By Adam Stovall
It always happens. That moment where you’re telling someone about a new artist, someone who excites you, and the person asks who the musician sounds like. Maybe there’s a clear answer. Maybe what excites you is that this new artist reminds you of another that you love. Okenyo has drawn comparison to Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, though I feel this is too limiting a comparison.
Trained as a stage actress, the Sydney-based chanteuse sings with the unbridled promise of someone wholly original who makes us see the world is far more vast than we imagined. Blending neo-soul with electronic influences, her forthcoming EP Mirage draws on both personal stories and ancient mythology.
What really excites me about Okenyo’s music is that you can hear someone in that early flush of excitement exploring her chosen medium. There is ambition and curiosity permeating her songs, bristling at confines.
Listening to Okenyo, I feel like I’m not just hearing someone who grew up pursuing their passions but also a woman trying to say something of value.
I caught up with Okenyo over email and discussed inspiration, writing her first song, and the creative process.
On the set of “Just a Story,” directed by Laura Scrivano
I’m curious about the seed of a song. What tends to occur first to you, the music or the lyrics? How do you know when a song is done? Or, as art is never really “done”, done enough to perform and put on an album?
Great question. I do think art is never really done in the way that it lives on in the minds of others but on the creation facet, there always must be an end point. It was scary and exciting recording the EP and having to make definitive choices because leading up to that point the songs had been through many machinations. In terms of writing, the seed always comes from something personal to me and is often written instinctually and then later on finessed. I like writing this way because regardless of what it becomes, I know it’s always come from my heart.
Do you have a creative routine? Do you like to work at a certain time of day, or are you more given to chasing the muse?
When I decided I wanted to give songwriting and music a real go I saved up enough money to pay my rent for three months (at a time I didn’t have any acting work) and forced myself to treat it like a real job which meant lots of self-motivation. I wanted to allow myself the time and space for creativity without boundaries, a hinderance that often reveals itself in the creative process (there’s not enough time!) so it was a great way to get my brain in work mode. I always write in my apartment, it’s a calm, quiet and thoughtful space.
When did you write your first song?
I started writing loops and extended ideas on the iMaschine app when I was working as an actor in Belgium. I was in a low place and needed to release creatively instead of going inward and stooping lower so it was then that I started channelling what was going on for me at the time into music. Using that app was also the first time I’d made beats and that was really exciting to discover that expression. When I came back to Australia I bought the Maschine hardware and started expanding my skills.
Every artist goes through the process of finding their voice. What was the first song you wrote that felt like it could only have come from you? What changed between what came before and that song? What do you think makes a song a song only you could do?
Writing my first release ‘Broken Chest’ feels very personal to me and very revealing. It had a real evolution between the writing process and the recording process. It started out as a note to someone else, to help them, and then turned into a note to myself to empower and liberate me. The tone of that song honestly captures a time in my life and it’s great to be able to share that with people and for others to interpret it in their own way.
What inspires and influences you now?
I’m always inspired by my loved ones, my brother is an excellent songwriter and artist and I always love hearing what he comes up with. I’m still more inspired by art, ideas, poetic narrative and literature than specific musical influences but that’s only because I feel that coming from a theatre and acting background, it’s my best way in.
Photo by Romain Duquesne.
For more Okenyo, check out her new video for Just a Story
Okenyo – Just A Story (Official Video) from Zindzi Okenyo on Vimeo.