By Alex Roberts
There are some artists within Kenya that are leaving most expectations placed upon them by other people and even themselves to carve out there own sound and move forward. Akoth Jumadi, fresh off the heels of stand out shows spanning the underground scene and dropping her debut EP ‘Ere Yo’ looks to be one. The EA Scene caught up with her in Nairobi to talk about music, the future and what mark she’s looking to make.
EA Scene: Do you look at your music as almost a sort of conversation? It seemed like at your show you were building something up, almost like your show was some kind of a dinner party.
Jumadi: For me its basically building a relationship with the crowd, and even with myself before I begin. The first song is slower to bring grounding to it, it throws you in to calm and to get ready for the music to come.
EA Scene: Last night’s show was really stripped down, do you prefer that kind of set?
Jumadi: Every mode and every vibration comes with a different vibration to it, every artist can contribute to the energy of the set, that’s the benefit of a bigger band, but in the smaller setting it can get more intimate, the audience is really looking to experience some music. So it is hard to choose. Its all about how the moment feels, yeah. Everyone is zoned out into their own vibration when its right, those are some of the most beautiful moments, as if you go to this other dimension. I believe that music has the power to communicate that and take you somewhere else. It really captures like that moment in those few seconds before people come into clapping, when the audience is still there hanging.
EA Scene: Where all have you played?
Jumadi: I’ve played in Uganda a lot, in Kisumu, cause I was based there, that’s where I had some freedom to explore what I want. I’ve played in Nairobi and the coast a lot, like at Kilifi New Year, it was a day time set, and people actually really came through for it. I watch the video from it a lot because guys were feeling some kind of way about it, and the vibe was right, everyone was drawn in and was really feeling it. To see people actually come through because they really love the music, that’s a great feeling.
EA Scene: So that theme of intimacy with your concerts seems to be common, do you always try to bring it out to start the show?
Jumadi: No, not always, you have to pick your spots a bit, even to start mid-tempo, it is kind of a ride that you’re taking people on and you have to read it. I used to go with friends to other jam sessions, at an open mic in Kisumu and guys liked it. Even though I was finding my sound, the owner of the restaurant came to me and asked me to come and play every Friday, so I started in those kind of spaces of feeling the crowd and the space. I started to feel like I had something to say too, and I built on it.
EA Scene: So being that you started in kind of a campus vibe in Kisumu did you really make a point to plant your flag with a very Kenyan sound?
Jumadi: I feel it depends on the level of relationship you have with yourself. I started with doing covers of international artists, making some little money. But then it took some time for me to realize it isn’t just singing and giving to the crowd. Its interaction its movement, its revolutionary. Its supposed to be in a dance with your mind, it is supposed to stir things in you. It is bigger than just singing for me. It is really important for me to represent that in my immediate self and represent my language in that, its a disappearing thing over time, and it can be easy to lose yourself and your identity. I’ve got to get it right, because that’s my reference point, that I know how I’m doing this, why I am. This is what is most important to me, a strong representation of my music, in my language, in my culture. Anybody can still relate to that.
EA Scene: So have you gotten those funny pressures to change your sound and approach?
Jumadi: Yeah so many! Why don’t you bleach your skin? Your set was so amazing, why don’t you put on some big hair, more make up, lose some weight, things like that. A producer once told me he wanted to do a video for me, and sent me one of his telling me ‘you know you should show more skin, show more ass’. I told him respect, but it doesn’t work for me. I guess that’s why to understand angles, what do you do it for? That’s an important question for me as an artist.
EA Scene: So what do you want your mark to bring to the Kenyan music sphere as you’re trying carve out your own niche, your foothold is there and you’re gaining traction?
Jumadi: I think that’s a strong expression of yourself, and your community and your people. Like what you see is how you should express it. It has to be real and it has to come from an honest point of view. Your art has to have you in it. I want to bring more representation of culture and language; there’s a lot of songs and videos out there that have very little depth to them. Even if its pop and fun- I just think it is very important to create that environment where people can take something beneficial out of the art even as they’re being entertained. That is us, that is who we are, I’m sure different artists have different inspirations, within the alternative scenes, spread the message in a real way. Make it as you want it and don’t conform to things.
EA Scene: I have to ask, it would look weird if I didn’t, but this year of Covid has been fucking nuts, how has it changed your goals and your approach- like how do you see it impacting?
Jumadi: This year has been a lot of tension because of everything that has happened. Everything has taken more time, but it has given me time to sharpen in terms of my artistry, to just understand that my role is just to be an artist, a musician and to ensure my role is impactful in a way. I try to do that through making music that is slightly healing for people. Years from now it may do that for someone who I never meet, so the more that happens, the more people are able to vibrate in a positive way, the better. The way forward for the industry looks like it is coming from the alternative scene, and artists are curating their own things, own gigs and own sounds. I think that its game changing. I think we have more representation now, it has given people a level ground of resetting your form. You lose a lot, but it gave us more space to begin again. The reset has kind of shown us that we can do it on our own without some of these old gatekeepers. We’re doing it on our own, and it’s being heard.
Make sure you check out more of Akoth Jumadi’s new EP and most definite check her out in concert HERE is a link to her work.