Possibly one of the busiest men in the country, and definitely one of the busiest in the capital, Addis Ababa, Kenny Allen, formerly based in Washington, DC, first stepped foot in Ethiopia thirteen years ago, and his decision regarding repatriation was one that required little thought and one that conjured no doubt.
Kenny Allen, or K’Alyn, is a musician, both a recording artist, producer and a live performer. Since establishing himself in Ethiopia, he’s recorded four albums at his home studio, E.A.R.S - East Africa Recording Studio -, and has been involved in a number of musical projects, both behind the mixing desk and in front of it. On top of that, this year is set to see the release of K’Alyn’s eighth studio album, Mind Over Matters.
KA: Mind Over Matters is heavily influenced by the afrobeat sound that’s coming out of Nigeria right now; there’s a couple of reggae tracks; a couple RNB tracks; it’s very much a snapshot of the music scene today and the music that is close and dear to me and should be coming out within the next two or three months.
Ethiopian model Eden Getu showcasing the brand new Ajah Soul Clutch Bag Version 3.0, exclusively available at undken
Kenny Allen has his goals set high. In addition to being a multi-talented musician and producer, K’Alyn has also recently celebrated the opening of his brand new bags and accessories store in Addis Ababa, called undken.
"Undken means one day in Amharic, and it’s an ode to the dreamers; the people who spend their whole lives training for something; getting to a particular point. I always equate it to a runner, when he goes to the olympics and he walks in the stadium. It’s the moment of pride and the moment of accomplishment. That’s the jist of the brand, so we’re here trying to create a high-end, high quality product out of Africa, out of Ethiopia, to share with the whole world." K’Alyn told us.
undken specialises in quality, Ethiopian-made leather bags - whether that be a pouch, a backpack, a handbag, a bum-bag, or a limited edition Haile Selassie I era pendant clutch, undken is definitely a store that aims to break down borders.
He breaks this down, saying, "All the leather is sourced here [in Ethiopia] and the fabrics that we use on the inside come from all around the continent, some of which have come from personal trips around the continent, so we’re trying to represent the beauty and the vibrancy of the African continent."
Vision to reality hasn’t been an easy road in regards to undken, but with passion, perseverance and partnership with like-minded individuals on the continent, namely chief designer Admas Abera, chief sewer Henok Kasahun, and business partner Hanna Destaw, 2019 is already set to see Kenny Allen’s presence in Ethiopia reaching new levels.
"undken as a bag brand is something, but but undken as an institution [aims] mainly to be a beacon of light. There’s an array of schools in the neighbourhood we try to get involved with, we’re trying to be good examples to the community, and integrate. I’m an American, so I'm trying to get here and say, ‘Look - this is not just about basketball players and rappers and things like that…’ - and it’s not also about bags… It’s about being a positive light in the community and giving children an opportunity to see something bigger than they may have been able to see without being shown, and not from movies and mass media, but being shown up close and personal; giving the children an opportunity to learn about fashion, learn about textiles, learn about business and things like that. That’s very important to this process. This, for me, is about creating a platform to do other more sustainable works and more influential things for the future generations."
There are many places in Africa, and the world, that one might choose to repatriate or to move to. So, why did Kenny Allen choose Ethiopia?
"A lot of people ask that, and I’ll say that Ethiopia chose me. I didn't really have a lot of hands-on experience with different places in the continent. In my mind, Africa was just one thing, so the opportunity that was given to me was not something that I sought after - it was not something that I tried to do - it’s just something that was a calling, if you will. I recognise the blessing that it is for me to be here, so I never take it for granted, and I always try to make the most of every day."
"I work because that’s life, and that’s the life that’s been given to me. Idle hands make an idle mind, so I try to keep myself busy, and I try to make an impact and I try to make a difference with anybody that I work with, and that I encounter."
Kenny’s work in the Mother Land has certainly made an impact on me, and if anything, the accumulation of work that has taken place over the last thirteen years should be an inspiration to anybody, anywhere in the world, that has repatriation in mind. Yes, there are struggles, but one day - und ken - everything will come to fruition.
The undken store is located around Old Airport in Addis Ababa. More information, including a map of the area, can be found on the undken Facebook page.
Kenny Allen can be found on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube & BandCamp. Look out for Kenny’s eighth studio album, Mind Over Matters, hitting stores in 2019.