VQEE Unveiled: Kenyan Star in Denmark
By Kimani wa Wanjiru
Kimani: What inspired your debut album? What is it called?
Vqee: At first this album was a sort of experimental work of two people with different backgrounds. As the process went on I became very much interested and involved in our own Kenyan traditional sound...the music...the instrumentation...and the dances as I suddenly realised that there was so much influence from those sounds that I would use and fuse into this project. Growing up in Nairobi as well I was obviously exposed to the western type music and I fell in love with the R n b pop soul genre especially the 80s and early 90s music so I used all these influences on this album and then of course there was the European western element that came about working with Claus Seest.
Kimani: That is interesting. Take me through the journey of your life----when & where were you born? Are you the eldest or last-born? How many are you in the family?
Vqee: I was born and raised in the Eastlands area of Nairobi, a middle child of a Kamba mom and a Kikuyu dad.
Kimani: Where did you go to school? What are some of the memorable thoughts of your life while you were growing up?
Vqee: I spent my O and A levels years in Nairobi schools and then went on to join college for two years before the acting bug came calling. I had a beautiful life growing up. I loved to go to church on Sundays. My whole social life was centered around this youth group in church. We participated in a lot of parish festivals and competitions. We had retreats, picnics, church masses, poetry, theatre, dance. For me that is where it all started—with the Holy Cross Youth Group.
Kimani: What did you want to do in life? Did you always want to be a musician?
Vqee: I grew up very much active in theatre and music but I never really considered it a profession in the beginning because, well, it was against the society’s norm. It wasn’t considered a profession...and so for a while I only did it as a hobby.
Kimani: What prompted you to choose your career as a musician/artist?
Vqee: I felt it. It’s the only way I can explain it. I dreamt about it constantly. I used to watch my favourite movies and musicians growing up. And when I would stand in front of people in church or school and perform. I knew I belonged. I was quite reserved, quiet, maybe even shy...still am in many regards...but when I would stand in front of people I became someone else. It’s still the same. I wouldn’t trade it. I know this is my calling. It’s a feeling so strong. When you know you are at your best. When you just know it’s what you are meant to be. A natural high!
Kimani: Please give me an outline of the body of your works- the things that you have done- both in Africa and internationally.
Vqee: I started with Kenya’s biggest theatre company Heartstrings Kenya where we worked on various plays including My Lovely Mother, Njoki’s Hands, Pulling Down Babel, African Julius Caesar and a host of others. In 1997, I was awarded a special mention at the then Mbalamwezi Awards. Later I was invited to attend a cultural program in Cape Coast Ghana that was sponsored by Danish Embassy and British Council. There I attended a resident program at the Agoro Theatre Company for six months where I also taught and studied. I participated at the MASA African festival in 1999 in Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire. In 2000 I was invited to attend a summer program at the UCLA California USA and continued to work n perform on various productions including Kali Ma that was written and directed by Emery Lauten, Street Jam TV—a dance and music production for Black Entertainment Television (BET), a music collaboration with Brown Fish—a US Rap duo in a song that was produced by Kenya’s own NETO and a host of modeling and theatre and music appearances.
My debut album Halua was released live with a ten piece band on May 21 2010 at the Alliance Francais in Nairobi. The fifteen track album is now available online on cdbaby and itunes as well as in silverbird stores in Nairobi. Since then I have featured in such events as the 1Music Nite, Blankets and Wine festival and the annual Good Governance Festival. In Denmark where am based I have performed at the Annual World Music Festival and at several MS (Mellemfolket Samvirke) events. Towards the end of last year I was fortunate enough to be part of the annual WOMEX (World Music Expo) that was held in Copenhagen where I got to meet and interact with thousands of musicians, promoters and enthusiasts and where I got the chance to share, sell and play my music.
I am now in the process of recording a second album, the debut single of which was released October 01 2013. Titled My Gaia, the song describes my journey up til this point in my life and the fact that i feel i have found my flow, my rhythm. Gaia is a universal word that means Èarth´...the broader meaning of which means one with myself and the universe. The single and music video are now available on cdbaby, mdundo and itunes.
Kimani: Which one was the most challenging and why? Which one do you think is the lousiest and why?
Vqee: One of the most interesting and of course challenging experiences have been the ones that I that I undertook with Multi Cultural Productions. One such was work was Kali Ma. A musical based on an ancient Hindu mythology and featured four girls that represented each of the four elements— earth, wind, fire and water. We were all from different cultural backgrounds and each of us had to share a bit from our own backgrounds. It was a very interesting original production written and directed by Emery Lauten. But the highlight of my experiences must have been the release of my debut album.A lot of work was put in the organising and I felt privileged working with top musicians and it was just amazing to see the studio work come alive. Would never have done it without the help of Claus Seest who produced the album, Thomas Menzer who helped transform this studio album into a beautiful piece of Live music and Diana Awino for her splendid work in Publicity. Its always challenging when you are based in a land far from where your main target audience is but it has worked so far because of the dedication and help of some amazing group of musicians, friends and all the media networks that continue to support us.
Kimani: Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Who was your role model in the industry?
Vqee: My biggest inspiration comes from the traditional music and sounds of Kenya and of course from old skool R n B, 80 pop music, 70s Disco era, n 90s slow jams. I have many role models. I look up to those who beat all odds to get to where they believed, to those who defied expectations ,to those who have the courage and strength to cross barriers and dare to dream. They are out there and when I read about them or listen to their stories, I am inspired! I believe in my own dreams!. It confirms to me that my dreams are also going to come true. They are starting to already.
Kimani: What is your opinion of the music industry in the Kenyan and African music scene? What needs to be done to increase its vibrancy?
Vqee: It’s amazing the growth we’ve seen the last few years. It used to be that only Western music played on our FM stations. We’ve definitely gone local and embraced our own as well. The styles n genres have also broadened and now the audience is being given a wider range of music....different styles and types...it’s definitely growing! African music thanks to MTV is being introduced onto the world stage...soon we will have some of our own doing collaborations with mainstream American or European artists...we are becoming an equal part of the world stage and not just being sidelined...that’s wonderful! As a musician who draws inspiration from our own traditional music, I think it would only serve us well to save and archive our own traditional authentic music. We would be preserving our heritage and traditions while creating and sending out unique music.
Kimani: Please give me some highlights of: your happiest moments/ memorable time; your trying/challenging time.
Vqee: I found great joy and satisfaction making my first album Halua mostly because it was ..well...the first album and also because I have my passion through the whole process. I have been blessed to work with a producer that not only understands the African sound but also respects my point of view. I have been blessed to have some of Kenya´s and Denmark’s greatest musicians play on my album and with me Live. The journey continues as i continue tthe process of making music and am enjoying every minute of it, I am enjoying my growth in the process, my evolution and I cannot wait to make and release more and more of my soul.
Kimani: What are the other things that you like doing when you are not working? What are your hobbies etc.?
Vqee: The second album is taking so much of my time as it should. I have love every minute. My hobbies and work are one and the same. I love singing, acting, dancing and of course spending time with family and friends.
Kimani: Back to the Album. How can you describe it?
Vqee: A beautiful blend of the traditional, authentic African sounds and the modern, western elements creating a tasteful unique pop sound.
Kimani: You have curtain raised for some of Africa’s big names. What are some of these big names?
Vqee: Since May 2009 when I started performing live, I have opened for among others Nameless and Magic System. I have so far had shows in Denmark and Sweden and received offers to play in other countries around Europe including Germany and Finland. I am ecstatic and looking forward to a wonderful musical journey. In October 2009, I performed at one of the biggest award shows in Denmark namely Celebrate Africa Achievement Awards where I had also been nominated for Best Up Coming Artist Denmark 2009. Setting the stage for big acts like Sauti Sol in September 2010 at the Blankets and Wine was a big highlight and ive been blessed to share the stage with Mzungu Kichaa and ABBI at the 2010 Good Governance festival. Other special moments include doing an acoustic version with one of fave musicians Deodato Siquir at his concert in Copenhagen in October 2013. I look forward to much much more.