“Naomi Wachira’s “Song of Lament” is an Ode to Resilience.”
Some albums communicate a truth, urgency, and humanity so profound that it resonates long after it ends; singer-songwriter Naomi Wachira’s Song of Lament is one of those albums. It speaks to the political, economic, and cultural strife of the present age, while its beauty soothes, inspiring the listener to look beyond these turbulent times to remember how much we desperately need one another in order to grow.
Born to a middle-class Kenyan family, Wachira moved to the U.S. as a student, earning an M.A. in Theology at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. “I know how dehumanizing it feels when you’re asked to prove that you are a human who deserves to be here,” she says, discussing the immigrant experience from her home in Seattle. In 2011, she discarded her day job to pursue music full-time, resulting in her self-titled debut.
Song of Lament, its follow-up, is an album influenced by world tragedies and personal struggles, brought to life by Wachira’s formidable ability to mine the darkest human experiences and return with lyrical jewels. It’s also an album on which she moves outside of her musical comfort zone. Producer Eric Lilavois recorded Lament in Seattle’s historic London Bridge Studio, which has hosted more than a few iconic local bands. Wachira describes the experience as one of her best thus far. “Working with Eric was so good for my soul,” she explains. Exploring influences from her childhood, everything from reggae to rock, was a breath of fresh air. “I liberated myself from the need to sound like anyone else. I write in more than one style. I loved Southern rock when I was in my 20s, and you can hear a little bit of that influence in ‘Up in Flames,’ and that classical feel with strings in both ‘Where is God’ and ‘Farewell.’ I also love the combination of Kikuyu [language] and strings on ‘Farewell’ because that’s something I’ve never heard before.”
We spoke to Wachira about humanizing “the other,” being a proud “African girl,” and making music that transforms hearts and minds.
Let’s begin with the crowdfunding campaign that made Song of Lament possible. Was it a challenge putting on a business hat and not just the creative one in order to raise the money?
This was actually my third time using crowdfunding to help with production costs for the album, but it’s always nerve-wracking. My strong suit is being an artist, and the business aspect of it is something I’m still learning how to do well. I had a fear when I started this campaign, because a few months earlier I had tried to raise funds through a different platform and it wasn’t successful. Re-launching it was definitely an act of courage, and a belief that just because I failed didn’t mean that I couldn’t try again. Overall, it was a great experience, watching friends and fans come alongside me. But it was full of anxiety. The other challenging aspect of it was having to talk about myself for 30 days straight, which in itself caused a lot of stress. I’m such an introvert, and I keep to myself quite a bit. But I’m really grateful that people supported me and instilled confidence that I’m on the right path.
Song of Lament is a collection of songs that you’ve written over the past six years, but you said that it was really inspired by two world tragedies in April of 2015: the death of 700 men, women and children, all migrants, on the Mediterranean Sea, and the murders of 148 students at Garissa University in a Kenyan terrorist attack. Can you talk about how soon the first songs started coming to you? And which songs were particularly inspired by the tragedies?
I was staying with my sister in Germany when the attack at Garissa University happened, and I remember feeling so defeated by this new [kind] of terrorism. The following day, while trying to find words to express what I was feeling, I wrote ‘Where is God?’ It’s a song that tries to find God in the faces of the religious extremists. Based on my Christian upbringing, I was taught that every person bears the image of God, and I find it hard to trace that image on someone who decides to massacre hundreds of people all in the name of God. It’s an aspect of religion I will never understand…