She makes music that lives and breathes, with her very individual vocal style along with an engaging persona and charm.
Besides being an artiste, producer and audio engineer, Viola Karuri is also a concert producer, a side not known to many until she was spotted in Namibia with the multi-talented R&B singer, Trey Songz.
She happened to be part of the team running the massive event MTC presents Trey Songz Live in Concert that led to rumors that she was dating the R&B heartthrob.
Viola is also famed for the well-received Swahili version of Despacito.
She tells her story as quoted by Buzz:
“Many singers use their real names as their stage names: Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Lira, Victoria Kimani, Tiwa Savage, just to mention a few. It’s an identity thing for me.Despite the fact that the name is the same, the person sitting in front of you is very different person from the one on stage. The person in front of a camera when shooting a video is totally different from the shy introvert that I usually am. I work very hard to keep my personal life private, to avoid bad publicity that will touch on my family. I can handle it, but I’m very protective of them.
“When I was around eight, I watched “Music Times” and saw Tshala Muana’s “Dezo Dezo” music video. I’m not sure if it was her singing or the very long slit that won me over. It’s an extremely vivid early childhood memory, and I’m very lucky that my music teacher was able to capture the talent and nurture it. Throughout primary and high schools, I lived for the music festivals.
“After high school, in 2000, I told my dad I would like to do music as a career. I was very lucky that my dad was open to me doing what would make me happy. I was in a group of five with Amani, called “Sobriety”, which we had formed while at Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls High School, so he had seen it coming. I applied to Berklee College of Music, USA. I had been called to Moi University to study Law but hid the letter. The acceptance letter from Berklee came on the day I was to report to Moi University. I showed both letters to my dad because I had left that option open as Plan B.
“I studied music production and engineering, and my instrument was voice. It took three and a half years, and then I moved to New York to work as an engineer in a few studios there. In 2008, I recorded my 12-track album called “Everything”; did a launch tour in the US then moved back home in 2009 and launched it here, too.
“I was obsessed with the original “Despacito” because I understand a little Spanish from my time in the States. I can’t sing as fast as the real Spanish speakers and it annoyed me that I couldn’t sing the song like any other I had loved before. I translated the song into English but felt I couldn’t sing it as it was written from a male perspective. I inverted the song then again translated it into English and recorded it at 2am. My manager at Ogopa Studios heard it from my phone and recommended that we record it. That’s how it got out.
“There is a misconception that when you’re doing music you have to be a superstar. I think those people are doing it for the wrong reason. Berklee tells you that they are not trying to make a superstar out of you; they only assure you that they will enable you to make a living from doing something you love. That might mean living in the studio and listening to people record all day. I have constantly earned a living from music since I graduated, everything else is a plus. Of course I still want people to view my videos. I do a lot of gigs, corporate events, jingles and also write a lot of songs for people. I live very comfortably off of my craft. Song writing is a major income earner yet people don’t know that. There’s a culture in Kenya where they are against having songs written for them such that I can’t disclose which songs I wrote. We don’t realise that all the thriving music industries, including Tanzania and Nigeria, have divisions of labour so that the artiste specialises as a performer to make it a better product.”
“To me, music is an expression of emotion and culture. If I box myself into any particular genre it won’t give me room to do something else. So if I do something else, people will remind me that’s not my genre. I just say that I do African music, whichever way it comes out it will be that. I’m just an observer of life and society, and I write about that. The video concept for “Milele”, which features Collo, came from an accident I had with a bread transporter as I helped him stack back the crates I had knocked down.”
“The Kenyan music industry has an opportunity to shine and grow since all eyes are on Africa currently. If you position yourself well. I’m not saying you’ll get rich, but you can earn a living from music. However, we don’t give ourselves a chance to enjoy our own music because the airtime available is shared by music from all over the world. This makes it almost impossible to compete with established international acts even within, unlike in Tanzania and Uganda which enjoy upwards of 80 per cent local content, even in clubs. The money that goes out prevents our artistes from re-investing in their music to produce better songs or make better videos, and stops us from exporting our sound.”
Are you friends with Yemi Alade?
Not exactly. I was signed to Taurus Music and we had dinner when she came for Coke Studio in 2015. We were on the same line-up at a show later and got to hang out. She’s cool, though.
What’s your ‘fountain of youth’ secret?
I’m a very happy person, reading a lot and travelling when I can. I also eat well, enjoy everything in moderation, and work out too. You only get one body and you’ve got to take care of yourself.
What is your lazy day like?
Sitting in a corner with either a glass of wine or gin and tonic, covered up in a blanket and reading a book. I could read all day.
Chapati and maharagwe ya nazi. I just love the latter so much.
Easy fashion and glam fashion looks?
Sweat pants and T-shirt for a day in. For glam, I love shoes, so everything starts down upwards. I adore heels.