Olivia Ambani is a Kenyan singer, songwriter, and marketing consultant. Her unique sound and passion for the music business make her stand out among her peers. Olivia Ambani has an impressive discography packed with beautiful tunes such as Superhuman, Falling Star, and Better than Just Fine.
Moreover, her illustrious music career features several accolades which include 2 AFRIMA Nominations (Best Female Artiste in African Inspirational Music and Songwriter of The Year in Africa 2019). Olivia Ambani was also nominated in the Songwriter and Soulful Artist of The Year categories at The Café Ngoma Awards in 2020 and 2019 respectively.
Olivia’s sea of achievements also boasts of a slot in Mr. Eazi’s coveted Empawa Africa competition in 2018. Last year, her single Falling Star was the soundtrack of the Kenyan movie on Netflix, Just in Time. Being a wearer of many hats, Olivia Ambani is also a marketing consultant and a mental and financial health advocate.
Olivia Ambani recently spoke to KV about her music journey and what it takes to juggle between music and marketing consultancy.
How would you describe your sound?
I have 2 types of music that I do – Pop Soul and Electronic House. But even on the Electronic House side, I would say that it is still very soulful music.
Your 2020 Debut Album, The Awakening was a beautiful piece. Tell us more about the journey post-release and how it has impacted your career.
I released my debut album in 2020 in April, just after the lockdown in Kenya. It was a tricky time to release but I felt like, it was time for my music to come out. I am glad I did so because people were ready for it. Having music out definitely positions you in a different space as an artist. It gave me access to more performances, airplay, and even collaborations.
Before I released my album, I had been doing a lot of performing. Once The Awakening was out, my fans could go and listen to it over and over again and connect with me on different aspects. It has really helped my music career go far. I have gotten lots of opportunities that I probably would never have had.
The album has also made me want to create more music. This is because when I was working on the album, I held back on a lot of things and saying “let me finish the album, then I will work on the other stuff!” Once the album was out, I was like, “yes! Now I can do other things.” Hahaha! I have also gotten a couple of award nominations such as Café Ngoma.
Falling Star was one of the soundtracks for the Just In Time movie. Was this your first-time producing music for film and how was the entire experience?
Falling Star was not written for the film, I had the song before. I was watching one of LowlaDee’s (Just In Time Director) movies. When I heard Kenyan songs in the movie I decided to shoot my shot. Afterward, I found her contact details and got to her website, filled in a form. She responded via Instagram a few days later showing interest in my songs.
I then sent her Better In Time because I hadn’t released my album yet. I also shared with her my unreleased music. She liked a couple of them but picked Falling Star and that’s how it ended up in the movie. When LowlaDee told me that the song was in the movie, I didn’t know at which point it would be played. It was really brilliant that my song was placed in the pivotal part of the movie where there is a shift in the mood. For me, that was a dream come true because I always wanted to get my music in a film. Besides, it was amazing for my song to be on not just any film but one that was telling our story.
Can fans expect to hear more of your songs in films?
Yes. I am looking forward to writing music for film because I love film music. That is how I have discovered some of my favorite artists. So if you are reading this and you want to place my music in a film, just reach out to me. Hahaha!
In your entire catalog, which of your song(s) did you have the most fun while making?
That is such a hard question. I loved creating all of them in their own way. What I could talk about are the parts that I enjoy creating like the freestyle – the initial stage of songwriting. I also love the studio sessions when I get to ad-lib and add layers. The most recent song that I created was Dreams of My Guku. An Electronic House song I did with South African producer SBFire. I enjoyed the ad-libs and layering.
In most of my songs, I do all the parts – the main vocals, BGVs, and harmonies. I really enjoy it, as it is my chance to create. Dreams of Guku, is special to me because it is a dedication to my guku ( means grandmother in Maragoli language). I also got to sing in parts of it in my native language Maragoli – a first in my career. Lastly, I enjoyed making my latest Electronic House EP Take A Chance which is my latest EP as I dug into my love for Michael Jackson and Pop Music.
You have created a very niche fan base for yourself. Was this the goal from start? If so, how would you advise a Kenyan artist trying to follow a similar path?
Hahaha! I never planned to have a niche fan base. When I was working on my music and building my career, I was doing it for myself. Music is that one thing in life that I said I will always do. The music attracts who the music attracts. To anyone trying out something like me, be true to yourself, your sound, and what you connect with. That will attract the right people. Just be yourself. Also, use digital media to connect with your audience, I have done so and that has been super useful.
Studio sessions or live shows?
Ooh! That’s another hard one because I like so many aspects of both. I love the layering, and experimenting in the studio sessions. Most times when I go to the studio, I have the song already arranged. At times some interesting stuff happens where I am like, “Oh yeah! Let’s add this.” But if I have to pick, I would say live shows because that’s where I started. There is a way I connect with the audience and feed off their energy as they feed off mine. Furthermore, I am planning on doing more live shows. Not just in Kenya, but also in other parts of the world to experience different types of audiences from massive festivals to small intimate gigs.
Does music pay? Is it worth the hustle?
Yes, it does. Everyone has a different path on how soon it pays. For me, it’s taken some time but it’s now starting to pay. Plus, I wasn’t really in a rush for it to pay because I not only do music but I am also a marketing consultant. The reason I kept both careers was that I didn’t want to put pressure on my music career to pay immediately. I wanted the space to create the type of music I want and to be able to have the funds to do it.
Sometimes it has really been frustrating when I needed to make money off my music. But all in all, it pays. There are lots of opportunities in music – live shows, music in films, brand endorsements, etc. depending on how you package yourself. Just understand your journey and don’t compare yourself to others. I wouldn’t say it is ‘worth the hustle’, but more of worth the investment.
You double as a singer and marketing consultant. How is it juggling those 2 passions? Does it get tempting to focus on only one?
Juggling both can be intense sometimes! At times I have a marketing consultation session with a client, then later I am running off to an event or an interview hahaha! But I love doing both as they feed off each other. My marketing has helped me brand myself and grow my brand as a musician. On the other hand, being a musician has helped me grow my marketing because musicians and other entrepreneurs who have seen what I have done with my brand have given me opportunities.
At some point, I thought of solely focussing on my music but after evaluation, I realized that wasn’t what I really wanted but rather what I was constantly told. I thrive doing many things and I feel like I am fulfilling my purpose. Of course, I check myself from time to time so that I don’t get overwhelmed. Also, I have a Marketing Mondays series on Instagram and really enjoy sharing tips on how to brand and market a product.
Speaking of marketing, do you work with small businesses only?
My passion for marketing stems from me wanting to contribute to our country’s economy and the continent at large. If more people are able to market their businesses better then they are able to make more money. More money means better lives. I have seen the impact of marketing knowledge on people’s lives. Even though it is often times ignored, spending time and money on marketing knowledge can change the trajectory of someone’s business and career. Especially now with digital media, there is so much capacity to grow.
I work with individuals, small businesses, and even larger organizations. However, when working with big organizations I always ensure that it is benefiting entrepreneurs or individuals. Recently I did a workshop where I developed a marketing curriculum for GIZ but I was hired by HEVA Fund. Additionally, I love teaching about marketing, money, and music.
From the Poleni Concert early this year to your recent conversations at Vibe Na Queen on mental health, one can’t help but notice your interest in mental health matters, especially among the creative community. Does it stem from personal experiences? Why mental health?
For me, mental health is very important because that’s what drives everything we do as human beings. We place a lot of emphasis on physical well-being that we forget it all roots from the mind. I have seen the importance of taking time to take care of your mind. By being intentional about what I feed my mind I have a more fulfilling life.
In fact, I am grateful for the pandemic because it made me stop and think and question a lot of things in my marketing and music careers. I realized that I had given a lot to my music career despite wanting to make music something that is part of my life and not something that I sacrifice other things for. This year, I started therapy and it has been a brilliant experience that I would recommend to others. There needs to be more conversation around mental health. We need to make it a more normal discussion. If we focus on mental health, we would be happier and better people.
What challenges have you experienced in your music and marketing careers?
One of the main challenges was finding a balance between music and marketing in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. Comparing myself to others has been a major challenge too. Not forgetting, getting consistent income from both careers so that they are sustainable without getting burnout. There have been difficult times. Lastly, I would say establishing myself as a trustworthy person in both careers.
However, I see challenges as opportunities to grow. For instance, I had to restructure my marketing consultancy to hourly consultations to be able to offer affordable and sustainable solutions to my clients. That was a game-changer for me. I now charge KES 4,000 an hour to offer marketing solutions and I have gotten more clients.
What other upcoming projects can fans expect?
There is a lot of stuff in the pipeline. I have done a couple of new Electronic House music projects with other producers and I can’t wait to release them. I am also working on some music videos, and show concepts. Recently I got merchandise – postcards available on Hustle Sasa. If you love postcards you should check them out. I have postcards of my single Better Than Just Fine which are retailing at KES 300.
Images courtesy of Olivia Ambani.