The girl who made Kenyan jazz sexy again
Maia Von Lekow is known for two things: One, adding a new and appreciated dimension to Kenyan music with her jazz, and two, being the daughter of the 1960s music legend, Sal Davies.
But despite her musical pedigree, the singer of the hit song Jellyfish says her life was far from easy.
Raised by a single mum of German-Italian descent, Maia spent her early years in Kenya before leaving for Ireland to study music at the age of 16.
“Life overseas was not easy,” she remembers. At some point, things were so thick that she became a busker, singing on the streets with a friend to raise money for their upkeep.
“I also hoped that one of the passers-by would be a record producer who would offer me the deal of my life,” she said.
After many years living abroad, Maia returned to Kenya when singer, Eric Wainaina told her to get acceptance at home before venturing to other markets. She listened (thanks, Eric!) came back and joined a jazz band called Solid Groove.
After a year with the band, she decided to go solo. The first song she recorded was of the movie From a Whisper, done in memory of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi. The movie was released in 2007.
“It was not easy to penetrate the music industry in Kenya. I found that most Kenyans love songs with faster beats and are not ready to accept new artistes. You first have to prove yourself. This made me all the more determined to rise because this was my home,” she said.
Like any parent, her mother was skeptical of her decision to be a musician.
“She asked if I had a plan B in case music failed, so I took a course in hotel management.”
Maia has also lived in Germany and Australia and says she always felt lonely, learning to be independent at an early age.
Perhaps this independence is what led to her relationship with her father, in spite of the fact that he and her mother separated all those years ago.
“He and I have a very good relationship and I’m proud of that,” she says.
Maia’s style is influenced by both jazz and acoustic music.
Her album Drift comprises of 12 songs which she wrote herself, and her fusion of styles and cultures has made it a captivating album, with Jellyfish being the most popular with her fans.
Though her style is new to Kenyans, it has managed to get a firm following, especially amongst Nairobi’s fashionable crowd.