Muthoni Ndonga Drumming up a new sound

Saturday July 30 2011


Are you a drama queen?

Let’s set the record straight, the name is ‘drummer queen’, which I believe is self-explanatory. As for drama, I don’t believe I have ever been known to be one, but it’s safe to say I’m a no nonsense type of person.

How did you get into music?

I have always had a passion for singing and music ever since I was a little girl. To me, making music is fun and fulfilling, plus sharing it gives me such a high. The best part is that I am able to make a living while doing what I love with complete integrity. Not many people have that.

You have been labelled as crazy, weird, wacky and unusual among many other related adjectives, what’s your take?

I actually consider that as one of my fortes. I believe we are all unique in our own ways, and that’s what really distinguishes us as individuals. Personally I’m not a conformist. I prefer to do things my way and I would say it has worked out pretty well this far.

You should try it too.

So are you saying you are crazy by choice?

Haha! I’m saying there’s a little crazy in all of us. I just found a way to co-exist with mine.

How would you define your style of music?

My music is Afro-Pop+Edge. The edge part is the experimental.

When you mix hip-hop, afro-rock, hardcore drums, electric music, Taarab, RnB with a touch of poetry, what you make is, simply put, awesome. I believe African music is very diverse and in order to appreciate it fully you need to embrace all its aspects and varieties and that is why each of my songs is distinctly unique.

How have your songs been received?

I’d say the response has been quite good. I’ve been on a few tours across Africa and in Europe and even done some amazing projects with various international artistes.

Currently I’m on a project called ‘Africa Unsigned’, which brings together music practitioners from Africa and Europe. Generally I would say it’s been a learning and growing experience.

How about in the local scene?
When I first started, it was a bit wobbly because a lot of people were not familiar with the kind of music I was doing. It was really difficult getting gigs and air play because most of the guys who were running the industry were not open minded enough to accommodate change.

But I came to appreciate the experience because it was out of it that the idea for Blankets and Wine was born and it has enabled me to grow as an artist and create opportunities for other emerging acts.

Tell us more about Blankets and Wine.

When I was struggling to make a name for myself as an artiste, I had a lot of difficulty penetrating into the mainstream market so I came up with Blankets and Wine as a way of circumventing all the nonsense I had to deal with.

It started off as a platform where other ‘unusual’ acts and myself could showcase our talents to a wider audience and it has grown to become East Africa’s premier music event. I started Blankets and Wine from scratch and we had our fair share of teething problems. I thank God for the far we have come.

Do you think the local entertainment industry has come of age?
A lot has changed over the years and while there are still hurdles we still have to cross, I would say we are on the right path. The fact that there are many more styles of music and artistes coming up is proof of this. I just hope we can do away with the narrow minded elements that hinder our progress.

You have a new song...

Yes. And I’m totally drowning in excitement about it. We have just released it and the response so far has been mind blowing to say the least. Like my other song “Mikono kwenye hewa”, it’s a social commentary, and it is really playful and fun. I love it! It’s just massively awesome.

What exactly is it about?

It’s called “Welcome To The Disco” and it’s the first track off my new album, which we have just released in partnership with Africa Unsigned. It is a song for and about women.

Women and their lists, the details of things we adhere to and look for, the list of denial we go through before accepting that a situation is lost. All my ladies all over will relate with this one.

On a wider context, the disco would of course represent the social scene. If you’ve heard the song you’ll understand what I mean.

How did you come up with the promo video that is currently doing rounds on the Internet?
I’m super grateful to Bryan Smallz of Blackstar who sparked off the idea. We were talking about a cool way to promote the song first before its released and that of the official video, which happened simultaneously in the Netherlands, London and Nairobi.

He suggested I get a cross section of our friends in the industry to do some cameos for the promo. When we discussed it with my team at ‘Muthoni Music’, we got carried away and decided to have them sing phrases of the song so everyone could learn the words since in ‘Drummer Queen’ style, the song is super high tempo.

We called our friends and the end result was absolutely incredible. The whole process was a mega fun experience.

Speaking of tempo, do you ever slow down?
Sometimes. In between being unimaginably awesome by day and a super hero by night.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by a lot of things. I’m deeply spiritual and I love to love. I believe in dreams and hope; and my curiosity is the source of my courage and strength. Above all, I don’t believe in giving up.

So is there a special someone in your life?

I’m super single and super loving it! Ah, the late twenties!