Every other Thursday we interview an artist on the Mics and Beats segment. Today’s Mics and Beats artist is Guitarist Kato Change. Kato Change says his life is basically music and he cannot imagine his life without it. Kato started playing the violin and guitar when he was a young boy and since then music has been a non-stop field for him to the point where he started his own group known as the Change Experience. His new album has been named one of the best albums so far in Kenya since 2015. Kato continually draws from a heritage of jazz legends as well as African, Flamenco, rhythm and blues and rock genres, creating sounds that are both familiar and utterly singular.
Kato is a full-time artist and has his own jazz ensemble, The Change Experience, and also features in the Aaron Rimbui Quintet.
Kato is a self-taught musician known for his fantastic guitar skills whose curiosity about the guitar was nurtured by an emerging online community of musicians on YouTube. Kato has been part of the OneBeat program, which brings together musical leaders from all over the world to create new music and create civically engaged music initiatives.
Kato was the Lead Guitarist in Tusker Project Fame Season 6 and has also been the rhythm and lead guitarist on all 3 seasons of Coke Studio Africa. He has played and recorded with many of the greats including Neyo, Salif Keita, Seun Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Fally Ipupa, Yemi Alade, Ice Prince, 2face Idibia and Omar Lye Fook.
My family has been a very big influence on my music. My folks and sisters have diverse palettes and a great sense of seeking out and listening to good music across genres. I really feel that rubbed off on me, there was no escape.
What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I always knew I would have a career in the arts whether as a visual or performing artist. I fully realized and accepted this path during high school, when I played in a rock band ‘UETA’ with my cousins, Jaaz, Shaq and Zamar Odongo.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I listen to so much – I have a list of favourites across genres from all over the world and constantly find new music that captures my heart. We might need to do a separate interview just for that list.
How often and for how long do you practice?
The time varies. Some days it’s all day, others even just 20 minutes. But my days are always structured around music. If it’s not performing, it’s practising, spending time in the studio or handling the business side of the music with my team at Magiq Lens Kenya.
As an official teachable subject, music was cut from Kenyan public schools over 10 years ago. The Music Culture Foundation has partnered with me and several other dedicated artists and we have given lessons to primary school students that wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to learn and experience an instrument. Outside this program, I prefer to have very few students who I can concentrate on mentoring based on what I have learned and continue to learn in my musical journey.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
Last year, I released my debut album, “The Change Experience”, after what was a three-year process of growth, change and learning. In 2012, I was selected as one of 32 musicians worldwide for One Beat. Most recently, I have been selected as one of 9 African artists for the 2015 Artists In Residency program, where I will be spending some time in Brazil for a short-term collaborative residency.
What keeps you going as a musician?
I love music, everything about it; I can’t imagine my life without it. It is a gift from God and a powerful tool that brings together cultures and unites Nations. It’s a way I can connect with people around the world without ever having to speak each other’s language. I believe God put music in my life for a reason and I will always work to build my understanding of it and create what I perceive to be good music.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance and what advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
I have constantly had to remind myself that as a performer mistakes will happen. So if you are going to make a mistake, make it loud and confident because you are really only a semi-tone away from the right note. When I started playing, I was always trying to play many notes as fast as possible, but now I try to focus more on playing meaningful notes.
Have you played with a band?
Yes ma’am, several.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, or alive who would it be? (You can name a couple of people)
The List is endless…
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
My music is from my heart, nothing less. My performances are almost never the same. Sometimes it’s completely composed, other times it’s fully or semi-improvised. Also, the size of my ensembles varies, ranging from a solo performance to a 15-piece band.
Do you write your own music?
Yes, I do, I also love to collaborate writing with musicians I feel I can ‘vibe’ with.
What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax?
Outside of music, I sketch. I used to play a lot of basketball and plan on getting back to that. I also love barbecues and hanging out with good company. Hitting the gym…yes it relaxes me and a couple of other small hobbies here and there.
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist?
I want to be at the point in my career where I am able to do a world tour and continue to do what I’m doing now on a grander scale – chasing and growing my passion, and using it to positively impact lives.
What are your up-to-date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News?
My debut album “The Change Experience” came out in December 2015. It is available on iTunes, Waabeh, Tidal, Amazon, Google Play, and Spotify among other platforms.
I post my gigs across my social media. That is Kato Change- the Change experience on Facebook, @THECHANGEKATO on Twitter and Instagram and Kato Change on YouTube and Soundcloud.
Kato has recently been announced as one of the winners of the 2015 Artists In Residency Program in Brazil. Congratulations to Kato and we look forward to greater things after his residency.
If you would like to know what Kato Change is up to you can interact with him on Twitter at @TheChangeKato or like his Facebook Page. You can also follow him on Instagram to find out about his latest gigs. You can also subscribe to his YouTube channel to listen to his awesome music.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at email@example.com.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat