\\Interview with Kenyan singer Maia Von Lekow

While retracing her roots, Maia Von Lekow got herself exploring much of the coastal Kenyan music history, rhythms and sounds. This journey led to experimentation artistically trudging to unexploited territory with her music. Her boundary-pushing journey is aptly presented in her new album ‘Maia & The Big Sky’.

The album is a tranquil listening project capped with provoking lyrics and vibrant sounds that fuse elements of contemporary urban music and the rich Chakacha tunes from the Mijikenda people from the Kenyan coast region.

​‘I​ ​am​ ​much​ ​more​ ​open​ ​to​ ​exploring different​ ​influences​ ​in​ ​my​ ​music,​ ​and​ ​really​ ​pushing​ ​my​ ​voice​ ​to​ ​create​ ​emotion and dynamics’ She says.

We sought an interview with Maia Von Lekow, on her new album, music exploits and future plans plus the abundance that she embodies. 

Maia Von Lekow, Photo Courtesy

Afroway: What​ ​have​ ​you​ ​been​ ​up​ ​to?

Maia: This​ ​is​ ​my​ ​second​ ​studio​ ​album,​ ​​Maia & The Big Sky,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​the​ ​culmination​ ​of​ ​a​ ​three-year​ ​journey​ ​exploring​ ​my Mijikenda​ ​ heritage.​ ​​​I​ ​am​ ​also​ ​a​ ​filmmaker​ ​and​ ​together​ ​with​ ​my​ ​husband​ ​Chris,​ ​we​ ​make​ ​music​ ​videos, documentaries,​ ​experimental​ ​ film​ ​and​ ​dabble​ ​in​ ​corporate​ ​work.  Currently​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​editing​ ​my​ ​latest​ ​ music​ ​video​ ​for​ ​the​ ​song​ ​PAWA ​(featuring​ ​Blinky​ ​Bill).​ ​It​ ​will be​ ​released​ ​by​ ​mid​ ​November. 

​Chris​ ​ and​ ​I​ ​​ ​have​ ​also​ ​been​ ​making​ ​a​ ​documentary​ ​called​ ​​The ​ Letter ​based​ ​in​ ​Kilifi​ ​County​ ​about​ the​ story​ ​of a​ ​young ​man​ ​and ​his​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​his​ ​grandmother.​ ​Through​ ​them​ ​we​ ​explore​ ​the​ ​challenges​ ​faced between​ ​elders​ ​ and​ ​youth,​ ​and​ ​traditional​ ​vs.​ ​modern​ ​ways​ ​as​ ​consumerism ​ ​and​ ​globalization​ ​increase. 

Afroway: Maia​ ​&​ ​The​ ​Big​ ​Sky​ ​album,​ ​this​ ​must​ ​be​ ​exciting!​ ​What’s​ ​in​ ​the​ ​package?

Maia: This​ ​is​ ​so​ ​exciting!​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​believe​ ​it​ ​is​ ​done!​ ​All​ ​ songs​ ​are​ ​composed​ ​and​ ​arranged​ ​by​ ​myself,​ ​Maia​ ​von​ ​Lekow and​ ​ all​ ​songs​ ​are​ ​produced​ ​by​ ​myself​ ​Maia​ ​von​ ​Lekow​ ​& ​ ​Chris​ ​King​ ​(my​ ​husband​ ​and​ ​partner​ ​in​ ​all​ ​things beautiful) this​ ​ album​ ​is​ ​fresh,​ ​different​ ​and​ ​it​ ​encompasses​ ​both​ ​sides​ ​of​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​sing​ ​mainly​ ​in​ ​English​ ​but​ ​Kiswahili​ ​lines pop​ ​up​ ​ regularly​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​album.​ ​The​ ​sounds​ ​weave​ ​coastal​ ​ polyrhythms​ ​with​ ​soul​ ​and​ ​folk,​ ​creating​ ​a big​ ​live​ ​sound​ ​with​ ​a​ ​familiarity​ ​and​ ​warmth​ ​that​ ​transcends​ ​continents.  

Pawa​ ​​-​ ​(featuring​ ​Blinky​ ​ Bill)​ ​is​ ​a​ ​song​ ​about​ ​power​ ​and​ ​who​ ​controls​ ​our​ ​ imagination. 

Seeing​ ​Blue​ ​​-​ ​Is​ ​about​ ​the​ ​ loneliness​ ​you​ ​sometimes​ ​feel​ ​in​ ​big​ ​cities.​ ​You​ ​have​ ​so​ ​ much​ ​love​ ​for​ ​a city/place​ ​but​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time,​ ​it​ ​ engulfs​ ​you​ ​and​ ​sometimes​ ​sucks​ ​you​ ​of​ ​all​ ​your​ ​energy.​ ​When​ ​you are​ ​away​ ​from​ ​it​ ​you​ ​miss​ ​it​ ​so,​ ​and​ ​when​ ​you ​ ​are​ ​back​ ​in​ ​the​ ​chaos,​ ​you​ ​love​ ​it​ ​but​ ​despise​ ​its​ ​ workings too. 

Lola​ ​-​ ​​Love​ ​love​ ​love.​ ​​ ‘Red ​ light to​ green​ in another unfamiliar scene’

Maji​ ​-​ ​​Meaning​ ​‘water’​ ​in​ ​ Kiswahili​ ​is​ ​about​ ​the​ ​symbolism​ ​that​ ​water​ ​plays​ ​in​ ​freedom movements/rebellions.  

TAP​​ ​-​ ​Has​ ​a​ ​coastal,​ ​‘Chakacha​ ​rhythm’​ ​and​ ​is​ ​about​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​of​ ​women​ ​and​ ​how​ ​insecurities sometimes​ ​cloud​ ​our​ ​judgments.

Roho​ ​Safi​​ ​(featuring​ ​Neno ​ ​Kali)​ ​meaning​ ​‘Clean​ ​heart’​ ​is​ ​about​ ​our​ ​political​ ​system.​ ​ We​ ​get​ ​pushed down,​ ​taken​ ​for​ ​a​ ​joke​ ​as​ ​they​ ​fill​ ​their ​ ​pockets​ ​with​ ​money​ ​that​ ​is​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​contribute​ ​towards​ ​a​ ​better system.​ ​​ ​We​ ​continue​ ​on​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​do​ ​things​ ​with​ ​a ​ ​clean​ ​heart….. 

Shatembea​​ ​​​‘I​ ​have​ ​walked​ ​ in​ ​Kiswahili’​ ​is​ ​about​ ​​ ​displaced​ ​people​ ​worldwide.​ ​After ​ ​many​ ​days​ ​of​ ​travel, fear,​ ​and​ ​starvation​ ​she​ ​reaches​ ​the ​ ​place​ ​she​ ​has​ ​always​ ​dreamt​ ​of.​ ​​ ​But​ ​what​ ​is​ ​her​ ​ reality​ ​when​ ​she gets​ ​there?

Zone​ ​Unknown​ ​​starts​ ​quite​ ​ experimental​ ​but​ ​by​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​the​ ​song​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​a​ ​ full​ ​reggae​ ​groove.​ ​This song​ ​has​ ​been​ ​composed​ ​like​ ​this​ ​ for​ ​a​ ​reason.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​how​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​world​ ​is​ ​moving ​ ​into​ ​an​ ​unknown zone.​ ​​‘Dunia​ inasonga into a​ zone​ unknown ’ 

Love​ ​Is​​ ​-​ ​squares​ ​on​ ​a​ ​ wall,​ ​love​ ​is​ ​in​ ​us​ ​and​ ​everything​ ​around​ ​us.​ ​We​ ​just​ ​ may​ ​have​ ​to​ ​look​ ​for​ ​it​ ​a​ ​little harder​ ​sometimes.  

Another​ ​Night -​ ​​experiments ​ ​with​ ​Chakacha​ ​coastal​ ​rhythms​ ​once​ ​again​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is​ ​about​ ​ waiting​ ​to​ ​be​ ​told how​ ​to​ ​be​ ​and​ ​what​ ​to​ ​say.​ ​Time​ ​is​ ​ moving​ ​on​ ​and​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​getting​ ​any​ ​younger,​ ​just​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​up with​ ​the​ ​rat​ ​race. 

Bring​ ​Back​ ​Time -​​ ​is​ ​a​ ​laid​ ​back​ ​track​ ​featuring​ ​a​ ​flute​ ​player​ ​from​ ​the​ ​coast​ ​of​ ​ Kenya.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​about​ ​love,​ ​loss and​ ​memories​ ​of​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​ has​ ​passed​ ​away.​ ​The​ ​chorus​ ​is​ ​in​ ​Kiswahili​ ​​ ‘urudishe​ ​ wakati’ ​ .​ ​Bring​ ​back time.  

Afroway: Tell​ ​us​ ​about​ ​the​ ​ making​ ​of​ ​your​ ​latest​ ​album,​ ​any​ ​artists​ ​you​ ​have​ ​worked​ ​ with?

Maia: This​ ​album​ ​has​ ​been​ ​an​ ​organic​ ​process​ ​and​ ​together​ ​with ​ ​the​ ​family​ ​of​ ​musicians​ ​I​ ​work​ ​with,​ ​we​ ​have created​ ​an ​ ​album​ ​with​ ​a​ ​unique​ ​sound​ ​and​ ​something​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​very​ ​ proud​ ​of.  The​ ​two​ ​featured ​ ​artists​ ​who​ ​bring​ ​their​ ​songwriting​ ​and​ ​lyrics​ ​to​ ​the​ ​album ​ ​are:​ ​Blinky​ ​Bill​ ​from​ ​Just​ ​and Band​ ​and​ ​poet​ ​Neno​ ​Kali. The​ ​instrumentalists​ ​that​ ​feature​ ​ on​ ​the​ ​album​ ​are: Drums:​ ​Amani​ ​Baya​ ​Emmanuel​ ​Obedi, Guitar:​ ​Tugi​ ​Mlamba,​ ​Thibault​ ​Remy,​ ​Troy​ ​Downward,​ ​Kato​ ​Change,​ ​ Nathan​ ​Okite, Percussion:​ ​Debe​ ​Debe,​ ​Peter​ ​Corcran​ ​and​ ​Wakake​ ​ Otieno, Horns:​ ​Jason​ ​Rae,​ ​Owuor​ ​Arunga​ ​Chris​ ​Washburne, Bass:​ ​Radanz​ ​and​ ​Sucre Rhodes:​ ​Daniel​ ​Hoffknecht Flute:​ ​Mbarak​ ​Mohamed, Sound​ ​Design:​ ​Lister​ ​Rossel

Afroway: Why​ ​did​ ​you​ ​decide​ ​on​ ​the​ ​album​ ​title?

Maia: The​ ​bassist​ ​that​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been​ ​playing​ ​with​ ​for​ ​the​ ​past ​ ​7 years​ ​is​ ​from​ ​Madagascar​ ​and​ ​when​ ​he​ ​first​ ​came to​ ​Nairobi​ ​ he​ ​could​ ​not​ ​speak​ ​much​ ​English.​ ​The​ ​first​ ​words​ ​that​ ​he​ ​ learnt​ ​when​ ​in​ ​Nairobi​ ​were​ ​‘Big​ ​Sky’ and​ ​he​ ​would​ ​use ​ ​this​ ​description​ ​for​ ​everything.​ ​Inspired​ ​by​ ​his​ ​words,​ ​​ ​I ​ ​felt​ ​that​ ​Big​ ​Sky​ ​was​ ​really fitting​ ​for​ ​the​ ​name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​ band​ ​and​ ​the​ ​name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​new​ ​album.​ ​Nothing​ ​more​ ​needs​ ​ to​ ​be​ ​said,​ ​people can​ ​interpret​ ​it​ ​in​ ​any​ ​way​ ​they​ ​ wish.  

Afroway: What​ ​inspired​ ​the​ ​Swahili,​ ​coastal​ ​Kenya​ ​music​ ​influences​ ​on​ ​this​ ​ project?

Maia: I​ grew​ ​up​ ​listening​ ​to​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​Jazz​ ​music​ ​as​ ​my​ ​mum​ ​was​ ​a​ ​big​ ​jazz​ ​listener.​ ​ My​ ​father,​ ​Sal​ ​Davis,​ ​a famous​ ​Kenyan​ ​musician​ ​from​ ​Mombasa ​ ​in​ ​the​ ​60’s/70’s​ ​​ ​sang​ ​mainly​ ​in​ ​English​ ​but​ ​some​ ​songs​ ​ he​ ​drew from​ ​his​ ​coastal​ ​roots.​ ​For​ ​me,​ ​having​ ​been​ ​very ​ ​influenced​ ​by​ ​Western​ ​music​ ​growing​ ​up,​ ​it​ ​was important​ ​for ​ ​me​ ​to​ ​know​ ​more​ ​about​ ​where​ ​my​ ​father’s​ ​family​ ​came​ ​from​ ​ along​ ​the​ ​coast​ ​and​ ​this​ ​has inspired​ ​the​ ​hints​ ​of​ ​ Mijikenda​ ​rhythms​ ​you​ ​will​ ​find​ ​sprinkled​ ​across​ ​this​ ​new ​ ​album.  

Afroway: How​ ​different​ ​is​ ​your​ ​latest​ ​album​ ​from​ ​previous​ ​works?

Maia: They​ ​are​ ​different.​ ​The​ ​first​ ​album​ ​was​ ​very​ ​tame,​ ​loungey,​ ​ low​ ​key.​ ​​ ​Time​ ​signatures​ ​were​ ​similar (mainly​ ​4/4)​ ​and, ​ ​the​ ​key​ ​I​ ​was​ ​comfortable​ ​singing​ ​in​ ​featured​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​more. ​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​take​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​risks.  I​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​due​ ​to​ ​time,​ ​maturity,​ ​experience​ ​and​ ​ continuous​ ​progress,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​much​ ​more​ ​open​ ​to​ ​exploring different​ ​influences​ ​in​ ​my​ ​music,​ ​and​ ​really​ ​pushing​ ​my​ ​ voice​ ​to​ ​create​ ​emotion​ ​and​ ​dynamics. 

Afroway: Your​ ​music​ ​is​ ​always​ ​folky,​ ​soulful,​ ​introspective​ ​and​ ​ powerful.​ ​​ ​What​ ​inspires​ ​your​ ​writing?

Maia: So​ ​many​ ​things…..Power,​ ​love ​ ​&​ ​relationships,​ ​politics,​ ​challenges​ ​and​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​of​ ​women.​ ​As mentioned​ ​above,​ ​I​ ​may​ ​head​ ​a​ ​rhythms​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​radio,​ ​or​ ​when​ ​listening​ ​to​ ​a​ ​tune​ ​and​ ​I​ ​then​ ​recreate ​ ​it with​ ​my​ ​twist​ ​and​ ​see​ ​how​ ​far​ ​I​ ​can​ ​push​ ​it. 

Afroway: How​ ​important​ ​is​ ​narrative​ ​in​ ​your​ ​work​ ​considering​ ​that​ ​ your​ ​music​ ​bears​ ​enchanting story-lines?

Maia: The​ ​narrative​ ​is​ ​important.​ ​Sometimes​ ​I​ ​wish​ ​I​ ​could​ ​be ​ ​more​ ​casual,​ ​keep​ ​it​ ​simple​ ​and​ ​just​ ​repeat​ ​one line,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​always​ ​want​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​it,​ ​be​ ​more​ ​poetic​ ​and​ ​let​ ​the​ ​ audience​ ​piece​ ​the​ ​lyrics​ ​together​ ​and relate​ ​to​ ​the​ ​music ​ ​in​ ​their​ ​own​ ​individual​ ​ways. 

Afroway: Do​ ​you​ ​ever​ ​surprise​ ​yourself​ ​with​ ​what​ ​you​ ​can​ ​do​ ​as​ ​a​ ​ creative?

Maia: Working​ ​for​ ​yourself​ ​is​ ​not​ ​easy,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​find​ ​that​ ​I​ ​ surprise​ ​myself​ ​on​ ​how​ ​much​ ​I​ ​can​ ​get​ ​done,​ ​how​ ​hard​ ​I work​ ​and​ ​still​ ​somehow​ ​be​ ​chasing​ ​the​ ​rat!​ ​I​ ​surprise​ ​ myself​ ​by​ ​the​ ​sheer​ ​beauty​ ​of​ ​working​ ​from oneself​ ​and​ ​how​ ​ being​ ​your​ ​own​ ​creator​ ​can​ ​be​ ​so​ ​liberating.​ ​​ ​I​ ​surprise​ myself ​by​ ​keeping​ ​my​ ​mind open​ ​and​ ​recording​ ​with​ ​DJs​ ​and ​ ​Producers​ ​outside​ ​of​ ​a​ ​genre​ ​that​ ​I​ ​know​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​things​ ​ alive​ ​and challenging.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​surprised​ ​that​ ​we​ ​always​ ​under​ ​value​ ​ourselves.  

Afroway: If​ ​you​ ​were​ ​an​ ​instrument,​ ​which​ ​would​ ​you​ ​be?

Maia: Uteo.​ ​A​ ​Mijikenda​ ​Percussion​ ​instrument​, where​ ​the​ ​basket​ ​ (Uteo)​ ​is​ ​filled​ ​with​ ​glass.​ ​Why​ ​Uteo? Because​ ​you​ ​never​ ​sleep​ ​as​ ​the​ ​glass​ ​shards​ ​keep​ ​you​ ​awake,​ ​their​ ​spikes​ ​keep​ ​you​ ​in​ ​check​ ​and​ ​you have​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​awake​ ​so​ ​you​ ​ don’t​ ​get​ ​kicked​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​basket​ ​by​ ​your​ ​glass​ ​sibling​ ​ who​ ​is​ ​fighting​ ​for space​ ​and​ ​attention…..hmmmnn..​ ​This​ ​is​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​of​ ​a​ ​song​ ​here 🙂

Afroway: When​ ​not​ ​making​ ​music​ ​what’s​ ​your​ ​typical​ ​day​ ​like?

Maia: When​ ​not​ ​making​ ​music​ ​I​ ​am​ ​doing​ ​all​ ​the​ ​behind​ ​the​ ​ scenes​ ​stuff​ ​around​ ​the​ ​music,​ ​album,​ ​finding​ ​gigs and ​ ​festivals​ ​in​ ​East​ ​Africa​ ​to​ ​perform​ ​at,​ ​strategizing​ ​around ​ ​the​ ​album​ ​and​ ​its​ ​reach,​ ​directing​ ​and producing​ ​my​ ​music​ ​ videos​ ​and​ ​directing​ ​and​ producing​ ​the​ ​documentary​ ​I​ ​ mentioned​ ​above.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​a small​ ​team​ ​so​ ​everything​ ​in​ ​music​ ​ and​ ​film​ ​is​ ​very​ ​hands​ ​on.  

Afroway: You​ ​are​ ​a​ ​daughter​ ​of​ ​a​ ​Kenyan​ ​music​ ​legend,​ ​Sal​ ​Davis,​ ​ he​ ​had​ ​his​ ​time​ ​but​ ​now​ ​this​ ​is​ ​your time.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​think ​ ​you​ ​are​ ​a​ ​better​ ​musician​ ​than​ ​he​ ​was?​ ​Why?

Maia: I​ ​don’t​ ​think​ ​I​ ​can​ ​say​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​better​ ​or​ ​worse.​ ​​ ​What​ ​I​ ​can​ ​say​ ​is​ ​that​ ​we​ ​have​ ​had​ ​different​ ​musical journeys.​ ​The​ ​values​ ​around​ ​listening​ ​to​ ​music,​ ​artists,​ ​labels​ ​etc​ ​were​ ​very​ ​different​ ​then​ ​to​ ​today.

Afroway: Hey…between​ ​you​ ​and​ ​us​ ​does​ ​Sal​ ​Davis​ ​still​ ​play,​ ​probably ​ ​somewhere​ ​in​ ​his​ ​house?

Maia: Sal​ ​Davis​ ​sings​ ​all​ ​the​ ​time,​ ​whether​ ​in​ ​his​ ​house,​ ​car​ ​or​ ​elevator​ ​you​ ​can​ ​always​ ​find​ ​him​ ​because​ ​he​ ​is always ​ ​singing.​ ​He​ ​has​ ​not​ ​played​ ​live​ ​for​ ​a​ ​while​ ​(but​ ​between ​ ​me​ ​and​ ​you)​ ​I​ ​know​ ​he​ ​is​ ​keen​ ​to​ ​do some​ ​recording​ ​of ​ ​some​ ​new​ ​material​ ​in​ ​the​ ​very​ ​near​ ​future.  

Afroway: Finally,​ ​what​ ​next​ ​after​ ​the​ ​album​ ​release,​ ​any​ ​performances​ ​lined​ ​up?

Maia: We​ ​released​ ​the​ ​album​ ​a​ ​month​ ​ago​ ​but​ ​I​ ​think​ ​the​ ​ hardest​ ​part​ ​is​ ​now​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​get​ ​as​ ​many​ ​people​ ​as possible​ ​to​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​it​ ​in​ ​Kenya,​ ​wider​ ​East​ ​Africa​ ​and​ ​ across​ ​the​ ​world!​ ​I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​performing​ ​at​ ​Blankets and​ ​Wine ​ ​in​ ​Nairobi​ ​on​ ​10th​ ​December,​ ​I​ ​then​ ​travel​ ​to​ ​Australia ​ ​to​ ​perform​ ​at​ ​Woodford​ ​Folk​ ​Festival​ ​in Brisbane,​ ​Sauti​ ​Za​ ​Busara​ ​in​ ​Zanzibar​ ​early​ ​February​ ​2018​ ​and​ ​Perth​ ​ International​ ​Arts​ ​Festival​ ​end​ ​of February.  We​ ​are​ ​also​ ​currently​ ​speaking​ ​to​ ​ some​ ​South​ ​African​ ​venues​ ​and​ ​festivals​ ​for​ ​2018.


 You can purchase her new album “Maia & The Big Sky’ on iTunes


Tweet: @maiavonlekow@afrowayonline

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