Over the past decade, multi-talented artiste, Judith Bwire aka Mama Afrika, has curved her niche as a regular performer during concerts staged in Kenyan capital – Nairobi’s fast evolving music scene.
Judith’s music career took root upon graduation from elementary high school, when she started singing and dancing as a member of different church choirs.
Along the way on her musical journey, the artiste has risen through numerous odds and is now ranked among Kenya’s established neo-traditional and Afro-fusion music makers. After successive years of performances as a dancer and background vocalist, singing behind the shadows of other musicians, she boldly stepped out into the spotlight as an artiste in her own right.
Besides being a professional choreographer, Judith managed to transform her artistic abilities, taking on bold and radical shift in pursuit of a recording career.
Subsequently, tapping into her creative capabilities – she learnt to compose and create music with the nyatiti – an eight-string [kamba nane] lyre commonly used in the Luo community.
The recording of her debut 1o-track album titled Mama Afrika – marked the dawn of the journey to mould her captivating prowess as a skilled vocalist.
Judith has gleaned enormous live concerts and stage presence experience.
As she embarks on her journey driven by desire to perform on global music podiums.
The Judith Bwire Foundation facilitates interactive, educational and social-awareness activities in especially public schools situated in mostly remote and rural counties across Kenya.
We also donate among other items, sanitary towels to school-going girls, and impart self-care skills and reproductive health knowledge. This helps enhance individual self esteem and sense of confidence among these pupils.
These previously non-existent interventions have gone a long away to ensure subsequent reduction in school drop-outs statistics and notable increase in
the girls’ regular, consistent class attendance.
The foundation undertakes to mobilize the girl child, youths and women through regular creative arts events, educational forums and workshops.
Such collaborative and interactive activities provide a conducive platform wherein participants can network and exchange ideas, as they also learn pertinent life-skills.
The use of visual arts, music, dance or theatre performances are proven, effective avenues for communication of practical solutions meant to guide
and impart relevant social skills to address myriad challenges.
NEKITA: Please tell us a bit about your background Judith.
JUDITH: I’m married and a proud mother of three children and several adopted siblings all who I take care of and educate. I grew up in Voi town, in Taveta County situated in southern part of Kenya bordering the Coastal region where I underwent basic elementary level education. This was before I opted to nurture my creative sensibilities and develop professional career in the local showbiz sector.
NEKITA: Who are you?
JUDITH: I’m a Kenyan born, versatile performing artiste and contemporary dance choreographer. I compose my own songs, lyrics, arrange my music, strum traditional instruments and also run my own Namacheke Music Production agency. More recently, I have switched gears to embrace the demanding responsibility to be a role model. I set up the Judith Bwire Foundation towards advocacy of the rights of the girl child, the youth and women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
NEKITA: Describe yourself in two words.
JUDITH: I’m an achiever.
NEKITA: What is your best quality?
JUDITH: I thrive in undertaking team initiatives even as I’m able to excel in tasks I set my mind upon accomplishing. I’m very hands-on, an almost perfectionist, and keen that whatever I embark upon is achieved satisfactorily and within the set objectives.
NEKITA: What is your worst quality?
JUDITH: I’m very impatient especially when working on professional events and activities. I strongly detest lazy colleagues, and also dislike the inability to attain set goals.
NEKITA: What do you do now and where do you hope to be in the next five years?
JUDITH: I’m currently working on songs for my second album, while also setting ground work for varied girl-child, youth and women empowerment projects we plan to roll out particularly in rural schools under the Judith Bwire Foundation. I hope to perform at more festivals and expand the scope of my foundation’s activities.
NEKITA: How did your career take off?
JUDITH: I was called upon to accompany a local band Kenge Kenge Orutu System as a dancer and backing vocalist during their concerts at numerous World Music Festivals across Europe. The rapport shared with excited audiences, gradually fired up my desire to take on the stage as the star singer rather than being in the background.
NEKITA: What inspired you to become a musician?
JUDITH: My father used to be a part time sound system promoter, dabbling in organizing events and provision of music entertainment. As a young girl, I would listen to the multiple songs contained in the records of countless musicians in his collection.
NEKITA: How did you make the shift/transition from music role model to an advocate for children’s education?
JUDITH: I realised music was a powerful medium and platform, whereby I could use my songs for the advocacy of numerous thorny, societal issues which affect the girl child, youth and women in our communities.
NEKITA: How tough was it to break into the music industry for you? And did you have the support of friends and family?
JUDITH: In most parts of the world, female musicians begin their careers as [BGVs] background vocalists in male dominated bands and encounter numerous odds. I started off as a dance choreographer although at the back of my mind I really wanted to be a singer. It took me many years of hard work, determination and persistence to step out of the shadows to become an independent recording artiste. My family and friends have been supportive.
NEKITA: What are the best experiences you’ve had in your career as a musician?
JUDITH: I have managed to travel and perform in different parts of the world with music and dance choreography serving as the vehicle – Africa [Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria]; Europe [the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands]; Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Japan and China.
NEKITA: What words of inspiration do you have for other women who would want to make a career as a musician?
JUDITH: The pursuit of music as a professional career, may not be an easy option. Success requires consistent effort and one should always be willing to explore new ideas. Keep an open mind and strive to learn from those already established in the industry but don’t let anyone intimidate or derail you from your vision to create music.
NEKITA: What words of inspiration would you like to share with the children you work with who look up to you?
JUDITH: There is almost nothing in life that is achieved easily, it is crucial to build one’s character, confidence, and discipline in all endeavours whether undertaking lessons in school or at the advanced education level. This phase helps one nurture their future’s foundation.
“Work hard and never give up no matter the odds or challenges encountered.”
NEKITA: In terms of the stigma – ‘exploitation by men’ as a musician, what advise do you have for other upcoming singers?
JUDITH: As an upcoming singer, men inevitably dominate the music sector at every level. There are those who are always discriminative along gender lines, some want sexual favours or others may look down on you.
“It pays to be focused, firm and determined to uphold one’s dignity. Strive to learn the necessary skills, it is the only way to earn mutual respect.”
NEKITA: What has been your most rewarding career milestone?
JUDITH: I have been fortunate to perform at different World Music Festivals. I got the chance to share the same stage and interact with international stars such as Senegalese star Baaba Maal among other celebrities.
NEKITA: What has been your greatest accomplishment in life?
JUDITH: Raising my own children and being a loving mother to my adopted children. Working especially with young, school-going girls and boys, is very fulfilling. We strive to instil in them enduring life skills and values to ensure everyone is each other’s keeper, in the hope this mind-set can in the long term, stem gender-related violence as they grow into adulthood.
NEKITA: What has been your hardest obstacle in life and how did you overcome this? JUDITH: Losing both my parents at a tender age. I was compelled to single-headedly take on the responsibility to look after my younger siblings. I would engage in small scale money-making ventures before I opted to join the local church choir, setting the foundation for my music career.
NEKITA: When you were young what was your dream career and have you fulfilled it? JUDITH: I once had a dream to be a mechanical engineer, but my creative abilities propelled me towards a different career path. I often take a keen interest for instance, in learning how the engine works whenever I take the car to mechanics at the garage.
NEKITA: How do you balance your career and family life?
JUDITH: This is the most challenging aspect of my professional career. But I strive to maintain a practical balance, constantly spending quality time with my children. I often have to travel at times for several weeks or even month-long professional engagements away from home and my family. When back I cook for them and help them out with school assignments.
NEKITA: Which exemplary female inspires you the most?
JUDITH: I tend to look up to women who have risen above odds and managed to leave admirable achievements in their lifetime. In Kenya, environmental activist, the late Professor Wangari Mathaai remains a great source of inspiration. She stood her ground, unbowed and firmly fought against illegal invasion or destruction of diminishing indigenous forests from greedy and well-connected land grabbers.
NEKITA: What is unique about you?
JUDITH: I’m flexible and can work/perform as a dance choreographer and as a musician in virtually any environment. I tend to improvise a lot when involved in performing arts activities and events.
NEKITA: Tell us a secret about yourself that no other person knows.
JUDITH: This is an interesting question, but then if I tell the world, then it will no longer be a secret.
NEKITA: Everyone has a sense of fashion and style. What’s yours?
JUDITH: I’m especially keen to dress up in unique, outstanding African fabrics and designs which reflect my African heritage and cultural roots.
NEKITA: Which movie has inspired you the most?
JUDITH: I’m not a movie buff as such, though I’m easily drawn to watching films shot in Africa. I also make time for music based documentaries or live recordings of world music concerts and international festivals.
NEKITA: Which female musician inspires you the most?
JUDITH: I enjoy the music of African song-birds like Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Angelique Kidjo, Cesaria Evora, Mbilia Bel and Tshala Mwana among others.
NEKITA: What’s your life’s motto?
JUDITH: Pursue your life’s goals tirelessly and give your best shot in everything that one embarks upon.
NEKITA: If you had the power to change the world in one way what would you do?JUDITH: I would ensure that every human being, irrespective of their class, gender or status in life, do have access to the basic and minimum social amenities inclusive education, food, good health and decent shelter to shield them from the ravages of poverty.
Feel free to see more of Judith Bwire a.k.a. Mama Africa on these social media platforms –