Founded three years ago by Carl Ahnebrink, Alan Marzo and Olivier Duport, Flee began while Oliver and Alan were driving to Marsielle for a short holiday. Alan had been living in Kenya beforehand and “brought back a few digitalised Kenyan songs to share with Olivier,” he tells It’s Nice That. “At some point, a song really struck our attention and Olivier asked what kind of music it was. I couldn’t answer. That was actually Benga!” As a result, Flee embraces this moment of discovery and sharing, enhancing hybrid music culture.
Each issue revolves around a different music phenomena, the first issue focusing on Benga; a popular yet timeless, Kenyan music genre evolving between the 1940s to 60s. Issue 001 includes a 12”LP featuring six high quality tracks, a digital download code and a 16 page, colour-silkscreen printed journal.
Flee came about through following the trio’s interest in Benga. Carl, Alan and Olivier undertook thorough research into its history, in particular analysing its sociopolitical connotations and iconography. They set about trying to find an appropriate medium to celebrate Benga music without overly “romanticising the past”, finally deciding on pairing the iconic Kenyan music genre with a curated selection of visual artists and musicians, as seen in issue one. The publication is faithful to the local essence of the genre while simultaneously approaching Benga with a fresh perspective, creating a visual and audial tribute to the heritage of East African music framed within international, contemporary design.
The publication has two functions. Firstly, it seeks to re-expose “unfairly forgotten music genres”, Flee tells us, “we’ll always try to have a significant diversity of profiles contributing to have a broad palette of views.” Secondly, Flee “strives to make the selected music phenomena interact with contemporary music and visual artists.” This is “particularly true for the graphic and illustrational part, where we collaborate with artists, illustrators and graphic designers, who are invited to reinterpret the iconography of the selected music genres”. This is clearly visible in the first issue for Benga Music’s cover, designed by — Atelier U-Zehn a Swiss studio — who successfully pay tribute to Kenyan culture through the print design. The two colour red and light blue cover pays homage to indigenous, quintessentially Kenyan clothing. Elements of traditional Kenyan fabrics are also appropriated into the cover design where strikingly linear patterns are seen.
The Kenyan-inspired design coincides with Flee’s objective to create a multifaceted collective. “Ultimately, in this increasingly globalized world, our objective is to put around a table people belonging to different cultures, generations and creative fields and turn this encounter into a multi-disciplinary artistic object.”
With issue two along the way, there are several exciting things ahead for Flee: “we have been invited by a Swiss art foundation to transpose our project into a curated interactive exhibition (the catalogue is currently being edited), with a cycle of conferences to discuss related important topics (cultural (re)appropriation; the risk of “digging” in Africa; etc.),” its founders tell us. “We have realised that it is a very interesting format for our approach and the dialogue we are trying to initiate. Therefore, we want to further explore this direction in the next months.”
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