Afro-fusion artists have been on the rise on the Kenyan music scene. I remember a time when this genre of music was not appreciated and mass marketed as other Westerly music imports. Things have changed for the better, and now more than ever, the likes of Nina Ogot are getting mainstream play and the youth are starting to sing and dance to a different tune.
Locally, Blankets and Wine Music Festival has been forefront in pushing and giving Afro-fusion artists a voice and stage in which to perform.
Nina Ogot is one such artist, who refuses to solely classify her genre of music as Afro-fusion owing to the fact that her music goes beyond the genre’s descriptive. She sings and writes music well beyond her years, with gems of wisdom that would make one think she is in her sixties, when she’s merely a young twenty-something year old lady. Without further ado, click on for more and get acquainted with your next big ‘starra’ from Africa.
A-la Drake, Thank me Later for introducing you to quality music. Modesty is not always necessary!
54interviews: I first became acquainted with your musical talent when you performed an acoustic version of your Amor , now a favorite of mine on a Kenyan breakfast show. It gave me the chills. Your voice was haunting, captivating and soulful all at once. What was the inspiration and meaning behind this song?
NO: The word Amor in my mother tongues means I’m happy. I wrote this song to express my joy. The fact that I can pursue, live and share my musical passion with the world makes me happy.
54inteviews: How has being multilingual impacted your music?
NO: I would say that language is a huge key to unlocking a whole new world of culture. The more languages you know, the more access you have to cultural diversity. My music has become so much richer in the sense that I no longer have to worry about whether or not people will understand the lyrics to my song. Rather, I worry more about communicating the depth of meaning in the song irrespective of the language used. On the other hand, my lyrics have become richer too.
54interviews: Genre wise, what would you categorize your music as being?
NO: This is a good question because the issue of genre seems to be such a big issue for audiences yet artistes like myself prefer to go beyond any form of classification. I am an African woman with different traditional and urban cultural influences. I play the guitar and I sing about anyone or anything that touches my life. How would you classify that? What is important to me is that when people listen to me that they hear the truth , emotion and passion. Although, I am categorized as an ‘Afro-fusion’ artist.
54interviews: You studied media and communication in college in France. How then did you end up in the music industry? How did you parents react to this?
NO: When you find music, you don’t want to let it go because you know when you’ve found something of great value. I also love media and communications. However, music is my first love. My parents have simply accepted and supported my decision.
54interviews: In 2008, you made your debut with Ninarobi. Talk to us about the creative process that went into making the album and also the reception of it from the public.
NO: The making of Ninarobi album was a short but beautiful journey. I met up with one of the greatest Kenyan guitarists I know, David Otieno, and let me say the rest is history! Some of the songs in the album I wrote when I was 16 years old! e.g. The Runway. That song still makes sense several years later, even when I’m all grown up! The reception to the album is warming up slowly but surely.
54interviews: Congratulations on winning the prestigious Kalasha Film and TV award, which could arguably be the Kenyan Oscar version [I know I am pushing it, but a girl can dream right?! lol] in October for Best Original Score for the film Issa. Talk to us about your role, and how it came into being?
NO: I got a call from the Mohammed Amin Foundation requesting me to write a score for a film that they were working on with the students. I quickly agreed because I had always wanted to write for film. I’m honored to have been presented with an award given that this was my very first attempt. I definitely didn’t see this coming!
54interviews: You are currently working on your second album, and Wololo one of the lead singles is descriptive of humanities constant pursuit of wealth , power and fame at the expense of a good quality life full of love and simplicity. The concept is deep, dope and introspective, and this can be said of your other works. Where do you dig for inspiration?
NO: My inspiration comes from deep within me. Whenever I write a song, it seems to magically appear from nowhere but I know it’s a melange of my past experiences, stories I’ve been told, things I have observed, dreams I’ve dreamt etc. It’s a whole array of things and possibilities.
54interviews: Abbi of Indigo Productions and Claus Seest are currently producing your music. How did you hook up with these two?
NO: I believe that whenever you need something in your life to happen, it does! I needed a producer and I miraculously got two! Claus arrived in Kenya from Denmark and there was musical chemistry between him, Abbi and myself. Wololo is a good testimony to that!
54interviews: Your upcoming album has an interesting creative process dubbed the 4×4 concept.What is that all about?
NO: I love the concept behind 4×4 so much because it allows anyone out there who’s interested in what I’m doing musically in and out of studio to join me and my team for four unedited minutes and just sit back , relax and enjoy music in a different way. The music is always raw. They can also join in the creative process by sending in ideas, comments and and any feedback that would be helpful to us as we continue to work on the songs in the studio. It’s really interesting!
54interviews: It was only recently that the Kenyan music industry started to fully embrace all things Kenyan and roco- alluding to a lack of authentic sounds played in mainstream radio. Afro fusion artists like you have now found a home in the mainstream. What is your take to these changes?
NO: Kenyan musicians lack artistic identity because they’ve always been exposed to foreign music more than local sounds. Not only are they ignorant of their musical forefathers, but they also look down upon them somehow. Slowly, I believe afro-fusion music, which is a mixture of traditional and urban sounds, is structuring an identity for the youth and giving them some sort of cultural bearing. It’s also making tradition somehow look cool to the point that they are now demanding to hear it on radio.
54interviews: Which regional artist (motherland) would you like to collaborate with and why?
NO: I wouldn’t want to collaborate with just one artist in particular. However, I’m very interested in working with anyone with whom I think our sounds can blend in well and with whom there’d be some sort of artistic connection. I don’t care which part of the world they come from. I remain open.
54interviews: In your interview with The Standard you noted that you are a one woman operation without a manager to assist with the basic music business functions-PR-How are you able to do it solo, without loosing your sanity-granted it can be hectic and demanding?
NO: One of the reasons I am so grateful to be a musician is because I have uncovered a lot of potential and passion in me that would otherwise remain dormant if I were in another career. From all these experiences, let’s just say I didn’t go crazy…I grew wiser!
54interviews: For the skeptics about what the motherland has to offer, give them a dose of sunshine to linger on.
NO: To know where you are going, remember where you are coming from. Love and respect your roots always.
~Thanks for your time, Nina~