Matt Ngesa wants music and art to be seen as important additions to Kenyan culture


COLORS showcases exceptional talent from all around the globe, focused on the most distinctive new artists and original sounds.


Matt Ngesa wants music and art to be seen as important additions to Kenyan culture

Matt Ngesa is an advocate of Kenyan art. He aspires for his music to shed light on Nairobi’s indie music scene, and to show the world the boundless potential of music coming from East Africa.

Ngesa’s reverence for music began at a young age. The son of a preacher, he was frequently exposed to gospel and Christian rock, and even watched his father lead worship with song at religious ceremonies. He was gifted a guitar by his father at age 5, but it wasn’t until his teenage years that Ngesa began to take music seriously, posting covers of songs on YouTube. Later, while in New York for college, he created EDM music with his friends.

Upon moving back to Kenya, Ngesa began to wonder how he could continue this passion from home, and develop a sound that would connect with his new audience in his native country. Since then, he’s taught himself to produce and embarked on a successful solo career, releasing his first EP, ‘Rem Me’, in 2020.

Following his A COLORS SHOW performance of ‘Muse’, we spoke with the artist about the importance of making time for the people you love, sticking to your goals, and amplifying the Kenyan indie music scene.

Do you come from a musical family? 

My siblings and I always sang and danced together, even though our parents didn’t allow us to dance! We enjoyed our time with one another through music. There was this CD featuring the best of gospel and Christian rock music that used to come out annually. We always looked forward to its release—as soon as we had it we would blast it for the whole year.

My dad was very musical too. He was a pastor, and he used to bring us along to listen to his sermons. There is a photo of us together from back then—he is singing and playing the guitar at a baptism while I’m holding the mic up for him. I remember that day so clearly. I can remember zoning out and really finding the harmony in what he was singing.

When did you start making your own music?

I studied at Bible college in New York from 2016 to 2018. There, I met Brady James and Anthony Carrai Jr., who I started to create EDM tracks with.

After leaving New York and returning to Kenya, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t see the traction of the music we created.I felt left out. I started to wonder, “how can I do what we did in New York here in Kenya?”, and imagined which sounds would connect with the audience here. That’s when I began teaching myself music production.

What was the first song you worked on when you were back in Kenya?

It was called ‘Twende Kazi’. At the time, I was living with my cousins near the church I was ministering at. I was trying to build a track using a keyboard software, then I found a marimba sound that I ended up building the song around.

When I began writing lyrics, the idea of ‘needing to get to work’ was in my mind. My young niece was in the room with me and I asked her, “how do you say ‘get to work in Swahili.’’ Confidently, she answered “Twende Kazi”.

How would you describe your musical style? 

Defining my genre is always a challenge. It’s an amalgamation of everything I’ve experienced and the music I grew up on. Over the years, the artists I’ve listened to have played a huge role in shaping the sound I put out now.

I grew up listening to gospel songs, Christian rock like Relient K, and Third Day. In high school I got into Sam Smith, James Arthur, a little bit of John Mayer, and a lot of Paramore. More recently, I’ve started listening to folk and pop music like Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles. I’m also a huge Harry Styles fan.

“Kenya has a rich history, but we don’t value it enough. Our society needs to see music and art as important additions to our culture.”

Tell us about the Kenyan music scene.

I recently had the pleasure of being a part of the musical ‘Too Early for Birds’. I portrayed George Mukabi, an inventor of this acoustic style of playing guitar where you have the melody, the bass, and the rhythm all incorporated on one instrument. He played beautiful songs about his love life, politics, and the way of living in Nairobi. Playing this character was one of the times I’ve felt the most connected to Kenya’s musical heritage.

Kenya has a rich history, but we don’t value it enough. Our art is not celebrated or seen as something sustainable, but rather as something you do as a hobby. Our society needs to see music and art as important additions to our culture, not just pastimes our youth gravitates towards temporarily.  I want to create a community that teaches Kenyan society to appreciate and celebrate our local art, to value what is being made here so that artists don’t have to leave to feel seen.

Can you tell us about the song you performed for COLORS?

I wrote ‘Muse’ at the height of the pandemic—it’s near and dear to my heart. On the week of my birthday my parents contracted the virus, and my sister and I took turns taking care of them. A lot of those days felt very quiet. At nightime, I felt very alone and introspective, helpless and overwhelmed. I thought, , ‘if everything we lived before today is all we’re going to get, was that time enough?’

‘Muse’ is about the people I thought about during that time. It’s dedicated to everything that happened, and all of the things we experienced together while we were apart. This song details the thoughts and the pressures that kept me up at night.

As you perform the song, where do you go emotionally? 

I go to a place of longing and of spending time with loved ones—a place of remembrance. It’s a rare privilege to spend as much time with family as we would like, so that’s where I go, a space that reminds me to take more time for them.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have an EP to accompany ‘Muse’ that I would like to release at the beginning of next year. This project will feature a lot of mellow tracks—songs with stories derived from personal experiences. It will be an unloading of thoughts and feelings that I’ve held onto from 2020 until now. Later in the year I would love to put out my first album… but we will see!

If you could grant yourself one wish for the future, what would it be?

I would wish to leave an impact here in Kenya with my music, and for indie music to grow in popularity the same way mainstream music that has a Western-Kenyan feel has. There are so many underground and indie artists here in Kenya that have truly beautiful music and who deserve a platform just as much as our mainstream artists do. We have some beautiful stuff we would love to share with you.

Matt Ngesa is a Kenyan artist based in Nairobi whose A COLORS SHOW was released on the 4th December 2023. You can watch the full performance on our YouTube channel.

Text: Katerina Lytras
Photography: Megan Courtis (first portrait), Amos Wafula (live performance images), and Kizazi Afriika (studio images). 


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