Meet Drummer Queen – one of the artistes flying high Kenyan flag
MUTHONI DRUMMER QUEEN (MDQ) is one of the artistes flying high the Kenyan flag. Her recent recognition in Switzerland is an affirmation to that. She speaks with CYNTHIA MUKANZI
What expectations or fears did you have when you dived into music in 2004?
My dad’s sudden death in 2003 made me realise life will end, so live as fully as you can, while you still can.
My main fears were how to make sure it paid the bills; that I didn’t end up reducing the dream to take a job in a cover band singing in a hotel lobby.
Did you get willing people to work with you to unravel the artiste you saw in yourself?
Yes. My friend Njeri Mwirigi and I formed a duet called Tyte. We wrote our songs and all our friends helped us plan a gig.
All our musician friends who played instruments agreed to be our band, background vocalists and dancers.
Njeri’s parents allowed us to rehearse at their house and even gave us snacks.
Our former school gave us the music hall for free as the venue and Big Ted gave us all the equipment we needed for sound and lighting. With that, we were able to make our first step into music.
How paramount has that been to your career?
With the money we raised after our first concert, we walked around many studios in Nairobi looking for a producer.
But the sustained feedback is that we were not Kenyan enough; meaning we did not sing enough party songs and our tracks were not kapuka.
So, almost every producer except Ted Josiah told us to basically change who we were, so that Kenyans could accept us.
That really made me decide to definitely stick to my guns and never quit till I hit critical commercial success as a means of showing what is possible and available when you stay true to yourself.
Was the consciousness you drew from The Fugees’ music an attribute you always embodied before getting into music?
Yes for sure. I grew up listening to adults talk about tribalism, corruption, a struggling economy, failing health system and other issues in Kenya.
I remember reading about apartheid and watching films such as Sarafina and Biko. These things opened my mind to observe the world we lived in.
In university, I studied International Relations and read works by Malcom X, Martin Luther, Franz Fanon, Wole Soyinka and more.
I listened to hip-hop by artistes such as Common, so, the conversation and education taught me to see the whole world, and music helped me share my views.
Why was it important for you to create your recent release Power, which is a powerful work of recognition?
First off, women—Kenyan Women—are powerhouses and I wanted to salute their courage, vision, and selflessness.
The song itself is my attempt to bring attention to the political, social and economic contributions Kenyan women have made over the years that history would reduce, re-write and often erase.
I wanted to give visibility to women who organise and resist oppression, break moulds, defy stereotypes, forge paths and occupy space.
How do you manage the running of both Blankets & Wine and Africa Nouveau?
Honestly, I’m nothing without our team. I work with an amazing team of creatives and producers to make the festivals happen.
Our advisory board is also really helpful in helping chart the path. I am grateful to have people who believe in the vision and have the competence to pull it off.
What are the lessons that have come with the two festivals?
Collaboration is power! We tend to want to do things on our own in order to shine alone, but I have discovered the power in collaboration.
Bringing together teams, each endowed with talents in their fields has really been a great way to build.
Accessibility is important. I have learnt that being within the reach of those who interact with us online, and even those who come to the festivals is a major key.
This way you truly communicate; where communication is two-way. They give feedback and we have the information to make their ideal experiences come to life.
How did you get in the running for the Best Act, which you won recently in the Swiss Music Awards?
An academy of music leaders in Switzerland had to nominate 10 artistes and then poll and re-poll amongst themselves.
Because the two producers I have been working with GR! and Hook, are both Swiss, we were eligible for the award.
We had to motivate everyone we knew in Switzerland to vote for us. I didn’t really have any feelings until they called our category, then I realised we really wanted to win.
I’m really glad the fans rallied and we got the award. It was very affirming.