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Elsy Wameyo: Drawing from Within

Fresh from releasing her debut EP Nilotic, we caught up with The Adelaide-based artist to speak on the new project, the importance of knowing yourself, and more.

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No doubt one of Australia’s most tapped in artists, Elsy Wameyo has taken to her debut EP titled Nilotic, to explore the nexus of spirituality, introspection, and collective trauma. Hailing us to journey along with her through sound and lyricism, the multi-talented artist unravels notions of identity and belonging whilst contributing to global conversations on social and political equity. Elsy began her journey with music in 2017, where she linked up with fellow Adelaide creatives to explore her talents in songwriting, production, and performance. The Kenyan born artist demonstrates a unique authenticity to her craft and acts as a relatable figure for many, who belong to the African diaspora in Australia. 

On April 1st we admired the work that is Nilotic and were equally impressed with the fact that Elsy produced each track on the project herself. The melodic intertwines paired with poetic rap featured in most tracks, is what gives Elsy her edge. Post-interview, we had the chance to revel in Nilotic the project live, at Red Bull’s Unlocked event in Melbourne. The connection Elsy creates with her audience and the inviting space she hosts on stage excites us and we can’t wait to see where next she’s destined to perform. 

When we had the chance to sit down with Elsy and candidly speak to the ever-challenging task of embedding deeper conversations within music, we quickly became aware of the sheer talent, drive, and creative force that she radiates.

Hi Elsy, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us. To begin can you tell us a bit about your journey with music and how it all began?
Yeah so, I started professionally making music in 2017, and I was at our local studio in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. Northern Sound System it’s called and so from there, I’ve just been working alongside the likes of Tkay and just a bunch of other producers and artists from SA. At that time I was just watching and taking everything in to see how things are being done and then it was almost until Tkay left that there was this gap, cause she was working with Mario Spate, so when she left there was this little gap so I kind of just fit into that slot. So, I started working with Mario Slate and we were just producing tracks and writing and all that good stuff. So yeah, it was only until July [that year] I did an opening for a local independent label called Playback 808. I think that was my first time stepping on stage and I just remember receiving so much love. It was a really beautiful reception. From there I was like yeah this is definitely what I want to do. And then the founder of Playback signed me to the label and I started working with them you know going to their studio sessions, their shows and I’d do 10-minute slots like two, three songs you know. I think that worked me up slowly to doing my own thing and having my own set. So yeah, from there I just started writing, I started writing my own music, I started working with more producers and more artists. Forward a few of years after, I got a grant from Carclew and I went on this mission to do this debut EP. This mission has been going on for a very, very long time, there were just a lot of setbacks. But yeah, it’s almost happened so perfectly because now we’re sitting with Nilotic right? 

Wow, what an amazing journey. Definitely a testament to all your efforts and hard work put in along the way. So, your music often reveals the sounds of your identity, both culturally and spiritually. Why is it important for you to represent those aspects of your identity throughout your music?
It’s just something that I struggled with for such a long time. Physically being born in Kenya, you know east side, my body knows nothing but Kenya. So, having migrated to Adelaide, Australia at such a young age it was such a culture shock. You know, everything was different, I’m different – I wasn’t fitting into this world. I think that was definitely the beginning of where I started trying to figure out ok who am I, why am I not fitting in, why do they not like me, why is this not working. I think that was when I started venturing into trying to figure out how to make it make sense, or make me make sense in this world. I think a lot of it was subconscious, it wasn’t even being translated into music it was more so just me trying to be at peace in here [motions to heart]. I think spiritually that just ties in. So, being a believer, for me at the end of the day my physical is not the most important thing, it’s not what defines me. At the end of the day, yes I’m Kenyan but I’m a child of God first. You know, I’m going to end up as dirt at some point and my spirit will go wherever it goes. And so I journeyed spiritually and you know I always tell people that I came here and look like this and people don’t accept me but when I go back home they also don’t because I sound like this and it’s just where do you fit in, in this conundrum. But every time I always fall back to the word, I fall back to God and I’m like you know what, at the end of the day there’s that unconditional love and He will accept me regardless of what I look like, what I sound like, what I do. And yeah, it was really just that spiritual journey that continues to help me stand firm. And it’s super important to me to put that in my music because I knew it wasn’t only going to heal me but the people around me and those that listen. 

Most definitely. Your single ‘Nilotic’, the title track for your EP, beautifully encapsulates topical reflections on societal fractures and echoes your own personal journeys throughout life. How have you navigated embedding those deeper conversations within your music?
That’s a nice question, I like that one. It’s rough you know, because as musicians we almost have the upper hand because for us it’s easy, to say what we need to say because we just don’t care. But I mean before that happens there’s such a big and deep journey that happens and that we need to go through. For me, whenever I’m sad I just make sure I experience things, like you know how we say we’ve hit rock bottom… I go beneath that. You gotta really make sure that you experience whatever it is that you need to experience, whether its joy, its sadness, I don’t know whatever it is – I just make sure I’m experiencing every emotion that bypasses me because that is the only way I can truly express and understand what’s going on. You have artists and musicians who create such masterpieces because they take that time to really understand why is it that they are feeling this way, why is that that people are doing this but yeah, it’s a really tough place. It’s a lot of tears, it’s a lot of jumping up and down. It’s just a lot of thinking and a lot of meditation and prayers. But yeah, at the end of the day I find that I just have to sit in that, no matter what that is. And when it comes to translating it through music, it’s so much easier because I know exactly what it is and where it’s come from.

That’s really special and quite a feat to be able to look inward in those moments. So, your visuals for Nilotic, as well as your latest single River Nile, are all so stunning and I’m aware that you often creative direct your own work. How have you managed to not only dabble in creative directing but also producing, writing, and recording your music too?
Elsy: [Sings] It’s the lord that I serve! That is why I always go back to the scripture because at the end of the day my physical flesh cannot do it. Like, it’s one of those things where I get tired, I get writer’s block, I’m weak, I’m not capable and that is why I stress to people that it’s really not me. Because Elsy is a mess, let’s get that straight. Without God, I am a mess. But I think it’s one of those things where I really have to make sure my spiritual foundation is it because from there it goes on. From here it looks so beautiful, cause it’s like wow you created this, you’ve seen the music video, you’ve heard the songs but if you were here with me 3 months ago… girl the pain! The tears, the joy, the excitement, the disappointment, there’s so much that goes on behind it. At the end of the day, it comes from truly understanding my purpose and where I’m supposed to be. That assurance keeps me there. You’ve got people on the sidelines that are constantly cheering you on, constantly praying for you. 

But you know after all that spiritual foundation I think that’s when the physical part comes in. When it comes to the planning, the ideas – I always say that I never want to create something that has already been done. 

Honestly, thank you for being so candid about that, it’s really easy to just forget about how much effort goes into creating. Pivoting towards your debut EP, I know I’m kind of putting you on the spot here but if you were to attach 3 words or phrases to describe this EP what would you use?
Ah, wow that’s a good question. Unapologetic, powerful and … real. Very real. 

Amazing, so this being your debut EP, what practical advice or tips would you give to other up and coming artists, especially those trying to navigate Australia’s music industry.
It’s crazy because there is so much. The one thing I’d first say is everyone’s journey is so different. One thing I’ve learnt, even the artist I am now, is that you meet people and you’re like give me some tips but their tips are most likely not going to work cause that’s them, you know? The journey that they’re going through is very, very unique and it’s the same with all of us. If I was to try and give some form of practical advice, I would say… oh man you’ve got your typical belief in yourself. The idea of truly understanding that you have everything in you. The world has filled us with so much right, and you’ve got bitcoin, social media, people in real estate, you’ve got so many things right. I think the world makes you feel like you need to have a bit of everything. You have to do it all and make that money. But I think what we forget is again, we are all so unique. There’s a difference between purpose and potential – at the end of the day as humans we can do it all. But is that my purpose is that what I’ve been created to do, is that my calling in life. I would say to someone, first journey within yourself, journey within who you are and just try, to some extent, figure out what brings joy to your heart. And then from there knowing and sticking to that purpose and running with it regardless of what anyone says. There’s so many people that tell you, you can’t produce go sit in there, you can’t write, this song won’t be big if you don’t co-write and I think it’s just one of those things where you almost have to lock yourself in that room and tell yourself as many times that you are able, you are enough, you are intelligent. Speak to yourself and make sure you’re not just saying it to say it, truly understand that you have the capabilities. And then just run with that. 

Thank you for exploring that deeper, I think that’s really helpful advice. Looking into the future, what are you most excited about working towards or simply journeying through in regard to your music career?
I’m super keen to just start again. Since this EP, I haven’t written or produced yet. I think it was just yesterday that I opened Ableton again, so yeah, I’m just keen to get back into it. I think this journey has helped me to figure out who I am and where I want to go. I’m ready to collaborate with people and almost show them who I am and take them through the journey of a Nilotic G. So, yeah I’m just excited to continue writing and continue venturing and growing. Cause I just don’t know enough… I know nothing and I really just want to know a lot [laughs]. 

Well, thank you Elsy, it has been a pleasure speaking with you today – we’re really looking forward to absorbing more of your sound this year.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Follow Elsy Wameyo here for more and stream her debut EP Nilotic here.

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