Singer-Songwriter Kenya has been immersed in music for as long as she can remember. The Denver, Colorado native grew up with music all around the house thanks to her father who was a drummer. She began singing and playing flute in third grade. By middle school, she was fully active in the arts as a member of advanced and exclusive citywide choirs, jazz ensembles and theater troupes. She went on to study voice with esteemed coach Ms. Bennie Williams, who also served as teacher to the legendary Dianne Reeves.
Upon graduating from Howard University with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy, she later earned a Master of Arts degree in counseling and student development. Life began to move fast and before she knew it, Kenya’s roles as wife and mother of two sons plus working for over a decade as a clinician and educator nearly eclipsed her vision of herself as a viable artist bearing valuable musical gifts.
After a life-changing spiritual retreat in Sedona, Arizona ,Kenya figured out it was music she was supposed to use as a voice for the world and set out to make it a reality. She’s since opened shows for Lalah Hathaway, Rachelle Ferrell and Raul Midon amongst others and released two EPs in addition to her 2015 full lengh debut, My Own Skin.
N’Digo recently sat down with Kenya to learn more about her career and her innovative company, Creating Crimson.
How did you get started in music and who were your influences?
My father is who introduced me to music along with my older sister. As a drummer, my father had music ALL over our house in the form of albums, instruments, videos, etc. I did my first solo in 3rd grade and began playing flute that same year- my parents encouraged me very early to play instruments and sing. As far as influences, I grew up not only listening to but also studying the liner notes of such artists as Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, Prince, The Jacksons, Ohio Players, the Sylvers and so many more artists.
Was there a moment when you knew you’d definitely make music for a living?
That came very late for me…as a child and young adult, I only saw music as a hobby that I absolutely loved. But, as I became more restless and began lacking passion in my career as a physical therapist and educator, I got back into music as an adult. Once I started taking a music theory class back in 2008, I realized that I strongly desired making music my primary career.
Tell us about your first “big-time” gig that gave you butterflies?
Wow…so many shows at various points have given me butterflies. But, I believe the show that made me a bit speechless by the end was the first time I performed in the United Kingdom in May 2015 at the Southport Weekender which is one of the biggest soul events for the UK. It was the final year of the event and they invited me to perform. I performed at 2:30am and the room was packed! To top it off, people were singing the lyrics along with me. I’d never had the experience where the crowd was literally singing the lyrics with me. It was awe inspiring on every level.
What’s a song that you love that’s so good you wish you’d wrote it and tell us a little about it?
That is extremely difficult for me to say because literally I love sooo many songs! The songs that usually strike me the most are those that have incredible lyrics and just as incredible music arrangements. There is a jazz artist by the name of Gretchen Parlato who wrote and performed a song titled “Circling” and lyrically it discusses how everything in life has a certain “circle” quality to it, meaning what you put out comes back and the whole concept of multiple chances because energy simply returns. Divine timing will take care of everything and everything you need will come to you. Musically it feels somewhat like a circle. She also has a song named “How We Love” and the simplicity of the lyrics is paradoxical to the intricate musical arrangement- I love when simplicity meets complexity!
What can you tell us about your company, Creating Crimson?
Creating Crimson is an artist development and coaching service that assists with artists finding their own sense of depth and purpose within their craft and then developing a game plan to meet their artistic goals. It’s not about becoming a “star”, its about becoming your best artistic self.
What’s the scoop on Creating Crimson’s Conversations 2016 Social Media Tour? How did you come up with the idea?
I wanted to be able to offer a way for independent artists to receive important information about the music business without paying a high price and with as much convenience as possible. Given I have to be very active on social media for promotional reasons, I decided to merge these ideas. My management team took the idea and ran with it and came up with the idea of creating a sort of social media “tour.” This involved weekly Twitter chats and Periscope chats including accomplished independent artists sharing their expertise and experiences with the various social media communities. It really was remarkable to see the enthusiasm of everyone who participated!
Can you give a little insight into your creative process?
My creative process varies- a lot! Sometimes it begins simply with lyrics or a poem. Other times I will hear a track or instrumental and simply write based on the mood of the music. I do keep a notebook of lyrics that simply come to me and I make voice memos on my phone when a melody pops in my head. Another thing I do is play the piano to write chords and develop songs from that perspective.
Now more than ever, independent artists have been able to make big strides without the help of the major label system. Do you think this is indicative of the future of music?
Absolutely! Independent artistry in all aspects of the creative arts is going to become the leader in the future simply because of the way music (and other forms of art) is now accessed. Large corporations simply can not financially back individual artists the same, so independent artists will need and be afforded the opportunity to create how they feel fit. It’s happening rapidly and will continue to grow.
What’s your best advice for aspiring artist?
Be you!!! Authenticity is imperative. Artistry is a special gift uniquely made for each individual. If you pay too much attention to what others are doing, your gift will become barren and neglected.
What is something about you that people would be surprised to know?
I am quite the loner. Given I’m a mother, wife, daughter, friend, aunt, etc. I really value alone time as much as possible. With today’s social media it can appear as though I’m always “out and about” socializing…but, I only post on social media those “social” moments associated with my public life. My private life is very much that…private. *smile*
Any favorite affirmations or quotes?
I live by “less is more”, “God is love, love is God”, “dream BIG!”, “when you know better, DO better” “God bless the child who’s got his own…”
What’s next for Kenya?
A lot! I will be releasing a new remix album this fall as well as beginning to do more master classes with college and high school students interested in music. I hope to commit more time to Creating Crimson in order to keep passing along solid information about artistry so that I can contribute to keeping quality artistry and music alive!
For more information on Kenya please visit www.kenyamjmusic.com and www.creatingcrimson.com. Also connect with her on all social media outlets at @kenyamjmusic
Kindness knows no shame. – Stevie Wonder