Interview: Janice Iche on growing up in Kenya, the importance of the internet & mental health
Kenya is one of the most interesting and unique countries in Africa. Known for its technological innovation, beautiful culture and the people, Kenya has over the years fast become one of Africa’s hubs for all things progressive, cool and groundbreaking. The country does not only export its beautiful culture and its forward-thinking ideas to the world, it also has a thriving creative industry which is shifting perspectives, schools of thought and setting standards for Africa – which is one of their core exports.
The country boasts a youth and creative scene that rivals the best scenes in the world. From music to dance to content to contemporary art, Kenya is the undoubtedly the plug. On the music front, they are leaders who are using art as a medium to tackle societal issues that plague the modern Kenya society and the beautiful thing is that this new age art movement is youth-led. One of these young leaders is Mombasa born, Nairobi based artist, Janice Iche, who is part of this new generation of Kenyan artists that are refreshed perspective and approach to art. We caught up with her recently to get to know more about her, the creative scene in Kenya and her take on the importance of the internet.
We came across your track ‘Be Nice’ on SoundCloud and we were blown away. Amazing song where you sing beautifully. Our first introduction to you was through your music but we would like to know more. So tell us, who is Janice Iche?
Thank you so much. I’m so happy that you love the song. Well, I am a human being, I am an artist and I am a woman. I sing, write music, paint, photograph, I do anything as long as it moves me.
Please give a little background on your upbringing. This may be a very cliche question but we’d really like to know what got you into music or art as a whole. Do you recall that one magical moment for you where you figured it all out and said ‘this is what I want to do’?
Haha! Obligatory question, no worries. I grew up in Mombasa, Kenya in a nice calm little outskirt corner called Shanzu, Utange. My parents made a conscious decision to raise us out of the city centers but close enough to still go to school and be able to shop there. I hated it but it gave me so much time to myself as a child, which I really enjoyed and this way I began discovering art. Music was my first love. I think I started singing as a way to fill the empty air around me with voices other than my own. I enjoyed listening to the radio and drowning in this world of beautiful sounds and melodies. I wondered how people could create something that made me feel so strongly so I tried to do the same. Music became my companion when I was alone and it continues to give me that kind of solace until today. My father also played a lot of jazz around the house and in the car. He only listens to jazz actually until today. So I grew up hearing all these different melodies and he would sing along. It was wonderful. He was also in a band when he was in uni and I thought that was really cool. Yeah, I sort of had a pivotal moment earlier this year where I realized that art is my calling and I can’t be or do anything else. After trying out two different degrees in two different unis over five years and leaving both, trying to work in corporate jobs, yuck haha! I knew I had to get my act together and make this life work for myself.
You are part of the new generation of artists from Kenya that are using the internet to share their art and connect with people beyond your country’s borders. How are you using the internet to further your ideas and messages?
I love the internet! It has its dark side of course but I believe it is such a powerful tool when used correctly. I am aware that I have some people really following what I am doing on social media and it is crucial to use that opportunity to spread love. I hold open conversations to have people be comfortable to talk about things they may feel too ashamed to talk about. I share my own personal stories to show people that we don’t go through things alone. All this besides my art that I share which is also thought-provoking.
Young people in different regions of Africa are using art to address many of the societal issues that plague our continent. Each country in the continent has its own issues. What is the one thing that the youth in Kenya is fighting/advocating for? And how are you using your art to contribute?
For me, it is mental health. I see how a lot of people are going through lives not knowing the keys to their own fulfilment. I have my own episodes of depression and anxiety that force me to really try and understand this thing. With stigma all around me, I am in my solitude again where I get to know myself at a truly deeper level and I believe that once we know and love ourselves, we can be there for everyone else effortlessly. My art is a direct reflection of this as I create from my struggle and emotion. This makes it easy for people to relate to my work.
What is the music scene like in Nairobi? Kenya is fast becoming one of Africa’s main attractions when it comes to music. You guys create and curate amazing vibes.
Wow that’s so great to hear! It’s vibrant! So many amazing young musicians from all over, it’s wonderful! We are really growing and making our own rules as we go.
Let’s zone in on your music. You’ve worked quite extensively with EA WAVE, a collective that performed in South Africa a few months ago. How would you describe your sound?
I’m not sure. It’s pure and genuine, that’s all I can say. I just sing from my heart. I don’t know what genre I do perhaps because I feel like I want to do every style. Whatever pours out of me at that moment.
Who are some of your influences in music and in life?
I am really moved by the stories of many great artists like Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Amy Winehouse, Basquiat, Yayoi Kusama, Marina Abramovic. These people really showed me what being an artist means. There is no separation between life and art. I am also really inspired by all the amazing young creatives doing the damn thing all over the world. I love to see people’s creations and it pushes me to do the same.
Who are some of the freshest and best Kenyan artists that you think should look out for?
Wow there’s a whole list! My mind is running with names but let me say only one for now. I want to share the music of my dear late friend. His name is Mutuma Mwiraria. Look for him as ‘Jason Kalinga’ and ‘Wireless Sounds’ on Soundcloud. He was an amazing artist and left such a huge catalog of music for us to enjoy.
We’re nearing the end of 2018. Can we expect any new music in 2018 or should we wait until the new year?
We’ll have to wait for the new year.
In closing, where can people follow and support you online?
You can find me and my work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as @janiceiche. I also have a cool new shop called Ché and can be found as @che.apparelke / @che.shopke. Much love!
Listen to ‘Be Nice’ by Janice Iche below.