What you need to know:
- Everyone is different, and there are people who have different versions that some people can relate to, and others that some people can’t.
- You can be here, and fit in perfectly, and you can also leave and come back, and still fit in.
- Around the time I started taking music seriously, I realised that the identity question is natural, which means I am already Kenyan in every way..
Mau From Nowhere is a multidisciplinary artist and musician based in Nairobi. His self-produced sound draws from a foundation of hip hop, R&B, and Indie. Mau aims to explore new sounds while balancing storytelling and world building. Named one of the best new artists on the continent in 2022 by NATIVE Magazine, Mau’s intrepid sound and vivid lyrics have caught the eyes of Okay Africa, Galore and Forbes, and his debut album has been named one of the “14 Projects the NATIVE is looking forward to in 2023.”
1.What does it feel like to finally have an album out and to be the featured artist for ‘Up Next’ on Apple Music?
It is a huge honour. The opportunity was shared with me as a pitch, and my expectations were quite low so I was pleasantly surprised when I got recognised on Apple Music. That was very encouraging. When I returned to Kenya a year after university, I wasn’t sure how people would connect with my music, but the more people started engaging with me, the more they really started listening. I knew that people were open to my music and even making similar music, but the acclaim was the perfect confirmation that I am loved at home, and I can represent the sounds coming out of here. Growing up in a different culture (in the UK and the Netherlands), I’ve never hidden who I am. I have never denied my identity as a Kenyan, so this was very humbling for me. It gives me a lot of hope that some of our sounds can thrive and reach export levels.
2.What made you return home? Did you want to build a music base here or did circumstances simply lead you back?
The moment I crafted a plan to come back, I wanted to come back. I was nervous when making that decision because the last time I lived in Kenya was long ago, when I was much younger. As soon as I returned, Covid-19 struck. Before that I had planned to stay here for a few years more, but the pandemic messed that up. When my plan didn’t work out, I reminded myself that the reason we have a home is because it is somewhere you can always return to, especially when you feel lost. I felt very lost, and I liked the fact that I could come back and be embraced by my community. Coming back meant I was able to make a better album, and work with local artists, and really make important bonds that have led to a lot of collaborations even beyond Kenya. One of my favourite songs is with two artists who I only met because I came back (MAUIMØON and Joshua Baraka). I had a gig in Uganda, which only happened because I was here. This is all what the album is about – surrendering to the processes, knowing that it will always work out.
3.You’ve said that you never hide your identity. Was it hard to find and adopt a Kenyan identity – what, even, is a Kenyan identity?
Being Kenyan is unique. Everyone is different, and there are people who have different versions that some people can relate to, and others that some people can’t. You can be here, and fit in perfectly, and you can also leave and come back, and still fit in. Around the time I started taking music seriously, I realised that the identity question is natural, which means I am already Kenyan in every way. It is about being authentic, without forcing anything, even in terms of my musical style, and my musical influences. My music, how I perform, how I sing…it’s all a part of my identity. And for me identity is very complicated and is often going to come up in weird ways, like how good my Swahili is, or how much I know about Kenyan classics. There are some classics I know because I was there at the time, and some that I don’t. I am focused on being myself, and I don’t doubt it.
4.Tell us about the process of making the album. What were some of the things that made you happy?
It’s been a long road! When I was coming back in 2020, I knew I had an album to make, as I had done so many singles. But I didn’t think I was ready yet, so I made an EP, which came out and it was great. I took me a while to produce the album, and not just because I play the roles of producer, writer and performer. That part doesn’t feel taxing to me, if anything, that’s the fun part. The challenge was the back end processes – finding someone and the resources to take roles such as engineering and marketing. What made it even harder was that I was working with a distributor in New York, and then they just shut down suddenly. For a while it felt like the album wasn’t going to come out because I was now working full time, and it really felt like I was pushing the rock up the hill by myself.
It was around this time that I met Nyagothie, and we started working together. That was the jumpstart I needed. I put out some singles, and reintroduced myself to the habit of releasing music, because I wanted perfection. I found a new distributor and videographers. I reached out and found my community of creatives who are interested in my success.
That really helped me. I proceeded to curating the songs, which was a lovely process. One of the hardest parts was putting together the visuals and artwork. When doing that, you can’t think too much. You just have to make a rough version of what you desire first, then polish it as you go. The whole journey was really hard, but I learnt so much. I’ve received such great feedback from strangers, friends and other artists who I really admire.
5.Now that you have the experience in music production, are you curious about other aspects of music, or are you moving on to the next album?
I am open to more. I have always been multidisciplinary, and I do have a film and photography background since I edit most of my videos and co-direct, so it would be nice to develop my visual skills further. I’ve gotten into song writing a lot more, and done a few collaborations here and abroad, to challenge myself. You limit yourself when you only work through your lens and don’t get other people involved in the process. It can get a bit boring. I want to learn and develop my craft, and the best way to do that is with people. I want to focus on a bit of the behind the scenes, like featuring, producing, and scoring, which I’ve done in freelance capacity before, but not as a commercial venture. The next album will come when it comes. I’m not in any rush.