Meet RISH, the dreadlocked head banger who’s adding that little bit of flavor into the Kenyan rock scene (and having fans of the relatively under-appreciated genre buzzing with excitement).
Granted, RISH has been a player behind the scenes for a couple of years now, and she certainly made a splash when she appeared as a finalist on the Airtel Trace Music Stars competition in 2014. However, with her addictive single “The Hate Song” hitting our airwaves early 2015, we thought it was about time to dig a little deeper into the woman with the raspy soulful voice, and find out some of the whys and hows behind her musical persona. What follows include some interesting tidbits on transition, introversion, and defiance in the face of the societal dictates of what makes up the perfect body. The way RISH tells it, the age of the global Kenyan rock star is just about to begin.
Why rock, specifically?
I can’t even begin to tell you the joy rock music brings me. It’s like food. I love all music, but there’s a chemical reaction that takes place whenever rock and I are in the same vicinity, resulting in just the right amount of calm and oomph to help me thrive in life. I love guitars, I love gritty voices, but also soft ones in rock songs. I love how creative drumming transforms a song from Lingala to Metal. There is just too much to put in one simple way. I just love it.
How did it feel transitioning from being an entertainment writer-editor who works in the background to more or less becoming one of the most requested local artists on X FM (a Kenyan radio station that focuses on rock and pop music)?
Well, it was rather drastic. I was fired from my editing job, and then was being picked as one of the Top 6 Airtel Trace Stars. Next thing I knew guys were going Who’s that giiiirl? I don’t know that I had time to feel anything but fulfillment. I didn’t expect any of this, in spite of having very big dreams for myself and the rock scene in our country. So you see, I didn’t transition, I was flung from one side of things to another and I just decided to be like que sera sera because things are definitely better than I imagined they would be.
You once said that you joined (Airtel Trace) because you’d be judged on the quality of your voice rather than your looks. Is this something you had struggled with earlier on?
Yeah! I’m as tomboy-ish as they come. I didn’t care what my hair looked like, I wore baggy clothes, jeans and sneakers, and if someone wasn’t calling me gay, they were wondering whether I was really a woman, surveying my chest for signs of mamaries. Plus I was really fat, and that, in entertainment circles (except comedy), is considered unattractive. I could see the judgment in people’s eyes even before I opened my mouth to sing, and perhaps that affected my performance in a way. But when I submitted my voice to Airtel Trace, it was like the world could finally see me. Before I had the voice, the looks I had trouble with, you know? Plus makeup was foreign to me. And now…I kinda get it now!
In what direction are you looking to take your music?
Up? I want my music to change the Kenyan scene, take over Africa and conquer the rest of the world. I still haven’t completed my album, but that’s not a worry. Good things take time to develop. When the time comes, you will hear RISH playing in Kenyan, Ugandan, British, American, Nigerian series and movies. And—places like Safaricom and Nyayo Stadium were not just meant for sports. I intend to fill such spaces with an audience that wants to hear my music because it changed them somehow. And if God wills, I’ll be playing alongside some of my favorite artists: John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and maybe even throw in a collabo with Clay (a Nigerian rock singer), Sheryl Crowe, Avril. Just because.
Finally, your song “The Hate Song” reads: “It’s not about hating a person. it’s about hating what’s evil, and not just the evil in others, but the evil within ourselves and actively getting rid of it because, evil, even hate, is stupid.” In my mind I read that as HUH? How do you explain it?
Each one of us, those of us courageous enough to do it, will look at themselves in the mirrors of their mind, and see all the things they hate about themselves. If you’re keen, the things you hate about others, are most likely reflections of what you hate about yourself as well, or, reflections of what you wish you had, that they have. “The Hate Song” is about looking in the mirror, seeing all these things you hate about yourself, and cussing them out of yourself. No one wants to keep things they hate, right? So what do you do, you call them out, throw them out, and deny them re-entry. No visa for s*** that ain’t good for me!
Curious? Make sure you listen to RISH’s “The Hate Song” as well as her newest offering At the End of the Day.