Recording Around the Globe with JLL and Kel-P

Location is oftentimes as important to making music as the equipment that brings the sounds to life. To get a first-hand account at how this works, we spoke with internationally acclaimed reggae artist and Chronixx’s producer JLL in Jamaica, and Burna Boy’s Grammy-nominated producer Kel-P in Nigeria, to get a look into how those Caribbean and African countries affect the recording process.

Recording In Jamaica With JLL

Recording on an island like Jamaica is often a tale of two realities. In its mountainous regions, like the expansive Blue Mountains, you’re mostly surrounded by tree ferns, coffee farms, and relatively few people. Down below, urban areas like the city of Kingston are densely packed with buildings, and streets are filled with an orchestra of people and vehicles. Reggae star Chronixx records himself in his home in an undisclosed area among the hills of Jamaica.

"[Working with Chronixx] was great when it comes to noise control. By his place is quiet, and you have a clear head to work on stuff. You don’t have to wait for this car or group of motorcyclists to pass," producer JLL told me. JLL produced Chronixx’s "Dela Move," the first single from the singer’s upcoming album Dela Splash, and as of this writing, the only solo song he’s released since March 13. For JLL, recording in Jamaica sometimes requires you to deal with unintended collaborators.

Chronixx - Dela Move

"Most studios are in the slums of Kingston among big buildings, traffic, taxis, and all this stuff. The environment definitely affects the recording. I’ve had a setup where I’d record artists at home, and I had a lot of issues competing with traffic, horns, and buses," he said.

To combat this, he makes sure to record late at night instead of midday when the streets are bustling. When he is working on music, JLL employs a Yamaha E125 Grand Keyboard that functions as both a standalone keyboard and a MIDI controlled device, a Native Instruments Maschine MKIII, Komplete Keyboard, IK Multimedia iLoud monitors, and Apollo Twin MKII Interface. JLL estimates purchasing his equipment in Jamaica would cost him 30% more than purchasing the same equipment outside of Jamaica because of the island’s customs fees.

"Jamaica is a bit sticky when it comes to musical equipment because they charge a hefty premium just to get it down. It’s quite expensive to get anything of value, music-wise," JLL said. "So, almost everything, except my keyboard, was purchased abroad. There are the music stores here that charge ridiculous prices for equipment, but that’s just how it is, man."

Up in the mountains, JLL remembers Chronixx crafting his sounds with a Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier, Apollo Twin interface, Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite, Akai 61-key MIDI keyboard. Even with Chronixx and JLL running all the equipment up in the mountains, Jamaica provides them with more than enough to get the music out to the world.

"There’s no real issue with the energy at all unless there’s an issue with the wiring. Everything here is perfectly suited to get what they need to get done."

Recording in Nigeria with Burna Boy

If you ask Nigerian-born Kel-P, a producer on Burna Boy’s Grammy-nominated African Giant album, the ear is mightier than the boards. "It doesn’t matter how big your studio is. All that matters is your ear. I know how it’s going to sound in the mobile studio. I know how it’s going to sound in the car. I know how it’s going to sound on your mobile phones. I know how it’s going to sound on speakers.

That mentality has been the basis of his move to mobile recording since 2017, after years of refining his ear to the point he can work on music under almost any conditions. Whether it’s a Grammy-nominated African Giant or an up and coming artist, Kel P has the same equipment: M-Audio BX5 monitors, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface, Neumann microphone, Beats by Dre headphones, and Alienware computer.

"The laptop is designed for gaming. It’s a big laptop. I have a lot of VST plugins that are large. I have a lot of drum packs. If you have a lot of plugins and a lot of software, you need to have a big computer or it’s going to get slow. I have enough sounds that will last me the next 15 years without sounding the same. I haven’t used four percent of what I have."

When you heard Burna Boy gliding across guitar licks and booming drums on "Collateral Damage" or bopping on the summertime groove "On The Low"—two of the four most popular Burna Boy songs on TIDAL—that is Kel P providing the production. Burna and Kel P recorded all of African Giant in Nigerian hotels and learned that wasn’t the easiest route.

Burna Boy - On The Low

"We changed hotels because they kept kicking us out. They would say, ‘Oh, your music is too loud,’" Kel P remembers. "We finally got to a hotel that left the whole top floor for us and no one could disturb us."

According to Kel, 80% of the time he doesn’t use his keyboard and instead opts for live instrumentation, which he draws from the deep reservoirs of musicianship in Nigeria and its neighbors. He records all of the live instruments and picks the best parts for his production, essentially turning almost every song he works on into a mosaic of the Nigerian musical community. He proclaims his "music is going to always speak about Africa" and makes good on that promise.

"I work with a band. Kel P is a band. I have a live band. My bass guitarist is Nigerian. My lead guitarist is Guayanian. My saxophonist is Nigerian," Kel P said. "I’ve known my bass guitarist for a long time, before I became Kel P. He introduced me to the saxophonist. I met my lead guitarist in Ghana because he plays for [Ghanian artist] Stonebwoy."

Burna Boy - Wonderful

He uses Fruity Loops to make his beats and Cubase to record vocals. He gets his equipment from overseas. All of the production gear doesn’t touch the raw natural inspiration Kel gets from Nigeria itself.

"Recording in Nigeria is good because you’re around where there’s a great sound, you’ll get inspired because of the people you’ll meet. There’s something they call 'lAM BAR' in Nigeria," Kel-P explained proudly. "Nigerian language has so many words and different words mean different things that you can just put in music. Recording in Nigeria is interesting. A lot of songs you don’t really understand what they’re saying. It’s just vibes."

About the author: Keith Nelson Jr is a seasoned music journalist who followed his innate passion for knowledge to interview some of the most influential figures in the music industry. He's a journalist who connects the dot to see the bigger picture.

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