Mics and Beats: Maggie Gitu

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This was me as the Witchdoctor in "Ondieki the Fisherman" at Braeburn Theater

Every other week we feature an artist in our Mics and Beats segment. Our Mics and Beats artist today is Maggie Gitu. Maggie Gituis is a classically trained singer; her voice type is Mezzo-soprano.

Maggie Gitu performing at A Diva in "Rent-A-Diva" at Michael Joseph Center.
Maggie Gitu performing at A Diva in “Rent-A-Diva” at Michael Joseph Center.

When and why did you start playing/singing? Which instruments do you play?

I started singing quite by accident. I joined the choir in standard 6 as a way to spend time with my friends and have a shorter double lesson after lunch because choir practice was during lunch time and it often ended a little late. I’m quite strictly a singer, although I do play a little bit of piano.

Do you have a formal musical education?

Yes, I do. I have a BA Music (Vocal Performance) and an MM in Music (Vocal Performance).

There are many people who may not understand the kind of music you sing. If you met somebody like that what would you say to sell them the idea that they should come and see you perform.

Classical singing is about listening to what the voice can do. We’re like athletes who train for many years to be able to produce sound in a very specific way. It’s pretty cool to hear, especially live.

Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music for the first time like. What song do you remember most as a child?

My first experience with music was attending choir rehearsals with my mum, who was a member of the choirs at work and at our church. I was so impressed! The ladies always looked so elegant, with their high heels neatly put to the side as they sat with pencils listening to the conductor so seriously. The whole thing just mesmerized me. Members of both choirs were also very nice to me, the little girl sitting at the corner. I was instantly drawn to it!

What musical influences did you have a child?

As a child, I really only had my mum and Muungano Choir until MTV brought me Whitney Houston; I still remember singing and dancing along “I’m your baby tonight.”

maggie gitu 2

How is the music different from what you listen to now?

Honestly, not that different. I still listen to whatever’s playing on radio or tv.

What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I started to think about pursuing music as a career after I placed 2nd nationally at the Kenya Music Festival. It felt natural and easy, in terms of learning the music. Performing made me anxious but once I was on stage, which was it. Once the thought crossed my mind, it never left; I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?

I have so many musicians that I love! Fena Gitu is first on that list. I can’t explain to you just what her voice does to me but it’s a fantastic instrument! It has so much warmth and color and depth. People sometimes think I say that because she’s my sister but those people don’t know me, because I don’t joke when it comes to music.

I am smitten with Just-A-Band; their sound is so…unique. Watching them perform is quite the experience! I’m also a big fan of Eric Wainaina; he knows how to have an audience eating out of his hand, regardless of age or gender.

Muthoni the Drummer Queen is another artist whose music I really enjoy because it’s ahead of its time, and yet it feels right on time to me. I love that she’s an artist marching to the beat of her own drum and not following the masses. Internationally, there are simply too many and I don’t analyse them the way that I analyse Kenyan musicians. My most inspiring classical singers are the Late Marian Anderson for the richness of her sound & what she was able to achieve, and Kathleen Battle, whose voice is pristine.

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

If a mistake happens during a performance, it didn’t happen. I just keep going!

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Get a good teacher, be consistent about rehearsing and have a teachable spirit no matter how talented you are. Lessons come from all sorts of places so be open to that too.

How often and for how long do you practice?

Ideally, 60-75 minutes daily; this includes vocalizing, singing the repertoire and studying the music. In reality, I practice less than that because I already use my voice a lot teaching and in the course of my other career (I’m a Marriage, Family & Sex therapist so there’s a lot of talking & explaining to do.)

Do you teach music?

Yes. I’m a voice teacher to private students. This also includes teaching theory as well as preparing students for exams.

How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?

People often ask me “do you sing that music that goes ‘Ahhhh’” as they imitate a classical singer and I laugh and say yes because that’s the easiest way to conceptualize it for someone who has never heard it before.

Soloist at Powell Symphony Hall with Bach Society of St. Louis
Soloist at Powell Symphony Hall with Bach Society of St. Louis

What can people expect to see at your live performance?

A lot of humor! I’m a comedy-inclined singer so I like to make fun of myself or my audience, so if I pick on you, tease you or blow you a kiss, it’s all in good musical fun, lol.

This was me as the Witchdoctor in "Ondieki the Fisherman" at Braeburn Theater
This was me as the Witchdoctor in “Ondieki the Fisherman” at Braeburn Theater

Out of the songs you have performed which is your favourite song? (If you have your own music which song of yours)

I don’t have just one favourite songs but I do have to say that I love Habañera from George Bizet’s opera “Carmen”. I am also really proud of the work that I did in my first opera in Kenya; “Hansel & Gretel” by Humperdink. The storyline may be for children but the music certainly wasn’t. I also had a very short time to prepare. I am extremely proud of the work I did in Kenya’s first opera, “Ondieki the Fisherman” by Francis Chandler because it was totally original music, and not always the easiest to sing. The composer present for all the performances; talk about pressure!

What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?

I’ve had some pretty fun gigs in Kenya; different embassies, the operas etc I did sing for President Mwai Kibaki at State House and really enjoyed everything about that performance.

How much creative control do you have over what you sing?

That really depends on what I’m working on. If it’s already written (Mozart, Brahms, opera) then there’s no control because the work is written. I have control on *how* I express what’s written. I get 100% creative control over what I’m already writing, which is fun because I can play with different ideas.

If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?

It’s difficult to answer because classical music seems to exist in a different space from the non-classical music industry. In general I’d say that Kenyan musicians could and should tout their fellow musicians more than we currently do. Speak up and well of those that are doing a good job. I also think as a society, we could benefit a lot from exposure to more musical and theater events.

What are the lessons you have learnt being part of a group?

Since I work as a solo artist who collaborates with other musicians, I’ve learned that I enjoy the freedom to do what I please, as and when I please. That being said, it can also get lonely and it’s a little too easy to be lazy about things like rehearsing.

What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?

I don’t have a favorite type of music but I admit to having a guilty pleasure; krunk! No one believes me but it’s true. (Please don’t judge me, haha).

What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?

I’m a therapist, a rather new field so I spend a lot of time reading and trying to figure out more ways that I can contribute to the general, emotional and sexual well-being of my clients. Whenever possible, I also travel to locations with a beach or wild animals; nothing compares to that. My ultimate guilty pleasure though is watching TV series!

What keeps you going as a musician?

Sometimes it’s as simple as focusing on the joy that music gives me. During particularly difficult times, I think about how far I’ve come, how desperately I wanted this and how badly it went the last time I tried quitting music, lol. Ultimately, there’s something inside of me that just won’t let me quit!

Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist? What are your long term career goals?

I would love to be doing at least one or two major productions per year. I’d also love to be involved in propelling classical music and forward in the continent. I’d love to write more so I can move all these ideas out of my mind and into the public domain.

If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be?

I would love to perform with the Late Marian Anderson. I would also love to be conducted by David Robertson who I worked under at the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. The man is brilliant! I’m not kidding; I would always leave the stage more energized than when I was before the performance. This is an *actual* prayer request that I wrote down and that I’m holding God to (so Lord, if you’re listening, please remember. Thanks 🙂

What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours?

I have a couple of music projects coming up, the first of which will happen in May. I will communicate details once arrangements have been finalized because I need to be sure of all the dates. I have also been way too shy about putting anything of mine out there so I’m determined to post something on YouTube sooner rather than later. I need to conquer that particular fear, lol.

Find out more about Maggie and her career as a family & sex therapist in our Pearls And Heels segment.  Find her on twitter at @maggiethemezzo.

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