Photo by Dylan Dawkins

Guitarist Thomas Kenney put out his first song as Oukuo (oh-koo-owe) last year, translating explorations of old-school African and Caribbean electronica into his own sound. As part of the local retrowave ensemble Doom Flamingo, Kenney often finds himself at late-night aftershows that inform his approach to creating techno funk compositions, he said. On April 30, he will debut new material, along with a full band on the main stage at Pour House. 

“I love dance music, whether it is electronic or James Brown,” he said. “However, rhythmic-centric dance music is heavily dependent on having an audience. You need that energy to feed off of — it’s like a fire. Both the audience and performers are feeding it. When you take one of those variables away, it doesn’t make sense.” Which is exactly what COVID did. Out of what he called his “2020 quarantine feels” came the EP, Gorilla, a sleepier and more ambient excursion into house beats. 

Once local gigs opened back up, Kenney felt a resurgence. “My connection to dance music is fresh this year,” he said. He has a little more than a dozen songs that are almost done, ready for an eventual album. He’s been working with a few different singers for the vocal-heavy tracks, including Doom Flamingo frontwoman Kanika Moore and R&B vocalist Liz Kelley of Nashville’s neo soul group Oracle Blue. “The new stuff is an identity statement for the project: ‘This is a dance party. We’re back. We’re going to have a good time.’”

Oukuo will fuel the afterparty — limited-capacity, of course — for Funk You’s performance on the deck. The live show will center around unreleased material as well as Gorilla. The newly assembled Oukuo band is Doom Flamingo keyboardist Ross Bogan, Little Bird bassist Ben Mossman and drummer Shelton Dessausure. And besides the guitarist, Kenney will play DJ too. “It’s a DJ with a band, so it’s a nice confluence of flavors,” he said. 

“With this project, and with every project that I do, I really try to keep my purpose in focus. My mission is to try to get as many people as I can together in the safest way to provide a cathartic experience for them and for myself too. When we share that, life just gets better.”

After 20 years in Charleston, Kenney said the therapeutic vitality of music created within Charleston’s Black community keeps his energy up. “There’s a super-concentrated spiritual energy that has been here since Black American music has been here. I’m really really grateful to be a part of it. Our local R&B, funk, gospel scene to me is one of the best in the world. There’s a sound here. The way the drummers swing and the way the organists and keyboardists phrase their chords — it’s very Charleston. I feel a magnetic pull on my spirit.”

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