Liz Ogumbo, a Kenyan songbird

Not just a pretty face

“The model. That’s what they call me; but I can sing. People are pleasantly surprised,” she says.

Liz Ogumbo is a singer but she’s also, unmistakeably, a model, her good looks are what people first notice about her. But, she also has a degree in computer science, designs clothing and has written a book denouncing the idea of size zero models. “I get bored,” she tells me.

We meet for coffee at the Pepper Club Hotel where she debuted her first album, KenSoul. Growing up in Kenya, Liz followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and started signing at the age of four. “The album is deeply rooted in my Kenyan soul,” she says. “KenSoul is a title but it’s also a genre. I grew up on music, it’s a lifestyle not a career.”

Evolving sound

Liz runs through a list of genres while trying to describe her music, “jazz, reggae, blues, swing, spoken word...my music is like a rainbow. It’s one of those albums you can pop in and it can take you anywhere.” There is a strong emphasis on evolving and developing a new sound from her unique Kenyan background mixed in with an eclectic combination of international influences.

“I’m a character, I love to express myself and tell stories,” she adds. Live performances are what Liz enjoys the most. She believes in staying relevant and constantly growing as a performer, no two shows will be the same. She wants people to be able to come and watch her perform twice in one weekend without getting bored. “I strip tease on stage; I’ll wear five layers of clothing and strip them off as the show goes on. It’s an expression of the music and it adds another element to the performance.”

Where fashion meets music

“Fashion and music coincide, and for me to have a platform where I can merge them like that, is beautiful.” Liz designs clothing for her company, the House of Imani (meaning ‘faith’ in Swahili) and has created a live performance concept “Fashion meets Music”. She describes the models for her clothing range as ‘gazelles’ and says that the way they walk around her on the runway as she sings, “is a beautiful, unique thing.”

Her performances are intimate and interactive. She’ll pull members of the audience up to teach them the Chakacha, a Swahili dance. “The closest thing to describe it is belly dancing, but it’s more sensual than that,” She explains.The incorporation of traditional Luo songs into her music is part of the evolution of her sound. “I merge traditional music with what I’m feeling right now to come up with something more.” There is a mixture of Kenyan and international influences in her music which she combines to create something indefinable, current and unmistakeably hers.

“There’s something beautiful about Cape Town”

She’s currently moving between Cape Town and Joburg, “Cape Town is like my therapy. I sit on the roof of our place and it’s like an outburst of creative energy. It’s the most beautiful city in the world of all the places I’ve been to. From a creative side, it’s the best place for me.”

By Lindsay Callaghan

Another soulful lady we love is Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground, and her new band, The Mzfitz.

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