Kenyan-born singer making waves in the US

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The media, both in Kenya and around the world, have in the past few months been abuzz with the success of Lupita Nyong’o. She is an example of Kenyans whose artistic exploits went virtually unnoticed at home before success exploded abroad.

Miriam Chemmoss a multi -talented Kenyan with roots in Mt Elgon, Bungoma County but currently based New York City, falls in this mould. She is an accomplished singer, songwriter, actress and model.

Miriam largely remains unknown to Kenyan music fans, though her compositions are more popular with East Africans in the US, UK and in other international audiences.

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“Most Kenyans at home do not know me. Many may have not listened to my music, because most of it is not anyway played on Kenyan radio and TV stations. But I have a legion of fans who knew me from back in the day before I came to the USA. They listen to my songs mainly through the internet,” Miriam told The Counties in an exclusive interview.

She describes herself as ‘a proud East African of mixed heritage’ because of the diverse heritage and cultural background of her immediate family. Her late father, a Sabaot, hailed from Mt Elgon, Bungoma County, and her mother is from Tanga, Tanzania. Her late maternal grandfather was from Scotland.

The singer, who grew up in different parts of the country as well as Tanzania, says that she knew from an early age that she was cut for the entertainment world.

“I actively participated in the Kenya Drama and Music Festivals in primary and secondary schools, which I believe moulded my career. In 1998, I came to the US after being awarded a full scholarship by Waldorf College, in Iowa to study Theater/Music and Media Studies,” she says.

“Waldorf, a Liberal Arts School was a great foundation for a musical career, as I got an opportunity to sit for music lessons and private vocal coaching. After graduating in 2001, I moved to Washington DC where I continued to get training and experience singing at workshops and events and with various local bands.” She moved to New York City her current base in 2004, which according to her is a memorable year as it is the year she took her musical ambitions to the next level.

“I got an opportunity to develop my performance skills as a member of ‘The Marvalletes Revue’ under the direction of original Marvallete – Pam Darden, in a revival of the famous Motown girl group,” she says. She adds that while at the group, she brushed shoulders with legendary groups such as ‘Kool and The Gang’, ‘The Escorts’ and ‘Soul Generations’ among others.

She joined the legendary ‘Soukous Star’ band; experts at Congolese Rhumba, under direction of the famous Lokassa Ya Mbongo, Ngouma Lokito, Shiko Mawatu and winners of the 2004 International Reggae and World Music Awards a year later where she carved out a role among the male veterans as the sole female voice on both harmony and lead vocals.

By 2005, she had worked with several great musicians from Africa, the Caribbean and the US, including among others; Baby Black Ndombe, son of the veteranCongolese musician Pepe Ndombe Opetum, who invited her to feature on his number one single and video, Let’s Dance from his US solo debut, Teur de Babel.

She went solo in 2006, recording and ‘Rudi’ her first Kiswahili single that catapulted her to international fame after it topped the charts in several radio stations across the globe. The success of the Rudi single got her featured in Vibe magazine in September 2007, where she was referred to as ‘The Queen of African Urban Music.” She has several singles in her name including: Let’s Dance (2008), Love In Reverse (2009) and Africa (2010).

In 2012 she completed and released her first album titled Lovebird. Half of the songs in the volume – in which she effortlessly blends global urban and folk influences from reggae to soukous and Taarab, on a bedrock of rhythm and Blues and Hip-Hop – are done in a mixture of Kiswahili and English. It also contains onefull dance song called Malaika that is all in Kiswahili.

“I was humbled that my debut album got a lot of love from people around the world. ‘Ode to Daddy’, ‘Unconditional Love’, and ‘Now Is the Time’, ‘Malaika’ and ‘Stronger’ are some of the popular songs in the album that have received heavy airplay,” says the artist, who in 2010 also co-starred with the award winning Nigerian actor Ramsey Nouah, in a drama on the 2008 Kenyan post-election violence.

She acted as ‘Waridi’ in the movie Taharuku that made its way around major film festivals in the world including New York and Durban Film festivals.

She has also worked with the famed Lion King composer, Lebo M, Bouro Mpela from Koffi Olomide’s group as well as many other Diaspora artists based in the US. She did a collabo last year, a reggae remix called Life’s Duality with Sherwin Gardner, a multi-award winning reggae gospel artist from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago.

Miriam is passionate about the empowerment of youth and women. She has over the years involved herself with non-profit organisations or performed in events that are geared towards uplifting the less fortunate in Africa.

– The Standard

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