‘An architect of future’ is what the Kenyan based artist Akoth Jumadi describes herself. Having been in the music industry for a long time Akoth has been using her musical sound to make music that is healing, reflective and progressive. Akoth talks to us about her musical journey and how music has always been impactful in her life growing up. She also shares about her style of music, her album and her love for the creative space in music production.
How would you best describe yourself?
I am an architect of the future, using ethereal folk sounds, mixing it with contemporary and tribal elements to make music that is healing and that is progressive and that is reflectant or reflective of this times, of my times, of our times.
How and when did you make your debut in the music industry?
I’ve been around for a while. I’ve been around for a really long time, actually. I began around 2016 playing music venues like bars and restaurants. And then 2018 started getting a little bit into the festival scene and developing my own sound. And 2019, playing a lot of gigs and getting ready for a career to begin. And 2020 eventually dropped my first body of work. And, yeah, I’ve been around since 2016 until now. 2023.
What was the role of music in the early years of your life?
Music has always been impactful. Growing up, music was a way of expression to the people around me immediately my family. It was like, how you’d know what mood someone is by the music that they were listening to. It was a form of relaxation. On Sundays, my dad would play a lot of records and just chill in the house and yeah, music was a form of entertainment, it was a form of education, it was a form of discovering yourself and just the expression also expressing your views, your thoughts, your wants and needs.
Is music what you always wanted to do while growing up?
I didn’t know at the time I was growing up, I just used to sing, I used to have fun, even though I used to admire, like, many musicians and people that I’d see on TV or hear on the radio. And eventually, as I grew up into my young adult years, I discovered music is what I really want to do.
How would you describe your style of music? What drew you to your preferred genre?
Now, today, specifically, I would describe my music as. It’s like progressive folk music with elements of with tribal elements. Tara Benga jazz and, like, just, you know, mixing old sounds and contemporary elements in order to kind of, like, create the sound that I am singing now. What drew me to this preferred genre? The thing about the industry is there’s the whole question about genrelessness, but I would describe my music as tribal folk or tribal disco as well. I mean, it’s progressive because the more I continue with my career, the more I define what exactly I want my music to be like. So, yeah, progressive folk music. Tad that jazz and bang of fusion. I think that’s what I describe it as.
How do you go about writing a song? How the creation process like?
For me, it always starts with a melody and then I would go to the guitar and find the voice or the melody in my head and then put that down and then eventually, over time, write lyrics over it and then develop it into something concrete. Probably in my band years or as we’re doing rehearsals, pitch it to the band and then find and then work a way around it
Congratulations on your latest album! What inspired it and the name ‘YoNiKa’?
Thank you so much. First of all, it’s been many months. Apologies again. But yeah, Yonika is one of the it was a continuation of Ariel, which was, where is the way? Yonika means the ways here. And it’s basically me understanding that all these things that we are seeking for outside, or we think that a savior is going to come and make it better for us. Like, the time is now, it is here. And it is determining and examining what relationship we have with ourselves, with our neighbors, with our immediate environment and what role we play or contribute towards pushing the boundaries of making the world a better place. It is challenging each and every person and just saying that the way is here. Now is the time. Tomorrow will come, the day after tomorrow will come. But now is when change begins.
Was anyone else involved in writing, recording or producing the songs?
Yes. For Yonika especially. I got funding from the Prince Claus. See the word that enabled me to kind of, like, put in together everybody and everything that I kind of wanted to an extent. I got all my bandmates. We have Henry. Henry Gugay. We have Don Tumbo. We have Pendo. Nicole Pendo. We have John Chaplin. We have Clinton. And then we have Brian, who’s the executive producer. We have other artists who helped in writing, like Janadi Putrambaka. We have Ambassador Mandela. We have a Tanzanian based producer, Lumi, who I spent some time in Zanzibar with. And we’re able to come up with some of the music that constitutes the album.
How long did the project take to be completed? And how has the album reception been like?
The album took about three months. That is like well, writing was overtime because some of the songs are old, like maybe two years old. But the concept, the studio time, the arrangement, the putting in together, all of these things took about three months. Back and forth recording now for it to be complete and for us to have it sort of out there in the world to be experienced by other people. The reception has been well, has been really good, actually, because my numbers are up and so many people are listening to the album. Not as much as I’d like, but enough to know that it made the impact that it was supposed to and it’s continuing to even make that. And for me as an artist, if I see or hear or observe that my work is making that impact, then I am happy and I feel fulfilled to create more.
Which song from your current album is your personal favorite and why?
Thum. Why? Because it’s groovy. It’s inspired by Afro beat. I was listening to a lot of Afro beat and Felicity at the time, so, yeah, Fella Kuti really inspired that. It’s my favorite gem. And also Mi Na We. Mi Na We was the first song that came out and we wrote it while we were touring in Tanzania and at the coast a lot. So Mi Na We and Thum can’t choose. But yeah, those two.
What do you hope your listeners take away from your music?
The most important thing is healing and grounding. That the music can bring you to a place of healing and grounding and that you rediscover who you are or that it shows you how you can contribute to be on the way. ‘To be on the yo,’ which means (the way). Yeah
What do you like to do in your free time outside of music?
I read books. I spend time with my family. I do yoga, I travel. Just sort of like to ground me and remind me that, minus being an artist, I’m also a person and a human who’s growing and who’s changing and who’s developing, for lack of a better word.
When you perform and the audience sings along, how does that energy make you feel?
Amazing. It’s like you all take time to listen to my music and come to the shows and know some of the lyrics. That always means so much to me and, yeah, it inspires me to do more and affirms my decision to be a musician.
How do you deal with performance anxiety if you’ve ever experienced one?
I always understand that the stage is my pulpit. It is my place, it is my space. It’s the only way. It’s the only place I could be free. And somehow I do get anxious because for some of big stages that have really performed and there are so many people, and I was like, what’s going on? But at the end of the day, I’m like, I affirm myself knowing that this is my work, this is my art, and this is what I do. And I revel in that. I’m proud of that. And that kind of, like, pushes my anxiety. Once I get on stage, you become a beast, or I embody the music or the energy that I bring.
Are you working on any other new music?
Not really, but I have just finished my production course that took so much time and needed so much of my attention because for a long time I wanted to express myself technologically when it comes to a studio setting and even, like, being in the setting with other musicians and producers. And now I’m able to do that and I’m really grateful and appreciative um, yeah, of that. So any other new music? Maybe later in the year, but right now I’m just chilling. I’m kind of feeling the post album feels because last year I was just like, all album, album studio. And that could be a bit consuming of one’s time and energy. So, yeah, I’m doing more chill vibes and when the inspiration strikes, I’ll be able to get back in studio to make more music.
If you could change anything in the music industry today, what would it be?
Transparency, honesty and more opportunity for people that are here, people that have come before those who come after us. There seems to be some sort of disconnection between the different generations passing on the torch of the mantle, the torch passing on the torch of sort of like the gift. And I think there’s so many reasons why it could be financial, it could be circumstantial. But whatever it is, I feel it is really important to address these things that keep us apart and not united as musicians, because we’re keepers of the flame and we play a very important role.
What’s one thing you’d like to tell your fans?
Yeah, support my music, buy the music, come out to shows and concerts so you can fully experience what it means to make the music that I am and just open your mind. Support Kenyan music. Play Ke music. It starts here with us and our people and yeah.
What’s next for you?
Production, sound, doing soundtracks, playing more concerts, playing more shows and hopefully a tour around the world.
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