By Oral Ofori
Mary Hamboga Matufi, a Kenyan musician and songwriter known in showbiz as Almaz says dropping out of school for lack of funds to continue her education and her society’s preference to push enterprising males than females up the academic ladder was still not enough to quell her desires to pursue her passion for music.
“I was forced to drop out of school but I didn’t let that stop me from staying positive in life. I feel through my music I have been able to make the best of the situation in the past decade during which I have been singing in different bands, one of which is The Pressmen Band; makers of the famous Kenyan hit “Msenangu”.
At a point in time Almaz was once a victim of societal pressure as she grappled with getting married as opposed to pursuing education. She made the bold choice of resisting marriage and instead took on seasonal jobs till she later decided to get into music. This background makes her feel “no challenge is too difficult as it has become the foundation on which my music career is built”.
The Kenyan musician who sings in French and a little bit of English, mostly sings in Swahili — the common Bantu language spoken in most of the Great Lakes region of Africa — which potentially exposes her work to countries like Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo among others. Almaz is a singer, performer and composer who is learning to play the piano to help herself arrange her songs in the future.
Almaz says she is now keen on developing her skills “by focusing on using my music to help preserve diminishing aspects of the cultural heritage of the people of the Pokomo Community where I am from; a distinct tribe with our very own way of life in Kenya. This vision of mine seeks to add value to my style of music-making.”
“Every time I perform, I ensure that at least I manage to engage my audience. Their response is very important my career. Without their feedback it becomes difficult to gauge the impact of the songs I compose. I get inspired whenever my audience get onto the dance-floor and enjoy themselves while listening to me or watching me perform on stage.”
In her response to how the music scene in Kenya is changing, Almaz describes the evolution as having been rapid in the past decade with a positive increase in play of local music on the airwaves and more live band performances leading to increased competition and a higher exception from musicians and performers.
The unfortunate aspect though is the loss of ground for the traditional music industry, with more modern and foreign music influences making gains. This trend however “strengthens my resolve to pursue, create and record cultural-driven music as a way of keeping the culture and history alive with the hope that the younger generation might take a queue from this effort” Almaz hoped.
Her debut single; Nakuota Wewe, was well received in Kenyan music circles. She says having a musical identity is paramount to success and credits her achievements to her determination to be successful and her love for numbers. “Maybe I would have become an accountant if I wasn’t into music as I still like making calculations and working with figures – this has been very helpful in enabling me and my band plan work-based projections.