Now Reading
Liboi: The East African Folk Artiste Pushing the Boundaries With African Indigenous Music

Liboi: The East African Folk Artiste Pushing the Boundaries With African Indigenous Music

Liboi: The East African Folk Artiste Pushing the Boundaries With African Indigenous Music | Afrocritik

“In a world where African narratives are often misrepresented or underrepresented, using traditional sounds empowers me to tell our stories in my voice. It challenges stereotypes and showcases the diversity of African cultures, promoting a more nuanced representation of our continent. — Liboi

By Frank Njugi

20th-century American folk singer, Sam Hinton,  once considered folk music as a body of art as it is as much a process, an attitude, and a way of life. Its distinguishing features lie not within the songs themselves, but the folk culture that these songs permeate from. Here in Africa, the creativity displayed in its indigenous people’s musical sounds and practices acts as a revelation of their storied cultures.

In East Africa, one artiste is synonymous with projecting traditional and folk soundscapes as the core of her distinctive songcraft. Liboi, Nairobi-based singer/songwriter, Kalimba-instrumentalist, producer, and composer, creates a blend of traditional music, with elements of popular African genres, which she dubs as contemporary African music. 

Her music is direct in its exploration of diverse human experiences, often conversational, and is besparkled with an emotional urgency that verges on the surreal. Liboi has released two EPs, State of Being and Safari,  through which she has curated acclaimed songs that have dived into lyrical themes that range from mental health, love, patriotism, immigration, and social ills.

In an exclusive interview with Afrocritik, Liboi speaks on her music, folk artistry, and work as a multidisciplinary act.

What is Liboi’s story as an artiste?

I was born in Nairobi and grew up in a vibrant household where music was always a part of daily life. My father was a DJ, so he filled our home with melodies from various African and Western genres. This environment planted the initial seeds of my musical journey. Growing up in the Kariobangi North slums, I often felt misrepresented and underrepresented by mainstream media narratives. This sense of disconnect motivated me to embrace the role of an artivist, using art as a means of communication and representation. I use music and storytelling to narrate my experiences, question humanity, and advocate for the well-being of the deprived in my society.

My creative practice is built on three thematic pillars: social change, culture, and mental awareness. I strive to authentically share my own stories and advocate for the marginalised around me. In my music, I blend traditional sounds with elements of popular African genres, as I create a voice that reflects my passion for social justice and cultural expression.

What do you think is the purpose of music regarding human life and existence?

Music serves a multifaceted purpose. At its core, it is a universal language that transcends cultural, linguistic, and geographical boundaries, and fosters connection and understanding among various humans. It enriches our lives by providing emotional depth, cultural continuity, social connection, and creative expression. Through music, I can explore what it means to be human, find solace and joy, and strive to make the world a better place.

The art of music has given me a powerful outlet for expressing and processing emotions. This emotional resonance can be therapeutic, helping individuals cope with stress, grief, and mental health challenges. People can connect with their heritage and maintain a sense of belonging and pride in their cultural roots. Whether through communal singing, dancing, or attending concerts, shared musical experiences tend to create a sense of unity and collective identity.

Liboi: The East African Folk Artiste Pushing the Boundaries With  African Indigenous Music | Afrocritik

As an African contemporary and Afrofusion artiste, your music incorporates traditional African sounds, blending various genres in an experimental crossover-like style. Why this affinity for tapping into popular traditional and folk sounds? 

It stems from a deep respect for my cultural heritage and a desire to create music that resonates. I am driven by a commitment to cultural preservation, authenticity, emotional depth, innovation, and social impact. By incorporating these themes into contemporary African music genres, I create music that I deem not only artistically compelling but also meaningful and transformative.

Traditional and folk music has a unique emotional depth that speaks to the human experience in a way that is both timeless and universal. By blending various folk sounds with contemporary genres, I create something emotionally powerful that resonates with people on a deeper level. This fusion opens up endless possibilities for my innovation and creativity. It allows me to experiment with different styles and genres, push the boundaries of my artistic expression, and create this distinctive style that is both fresh and rooted in tradition. In a world where African narratives are often misrepresented or underrepresented, using traditional sounds empowers me to tell our stories in my voice. It challenges stereotypes and showcases the diversity of African cultures, promoting a more nuanced representation of our continent.

Do you think sticking with soundscapes that are uniquely African, and uniquely Kenyan, is required to develop a distinctly attractive Kenyan music sound?

I believe it can certainly play a crucial role in developing a unique and attractive Kenyan music sound. However, it’s also important to allow room for evolution and influence from other musical traditions. Music is inherently fluid and dynamic, and incorporating external influences can lead to the creation of new sub-genres and styles that further enrich the Kenyan music scene. 

IMG 2391 1 jpg

Your two EPs,  State of Being and Safari, were inundated with songs that stuck to the infectious and breezy melodies of contemporary African music. What was the inspiration behind the EPs and the sonic direction behind both projects?

The inspiration is mainly from a combination of personal experiences, cultural influences, and a desire to create music that my listeners relate to. State of Being was inspired by a period of introspection and personal growth. The songs on this EP explore various aspects of the human condition, including love, resilience, and self-discovery. The breezy melodies and contemporary African rhythms were chosen to convey these emotions in a way that is both uplifting and relatable. 

Safari, which means “journey” in Swahili, was inspired by my travels and experiences across different regions of Africa. The EP captures the spirit of adventure and the diverse musical landscapes encountered along the way. 

Liboi: The East African Folk Artiste Pushing the Boundaries With  African Indigenous Music | Afrocritik

At times, your artistry comes out as multidisciplinary, as you incorporate poetry, storytelling, dance, and visual arts imagery into music. What are your thoughts on the relationship that exists between music and other art forms?

See Also
Unique Oliver Profile Image - Afrocritik

This relationship is symbiotic, as each enriches and enhances the other in a multidimensional creative tapestry. I believe I  can create works that are more expressive, immersive, and culturally resonant when I integrate elements from different disciplines, which pushes the boundaries of my artistic expression and forges new pathways for my creativity.

Currently, your multidisciplinary concept show, “Whispers of Power”, is touring courtesy of the Creation Africa-Kenya project by the French government. In Whispers of Power”, you use meditative chants and empowering lyrics to guide a narrative, and merge that with visual works and dance to illuminate the stories you tell. How did this concept show come about? What inspired this concept? 

“Whispers of Power” is a two-hour, multi-disciplinary, site-specific conceptual performance that explores the theme of “Safety and Security” with the notion of finding these qualities internally before seeking them externally. The show was inspired by a convergence of personal experiences with my cultural influences, and also a profound desire to create a transformative and immersive artistic experience. The show itself came about from my journey of self-discovery and empowerment and I set out to guide the audience on a journey of self-discovery and personal transformation. It celebrates inner strength, the ability to overcome adversity, and the empowerment found in embracing one’s own power.

Collaborating with artists like dance choreographer and contemporary dancer, Maulid Owino, and storyteller, voice, and stage actor, Wakio Mzenge, has enriched the artistic vision of “Whispers of Power”, and we’ve crafted a performance that integrates music, storytelling, and contemporary dance.

As we continue our tour, we’re sparking conversations and challenging traditional performance norms.  I’m thrilled to bring it to audiences in Nairobi on June 8, 2024, before heading to Mombasa. It’s a testament to the power of art to provoke thought, inspire change, and connect communities.

FhQlK4UXwAEVloC 1 jpeg

You have been part of numerous artistic residencies across the continent and beyond, such as the one at Nafasi Art’s Space and EU-Kenya Music Xchange in Nairobi,  and the Arts Xchange Residency in Rome, Italy. How has the experience and exposure you got from these residencies impacted you as an artist?

The artistic residencies provided me with opportunities for growth, learning, and collaboration, which contributed immensely to the richness and depth of my artistic practice. I got to collaborate with artists from diverse backgrounds, and with this my worldview was informed and my artistic vision improved as I got to learn from others. Working away from familiar routines and comforts, challenged me to confront the creative obstacles I had, and cultivated my resilience and adaptability as an artiste.

 What more does Liboi have in store?

Growth and evolution as an artist. With each new project, I will strive to push the boundaries of my creativity, inspire the people around me, and make meaningful connections through my music. 

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan Writer, Culture journalist and Critic who has written on the Kenyan and East African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, The Republic, Sinema Focus, Culture Africa, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure

© 2024 All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top