I’m listening to Ondiso Madete’s debut album as I write this. The album is titled “Tangawizi”, the genre is folk. (Ondiso much prefers that we call her Ondi. So let’s.) I bought mine off iTunes. It is also available on Amazon and Spotify.
Ondi describes “Tangawizi” as vulnerable, emotive and raw. And it is. The fourth track on the album — “Kazi” — is speaking to me. It unfolds itself, saying that loving yourself takes work.
The lyrics are spare, the ukulele is ethereal. Typical folk indie music. Couple these with Ondi’s layered voice and the six tracks on the album are like a needle injecting more soul into your soul.
This is Ondi’s journey to her first creative pit stop of “Tangawizi”.
Everything that sustains me as a person right now is from my father — my love for music, literature and painting, his perspectives, reflective thinking and holding opinions. Mum died in a car crash on the Salgaa highway when I was five. Dad surrounded our lives with music. I remember him playing artists like Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald, Hugh Masekela and Simaro Massiya at home and while driving us in his car.
I’m not a classically trained instrumentalist. What I do instead is listen to a song I like then pick up the chords. I use those chords to create my own music. I write my own lyrics from a point of raw vulnerability. My music grows more from a feeling than from the method of how music is created. It’s also driven by the emotions of how the song makes me feel in that moment.
I didn’t have the money to record ‘Tangawizi’. I happened to listen to a TED talk by Amanda Palmer, ‘The Art of Asking’. After listening, I went to social media to crowdfund and ask for help. A Ugandan recording company reached out. We got into a contract that said they’d record the album at no charge and have the distribution rights for the next five years. We would split the revenue and I would have the copyrights to my songs.
We had lengthy sessions of jamming with my bandmates while I was at Catholic University for my law degree. Jamming happens when you are a group of five, maybe six guitarists and you’re imbibing while playing your guitars. Jamming is an endless flow of random spontaneous creation.
Imbibing lowers your inhibitions so you are not afraid to let the vibe take you wherever it will go. You can move from reggae to jazz to … whatever. We jammed for about six months before we named our band and played together in a gig. I named the band Yellow Light Machine.
My guitar teacher in high school was from the DRC, his name was Etienne. I remember he gave me a guitar and I played the chords from Bob Marley’s ‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’. It wasn’t until he told me to sing that I realised I could sing. That came as a surprise to me.
I chose a degree in law because I’m talkative, argumentative and opinionated. Plus, I can speak from my backside, ha-ha. I didn’t want a degree in music — I felt that it would kill the natural enjoyment I had for music. I appreciate my law degree for showing me how the cogs behind the world work.
My son is three now, his name is Kaya. He plays around with the drums and recorder. We don’t have a TV at home, so he has learnt how to entertain himself with his books and painting. We take plenty of walks with him, around the tea farms in Limuru where we live. I practice the ukulele while we walk. The ukulele is small and easy to carry around, unlike the guitar.
I have a twin sister, she is a few minutes older than I am. She is a professional architect and is a classically trained instrumentalist. When she was 16, my father bought her an acoustic guitar and I would take it from her. She played the violin alongside other band members when we launched my album in May.
I didn’t think to practise law after graduating in 2013 — I didn’t feel that I was tidy enough for the profession. You had to dress a certain way and look a certain way. You had to wear suits to court and read the newspaper — I don’t read newspapers, ha-ha, I read books.
People don’t take me seriously the way I am. Then I open my mouth to speak and they have to change everything they initially thought about me. I didn’t feel the need to invest in how I look so I could pander to their perceptions.
I released ‘Tangawizi’ because I wanted to get it out of the way. I’d had it in me for so long and I just needed to get it out, to give my mind space to create more music. I lived in Italy with my ex-husband after having Kaya. We lived in a small town called Spoleto. I would write songs and jam on the streets for about six hours a day. Most of these songs ended up on the album.