Every other Thursday we interview an artist on the Mics And Beats segment. Today’s Mics and Beats artist is Valentine Ziki. Valentine Ziki says she is a human of Nairobi. To Ziki music is expression, curating stories, constantly evolving, interrogating different experiences and sharing. She’s graced various stages which include: PAWA Festival, Safaricom Live, The GODOWN Gig, Sondeka Festival, and Thursday Nite Live! @Choices, The Juniper Social, Storymoja Festival & Paint Me Music. She performs with a five piece band and occasionally with just her guitar giving a refreshing, acoustic feel. Her current project is an experimental, ‘electrofusion’ blend of soul and electronic music, titled ‘The Camouflage Sessions’. This EP project recorded by fast rising producer Jinku, will have an international release in early 2016.
When did you start singing? Which instruments do you play?
I started singing in my early twenties. My interest was propelled by performances in high school that revolved around poetry and school functions. After high school I joined a theatre group based at the Kenya National Theatre. From there, I developed performance skills and also was cast in various musicals which helped to build my confidence. I bought my first guitar shortly after and started learning how to play and compose original music. It was a time where there were not too many female artists that could play or perform live. Afro-fusion music had just grown in popularity and it seemed like a more natural genre to pick up. With time however, I’ve developed interest in more organic sounds, experimental genres and sub genres, which is now my primary focus.
Moderate, mostly through online tutorials and workshops.
Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music? Which songs do you remember most as a child?
‘Mario’ by Franco Luambo , ‘Vunja Mifupa’ by Ochestra Virunga, ’Musa’ by Daudi Kabaka ‘Malaika’ by Fadhili Williams blared from my our radio frequently as well as country music by Dolly Parton & Skeeter Davis. I was fascinated by how much music moved me but I was not sure I could pursue it as a career. Still, I harbored great dreams of becoming a performer one day.
What musical influences did you have a child?
I was drawn to music from an early age. KBC played authentic Kenyan records too and that fed me immensely. Kalamashaka, Poxy Pressure, Mercy Myra were the few examples of great KENYAN musicians that I was exposed to in my formative years but I also gravitated towards music by India Arie, Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai and Erykah Badu. I initially described myself as a Neo Soul artist but have since moved on to other genres.
How is the music different from what you listen to now?
Technology has changed how we create, record, perform and consume music. That has greatly affected the sound and brought out interesting elements. I’m open to all genres, pretty eclectic taste. As long as it moves me.
What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in Music?
About 5 years ago I set out to record and perform as a solo artist. Before then I was a theatre practitioner and contemporary dancer in training. It was not an easy decision as the perceived outcome projected by those around me seemed gloomy. The music landscape in Kenya is not steady and sometimes not as rewarding as it ought to be. There are many challenges, including frustrations from some stakeholders, cartels and piracy. It didn’t look optimistic at first but I’m in a much better place than I was when I began. I aspire to breakthrough internationally, make great records basically music with longevity, tour the world and get those Grammies, why not?
Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?
Kenyan, the album ‘Jellyfish’ by Maia Von Lekow. Refreshing.
I’ve been following work by different producers Kenyan and International namely: East African Wave, Santuri Safari, Diplo, Erykah Badu and MIA. I also have my ears on Kendrick Lamar, Raury, Lianne LA Havas and Finley Quaye.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I flow on. An artist lives in the moment. That’s what counts the most. When you’re in the moment, nothing can overshadow that experience.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Practice hard, rehearsals are really the main show. What you rehearse becomes what you perform. It helps to be prepared.
How often and for how long do you practice?
I rehearse with my band once a week. I practice by myself at least 5 days a week.
Do you teach music?
I do, especially during the holidays. I run a workshop for young Creatives known as the ‘Creative Bootcamp’ which aims to teach basic performance skills to young artists looking to learn more about music and the art of performance.
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?
Sultry, soulful sound. Introspective; this songbird brings a unique performance experience at every opportunity.
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
An experience. An engaging show that is not just about how it sounds or looks but also about connecting with my audience. A dynamic performance.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
Every gig is a great opportunity. Frankly I count getting into the business and recording my first single as a milestone. I also released a compilation of my music thus far in 2015. I was able to see and hear myself at that point in time from a very raw and honest perspective thus allowing me to critic my work and understand what I need to do to achieve my goals as an artist.
How much creative control do you have over what you play?
I compose and write my material but I’m also keen to work with other songwriters as that will infuse something new to my body of work.
If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?
I would and I already do advocate for Kenyan artists to speak in one voice, force the media and Kenyan audiences to activate support and love for all things Kenyan starting with our music of course.
Have you played with a band?
I’ve never played for other bands as such; I hire session musicians for recording sessions and performances. I have a small outfit of about 4 musicians that I play with regularly and I’m also lucky to have a great network of musicians whom I’ve interacted with professionally. The music industry and in particular the live gig circuit all rely on pretty much the same instrumentalists or session players.
What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?
I love soulful music & African traditional chants but I’m open to many genres and styles.
What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?
I’m a voice over artist, actor and Creative Entrepreneur.
What keeps you going as a musician?
I’m an optimist and idealist so when it gets rough, I choose to see the positive elements which end up subduing what doesn’t work. I also research a lot and read on how successful artists have navigated the treacherous waters of the entertainment business. I look for inspiration on a constant basis and I trust in my destiny as an artist for I know I’m doing what I was meant to do. What I seek, seeks me too!
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist? What are your long term career goals?
Time is relative. I shape my strategies around my goals on a month to month basis. My yardstick for success is checking in to see if I’m growing as an artist and if my creations reflect this growth. I always want to positively affect the world with my music, that’s my ultimate goal. In five years time, I will have toured the world and shared my work with a much larger audience than I ever have. I want to be one of Kenya’s greatest music exports.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be?
I dig Lauryn Hill, Tina Turner, and Pharrell. I also think Sauti Sol are consummate performers. Past: Fela Kuti, Queen, Miriam Makeba.
What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News
I have a monthly gig at The Juniper Kitchen on Waiyaki Way.
I’ll also be one of the headlining acts at the GODOWN Gig on the last Saturday of this month. I’ll also perform a very personal Acoustic set by myself at the Kiota VIII_Dhahania at the Creatives Garage on the 30th January in the evening.
New Music: ‘The Camouflage Sessions’ coming out in early 2016.