Singer Maia Von Lekow has performed on stages all over the world with artistes like Englishman James Blunt, South Africa’s Mafikizolo, and local stars like Kidum, and Eric Wainaina.
She spoke to James Murua about her second album
Who are your musical influences?
My musical influences growing up were Nina Simone, Natalia Cole, Khadija Nin, Mile Davis, Buena Vista Social Club, James Brown, Angelique Kidjo, Papa Wemba and Sade.
This was the music that I was exposed to at a young age and I would spend hours listening to songs on repeat in front of the stereo.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
They are a few and include finishing my second album Maia & The Big Sky and performing at Kigali UP in 2013 just before Habib Koite.
The crowd was on fire, and it was a moment that I will never forget. Organising and performing at a show for the first time ever alongside my father, Sal Davis was also memorable.
Your first album, Drift, was launched in 2013. Tell us about it. How was it received locally and internationally?
Drift is my debut album and it is a sketch of experiences and my interactions with people and things; a global cross pollinated vibe. There are 12 tracks on the album and its sounds play with jazz melodies, bossa and afro folk. It is very laid back and washes over you.
Some of Kenya’s finest musicians who feature on my new album, ‘Maia & The Big Sky’ also featured on Drift. Bass maestro from Madagascar, Radanz Nirina, Benga/Jazz fusion guitarist Nathan Okite, the wonderful Kato Change on guitar, Amani Baya on drums, Wakake Otieno and Obuya Owino on percussion.
In terms of how Drift was received, the album launch in 2013 was a huge success and many people came out and purchased the album.
There was a lot of interest from the local media and we had successful album reviews, and interviews both for television and radio.
Due to my music not being mainstream it did not receive as much radio rotation as we would have liked, but hopefully with the new album this may change as it is more dramatic, it explores coastal polyrhythms, different sounds and genres.
That album had a very acoustic feel, which makes sense as you have made a name for your live performances.
How has live performance affected your craft? How important is it to your process?
Live performance is where the magic happens both for the song writing process – as this is where the song can breathe, and grow allowing for the musicians to really feel comfortable with it – and the magic of performance, pushing boundaries, letting loose, ultimately capturing my audiences and creating a unique experience.
Some people tell me that I am two different people when I am on stage and off. Being on stage, I’m in my element, I can close my eyes and release my inner most feelings and movements.
On stage I’m free, I’m in charge and I can improvise depending on the circumstances at that moment.
For example, if the electricity goes out, I continue to sing and create a call and response with the audience. If it’s raining, I go into the rain and dance and people will come and join me.
If I feel like the big stage is isolating me from my fans, I will go to them.
In the age of social media, the entertainment industry has been flooded by DJ sets and electronic music.
How have you been able to navigate this space with your ‘more sophisticated’ offering?
My music is not more sophisticated than DJ electro music; it is just different and the performance is different.
I love being able to collaborate with electronic producers because it is something different and it pushes me to explore new sounds and ideas that I would not necessarily do in my own music.
I have collaborated with several electronic producers such as Blinky Bill, Afriquoi from the UK, Afrilogic from Nigeria and Lister Rossel from Chile. There are a few more in the pipeline that will be released in 2018.
Your music is characterised by strong writing. Jellyfish tugs at the heart as the listener goes on waves of your vocals. Uko Wapi which shows a young woman looking for her mother during the US embassy bombing in Kenya in 1998 evokes the pain of the attacks on our soil.
How important is song writing to your music?
Song writing is very important. I try to listen to other music, read books and really be aware of people’s reactions, emotions, sounds and things around me at all times. This keeps me hyper sensitive and alert, a sponge that absorbs information to enhance my writing process.
For those who haven’t heard this new album; what can they expect?
Maia & The Big Sky is an 11 track album that experiments with coastal polyrhythms, mixing it with funk, reggae, jazz and folk, creating a familiarity and warmth that transcends continents.
The lyrics in both English and Kiswahili touch on power, love, politics and the strength of women. A lot of the songs were co-written with my husband and co-collaborator Chris King.
Blinky Bill also features on the second single, "Pawa" with a killer verse and poet Neno Kali features in Roho Safi.