The Wonder That Is Kavutha Mwanzia-Asiyo


There are very many words that can be used to describe the amazingly talented Kavutha, but I’ll choose to go with ethereal. A thing of beauty. A musical powerhouse.

Gracing our stage every Safaricom International Jazz Festival is Kavutha Mwanzia-Asiyo, the music director of Safaricom Jazz. Above all, she is a passionate musician, a Jazz vocalist, a wife and an admirer of all things jazz.

Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

After my first Safaricom Jazz experience when Salif Keita bewildered us at the Bomas, I strived to ask myself after every gig whether the music moved me or not and sure enough, it has, every single damn time and that’s just but one of the things put under her care that has blossomed beautifully.

This is her story, the story of a beautiful musical journey:

So, my journey with music started when I was very young; I’ve always loved music. I tell this story repeatedly, that my dad always told me that if the teacher sang the songs, I would be number one. So, my journey with music started a long time ago, I always wanted to do music. I wanted to be in that field. I’ve loved music for a long time. What does music mean to me? Can you really describe what music means to you, I don’t think so? It’s an important part of my life.

Safaricom International Jazz Festival holds a very special place in your heart. How did your journey with Safaricom International Jazz Festival start, and how has it been curating what is considered a huge gem in Kenya’s music industry?

I was lucky to be, one of the music directors; I was the assistant music director the first season, and I was a performer at the first season. It was such an exciting experience. For a long time, there have been festivals or platforms for other genres, but it was the first time that jazz had such a platform.

What does it mean to me?

I love the festival. Jazz Week or Weeks are some of the happiest times of the year. I’ve been lucky to be there for the last five years and it has been such an honour, being at the heart of seeing the festival grow to the magnitude that it has.

Curating… How has it been curating?

It’s been fantastic. It’s not easy, because our festival is different from other festivals where we scout talent to host. We partner with our country partners come alongside to bring us the best of their countries. Then there is the process of selecting our local performers via a live application, that is really a treat to do.

The amazing Kavutha

How has it been especially for you as a woman?

I don’t think there’s a difference, is there? Is there a difference? I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a difference, if I’m a woman or a man. Yeah, I don’t think it makes a difference.

Well one of the things is that we haven’t had many other female acts come through as I curate the festival. There are by sheer numbers more male performers than female. So, that’s a challenge.

The power of Jazz in Kenya cannot be understated, and women in particular have seen an uplift in their musical careers. In your own opinion, how has SIJF changed the face of how women are perceived in the industry?

We haven’t seen many female jazz musicians come through, I do hope that this that this year we will see some come through to the live application. The opportunity to musicians whether male or female will exist and we need to take advantage of that.

Femme Fusion Collaboration was a beautiful and fierce representation of what happens when women and music come together. Can we expect more female collaborations like Femme Fusion in the future?

So, the collaboration was really an idea of the British Council, and we applaud them for that. We have really been looking to increase the number of female musicians for two reasons.

One, there’s something that a woman brings as musician. Look at any of the big musicians who are women, how fierce they are.

Second, I think as an inspiration to other Kenyan musicians. There are girls doing great things around the world.

So yeah, are we looking for more women? Definitely!!! I mean I look back and, some of my favourite musicians over the years have been women. I look at Mya & The Hazelnuts from Israel, Gloria Bosman from South Africa. All women, all musical, all powerful!

What are some of the transformations that you would love to see take place in the Kenyan music industry?

Our industry has come a long way. From when I started performing. The transformations that I would like to see are are:

1. More solid infrastructure for music. I think kudos to Safaricom who are trying to do that, and who are giving us platforms where can either sell our music, perform our music and track our music. That we are able to collect revenue from our music, whether it’s from a performance way or from a licensing publishing deals is a huge deal for artists and Safaricom has shown us that it’s possible for artists to earn a living from their art.

2. I’d like to see some bigger studios, recording studios making it cheaper to document our music. More live quality music.

3. I think what we need, and I always say, what we need is our music to step onto an international platform. Because that would then give credence to our voice to what we’re saying, it would put us on the map. People know music from South Africa, West Africa because that music is playing in London, New York, Japan Sydney to name a few. So we need to export Kenyan Music.

Yes, we have quite the distance to go but Safaricom International Jazz Festival is making the way for music to fill our hearts, resonate with our music palettes and tell our unique stories!


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