Hailing from the vibrant city of Nairobi, Analo Kanga is a multi-talented African instrumentalist, saxophonist, vocalist, and performing artist, who has conquered the hearts of African music lovers with her unique blend of African jazz and pop. Charismatic and highly skilled, Analo is on a quest to redefine the boundaries of contemporary African music while preserving the cultural essence that makes it truly special. With her debut EP titled “Analogies” released on 6 October 2023, Analo Kanga is ready to leave an everlasting impact on the global music scene while solidifying her spot as the next Afrojazz pop star. Beyond music, Analo is an entertainment lawyer championing the rights of performing artists, particularly the institution of a minimum wage, as well as the adoption of fair labour practices in the entertainment sector. Currently, Analo teaches Music Business Ethics and Career Launchpad at Africa Digital Media Institute (ADMI) in Nairobi. She sat down with Doddy Maru to discuss music, creative pursuits, education, and more.
Doddy: Your debut EP Analogies was released in October this year, but I remember first hearing you play saxophone on Octopizzo’s Zikishika before you released your early singles like Mood Shifting and Moto Kama Pasi. How was it recording those first few singles?
Analo: The first single I released was Mood Shifting, although the first song I ever recorded was Moto Kama Pasi. At the time, I had just joined Law School and didn’t have any recording equipment or experience, but I was so eager to make music. I was lucky, though, because I had some friends that were a bit more established in the music space who took me in and helped me record and master those first few songs including Late Nights and Short Lunches.
Recording for the first time was exhilarating since until then, while in school, I had mostly focused on the performance side of music. But I was also a bit anxious because it was more pressure than I had experienced before—I think due to its permanence, it is essential to attain perfection while recording a song in the studio, and this really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I also realised that the more takes you have, the more glaring your weaknesses and mistakes become, as minute as they may be. It is truly the hardest part of the job in my opinion, harder than being on stage for sure.
Doddy: You mentioned that you used to perform in school. Is this how your journey in music started?
Analo: (laughs) Let me start by giving the cliché answer of “I have always been involved in music.” I started singing in Sunday school when I was really young. I also participated in the choral verse for the music festivals when I was in primary school. Looking back on it now, I would say I have always been a confident girl, but I think my participation in these essentially public speaking activities helped a lot. I mean, I still have nerves before every set and they’ll probably never go away, but I’ve lived on stage long enough now to know how to deal with it.
As I got to high school, I was initially admitted to a certain school in Nairobi, but I left soon after because of the blanket ban implemented by the school administration that year on all co-curricular activities. Their rationale was that this ban would remedy the school’s poor academic performance in the previous year’s KCSE. There was to be no sports, no music, no drama—no creative arts of any kind. At heart, I am a creative person and I frankly couldn’t stand to be in the school anymore so I pleaded with my father to get me out of there. I literally told my Dad, “I know this is high school but I don’t think it was ever supposed to be that serious.”
My pleading was successful and I got a transfer to Precious Blood Riruta where my musicianship would really take off and be nurtured. In PB, I did music as a subject and also joined the choir. Music and choir turned out to be a great combo because we would learn music theory in class then go and practise what we learnt in choir, which was greatly complementary to the classwork. We also had the most amazing teacher of music called Mr. Kimutai, who was immensely passionate about music, and introduced us to complexities of music far and beyond the school syllabus. In fact, most of us who were in Mr. Kimutai’s class are pursuing music professionally. It was also in high school that I picked up the saxophone in form three, for exam purposes. This was short notice meaning I had to learn very rapidly and grasp the instrument in time for KCSE. I’ve been playing the saxophone ever since, and most of my early recorded work is heavy on the horns. Me ndio ule dem wa sax.
Doddy: You had spoken on Twitter about the launch of the new EP coinciding with your rebrand as an artist. What do you mean by this?
Analo: Rebranding as an artist means that I get to take centre stage of the creative process and the art in projects I embark on. Rebranding as an artist means that I do a lot more singing, because people tend to remember the singer more than they do the instrumentalists. For instance, with Linkin Park and Maroon 5, most people can identify the singers Adam Levine and Chester Bennington, but not much more if you ask them about the guitarist or who’s on percussion. You will notice, even from the intro Stay That Way, that unlike my early songs which were predominantly instrumental, there is a lot more of my voice on every track in Analogies. I’ll still be playing saxophone, but be prepared to hear a lot more of my voice from now on.
Doddy: Most of your fans know you for your jazzy tunes and soulful voice, but you have also described yourself as an entertainment lawyer. What does being an entertainment lawyer mean to you, seeing as you’re an entertainer yourself?
Analo: First of all, I have to say, I feel like the time I spent in Law School slowed down my growth as an artist because I might have otherwise been fully immersed in my craft for those four years. Nevertheless, I also feel that I wouldn’t be where I am today as an artist were it not for studying a degree in Law. As an artist, my favourite courses on campus were, obviously, Intellectual Property and Media law. As an artist and entertainer, my legal training has come in handy especially because artists are routinely exploited in the industry, usually due to ignorance of IP laws.
Being an entertainment lawyer who deals in copyright, labour, trademark, and media issues is advantageous to me since these matters are right in my wheelhouse as a recording and performing artist. Simply being a lawyer has improved my bargaining power as an entertainer since I am more aware of the key regulations governing all my artistic relationships.
For example, I recently inked a deal with Sol Generation, under which Analogies was released, and my legal training was particularly useful in the negotiations. While I also enlisted the aid of more seasoned practitioners in entertainment law practice, I must admit I felt a lot of internal pressure negotiating that deal, but now that it’s sealed I feel like we did a good job.
Additionally, as an artist, being an entertainment lawyer has also made me more vigilant and aware in my day to day of labour malpractice, contracts, and the linkages between various players like recording labels, artists, PR firms, brands, and event planners. In other words, my legal training has made me a better artist. My artistry has also improved my legal sensibilities because I have first hand information of the situation in the entertainment sector. My artistry and legal background feed into each other.
I believe the age of the ignorant artist is over, we have enough ignorant and uneducated artists in circulation. Currently, I teach Music Business Ethics and Career Launchpad at ADMI, and one of my goals is to make critical information accessible to all artists so that they are better equipped to agitate for their rights.
The elephant in the room is that creative work in Kenya, and I daresay globally, is greatly undervalued which leads to the low wages. Every artist worth their salt knows that money is made through touring. We pay rent by being on stage. Streaming residuals and brand endorsements come later. Live performance is our bread and butter, so if you aren’t getting gigs you likely aren’t making ends meet. I am therefore a huge proponent of the notion of a minimum wage for performers as is the case in places like the US and the UK, as well as the adoption of fair labour practices for performers like breaks in between sets. I believe we need to adapt our laws to the plight of artists to enable them to make a livelihood from their work.
I also think that beyond legislation, it might be a cultural problem that we have to address: the fact that creative work tends not to be treated as work. Many artists have fallen prey to predatory clients who make them perform at everything from weddings to exclusive corporate events for peanuts. This should change. Creative work is work, and it’s my mission to do what I can to educate more artists on their IP and Labour rights.
Doddy: You recently released Stay That Way, the intro track to your debut EP. I am already obsessed with it by the way, imenibamba sana. Can you tell us a bit about Analogies?
Analo: First of all, the name “Analogies” is derived from my name Analo, which I thought was really cool. Analogies as an album is linked to the rebrand as an artist, and is the first project I shall be releasing under Sol Generation Records. The EP will have a total of six tracks, the first of which is Stay That Way, already out on Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube. Every track on Analogies is distinctly different from the rest, and they are meant to show the different sides of Analo, hence the name. It is essentially a tour of Analo’s faces and has jazz, afrofusion, and afro pop. I am super excited for the release because I worked with some great artists on it like Hornsphere, SoFresh, and Earlwin; I’m hopeful the people will feel and vibe to the energy we put into it. The full EP was released on all streaming platforms on October 6th.
Doddy: While I listen to you frequently on Spotify, you’re more likely to get paid when I show up to your gigs. Word is that streaming doesn’t really pay unless you’re as big as Drake or Taylor Swift. How do you feel about streaming?
Analo: The truth is, as an artist, you simply have to get gigs and perform because that is the best way to get paid. If you are not getting gigs then you likely aren’t making any income at all. After gigs, everything else follows like brand endorsements, selling merchandise, synchronisation into movies, and much more. Streaming, according to me, is akin to buying a plot of land in a remote place where roads and other infrastructure hasn’t really reached yet, but will in a few years. For me, streaming is about the long game—it’s about putting my music out there and letting the earnings accumulate. I think about earnings from streaming as a retirement plan, just letting those pennies pile and when the time is right I can withdraw my earnings. I don’t really have a problem with streaming per se because it also lets me connect with my fans, but it wouldn’t hurt if it was more than just pennies per stream. In the meantime, I’m going to be on stage.
Doddy: Finally, what is your philosophy as an artist? What keeps you going as you create?
Analo: My philosophy as an artist is: practice is a lifestyle. This means that I know in order to master my craft, particularly playing the saxophone, I need to practise consistently. It takes at least ten years to master an instrument, and after playing the saxophone for nine years now, I can attest to this fact. Mastering the saxophone is hard, and so I make it my business to incorporate practice hours into my daily life without making it a burden or a chore. I believe in making the integration of practising my artistry with my lifestyle seamless, such that my practise is not an impediment to my personal life but a complementary feature. This means that some days I will practise for six hours in the morning, while some days I can only get in an hour in the evening and that’s okay. It’s really day-to-day depending on how things may be, but I try to keep practice a constant in my life.