Chalk and board was too boring, bengatronics is now my thing-Mwalimu Gregg Tendwa

Tendwa [Photo: Courtesy]

 Why did you settle for bengatronics and not any other kind of music?

 Bengatronics can be many things, depending on your preferences. To some, it’s a sound, to others, a vibe, while some identify it as a movement.

Sometimes, we regard ourselves as a think tank that finds romance in the fusion of sweet benga rhythms and melodies with the cutting edge of global electronic dance music.

However, when we get on stage, we are a band, playing both original and remix versions of tracks we love.

 Do you sing or mix the music?

Both. I am a sound designer. I produce music. I am the DJ in the band, but also play percussion.

Sometimes, I am a backup vocalist and an emcee. I also research and archive music.

When did you get into bengatronics?

We started in December 2014. That’s when I met a benga guitarist by the name of Slinger in Machakos. We started jamming at PH Lounge in Machakos during December holidays. 

In 2015, John Udulele, our bassist, joined us, followed by Moseh Drumist on percussions and Kibby Kenneth Didi, our studio engineering at the time.

 In about four months, we were ready to stage our first live show at Afadhali Night in Arusha. That was on May 22, 2015. We are still at it.

  Has the response been ensouraging?

It has been unique and different depending on where we are performing.  Tanzanians love it. Ugandans find us irresistible.

Nairobians often look surprised because it reminds them of their true past, which unfortunately, they try to run away from. For the dance maniacs, once you hit the floor, you can’t leave.

We are just back from Dakla Fest, where we engaged our audience in a trip down memory lane. I was impressed by how they sang along to half of the songs we remixed.

  What do you love most about your career?

I love preserving and promoting a unique African culture; dissecting music and rearranging it. I also love being free to do what I love.

I am that teacher who graduated from Kenyatta University but left the boring classroom for a more vibrant creative world.


 What are some of the challenges you face?

Appreciation versus rejection. It is common for artists to be rejected. Secondly, passion versus profit; we love to follow our passion while making some profit, but that isn’t always the case as market forces drive you towards places you never wanted to go.

Also, walking solo or creating a movement; working with a group can be difficult and dynamic, and the returns can be minimal, so many people opt to work solo, but to create a movement, we opt to share the little we can find.

 Where have you performed?

We haven’t been performing regularly at a constant venue, though that is one of the things we intend to do this new year.

However, we have an impressive series of appearances at festivals across East Africa such as Doa Doa East Africa performing arts market (Jinja, Uganda), Afadhali Night (Arusha, Tanzania), Bayimba Festival of the Arts (Kampala, Uganda), Tour de Machakos closing party (Machakos, Kenya) [email protected] Bus Festival & Mardi Gras (Nairobi, Kenya) and Sondeka Festival (Nairobi, Kenya).

We plan to explore opportunities in southern Africa and in Zimbabwe where Kenyan benga music is interpreted as Kanindo or Sungura music.

 Do you have any single or album out?

We have not released any album or single yet. We wanted to first perfect the vibe then start to release material in 2017.

 Our debut album is still in the works. Follow bengatronics on social media and we will let you know where and when to find the music we have been working on.

 Tell us a little about yourself...

I was born into a family of seven siblings. I am the eighth child. I grew up in a Christian family.

 My dad was the choirmaster and I was the altar boy who also played drums for the church choir. If I wasn’t reading poems, I would be organising the school choir without a single understanding of musical chords or keys or notes!

If I was not writing plays, I would be mobilising social action through drama. However, when I was a teenager, I wanted to be a priest, but I dropped that idea somewhere along the way.

 Did you go to school to learn what you do or is it self-taught?

I am a self-taught musician. When you teach yourself, you never forget. I am also quite stubborn in the way I do things, so anyone who comes to teach me to be like them is pretty unwelcome, hence I have walked out of many classes.

Apart from bengatronics, what else do you do?

So many things.  I work at the Netherlands Embassy as a policy officer for culture, sports and development. Although I trained to be a high school teacher in university, I dropped the chalk and blackboard immediately after graduation to pursue social development through art, culture, technology and media. I am also the creative director at WiBO Culture Artcellerator, a dynamic collective of producers, artists and creative enthusiasts producing content that visualises a future Africa.

I co-direct art at the bus festival in Nairobi, Hatari voltage afro-eclectic party in Kampala.

I am the co-founder and regional director for Santuri East Africa, a music innovation outfit that connects East African content to the global music market.

I also consult for several development agencies and embassies on matters art, culture, applied technology and media for social change.