Tue. Mar 19th, 2019

The Matriarch Maker Wanja Wohoro Talks To Maybach About Her Music Career And Personal Life

We came across Wanja Wohoro by chance and when we followed her a little bit and discovered her music; we have not stopped listening to her projects here at MM.

We reached out to her for a chat and here is how things went as we introduce you to the new voice of RnB and Soul Music. Ladies and gentlemen get a grip as you dive into a journey you will love to hear about as Wanja tells her story.

MMH: Who is Wanja Wohoro?

@WanjaWohoro: She is a young musician from Kenya and Australia with a passion for telling women’s stories. She is also an artist and creative with a huge love for visual arts and words.

MMH: Well Said. And where do you come from Wanja? I know your father is Kenyan and your mum Australian; but who do you regard yourself as?

@WanjaWohoro: I ultimately see myself as mixed race, as a Kenyan, Australian though I call Kenya home. It’s taken my whole life, but I now feel confident in my capacity to be two things at once, and allowing them both to be a part of me without one taking away from the other. However my passion and heart is in Kenya, it’s where my family is and it’s where I feel most like myself.

MMH: Superb. Where is your hometown?

@WanjaWohoro: I was actually born in Canberra Australia, where I spent the first four years of my life.

MMH: That’s great. Give us an eye in to your family? Who is your mother to you and why is she special? Who is your dad? Who is into music in your family? And are you the only child?

@WanjaWohoro: My mum is Australian born, though she spent much of her life travelling with my grandparents and her family. My dad was born and bred in Kenya. They met when my mum was living in Kenya in her early 20’s. My dad was very musical around this time as well. He played guitar and piano and sang, though he never received formal instruction (like me). There was a lot of music in my house growing up, and being the youngest, a lot of my musical tastes, if not all of them, were informed by my siblings growing up. My older brother and sister had very eclectic tastes themselves which was good for my early education.

MMH: That’s a family of five! Amazing! Who introduced you to music and is everyone in your family a fan of your music?

 @WanjaWohoro: My family was where I was first exposed to music. But it was always of interest to me. I was in a children’s singing and performing group as a child and that was where I was first exposed to rehearsing, performing and even recording. My family is very very supportive of me as a musician. They have never deterred me from doing it, and encourage me to pursue my dreams.

MMH: Why is music important to you?

@WanjaWohoro: As a teenager it felt like the only way I could get in touch with what I was feeling. I’m not a very openly emotional person, but music always touched a part of me that nothing else could. I won’t lie, since pursuing music full time in the past year and a half I have listened to music much much less than I used to.

It’s one of the saddest things about making your hobby your career, that it’s harder to take as much enjoyment in the thing as in the past. I hope that it was just me distancing myself from music for the recording process, and that I can return to being as avid a consumer of music as I once was. Music has the capacity to teach you things about yourself, that is such a unique gift.

How many times have you heard a song express something that you are feeling so perfectly, but lacked the words or expression to ever say? That storytelling is what I love most, and what I aspire to most in my own music.

MMH: Wow; definitely music is a vein in you! You started your music journey early in life, and every artiste has a reason of what drove them into music; ah! What can you say drove you into music?

@WanjaWohoro: I honestly don’t know how to answer that question. It was just very organic, all children sing and draw. I just kind of never stopped doing either of those things. And here I am at 24 trying to pay my rent and live my life just singing and drawing. In a way that’s actually truly living the dream hey?

MMH: You also draw! I mean you are well rounded an artiste and we noted in our research that you started off by doing song covers do you still do that?

@WanjaWohoro: Those who know me know that I actually don’t really enjoy doing covers. I have quite an aversion to being asked to do them to be honest, especially now that I have a database of music that is my own. They are a really good tool for learning and improving your skills especially instrumentally.

I have some songs I really enjoy singing at gigs and they have taught me certain picking patterns or ways of singing or playing, which is invaluable. My goal however is to have at least three hours of my own music at my disposal to play.

MMH: Three hours! What a catalogue! You then released an EP with 5 songs and I gotta tell you Doors and Walls is the it for us but what song was the best for you working on?

@WanjaWohoro: Thank you! I loved doors and walls too, it was one of the first songs I ever wrote with Jazz chords, before that I was very much an indie acoustic baby so my chord progressions were a lot simpler. High Tide was an important step for me, it gave me the incentive to pursue a music degree. It showed me that I could actually write songs that people relate to and enjoy.

MMH: It’s an amazing song. I mean no words to describe what it does to you listening to it! Still playing it at MMH! How was that journey to an EP; what was going through your mind the entire time putting this together? And what does that EP mean to 

@WanjaWohoro: The High Tide EP was important, but it was also a much younger me who wrote that. My writing style has evolved and improved significantly since then, but I appreciate what it meant to me at the time. I really loved getting to record my own music for the first time, and was encouraged by how excited other people were for me. It was a compilation of the only 5 songs I had ever written and actually liked. Though I loved Doors and Walls, I’d have to say Siren is my favourite song from that EP. It’s a little melodramatic, but I think even now it is well written and came from a real place of sadness and longing for someone.

MMH: Most definitely Siren is like way up there as well! I mean your music is cream! You moved on to Australia, pursuing a music major in the university of Sydney in 2014. Again another major decision for your life! How did you decide this is what I wanted to do?

@WanjaWohoro: In a way I did a music degree cause I genuinely couldn’t think what else I would do. I did a double major with Sociology because I really enjoy writing research and the social sciences. So my main goal with my degree was honestly just to do things that I knew I would enjoy, and that would improve my skills. It wasn’t a degree that made me very employable, aha as many Arts degrees tend to be. But it was worth it because I really did have a wonderful university experience.

MMH: You finished your Degree?

@WanjaWohoro: Yes at the end of 2016. I did pretty damn well too.

MMH: Are you into employment or this is a course you pursued solely to benefit your career?

 @WanjaWohoro: I wanted to improve my knowledge about music and the social sciences, to be honest at that point I still wasn’t sure if I would pursue a career in music. It probably wasn’t until my final year that I started to believe that I could potentially dedicate my life to a creative career. I am not just a musician I am a writer and a creative freelancer as well and I really hope to improve my skills in every regard, including my musicianship.

MMH: There in the studying period, what did you work on? Any music?

@WanjaWohoro: I did quite a few small gigs at bars around where I lived in central Sydney. In some of my classes I also had to write music and practise recording and performing. So it was an important part of my university experience.

MMH: Conk! Is this when your new Album Matriarch was born?

@WanjaWohoro: Matriarch was actually born hugely  out of my return to Kenya. I had been home for 3 months and I really felt very aimless and unsure what to spend my time on, whether to get full time employment, how to get gigs etc. I realized I needed a focus, something to drive me and give me a reason to keep pursuing music. So in July I quit my part time job and began writing the album around the concept of Matriarchy, homecoming and being a woman.

MMH: Why the name Matriarch?

@WanjaWohoro: I just think its an amazing and underutilized word. It holds so much power and gravitas to it. I want to be a leader, I want everything I do to further the cause of women and to be of service to my community and to my culture. Those are the hallmarks of matriarchy to me and I think it’s an aspiration worth having. I was just really struck by that word last year and I couldn’t shake the idea of writing an album inspired by that concept.

MMH: I have heard many describe your new album as a sort of an eye opener to the riches of rnb and soul music. It is like you are carrying all these new people and pointing them to this type of music that they had nothing to do with before you came into the picture; do you get that a lot?

@WanjaWohoro: That’s honestly one of the best things I can hear, that means I’ve done my job. I didn’t set out to be different but I did set out to tell my story in my own way, which I think is the prerogative of every musician. I have to also give a huge amount of credit to my producer Jaaz Odongo. His amazing ear and skill and also capacity to listen and take my opinions into account is a big reason Matriarch is what it is.

I am always blown away by the reactions of those who have come up to me to tell me how they feel about the project. It’s very strange to be on the receiving end, but it warms my heart. All I ever wanted was for people to hear it and for it to mean something to them, so if I’ve been successful in that, everything else is just a bonus.

MMH: Kudos to you for a job well done! Do you consider yourself a Matriarch in this regard?

@WanjaWohoro: I don’t know if I would call myself a Matriarch yet, its the goal though.

MMH: Hehe! Very wise answer! Let’s dissect the Matriarch… How many songs are in this project?

@WanjaWohoro: There are 9 songs, though there were originally 10. It made more sense sonically and conceptually to remove one of the songs though, so unfortunately it got the ax.

MMH: Is it a solo project or the many people who got to be featured in it from the instrumentalists to the producer everybody gets a feature?

@WanjaWohoro: Don’t totally understand this question?

MMH: I was referring to talents you worked with and what was the agreement; work and get paid or get some rights in my album. But moving on; You have worked with some of the best names in the genre of your type of music in Kenya; what was the process of choosing these people?

@WanjaWohoro: In terms of my band that was something I left up to my producer Jaaz to select. He has worked with so many instrumentalists and I trusted him to choose people who were right for the kind of sound we were trying to achieve. Also since he would be the one doing the actual mixing and mastering he also had a better sense which musicians work well with recording and precision.

Ultimately though we all got on really well and the whole process was so straightforward and easy. It was a lesson to me to be able to work with such a high calibre of musician, it gave me something to aspire to. But it was also a great encouragement for me to have these same musicians rate my music and enjoy my music so highly.

MMH: All these personalities and some have been in the industry for a long time, how was it managing them in the studio?

@WanjaWohoro: They are incredibly professional. So it was very easy, the only thing I had to overcome was my own sense of insecurity in terms of leadership and being in command, but they made it really easy for me and were very receptive. One thing that helped was that I had created detailed demos for each song myself on my computer, so the structure and arrangement of the songs were pretty set and made the rehearsal process pre-recording straightforward.

MMH: You have a personal relationship with your producer; he has as you put it basically known you for your entire life. How did that help the production process?

@WanjaWohoro: It definitely made the recording process more fun and enjoyable. He is very meticulous but also calm and steady, which means that there are rarely moments of tension or dissent. He is a great producer and I am glad he was also proud of the album and regards it highly within his own body of work over the years.

MMH: You come across as a warm personality; describe yourself to us; what makes you special as an artiste and would you say your personality is captured in the Matriarch?

@WanjaWohoro: I don’t know if there’s anything makes me particularly special. I am determined and quite stubborn in a lot of ways, I never thought that would be much of an asset but I am starting to realise it it. I also have always partially lived in a bit of a fantasy land, and that slight naivety I think is important to staying sane and ambitious within this industry.

MMH: You are special Wanja! Keep the same energy always! Do you have any plans in place to market the album in Australia?

@WanjaWohoro: Yes, definitely! I love Aus and I’m excited to head back there as soon as I can to play. There seems to be a lot of cool things going on in the Sydney underground indie scene right now and I’d love to play in that space.

MMH: Good stuff; We look forward to having you here! Maybe even watch you play! Am sure many people want that opportunity! We also got wind you performed in South Africa recently; how was that experience?

@WanjaWohoro: It was great! It was really special to be able to play for a different audience and to experience the way South Africans engage with music. They are very energetic and attentive which I really appreciated. Very excited to play more gigs all over!

MMH: Is it something you are looking to do; travel the rest of the world performing?

@WanjaWohoro: That is definitely one of my top goals. I love to travel and I feel already like a child of many cultures and places

MMH: You raised funds to record your first album?

@WanjaWohoro: Yes I crowdfunded to do MATRIARCH. That initial crowdfunding helped me afford my incredible band and for studio time. It went a long way in helping get this project off the ground, and I really appreciate and am indebted to those people who supported me so early on.

MMH: Artistes are ego filled individuals and most do not want to involve their fans in the funding process as it may void their status; would you say that type of persona in the music space is gone hence evolvement that is seeing new artistes from your generation that are not afraid to face fans and ask them for support in this way?

@WanjaWohoro: I just think that there’s no shame in asking for support from your community. I’m a big believer in community mentality and that it makes us all stronger. More than even the money, I crowdfunded to get people on my team and to make them co investors in both Matriarch and me. I hope to make them proud. It also gave me a huge drive to do this project well, I now owed it to them to make their investment worthwhile and produce a work of art that they could enjoy for many years to come.

MMH: Now Of course the album recording, and production is done so we will assume this was a success; the raising of the funds; how was the experience? Is it something you are looking to do again?

@WanjaWohoro: I don’t think any time soon. Crowdfunding is a very intense and time consuming process, it takes a lot of emotional energy. But also I think I definitely needed it to help me get off the ground, now I have, I can continue myself.

MMH: Congratulations! Your fans are amazing! Would you say you are now making a living out of your music?

@WanjaWohoro: I mean I do. Aha, I moved out of my parents home in July this year and have been fully independent since. I don’t make a lot of money by any standards, it’s very rough sometimes but it’s totally worth it, and it’s motivating as hell. I have bills to pay and things to do, so I have to keep hustling and working to make everything come together.

It also gave me more confidence to believe that I CAN do it. I do some writing work as well and some other odds and ends but everything I do I enjoy to some extent, so I try to remind myself whenever I feel discouraged that actually, I am living the dream already.

MMH: What would you like to say to your unique fans for holding your hand through the Matriarch in this way?

@WanjaWohoro: A thousand thank yous. You literally helped make my dream come true, and I promise to do my damndest to make music that will reach you in some way for as long as I’m able.

MMH: That was a highlighter for us and we were mesmerised by that move! Now in your single Shower Floor, just something we wanted to ask; how did you end up with whistling as part of your lyrics in this?

@WanjaWohoro: To be honest that was an in the moment decision. Entirely.

MMH: Hehe! It was ingenious! And another moment that caught us off guard! You are a beautiful young lady. Are you single?

@WanjaWohoro: I am not. Four years not. In love with the best human. 🙃

MMH: Oh really! Awesome stuff! Who is your support system in the industry as you continue to grow?

@WanjaWohoro: My partner, my parents and siblings, my producer. I just have a lot of incredibly grounded and wonderfully intelligent people in my life.

MMH: Well we were happy to host you here at Maybach Media House and you best believe we will keep tabs with you through the rest of your music journey and will always be here to support you in any way we can. You are an amazing act and representing Kenya well and for that we are grateful.

@WanjaWohoro:Thank you for your interest in me!

Check out Wanja Wohoro music catalogue below and also a link to her new album Matriarch and support her!

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