Embraced in the country, complete with a local name, the Swedish-American musician tells Harriet James about her voyage
Who is Anoushka?
Anouschka aka Chadi is a Swedish-American singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire. My songs are well-crafted lyrics that show musical versatility, innovative vocal phrasing, solid guitar chops and fusion of two different kinds of music from Kenya and the western world.
Where did the name Chadi come from?
The Giriama community at the Coast gave me the name after I crowdfunded money to build desks for a local school.
At what age did you realise that you could sing and how did you nurture it?
My Swedish grandmother gave me a guitar when I was 13 and I taught myself how to play it and also began writing music. I was a lead singer for an all-girl rock band in Sweden when I was a teenager and eventually moved to New York, and later Boston, to pursue more opportunities.
During these East Coast years, I found myself as the only female guitarist and songwriter at industry events, guitar classes at Berklee College of Music, and jam sessions.
At Berklee, in the presence of world-class singers, I realised that I am not a vocalist and never will be. I don’t have a Mariah Carey or Ella Fitzgerald voice. It is unfair to compare a singer-songwriter playing an instrument to someone focused purely on vocals. I made peace with that and have worked hard instead to optimise my voice and develop my personal style.
What inspires your music?
I am inspired by almost anything, but I am a huge fan of jazz and blues vocal styles. Since 2013, Kenya has slowly been inspiring me more with musical influences. I am also extremely inspired by some chill urban music. I look to create my signature style and sound.
You also studied political science at Tufts University in the US and you have a MA in Natural resources from Stockolm. How relevant has education been to your music?
I studied political science because my father did not believe I should be an artiste. He wanted me to marry a nice educated man and study something that could give me a reliable, prestigious job.
I did not like cutting up dead frogs in biology, and I flunked macroeconomics. In fact, my professor had to personally call my dad in for an appointment and tell him “This really isn’t her thing”, before he let it go.
But, I was interested in becoming a lawyer and/or journalist so political science was the logical academic major for that. I have worked as acting chancellor of the Swedish Consulate and as a reporter. Ironically, it turns out I am also good at business; I have made money from real estate.
The studies are perfectly relevant because they have not only made me well-rounded, but also instilled a curiosity in me to analyse and understand things. A good songwriter is someone who looks for the nugget of truth that can resonate on a universal level. An educated artiste has more depth and perception.
Having experienced the music industry in Kenya and the US, how different are they?
First of all, reputation is king overseas. If you have bad marks on your track record, people won’t work with you. The first quality people look for is competence. In Kenya I see people treating others so badly, cheating them out of money and yet they still work together! In USA you would be fired and your career would end.
Another thing is the payola system. Payola (pay for play) has been around forever in the music industry. The labels in the states would pay stations for high rotation. That is often how hits are made. But I do think you have to deliver the goods as labels won’t stake their reputation on an awful artiste no matter how many millions they’re able to pay.
Mediocre yes, but awful? No. I feel like the bribing system in Kenya is different because it will actually play pure sh*t with a straight face because people do not seem to care about reputation.
Collabos are big in Kenya, but overseas you have more leverage if you are a prolific writer with a catalogue.
While many women overseas these days are doing their own thing, here female artistes are still sorely under-educated in areas such as arranging, composing and producing.
Age is a huge factor in the states. Many times I was told to lie about it. But you look at some of the male artistes with potbellies, balding spots, bad skin, bad teeth, addictions galore and people say “Oh, he’s so talented and sexy and misunderstood.” Oh PLEASE!!!
What are you currently up to?
I am on a media tour to promote my latest song Shine. I have also been chosen among the six songwriters who will be showcasing in this year’s Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale (MIDEM), France through Entertainment Music Group, Canada. I am also releasing new songs in the US.
Last word to upcoming artistes
Learn the craft and play fair with everyone. Do stay true. You get what you put in. Hustle like crazy and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not good enough.
Ladies, I am all for being sexy, but sexy is a state of mind, a presence. The more skin you show the more you’re saying you don’t believe in yourself to deliver the music. Typically, guys will tell you sex sells because they control the industry and want to see you naked and keep you in a subservient sexualised position.