Naomi Wachira’s journey to becoming an acclaimed folk musician is by no means a stereotypical one.
Wachira’s father was a Kijabe pastor, and she joined the travelling family band in Kenya when she was five years old.
“I just remember having this feeling, every time I was on stage performing, almost a sense that I was home and this is where I want to be, on a stage somewhere singing,” Wachira said.
It was then she decided what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, but it took a little time to realize that dream. Now living in Washington State, Wachira moved to the U.S. 20 years ago to attend university, her parents had a plan for the way her life was going to play out.
“My parents kind of pushed me away from the whole music thing because they were like this is not a career, you’re not going to make any money out of it so be realistic,” Wachira said.
She attended college in Chicago at the age of 19, attaining a bachelor’s degree in communications, moving to Seattle for more schooling where she rekindled her love of performing.
Her first four years in the U.S. were a blur, coming from a very protective family.
“More than anything it was I need to survive, assimilate and stay above water. That’s all I remember about it,” Wachira said.
While having children is usually the sign of the beginning of the end for a musician’s career, for Wachira it was the moment she decided to make music her life’s work.
“Her birth is the beginning of my career. She’s six now and we travel together quite a lot,” Wachira said. “I’m a single parent, but I’m very determined to make this work and discovering what I was created to do.”
The birth of her daughter was a powerful, life-changing moment.
“The one thought I remember I had was this reality that I was responsible for another human being, in a sense. If I was miserable in my life chances are I was going to pass that on to her. So I started thinking about what are the things that really make me happy,” Wachira said.
She knew deep down performing was when she felt at peace with herself and the world. Though she had a background, her musical skills were only exercised as a hobby after moving to America.
“I bought my first guitar when I was 27, and even then it was more like ‘oh yeah, this is kind of a cool idea,’” Wachira said.
She had been writing melodies her whole life as a vocalist, but the guitar was her first musical instrument. Teaching herself how to play, Wachira started attending open mic nights in Seattle around 2011, when things really began to take off. She began to meet local musicians and played a crucial open mic at the Doe Bay Festival on Orcas Island in Washington.
“I just found it so ridiculous they actually gave me a stage during the festival and I feel like ever since then it kind of spiralled and doors started opening up. Opportunities kept coming and I kept saying yes, and yes, and yes,” Wachira said. “It was incredible, amazing.”
Wachira recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for her sophomore album with PledgeMusic. Crowdfunding becoming the new normal is putting more power in the hands of music-makers, Wachira said.
“The beauty of being a 21st century musician, or at least in 2016, is you don’t need to rely on record labels that much to get your music out there,” Wachira said.
She will be at London Bridge Studio wrapping up the album, Song of Lament, in May prior to coming to the Dream Music Festival. To help support her sophomore album visit www.pledgemusic.com/naomiwachira.
This is part three of a six-part series previewing the Dream Music Festival. Tickets are $69, $79 and $89 available at the South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton and Wine Country Visitor Centre and online at www.thedreammusicfestival.ca.