I met Emma in 2015 while we were auditioning for Spellcast Media at Anniversary Towers. She asked me to sing something and the shy couldn’t, five years later she has an album out and is making moves and I am so happy for a sister! We had a small chat and here’s how it went.
1. Did you always know you would be in music scene?
No, not at all. I always thought I’d be a fine artist or an illustrator. My mum studied fine art in uni and it was really intriguing seeing her art all over the house. Things changed for me when I went to high school. THAT’S where I fell in love with music.
2. Has previously being in Spellcast media helped you as an artist?
Honestly, not so much. Spellcast was a brilliant platform. When I joined, I found a strong community, full of character, life and lots of talent. Instead of that inspiring me, I got really intimidated instead. I spent a lot of time wondering how I could possibly even fit in. It didn’t help that I was always in the back doing the ‘oohs’ and the ‘ahhs’, which made me feel even more invisible. But that was then. Looking back from where I am now, I see strong people and leaders who showed me that expressing yourself is totally okay, and I’ll forever be grateful to them for that, even though it took me years to get the point.
3. What challenges have you faced in the Kenyan music industry?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is in being a young woman. The music industry, like many others, is a male-dominated space. I’ve had to learn (the hard way) that being a woman, and being young, means that I must work harder and smarter to be respected. It means that I must plunge myself into somewhat dangerous spaces. It means that I have to re-assert myself in everywhere that I go.
4. You’ve performed on major platforms such as Engage KE, 10 over 10, African nouveau festival and even for Kotex Kenya concerts how has this helped expand your portfolio and build your brand?
Each platform has done a different thing for me. Engage, which is one of the highlights of my career, introduced me to a more mature crowd, tested my music direction and organization skills, and taught me to be grounded. 10 over 10 introduced me to the mainstream audience which is completely out of my comfort zone, therefore it tested my ability to adapt and appeal, which I think is very important for any brand out there. Africa nouveau is also a highlight. It boosted my confidence and was a timely assurance that I’m moving in the right direction. It also introduced me to the Nu-Nairobi scene. Kotex married all those things together.
I don’t like to place myself in a box, so I’m grateful for all those platforms that enforced my stretching-out across demographics.
5. Do you think music is a labor of love in Kenya?
For the most part, yes. Especially for an RnB artist like myself, I need to constantly remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. Music can be an unrewarding, soul-sucking demon. But at the same time, it’s what gets me up in the morning, it’s what fuels me through the day, it gives me so much joy and fulfilment.
In Kenya, the arts are extremely unappreciated and looked down upon. From within your home, to in the government, to the consumers themselves. This probably needs an entire TED talk so let me leave it at that.
6. Your EP Shift Happens has a wonderful reflection of the circle of love, what inspired you to write these beautiful songs?
Thank you! Some songs were written out of experience, while others came about from imagining scenarios in my head or trying to put myself in other people’s shoes.
7. Who came up with the photoshoot concept for shift happens and what was the inspiration?
I, along with a team of brilliant creatives, came up with the entire concept. Since the E.P. is about ‘The Circle of love’, we needed a creative way to encompass the entire journey that the project takes you on. The emphasis was on the contrast of the black and white; white symbolizing the joy of infatuation in the first song ‘Nice Car’ and black symbolizing the freedom yet unknown nature of self-love and self-actualization in “Mood”. The white circle was a direct parallel drawn to the theme, with our analogy being “You never know whether you’re truly happy, or your just in a cycle/circle of nothingness.”
We placed my body smack in between the black and white, acting as a barrier between the two, to symbolize that I will always be the factor that determines whether I’m within or without the circle.
This is the reason why each and every song has its own art, showing me in a different stage of ‘The Circle.’
A special thanks to each and every brilliant individual who was involved in the conceptualization of this photoshoot: Migwa Nthiga, Melissa Kayenne and the team at Magiq Lens Kenya.
8. Since the Play Kenyan Music uproar do you think Kenyans have come around to consuming music by Kenyan artists or is the western influence still dominating the sound waves?
Kenyans have truly upped their game! There’s no lie that the western influence is still dominating our radio stations, but we have begun to slowly move away from the radio era. I think that with the help of industry headliners such as Sauti Sol, Nyashinski and others, Kenyans have been encouraged to further this movement. After all, the music is top-notch.
9. Which musicians local and international have influenced you in your journey into music?
Locally, June Gachui has influenced me the most. This is because she was my inspiration back when I was still trying to find my voice and my sound. Internationally, Lauryn Hill and Brandy’s rhythm and Lucky Daye’s melodies have been my greatest influences thus far.
10. Would you consider yourself a full-time musician or will you pursue architecture moving forward?
I don’t like to put myself in a box, so why not both? I enjoy both very much. I’ve, however, had to separate Emma the artist from Emma the architect, until I find a great way to marry the two.
11. Tell us a bit about you painting journey since 2017.
It hasn’t been much of a journey, honestly. Juggling music and architecture was, and has been, time-consuming enough so for a while I sub-consciously took a break from painting. There was simply no time for it. I feel, though, that it comes at me in waves. I had a major painting wave in 2017, where I’d spend my nights doing nothing else. Between then and now I got a few commissions, mostly from family members, which went exceptionally well considering I hadn’t painted in a while. After that I took another long break.
The wave came back a couple of weeks ago and a plan to ride it until I’m all burned out.
12. What advice would you give your younger self before joining the Kenyan Music industry?
Be yourself. It’s always going to be enough.
13. 6 months ago King Kaka’s song Wajinga Nyinyi was a moment of reflection for most Kenyans. What role does music play in pushing for a revolution in Kenya today?
Music has the power to change, inspire, mobilize and revolutionize; but only on an unseen spectrum. It cannot literally act. Because of this, musicians have a role to inspire others – in the capacity of their choice. Music can inspire an individual to invoke change. And it can do the same to an entire generation. That, to me, is one powerful tool.
14. Is there support amongst women in the music industry in your view?
I believe there is 100%. There are, of course, the select few who lock themselves in a little bubble of unapproachability (mainly industry gatekeepers), but I truly see the willingness and kind-heartedness of my peers and other women above me in the industry.
15. What has the experience been like from sharing a stage with renown acts such as Sauti Sol, Blinky Bill, Muthoni Drummer Queen and Kwesta (ZA) to performing at major shows and festivals like Africa Nouveau, Motown in Nairobi, Aretha Tribute and Jamhuri Festival among others?
It’s unexplainable. It mostly feels like a dream or a false reality, right until you’re waiting backstage and it’s T-30 minutes to your stage time. THAT is when the reality kicks in. But the joy of performing, for me, is always the audience. Once I step up on that stage and feel the energy of all those people eager and anticipating, ready to receive all of me, all the nerves melt away. There’s really nothing like it.