Nyokabi Kariũki: The ‘Monday Is OK’ Mix
Nyokabi Kariũki knew she wanted to be a composer at the age of 14.
After school piano lessons first ignited her passion and quickly music became a place of comfort; a place she could escape to.
Now residing between Naivasha in Kenya and New York, her sound work blends experimental electronics, classical contemporary and East African traditional music, often using field recordings, spoken passages and her own voice.
Her first EP was released last year on SA Recordings to much acclaim, and now she’s gearing up for the release of her debut long player, Feeling Body, a deeply personal exploration of her experience living with long Covid throughout 2021.
It wasn’t an easy process for her to write but the end result speaks to an experience which many people can relate to, and one that, having shared the work with others who’ve been through similar circumstances, Nyokabi confirms has them ‘to feel seen’.
Ahead of the first single ‘Nazama’, which will be released on the 25th Jan, she welcomes us into a brand new week with her ‘Monday Is OK’ mix that balances steadiness and moments to jolt you into action. Meandering from soft, ethereal atmospheres and off kilter percussion to more edgy, strange sounds, she gives us a sonic dose of motivation to help us charge into the tasks ahead of us…
Please introduce yourself… Who are you, where are you, what are you?
I’m Nyokabi Kariũki. I’m currently in Naivasha, which is two hours away from Nairobi, where I was born and raised. I work with music and sound, and compose for different kinds of spaces — at the moment, I’m working on a few film scores; a commission for a percussion duo; and some orchestrations for an upcoming performance. Also, I must share that I’m currently looking out at Lake Naivasha, it’s gorgeous. The weather is warm, it’s great.
Tell us about the Monday mixtape you’ve put together for us.
I went back and forth with whether to make this completely “ambient”, but found myself leaning towards tracks with a bit of an edge this time, perhaps to serve as an antidote to the grogginess of Mondays. Lots of gnarly sounds and weird percussive moments, but also some slow moving pieces too. Just enough kick, just enough ambience, I’d say.
If it were to be drawn what would it look like?
I’d say it’d look a bit like the lines on a heart monitor if you were doing interval training on the treadmill. There are some jolts to get you awake and running, but then also some moments of steadiness.
If it were a food what would it be?
Like oatmeal that’s got spices in it (cinnamon, nutmeg, as you like it). And perhaps you didn’t mix the spices in all the way, so sometimes you get a strong mouthful of cinnamon and have to sit with that feeling. But it’s ok, because the oatmeal is warm and creamy, so it’s still yummy in the end, and it’ll give you some good energy to start off your day.
What would be the ideal setting to listen to the mix?
You’re begrudgingly getting out of bed, so you put this mix on, and it jolts you out of your sleep. It’s not too startling; but it motivates you for the morning, hopefully. So you’re getting ready, washing your face, choosing your outfit —
What should we be wearing?
Red. Start the week off boldly.
Where was it recorded?
In Naivasha, Kenya. 🙂
Are you on the same wavelength as the boomtown rats or do you actually like Mondays?
Sometimes I like Mondays and sometimes I don’t. The feeling of resetting is refreshing, and I appreciate feeling that there’s some new hope for the possibilities of the week. Like, ‘wow, I have a whole week ahead of me!’
But of course, Mondays are Mondays, and the feeling of having to “get back in the zone” isn’t always one I want to accept.
Who got you hooked on music?
I started piano lessons at the age of around five or six. My parents were keen on having my brother and I doing after-school activities, so he and I would alternate between swimming and piano lessons. I hated swimming — the pool was always freezing — and so I found myself happier on the days we got to do piano, and not swimming. So perhaps the piano inadvertently became a place of solace. Beyond this, I also just naturally took to music, and by the time I was 14, I identified that I wanted to be a composer.
What was the first record you heard and how did it make you feel?
Ah crap. Do other artists usually remember this far back when they get this question?
What were the first and last records you bought?
The first time I bought records of my own choosing was when I was a teenager on a trip to the USA. I wanted to stack up on CDs to upload some tracks onto my iPod, and I remember being ecstatic as I bought Lorde’s ‘Pure Heroine’. I also remember buying Foster the People’s ‘Supermodel’ and ‘My Head Is An Animal’ by Of Monsters and Men, in the same go. And then, the last digital record I bought was ‘Spirit Exit’ by Catarina Barbieri. What a record. Oof.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
Honestly, Catarina Barbieri.
If you could travel in time… where in time would you go? Why?
I’d go to the same place but at two different times: to Kenya, a thousand years ago. And then to Kenya in a thousand years time. I’d love to see what it looked like back when it wasn’t known as ‘Kenya’; and to know what it will look like, a millennia later. Will it still be called ‘Kenya’ in a thousand years? Will there really be any humans (left)? How will the trees and rivers be different? Will lions or zebras evolve in a new way?
Some self help questions for a Monday…
Am I excited to dive into the challenges that I have lined up for the week?
There’s something a little anxious about the last week of a month, at least for me — I suddenly become much more aware of how time is passing. There are multiple deadlines I’m racing to meet by the end of the month, so this new week is a reminder of that…so honestly, I’m not entirely excited about it.😂
Am I looking forward to engaging with the people I am meeting or working with?
As much as I’m nervous about meeting deadlines, I feel very positively about the people I’m engaging with through these projects. That’s always such a big consideration when I am weighing up whether to say yes to an opportunity: are the people ‘good vibes’? Are we mutually interested in uplifting each others’ work?
Am I going to my dream job?
Absolutely. I’d never have imagined that making music as a career would happen this quickly after graduating. I’m so grateful.
Am I being compensated fairly for the value I bring to my job?
Not always. There’s a lack of transparency in the music industry, and so it’s an ongoing process of learning how to value my work such that people don’t take advantage of those of us in the earlier stages of a freelance music career. I am also learning to advocate for myself better, but I reckon it does take some time to know what you truly deserve.
Do I feel energised, rested, and confident?
Remember how I said I’m by a lake? I woke up at 6am to record the birds. I’m definitely embodying that cliché of the artist who “spent some time in the woods and got inspired” at this point in time. Our connection with the natural environment is something that is so special. I’m very thankful to have gotten to recharge in this way.
If you were trapped on a desert island with one other person, who would you choose? How long would it be before you eat them?
Probably KMRU. He’s good company, and I think we’d maybe make some music after we’ve gone foraging for like, berries or coconuts. (I think I’m good with eating just the berries and coconuts).
Either that, or my brother. He knows a lot about nature and also engineering, which might come in handy as we figure our way out of the island before.
Your doctor says you need more exercise….what do you take up for exercise?
Ha! It’s on my list for this year. I would like to find a friendly football (soccer) club to play with, once or twice a week. I would also take up swimming (yes, I know a few answers ago I said I’d hated it)…
What’s your answer to everything?
We’ll figure it out.
Anything else we need to discuss?
I have an album coming out in March, and I’m excited for it to come out. It’s darker than my first record, peace places: kenyan memories, but it had to be. I was sick while making peace places in 2021, though it was a record laced with positive memories of home. My new record, FEELING BODY, was written the following year, after getting better. It’s a reflection of what that period of being sick was like, and how it changed my relationship with my body. I’ve shared this work with some people and some people even shared their own experience with illness and particularly chronic illness. The music let them feel seen, and I hope this is the case when it’s out for everyone to hear. And for those who might not be able to relate, I’m hoping that they can be patient with the record, even when it’s uncomfortable.
(Also, making mixes is fun but it also takes quite some time, doesn’t it? Or was I overthinking?)
Nyokabi’s single ‘Nazama’ is out on 25th January and her album Feeling Body is out 3rd March via cmntx records.