South Africa, meet Blinky Bill

Some might know him as one-fourth of the pioneering Nairobi collective Just A Band. Singer-songwriter, beat maker and producer Blinky Bill is now a solo act, and makes the kind of fresh, authentic sounds that just put a smile on your face, writes Grethe Kemp.

Johannesburg - Bill “Blinky” Sellanga’s supremely chilled voice drifts over the phone to me as I interview him ahead of his performance at Littlegig in Cape Town later this month.

“My background is as a producer and my music is an eclectic mix of electronic, funk and hip-hop,” he says.

“In Kenya, I’m considered an indie/underground artist, but I’ve made some songs that have crossed over.”


Blinky is a huge fan of South African artists. He says he listens to the likes of Hugh Masekela (“I have a big poster of him in my house”), BLK JKS, Thandiswa Mazwai, Moonchild, Petite Noir and AKA.

I tell him that South Africa is quite insular and although some big Nigerian artists such as D’banj and Davido have broken through here, we tend to mostly listen to our own artists.

“Sometimes being insular is not necessarily a bad thing, because it means you support your own,” he says.

“It’s kind of the opposite of how Kenya is. All types of music are listened to here, to the extent that the local artists tend to suffer.”

Blinky is passionate about the unacknowledged contribution African musicians have made to the global music scene. As a fellow for idea-sharing platform TED, he did a talk last year called How African Music Influenced Pop.


“In his book called How Music Works, David Byrne – one of the members of the band Talking Heads – says something about rhythm that I found very interesting. He said ‘We are all Africans’,” Sellanga says in the talk. “For the longest time, a lot of Africans have felt that their contribution to humanity hasn’t been valid or solid. The influence of African music on pop culture is immense, but has been downplayed severely.”

Blinky uses a 1980 song called Paulette by Guinea band Balla et ses Balladins, which later got sampled by popular US rapper J Cole, to show how African songs get used in popular music today.

An alumnus of the Red Bull Music Academy and OneBeat music, Blinky is currently working on his second solo album Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales.

“It’s life stories. And the genres are very wide, which is nice, because I never want one song to sound like another song. The album is mostly self-produced, with a couple of features from some South African artists.” 

WHAT IS LITTLEGIG?

5 MINUTES WITH LITTLEGIG ORGANISER GEORGIA BLACK

Littlegig is an all-inclusive 24-hour music festival happening at Wiesenhof Farm, Stellenbosch, on February 17 and 18.

“The idea started out because I’m not really a festival person,” says Black. “I don’t really like these multi-day festivals. I find them a bit repetitive and uncomfortable. But I do love the possibility that can come with a festival. Most good festivals are in incredible locations and venues, so you’ve got the nature to play with and you’re putting people in a more creative mind-set.”

Littlegig started as a series of concerts that proved to be very popular, and Black thought about what she could do if she had a little more time than a four-hour concert.

“If you do only have 24 hours of people’s lives, then you need to be moving them into the creative space as quickly as possible.

“So anything like taking out your wallet and deciding what to drink, and who wants to eat is just a distraction and forces you to be in your logical mind. And I just wanted the experience to be designed for people to have this crazy, creative 24 hours.”

  • Tickets for Littlegig are sold out, but we have two up for grabs (entrance only). To enter the draw, SMS the keyword LITTLEGIG, your name, surname, email address and delivery address to 34217. SMSs cost R1.50, free SMSes do not apply. Terms and conditions apply