from Nairobi, Katoloni, Nakuru to Narumoru.
After three years of active gigging, teaching and thinking, it hit me that the creative sector probably needed more artists on the thinking side too.
So I quit bands and went to college to study Media Studies and Journalism.
That’s how I got ideas to integrate my blog and Soundcloud page into a weekly podcast of fresh alternative music by little known artists. A big shoe whose magnitude I didn’t comprehend up until 2014 when I decided to actually start a media company based on arts urban culture.
Under this awesome banner, I now get to uninhibitedly juggle my hats from producing cultural events, street photography, writing, social commentary, Djing, Booking artists, attending workshops and setting trends. I’m also happy that I’m still a kickass drummer and a continuously developing artist.
All my life is an achievement but I have made a few cool steps in the near past:
*Facilitating for ParkingLotGrass- the first Kenyan rock band to play abroad at a heavy metal festival
*Quitting full time band business to go to school- even though I quit again.
*Nyege Nyege International Arts & Music Festival- we took 21/2 busloads of party people and artists from Kenya to Uganda and back.
*NuNairobi- this is a movement we are championing for the fresh cultural blossom currently sweeping through Nairobi, Africa and the world at large.
A culturally woke and inspired generation
To elevate African urban cultures through collaboration, documentation and production of projects