Seattle-based Kenyan Afro-folk vocalist and songwriter Naomi Wachira has a new album titled Song of Lament. We talked to her about her songs and the new recording.
Your new album is titled Song of Lament. What’s the meaning behind the title?
“Song of Lament” was written at a time when I was sensing so much fear around me, especially because terrorism has been on the rise and also because of the refugee crisis. I was also in a hopeless place personally, so I was lamenting a lot. The album is compilation of songs that mourn some of the harsher realities of life, but also looks forward to what can bring a difference, which I believe to be empathy, kindness and living from a place of recognizing our shared humanity.
As an Afro-Folk songwriter, what topics are you more interested in or concerned about? I’m mostly interested in writing music that empowers and inspires all of us. As an artist, I get to write words that will influence other people, and that is something I take seriously because I desire that what I write has a positive impact on the listeners. Whether writing about romantic love, or lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes, or what I hope for the human race, the overarching theme will always be love and hope.
Tell us about the musicians who participated in Song of Lament.
What I love about Seattle is that the music community is very close knit and I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best. Teo Shantz (drums) is a good friend of mine and has been playing with me since 2014. Masa Kobayashi (bass) started playing with me in 2015 and plays for quite a few other bands, one of them being Clinton Fearon. Andrew Joslyn on strings and Owour Arunga on trumpet are friends I’ve known for the last 5 years and both play for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis among a long list of other bands they contribute their talents to. The only two I didn’t know prior to the record are Dave West (Organ) and Tommy Sandovallegos (percussion) who were brought on by my producer.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
I’ve always looked up to Tracy Chapman and Miriam Makeba both from the longevity of their careers, but also the content of their work and the fact that they wrote about issues affecting society.
Does the traditional Kenyan music have any influence in your music?
I don’t think that traditional music per se has had a lot of influence in my style, because I grew up listen to all genres of music, which I think comes through in how I write.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
My first record was an EP “African Girl” which I released in 2012. I worked with a friend of mine and we recorded in a tiny bedroom and a warehouse. I feel like from the beginning of my career I’ve always known that I wanted my music to be simple, with an emphasis on the lyrics being more prominent than instruments. I’ve always favored sparse production on songs, because again, I want people to hear the words.
The greatest evolution has been to trust my own vision of what my album should sound like. It has been about believing that what I hear is valid and I don’t need to seek approval from someone on how the album should sound. Song of Lament is an album I’m so incredibly proud of not only because of the content, but because I got to have every song exactly as I wanted it to be and I’m grateful to have worked with a producer who trusted that vision.
What musical instruments do you use in your arrangements?
I’m very simple and often play solo with an acoustic guitar. On the record, for the pretty basic songs, I had a drummer and bass player accompany me with some additional percussion. But I also tried different things, such as strings and horns, which I hadn’t done before.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with who would that be?
I recently got to see Mokoomba from Zimbabwe and loved them so much that I hope to someday collaborate with them.
What music are you currently listening to?
With my daughter around, all she wants to hear is pop music, so currently we’re listening to Top 40 – especially because we’re on the road a lot.
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with our readers?
Because Song of Lament just came out, that will be my focus for now.
More information at www.naomiwachira.com