Kenya is a soulful singer/songwriter who delivers soothing vocals accompanied by music that embodies a contemporary groove. Inspired by American singer/songwriters such as Stevie Wonder, Lalah Hathaway, John Mayer & Norah Jones and international groups like Incognito, Brand New Heavies and Jazzanova, Kenya admits that "Music = air"...without it, she simply doesn't breathe. Kenya (whose full name is Kenya McGuire Johnson)has been singing since the age of 8. Raised in Denver, CO during adolescence she was active in citywide choirs, jazz bands, show choirs, and musical theater. In college she was a member of the renowned Howard Gospel Choir at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and after college did background vocals for various independent artists including the former group Hue, Maritri, Nick Cassarino, Shana Tucker Williams, and The Soulfolk Experience. As an adolescent and during college while performing in combos and groups, she opened for such artists as Art Blakey, Bebe & CeCe Winans, and Yolanda Adams.
Her debut EP titled "Starting Over", produced by Grammy Award winning producer Maurice Joshua (best known for his remix for "Crazy in Love" by Beyonce), is a testimony to Kenya's journey- she is returning to the gift of music after being away from the craft (having a family and career as a physical therapist and educator). Kenya truly feels blessed to have this remarkable rebirth.
How do you describe your music to people, Kenya?
Soulful, soothing, contemporary groove...a blend of r&b..."good" music!
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
I began singing and playing the flute at 8 y/o. My father is a percussionist and introduced mostly jazz and soul music when I was much younger than 8. By 13 y/o I was singing in citywide choirs and then began piano lessons. From there, I became very active in the arts in school.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Finding a very quiet moment to myself and searching for the most obscure, delicious music ever! I can spend hours doing this, which is a rarity given I'm a mommy, musician, wife, etc... Another favorite thing to do is having long, deep discussions with my husband about relationships, spirituality, and simply living your best life. Our marriage has really evolved and it's incredibly fulfilling simply having profound discussions.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
Being a new independent artist, the better question is what is NOT the biggest challenge! I love music and the creative process, so it's very easy to become overly absorbed, leaving a small space for balance. My goal is not to have the business control me, but rather me control my business.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be so many things...a child psychologist, lawyer, even a soap opera actress!! I always dreamed of singing and doing music, but never imagined it being actualized. I now understand with faith and belief in oneself, dreams truly can become reality.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
I have always been drawn to and surrounded by people who are in the arts. My village of close family and friends are filled with musicians, artists, poets, writers, etc. Similarly, the areas I've felt most comfortable living in are cosmopolitan, urban regions that are filled with artistic culture. Living in Chicago now gives a wonderful balance of having access to producing and performing music while also creating a good family life.
What other artists out there do you love?
This is always a fun question because there are so many artists I love. Some of my ultimates are Stevie Wonder, Lalah Hathaway, Jazzanova, Incognito, The Foriegn Exchange (I think Nicolay is brilliant!), Brand New Heavies, Beady Belle, Janita, Rasmus Faber, John Mayer, Jill Scott, Lisa Fischer, Ledisi....the list really is endless. Each of these artists not only are incredible performers, but they are incredibly progressive with their music. They take risks while still being true to their craft and who they are as artists.
What does your future hold?
Hmmm.....I think the future holds infinite possibilities. I pray that songwriting is where my career will land and stay on solid ground. But, at this point, I simply want to create good music and share it the way so many wonderful artists have shared their music with me.