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Monday, 17 September 2018 16:58

Kensoul Experience \\ Interview with Liz Ogumbo

Written by Afroway
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Liz Ogumbo Liz Ogumbo Photo Courtesy

“It gives me joy and it brings joy to my soul when I’m able to bear out my soul and in return receive so much love, that’s the exchange, and that exchange only gives me a high”

Afroway: Kensoul, The Lotus Chapter is out. How do you feel? And what kind of feedback have you been getting?

Liz: Kensoul: The lotus Chapter is out, and I’m very excited about this new addition, when it comes to my music offering and everything that I represent. Kensoul is the title of my first album, which was released to acclaim in 2010 and is also obviously the reference point of my recently released album which is the follow-up album; Kensoul: The lotus Chapter. I travel through different musical influences I still express myself in; Luo Swahili English and French and I just feel like this is really a new story in continuation of my life, my stories and I think that it’s been well received so far.  I’ve heard the opportunity to be able to share Kensoul through our listening experience which was the first in JO’BURG then we took it to Senegal to Djoloff during the Biennale when I was in Senegal, in April-May and then we took it back to Cape Town to also make sure the Cape Town music following gets a taste at the Cript Jazz. And I’ve just now brought back to Senegal again don’t ask me why and how but it looks like I have a lot of love, I have received a lot of love. So I’m back to Senegal I played at Phares des mamelles. A few days ago and I’m going to be paying at Hotel Jolof, so if you know what’s good for you….I think the response is amazing. I’m a bit stingy with my soul but I get to share it with those who actually want it. 

Afroway: That’s great stuff, we’ve been waiting for a new album; it’s been long since KenSoul you know…Why did you wait for this long?  Was it your strategy or just on purpose?

Liz: When we talk about time and some people feeling that this was a long wait between Kensoul; in 2010 and Kensoul: The Lotus Chapter in 2018. First of all it’s not a strategy, I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and decides, let me wait 7 years to create or continue my story but the one thing I have to say is according to me, and what I believe about time is time is as much as time is very precious, I refuse to measure it my clocks, you know.. I think that time is measured by moments not by the clock ticking and that’s why when the time arrives and we are able to share something beyond what we even imagined, then what’s the issue with time anymore?.... So waiting on something new, sometimes can probably put pressure on different artists. I personally don’t have pressure, and another thing is I multitask I’m a brand beyond just music. I’m a lifestyle brand with my fashion brand which I also spend a lot of time on. I’ve also got a wine brand now. I’ve got Fashion Lab Africa which is also a media company that I’m a part of, and I do a lot of in, which is radio and TV, and it also takes a toll, so and then I’m also a wife and obviously that is also time. It’s just life you’ve got a lot to handle in your plate, I think that it’s unfair for music followers who want to scream in my ears about what time is it, I’m I releasing something else….as long as I’m not dead and as long as my vocal chords still work and as long as I’m still conscious and able to think allowing me to be able to express or write what I want to write about then something is coming. So let’s stop focusing on time I think, and my two cents is let’s focus on what has been created out of that time that we thought was too long. So no pressure no strategy I think that what it is, is what it is, when I create, when I’m ready…when we serve we serve and I hope you can receive Kensoul with love.

Afroway: A lot changes in an artist’s cycle, where are you right now, what’s different from since your last release?

Liz: It’s true that also we go through a lot of different changes and I thing that as an artist ummhI don’t know if it’s an artist cycle but I know that for sure where I was 7-8 years ago is not where I am today umm. It’s been years, years come with wisdom, years come with a lot of changes, and we change we are human beings, if we don’t change then we are probably dead, we are stagnant anything stagnant is dead. So there’s changes I embrace change and as much as change can also be very scary I think it’s good, it’s very important to continue to evolve otherwise you just become dead.  And I think that for me one of the things I would say is for sure I was in fashion then I’m still in fashion today, I’m actually in the fashion business, this is my 11th year as a fashion brand which is Liz Ogumbo, and I’m also a wife, I wasn’t a wife then, I think I have acquired a lot of wisdom as well through the years, and I’m still not there yet, so I’m just generally in the school of life evolving, moving learning more about who Liz is because  definitely that’s important and just understanding where I wanna be, what I wanna do, how I wanna do it and where I see myself uumh in the next phase of my life, so, evolution is good let’s embrace it. 

Afroway: Tell us about the recording process, how was it like creating this great gem

Liz:  The process of this album was again a very organic process, which is how make music. I like to sit in the studio with whoever it is I’m working with, if it’s the producer, it’s the bassist, if it’s the keys. I like to sit with every live element in the studio and I like to obviously use my musical offering through my melodies, my harmonies my story writing and storytelling skills to be able to bring a story into life in the best way that I’d love to enjoy or listen to it. So through this album I sat in the studio with Kevin Leicher and we ended up banging out a lot of music. The intention initially was that I wanted to release a single so that I wasn’t so quite after the previous album and then I had a single, two, three, four, five, and then I had 6 singles. I was like that’s an EP that is no longer singles and then I thought okay it’ll be an EP but then there’s so much music made and it’s so easy to make music with the right musical geniuses around. So Kevin Leicher produced this album…., I sat with him and went through a lot, most…everything is actually we’d go through organically one beat at a time, one note at a time, one story at a time and this is how Kensoul: The Lotus Chapter came to life. Everything organically and authentically in studio live. Thank god he also plays every instrument that I know of. So it was a very organic but very refreshing process.  

Afroway: There’s a lot of improvisation & experimentation if we dare say on this project, it speaks a lot to your personality, and boundless creativity, of course no single genre to place your music… So what do you think defines KenSoul sound?

Liz: I think what makes Kensoul a really sort of a special project is the fact that, first of all, I dubbed my music as Kensoul because I couldn’t find the genre for it when I thought about my influences musically from; Soul to Funk to Blues, to Swing to Reggae, to Taarab, to Luo music- your Ohanagla and you Kenge Kenge. To everything, to hip hop, It’s like everything that I enjoy, I mean you should listen to my playlist and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, but I’ve got a very diverse musical ear and therefore what I consume musically defines a lot of what I’m actually sharing out.

I want to also say that because of the fact that Kensoul is a genre but also has sort of carried over from Kensoul to Kensoul: The Lotus Chapter which becomes the title of my album and title of kind of my sound it just makes it such a powerful… sort of tool to work with and to roll with so I think that that’s very exciting for me. Another thing is obviously the fact that I can be able to blend all of these sort of different elements of what I love about music and I will tell you one thing for sure is, I’m a child at heart and I cannot stop with the nursery rhymes so you’ll listen to a tune like ‘Gold Fish’, /one-two-three-four-five, once I caught a fish alive./ You’ll listen to a tune like Georgie Porgy (breaks into song)… That is from my ‘Puddin’ and Pie, Kissed the girls and made them cry’ … in my version its ‘got them ‘high’. But you know that’s another element of just kindergarten rhymes, and I can go on and on. Oringo Bayoyo is a song that my cousin taught me, she lived in a place called Kariobangi and when we went to visit them when we were young, we would get a chance to play games we never really played at home. There’s a game called ‘bladder’, I’m sure those who are Kenyan or for those who grew up during my time you probably know that. There was also ‘Nyabs’, they played ‘Nyabs’, again that was not a game we played with my siblings, where we were, when we went there we actually played that. And then we played Oringo, Oringo was a circle game almost like your jig-along and you’d stand in the circle and you’d sing… (breaks into song) and you’d take it round and round and then whoever is called out would come into the front and do their little thing, and so I thought that was very cool.

I thrive on my growing up because I had a very rich childhood and that is definitely a reflection in my music. I grew up on Manu Dibango, on Fela Kuti, on Franco, and you listen to my music now and you’ll actually hear elements of what is also really inspired by the Central African sounds. And then I also grew up loving music later in my life… you know a bit of Etta James, Nina Simone… I think people say they hear a bit of that, and Lauryn Hill. And then you’ve got your Erykah Badu, and your Jill Scott and your Vivian Greens who are also from a soul angle, just so heavy inspiration-wise. Then you’ve got your Bob Marley, You’ve got your Buju Banton, sounds that I just think are wicked when it comes to reggae music. Then you have Taarab elements, you know when I sing about ‘Sega kaulegeza’. You know…so there’s so much it’s so rich. Kensoul is rich if you do not know fall back-oh, if you know what’s better for you….

Afroway:  You got great feature on the album, tell us about that and how it was working with them

LIz: On this Kensoul: The Lotus Chapter, I featured one artist, who’s a brother his name is  Xander Pratt  on the joint called Exotic Love Affair and I think that he just killed it… I think he killed, I think no better way to be able have Xander on the album and on this particular joint because, when I finished the song I was like something is missing, I need something and I didn’t know what it was, and when I played it to him when I was playing him some of my songs from the new album and just kind of reviewing through before I actually released, he was like I like that one… So I said let’s get into studio, we got into studio we bang it out and there you are, there’s Exotic Love Affair. So for those reggae lovers especially Rock-Steady lovers I’m hoping that you can enjoy the groove on this. I definitely feel very honored. I’ve had really cool artists in my previous songs, I’ve have really cool colabs and I definitely will be continuing to actually plug in a couple of other really cool sounds within the continent and beyond to just come up with magical sounds. I think the power of collaboration represents the magic of difference, so hey…

Afroway: What do you want people to get, or take from the album?

Liz: From this album I would love people, the music consumer, the music fanatic, the music lover who is really enjoying this, to be able to take Kensoul back with them, so I think for me through my stories I edu-tain, and I think it’s very important as an African citizen to be able to share our stories and let them spread you know…beyond just where we are. A lot of people live in this continent they don’t even know half….they don’t know anything about this continent a lot of people, majority of Africans don’t know much about Africa. So this is an opportunity to edutain, this is an opportunity to share the highlights of what I love about my Kenyan soul, and my Kenyan culture like Chakacha which is such a big highlight. I mean, when I perform everybody is now waiting for Chakacha because I don’t care if I have a gown with a trail all the way to the end of the stage, people know that Chakacha is coming, and we gonna teach them something, and I’m gonna bring in the Lesos, we are gonna wind those up and the roll it and wind it (laughs). So I think for me, one thing for sure is I wanna swoop souls, I wanna ease your mind, I wanna bring you to a space where you can really enjoy music, think about it, listen to my stories….and find ease. It’s about feeling easy in this hectic world we live in.

Afroway: We know of how highly you speak of your father, how much support or influence has he had on this new project?

Liz: Yes I speak about my dad and music, because, I’m one of those daddy’s girls who played and danced with daddy like all my other sisters did too. He taught us music, we would sing songs… I mean… all I remember from my childhood gosh…was just, music dancing and just having so much fun, like I said I think I had a rich childhood that I would not trade for anything. I’m named after my great, great, grandmother her name is Elizabeth Lwoye, and apparently she also had similar traits, she was a star between 1840s and the 1960s and she made music, and made a living out of music, acquired wealth out of music, and I think it runs in the family. And I think that even though my dad is not a musician, I’ve learnt a lot of things about music from him but more from a cultural perspective… where I’m from, and I’m just…grateful that you know, that he plays such a big role…in just being that dad who still listens to the music when I release anything I send it to them, or I share it with them as well, and they really enjoy it so that brings joy to my soul.

Afroway: You definitely did some justice tapping into great Kenyan classics like; Msenangu, Safari and the ‘child-rhyme’ Oringo. Tell us about this?

LIz: Tapping into classics I think is important, great Kenyan classics, Msenangu…Msenangu is such a beautiful tune and even though I take it and I sort of rendition it a bit, and make it mine and share the story the way I want to share it I think is beautiful. Safari, also is because we grew up on some songs and when I listened to those songs, I would always listen to it and be like my gosh…why does this song sound so annoying. It’s nothing annoying about it, it’s just from a musical angle when you hear something that you like you probably want to take to another level, so the idea was I wanna rendition that as well. Oringo Bayoyo, I just mentioned also and talked about briefly, it was a childhood sort of rhyme where you run around the circle and play it, and I thought that that was also very cool. There’s a lot of childhood connections and a lot of me uprooting my roots and bringing the roots back to life. We have to bring this back to life a lot of this music from back in the days is not really recorded. I mean It was different in Africa then, that it is now, and I think that it’s up to us, I feel responsible as an artist in this continent to be able to carry those and bring it back to life, people don’t know this… some of the songs people don’t really know them but I’m so proud of them, I’m so proud of our culture our classics, just everything it’s such a heavy richness to it, I can’t finish…. Yeah I cannot finish explaining this really…..

Afroway: You’ve been taking the KenSoul experience around Africa to places like Dakar, Cape Town and Johannesburg and such how has the experience been so far?

Liz: The experience of taking Kensoul to different parts of the continent so far including Dakar, Cape Town Johannesburg… is beautiful because, this is how I thrive as an artist, I write the music, put it together, I compose it, I come up with it, and then, once it’s recorded and its put into a space, it now needs to be exposed, and I feel like so far, the experience has been amazing… It gives me joy and it brings joy to my soul when I’m able to bear out my soul and in return receive so much love, that’s the exchange, and that exchange only gives me a high and it gives any other artist a high I’m sure. So it’s good let’s what happens next, let’s see where we take this next, but we are sharing the Kensoul love with the world.

Afroway: You always got this great personality, the positive vibe, how do you deal with criticism? 

Liz: Positive is good, positive vibes only I tell you...OPP that’s how we roll. I’m not a person who’s worried about criticism because I’ve been doing things. I’ve been in music, I’ve been in fashion I have had to create things and share them with the world. The minute you start creating and sharing with the world you better be ready for that, you better fasten your seatbelt, get you popcorn and get moving, so I don’t focus on the criticism, I actually don’t even hear it, because maybe it’s just selective decisions I’ve made here but I thrive on positivity,….. Positive criticism is good but unfortunately, majority of the criticism that’s thrown out there is just haters who wanna choke and die, so I don’t know, I cannot, I refuse to focus on that actually, I refuse to focus on that… I’m focusing on what I’m giving, I’m focusing on the best that I do and the best that I give, and if you are a person who is able to receive that and you enjoy it then I feel like I have actually accomplished my mission, and that’s where my focus is.

Afroway: You always carry you whole-artistic being with your music; your customized Liz-branded wine and clothing from your fashion label, what informs this amazing kind of all-Liz-Ogumbo & matching creativity? 

Liz:  I normally say creativity comes from the soul, it’s like the truth from the inside out, so I have to carry everything with me. I cannot carry my music and leave my fashion behind because when you see me walk in and you see my dress, you’d be like, okay, she is probably fashion… It is my brand, it is my duty and I think what I love about my duty creatively is, it does not force me to go out of my way to force things. Nothing is forced about my creative offering. The wine is definitely a part of me, I love wine, I’m a wine enthusiast and I feel that, you know, for the amount of time I have drank wine (laughs) the amount of years… and experienced wine from a different level, I think that It was worth it coming up with a wine brand, it is been about time, it is time. So I just want to say that what I do weaves through, my wine weaves through my fashion, my fashion weaves through my music… right now, the wine, we’ve started with two varieties, we’ve got; Liz Ogumbo: Mon Homme, Mon Homme is the pinotage 2013 and I think this is the perfect time to push that out to the wine lovers and the wine enthusiasts, just the wine savvy people out there. Mon Homme is a song from my new album Kensoul: The Lotus Chapter, and the reason that this wine is named after ‘Mon Homme’ is because it is ‘Mon Homme’. The character, the personality of this wine, everything about this wine screams ‘Mon Homme’. You can visit www.lizogumbowines.africa and find out more about what we are doing about wines. You can also visit LizOgumbo.com or Kensoul.Tv but the one thing I know for sure is; if you are a red wine drinker you’ll have a good beautiful, easy on the pallet wine, this pinotage 2013 will take you places. 

The other wine we have started with is also, obviously, this kind of made sense to start with the red and white is the Chenin Blanc Chardonnay blend which is also a very rare blend, and I think that, that’s what’s really exciting. It’s a 2017 but don’t worry about that, that’s for everyday drinkers who want lightness. This wine is called “Msenangu’ because its character, its personality and everything about It, is Msenangu, so I don’t wanna kiss and tell but follow me on @LizOgumbo on all social media handles Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and also just visit the websites and see what we are doing and how we do it.

Afroway: Are you hands on in your productions or let other creatives you work with do their thing when it comes to working on a project?

Liz:   As a creative I’m a very hands on production, not just as a creative anyone who knows me personally knows I’m a hands on person I get my hands dirty, I get myself in from my head to my toes so everything that you see me do whether it’s through my music, where it’s through my fashion, whether it’s through the wine, whether it’s through fashion lab, I get involved to a point where I’m the thing, I mean like literally if I fell over the thing will be over (laughs) So I don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing I’m working on finding ways to also let others work with me. But for now, I’m still, I think fairly in the right position to get myself into my business all the way in..

Afroway:  What are your thoughts about the African music industry, we’ve seen tremendous growth all over the continent when it comes to music, in your personal opinion, do you think we are headed in the right direction? What is working and what’s not?

Liz:  I think that African music is a big deal, in not just the continent but the rest of the world, and I think that as we continue to move as we continue to evolve. The evolution in so many other aspects of our lives especially when you think about how the consumer consumes music today and the fact that, as musicians or as the creative industry through this evolution we have to be adaptive and we have to be adaptive quick, because everything is moving so quick. There’s a report that was released last year, September by the CEO of Pricewaterhouse Coopers Hein Boegman.  This report, sort of focuses on Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Tanzania, and talks about, you know… The consumer habits in the five countries and how it’ll shift because of now purchasing and owning recorded music to subscription based music rental services. You obviously see through the report, you’ve got like South Africa which emerges as the country with the highest E & M revenue which is expected to reach about 13.2B in 2021 and up from 9.8B in 2016. So this is obviously, they call it a healthy mix of local and international players who have created this services for consumers. Then you also have, you know streaming services we realize that, there’s now much more streaming than actually purchasing music online, so there’s a few changes in how things are changed. 

The audience is not only turning away from owning physical music products but are actually set to reduce their consumption of digital downloads with digital-revenue focused to decline for the first time by 7% in 2017. There’s so much change in the market, so when we think about those statistics, I think as a music person, I think for me my advice, I’m independent now, I do not have a record label, I do have a publishing label which is Sony, but I do not have a record label. But publishing to me is the most important part of a musician’s journey because if you can’t collect, how do you start playing without figuring out who is gonna collect on your backend. So I think it’s about, educating ourselves as musicians, as the creative industry to be able to figure out how to maneuver this and how to make the best of it.

And I think it’s also because of globalization, and a fact that we live in a global village, there was a time where to travel to anywhere or to try go hustle in a city and play music would be such a nightmare and now you’ve got…go get you Visa, get on the plane and go, and you know… this is an example of what I’m doing in Senegal. I’m not really here to just chill, you know, I’ve got a friend who lives here, my close really close friend she’s like my sister, but besides that, I’m able to come into the city and even as I’m sitting here I’m, able to make a call and someone says meet Liz and the person says oh is that Liz, what you wanna do? I wanna perform on this date…okay cool send me you music EPK, here you go… okay cool! Come, finished. So I think it has become easier, it’s not so easy, nothing is easy in life, so let’s take advantage of the fact that we have access to everything that we need and I wish all the African artists who are doing their thing all  the best out there! 

Afroway: Finally what kind of impact would you want your art to have on Africa and especially the future generations?

Liz: I want to live a legacy behind… I just want to make sure that when people look back and say that this person was called Liz, that they would feel I sort of played a role in elevating their minds… in helping them see or find ways to be able to expand and to grow in business, in ways to be able to be better people and cooler people, you know… we are living in such a sad world with such so much negativity. So I think for me I just wanna make sure that when I do what I do, that there’s people who are actually inspired beyond just being inspired… you know, and being able to wake up and say this is what I built because I was inspired by Liz. Or this is my new music record label, and I’ve got over 1000 artist who are the best in the continent. Or this is my fashion brand that is selling in every country in the world because Liz inspired. Or I’m also now in the wine business because I was inspired by Liz and I’m now the top wine seller, the top wine exporter in the continent. You know whatever it is. When I say inspiration you can’t say you were inspired when you sit on your backside. People who were inspired and say I was inspired to go and build a school for children in an area where there is no education, there’s nothing, everything is just still. That is inspiration that is the type of level of how I’d love to touch lives.

|Afroway

Tweet: @afrowayonline, @LizOgumbo

*This Interview first appeared on Afroway Magazine, Check out the Magazine Below

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